Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er) in Australia from the female perspective.

Category: Frugality (page 1 of 2)

“We both spend money – just on different things.”

I was talking with a friend a couple of years ago. I’ve known her all my life and we chat nearly every week. Our kids have grown up together and it’s safe to say we’re close.

Our lives have worked out very differently. She’s still on her first marriage of nearly 30 years, whereas I’ve been single for most of that time. I live in suburbia, while she lives in the country. Our spending habits are very different too.

She was over at my place, staying for a few days over the summer holidays and she mentioned that maybe we could go out and grab a coffee one day. This is something that she does every day of her life, always with friends or family.

I don’t. Not because I don’t have friends or family, but because I don’t like doing it as a part of my regular routine.

I have my 16c cup of coffee in the morning before I leave home and usually that’s about it. I spend recess and lunchtimes with my friends at work in the staffroom or common room. Going to cafés to spend heaps on a coffee and a cake just isn’t my thing. It’s probably because I’m lazy at heart, but I’d rather loll around at home than dress up to go out and drink the very same things that I have in my kitchen.

I can’t remember exactly what I said in reply to Sharon, but it was clearly unenthusiastic. She curled her lip at me and said, “What’s wrong? Don’t you like the taste of coffee?”

“Of course, I do,” I said. “But we have a coffee machine right here.”

She rolled her eyes. “My God Frogdancer, you never spend money on anything! Don’t you want to live a little? Get out and do things?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I pointed to Scout.

“Sharon, you DO realise you’re talking to the person who paid two thousand dollars for a puppy last year? And spent around thirty thousand for the Europe trip? I’m going to be spending over 50 thousand on landscaping soon. How can you say I don’t spend anything?”

“Yeah ok, but you never buy new shoes or clothes and you’ve had your car for 5 years…”

I interrupted. “Sharon, I spend money on myself every single month.”

“On what?” she asked, looking around. I think she was hoping to see shopping bags piled up in a corner somewhere.

“The only difference between us is that you buy things people can see. You buy things – I buy time. I don’t give a (bleep) about fashion; what I care about is setting myself up so I don’t need to go to work if I don’t want to. I’m buying back years of my life. “

“What do you mean? How can you buy time?”

“Every month I put money in shares, I salary sacrifice to the max into super and I put any extra into my share portfolio. If everything goes as it should, in 5 years or so I’ll be able to choose whether I want to work or not.”

She sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine for you. I’ll be working until I die…”

I thought she was probably right, but it wasn’t the sort of conversation I wanted to have with her just then. I decided to say something that would make the point and end the topic without actually pointing the finger at her.

” We both spend money on ourselves; it’s just on different things.”

So we took our dogs for a walk instead.

When a survival strategy turns into a comfort zone treat.

I used to make a meal for the boys when we were REALLY short of money. It was the meal I went to when the pantry was bare and I needed to stretch the grocery money for another few days, so we’d have to eat whatever was at home.

Oatcakes.

Or as my youngest called them – Oakcakes.

It’s a gourmet mix of raw eggs, rolled oats, salt and some dried or fresh parsley that you form into patties and shallow fry. If I had some leftover meat, I’d chop that into small chunks and add that too, but often, particularly in the early days, that wasn’t an option.

Smother with lots of tomato sauce and serve with mashed potato and veggies.

Sounds appetising, doesn’t it?

Ok, I know some of you are feeling slightly ill at this point. But Oakcakes are surprisingly tasty, especially with the ‘fancy’ addition of the meat chunks. The tomato sauce is a must, though.

This was bare pantry desperation cooking. I needed something filling and nutritious for the boys, yet it had to be something that they’d all eat because I couldn’t afford to throw uneaten food away. If something worked with all 4 of them, (or even 3 of them), it was in high rotation.

Now that they’re all in their twenties and two of them don’t live at home any more, I’ve started ‘Sunday Roast’. Every Sunday lunchtime I make a roast for whoever wants to come. The added bonus is that there are often leftovers for Mondays and Tuesdays.

A couple of months ago I came home from work, looked in the fridge and thought about what I was going to make for dinner that night. The two boys were going to be in, so it was the three of us. The weather was a little cool, I didn’t feel like making a salad-y thing, hmmm what to do?

Then I remembered Oakcakes.

I suggested them to Ryan24. His eyes lit up.’That’s a GREAT idea! Oakcakes! I love them!”

David 25 was also enthusiastic.

So I mixed up the mixture… which is a strange sentence to type… put the potatoes in the thermomix to make mashed potatoes and prepped the veggies.

Now… this is confession time. The one thing I used to hate about Oakcakes is cooking them. So I got one of the boys to do that. As a responsible parent, it’s my job to prepare them for Real Life by making them do the household chores that I dislike.

