Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Consumerism (Page 1 of 7)

So how are my challenges going?

People who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I like to keep track of things that I want to achieve. Usually, I draw up a basic chart and colour in the days that I succeed in my goals, though I’ve branched out to use a widget for one of the challenges I’ve set myself.

So how am I going so far this year?

The first challenge is the one I cleverly did to harness an activity I simply can’t live without to a bill that I absolutely hate paying.

If you cast your eyes to the sidebar of this blog, you’ll see that I’ve been progressing pretty well with my “Earn my rates back by reading” challenge. I set this goal in 2021 when I was outraged at having to pay $1,800 a year to the local council just for being able to live in my own house. Oh sure, the council provides garbage pickups every week and maintenance on public areas, but it still seemed like a lot of money.

BUT things changed when it occurred to my mighty intellect that if I utilise the local library instead of buying books, I can satiate my reading addiction and, in effect, ‘earn’ back my rates by using the books that my rates have helped to buy. It took 8 months to ‘earn’ back that $1,800, so I set my sights higher for 2022.

This time, I’ve included the council fees for the dogs in addition to the rates for my house. In September last year, I began chipping away at the grand total of $2,200 for council fees.

Going back to work as a casual teacher has really impacted the time I have for reading, but I’m pleased to report that I only have $333 to go. That’s roughly 10 more books to go before I reach my goal.

I’m glad I set myself this challenge, not only for the satisfaction I get from succeeding at reaching a goal. It’s also opened me up to reading books I might not have come across, so it’s added to my quality of life to a huge degree. I follow some prominent authors on Twitter and every now and then they’ll either spruik a book that they’re releasing, or they’ll recommend a great book that they’ve just finished reading.

It’s a simple matter to flick across to the library website to see if they have it. In a surprisingly high number of times – they do. And it’s awesome.

Am I really earning back my rates by doing this? Of course not! But it’s a bit of fun. Retirement and reaching financial independence are all about having fun, baby!

My CRT teaching chart is the newest addition. I designed this in my post about deciding to pivot and go back to teaching – not as a ‘real’ job but as a CRT (casual relief teacher.) I knew that if I was dragging myself back to work, getting up before it was daylight, and selling my sweet, sweet freedom that I’ve cherished so much; I needed to chip away at ‘paying for’ things that I’ve bought.

I knew that would keep me motivated.

Every payday since then, I’ve entered the amounts onto the chart and I’ve seen my progress. It’s very satisfying to be able to cross things off the list and move on to the next line.

To be honest, I never expected that I’d have as much work as I’ve been getting. Schools are reeling with the huge numbers of staff getting sick from either covid or the flu. So far this term I’ve had 3 straight weeks of full-time work and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. And I’m only teaching at one school!

The other CRTs tend to work at a few different schools, so it’s been interesting hearing what other schools are like. I think I’m on a pretty sweet deal working here – the kids are beautiful and working here is usually an absolute pleasure.

Even if a kid is naughty, it’s always a silly teenage naughtiness, not a nasty thing. I can certainly live with that.

I’ve decided that unless something really changes, I’ll accept as much work as I can get from the school. They definitely need CRTs, I’m putting the money to good use and after all, the school absolutely saved our financial bacon by giving me a job when the boys were small. The admin was incredible when one of my boys needed a lot of extra support due to depression in his teens. It seems like the right thing to do to help cover the classes while people are sick.

I’m just keeping my mask on during the whole day. I’d prefer not to get the flu or covid if I can help it.

The No-Spend Days chart.

I’ve been keeping this chart for years. It was one of the first things I wrote about when I started this blog. It came about because it dawned on me that no matter how frugal a person wants to be, no one can avoid spending money. Sooner or later food has to be bought, the car needs petrol or your kid needs new shoes.

Trying not to spend money is an exercise that inevitably ends in failure.

But what if I tried to restrict the days in the week that I spend money on?

Instead of letting money dribble from my wallet whenever I felt like spending it – what would happen if I became far more intentional about WHEN I spent money? I’m a naturally frugal person, except when I go on holidays, so restricting the dollar amounts wasn’t a particular issue for me. But when I started bundling up my spending so that I only waved the credit card around 3 days per week or less… a couple of things happened.

I saved some money. Anything that was an impulse buy on a day when I was trying not to spend money got put off. “I’ll buy that tomorrow,” I’d think. Usually, what was an impulse buy on one day was totally forgotten about by the next. A little more money stayed in my bank account.

The simple act of keeping the chart meant that I had to write it down. If it was a silly waste of money like buying a Caramello Koala when I was marking a stack of essays, I sometimes wouldn’t buy it. Every time, I was glad the next day when I woke up. I’d saved a precious square on my chart!

This chart has also come in handy when I wanted to check on when I’d bought something, such as a computer, the little woofs’ vaccinations, or when I’d last had the car serviced. Every now and then I’ve been pleased that I had the chart to refer to.

It’s become part of the lexicon of this house.

“Mum, we’re out of ham. Can you get some more?”

“I’ll do an Aldi shop tomorrow, babe. Today’s a no-spend day.” Everyone knows what I’m talking about, and we’re all good with it.

Keeping track of personal challenges like this definitely works for me. If you’re still reading this, maybe something like this will work for you too. The saying “What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed” has a lot of truth to it.

Like I said above, if nothing else, it’s a bit of fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

(Here’s a link to the chicken stock paste recipe that I mentioned yesterday. You make veggie stock paste by simply removing the chicken thigh. )

Dad joke of the day:

Why is it called a “dad-bod” and not a “father figure”?

Shop smarter and stop wastage.

