Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Frugal Friday (Page 2 of 3)

No health insurance? No (financial) worries, mate!

Although the rest of the world is catching up, I think it goes without saying that there’s still a clear majority of Americans writing blogs and podcasts in the FI/RE world. Hence, there’s a lot of angst in a lot of posts about the ongoing costs of healthcare. The rest of us shrug, feel thankful we’re not in the US and scroll on past. However, I had an experience a few days ago which made me think about how my experience might have differed if I was in the US, which then led me to think about a couple of my sons’ experiences with the Australian health system when we were uninsured. Our wallets would have been hit by these things, in at least one case catastrophically, which led me to think… why not write about how people in most first-world countries deal with unexpected health issues? After all, we’re in the majority!

Here’s my first son’s experience. A couple of years ago when he was 23 he rang me at around 8 or 9 in the morning, saying that he was feeling really odd. His stomach was hurting, more on the right side than the left and he was feeling woozy and a bit “off”. While I was talking to him I googled his symptoms and we went through them. He had some of the symptoms of appendicitis, though not all of them.

I remembered a service called “Nurse Online” or something like that, where you ring a nurse and have a chat with them. I got Tom23 to give them a ring and then call me back. When he rang, he said that she’d suggested that we go to Emergency, as it sounded as if it could possibly be his appendix and they could check him out. So off we went to Monash hospital, just down the road.

When we got there it was relatively calm, with few people waiting. Being the mother of boys, I’d been there a few times before when they’d managed to hurt themselves after hours when our regular doctor wasn’t at work and it was always busy. It seems that early on a Sunday is a good time to go.  Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were in front of a doctor. He poked and prodded Tom23, then said that it looked as if it was the early stages of appendicitis. He said we could go home and see if the symptoms quietened down, but personally, he recommended that Tom23 go straight in and have the operation that day.

One thing to know: we didn’t have Hospital Insurance. In Australia, you can elect to have Hospital and/or Extras insurance (or neither.) In my case as a single mother with 4 boys and usually pretty minimal child support, for years I’d gone for just the extras cover. I had 3 sets of braces and 2 sets of glasses to cover, as well as assorted chiro, physio and other bits and bobs that my ex-husband wouldn’t pay for, so I couldn’t afford to get extras cover AND hospital cover. It really wasn’t an issue, because  I knew we’d all be ok. If anything awful happened to us health-wise, such as an accident or cancer, we’d be looked after in the public system. Anything else that was a chronic condition that we’d need to go on a waiting list for, we didn’t have. The odds were that we wouldn’t develop anything while we were all young. We’ve always been as healthy as horses, so the probabilities were that we’d never need it. So I put my dollars towards the extras that the boys needed. It just made sense. (Nowadays, with the boys as adults, I’ve flipped that, so if Old Lady Frogdancer develops a condition that needs to go on a waiting list for hospital treatment, she’ll bypass that and go on through.)

So Tom23 had no hospital insurance. He went in as a public patient and had the operation that same day. The picture at the top of this post is him pre-surgery. A day or two later he was home, with a bill for antibiotics and painkillers that totalled $60. That was all he had to pay. As a uni student with very little money available after paying for books and rent, this was a godsend. Now, fast forward two years later, he’s an accountant paying taxes. Some of those taxes are now contributing to other people’s health costs.

Now to my experience.

Last Tuesday I rolled over in my sleep at 4AM and felt a lump in my breast. Trust me, even if you’re dead asleep, that’ll catch your attention! Sleep was instantly gone and so Dr Google and I were getting to know some facts.

I booked a doctor’s appointment for late that day. My Doctor bulk-bills, so there’s no charge for an appointment. By the time I made it in to see him the lump was huge and there was a big red rash on the breast. It didn’t look to me like cancer, or to the doctor, but you can’t be too careful with lumps like this, so he loaded me up with a dynamite-strength course of antibiotics and a referral for mammograms and an ultrasound.

I rang around and booked an appointment for the following Tuesday, to give the antibiotics a chance to work. When Tuesday rolled around and I faced the receptionist, she asked if I was on a Government health-care card or on any sort of Government benefit. If I had been, the cost of the tests would have been free. However, my days of living on the sole-parents’ pension, (as it was called then) have been over for 16 happy years, so I had to pay the gap between what they charge and what Medicare provides. I gave her my Medicare card, she popped my number in and $160 was reimbursed back into my account.

I’m ok with paying $90 for 6 separate mammograms and a half hour ultrasound. If there was any bad news, I know that I’d be whisked into hospital straight away for free to have an operation. They tend to move quickly when cancer is involved. Thankfully, it appears that all is well.

One of my other sons suffered terribly from depression when he was in his teens. It went on for a few years and at his lowest point, he was hospitalised in a teenage psych ward for a total of 6 weeks. All up, I paid maybe a couple of hundred dollars for his medication. After that, he had psychiatric and psychological counselling for a further two years or so until he got a handle on it and learned to cope. After his first stint in the ward, I didn’t have to pay a penny for the counselling, just for his “happy pills”. I can’t tell you how thankful I was for our health-care system in Australia while this was going on. I was almost at the point of finally paying my house off… if I had to sell or borrow against the house to ensure that my child got the health-care he so desperately needed I would’ve done it… but I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to. That house was the bedrock of our physical and financial security. And what if I didn’t have any assets to sell? If he wasn’t given the care that he received, I’m very sure that he wouldn’t still be with us. He was pretty sick.

