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Archive for the ‘Money things’ Category

Mr Piglet is often witness to money issues tearing families apart and has recently been a unwilling spectator in a very spectacular family bust up where a family is literally being torn to shreds for a few thousand Euros.

Having been through times where we’ve had no money, plenty of money and then no money again, I think I can say that I know what money is but I also know the value of it and its place in my life. It’s nice to have money, it certainly makes life easier, but it is not a priority when it comes to family. I personally would much rather have my family than money.

So going back to Mr Piglet story: He recently sold, or at least thought he had, a house to a young couple looking to buy their first home. The house was the result of a typical French inheritance. Father passes away, half the house goes to the children whilst the Mother remains living in it. These days’ children are spread out all over the place and the mother wished to remain living in her home even though she couldn’t maintain it. One of the children in a village nearby and took on the role as carer giver, caretaker and everything else that goes with looking after an elderly parent.

When the Mother passed away, the nearby daughter wished to purchase her siblings share of the property, but they couldn’t agree a price and therefore agreed that they would sell it and split the proceeds. So they put the property on the market a year ago with pretty much every local agent.

During this time, nobody really looked after the property. The winter was cold; the spring came with plenty of sun and rain, ideal conditions for making an overgrown garden. The property started to tire like it’s previous owners and started to look (and feel) neglected. Little efforts were made such as trying to mow the law and pulling up some weeds, but the property deteriorated and in a market where prices are falling, nobody was willing to pay the owners asking price.

So along came Mr Piglet with two keen buyers. They were young, keen DIYers which is quite rare for young couples in France, and were willing to take on the project. They knew they were somewhat limited by budget but they could see through the cobwebs and the weeds and spotted the potential which lay behind.

Mr Piglet negotiated the price with the lady representing the owners; he had checked that she had power of attorney to act on behalf of the other brother and sisters which she did. He negotiated his commission right now to a mere two thousand Euros which was not even 1.5%. He was happy though, as the house was a good deal and the young couple would settle nicely there but only had a very limited budget and the owners wouldn’t negotiate any further.

Then out of the blue, he received a call from one of sisters living abroad. The air became tense in the office and she refused to accept the offer. Apparently her sister, the care giver, was asking for a larger split than the other siblings and the other siblings didn’t want to accept.

In the following days, emails between the siblings ensued, a family row had really broken out and Mr Piglet was copied in absolutely every email. It was like a whole seasons worth of Dallas unfolding in his inbox – he was only missing the actors and it could have been a multi-million dollar television serial. I happened to read one of the latter emails and couldn’t believe how for the sake of the extra 2 000 Euros the care giver wanted, this family were willing to rip each other to shreds in front of a spectator with little care of regard for the fact that this was their parents home.

All they cared about was money, money and more money.

Is this really what our world has come to? It would appear to be yes, but please reassure me that there are people out there that place more value on family than money?

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The Piglet family hasn’t been having much luck lately. We call it La scoumoune. I’m not quite sure of the origin of the word, I believe that it is Arabic but it’s commonly used in the infamous HLM cities in France (social housing concrete jungles) along with “avoir la mauvaise oeil” as a way of saying that you’re very unlucky. According to Wiktionnaire it’s of latin origin, but whatever it’s origin we seem to have it!

Our unluckiness has now lasted over a year, starting with the Fondue fork incident last February. It has spread like a virus through various aspects of our lives including health, financial, work and more recently our home move.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you will know that we were supposed to move into our new home in the country on March 28th but that the current owners wouldn’t move out! They didn’t even notify us that they were refusing to move until 10 days before we were due to move in! After six weeks living with the in-laws I cannot even begin to explain my desperation and how I felt.

Legally, they have no right to delay and we can sue them and seek interest and damages but as anyone who knows the French system we may as well dream on. We are going to try and seek some damages but the thought of having another legal battle and ongoing dealings with them (albeit through an avocat) and additional expense leaves us cold. We tried to reason with them and were told that we were nasty, evil people. We were called liars (they obviously can’t read the contract we all signed agreeing the date!), we were told that we were trying to evict them from their home and that we were causing ill health. It got to the point where Mr Piglet stopped updating me on what was happening as he could see it was causing much stress and heartache… I’d never envisaged becoming a Mother in such circumstances.

