Strange but true…
We all have those experiences that, when we are going through them, are so ridiculous that we know they’ll become one of ‘those’ stories that we’ll tell at dinner parties and in pubs until we’ve forgotten who’s heard it before. That doesn’t mean that makes it any easier to go through at the time.
Oddly, I’ve accumulated more than my fair share of these stories, and I’m going to share one of them with you now. I think you’ll agree there’s a lesson or two to be learned about personal finance and how ignoring it can land you in a weird old mess.
It’s said that moving home is one of the most stressful experiences in life. I’ve done it many times, but my move from London to Lancashire in 2013 was very stressful indeed.
We’d just gotten married and had hired a transit van to move most of my furniture to our new rented home. That wasn’t an easy job, hiring a van in Lancashire, driving 5 hours to London, moving everything out of a third-floor flat and driving back just in time to get the keys to the new house, sign the lease, unpack and take the van back in time.
That was enough. What happened next was too much.
Picking up the last items.
There just wasn’t enough room in the van for everything Little Balders and I had – a real case for minimalism, but too late – so we had planned to drive back to London in my car, clean the flat, patch up the walls where pictures had been hung and take everything back in the car.
However, driving down on the motorway, my car suddenly started to lose power. I managed to safely pull over onto the hard shoulder, and call my roadside recovery service.
It took ages for them to arrive, and it wasn’t good news; it was the head gasket, so the car was as good as dead. The repair man took us to the nearest service station, where we had to wait for a relay vehicle that would deliver us, along with my knackered car, to the flat in London.
Credit card drama
I’ll cut this very short – the drive to London was excruciating. When we got back, with my car plopped on the street, we had to do all the jobs we’d planned with a lot less time, as well as figuring out how to get back up north. We needed to hire a car.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be easy. Every car hire firm we called needed a credit card to make a booking. This was to ensure there will be enough funds to cover the multitude of charges they’ll whack on you if you damage their vehicle, or something like that.
First of all, I had a credit card with a decent limit and an excellent credit rating to boot, but I couldn’t use it. Why not? Brace yourself – I never used the credit card, so I couldn’t even remember the PIN.
Ste had a credit card, but he’d lost track of it when we were dating, in between driving back and forth for five hours at a time and paying for everything as he thought he should (not my idea). He’d missed payments because of being disorganised, and the card issuer wouldn’t let him use it.
We were stuffed because of two silly ways of using our credit cards – never using it in the first place, and using it too much and carelessly in the second.
Now, I know that there are some car rental firms that do not insist on credit cards, but this is what happened to us at the time.
Update: my fellow blogger Rebecca at savingscotts.com has found the car hire firms that will let you hire a car using a debit card!
No internet, just to make things harder…
We had already packed our router in the van, so we had no internet access whatsoever! My mobile data signal couldn’t keep up and we were stuck with the yellow pages to find a car hire company that we could travel to by bus.
After a long time spent phoning both our banks and an even longer time at the car hire firm, we were back to where we started. The only thing to do was get the train to Lancashire. We were panicking, as there was so much left to carry.
That night, we packed up the car as much as we could. I took things down the three flights of stairs to the front door, and Ste put on a pair of rollerblades and skated down the street in the dark to pack them into the car. Seriously.
With the car packed, we got on a bus to King’s Cross, carrying as much as we could in our luggage as well as the things we couldn’t pack: two budgies in an ornamental cage (as their proper cage was too big and had been flat-packed into the car) with a t-shirt stretched over the top to stop them escaping, and an old Dyson vacuum cleaner.Running for a train with two budgies & a vacuum cleaner taught me how to use credit cards. Click To Tweet
We had to run most of the way to Euston to make our train, and as we did, bits of vacuum cleaner kept falling off and the budgies squawked crazily and gnawed at the t-shirt in an attempt to escape. You don’t realise how heavy a vacuum cleaner is, or how wriggly a pair of budgies are, or how far King’s Cross St Pancras actually is from Euston, until the moment you have to combine all three in a dash to catch an overpriced train.
Wasted money was only part of the injury…
I’d been told by the helpful operator who answered my call to The Trainline that I could save some money by buying a family railcard when I bought our tickets, but they were still going to set us back over £200.
The fact was, I had enough money in the bank to hire a car, but I couldn’t use it. I had a clean credit card, but I couldn’t use it. I had put myself in that position by being disorganised and it was totally avoidable.
The added insult was the train being delayed.
We made it onto the train and braved the bewildered looks from other passengers, but as if things couldn’t get any more awkward, our train was stuck on the line for hours. We were shattered, and we just wanted to get into bed in our new house. We had to get a taxi from Preston station to take us the rest of the way, and we finally closed the door on the entire ordeal in the small hours of the morning.
What have I learned from it?
Since then, things have changed. I learned how to use credit cards to make money and I quickly helped Ste get his finances organised, and we’ve never been in a mess since then.
A lot of people view credit cards as an evil that should be avoided at all costs, but I’ve learned that they can be extremely useful tools if used wisely. I do have the ability to use them without incurring debt, so by being organised I’m doing myself a favour.
Wider thoughts on money
In my view, money is for protection against unexpected, unpleasant situations just like the one we found ourselves in. In hindsight, we should have paid more to get a taxi to the station, but we were in shock at the amount of money we’d have to pay for the train; instead of paying with money, we ended up paying through exertion.
This is why I’m only frugal up until a reasonable point!
Nowadays, I like to consider whether something will cost me money or time – it’s usually one or the other. Some experiences are well worth paying a little extra money to avoid, but some experiences can be dodged through taking the time to prepare.
If it’s more cost-effective to pay for something with time, I will, but if it’s not, then I’ll pay with money.
My perception of wealth is having a cushion to fall onto when things go wrong, not a lot of luxury experiences or material things around when things are going well. Maybe it’s because of mad things like this happening to me.
Over to you…
What do you think of my story? I dread to think!