A few days ago someone asked me if the rising prices that seem to be hitting everything from food to haircuts was the reason why I was picking up so much CRT work. The question took me a little by surprise because this hasn’t been the reason at all.**

The conversation around the table then shifted to sharing sad tales of how our lives have already started to be impacted by things getting more expensive. I kept pretty quiet because no one likes a know-it-all. But I wondered if people might be interested in a post where I share some of the strategies that I’ve used over the years to help us get the most bounce per ounce in our grocery shopping.

I picked groceries because I think this is the main area where people can stretch their dollars. There are so many different ways here to tweak how and where we spend our money to keep more of it in our wallets. I know that once I got the other bills under control, grocery shopping was where I was able to keep finding ways to stretch our dollars further. These strategies have now become habits.

Over the years, as my financial situation improved, I’ve allowed some relaxation in some areas of our grocery spending. But the good thing about knowing how to stretch the dollars is that, if you ever need to, you can immediately tighten your spending up again because you already know how to.

The control lies with you. There’s power in that.

The two main ways to save money on groceries are to:

  1. Shop smarter, and
  2. Stop wastage.

The best way to save money on food is to (obviously) pay as little as possible for it. Shopping the specials and stocking up on items that have a long ‘use-by’ is a winning strategy.

If you’re feeding your family on food that has been purchased at a discount, obviously that means that more dollars stay in your pocket. The way I ramp up this is to have a store of food that I’ve bought cheaply… in bulk.

I’ve always had a store of food and other things that we regularly use at home. The habit of doing this started when I was a stay-at-home parent with many small mouths to feed. I’ve always been a long-term thinker, so it just made sense to stock up on items when they were on special, knowing that it meant that over time, I’d be feeding my family for less money per serve.

Yes, I’m that person who has multiples of the same things in their trolley. My pantry in the kitchen looks like anyone else’s, but open my ‘zombie apocalypse’ cupboard in the laundry and it’s a different story.

Currently, there are around 20 tins of different legumes; 30 tins of sardines for the little woofs; around 6 cartons of UHT milk; 3 boxes of tissues; 3 slabs of diced tinned tomatoes (my home-grown tomatoes were awful this year – normally I’d have heaps bagged up in the freezer); 2 huge bags of rice; around 20kgs of bread flour for bread rolls and pizzas; lots of different sorts of tea bags and dried home-grown herbal tea leaves; lots of toilet paper; dried red lentils, peas, and chickpeas; hand sanitiser; garbage bags and baking paper; red wine; ground coffee and a heap of other things.

When you buy multiples of an item that you’ll eat, you can then spread the savings out to magnify the savings. One tin of diced tomatoes at 50% off will save you, say, 50c. Buying 10 tins will save you $5.****

Over time, and with lots of different grocery items, those savings add up. Given enough time, those savings add up substantially.

I’m guessing that most people who read this post will have enough money to immediately start taking advantage of staples by buying them in bulk when they’re on special. For those of us in that position, then the main inhibitor on the size of our stash of groceries will be the amount of storage that we have available. No point stocking up on 4 slabs of toilet paper if you’ve got nowhere to put them! No one wants to be tripping over stacks of tins and packages in the hallway. as we make our way to the kitchen. So the size of our cupboards/shelves and other spots will be our guide.

If, however, you’re on an income with not much disposable money, storage isn’t usually the main issue. Instead, it’s gathering together the money to actually start buying extras of the groceries that your family uses. A store of extra groceries like this takes a fair bit of time to build up because you might only be able to buy 1 or 2 extra things, instead of 5 or 10. Sometimes, buying even a few extra things can be a real stretch. I know – I’ve definitely been there.

If this is your situation, then it helps to keep in mind that even buying ONE extra item at a great price is helping your overall situation. It might not move the needle much, but every tiny good decision is a step forward. Looking long-term, which is what I tend to do, many tiny good decisions can move you a long way.

And if you’re moving a long way, then as time goes on your position will improve and you can then take larger steps. That’s what happened with me.

An unexpected advantage of having a home ‘supermarket’ came to light during the pandemic. In the lockdowns, especially before the vaccinations came around, having these stores meant that we weren’t forced to go out and mingle with people. We were able to stay at home for far longer without being the slightest bit deprived.

I really loved that unexpected benefit of having a store of staples available.

Now, you can buy cheap food and store it away until the cows come home, but if you’re not actually using it, then you’re deluding yourself. Reducing food waste is the second essential part of stretching our grocery dollars.

I remember when I was at home with the kids, back when they were really little. I saw an ‘Oprah’ show where she had an efficiency expert come in. They were looking at food waste in random people’s houses.

He was going through a woman’s fridge and throwing food from her fridge crisper and pantry shelves into a garbage bag. He said something like, “Every time you don’t use food and have to throw it away, you may as well cut out the middleman and throw $50 notes straight into the trash.”

That made me sit up straight. He was absolutely right.

Due to my little family being on the bare bones of our ar##s anyway, our food waste was already pretty small. I couldn’t afford to waste much. But that remark made me redouble my efforts. Every time I was tempted to throw perfectly good food away, I’d see actual money being scraped into the bin.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand.

A few years later, when I decided I needed to grow some of our own food to help cut down on artificial additives in our food, the anti-waste thing REALLY came into its own.

A definite food chain developed. First humans. Then dogs. Then chooks. Then the worm farm. Then compost. Finally – the garbage bin.

Hardly anything went out the door. Our food stayed here, either nourishing our bodies or nourishing our garden, which in turn produced food to nourish us. It was an almost closed cycle.

That cycle, minus the chooks, continues today, even after we moved to The Best House in Melbourne. It’s extremely rare that the boys and I throw food away. We try and use up everything we buy, grow and make.