YEARS ago, back when most of the kids were still too young for school, they were playing a ‘running around the house’ game and a door was slammed onto David4’s hand. His thumb tip was squashed flat and sideways. He had microsurgery the next day (for free) and now, 20 years later, David24 is a pianist and is studying music at Uni.


I don’t know all the ins and outs of how our system works. There have been only 3 times where our family has had to use the system in the last few years and the boys’ health needs were far more dramatic than my own, so I haven’t needed to examine the system in all its glory. I know that our taxes are higher than in the US and I’m positive that this helps pay for Medicare. And you know? I’m totally ok with that.

Everyone gets sick. Everyone has health problems at some stage. Our healthcare system means that everyone puts in while they’re able, then they withdraw from it when they need to. Everyone who is able contributes, while those who are in need get looked after. It also means that when ill-health does strike, we don’t feel financial fear and delay getting treatment, hoping that it’ll go away. People may still put off going to the doctor, but it’s not from fear of bankruptcy!

It’s not a perfect system by any means. But it’s hard enough being sick – I mentioned bankruptcy in the last paragraph for good reason. This link to an article details the top 10 reasons people go bankrupt in the US – a whopping 62% of bankruptcies are because of medical expenses.

The following is a table taken from an Australian Government page about the causes of personal insolvency in Australia.

If I was your typical FI blogger, I’d be wading knee-deep into the numbers right now. I’d be throwing stats and percentages and drawing up my own google doc or excel spreadsheet to show you something-or-other. I’d be googling how much health insurance costs in the US as opposed to Australia and Europe. But I’m not going to, mainly because I’m petrified of numerals. Besides, if you’re curious I’m sure Google comes to your computer too. But you can see the difference between the two systems. My experience a few days ago simply made me reflect upon how different my finances would be if I’d been born into another first-world country that runs healthcare differently.

And I’m very grateful that I won the lottery of birth and was born here. 🙂




Frugal Friday: The media agrees with me about leftovers!

I took a break from marking end-of-term essays and saw this article posted on a Facebook group: Financially Secure People Eat Leftovers.

I had to laugh. We already know this!

Things will be quiet around here until I get my 5 classes worth of essays and grammar tests marked before the holidays come in two weeks. *sigh*

I really enjoy teaching but the marking side of it? Not quite so much…

Frugal Friday: Leftovers are the way to go.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the staff room, chatting with the people sitting in  ‘The Danger Zone.’ That’s the nickname we have for our little section of 8 desks – in a staff of over 150 it’s handy to have your section easily identifiable if you need someone to get something from your desk in a hurry. Three of us are in our 40’s and 50’s, while the rest are girls in their 20’s. They’re all in relationships and are in the stage of life of buying a house/getting engaged/getting married to their significant others.

It was after school and a few more teachers in the cool, hip and happening group from other staffrooms had pulled up chairs and were chatting. The subject of lunches came up. In the last couple of years, the canteen at school has really lifted its game, offering all sorts of things along with the usual items of chips, potato cakes, sandwiches and wraps. They even offer breakfasts as well. I copied this week’s notice for your reading pleasure from our newsfeed:

“My boyfriend refuses to eat leftovers,” said one. “I have to be really careful not to cook too much because it all just gets thrown out. He won’t touch it, so we cook something different and then, of course, I end up eating that with him and so nothing gets used up.”
“We won’t eat leftovers,” said a newlywed girl who was also, 5 minutes before, whinging about the high cost of property in Melbourne and how nobody can get ahead these days. “We have a certain lifestyle (YES! This is an exact quote! I couldn’t believe it either!!) and I can’t bring myself to eat warmed-up food from yesterday. It’s gross!” and she laughed. Some laughed and nodded with her, others looked slightly uncomfortable at the thought of their meals being thought of as ‘gross’.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you crazy? I absolutely LOVE leftovers,” I said. They turned and looked at me, the older woman who clearly knows nothing. Undeterred, I ploughed on. ” I always make sure we have leftovers; they usually taste better the next day because the flavours have a chance to meld together better after they’ve had time to sit. Plus I love not having to pay for lunches. It’s like getting free food! I’m saving $35 a week if I don’t go to the canteen. Imagine how much money that is over the year?”
Another girl agreed with me, a couple of others pulled faces and disagreed, then the conversation moved on to something else. When they got up 5 minutes later and went to the gym to do a workout,  Hazel, a woman of my (clearly elderly and insane) generation, came out from behind the row of desks she was working behind.
“I can’t believe they turn up their noses at leftovers,” she said. “I deliberately make enough for dinners so that there’s be leftovers for Rodney and I the next day.”
I laughed and agreed. “I’ll bet once interest rates rise they’ll suddenly discover a new-found love for the Tupperware lunch!”
And this is the thing. With people paying well over a million dollars for houses in Melbourne, and units and townhouses going for $500K+, these teachers are borrowing a LOT of money when interest rates are at historic lows. I know that brown-bagging a lunch isn’t initially going to save a lot of money – say $7 if you get the special of the day from the school canteen. But taken over time?
Another woman in my staff room has worked at the school since 1985. That’s 33 years of lunches. She joined in the conversation that Hazel and I were having, saying that she has never bought her lunch.
“I can’t see the point in buying it,” she said. “The stuff you make yourself is always tastier and better for you anyway.”
33 years X 40 weeks X 5 days = 6,600 lunches. Assuming someone bought a $7 lunch at the canteen each day, that is $46, 200.
That’s an insane amount of money to spend, just to avoid eating tasty, tasty leftovers. It’s scary how these little sums of money add up over time.