But how funny life is sometimes.

The food that I made for them when we were so poor is now their comfort food. Since that meal, we’ve had Oakcakes every couple of weeks after a Sunday Roast when we’ve had lamb or beef. The boys, especially Ryan24, are the ones asking for it and it makes their night when the answer is, “Yes, we have some leftover roast. Let’s do it!”

I can’t help wondering if we are the only family where this has happened.  Are we weird or do you have a similar tale to tell about how something – doesn’t have to be food – morphed over time from “survival strategy” to ” delightful comfort zone?”

(Hmmm… now I think I’m hungry.)

Full Circle.

Something happened on the second-last week of the holidays and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I was walking the dogs around the block. It was mid-morning and for some reason we had left it too late to go to the dog beach. We rounded the corner near the primary school and there was a woman sitting at the bus stop, talking on her mobile.

“Yeah, I’m on my way home,” she said as we passed. “I was volunteering but it’s finished now.”

I glanced at my watch, thinking, ‘It’s only 10 o’clock. How could a job be finishing up now?’ I shrugged and then kept walking. The sun was shining and the dogs’ tails were wagging. It was all good.

As we walked further up the street, an elderly lady and her son were walking towards us, pushing a trolley loaded up with boxes of fruit and vegetables. I could see that they were commenting about the dogs, so as we got closer I smiled and we stopped to exchange a few words. Her son looked to be in his forties and he had Downs Syndrome. He was torn between being taken with the dogs and worried that they might bite. His mother, who was clearly his carer, reassured him and we talked briefly about the dogs, then we moved on again.

As we kept going, there were another couple of people walking towards us, also loaded up with bags of what looked like shopping. I thought nothing of it and kept going up to the corner, where the church is.

As we got closer I could see people coming in and out of the church hall. They were wheeling shopping trolleys in and carrying boxes full of food out. It was a hive of activity in there.

This was on a Thursday morning, when I’m usually at work.

A woman and her husband were coming along the path towards us, so I pulled the dogs in beside me to let them pass. The woman stopped and after the usual compliments about the dogs, said, “Do you know what’s going on in there?”

When I shook my head, she said, “They’re giving away free food!”

I glanced towards the church. “Really?”

“Yes. It’s so wonderful. My son is starting year 7 this year so we’ve been buying books and uniform and paying the school fees… it’s so expensive. I was worrying about how we were going to pay for everything, but look at all this!”

She gestured to the boxes of produce that her husband was carrying.

“This takes all the pressure off. And guess what’s in this?”

She patted the tartan shopping trolley that she was pushing.

“It’s FULL of lunch box snacks! Like LCMs and Uncle Toby’s. I won’t have to worry about school lunches for ages! You should go in and have a look.”

I laughed and looked at the dogs. “I don’t think they’d like it too much if I brought the dogs in with me!”

She urged me to go in again, then she found out I was a teacher and we talked about starting secondary school She was nice enough to thank me for being a teacher, which (to be frank) is a bit of a novelty. Most people whinge about the holidays we get, especially at this time of the year!

As we headed towards home, I could see quite a few people heading for the church, shopping trolleys and bags in hand. If I hadn’t have talked with the woman outside the church, I would never have noticed them.

I didn’t go into the church to grab some free food, because it wasn’t put there for people like me. I have a full-time job, my kids are grown and I’m financially secure. But my head was spinning.

Because you see, it wasn’t so long ago that it would have been for me.

Back when I was at home with my 4 small boys, money was tight. I was watching every penny like a hawk and it was definitely on the cards that if something went wrong financially, I could lose the house and the kids and they would lose that security. It was incredibly stressful.

Then, one day my Aunty Doris asked if I’d be interested in getting free bread every week. Her brother-in-law was a member of a church that sent people to pick up everything that wasn’t sold at a gourmet bakery in East Brighton and then deliver it to people who needed it. The Tuesday night woman couldn’t do it any more and he thought of the boys and me. I couldn’t believe my luck!

We went to that bakery every Tuesday night for the next 14 years. We’d drive into the laneway at the back of the shop, armed with 3 or 4 empty laundry baskets and lots of plastic bags. It wasn’t just bread – there were cakes and buns, pies and pasties… it was a lucky dip every week.

The boys ate a LOT of bread growing up. Every Tuesday night was pie night. We’d eat whatever hot food was there. We grew very tired of pies and pasties but I insisted we keep the tradition going. That was a night where feeding the 5 of us didn’t cost me a cent!