As the boys grew and some of them moved away and our household became smaller, sometimes we began to eat the same meal two nights running. The amount of food that would once be used up for one night to feed five of us can easily be stretched to feed three adults over two nights.

Any smaller servings are great to throw in the freezer and be used for a quick lunch a few days later. Today’s lunch of bolognese came straight from last night’s dinner. I think it was even tastier the second time around.

Speaking of small servings, sometimes I have steamed veggies left over from dinner. I have a container in the freezer that I throw them in. Every couple of months I make chicken stock paste and veggie stock paste… SO MUCH TASTIER AND CHEAPER than using the cubes and liquid stock from the supermarket. Each batch uses enough fresh veggies (and chicken, if I’m making a chicken stock paste) to fill up a thermomix jug. Of course, I pull anything that needs using up out of the crisper drawer from the fridge, but having the frozen ‘waste’ veggies from previous meals means that I’m using up ingredients that need to be used and saving some other veggies, that may be fresher, to be included in another meal later on.

Every little bit helps.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the two strategies of buying grocery specials in bulk and reducing food wastage as much as possible are the bedrock of being able to stretch grocery spending further. I know that to me it became almost like a game, where every time I used up something, found a great deal and bought up big, or made something stretch further, it was fun.

Let’s face it, the road to financial independence isn’t quick. It takes many years to get there. Anything that helps to get us closer and is like a game has GOT to be a win!

** Sequence of Return Risk and volunteering to help pay for a wedding are the reasons I’m doing casual relief teaching. 🙂

**** Of course, being me, I was going to keep the maths simple!

Dad joke of the day:

What’s it called when a chameleon can’t change its colours anymore?

A reptile dysfunction.

The rewards of Delayed Gratification.

Our first pizza in the new oven.

It’s funny how my perception of worthwhile purchases has changed since I reached financial independence, (FI). The latest thing I’ve bought – the pizza oven – is a perfect example of this.

I’ve always made pizzas for my family. Firstly, I married an Italian, so I learned to make pizza, pasta and lasagne very quickly after I moved in. I was brought up in a Skip family in the 60’s and 70’s, and Mum’s repertoire was pretty much meat and 3 veg with tinned fruit for dessert. The Italian cuisine was definitely a step up!

Then, after the divorce, when the boys and I were living off the Sole Parent’s pension of around 18K per year and, (for the first few years when I wasn’t teaching), $20/month child support, pizza, pasta, pancakes and mince were my best friends. You can feed an army with those items and, with 4 boys, I practically was.

Back then, the only pizza ovens that were around were in pizza shops. But if domestic pizza ovens were a thing in the 1990’s/2000’s, there would have been NO WAY I would’ve even considered buying one.

So what if the taste of pizza made in a proper pizza oven was superior? I was baking perfectly adequate pizzas in my regular oven, thank you very much.

So it only takes a minute to cook a pizza, as opposed to around 12 – 15 minutes in a regular oven? That sounds good, but really… it’s dinner time. We’re already in the kitchen where we need to be – a few minutes saved isn’t that big a deal.

And of course – the clincher:

They cost HOW MUCH??? Are you KIDDING me? Who in their right mind would pay hundreds of dollars to make a pizza taste better and save a few minutes? Not this little black duck! I have far better things to do with my money.

And Past Frogdancer would have been correct. She DID have better things to do with her money, such as pay off the house, send the boys through school, buy braces and glasses for whoever needed them etc etc. I called myself a ‘little black duck’ a few sentences back and that’s a pretty apt description for how life was back then. My little webbed feet were paddling furiously under the surface to make sure that the boys and I stayed afloat.

But now that I’ve reached FI?

It seems that the rules have changed a bit.

The second pizza. We need to practice launching them into the oven a little more!

When I first saw that Thermomix was selling pizza ovens, the first thing I thought of was how fantastic entertaining would be with one of these working with me. I realised this was something that could definitely make a positive difference in my life. Safe to say, I was interested in finding out more.

But hey, let’s not get crazy here! The next thing I did was check out the price. I haven’t changed that much! There’s no point fantasising about owning something if it’s impossible to pay for.

Fortunately, the price was reasonable.

It’s interesting though. Unlike buying a thermomix, I won’t be using this pizza oven nearly as much. There’ll be weeks that go by when it won’t be touched. Granted, it’s not as pricey as a thermomix, but even so. The cost per use won’t be nearly as good.

But for the first time, that wasn’t the important part. The major tipping point for me was the thought of seeing my boys, my wider family and my friends gathering together and having fun, enjoying good food – because who doesn’t like pizza? – and it being something that everyone could look forward to doing.

In other words, the emotional draw of this product trumped (ugh – hate that word… I wonder why) the financial considerations.

This is the side of practising delayed gratification that we don’t often hear of. Everyone talks about front-loading the sacrifices to get to a point where you can loosen the reins and start indulging yourself. Not many people talk about what it’s like once they reach the point of being able to relax and reap the rewards earned by being disciplined with expenditure for so long.

Well, I’m at that point. I don’t want to run crazy, buying every shiny new bauble in sight, but it’s nice to have other things be the deciding consideration, rather than simply “How much does it cost?”

The decades of frugal living have left their mark, but in ways that I really like. I live a life filled with simple pleasures that don’t cost a lot, if anything. I love to go travelling – fingers crossed Antarctica can still go ahead this year – but I’m also extremely happy puddling around at home.

I spent years and years living on the knife’s edge of poverty when the boys were small, determined not to fall off. My theme song was Bon Jovi’s “We’re Halfway There”, except I changed the line to “It DOES make a difference if we make it or not.” I went without many things and made probably thousands of little sacrifices that, while I obviously noticed them at the time, have mostly faded into obscurity over the years.

