Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Consumerism (Page 1 of 6)

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!

Frugality and FI is the gift that keeps on giving.

Pea soup in a bowl.
Not my soup – mine’s still cooking!

There’s a rumour that’s been circulating for a while now that Frogdancer Jones – that’s me – is frugal. Or maybe a tightarse… take your pick. I was told about a conversation that happened in the staff room at work where people were describing a continuum of spending. Apparently, I was on the thriftiest end, while the others spaced themselves along the rest of the line up to the biggest spender.

But hey, I like being frugal. I like the challenges of making material things last longer, enabling my money to go a little further and only shelling out for things I HAVE to have and things I WANT to have. Middle of the road ‘meh’ stuff doesn’t cut it in this household.

Being frugal means that I can cut down unnecessary spending, freeing up my cash for fun things. You know, things we’ve all wanted to buy… a mini dachshund puppy, a trip to North Korea, 6 more apple trees… Things that are by far more important to me than designer handbags and the like.

It’s fun for me to save dried peas from the garden and turn them into soup, using my slow cooker that I’ve had for over 20 years. It makes me smile to look down at my slippered feet and see the ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ patches. My ‘Earn back my council rates’ challenge costs me nothing, but because of it I’ve read 86 books so far this year for free. If you think getting lost in a good book doesn’t add to your quality of life, then I have news for you!

I’m a big fan of finding experiences and activities that entertain and inspire you without having to necessarily cost a whole lot. This automatically leaves money that you can put towards something else.

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you never lash out on expensive items.

Which is why I’m really excited about my latest purchase.

Big box with Poppy ( a cavalier) sniffing it.

This is a gift for David27 and Izzy. It’s an engagement + wedding gift because it’d be an extraordinarily generous engagement gift and I’m not that rich! It was delivered here in the middle of lockdown #5 so it’ll be a while until I can drive over there with it to give it to them.

It’s a product that I hold very dear to my heart. I have 2 of them and I can’t possibly do without them. Just this morning I used one to make bread dough, pizza dough and gratin sauce for cauliflower cheese for lunch. We now have 8 bread rolls and 4 balls of pizza dough in the freezer for literally mere cents. And absolutely no artificial ingredients. Izzy and David27 both have health issues and she’s also lactose intolerant, so this will be perfect for them to eat cleanly and with fresh ingredients, while being able to produce gourmet meals. They’re both foodies.

I’m so excited to be able to provide this for them.

Just to make it fair for the rest of the boys – because 2 have already bought their own thermomixes, while Evan24’s housemate owns one – I’ve decided to give a little less towards the wedding. I’ve always thought that I’d give 5K per boy per FIRST wedding – (any subsequent weddings and they’re on their own!!) – so I’ll give 4K towards this one.

Come to think of it, I also gave them the diamond for Izzy’s engagement ring. There are definite advantages to being the first cab off the rank when weddings come along! This is a product of the practical thinking that frugality brings. I had a very good quality diamond in a ring sitting in the jewellery box, back from when I was in my twenties. I’m never going to wear it again. It makes no sense for it to sit there for decades when Izzy could have it put into a setting she loves and then get to enjoy looking at it every day.

By doing this, I release something that was useless to me and David27 gets to put the money that he would’ve spent on a diamond towards the wedding. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Being frugal and FI is almost like a superpower. When I think back to the days when the boys were small, when I could barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, I feel so very lucky to be able to buy a gift like this now. Back then, I would never have believed it would ever be possible.

All I have to do now is wait for this current lockdown to be over. The box can sit in the hallway, just like the boxes of my customers used to do when I sold thermomixes as a second job. Once we’re free to drive further than 5 km from our homes, I’ll look forward to driving over to Izzy’s parents’ place to deliver it, just as I used to do back in the day for my customers. It’ll be fun.

But if you know them in real life.. sssshhhh!

Don’t spoil the surprise!

All good things must come to an end…

'No Spend Days' chart with FOUR days' spending last week.
My winning streak has finished. 🙁

I’ve written about the nitty gritties of the ‘No Spend Days’ chart HERE, way back in 2018, then HERE in the middle of 2020. That last one was funny because I was congratulating myself on an 18-week streak of silver weeks. I never dreamed I’d get to 61!