It was a crazy thought that we were so poor, yet we were eating the same bread as the “rich” people in East Brighton. Some of it was your ordinary white loaves, but mixed among that was the BEST rye bread and gourmet wholemeal seedy loaves that I’ve ever eaten. Nothing better than a chewy crust of rye bread with lashings of butter. Now that I’m writing about it, I really miss that rye bread…

After a few years we bought chickens. Every Wednesday was bread day for the chooks, which saved me a day’s worth of pellets. The neighbourhood birds soon got to know our backyard – it wasn’t an unusual sight to see a raven flying away with a Boston bun in its beak and sparrows snatching dinner rolls and squabbling over them.

Every week, I’d pack the leftovers from the bakery into different laundry baskets, depending on who was going to get the contents. At first, when I was home with the kids, there was our basket, Mum’s basket, and then various friends who’d put their hands up for free bread. Later on, the chook basket, for the food that wasn’t as pristine. Then, when I went back to work, there was the school basket. Every Wednesday morning I’d walk from the car to the common room, basket loaded up with loaves of bread and all the cakes and buns. People loved that they had a free morning tea every week and that they could take home some bread to use for toast.

When I bought The Best House in Melbourne and moved 50 minutes away, I knew the bread run had to come to an end. I tried it once and the trip home at peak hour along Nepean Highway was awful. I didn’t get home until 6:30. There was no way I was going to make my Tuesdays that long and I knew that times had changed. Although I was paying over 70% of my takehome pay in bridging finance, I knew that we’d be able to survive without it. It was time to pass the baton to someone else.

I walked away from my conversation with the couple outside the church and my eyes widened as I started to recognise how far the boys and I have come. She was once me, with all these bills to pay and barely enough money to keep things going. Once, there is no way I would have walked away from that free food! I would have tied the dogs up on the fence outside and dived in, desperate to save some money so I could put it towards uniforms, bills or servicing the car.

Instead, the dogs and I quietly walked home, seeing the other people clearly making their way towards the church hall. Some were young mothers pushing prams, some were older people and some looked like they’d clearly had a hard life.

I opened the gate to The Best House in Melbourne and brought the dogs inside and bent down to take off their leads. I stood up and looked at my beautiful, fully-paid-for house and I sighed a deep sigh of thankfulness that things have ended up as they have.

I kept my head together and didn’t waste anything while we were struggling, whether it be free bread, donated kids’ clothes or my teaching degree. We were very fortunate to have had help along the way, such as the bakery run and we didn’t squander it. I will be eternally grateful for the impulse that led that man to offer the Tuesday night run to the boys and me. It was a huge help when we were struggling and it also taught the boys about spreading our good fortune by sharing with others.

But the thing I’m now most grateful for? When I looked at that excited woman who urged me to go on and get some of this miraculous bounty for myself and I felt nothing but a calm certainty that this generosity was not for me. I can safely leave it on the table for others to use.

I’m not used to the feeling of financial security. It’s lovely.

What has my second-gen FIRE child learned about frugality?

Right from when they were very small, my children have watched me buy in bulk when non-perishables have been on sale, then helped me lug them home and store them in towering piles in the pantry or watched me decant into smaller, more user-friendly containers.

When I was in San Gimignano in Italy in 2015, one of the souvenirs I bought was this olive oil tin. I knew I’d use it and I love it still. I buy 4L tins of olive oil from Aldi and simply decant into my olive oil ‘watering can’ when it runs dry. It’s a similar idea to the non-stick spatula* I bought last year in North Korea. A useful souvenir is a good souvenir!

So what has my 24-year-old son done?

 

Ryan24 is half-way through his Remedial Massage course at RMIT. When massage oil was on the book list for this year, he bought in bulk. He’s bought smaller bottles to decant the oil into for when he goes to classes. Of course, as any second-gen FIRE frugal person would do, he made sure that the unit price for the bulk oil was far cheaper than for 1L bottles.

I’m very proud.

I just hope I don’t ever mistake it for a wine cask one dark night!

(This last photo has nothing to do with the post. I simply thought that some people might want to see the spatula of choice for people in North Korea.)

* I bought this spatula when we were allowed to wander around the supermarket in Pyongyang, North Korea, for 45 minutes on our own, surrounded by ordinary people doing their daily shopping. I saw these spatulas, thought, ‘Hey, I need one of these,’ and brought it home with me. 

Every time I make pancakes I remember my trip. 🙂

How did I go on the ‘No Spend’ days this year?

One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was one about how I make my spending more intentional by using a simple chart I keep in the cloud.

Simply put:

1. Detail every dollar spent – easy because I spend almost exclusively through my credit card. It’s the little cash things that I have to be careful to put down straight away!

2. Every week that has 3 or less ‘no spend’ days gets to be a Silver Week. This is my first full year of tracking my spending like this, so the 2018 total is the benchmark that I’ll measure future years from.

That’s it. Can’t get more simple than that.