All of those little daily frugal habits have brought me here. I hope that there’s someone reading this… maybe someone who feels like they’re stuck in the boring middle ground of FI when it seems like you’ve optimised every expense and now you’re just plodding through… someone who can catch a glimpse that it’ll all be worth it.

After all, the time will pass, regardless of whether you’re using the tool of delayed gratification or not. But it can make a huge difference as to where you’ll be when you’re older.

It’s 11:34 AM on a Tuesday. I’m about to get up and plant some new flowers into some hanging baskets, before making some bread rolls for lunches and then finishing off a quilt for my cousin. Tom30 is working from home and I can hear him singing in his room. Luckily, he has a beautiful voice! As I’m typing this I’m throwing a ball for Polly and Sout to chase, while Jeffrey is snoring beside me.

In an alternate universe, 11:34 AM on a weekday would mean that I’d be either in a classroom teaching 28 kids, or at my desk in the staffroom marking papers or preparing lessons. Not a bad life, granted, but I know which one I’m very happy to be living!

(In the comments last week, Maureen asked me for a review of the Ovana. Here’s the link, in case she missed it.)

Dad joke of the day:

Frugal Friday: Prepare to celebrate!

Helloooo!

I’ve had a blog-break while I was waiting for my blog to migrate to another host. Back in April when I had a blog meet-up in Adelaide, I asked who people were getting to host their blogs, because Siteground was costing me a FORTUNE. The consensus was that Panthur, an Australian company, was great and far cheaper.

I’ve switched and it’s costing me a third of the price I was paying before.

omg. bargain.

Now I have more money to spend on things that I value – like champagne. (More on that later.) Like travel. Like Operation Beautify.

Last year on my Goodreads page I decided to try and read 70 books. I may have overshot slightly… I ended up reading 128 books instead. Oops.

I read some terrific books this year. I have a couple of friends on Facebook who used to be bloggers, back in the Golden Age of craft blogs, and they’re avid readers. I’ve been following their recommendations. I’m also following a few authors on Twitter. They get advance copies of people’s books, so when they tweet about something that sounds interesting, I’ve tracked it down.

Would you be interested in a post giving a recap of the best books? It’s be a shame if I didn’t use the Power of Time to Read for goodness, instead of evil. (That’s a ‘Get Smart’ quote, just slightly changed.)

Anyway, shoot me a comment and let me know. 🙂

But why the meme at the top of this post?

To kick the new year off, I’m sharing one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.

Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge. You never know when something will happen that you’ll want to celebrate.

It’s a tiny piece of joy, just waiting to happen. I always have a bottla bubbly ready and waiting. Sometimes it sits there for months, but that’s ok. As long as it’s unopened, it’s not going to go off.

But when someone arrives with good news or success to share, that bubbly GOES OFF!!!!

Then, in the next day or so, I quietly go to replenish the supply. It’s weirdly satisfying to be prepared to be spontaneous.

But who doesn’t want to be ready to be joyful?

Dad joke of the day:

What do Italian children like to play at parties?

Pasta parcel.

Little Adventures #9: The most hilarious Little Adventure of them all! December 2021.

The last Little Adventure for the year was a very special one. My son Evan25 and his friend have written and performed in a show. Long term readers of this blog might remember when he went off to study an acting degree in Ballarat, when I wrote a post about what my second-generation FIRE kid has learned about money.

Long term readers of the Frogblog would know that Evan25 was that really interested 11-year-old bobbing around reading over my shoulder as I typed the very first post back in September 2007.

Now, 14 years later, I was travelling into the Melbourne CBD to see his first show. I snuck into the Tuesday night show on my own (and had a lovely long debrief with Evan25 the next morning) and I’d also got together around 15 people, family and friends, to see their closing night.

There’s a special kind of joy that comes from seeing your adult child doing the work that they love. Especially if that child is actually good at what they’re doing. Thankfully, their show was excellent. So very, very funny.

His girlfriend Jenna’s parents flew over from Adelaide on the weekend just to see the show. Both of my boys who are partnered up have been fully embraced into their girlfriends’ families, which is a beautiful thing to see. Jenna’s Dad said to me after the show, “At one point I was laughing so hard I got dizzy!”

The following photo gives the synopsis of the show:

As Evan25 said to us on the day we were all finally able to get together after the lockdowns, “It’s just two silly boys on stage. It’s not going to change anyone’s life.”

I said, “That sounds exactly what we all need right now!”

There was one act where there was a jaded female butcher running through her wares, making lots of food jokes. This was Evan25 in an apron, with a shower cap on his head, miming sucking a ciggie. Then, in the middle of it, I hear, “$18.45 a kilo??? Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

The first thing I asked him the next day was, “Did I hear an Edgar Allen Poe joke in there???”

He laughed. He said, “When we were writing it Will didn’t want to keep that joke – he said it wasn’t funny and he didn’t get it. I said, ‘Trust me – my Mum’s going to LOVE it!’ I kept that joke just for you.”

He also had the $18.45 price there because ‘The Raven’ was published in 1845. “It’s just a little joke in there for me – no one will ever notice it but I know it’s there.”

He also played a character called Tim, who is a battered-around-the-edges sweet transvestite. Turns out that my boy can really rock a pair of 5″ heels and has a tuck to die for. He has long legs and they look surprisingly good in fishnet stockings. The audience laughed so hard each night when he emerged from behind the curtain in that outfit – I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud. 🙂

Usually, I bang on about being frugal, but this Little Adventure was the priciest one yet. Performers don’t make a lot of money from ticket sales – the venue takes the lion’s share. Where the people who actually produce the show make their money is from the merch. So, of course, I bought one of everything.

But that’s why frugality is so terrific. I save money on things I don’t care about so that I can spend on the things that are important to me, such as supporting my son and his friend.