For the TL;DR version: I have a chart set up from Saturdays to Fridays. Every day I don’t spend money I get to colour in a square. This worked ok at first, but it lacked an incentive. When I added the EXTRA column – the one where, if I spent money on 3 or less days per week I get to colour in a silver square, that’s when my spending ratched up a level. The chart makes me concentrate on when I pull out my credit card. It makes my spending intentional. I still spend money, but never mindlessly.

I wanted to keep my winning streak of low spend weeks going for as long as I could. The first lockdown kicked off the streak of consecutive low-spend weeks, but last week was when it all came to an end. After 61 straight weeks of keeping my spending to 3 days per week or below… along comes a 4 day week.

So what happened last week?

Cavalier asleep on a couch with a dachshund behind him.
Jeffrey (front) and Scout.

It all started when Ryan26 went to Aldi because we’d run out of tinned tuna. He likes to have that for lunch. We’d run out of onions and a few other bits and bobs, so I told him to take my credit card and stock up on a few things. That was Sunday.

I was having lunch with Simone, the old school friend that I caught up with after 40 years when I was on my holiday in South Australia, and another school friend who I’ve stayed in touch with over the years. We were meeting on Thursday, so that was going to be a definite ‘spend’ day.

We’ve just come out of a 2 week lockdown and I was overdue for a visit to the hairdresser. I decided to go on Wednesday. This meant that Friday had to be a ‘no spend’ day. What could go wrong?

Jeff’s eye, that’s what.

Cavaliers have such big, beautiful eyes. Sometimes they get a bit mucky but they clear up in a day or so. This eye slowly got worse. Ryan26 noticed something was a bit wrong with it late Wednesday … Thursday it looked as if it might be getting better but on Friday morning we woke, I looked at it and rang the vet.

My 61 week silver streak had finally run its course. Anyway, I think that 61 straight weeks was pretty good. Jeffrey’s eye is improving and really, that’s the important thing. Poor little man. Having an ulcer on your eye is never a good thing. We caught it early.

But maybe it was always fated to end on this day? A couple of days before, a friend from work rang me and said, “It’s correction day on Friday AND it’s my birthday. I’m going to get all my marking done before Friday – damned if I’m going to work on my birthday! – so do you want to go out for lunch?”

I hesitated. I knew this would be the end of my silver streak, but I knew it had to finish someday. However…

“Will it be just us or will there be other people?”

I knew that if there was going to be a group of us, then that was it. No more winning streak. But if it was just us… then I could serve lunch here instead and my silver week would be saved!

“No, just you and me,” she said.

I explained about the winning streak and she laughed and agreed to come to my place for lunch instead. I knew she’d understand. She’s one of the people at work who talk finances with each other. She’s on a similar path to me, on a quest to pay off her house and retire early(ish).

Apparently, at work they now call it “doing a Frogdancer.”

The chart is one of the ways to make the hard slog in the middle of the FI/RE journey fun. Every day you get to colour in the chart is a little achievement; something to mark the fact that you’re putting in the effort along the way. People need little wins when working towards financial independence and this was a technique that works brilliantly for me.

Yes, I’ve reached FIRE. So why do I still do this?

This chart was one of the things that helped me to get there. So why on earth would I stop using it? It’s proved its worth. It’s also handy when you want to check things like when the dogs’ vaccinations are due, how many weeks since you’ve had a haircut, and it’s invaluable when filling in my ‘Annual Spend’ chart each month.

In the middle of the second lockdown last year, I asked myself the question – “How long can you keep this silver week streak going?”

I’ve discovered the answer.

Cars and Caves.

Cute car.

When I was a kid we’d go to vintage car rallies ALL THE TIME. Dear God, it was so boring. My Dad was a Riley enthusiast – beautiful British cars. Dad has a 1930 Riley 9, a Drophead and a couple of others. My first car was a Riley Elf, which is basically a mini with a Riley grill on the front.

We’d drive to car parks/wineries/paddocks/whatever. All of the Rileys would line up in a row and the men would crawl all over them, the women would pull up picnic chairs and chat and the kids would be bored. I think this is when my addiction to reading became cemented.

So when Jenna’s parents suggested that we go to a car rally in a town on the peninisula, I inwardly groaned.

But it was actually quite fun.

Red Morgan. LOVE!

I think the difference was that it was a huge mix of different cars and they drove down the main drag of the town in a procession that lasted around an hour.