Frugal Friday: Scissors can solve a lot of problems.

Eighteen months ago I bought the dogs a new dog bed. I ordered it online and as you can clearly see, I went a bit overboard with the size. Poppy and Jeff are the only dogs I’ve ever owned who sleep inside, as Poppy barks at the possums and would wake the whole neighborhood up at midnight every night if she had her way. She has a very Machiavellian mindset sometimes; these dogs get away with far more than any other dogs I’ve ever owned.

I wanted a dog bed that I could wash regularly and that would keep them warm and look good. Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, right? The answer to that is that it makes a good Meatloaf song but a terrible situation for a dog bed.

The stupid thing is far too big to fit into a normal washing machine which means it has to be washed in a laundrette. My local laundrette around the corner doesn’t have a machine big enough, so I have to take it to the next suburb and pay $14 in coins to cram it into the biggest washing machine they’ve got and get it cleaned that way. A couple of times I tried to wash it in the bath at home but it was too heavy to lift out of the water without having on of the boys there to help me and it takes 3 days to dry.

Who has $14 in coins hanging around? I put everything I buy on my credit card so the cash I carry around is minimal. It was a PIA to scrounge together coins – the best place I found was to swap coins for notes in the staff room where they sell the chocolate bars, but I’d always end up buying chocolate as well and my waistline was getting pudgier.

I persevered for 18 months but it was starting to smell awfully ‘doggy’. Something had to change. I had paid around $250 for this dog bed. It was meant to last them for YEARS. Given this, I was reluctant to just throw it out and buy something else.

So I lost my patience with it and chopped it in half. It’s a shame because it was beautifully made, it took me about half an hour to cut through all the layers, but finally it was done. Probably would have been quicker if the dogs didn’t try to help by sitting on it all the time, gazing up at me. It reminded me of this meme:

Then came the ultimate reward for my endeavours –

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. I’ve kept the minky part of the bed for them to sleep on and I’m sure they’ll be fine. I was really pleased that I used what I had instead of simply going to K-Mart or somewhere and buying a new bed for them. It makes a $250 mistake slightly less annoying.

Anyway, if Scout gets cold she can always use the tiny version I bought for the cat before she died. Waste not, want not!

Frugal Friday: Early Bird train travel.

It seems like travel hacking is splashing itself all over the internet lately – Americans flying first class all over the world for about $11.50, all due to the amazing reward points they can get on their credit cards.

This isn’t going to be a post about that.

This is about how I’ve tweaked my morning routine to take advantage of the scheme called Early Bird train travel that operates here in Melbourne. 

Two years ago I was living a kilometre away from work in the house I’d owned for 20 years. Classes start at 8:50am, so I’d leave home at 8:36, drive through the back streets, park in Hall street, walk briskly to my desk, scoop up the books I’d left in a pile the day before for my first two classes, grab my keys and I’d be walking in the classroom door at 8:50 every day without fail. I did this for 12 years and I had it down to a fine art. People in my staffroom knew it was time to grab their books and go to class when they heard me say, “Good morning!” as I came through the door.

Then I moved 21kms away from work. I experimented with driving into work and taking the train. The train is a 5-minute walk from my house, with a 10-minute walk at the other end to school. Both modes of transport took just under an hour each way, so the only real benefit was the comfort of the car vs the extra steps on my fitbit with the train. So I started driving in. Call me lazy – I don’t care.

Then late last year, this happened.

ARGH!!! Why?!? Of course, there was no note on the windscreen. It cost me just over $300 to get fixed.

Suddenly train travel was looking far more affordable.

So in the September school holidays, I got the car fixed, charged up my Myki for the train and discovered an interesting titbit of information about something called the Early Bird. If you begin and end your train journey before 7:15am on a weekday, you don’t get charged for the trip. They’ve obviously brought it in to try and reduce congestion on the morning peak travel times. Hmmmm……….. Maybe I could be a civic-minded citizen AND slash my transport bill in half at the same time?

This meant that I had to do some Maths. I steeled myself to the task. If I got up an hour earlier each morning I could travel to and from work for only $2.80/day, instead of $5.60. On the face of it, it wasn’t much of a saving. But if you multiply that over a week… $14 instead of $28… or over a 10-week term… $140 instead of $280…. the numbers become more interesting.

I decided to give it a go. I also decided to track it on a chart, so that I wouldn’t lose sight of the money I was saving. I knew that if I was staying late for some reason, or I needed to go somewhere after school, I could always drive in. But why not take advantage of an offer for free transport?

So on day 1, term 4 I got up very early and made my way to the station.