The very best thing about seeing the show again on Saturday night was watching my family and best friend really see what Evan25 can do. They know him as the funny guy at family gatherings, cracking wordplay puns and one-liners, but they got to see him in all his glory. It was very special as a Mum to bask in their amazed joy at just how funny he is.

Dad joke of the day:

Did I tell you about the time I fell in love during a backflip? I was heels over head. 

Frugal Friday: The no-spend week.

screenshot of a chart.

After my mammoth 61 week streak on the No Spend Days chart which ended when Jeffrey had to go to the vet on a Friday, I had a 14-week stint before I had to keep going to the hardware to buy things that David28 needed when he was building frames over the wicking beds. Now I’ve started again…

If you look at the chart, I’ve technically already performed a 7-day in-a-row streak of not spending any money, but I’m holding off so that there’s a full line of colour on the chart. It looks far more like a full week when it’s all in the one line.

These are the stupid ways that make this chart work so well for me. By far the best idea was making each week that I spend money on 3 days or less a ‘silver’ week. Once you start to get a continuous streak going it’s hard to break the chain.

This all serves to make my spending intentional. I still spend money – but I now do it in blocks, rather than just let dollars dribble from my wallet without realising.

meme

Another bonus to having this chart is that it makes it very easy to track spending in various categories. This came in very handy when a friend at work and then a neighbour told me about a very good – and far cheaper – vet in the next suburb over. Of course, I had to check him out.

The vet that the Little Woofs have been going to since we moved here is literally around the corner. Over the 5 years we’ve been living here I’ve spent thousands there, what with Scout swallowing a pip and getting an intestinal blockage; Poppy and Jeff having teeth extractions left, right and centre, as well as the usual injections and stuff.

When Jeff put his back out a few weeks ago I was able to easily compare prices by quickly scanning last year’s chart. Again, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s nice to have an easily-accessible way to look things up.

And yes; this vet is cheaper and I got a good vibe from him. We’ve swapped over.

Poppy the cavalier.

It helps that this week has been a quiet one, where I pretty much stayed home and puddled around. This is where I’m really reaping the benefits of preparing The Best House in Melbourne for retirement, while I was still working. There have been a couple of days in the garden, a few more reading and sewing days, while at night I have Netflix, Stan or Apple+.

I had a few self-sown silverbeet plants that after a year or so were going to seed themselves, so I chopped off all of the good leaves, added some water and ground them down to a paste in the thermomix. I’ve frozen them in ice cubes and I’ll add them to soups, stews and bologneses in the winter. Just like a green vitamin pill!

I’m a ‘chop and drop’ gardener, so the rest of the stalks and leaves were chopped into small pieces and left to lie on the wicking beds as a mulch. This adds so much goodness to the soil – for free! It takes a lot more time to do this, rather than just ripping them out and throwing them in the green bin, but the improvement in the soil over time is absolutely worth it. Plus – I’m retired! I have the time.

I don’t switch the tv on during the day, unless it’s 45C outside and all anyone wants to do is sit under the air-con and zone out, so my days are spent doing whatever I feel like doing, while at night I chip away at whatever series I’m watching at the time.

Today, in order to make sure that I don’t accidentally rush out in a frenzy and spend money, I’ve taken the dogs out to post a letter to Vanguard – (how ANYONE can fill in that stupid US taxation form is beyond me… this is my second go at it) – and then we took a detour home and went for a walk beside the river.

On the way home I went and had a look at a house that was sold recently for what seemed like a LOT of money for what looked like a bit of a dogbox. It was even worse than it looked online. Oof.

Then I wrote this post. After this, will I go and have a nap? Or will I keep working on David28’s quilt? Or will I go out and do some more ‘chopping and dropping’ in the veggie garden? Or maybe I should go out to the front garden and tidy up the weeds in the garden bed near the apple trees? Hmmm, there’s that book Tom29 bought me for my birthday that I haven’t yet picked up. The Colour of Money – maybe I should crack that open and dive in? I loved the writing in The Queen’s Gambit, so this one should be good too.

So many options. All able to be done here, without having to race off elsewhere.

I’m really enjoying this new phase in my life, eleven months in. I have yet to be bored, which I think is pretty special.

Dad joke of the day:

Did you hear about the maths teacher that was afraid of negative numbers?

He would stop at nothing to avoid them.

“I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

Pantry door with Poppy.

I have a friend who I’ve known for more years than I care to think about. She doesn’t live near me, so when we were in the midst of all the lockdowns we didn’t see each other for months. So once lockdowns were over I was excited to finally clap eyes on her in person.

She and her husband came over for a coffee. She walked into the house, dropped her bag on the table and went over to my pantry door, throwing it open and standing there gazing inside.

I looked at Ryan26 and he raised an eyebrow.

She stood there.

I knew she was probably waiting for attention, but I asked the question anyway.

“Beks, are you looking for anything?”

She turned to face me, saying, “I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

Oof.

A bit of background…

Well-trdered shelf in pantry.

I’ve always bought our groceries in bulk. Back when the boys were little and we were living hand-to-mouth, it was a survival tool. In the years before Aldi came to Australia, I used to shop the specials at the supermarkets and buy 5 or 10 tins/packets/jars of our staple foods when they were cheaper.

This meant that, over time, we were eating a lot of our food at a discounted price. When you’re a struggling single mum with 4 hungry mouths to feed, not counting your own, every single dollar saved is worthwhile. Sure, it costs a little more up-front, but over time the groceries actually work out cheaper.

Having bought that food, it was imperative to keep track of it. No point buying bulk food to save money if you end up having to throw it out because you forgot about it! So my pantry was and is always well-organised. Everything stacked neatly, tins etc rotated with the newer ones going to the back so nothing goes out of date and labels to the front so you can see at a glance what and how many you have of everything.