At one stage, I wanted to pull out of the sale completely but common sense prevailed – it had been so difficult to find a suitable house that I couldn’t bear starting the search again, 9 months pregnant!

Finally, after 10 days of legal battles, the owners have agreed to move out on April 18th and we have managed to convince the removal company to slot us in from the 19th onwards. I hope this is the end of our bad luck period as I cannot imagine another year of bad luck and thinking whatever could come next. They say bad luck comes in 3’s but in our case this last year it’s been in 3 dozens…

As you can see by the pregnancy counter in my side bar, time is ticking and Little Miss Piglet will soon be here. In fact, she is due to arrive anytime now according to the hospitals midwife as she is sitting very low and I am having frequent contractions! I doubt that we’ll be in the new house before she gets here, but now I’m learning to relax and accept what will be will be.

Having our first child in totally unplanned circumstances (to the point where I don’t even know in which hospital I will give birth) is not something I had ever planned and certainly not something I had wanted, but it is what life has dealt me and I am grateful to even be pregnant. My priority now is my little baby and I can’t wait to meet her, but if she can wait another few weeks for Mummy and Daddy Piglet to move in, we would be grateful.

They say things happen for a reason and I’m yet to discover what reasons are behind all of this. Has life dealt you with some unexpected delays/news which you were grateful for afterwards?

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Dear French Social Security People,

I know that you have an ever increasing “hole” in your budget and that you have been trying to find solutions for years on how to maintain the French healthcare system and yet save money so to ensure its future sustainability. I know that you have been unsuccessful and that currently you continue to spend far more money than you collect.

I’m not one for great ideas, especially when it comes to saving money (I am very good at spending it), but I do have an idea that could be mutually beneficial and help save you lots and lots of Euros straightaway but also for years to come.

Currently 8 months pregnant, you have been paying for me to have twice weekly back massages at a physiotherapy since Christmas. I’m not sure of the exact price of these massages as you pay for them, but I think they are in the region of 19 Euros each. So far, that must be over 400 Euros and by the time I give birth, you would probably have spent over 500 Euros on them.

The thing is, the massages don’t really help all that much. Yes they relieve some of the pain but it is a short lived solution. You see, with a big pregnant belly, I cannot lie down but have to sit on a chair. Sitting on a chair is one of things that cause me back pain the first place so it is a catch 22 situation.

But, I have the perfect solution which solves my back problem that you’re already paying for, but also covers other issues at the same time. I consider it as a kind of buy one get several solutions idea. I visited a hairdressing salon and they had the most wonderful massage chair at the wash basins. The hairdresser installs you at the wash basin and the chair reclines automatically into a lying down position elevating your legs (excellent for reducing cankles) and then proceeds to massage your back whilst the hairdresser washes your hair and gives you a relaxing head massage.

The back massage is far more comfortable than at the physiotherapists and much more effective. The head massage is excellent for alleviating stress and tension in the shoulders – something that lots of pregnant women suffer from due to the extra weight they carry on their tummy. Elevated legs reduce swollen ankles and improve blood circulation reducing the need to invest in expensive support tights (which you pay for and which I ladder constantly therefore needing new ones). Finally, the pampering of having one’s hair done at the hairdressers is excellent for boosting self esteem and no doubt has a knock on effect in the future probably saving thousands of Euros in therapy costs post partum.

A once weekly visit is much more effective on me than my twice weekly physio visits, thus saving you half of what you’re already paying as well as the other savings I have mentioned above.

Multiply the savings by the number of pregnant women in France (ie lots!) and you’re probably well on your way to fixing that deficit!

Therefore, I highly recommend that you seriously consider implementing this for all pregnant ladies suffering from back pain. If you would like any addresses or if you have any questions please let me know and I would be willing to assist (for a consultancy fee of course).