Here are the downsides to doing this:

  1. In order to catch the train that guarantees me to get to my destination a full 10 minutes before the 7:15 deadline, (because of possible train delays) I have to leave the house by 6:20am to walk to the station. This means getting up at 5:30am. OMG.
  2. It tends to be a little nippy first thing in the morning.
  3. I have to be organised with my lunches and breakfasts. It defeats the purpose if I score a free train trip but have to buy my lunch from the canteen because I was too sleepy to get my act together in time to make lunch.
  4. If I’m running late, I have to run for the train. I’m not a fan of rapid movement.
  5. It was a massive adjustment for the people in Staffroom 2. For a couple of weeks, people were getting to their classes late because I was no longer saying, “Good morning!” at 8.45. The habits of 12 years or so are pretty hard to break.
  6. They raised the price of the trip by a massive 14c on Jan 1. This makes the Maths more difficult. Thank goodness there’s a calculator on my laptop.

Here are the pros:

  1. It’s really nice to start each day with a few wins. Getting up as soon as the alarm goes off in what seems like the dead of night? Win. (I cheat a bit here… the dogs sleep in my room so as soon as the alarm goes off Poppy jumps onto my bed with joy, giving massive head butts and cuddles, so it’s impossible to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.) Leaving the house at 6:20am so I don’t have to run? Win. Touching off with my Myki and seeing ‘Fare deducted: $0.00? Win. Walking to school and seeing nearly 4,000 steps already on my fitbit? Win.
  2. Usually, I’m the only one in the staffroom when I get there, so it’s nice and quiet. I put the kettle on for a cup of coffee, I go to the ladies to put my makeup on, I come back, fire up the laptop and eat breakfast at my desk, browsing on blogs or Facebook. As people drift into work, the place slowly gets louder and livelier. I’ve had my quiet start to the day and I’m now ready for the rest of it.
  3. If I need any photocopying done, there’s no queue. Correction? It’s nice and quiet.
  4. I have to be organised with my lunches and breakfasts. (Yes, I know this was in the cons list, but it’s also a pro.) I’m not hungry at 5 in the morning, so I tend to take a couple of hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and I eat them at breaky time… about 7:30. It’s awful when I don’t have an easy breakfast to grab – the default position is a ‘fast’ morning or day, which is good when I’m slightly pudgy but not so good if I’m starving. My lunches tend to be leftovers from the night before or a Mystery Meal from the freezer.
  5. My car will hold its value for far longer. In a normal week, I’ll only take it out once or twice, as I can pick things up from the Aldi around the corner on the way home; if I need to go to a shopping centre I can get off the train at Southland and then hop back on the train to come home; and I hate wasting time on the weekends so I group shopping visits together… all leading up to low kilometres on the clock and no wear and tear on tyres etc.
  6. My overall transportation costs have plummeted. I was buying a tank of petrol every 2 weeks at $50-$60 a tank. Now, it’s around 6 weeks between refills. (It’d possibly be more, but I’m teaching Evan21 to drive so we’re using fuel on that.) 
  7. The table of running savings. Admittedly, I don’t much like doing the Maths for it, but it’s getting to the stage when it’s really starting to add up. Sometimes a friend from work will offer to drive me home, especially if we’re here working late, so I get double dipping on that day. It’s lovely when they offer, but I certainly don’t go chasing it… that’d be rude.

I know that if I saw $183.26 on the footpath I’d bend down to pick it up! It’s nice to know that it’s still in my bank account, but also kind of creepy when you think that it’s a sizeable chunk of money that I would have had to have spent if this offer from Metro trains wasn’t in place.

This is such a little thing, but I like the idea of seeing little opportunities and taking advantage of those that are do-able in your life. Transportation is a big expense for many families, so being able to get to and from work for under $15 a week is insanely cheap. After all, I geoarbitraged to save money and to get ahead, not to spend it all on train rides and petrol!

Of course, I’ve been doing this as the mornings are light and the weather is fine. Spring and summer are ideal for early morning starts. It’ll be interesting to see if my resolve crumbles as the winter kicks in. I don’t run the heating overnight and my beautiful hardwood floors are chilly the first thing in the morning…

I’ll keep you posted.


Frugal Friday: Beans! Past Frogdancer looks after us.

You know how you have a brilliant idea to get healthy and save money by buying heaps of dried beans, lentils and chickpeas and then they sit in your pantry for a decade or so because you’re never organised enough to soak them overnight before cooking them? After all, that’s why God invented canned beans, right?

Here at the Frogdancer house, I’m on a mission to try and get our grocery bill down. I did my figures on our yearly expenditure last year and we spent an average of $230 a week on food for 4 people and 3 small dogs. That’s just under 12K a YEAR if my computer’s calculator is correct.

One of my sons, Evan21, is vegetarian. Before he leaves to go and live in Ballarat to do his uni course, I figure that I should try to use up these beans and lentils I have kicking around. But I can’t see myself being any more “think ahead-y” with the whole soaking of them the night before, so I had to come up with a more user-friendly way to utilise them.

Enter my brilliant Use The Freezer method. Wait until I tell you how it works and you’ll agree. The woman’s a genius…

First off, the last time I used a tin of beans, I weighed how much the beans actually weighed after the brine was drained from the tin. Although the tin says 400g, you really get around 250g of beans.

Then, I grabbed a pack of cannellini beans and threw a saucepan with water on the stove. I let them soak in it for a while, adding water as the beans swelled. Then, after a couple of hours, I cooked them for another couple of hours. Obviously, this is a job well suited for holidays or weekends.