I remember seeing an Oprah show back when the kids were small where she had a kitchen organiser go through people’s fridges and pantries. I remember him stuffing shopping bags full of one woman’s rotting produce from her crisper and saying, “If you don’t eat the food you bring home, you may as well take $50 notes and throw them straight into the garbage. It’d be quicker and it’d have the same result.”

I never forgot that.

Shelf in pantry.

I twigged pretty early on that the longer you stay out of the supermarket, the more money you save. It’s amazing how little treats get popped into the trolley whenever you go shopping. So if I make sure that my house is well-stocked with all of the things we use, then instead of going to the supermarket for inspiration each night for dinner, I can cook meals from what we already have.

Particularly now that there’s only 2 of us living here, I rarely go to Aldi more than once a week – and now that the garden is starting to ramp up, it’ll probably drift out to nearly once a fortnight. After all, if I don’t see those little treats, I can’t buy them! Money saved.

So my pantry has always been well-stocked. During lockdowns, this became a godsend. In between lockdowns, I’d drive to far-away shops like Costco and stock up on the essentials, which for this house is the Little Woofs’ dry and raw dog food, with coffee grounds and dried blueberries for the humans.

Lots of tinned sardines.
Sardines for the Little Woofs.

When I see tinned sardines in oil at Aldi, for example, I grab a heap because usually, only the sardines in tomato sauce tins are on the shelf. I feed the Little Woofs sardines every week… I’d hate for them to miss out because I didn’t think ahead. Tomato sauce with their sardines isn’t really their thing. (Is it anybody’s?)

What began as a survival strategy when the kids were small has morphed into a convenience thing now that I shop primarily at Aldi. There are no specials anymore, but the money and the time I save by not popping into the supermarket every day or so is worth the cupboard space I have for my zombie apocalypse stores.

Beks, however, is of a different mindset to me.

She and her husband are empty-nesters, so like my household, they’re also feeding just 2 people. The way we handle that job starts off the same, but then quickly veers apart.

We start off thinking about what we’d like to eat that night. Neither of us menu plans for the week or the month like some ultra-organised people do. We ask our husband/son their opinion (sometimes) and we make a decision.

Mine is usually based on what we have a lot of and what needs using up. At the moment, for example, we have a lot of diced chicken that I’ve put into 500g bags in the freezer. At least twice a week, I’ll be pulling out one of those bags to use.

Beks, on the other hand, decides what they’ll eat that night regardless of what’s in the house. She goes food shopping almost daily.

They also refuse to eat the same thing two nights running. Ryan26 and I have fallen into the habit of cooking one night, then eating the same meal again the next night, or freezing the leftovers if we need to. Beks just cooks half-portions of what she used to cook when the kids were home, so they don’t have m/any leftovers.

There’s no right or wrong to this. It’s just two different ways of tackling the “what will we have for dinner?” question that we all have to answer every day.

Shelf in pantry.

Beks turned away from my pantry and said, “I just can’t believe that you shop the way you do. It’s hysterical!”

I knew that there was no point in getting all riled up or defensive. She does her thing and I do mine. It’s all good. But I wasn’t going to let her get away with making a dig at me for no reason. A girl has to stand her ground in her own kitchen, after all.

I cocked my head to one side and said, “Comes in bloody handy during a pandemic, though. While everyone was dodging covid doing their shopping, I was here all safe and sound.”

BIG tub of Vegemite. Yum.
The offending tub of Vegemite. She’s right – it IS big.

She looked back into the pantry and said, “It’s funny, the way you have a bucket of Vegemite here.”

I chuckled. “Won’t have to even think about buying more for years!”

Coffee grounds etc in a thermomix jug.
Coffee grounds etc in the thermomix jug, ready to be blitzed for the worms.

She shrugged and I moved past her to put the kettle on. She saw the bowl of used coffee grounds and eggshells that we have beside the kettle. When the bowl is full I blitz the contents and dig them into the veggie gardens to feed the worms. In turn, they feed my veggies, which in turn, feed us.

Circle of life. Hakuna Matata.

“You DO know that it’s not normal to have coffee grounds just sitting there?” she said.

“Of course it is, Beks… when you’re a permaculture household,” I said. I don’t know if she’s up to speed on what permaculture is, but as her husband came in from outside the conversation moved on.

As I made the coffees, Ryan26 and I exchanged a simple shake of the head and a smile. Ahhh Beks. Every now and then she has to try and take a dig…

We know why we run the house the way we do, and we know that the things we do work well for us. For me, the comfort of having a well-stocked pantry and zombie apocalypse cupboard gives me a sense of security that is a beautiful thing to live with.

It’s simply another tool for designing my life so that my retirement is stress-free and comfortable. And yes; 11 months in, retirement is still bloody wonderful!

Dad joke of the day:

What do you call a fat psychic?

A four-chin teller.

Frugal Friday: Entertain yourself with what you have at home.

Let’s be honest. I’ll bet we all have things tucked away in cupboards or on shelves that we bought, intending to use, but have somehow never seen the light of day again. Some would be practical, some for hobbies or for trips we’ve planned but never taken, but the end result is the same. We’ve spent money on things that are simply taking up space, both physically and in our heads.

The thing is – it’s not wasted money if you actually USE the thing you bought.

Me? I’m a quilter. I don’t know how to sew, even though I use a sewing machine. Quilting is the only thing I do. And yeah, over the years I’ve amassed quite the stash of fabric. Even when I took a 5-year break from the hobby because I was spending every spare second selling thermomixes, I kept the bins and boxes full of colours. I had an inkling that one day I’d come back to it.