Yours Faithfully,

PigletinFrance
Currently sans domicile fixe

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Who here pays their electricity and gas bills by automatic direct debit? Did you know that it is likely you are financing the utility companies by doing this?

I’ve always been useless at paying bills, I would open them, put them on my desk, have a couple of really busy days and they’d soon be buried under mountains of paperwork and forgotten about. Fed up with getting reminder letters, I set up direct debits for all of my utilities thinking it was the right thing to do…

Only it wasn’t, I’ve had some astronomical bills come through since and last summer I started paying scrupulous attention to what I was being billed and debited. The thing with direct debit is that because it’s so automatic and doesn’t require much effort we can have a tendency to not pay attention to how much we’re paying.

Since last summer I have been carefully checking our electricity consumption and comparing it to the bill. Each bill I have received since has been erroneous; the first one by about 30 Euros, the second one by 150 Euros and yesterdays bill by 400 Euros! Each time these amounts are debited from my account and I have to call up EDF to get them to correct it! It’s ended up taking me more time to sort out than simply writing a check and it’s always them that owe me money, never the other way round!

Yesterday really took the biscuit though as I was not expecting to be debited more than 700 Euros for my electricity bill as I hadn’t paid attention to the bill when it arrived so was caught rather by surprise.

Thankfully a quick call to EDF resolved the situation without any upset and the lady was really helpful, even suggesting I ask my bank to refuse the direct debit if it had put me in difficulty (not exactly what you want to do when you’re trying to get a French mortgage mind…). I have never come across someone as helpful as she was and I was truly grateful for her for not making things difficult for me. Within 30 minutes I had a corrected bill and credit note (a reimbursement would take 3 weeks and we’ll be moved by then). This is one of my only examples of good customer service in France but it goes to show that it does exist, albeit very rarely.

It appears I’m not the only one to receive high bills from EDF, I read on TF1 about some poor bloke that got stuck with a bill for nearly 60 000 Euros at the beginning of January. The poor guy still hasn’t managed to sort it out with EDF now, so he’s obviously not had quite as much luck as I have.

I can no longer afford to be financing these companies; if I want to invest money in them I’ll buy shares thanks very much! It’s easy for them to get away with debiting and billing what they want and then taking time to rectify, so from now on I’ll be paying all my bills by good old cheque thank you very much!

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Happy belated Christmas everyone!! Hope you all had a great holiday and that you enjoyed the festivities of the season.

The New Year is just around the corner and the Waiting Game continues in the Piglet household although there have been some small but major developments…

Our bank still has not come back to us on the mortgage despite last Wednesday requesting yet more information from us! I know there has been Christmas in between and all of that, but there haven’t been any bank holidays in France since Christmas day was a Saturday so all the banks have been open as usual.

I was absolutely furious when the request came through as the information they requested had already been supplied once, on their mortgage application form and they had acknowledged receipt of it two weeks prior. If they can’t read their goddamn mortgage application form then what hope do we have of getting a mortgage with them or what hope does the world have given that the world’s economic stability depends on these bankers?

Rather more annoyingly is the questions the bank asked do not relate in anyway to whether we can financially afford the mortgage or not. One of the questions was what my maiden name is, another is in which town was I born? What the hell does that have to do with lending me money? Supposedly to do with money laundering but surely they should have this information or have at least checked it out 4 years ago when I opened my account with them and before they initially lent me money for my first mortgage? It’s not as if I’ve just arrived in France and they don’t have any of my banking history! Argghhh! Needless to say the information was in the application form we submitted and also on my passport and my livret de famille so the fact they had to ask this again really does make one wonder…

In fact, I was so wound up that I could not relieve myself of the negative energy within me and I was absolutely gagging for an alcoholic beverage of some description, but now that I’m preggers I daren’t so much as take a sip of anything remotely intoxicating, so instead I took myself out for a walk, chanting away to myself to calm down and found myself in front of the food shops.

I bought the hottest curry paste I could find and all of the parsnips I could get my hands on and came home and made myself the hottest green curry I could possibly stomach and then had the delights of having our baby girl kick my insides until I felt like I had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. Probably not the cleverest thing I could have done but the stress and negativity descended and I started to feel more human again.