This chart works on pretty basic psychology. If I want to earn a silver square, I have to be very intentional about which days I choose to spend money on. This means that on most weeks I bunch up my spending, instead of lazily spreading it out throughout the week. I might do a shopping trip on the way home from work, where I’ll stop in at Costco to buy fuel and then pop in for some dog food, a roast chook and some veggies; then I’ll swing by the chicken warehouse to buy chicken necks for the dogs and some other meat for us; and then if we need a top-up from the supermarket I’ll stop by Aldi. Everything’s done on the one day!

As you can see, in 2018 I had 28 weeks where I restricted my spending to fall into the category of a Silver Week. I don’t think that’s too bad… it’s a little more than half. December was a very spendy month. I was pretty well exhausted by the end of the year and I think I spent more on lunches this month than I did for the last 2 years combined!

The next job is to go through the chart and fill out my yearly spreadsheet of all my expenses. Considering I spent 50K on all of the garden renovations that I did this year, 2018 hasn’t exactly been cheap! (And there’ll be more to come in 2019… yikes!) But these are expenses which only have to be borne once and will reap dividends in the future.

I won’t lie – it’s tedious to run through the chart and add up all the figures. But it’s essential to know where my money is going as I head ever closer to retirement. I need to know precisely how much money I need before I give up work. The 4% Rule will only take me so far…

 

In defence of Santa – from a Value-ist.

I read a tweet from Angela an hour ago about how her family doesn’t “do” Santa at Christmas and as a Santa enthusiast, it got me thinking and remembering. Angela and her family have thought about this and haven’t made their decision lightly, but I have a differing point of view. Christmases here are very different now, but when the boys were kids and money was tight, it was a challenge to make Christmas morning magical. And, as I’ll tell you in a second, yesterday I discovered that it paid off big time.

As a single parent, when the boys were small, money was tight. I went back to full-time work when the boys were Tom10, David8, Ryan6 and Evan5. When I was on the sole parents’ pension as it was called then, I was paying a mortgage and the bills and we were living pretty much hand-to-mouth. We were on roughly 18K/year, of which nearly half was going to the mortgage, so there was little room for fripperies in the budget.

But… I’m a Value-ist. I was a Value-ist before the term was coined. I’ll scrimp and scrape to save money for my family to survive, but if there is something that I see adds huge value to our lives, I’ll spend the money to achieve it.

Santa was definitely one of those things.

When Tom26 was Tom9, he came home from school in the middle of the year and said to me, “Joe Lunchbucket said to me that Santa wasn’t real.” Now, Tom is a communicative boy, so I hastily got him away from his brothers by suggesting we go into the backyard for a chat.

We walked down to the fig tree, where I asked him whether he really wanted to know. He said yes. I looked him right in the eye, smiled and said, “That’s right. I’m Santa.”

Tom9 gasped and said, “NO WAY!” To be frank, I wasn’t expecting this reaction.

I laughed and said, “What do you mean?”

“YOU can’t be Santa! You couldn’t afford it!!!”

After convincing him that yes, I was indeed Santa, he became struck with guilt.

“Oh no. I’ve been telling all the boys to ask for the expensive things for Christmas so you wouldn’t have to get them.”

Oh, my baby. That’s real love right there. And fiscal responsibility. No wonder he became an accountant! That remark went straight to my heart. I laughed, hugged him and we had The Talk. The Talk about how knowing about Santa means that you’re now with the grown-ups and we NEVER spoil Santa for little kids by blabbing it out just to make ourselves feel important. We keep the secret so they get to enjoy it just as we did.

Having all of your children caught up in the magic of Santa is special. But it’s also special when your older ones start joining in with keeping the magic alive for the little ones.  When they help the little ones with the spelling on their Santa lists, when they distract them when we’re shopping so I can smuggle a present past them, and when they all yell out, “Thank you Santa Claus!!” and the older one/s turn and smile with you, or give you a secret hug and whisper, “Thanks Mum.”

To be honest, I had an advantage on my side, in that the boys were little when money was ultra-tight. This meant that I was able to get away with quantity over quality. I knew that little kids have no idea what things cost. They just get excited by piles of things. So every year each boy would get one “big” present. Something that they wanted that was ultra-fun or ultra-pricey that they needed AND wanted. Then there’d be a present or two that was medium exciting, like computer games (often bought second-hand) or smaller toys. The rest required ingenuity.

I created traditions.

  1. Every year Santa brought bubble mix. Part of Christmas morning was that we’d all go out into the backyard and blow bubbles and see who could blow the biggest ones. We’d laugh as the dogs tried to catch them. It was fun and cost about $1/child.
  2. Every year Santa brought those mini packets of Kellogs cereals. The kids LOVED these, as normally it was just home-brand wheat bix and cornflakes in the pantry.
  3. You know those packets of chocolate gold coins that you can get from $2 shops? My kids were in the money every Christmas.
  4. Santa was also a bit of a fashionista. If the kids needed new bathers, t-shirts or the like, they’d go into the pile. Usually, each child had their Christmas Day outfit given to them, so they’d be all dressed up in their best for the day. I was going to buy them anyway, so why not add it to the mix? It all looks impressive.