Mix the “not wasted money if you use it” and the “I’ll come back to this hobby” ideas and for the last 18 months I’ve been making a concerted effort to use what’s actually in the house, rather than racing off to buy shiny and new items.

During Melbourne’s world-breaking lockdown, online shopping has been a godsend for most things, but honestly… some things you have to actually see for yourself in person. For me, fabric is one of these. So I decided to entertain myself in lockdown by restricting myself to only using the fabric that I have right here. Some I’ve had for over a decade!

Time to use it.

Some of these are gifts, some are for around the house and others are baby quilts, like the one pictured here, that I’ve put aside for the boys and myself to give as gifts when people we know and love start reproducing.

The boys are in their mid to late twenties so this time is definitely coming.

In fact, this baby quilt was made for a friend of Tom29’s. A little girl named Ava uses this quilt every single day. I was stoked when Tom29’s friend told him this. We quilters don’t make these things to be put away in a cupboard. We want them to be used and loved and wrapped around the people we care for.

These blocks were actually all sewn up and all they needed was to be assembled and sewn together. They were sitting in a box for 11 years, all because I was too scared I’d make a mistake and ruin them. I’m sitting on it right now – I decided to sew them together as a couch quilt. The Little Woofs love to sleep on the couch next to their Mum.

All from the stash. I’m running low on purple – you’ll notice there are 2 triangles with purple flowers. But I still managed to get the quilt top done without online shopping. Winning!

This one is a queen-sized monster. Yellows and greys.

Another gift for a friend. I’ve known her for over 40 years – thought it was time I made her a quilt… She has a cat, so I made sure there was cat fabric on it. I saw this pattern on a Youtube clip, so I gave it a whirl.

So many patterns, so little time.

Here’s another little baby quilt. The pattern was designed by Ryan26 for his older brother. David28 wants a queen-sized quilt so we tested out the pattern first. The queen-sized quilt will NOT be part of the stash challenge. He wants only solids for it and I don’t have the correct colours, so I’ve ordered them online. Eclectic Mumma has the best range of Moda solids I’ve found.

And I’m working on a huge quilt using crumbs and strings, some only 1/2 inch wide, for my parents. It’s a combined Christmas and birthday gift, which is fair enough, as it’ll take me way more than 40 hours to put this all together. I’m definitely using up lots of little scraps here, but after an afternoon of high concentration, I totter out feeling a bit discombobulated. When it’s finished I’ll share it on a future ‘Frugal Friday’ post.

I’m using up what’s here in the house and being vastly entertained at the same time. My brain’s hard at work designing and making hundreds of decisions with colour placement, I’m grooving to Mum’s Boppin’ Bangers on Spotify and my afternoons slip by with much fun, no money spent and a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day.

Why not do as I did and drag those unused items from your cupboards and start using them? After all, you bought them for a reason. If they genuinely don’t interest you anymore, flog them off on Marketplace or give them away, but if you see them and smile, then get your money’s worth from them!

After making all of these quilts from fabric that I already had at home, I still have bucketloads of fabric here. So many hours of entertainment! I feel very lucky.

As I said above, it’s only a waste of money if you don’t USE what you have.

So use it.

Dad jokes of the day:

What did the grape do when he got stepped on? He let out a little wine. 

I wouldn’t buy anything with velcro. It’s a total rip-off.

Frugal Friday – respect the past by not wasting things.

Stalks of rainbow chard in a glass.

Look at this bunch of rainbow chard. Whoever grew these babies knew what she was doing!

We have a saying in this house: If we grows it, we eats it.

The only exception to that rule is kale. Ugh. I grew it one year and it was so horrible I let the cabbage moths swarm all over it. It was a fitting way for it to go. It also meant that it wasn’t wasted. It was a decoy for the moths so that other, more delicious veggies, could grow.

Now that I only have one other person living here, meals tend to go a lot further. Last night we had bolognese with sweet potato gnocchi. I’ve blogged before about the one tomato plant I had that decided it wasn’t going to go down to winter and death without a fight. It kept producing tomatoes until a month ago, when it dropped some seeds and turned up its toes.

I wasn’t going to let those tomatoes go to waste. I threw them into the freezer. There were 200g worth – not enough for a can’s worth but still useable. Last night I grabbed them and threw them into the sauce. I wasn’t going to let that plant’s heroic efforts go to waste!

The extra dollop of tomatoes made the sauce extra large and so there was enough left to make a lasagne for us tonight. My rule is that if we have greens in the garden, a lasagne must have layers of leaves and our pizzas must have lots of greens on them.

I picked enough rainbow chard to make a lasagne and a couple of pizzas for tomorrow night.

Half-assembled lasagne.

This is layered by tomato, pasta, tomato, leaves… then it’ll continue until I run out of sauce. Then I’ll top it with a cheesy bechamel sauce and into the oven it’ll go. I love getting extra greens into my kids. Even when they’re taller than me.

But I don’t like using the stalks in this dish. So what do I do with them?

Chopped up red stalks in front of a grey compost tin.

Sometimes their fate is to end up in the compost tin where, over time, their elements will make more plants in the garden, but not today. I make my own stock pastes. It was the item that pushed me over the edge to buy a thermomix when I went to my first demo. I don’t stick to the exact veggies in the recipe, but use whatever comes to hand. I simply cut these stalks up and popped them in the freezer for when I make my next batch.

It won’t matter if they go a bit freezer-burny. They’re going to be chopped into a mush and cooked when I drag them out, so it’s all good. Just because they’re stalks doesn’t mean that it’s ok to throw them away. They still have fibre and nutrients, whether I use them for humans’ benefits or for the next generation of plants in the garden.

Soap curing.