Once cooked, I simply used the scales on my thermomix, grabbed some freezer bags and weighed the beans out into roughly 250g lots. I got 8 ‘tins’ worth of cooked beans out of one 500g pack of dried beans. I’d tell you how much each bag cost me, but it’s been so long since I bought the beans that I seriously have no idea. (Besides… Maths. Ugh.)

Now here’s the brilliant part. Those bags are now sitting in my freezer, ready to be used whenever the fancy takes me. I tested out whether it’d work by making Butter Chicken but with beans instead of chicken. I used 3 bags of beans and followed the directions for the vegetarian option she has in her book.

It was delicious. The beans were the same consistency as if I’d used tinned and we all wolfed it down. I fed my family for far less money than if I’d used chicken and we were all satisfied.

The beauty of using the beans this way is that I only need to be organised ONCE. Once  I’ve set aside the time to get the beans soaked and cooked and they’re bagged and in the freezer, I can be as footloose and fancy-free as I like about menu planning.

Plus the best thing? On our way to FI and FIRE, we can get so focused on the future. It tickles me that I’m not ignoring Past Frogdancer’s efforts and I’m utilising the materials she put in place, even if it’s just a pack of beans. It makes me think that Future Frogdancer, (that wrinkled old crone), will one day look back and thank me for what I’m putting into place now.

It’s all connected.

Frugal Friday: Uglify your dogs for free!

Poppy and Jeff are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a breed originating from England where the climate is a tad colder than in Australia. Cavaliers have a proud royal history, dating back to the 1600’s when the Stuarts ruled England and were obsessed with their little spaniels.

Here’s a portrait of Charles II, who gave his name to the breed. Notice his long, luxuriant wig, so like the dogs’ ears? All of that hair, whether from wiggery or from natural means, is all very well in a climate where Santa Claus lives and something called snow happens. But here in Australia? Not so good.

Back in the days before children, when I bred and showed this breed, a long coat on a show dog was ideal. I’d brush them every day with a boar-bristle brush, wash them and condition them with almond oil to look after the shine and softness of the coat, and if their coats almost hit the ground you were the envy of all beholders. It’s against the breed standard to trim the coat, so the only time scissors went anywhere near my dogs was if I had to cut a knot or grass seed out. However, the Frogdancer home has moved on and so has my love for long locks on dogs.

Jeffrey, (the one on the left of the photo), absolutely drips with coat if he was left to his own devices. He’d survive perfectly happily for days in a blizzard if he had to. Great in the winter time, but on days where the mercury reaches 35C+/95F+, he suffers. The hair that he leaves around the house is insane, to the point where Dobby, my Roomba, gives up in disgust and goes back to his charging station to sulk. There’s no need for Jeff to have the coat, so for the last 3 years, I’ve been getting my sister Kate to clipper him.

She has mini schnauzers, so she clippers her dogs quite often. About 4 times a year I load my dogs in the car and we go down to her place and she attacks Jeff while the other dogs watch.

Look at the hair that came from him yesterday! The last time he was clipped was in the beginning of November, and this was the growth from then till now. Kate suggested that I take up spinning and make yarn to knit a jumper from all of the hair.

In this photo, you can see how long Poppy’s ears were before one was shaved. After she was spayed her coat changed and became thicker and drier, so now I just get Kate to clipper her too.

What does this cost? The last time Kate said she needed a new set of clippers, I offered to go half if she’d groom my dogs when they needed it. She agreed and I gave her $50. This was about 18 months ago.

Before I started writing this post, I googled the cost of clipping a small breed like the Cavalier if I went to a grooming salon. I nearly fell over. Maybe I would have if I wasn’t already sitting down…

If I took the kids to a grooming parlour, I’d be forking out anywhere from $60 – $100 PER DOG. Even I can do the Maths on this one. (Probably…)

2 dogs X 4 times a year = 8 clips per year@$60 to $100 = $480 to $800!! 

That’s a lot of money. I think I’ll offer to pay for the next set of clippers myself. I had no idea it cost as much as that. I’m feeling guilty now about asking Kate to pay for half the last time, considering she does all the labour. Clearly, I’m a bad sister.

Anyway, let’s do some Maths. Assuming I spent in the middle of those horrendously large figures each year, that works out to $640/year. Jeff recently went to the vet and had 10 teeth removed at a cost of $590. Essentially, getting my sister to do their grooming has covered the cost of that operation. Gotta be happy with that!

To be honest though, I’d be even happier if the short hair enhanced their appearance. Sadly, it has the opposite effect. Until a little more coat grows, their heads look too big for their bodies, their legs look like spiders’ legs and when they lie down on the floor they look like cowskin rugs.

Add gangly, ungainly and gawky to that. That short coat isn’t doing him any favours in the looks department.

Now you can tell that he realises we’re mocking him. He’s putting all his energy towards willing that coat to grow…

So the cumulative cost of insourcing the dog grooming adds up over time to be a significant amount of money.

However, this little thing of sharing the cost of the clippers is also pretty powerful. When you stop and think about it, why don’t we share the cost and the use of items that only get used every now and then? A group of neighbours could share a lawn mower and a mulcher, for example. Why does every house have a ladder? I can’t remember the last time I needed to use ours. Even kitchen things like dehydrators and preserving kits could be shared among friends. Obviously you’d have to work out what would happen with breakages etc, but I’m sure there’d be a way around it.