Black corvette.

Jenna’s parents and I drove to a mid point to meet up, then I hopped in their car and off we went. No, the corvette is not their car!

We found a spot at a table under a verandah and settled in to watch the parade.

Cute cop car.

There was everything from a model T Ford, dune buggies, Morgans, VW combis and beetles, muscle cars, sedans – something for everyone.

Red 3 wheeler.

There was even this 3 wheeled thing!

For a while I stood on the kerb with Andrew and watched the parade, looking for any Rileys, but after a while I got a little bored and thought I’d better go back and sit with Ann-Marie.

We were chatting away when I glanced over at the parade. A car was smoothly driving past with a silhouette that has been ingrained on my psyche since childhood.

“Holy shit, that’s a Riley!” I exclaimed, ever the lady, and I leapt up to join Andrew. I was ridiculously excited.

There were about 5 or 6 of them, one of them a mint-green Riley Elf. I could’ve taken photos but I called Dad instead and described what I was seeing. He was reliving his glory days as I was talking. It was pretty special.

Then we went to a winery for unch. I thought I did pretty well to get to pay for their lunches – I’ve learned from David27’s “in-laws” that you have to be quick to stop them paying for everything. Jenna’s parents are the same.

I sneakily overheard what they were going to order, then made sure I was ahead of Ann-Marie in the queue to order. When I ordered my meal, then went on to list theirs, I heard, “Oh you better not!” behind me. I put my card on the payment thingy, then turned around and said, “OMG, my card just slipped. Oh well…”

I thought I got away with it too, until we went to another winery for a wine tasting and I raved about a shiraz that was priced in the 3 figures and made them taste it. Guess who went home with a bottle of it? I’ve told them that they’re invited to my 60th and we’ll all crack it open then.

It’s so nice to see that my boys are choosing to be with partners with such lovely families. Andrew and Ann-Marie let me stay with them Friday night and they gave up their Sunday to spend time with me. That’s going above and beyond! I’m looking forward to enjoying that bottla wine with them in a few years time.

Pretty house.

Monday. Time to start heading home. I had no fixed plans, other than wanting to see the Ulpherstone Sinkhole in Mt Gambier that I missed on the way up – and I knew I wanted to spend ages in Port Fairy. Everyone says how pretty it is.

I wanted to learn from the mistake of my rushed trip over and take my time on the way back.

As I headed out, I thought I may as well drive up to Murray Bridge and have a look at the river. Why not? I put a generic address into the TomTom, ( 1 Main st / Smith St /First st ; whatever works), and I set off.

Then I started seeing signs to Harndorf.

I’ve been hearing about Hahndorf for 17 years. It’s the first German settlement in Australia and every year the German students from our school would go over there for an excursion and report back at the next General Assembly.

I had to see it for myself. I wanted to follow my nose home and this was an ideal place to start.

Pretty restaurant.

I pulled up in the Main st and parked outside an art gallery. Following my nose, I walked in.

And you wouldn’t believe it – I finally found the perfect painting for my dining room. I’ve only been living here and looking for the last 5 YEARS.

It’s absolutely nothing like I thought I’d buy. The subject is SO not me, it’s smaller than I visualised and the colours are different to what I was looking for, but when I saw it I knew it’d fit really well. So $1,100 lighter I walked out of the shop.

What are the odds? I had no plans to go to Hahndorf and there just happened to be a spot for my car directly outside the gallery. The painting had been put up less than 24 hours before I arrived. Maybe it was meant to be?

It’s being delivered sometime this week. If it looks awful then I only have myself to blame.

Bust and a row of sketches.
Hans Heysen – bust and sketches.

Look who I found in the museum behind the information centre!!!!

Remember when I showed you the picture of Ruth by Nora Heysen? Here’s her Dad – the way famous one of the two of them. The bust is of him and the sketches are his.

I like how when you travel in an area, the stories loop around. It reminds me of when Scott and I were walking on the battlements of Lincoln Castle, listening to the guided tour through our headphones, when I suddenly heard that Henry VIII and Katharine Howard had walked along the very same stones I was walking on. I’ll never forget the unexpected thrill.

Photo of Prince Philip looking interested.