On Thursday and in much desperation, I called upon the services of a mortgage broker and have not regretted it at all! Our mortgage application was complete by Thursday afternoon and he submitted it to a number of banks on Christmas Eve and by this Monday, we had already received a mortgage agreement in principle. I should have known that this would be the best way to go about things working in finance myself, but I did not have the energy to try and explain our rather bizarre situation to anyone yet alone countless banks – I know how headnumbingly stupid and illogical they can be, especially before the end of the year which is always a busy time for them.

Still no news from our bank though – I haven’t chased them and won’t do so. I want to see just how long they do take to come back to me so that I can tell them where to stick their mortgage, their bank accounts, their insurance policies and their savings accounts when they do. It will be of a great pleasure to me as we have spent a fortune with them in fees and policies over the past few years so it will be a great pleasure for me to tell them to take hike. Maybe they’ll think long and hard about how they should deal with customers, but then again, who am I kidding? Customer service doesn’t exist in France so what the hell?!

So we’ve finally closed one round of the Waiting Game but now the second round has commenced: we have just made an offer on the house (very low) and once again the ball is not in our court. We will just have to wait and see! Hopefully the estate agent will prove to be more professional than our bank!

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Silly pregnant brain had me believing hen had teeth after PIP said they were hard to come by… It’s a wonder I can even function currently, stupidity is becoming my middle name.

Yesterday I poured my coffee in the bin instead of in the sink. I turned the tap on over the worktop instead of the sink. I tried to drive around Lyon at 2330 to drop a letter off for a friend and realized that the car was no longer showing how many kilometers I could do. Not a good sign as it probably means zero. Who knows how long I’d been driving around on the reserve? Without any petrol I wasn’t even sure that I’d make it home and drove very, very slowly. So slowly I would have been stopped by the police for sure. Thankfully I wasn’t, needless to mention I hadn’t thought to take any ID or driving license with me (or money for petrol)…

Silly pregnant brain also led me to fall UP the stairs yesterday. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read correctly. I fell UP the stairs. Thankfully it was only a little tumble and I had a natural reflex to put my hand in front of my bump to protect myself. Other than a few bruises no damage was done. But I’m now going to wrap myself up in cotton wool.

Last night, silly pregnant brain decided to bake a banana cake. It’s been months since I tried to bake anything. But I’d forgotten my kitchen scales no longer worked so blindly guessed all the measurements – have you ever tried to figure out what 175 grams of flour look like? It was totally worth it though as the cake was delicious and served with magic candles it was the first birthday cake I ever baked for Mr Piglet and he thoroughly enjoyed it!

The recipe for the cake I baked can be found here.

So far today silly pregnant brain hasn’t done anything stupid but is very tired so took a nap at lunch instead of eating lunch. Now I’m trying to struggle my way through the afternoon and banish the thoughts of mince pies and Christmas pudding.

French Health Cover Update:
Just a quick update from my last rant – it’s beginning to look as if I won’t have to go to the CPAM social security offices after all! I have been saved from the silliness of the French administrative system, or so it would appear. This morning they deposited a tidy sum onto my bank account! I’m currently working out what it corresponds to payment wise but it is there, on my account! Yipee!

Christmas Tree – be aware of special card holder offers:
Sunday, Mr Piglet and I purchased our Christmas tree. We were going to get a real one but I was flabbergasted at the price and we kind of needed a big one for our living room otherwise it would just be swallowed up. Plus we had the pot from the dead palm tree that the cats peed on and killed, so an ideal location to put a tree.

We found one in Jardiland at 129 Euros down from 159 Euros for shop card carriers (which we are), it measures 2.10 metres. Delighted with the bargain I thought we were getting and exhausted from having to battle with the crowds, I handed over my card and paid.
Only later when I was home did I see the figures on the pin machine flash in front of my eyes. The buggers had overcharged me!! I called and had to take a trip back to the store to get reimbursed the 30 Euros they had overcharged me.