I wonder if anyone reading this post has tried something like this?






Frugal Friday: The School Holidays Girls’ Lunch.

When we moved into The Best House in Melbourne a couple a years ago, I knew that our disposable income was going to be about $1.50/week. I was in the throes of getting plans through the council to develop my original property and I’d borrowed the entire amount against that house to be able to move into The Best House in Melbourne. Back in December 2015, five days before Christmas, I’d paid 750K for our new house. Settlement was at the end of March 2016. Bridging finance was 3K/month. At the time I was working 4 days a week, as I was still working my side hustle of being a Thermomix Group Leader.

The bridging finance equated to just over 70% of my takehome pay from teaching each month. I knew it was short-term pain for (hopefully) long-term gain, but in the meantime our expenses were cut to the bone. How could I still socialise without ruining the stability of our financial cashflow? Then I had a brilliant idea.

The great tradition of the School Holidays Girls’ Lunch was born.

(Apologies for the stock photo. I was going to take photos yesterday but you know what happens when the bubbly is flowing and the gossip is racing.)

Every school holidays I pick a day, a bit like a Goldilocks day. You know… not too close to the beginning of the holidays when everyone is tired; not to close to the end when everyone is racing around Getting Things Done. I pick a date that is just right!

Then I send out a group email to the women on staff. Not everyone…. we have over 150 people on staff and my house isn’t the size of a mansion. I have around 25 women on the list who all get along really comfortably with each other and so I whack the details of the date and my address and send it out. I ask if anyone can think of someone else we should invite, because we have new staff joining us all the time and I definitely don’t get around to meeting everyone new. The result is that every holiday we have a pleasant gossipy lunch without the pressure of school bells, students asking to see us during lunch and worrying about who may overhear a juicy titbit. This works really well because of a few procedures I follow and some assumptions I make.

Procedure 1: It’s a ‘Bring a Plate.’ Americans call this a “potluck”, but that always seems to me that you’re taking potluck that there’ll be anything edible! I prefer the more optimistic ‘bring a plate.’ I attach a Google doc with a column for Savoury and one for Sweet. Everyone who’s coming puts down what they want to bring.

You know how everyone has their specialities? We have eaten some amazing food at these lunches. As an added bonus, yesterday the two people who brought desserts were so pleased to be able to make them, as their families don’t eat sweets much anymore, so they were dying to break out their favourite recipes.

Procedure 2: I say that I’ll supply the champagne. I let everyone else choose the menu. I make sure to post the list a few weeks in advance, and then I don’t check it again until the day before. By then, the early starters who know EXACTLY what they want to make have made their move almost immediately after the list was emailed, while the late choosers have logged on and strategically seen where we’re running low and have selected a meal to bring. The first few times when numbers were lower, I’d see that we would probably need an extra protein dish, for example, so I’d make a lasagne, or we needed another side salad, so I’d make that. I haven’t had to do this for quite a while, as everyone now seems to naturally balance each other out. So all I have to do is make sure I have about 3 bottles of champagne. Some mineral water is also a good idea too. The Frogdancer household never runs out of wine and we always have champagne in the fridge, so this is easy.

Procedure 3: Cater for vegetarians and GF people. Even with Evan21 being a vegetarian, I’m ashamed to say that this didn’t automatically occur to me to do. However, the lovely thing about this is that it has occurred organically as the lunches have gone on. Working with each other as we do, word gets around about dietary requirements and choices. The first lunch we had, the only GF and vego/vegan options were the ones that the affected people brought for themselves, which of course meant that their lunches were pretty limited and boring compared to the rest of us. This didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of us. Now, people are actively choosing to bring items that cater to dietary requirements and they write this on the sheet. This prompts other people to think about what they’re going to bring and encourages the GF and vego people to come along because they know they’ve been warmly included. It’s a lovely development that I hadn’t foreseen.

Procedure 4: Make sure the dishwasher is empty before they arrive. I stack the dishes as we go and at the end, there’s no one feeling obligated to offer to stay and go through the drudgery of the dishes. It’s a relaxing time for everyone.

Procedure 5: Make sure there’s a plate of nibblies. There’s always one or 2 people who are running late. It’s rude to start lunch without them, but at the same time I don’t want people starting to feel a bit hangry. So if no one has nominated a dip or antipasto platter, then that’s a gap that needs to be filled. No one minds waiting a half hour for lunch if they have a glass of bubbly in one hand, a tray of nibbles nearby and fun people to catch up with.

Assumption 1: Not everyone will be able to come. People are on holidays. They have plans. They are either in Melbourne on the day or they’re not. I factor this in with the number of people on the group list and I expect that at least 50% will be otherwise committed on the day. Therefore it’s not a drama when people make their excuses. I know for a fact that once someone attends one gathering, they’ll always come to another one if they’re going to be in town. We all have a really good time and the added bonus is that there’s always a different mix of people each time.

