Category Archives: Client Stories

Blessings beyond money

Ros and John’s situation has touched all of us at MyBudget. The couple approached us after John suffered a medical emergency that sent their lives careening in a new direction. Yet somehow, despite challenges you would expect to break them, Ros and John have showed us how to remain positive and generous in the face of a crisis. We thank them for allowing us to share their story with you.

Ros is an upbeat, go get ‘em type of person. She used to work full-time as an assistant coordinator for aged and disabilities services while her husband, John, was a creative craftsman skilled in graphic design and cabinet making. Together, they also ran a part-time business hosting karaoke events for local pubs. Their adult children, from Ros’s previous marriage, had flown the coop which afforded Ros and John a ‘double income no kids’ lifestyle. They filled their empty nest with three “fur babies”, Timmy, Georgie and Brucie; little Chihuahuas with big personalities. Ros and John, both in their forties, worked hard through the week and enjoyed kicking up their heels on the weekends.

But life has the propensity to change suddenly. Approximately 18 months ago, John was rushed to hospital with an aneurysm in his brain. An aneurysm describes a swollen blood vessel. It’s a life-threatening condition which often presents with few advance symptoms. Surgeons managed to save John’s life, but complications resulted in John sustaining a brain injury which affects his memory and motor skills. John is now unable to work or be left alone and Ros has become his full-time carer.

By the time John and Ros came to MyBudget they were living pension-to-pension and had exhausted nearly all of their savings. Their biggest expenses included medical bills, rehabilitation costs and the mortgage on their house. MyBudget was able to arrange a release of funds and insurance payouts from Ros and John’s superannuation accounts. Meanwhile, Ros keeps the karaoke business going a few evenings a week. “It used to be our cream,” says Ros good-spiritedly. “And now it’s our bread and butter.” Aside from helping to secure extra funds, MyBudget has also taken the pressure off Ros by managing the couple’s bills. This allows her to focus on John’s care and recovery. “We’ve been to hell and back and to have MyBudget there to help us has been great,” Ros tells me.

I ask Ros how she and John are coping. She replies, “I’ve got to be strong for John because he feels guilty about what has happened. Sometimes I haven’t coped with things. I break down every now and then, but John’s alive and there really are more good things than bad.” Ros admits that she’s been through all stages of the grieving process, from crushing sadness to shattering anger. She has somehow emerged positive and philosophical. She explains to me, “I believe we go through things for a reason, but you usually can’t see the purpose of those things until later. I can stand here and buck and cry or I can ask myself ‘how am I going to deal with this? And who can I help in the process?’”

Ros tells me that John’s disability has changed her in many positive ways. “I’ve gained patience and I’m a lot more tolerant than I used to be. I don’t lose my cool anymore. I’ve learnt to appreciate what I have. My husband and I have a deeper love and appreciation for each other now.”

Ros is also an example that it’s possible to remain generous and giving in the midst of a crisis. “If I see an opportunity to give,” she says, “I do what I can. We may not have a lot of money, but I can always help people out in small ways and with my time.” It appears to me that Ros’s generous nature has not gone unnoticed. Ros and John’s friends have been incredibly supportive of them, from mates who donate their brawn to set up karaoke equipment to random cash gifts when times have been tough. Ros tells me, “I’ve learnt to be humble enough to accept generosity and gracious enough not to offend people who are trying to help.”

Ros and John’s positive, generous outlook reminds us we can all afford to be generous in our own way and within our own means, whatever our circumstances. We talk a lot about money at MyBudget, but Ros and John prove that life’s real blessings can’t be bought, sold or borrowed.

Sole parent trying to make ends meet

This is Lisa-Ann, a MyBudget client living in Western Australia with her young daughter and son. I asked Lisa-Ann if I could share her story with you because her situation typifies the experience of many single-parent families. Lisa-Ann is a single mum with a part-time income and no local family to help her. She tells us how she was living on the edge and how she turned things around.

Lisa-Ann spent most of her life in South Africa before moving to Perth in 2002 with her husband and six year old daughter. Lisa-Ann’s husband was working for a mining company in the far-north, while Lisa-Ann was working as a nurse in the city. They were getting ahead financially and were enjoying life in Australia.