The soap recipe I usually use has 500g of copha in it. For some reason, I had 125g of it sitting in my fridge. I decided that rather than throw it out, I’d force myself to do some maths (sigh) and make a 1/4 batch.

When making proper soap, you have to stay strictly to the recipe, otherwise it won’t work. For prettiness, I threw some dried calendula and cornflower petals on top. I bought these a while ago and they’ll last me for YEARS. They don’t lose colour when the soap is curing and they add a touch of fanciness. They weren’t exactly cheap, but that doesn’t matter if I actually use them.

Soap cut into bars.

Only 6 bars of soap, but they’ll be ready to use when I finish using up my motel soaps. They’ll tide us over until I can get to Coles and buy some more copha.

And I got to use up the little block. No waste!

They’ll be sitting in the laundry for at least 6 weeks, curing until they’ll be ready to use.

Washcloths piled on a table, with Scout looking on.

My washcloths are finished. I sent one to a teacher friend who I know likes them, but I haven’t heard back from her so I hope I have her address right. Or maybe she just didn’t like this one…

I know there’ll probably be some people who’ll think that doing things like this and being conscious of not wasting things that I make and grow is an ironic waste of my time. I’ve retired early(ish), so why am I mucking around with things like this? For many years when the boys were kids, I HAD to do things like this to make our dollars stretch as far as they possibly could just to survive. But those days are over. So why bother to do them now?

A part of it is looking after the Earth and sustainability – though probably not as big a part as it should be, if I’m honest.

Mostly it’s to do with respecting the time and money I’ve put into things. I feel that buying something isn’t a waste of money if you use it. So that’s why I unpicked the bamboo top and reknitted it into washcloths. There was a lot of money tied up in an item of clothing that was never going to be used. This way – I get to make gifts and people will use them. The money spent on that beautiful bamboo tape won’t be wasted. Plus it kept me entertained for nearly a week as I knitted and listened to audiobooks.

We make sure we use as much as possible of the food that I grow. I’ll never recoup the money that I poured into setting up the food garden in the first place. But growing some of our food was never an economic decision.

The garden offers so many things to my retired life. Obviously, it gives us the freshest organic food that it’s possible to eat. But it also offers the chance to run experiments, to problem solve and to get outside and quietly while away the hours being productive. Poppy loves to steal beans from the vine. As I chop and drop, I kick the ball for Scout and Poppy to chase while Jeffrey snoozes on the couch on the verandah. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or audiobooks as I work, while other times I let the birds and the wind do their thing.

(Incidentally, I’d like to thank Nic for posting a comment this afternoon on my previous post. They mentioned planting potatoes and that reminded me that I had some seed potatoes and some grow bags that were still sitting in the laundry. They’d been there for more weeks than I’d care to own up to. Within 10 minutes the potatoes were planted and I’d used the potatoes and seed bags that I’d spent good money for. Plus I felt good that I’d ticked another job from my list.)

When I was working I used to look at the price of things I wanted to buy and work out how many hours of my life I’d put into teaching to get that much money. It was roughly $50/period. Then I’d think of my absolute worst class. Was this pair of shoes equal to putting up with 8K for 3 periods????

Sometimes it was; sometimes it wasn’t. But it would NEVER be worth it if I bought the shoes and then never wore them. What a waste of my mental anguish putting up with that group of kids for all of those periods!

This is why I try not to waste anything. Time, money and hours of my life have gone into the things I have around me. I respect Past Frogdancer and so I don’t want to ignore what she did to get to where we are.

Does that make sense?

Dad joke of the day:

Joke.

After I posted a couple of days ago, I realised that I forgot to include a Dad joke. Sincere apologies to anyone who felt let down by such unprofessional Personal Finance blogging behaviour.

So here’s an extra one to make up for it:

I saw a magician yesterday that turned audience members into wind turbines.

I immediately became a big fan.   

I did some Maths!

HELP written on test

This morning I was noodling around on the Simple Savings forum when someone posted a comment about the cost of groceries. This made me wonder – how were we tracking this year compared to last?

David27 has moved out in all but name, so SURELY we’d be doing better?

Plus we have a VERY well-stocked Zombie Apocalypse cupboard that I beefed up when covid raised its ugly head. This means that we don’t go to the supermarket very often, especially when we’re in lockdowns. The plague is a very good reason to avoid people. It also means that you avoid impulse buys when you pop in for a litre of milk, for example.

Also, remember all of those pumpkins we grew? We’re just finishing the last one, months after we picked them all. That crop alone would have saved us something. We’ve eaten a lot of pumpkin over the last few months and I’ve even invented a pumpkin pasta bake, just to use up even more. We’re still eating other things from the garden, though far less in winter.

So how are we tracking?

I knew this would require some advanced Maths. Fortunately, my laptop has a calculator. I pulled up my ‘Yearly Expenses’ chart and had a look.

Chart of grocery spending.

oof.

Kids are expensive to feed, especially when they turn into men. You can see how the grocery bill drops as a couple of them left home. It used to be even more expensive when I had 4 adult men to feed, but Tom was already gone by the time I started tallying up figures.

Roughly speaking, I divided up 9K (2020’s number, rounded up) by 12. That gave me an average monthly figure.

Then I multiplied it by 7. We’re in July, the 7th month. (I know Maths people will say that we still have 6 days to go before July is done, but all I wanted was a rough idea.)

Roughly speaking, I’ve spent around $1,800 LESS than I did this time last year. I’m pretty pleased with that.

Hmmm… how much cheaper will it be when Ryan26 moves out? Maybe I should start dropping hints???

But then, maybe not. He’ll probably look at me like this:

Sad bear looking sad.

Well, I’m exhausted after all that intensive brain work. Time for a lime verbena tea!

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