There are two lessons to be learned here:

1. Always check at the till that you’re paying the right price, especially at Christmas time as battling the crowds is no fun.
2. Artificial Christmas trees always seem smaller in the store. Our one is huge! It didn’t seem huge in the shop, but when we got it home and put it up with our decorations we realized that it was a bit too big! We didn’t have enough decorations to decorate it, so we’ve gone for the less is more look…

Our tree and proud Princess sitting next to it!

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Here's hoping the Secu will give me some Euros for my piggy bank

Having read several posts over at Traveling Amber regarding her battles with various French administration departments during the late stages of her pregnancy, I decided to follow her advice and start tackling some of my administration problems now, rather than leave them until later on.

Ambers’ tales have left me weak kneed about what’s to come and have made me realize I seriously have to get my act together. So I have listed everything that’s not right with my relationship with the French Social Security people and have tried to start attacking my list as best as I can:

With the impending move, its best I get everything sorted now; otherwise a change of address and department will make things even more complicated than they already are.

I did start trying to sort things out this summer and things came to a head in September when my Doctor disappeared (read post here). After writing this post, I waited a while in case my Doctor showed a sign of life and come mid-October I still hadn’t had any news either from my old Doctor (who really has disappeared off the face of the earth) or from the lovely people at the CPAM (social security).

In order to achieve any result in France it’s best to think like a French person and act as they would. In this case sending a registered letter should do the trick. So I wrote to them, in my best French, explaining my situation and including as much documentation as I could.

They also still owed me money for the month I had off work in February after my fondue fork stabbing incident and a whole months salary is not a little amount. I reminded them in my letter that I was still waiting for this payment to come through and again I included documentation supporting my case.

Feeling pleased with myself for having attacked the problem head-on and in due form, I posted the registered letter and sat back and waited for a response, certain that everything would be resolved in a timely manner.

That is, until today. My kind Outlook calendar burst into action and reminded me to check my bank account for payments. I dutifully did so, rather hoping to have received a windfall (I’m owed a couple of thousand Euros), but niltch, nada, nothing.

Feeling really peeved I called the CPAM (social security people) and tried to find out why over a month and half after doing everything they told me to do nothing had happened. My situation is really complicated and I could hear the woman on the other end of the phone switching off as I tried to explain.

My braces were shredding at my tongue and my cheeks and I was in agony as I applied as I applied my very best French accent (not easy these days since I’ve had lingual braces fitted) as I outlined everything that was still wrong with my health cover and payments.

Rather amazingly, the lady managed to summarize what I had spent the last five minutes trying to say in a couple of phrases (does this mean this type of problem is common?) and told me that she couldn’t help! WHAT? I had gone to all that trouble for nothing, steam was coming out of my ears!

She took my telephone number and said that she would pass a message on to the appropriate service. When I enquired as to when I can expect a call she informed me 21 days!! How pathetic is that? I told her that I’d already written in well over 21 days ago and that I hadn’t heard anything. All she could say was that she was sorry and that she couldn’t do anything more.

I know it’s not her fault so I really did manage to reign in my anger and frustration but I was absolutely livid. This is a lot of money we’re talking about and at this time of year after all the taxes etc have wiped out my account and with all the baby stuff we need to purchase, I really could do with getting what I have contributed into the system for as per my rights.

Afterall, if I stopped contributing they would soon stop paying but they’re not even paying when I am contributing! What to do?

I’ve decided I’m going to give them another 10 days and then I’ll be sending another registered letter with copies of previous correspondence, details of calls and I will also be addressing a copy to a mediator or something (gosh, I hope one exists, any ideas?).

Until then I’ll be keeping a close eye on my Carte Vitale (the essential French healthcare card which contains all my social security details and is required at every medical occasion) so not to lose it and further complicate matters. Unfortunately my brilliant pregnant brain is playing havoc and I keep loosing it. The Carte Vitale is the size of a credit card and only this morning did I risk loosing it again by absent mindedly putting it in yet another car parking payment machine.

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