But time apart took its toll on the relationship. After being in the country for only two years, the marriage broke down. Lisa-Ann was suddenly a single mum with no local family or long-time friends to help her. She began working permanent night duty because the money was better and she managed to scrape by for a few years. “My troubles really started in 2007,” Lisa-Ann tells me. “My credit cards were maxed out and I had to move house because my landlord had decided to sell the place I was renting. My car insurance was due, my phone was in arrears, and then I hurt my back in a car accident and I couldn’t work for a while.”

“It was a horrible time,” continues Lisa-Ann. “Credit card companies were chasing me. I was afraid to answer the phone. I wasn’t sleeping properly. I thought ‘why do I have to deal with this on my own?’ Sometimes I couldn’t even afford the basics—things like toothpaste and toilet paper. I felt like moving back home [with my parents in South Africa] where I wouldn’t have the pressure of being the family provider. I didn’t want to be the person who was responsible for everything on my own.”

Lisa-Ann says that she approached MyBudget cautiously. “I really didn’t like the idea of giving my income to MyBudget. Friends were warning me that it might be a scam, but I was desperate. I had to try something. I was apprehensive, but I felt really good after the initial interview—especially when they told me that they’d deal directly with my creditors. It was such a relief.”

I asked Lisa-Ann how she found adjusting to life on a budget. “It wasn’t easy at first,” she tells me. “But eventually I managed. I cut down on certain things—things like eating out and shopping with my daughter. I used to use the car all the time and now I try to combine trips to save petrol.”

As a result of a brief reconciliation with her husband, the couple now have a two year old son. Unfortunately, they separated again before the baby was born. “When I stopped work to have my son I wondered how I was going to survive, but it worked out amazingly. MyBudget helped me meet all my bills and I got to spend a whole year with my son without working fulltime. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without them. MyBudget has been like an invisible husband.”

Lisa-Ann now has savings behind her and is planning a trip to South Africa to visit her family. When asked how she feels about her financial future, Lisa-Ann’s reply is extremely honest: “Some people aren’t good at managing money and I’m one of them. MyBudget takes the pressure off me and it’s so comforting. I just have to make sure my income’s coming in and they take care of the rest. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever leave MyBudget.”

We find that many of our sole parent clients are overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities they have to deal with, so it’s incredibly rewarding for us to watch as clients like Lisa-Ann put their lives back together. Being a sole parent is difficult and often isolating, but Lisa-Ann is an example that you don’t have to do it alone. Thanks for sharing you story, Lisa-Ann. It’s inspiring to see you not just getting by, but really getting ahead.

Tricky tax questions

It’s that time of the year again—tax time. Time to rifle through drawers looking for receipts from last July. Time to wonder what you can claim and what you can’t. We asked Frank Brass, regional director with H&R Block, some tricky tax questions and got his expert answers.

Q: I work in a fashion boutique. I buy clothes from the boutique and wear them at work. Can I claim these expenses in my tax return?
Unfortunately, no. Clothing can only be claimed if it’s protective (like gloves and boots), if it’s a distinctive uniform with a logo, or if it’s occupation-specific, like a nurse’s uniform or medical scrubs.

Q: I’m a primary school teacher. I often prepare classes and mark assignments at home. Can I claim any expenses for my home office?
A: Yes, you can. But your claim must be strictly limited to a calculation of outgoings—for example, electricity usage—and depreciable costs of the equipment you use, such as a desk, computer, chair and filing cabinet. You’ll need to keep a record of how many hours you work from home so you can use the Tax Office per hour claim method. You cannot claim a flat percentage of your bills based on the floor space of your office. And you cannot claim any of your rent or mortgage.

Q. My job requires that I carry a few tools in my car. Can I claim the cost of travelling to and from work?
Maybe. If your job requires you to carry bulky tools, you can claim the cost of travelling to and from work, but a few loose tools don’t qualify. Previous Tax Office rulings indicate that the tools must be required for your job, they must weigh 25 kg or more and there must be no place made available at work for you to store them.

Q: My employer provides me with a car. I bought a GPS unit for it. Can I claim the GPS unit as a tax deduction?
A: No. A company car is subject to Fringe Benefits Tax, or FBT. You cannot deduct any expenses for a car that’s subject to FBT.

Q: I’m working as a retail assistant in a pharmacy while I’m studying full-time for my pharmacy degree. Can I claim my education expenses?
A: This claim is not allowable because the education is designed to open up a new field of employment. It doesn’t relate to your current income earning activities.