But the biggest savings hack was shopping at garage sales. The little presents, and to be honest, some of the really big ones too, were bought here. The boys were away with their father every second weekend, so from about September onwards I’d drive around and visit garage sales when the kids weren’t with me. People just want to get rid of things their kids have outgrown, so I’d pick up toys and other things for absolute pennies on the dollar that they would have been when new.  My kids never had any idea that a huge percentage of their Santa gifts were pre-loved.

All that mattered to them was the magic.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast that Tom26 was on. He and a friend were talking about all things Christmas – the carols, the commercialism, the memories and, of course, Santa. Tom26 brought up the Santa reveal story I’ve already shared with you, but he also said this:

“As a young kid, Christmas is everything. And the one thing I’ll say about my mother who, I think, will end up hearing this episode…”

“Tread carefully!!!” said his friend. (Made me laugh.)

“… My family did not grow up with any sort of money. We were really, like, dirt poor. But Christmas – Mum went above and beyond. At the time, you’re young, you don’t know, but you look back and you realise what she did. And that’s something that I cherish, looking back on.”

He went on:

“Then as you get older, as you get busier, it’s about taking a break, saying, “I’m going to put all my problems away for a second, put them in a box, and go and see friends and family. The people that matter most. And they don’t have to believe, either, (they’d touched on religion in the conversation earlier). We can just say thanks for one another on one day. The gifts really are a symbol of thanks, really, for just putting up with me (laughs), well, maybe not entirely! But also thanks for being YOU, through the thick and thin.”

The good thing about podcasts is that you can go through and get it down, word for word. I really wanted to be accurate in putting down what he said because I was so blown away with how perfectly he’s internalised the true meaning of Christmas. Family and friends – the people closest to you. The gifts you buy are only there as a symbol of how much you value those people in your life. Taking time out to be with them and acknowledging them and their importance to you.

I believe Santa lays the groundwork for this.

First, kids learn to receive.

Then they learn how to give.

Merry Christmas everyone! May your holiday season be happy and mirthful and your dinner plate always be full.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: The Great Coffee Experiment.

A little while ago I read a post on ‘Get Rich Slowly‘ where the guest writer was talking about his quest for the best and cheapest coffee. He went into exhaustive detail about the cost of heaps of different coffees, with his conclusion being that the Kirkland brand of coffee beans at Costco was the cheapest for him.

I was inspired to find out what the Frogdancer family was paying for our morning coffees.

Costco here in Melbourne only sells ground coffee beans, not the actual coffee beans themselves. This immediately knocked Costco out for the experiment, though a few months ago I bought a jar of ground coffee from them so I could keep reusing the container. Most people prefer to grind their own beans if at all possible. This might not sound like a big deal, but we here in Melbourne take our coffee very seriously indeed.  Since the wave of Italian migration here in the 1950’s, Melbournians have grown up drinking espresso, capucchino and lattés like mother’s milk.  In fact, our cafés make babychinos and pupperchinos so that the kids and dogs don’t miss out.

Oops, got off track. We in the Jones household grind our own coffee beans in the thermomix, (250g, speed 10, 27 seconds, for those who are interested), so I wasn’t going to pay extra for pre-ground coffee. It’s Frugal Friday, after all! This is where Aldi came to the rescue.

$11.99 for a kilo of South American coffee beans. In our house, we prefer the taste of the Brazilian/Columbian beans over the Italian ones, even though the Italian beans are $1/kg cheaper. Sometimes, you just have to lash out and spoil yourself.

As you can see, we use an Aeropress. Around $60 for the best-tasting coffee! It comes with what they say is a year’s supply of paper filters that are compostable… but read on. There’s a way around this.

After making a cup, the Aeropress people expect us to simply push the coffee grounds out into the bin along with the paper filter. We, however, refuse to be dictated to by The (Aeropress) Man, so we rinse and re-use our filters. During this experiment, I also tracked how long we were using each filter. We got 32 cups of coffee with one filter!

See the light coming in from the tiny hole in the middle of it? That was when this filter finally joined the coffee grounds that we save in a bowl to go out into the garden.

Brand-new filter vs 32 cup filter. You can buy a metal filter to replace the paper ones, but I won’t need to bother about doing this for YEARS!

Saving the coffee grounds is heaps easier with an Aeropress. Once the coffee is all in the cup, you just depress the plunger fully and the grounds are pushed straight out. No rinsing or fiddling about. Free fertiliser! Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, which plants love.