Speaking of royalty, the museum behind the information centre was tiny, yet Prince Philip had visited it. One huge advantage to being a working royal is the amount of travel you could do. Imagine all the countries he must have seen? But imagine all the hours of tedium he must have gone through as well. No wonder he sometimes said the odd non-PC quip.

Exquisite lace collar.

In its day, the building was a school for boys and also a hospital. Look at the lacework, or is it tatting? This was on a maternity dress. I think I’d go blind, squinting, if I tried to do this, though I have some tatting that my great-grandmother did. Amazingly detailed.

Hahndorf was a very pretty little place. A few shops had jolly German music spilling out onto the street as thr tourists walked by. It was still school holidays in South Australia so there were a fair few people about.

Scott suggested that I mark all the school holidays in my calendar at the start of every year so I don’t make the mistake of travelling while the kids are free. I’m going to have to mark every state’s holidays, I think.

Murray River.

Then I drove to Murray Bridge.

Here’s the river Murray. It’s long. It’s wet. I had a look, ate lunch and drove on. I was aiming for Mt Gambier but then, as it was getting to late afternoon, the heavens opened up. I drove into Narracoorte.

There was a huge sign on the highway just before you enter the town, spruiking their caves. I vaguely remembered that Narracoorte was way famous for its caves, so I thought I’d get a cheap motel, stay the night and have a bit of a look around underground the next day.

Giant extinct wombat.

When I reached the caves the next day, I saw another instance of stories looping around. See this massive Diprotadon? Otherwise known as a giant wombat. What does he look a bt like?

My sculpture.

Remember my sculpture that I bought from the arts festival, thinking that it was going to be my only souvenir? They look like they might be cousins.

Beautiful cave.

The Narracoorte limestone caves are a world heritage listed site. They offer a few different tours but the lady in the information centre said to go on the fossils tour, because that is why they made it to the heritage list.

Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that the caves would be chilly. I wore my duckdown coat. It’s actually really warm down there.

Stalactites in a row.

See how the stalactites are hanging in a row here? Our guide said that in the early 1900’s guides used to clamber up there and ‘play’ the stalactites like a xylophone for their customers by hitting them. Sometimes one would break. Can you believe it???

Incidentally, I learned how to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. Stalagmites MIGHT reach the roof one day, while stalactites have to hold on TIGHT to the roof to stop from falling.

Never say that this blog isn’t informative about the issues that matter!

Hole in the roof.

This fascinating photo is of a hole in the roof that leads up to the ground. This one was man-made to get all of the rubble out so that the tours like the one I was now on could be made. These also occur naturally, which is how the fossils have ended up in the caves.

Animals (and people, probably) would be innocently walking along and then fall down these shafts into the caves below. Some died immediately, but others survived until they died of thirst. They know this because they have complete skeletons of animals who look as if they’ve just curled up and gone to sleep, but with bones that have started to heal from their initial fall.

Drop bear skeleton.

This guy is a literal drop bear. Yes, they used to exist! He was some sort of carnivorous koala-type.

Nasty claw.

See the massive claw on his opposable thumb? Imagine that slicing into your soft underbelly?

Kangaroo bones.

This one was a kangaroo, but with only one toe. I took this photo to show you, but I like this next one a lot better.

Shadow on the cave wall.

That shadow is very Star Wars, isn’t it?

The caves that were initially found were just open caverns full of the rock formations, but then a couple of cavers found their way into some massive caverns further in that were jam-packed full of bones and fossils.

Bones scattered on the cave floor.

These are real bones that have been left as they were.

Behind the cave where we were standing is a massive cave where they’ve removed a small section of bones to study. They plan to leave the rest where they are for as long as possible. Our guide, who is a palaeontologist herself, said that they’ve removed enough bones and other material to keep many universities busy for decades. Maybe by the time they need to take another look, they might have technology that can study what’s in the caves but be able to leave everything untouched.

It’s an interesting thought.

Country road.

And then I was off and away. I pointed the car towards Mt Gambier and off I went. It was just before lunch and the day was still young!

Costs of the trip:

Running total so far: $665

Costs for day 6: $85 for lunch.

Costs forDay 7:

$1,100 painting

$10 lunch (Subway – eat fresh.)

$69 fuel

$91 accommodation

Total for Day 7: $1,270

Running total for trip: $1,935 (Yikes! I hope I still love this painting when it arrives!)

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