Assumption 2: Just because people work in different departments, it doesn’t mean they won’t get along. We work in a large school of over 2,000 students, with about 7 different learning areas. Being a secondary school, we specialise in our subject areas, so there are people on staff that I’ve known for nearly 15 years but have never sat down and had a good chinwag with, because we’ve never worked together at all. We have 3 separate staff rooms where we have our desks, so people mingle there a little more, but basically a person could go years just nodding politely at certain people as they pass them in the corridors without ever knowing how much they have in common with each other.

Personally, I’ve found that having a mix of women from different faculties and staff rooms has worked brilliantly. You wouldn’t credit the fascinating conversations we’ve had with people who would normally barely cross paths at work. We’ve learned more about each other in a couple of hours than we have from years of working at the same place, and this makes going to work a more pleasant experience. It’s always more fun when you work with friends! And you know you’re onto a winner when people start asking you towards the end of term when you’re going to be sending out the email for the next lunch.

Assumption3: What’s talked about during the School Holidays Girls’ Lunch stays at the SHGL. The holidays are when you hear the juicy gossip. Not every time, but when people are feeling relaxed and they know that Big Brother isn’t watching, things get shared. It might not be personal stuff, it could be attitudes towards professional areas that are happening in the workplace, but people tend to drop the work-mask and share their real ideas and attitudes about things. It’s really interesting when it happens.

Seeing as this is Frugal Friday, it may sound as if this idea isn’t particularly ‘skinflinty’. You may be right. I could probably organise a lunch at a restaurant and my meal would cost the same as a couple of bottles of champagne. So why do I still consider it frugal?

Compare the bang for my bucks between me paying for one meal at a restaurant and me entertaining anywhere from 10 – 15 people for a meal. The atmosphere in a private home is much more relaxed than in a restaurant- people move around, they mingle, they move from the kitchen to the dining table and back again… they taste and compliment each others’ cooking and ask for recipes. Who doesn’t love to feel that they’re a great cook?!? Sharing food is a natural ice-breaker. In a restaurant, once you’re seated you’re pretty much stuck in place, so you’d better hope you’ve chosen your place well.

The lunch at home can go for as long or as short as the natural flow. There are no bored waiters hanging around, silently begging everyone to go home. Usually, these lunches go for 4 -5 hours, depending on who’s here and the conversations that happen. Some people pop in for maybe 3 hours and then leave for another engagement, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all very organic and easy. And let’s face it, once I have a glass in my hand, I like to let things just go with the flow. After all… I’m on holidays.

It also means that I give my house a good clean and I make sure that the boys clean their bathroom and toilet. Visitors are a great reason to keep things well-scrubbed!

Next holidays I’ll be overseas so I won’t be holding another gathering until winter. Still, the spreadsheet will be there, waiting to be dusted off and brought out again. It’s a very cost-effective and socially fun way to entertain and I highly recommend it.


Frugal Friday: garlic and ginger

Just after Christmas I realised we were running out of garlic, which is a situation that, in anybody’s book, would be an intolerable deprivation. The next time I went to Costco I bought 3 bags of it. Now, this would be Frugal Friday foolhardiness in the extreme if I was planning on leaving it in the cupboard. It’d go off before I’d even opened the second bag. But a couple of years ago I went to a friend’s place while she was cooking and she casually opened her freezer door, took out some already peeled garlic cloves and threw them into her thermomix and chopped them up, then continued on with her cooking. The whole thing took 2 seconds. How quick and easy was that?!?

It changed my life. Really.

In my defence: sometimes little things can change your life. It doesn’t always have to be earth-shattering events!

Don’t cook with a thermomix? Doesn’t matter. You’d just get the ingredients out from the freezer a few minutes before you needed them, let them thaw slightly on the chopping board and then chop them up yourself. It’s still a huge time and convenience saver. I hate throwing food out and this is an easy way to make sure that expensive ingredients like garlic and ginger aren’t wasted. You don’t think they’re that expensive? Check the price per kilo the next time you shop. Yikes!

To be fair, the preparation isn’t all that exciting. I set aside an hour or so, start a podcast running on the iPad and then set to work. The time passes quickly, I think because it’s one of those mindless repetitive tasks that let your mind free to wander while your hands are busy. I’ve seen that you can buy cryovac-packed peeled garlic from China, but I haven’t heard good things about the quality. I’d rather stick to the fresh stuff I can choose myself. (It was even better when I grew my own, but those days have gone… for now.)

Once I have a goodly amount peeled, I grab a container and pop them in the fridge. Since doing this I’ve never had to throw out any sad garlic. It’s a terrific way to still use fresh garlic in my cooking without the waste, while an added bonus is that I don’t have the garlic smell on my hands every time I need to cook with it. I get all of that over in one fell swoop.

I do the same with fresh ginger. I bring it home, chop it into coins and then freeze. On the shelf next to the garlic I have whole red chillies that a friend from work supplies me with. They last for months.

Doing this saves on food waste, but primarily it saves time. I know I have these staples on hand, so throwing together a quick curry or bolognaise is a no-brainer on those nights when you really don’t feel like cooking. It’s worth the short-term boredom of peeling for the long-term gain of the convenience.

Anyone have any other ideas for quick, easy and seasonal ingredients to use the freezer for? I’m sure there’d be more great ideas out there…?





Frugal Friday: Entertain yourself by using what you’ve got.