Once a week I put the coffee grounds, tea leaves and any egg shells we’ve used into the thermomix and I grind them all to a powder, then I dig it into the garden. I love that I’m getting a second use from my morning coffees!

As you can see, out tracking of how many cups per kilo that we got was done with primitive, yet effective technology. A pen and paper beside the Aeropress and kettle did the trick.

$11.99 divided by 74 = 16c per cup of coffee.

This makes even the $1 a cup coffee that teachers in my staffroom buy each morning at 7/11 look like extortion!

Thanks to J.D Roth of Get Rich Slowly and John from ESI Money for producing the original post that this one sprang from. It was a fun little exercise to do and now that I know how cheaply I’m buying my morning cup of coffee, it makes it taste even more delectable.

What has my second-gen FIRE child learned about money?

 

In the personal finance world, there’s a lot of blog posts written about teaching children about money. I’ve done it myself – the post I wrote that ended up winning the first Rockstar Rumble was about teaching my kids about compound interest. However, a huge proportion of these posts are written by parents with very young children. I’m at the other end of the journey, with adult kids moving out into the world.

I discovered the FIRE path about 5 years ago, so a lot of my boys’ money training has been observing the day-to-day decisions that I’ve made in the previous years, as well as observing the decisions of other family and friends around them.  I didn’t have the information about investing and compounding that I do now, so for most of their lives I wasn’t actively talking to them about this. Their father has been a small business owner for most of their lives, so they’d work in his shop on their access weekends with him and see life from that angle.

A year ago, on the other blog, I wrote about Evan22 moving out of home into Res at Uni in a post entitled: Reduce Your Bills By Evicting One of your Kids!

As anyone who has ever lived on campus knows, choosing to live there is hellishly expensive. Back when my boy was Evan21, he decided to live on campus for a year to get to know everyone and then work out who he wanted to share a house with for the next 2 years of his course. He paid for this himself. His decision to live in Res worked out really well. As he said on the way up to Ballarat, “All the people who moved into houses at the start of the year are now all moving away from the people they started with and moving into different places with their friends!”

Here’s The Playboy Mansion. Evan22 will be living here with 3 girls. They have the bedrooms in the house, while he has the sleepout out the back. He pays the most for his space, at $150/week.

He’s a full-time student over the age of 22, plus he’s living away from home. This means that he can pull in a Centrelink payment of around $580/fortnight. He’s taking out a HELP loan to pay for his course, which is around $6,800/year. I know that many people, particularly in the US, consider it almost mandatory to pay for some or all of their kids’ college/university fees, but I don’t.

I told them all that I was responsible for seeing them through high school. If they choose to go to tertiary education, (the word ‘choose’ should have been in quotation marks because they were left in no doubt that the only choice about that was which course they should do!)… anyway, they could live with me without paying board. They pay for their own books and fees, but their living expenses are nil.

My reasoning is this – I think a better financial gift to my children is the gift of their mother being financially independent throughout her whole life. I don’t want to be in my 80’s and having to go to the boys for a handout every time the electricity bill comes in. They’ll have their own families to support and their own lives to live. I can’t finance their educations and adequately provide for my own retirement – I am but one woman. So they have to take responsibility for their own decisions from here on out.

So how has Evan22, being the youngest of my children, handled his finances after a lifetime of living with Frogdancer Jones? I haven’t directly asked him about this – maybe an interview post in the future might be interesting to get his perspective? – but here’s what I’ve observed.

But first, a little background to put things in context:

 

He was only 11 months old when I left my ex-husband, so he, as one of the younger 3 boys, grew up without any memory of when there were 2 parents in the house. For the next 4 years of his life, I was a stay-at-home Mum, waiting for him to grow up and get to school so that I could go out and work. We existed on what was called back then the ‘Sole Parents’ Pension’ of around 18K/year, plus intermittent child support when the Child Support agency would catch up with my ex.

With 4 children, going back to work wasn’t a financial option. The daycare fees would have wiped out my wage. So the boys lived in an ultra-frugal house for years. My priority was security for the boys, so the mortgage, food and bills were always paid. Then any extras would come out of what was left.

So what has Evan22 done with all of this?

He’s actually done pretty darned well so far. When he finished secondary school he was adamant that he didn’t want to go on to further education. He took a gap year, where he worked part-time in a fruit shop around the corner and dabbled on various writing and film projects. He couldn’t get any Centrelink allowances because at his age, they take his parents’ income into consideration and I earn too much.

Then the gap year turned into 2… then 3. About 18 months after he finished school, I moved out of the house we were living in and went to live in The Best House in Melbourne, while Evan20 stayed behind in the old place. He got some roommates in and they all paid rent.