Q: What are the tax deadlines? What happens if I can’t meet the deadline?
If you’re preparing your own tax return, the deadline is the 31st of October. If you can’t meet the deadline, you can get an extension using a tax agent. Providing that you’ve told the tax office you’ll be using a tax agent, you can lodge as late as June of 2011.

Q: I’m an employee. What documents and records will I need to prepare my tax return?
Employees will need copies of their income statements and receipts for work-related expenses—interest statements for bank accountants and investments, dividend statements for shares, and your group certificate. If you changed jobs during the tax year, make sure you have a group certificate for each employer. If you own investment property, you’ll also need income and expense records for that. At H&R Block we go through a four-page interview sheet that ensures we address every potential tax issue. That information goes into our specialized software program that makes sure you get the best outcome possible.

Special for our South Australian clients! H&R Block is offering 10 percent discount on tax return preparations. Just mention you’re a MyBudget client. It’s that easy. Valid at participating H&R Block offices in South Australia only.

Beat rising grocery prices

From ‘The Advertiser’ on 12 February, 2010: The rising cost of groceries is hitting people in the hip pocket, as many householders continue to feel the impact of the global financial crisis. The latest Westpac ASFA Retirement Standard found that in the year to September 2009, the cost of food was up 2.5 percent. And according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) figures, Australian grocery prices have risen 41.3 percent since 2000. This was higher than Britain’s 32.9 percent and America’s 28.4 percent. But experts say there are ways to beat the price rises…

MyBudget’s tips for keeping your food bill under control:

  • The less time you spend at the shops, the less you spend! Only go food shopping once a week.
  • Set a food budget and stick to it!
  • Plan your meals in advance and make a grocery list. Again, stick to it! This will help avoid impulse purchases and will minimise trips to the shops.
  • Scan for items across the shelves, as well as up and down. Brands often pay a premium to have their items placed at eye level and in prime positions.
  • Consider home brand products, especially when it comes to staples, such as flour and sugar.
  • Don’t compare items based on the ticket price. Packaging can be deceiving, so always compare the unit prices of items (per 100g or 100ml).
  • Try grocery shopping online. Shopping online allows you to easily compare unit prices of items and to work within your budget.
  • Consumer advocacy group, Choice, reports that Coles and Woolworths remain the overall cheapest places to shop.
  • Scan grocery catalogues and newspapers for weekly specials.
  • Check out produce markets for seasonal items. Buying direct from the farmer can cut out the middle man and save you money.

Wear your pyjamas to the supermarket

Grocery shopping can be boring and inconvenient. Add an energetic pre-schooler to the equation and the experience can be downright exhausting. I know this because I have one.

Grocery shopping is also a major hazard for your budget. Little things add up quickly – you grab a take-away coffee, you buy a few sale items that weren’t on your shopping list, the kids are asking for stuff, you’re tempted to browse other shops in the centre… There are lots of ways to blow your supermarket budget.

Which is why one of our MyBudget team members, Leah, has become a big fan of doing her grocery shopping on the internet. During maternity leave, Leah juggled a new baby and a tighter family budget. She found that by grocery shopping online, she could manage the family food budget down to the last dollar. Better still, she could do it without leaving the house.

Coles Online delivers to most Australian metro areas for around $10, and Woolworths is currently expanding their delivery areas. There are also a number of regional options. In Adelaide, another of our team members, Melanie, uses Banana Blue.

They all charge around $10 for home delivery. That’s a sound investment when you consider how easy it is to go $10 over budget when you’re surrounded by distractions in the supermarket. Not only that, you save on transport expenses, and the online facility allows you to compare the unit price of items. This helps you to choose the cheapest item by weight, and work out the exact price of a meal.

Coles Online also has a great meal planning facility. They provide easy-to-follow recipes and, with a mouse click, you can drop the ingredients into your virtual shopping trolley. (Another advantage of online shopping is that virtual trolleys never have wonky wheels).

About Tammy May

Tammy_MayTammy May, Director of MyBudget, is one of Australia’s leading business women.

At age of 22, Tammy established personal budgeting company, MyBudget, following years of witnessing the impact of debt in her first job at a legal firm.

The business has since grown into a national success story, with Tammy employing 70 staff, assisting more than 15,000 clients and combining her career with motherhood.

In 2007 Tammy was named Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year, she was also the Yellow Business Owner Award winner and the Australian Government Business Innovation Award winner.

Her recognition in the corporate arena continued in 2008 when Tammy won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award for the central region’s young entrepreneur.