Here at the Frogdancer house, we’re well into the summer holidays. The days are balmy and sunny, the hours are slipping past slowly and sweetly, while the nanna naps and long conversations are a highlight. At the moment we have our houseguests here. As anyone knows, holidays and guests are a recipe for endless spending, because your days are open and the hours need to be filled somehow. After all, when you’re at work for many hours a day, your time is taken up with things other than looking for entertainment, so expenses in this area tend to be lower.

I know for me, I always spend more money during the breaks, because this is the time when I can run around and Get Things Done. On Tuesday I bought a replacement dryer for the useless one that broke 3 months after I bought it last year. There went $380. I’m going to be booking a landscaper, to make the Best House in Melbourne even better. I’m pretty sure he won’t do the work for free, so that’ll be extra dollars out the door. I also stock up the zombie apocalypse cupboard, so that during term time I’ll always have food staples on hand to feed us. This means that the food bills go through the roof in January, April, July and September. But what about entertainment? How do I fill in the hours when I’d normally be working?

The picture at the top of the post is one way. I’m a firm believer in utilising any perks you can get at work.  You’re putting in your hours there anyway, so anything you can use to your benefit is a good way to leverage your time.

Working in a school as I do, one really good way to get more bang for my buck is to use the school library. The books we have access to are predominately Young Adult or Adult, with teachers as well as students encouraged to make requests which the library buys. There’s also an eBook section that I’ve used quite a lot this year. A few days before the end of term I wandered down to the library to return some textbooks that I won’t be needing in 2018. When I left the library about half an hour later, I was probably staggering slightly under the weight of 13 books that I’d selected for my holiday reading.


All for free! Assuming that a new book costs $30, then that’s $390 worth of reading I was walking away with. That’s not a bad perk from being at the school. The small pile to the right are the books I’ve already finished. Being a quick reader, I gallop through books, which is yet another reason not to buy every book I read. A book usually takes me a day to finish, so I’d go broke if I bought brand new books every time.


I’m an avid podcast listener, particularly on my commute to and from work. I have a mix of financial, funny, informative and crime podcasts that I listen to, depending on my mood. How lucky are we to live in a time when all this entertainment is literally at our fingertips… for FREE? For the first couple of weeks of the holidays I left my iPad alone. I needed the peace and quiet to decompress from the year and so when I was on my own with the dogs there was just the golden sound of silence, (except when a dog had the temerity to blatantly walk past our house, inciting my dogs to protect the perimeter.) But over the last couple of days I’ve been working on a project here and I’ve been playing the podcasts in the background as I work.

Did I mention that this entertainment was for free?


Here’s the project I mentioned. Readers of my other blog would know that a few weeks ago I went away for the weekend to a Craft Camp and rekindled my quilting hobby. That sounds like I set it alight, doesn’t it? Six years ago, when I started my side hustle of Thermomixing, I dropped my quilting like a bad habit. Do you know how much fabric, batting and thread I have stowed away in my stash??? HEAPS! It all came to the new house when we moved, and on the weekend away I dragged the stash up with me, spent about 3 hours going through it all, keeping most but also giving heaps away to people who liked what I didn’t.

Then I started a quilt. In my infinite wisdom, I started cutting out 2.5″ squares to make a quilt for Tom25. Putting squares together is an easy way to get back into the swing, I thought.

Of course, I didn’t stop to think just how many 2.5″ squares would be needed to cover a double bed. This is a project that will take a fair bit of time to assemble. But what a perfect way to spend holiday time! I already have all of the materials I need to make it – so I’ll be utilising things I already have and not letting them go to waste. Quilting takes up time, but it’s enjoyable because while you’re doing it your thoughts are free to wander. I’m being productive, making something useful, decorative and warm for someone I love, while I’m using things I have on hand, listening to podcasts and being so thoroughly entertained that there’s no need to scamper off to Southland or Chadstone and spend money in the shops there.

I’m positive that this is something that absolutely everyone can do. Well ok; maybe not the quilting part. But who among us doesn’t have things that we’ve accumulated over the years that we’ve never fully used? Imagine if, instead of going out and spending money on the next new thing, we actually sat down and read those books; learned how to play that guitar; actually finished those computer games; cooked some recipes from all of those cookbooks; threw those golf clubs in the car and went and played a game or two; rode that bike… you get the idea. I was going to include something about using a gym membership that you’ve bought, but let’s be honest – that hardly ever happens.

I know that some things we’ve bought and tried just don’t float our boats anymore. That’s ok – what would life be if we didn’t try on a few different activities for size? But if you look at them and find yourself going, “meh!”, then don’t continue to let whatever-it-is sit there gathering dust. Sell it on Gumtree or give it away. The empty space it once occupied is worth more than the clutter of having it still there.

I think that if you’ve spent your hard-earned on an item, you owe it to yourself and the hours of your life you traded to earn that money to use that item to its fullest potential. In my case, I made 24 quilts before I gave it up to go and earn money with Thermomix to pay off my mortgage and to go to Europe. But now I’m back, quietly picking up where I left off and enjoying the process all over again. I may have spent the money on quilting supplies 6 years ago, but it was still money well spent because I’m actually using the things I bought. And the added bonus is that I can keep more of my current earnings in my pocket.

Better in my pocket than in Mr and Mrs Southland’s or Chadstone’s! 🙂

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