He was never late in the rent. He worked and paid his own way. Sure, the garden looked like the place was haunted and they weren’t the cleanest tenants a landlord ever had, but he was supporting himself and hey- the house was going to be knocked down anyway!

In his third gap year, he left the fruit shop and took an office job with a couple of his high school friends. Unbeknownst to me, he’d already decided that he wanted to do an acting course. Unfortunately, that realisation hit him AFTER auditions for the following year were over. So he decided to get a job that actually paid fairly decent money and start to save.

Most acting courses worth their salt are either interstate or in the country. There was one – at the Vic College of the Arts – that if he got in, he could live at home and take the train in each morning. But he knew he’d better not bank on that one. He saved up around 15K over that year he worked in the office job, quietly salting it away for what may come in the next year.

Meanwhile, the house was sold and he moved back in with us. He still kept going to work, saving and still having fun. Towards the end of that year, (2017), he casually said, “Hey Mum, can you help me with some audition pieces? I’m going to try for Acting for next year.”

When he was accepted into a really terrific course in rural Victoria, I was worried about the expense of housing him. But, as you already know, he already had that covered. He was determined not to ask me for money for it, so he paid for his first year of accommodation. Towards the end of that year, he had a birthday and he knew the mature-aged student allowance from Centrelink would kick in, enabling him to pay rent for the next 2 years. He’d quietly worked it all out and then took the steps to make sure it would all come together.

All of my children have grown up to be very debt-averse. None of them have credit cards and the only person they borrow money from is The Bank of Mum if their car blows up or something. (They appreciate the interest-free component. And they always pay me back.) But Evan22 wasn’t comfortable borrowing 5 figures from me, so he worked out a way to cover it himself. I’m incredibly proud of him for that. I think it shows maturity beyond his years.

But what about the rest of his expences? Is he incredibly frugal, spending money only on essentials?

Well, if you consider buying 5 copies of the same vinyl album of his favourite band because it came in 5 different colours frugal… then yes! He seems to go out to breakfast a lot, so I’d say there’s plenty of smashed avocado in his life. When he drinks it’s not beer or wine, but vodka and whiskey. He’s a vegetarian, so his groceries are probably less than if he was a meat eater, though having said that, have you seen the cost of chia seeds lately???

He spends very little on clothes. They’re just not that important to him. I think he’s learned by living with me that it’s smarter to spend on the things that HE values, not what society/his peers/his mother tell him to spend his money on. He follows his own heart.

When we finished moving in I took him out to lunch. He’s an independent guy – I asked if he wanted to swing by the supermarket on the way back to The Playboy Mansion to stock up his new kitchen. I was paying, of course.

“No thanks, Mum, ” he said. “I’ve got plenty of food left over from Res.”

In the whole year he’s been living up there, he hasn’t put a hand out for money once. Not once. I haven’t offered, because I was curious to see how it would pan out. I’m very proud of how he’s learned to organise his money and pay his way.

On the way up to Ballarat, we went via IKEA, where I bought him a Queen-sized bed with all the trimmings, plus a few other odds and ends that he needed. He thinks that the extra things are coming out of his Christmas money. (I give every boy up to the age of 25 a $300 voucher for Christmas. They use it for clothes, usually.) He’ll be expecting a voucher for about $50.

But he’ll be getting the full $300. I think he’s earned it.

I’ve said it before, but I’m very proud and impressed by how well Evan22 has stepped out into the world and has started to navigate himself with his finances. He’s clearly observed and internalised the “stay out of debt’ and ‘make sure there’s more money than month’ rules that I’ve lived my life by.

The next step is to teach him about compounding and investing. Considering that he’s moving into a notoriously unstable field of work, he’ll need his money to be working hard for him. However, judging by how he’s travelled so far, I think he’ll be able to listen and learn.

So far anyway, he’s behaving with money pretty much as you’d want a second-generation FIRE kid to be. Ok, so he’s not doing an engineering degree or living at home and biking to the local university to save money, but all in all, his attitude towards his finances seems to have a solid bedrock upon which to build.

Anyway, this is how a second-gen FIRE kid is behaving in his early 20’s. He learned frugality and delayed gratification at my feet, but I didn’t start learning about investing, compounding and FIRE until he was in his late teens. Imagine what the children of younger FIRE parents will be absorbing as they grow?

The sky’s the limit…

 

8 gift ideas when you’re buying for a frugal person.

Ok, I admit it. I’m a frugal person. I hate to waste money on fripperies, and I hate seeing my loved ones do the same. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like Christmas presents!!

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. When my marriage broke up, back in the day, I split the holidays with my ex-husband. He had Easter (his family gives WAY more chocolate than mine does) and I had Christmas. I love the plotting and planning, the hiding away to wrap presents, the sneaky questions aimed at ferreting out just what someone would like to be given – I love it all.

But here’s the thing – we all want to minimise the presents that miss the mark with the recipient and we want to increase our chances of seeing a genuine smile on the face of someone you love when they see the present you bought them. Here are some gift ideas for that frugal someone in your life.

1. Buy things they’ll use every day.

My third son, Ryan23, is a student. He doesn’t have much money to spend, so when I was inconsiderate enough to have a birthday recently, he had to come up with the goods. Instead of buying something splashy and expensive, he came up with some brilliant little gifts. The first one is the soap that you see above. His friend has a small side-hustle making and selling soap. He remembered the days when I used to make our own soap, plus he knows me well. I shower every day. He bought two ‘cakes’ of soap for me.

I loved this gift! In fact, I loved it so much that I raced out and made some more soap of my own. It satisfies so many things – each morning I pick it up and smile because it makes me think of my son. It’s hand-crafted soap, which is so much better for the skin, so I feel pampered. It will get used up, instead of becoming clutter.

And – it was free!

2. Buy little luxuries that they’ll use that they wouldn’t buy for themselves.

My second son, David25, loves to think of gifts to spoil people. For my birthday, he hopped online and looked for “most popular lip gloss”. He also gave me a black evening bag, because I’ve bought season tickets to the Melbourne Theatre Company and he also gave me a luxurious cocoa butter body creme.

I don’t really use body lotion, but hey! Skin is skin, right? I looked at the ingredients and thought that they sounded like night moisturiser. So I started using it, thinking that if my skin flared up I’d go back to my usual moisturiser. Two months later the tube is nearly used up, my skin looks youthful and dewy and neither David25’s money or mine has been wasted. Again, it won’t cause clutter around the place and I get to use products that I would never have bought for myself. It’s special.

3. Craft/hobby supplies.

This is an area where you should probably enlist the recipient’s help, but it could be worth it. Nothing would be better than someone saying, “I know you like knitting/board games/quilting/woodwork… what could I buy you that you’d love to work with?”

Trust me – there’s always something that a frugal hobbyist has eyed off and said to themselves, “That looks so nice, but I’d better not buy it.” It could be a gorgeous little pair of scissors for snipping threads – a frugal person will look at it, love it but then say, “But I already have a serviceable pair of scissors for that. I don’t actually NEED them.”

It might be something that they can actually get their hands on, such as a skein of yarn hand-dyed in Peru that is as soft as butter and costs more than your beloved frugalist thinks they should pay for themselves. But as a gift? They’ll think of you and treasure each moment they knit and then wear the item.

If they don’t want to say anything, because they’re worried about you spending too much on them, that’s when vouchers become your friends. Again – use their frugality as a weapon to get them to treat themselves. They may not dream of spending $50 in one hit at the craft store, but when the money has already been spent? They’ll march into that store and make sure not to waste a single penny of YOUR money.

4. Go in partnership with a frugal craft person.

I just thought of this one, but it’d be THE BEST. I’m always knitting or quilting something for the boys. Years ago, back when Tom26 was Tom16, I said to him that I was going to make him a quilt. He insisted on going to Spotlight with me to choose the fabrics. It was the best afternoon! We wandered around, with him choosing the prints that he liked – golf, guitars, The Beatles, and others that I can’t remember. We had such a great time, then he took a keen interest in the design and hung over me when I had sewing days while I was putting it together.

Ten years later, it’s still on his bed. He loves it.

Why not ask the frugal craftist in your life to make something for you, then go shopping with them for whatever they need to make it with and you pay for it? That is the gift for them… and the gift for you is the actual thing that’s created. Your frugalist gets to have the fun of making it, which is what they enjoy, with the certainty that what they’re creating will be wanted and cherished. That’s a lovely feeling to have as you’re making something for someone else, believe me.

5. Buy or make them something edible.

Check on their likes and dislikes first – anyone giving me anything made with bananas wouldn’t like the dry retching that would go on after I unwrapped it!!

But an avid cook would probably like a couple of bottles of infused oil to play with, or some truffles or some home-made vanilla essence. Someone who’s a coffee drinker might like a couple of small bags of exotic coffee blends to try. Tea drinkers would love some gourmet tea blends and there are so many to choose from.

If you happen to be the good cook, then the whole world opens up for you. David25’s girlfriend, Izzy, brought around a plate of home-made chocolates as a gift from her mother for Christmas. I was mortified at first – I’d been out-Christmassed by a woman I hadn’t met yet! – but that feeling quickly passed as David25, Izzy and I settled in to watch a movie and eat the chocolates. They were delicious and made what would have been an ordinary occasion into something a bit special. Look, it’s nearly a year later and I haven’t forgotten them, (and just between you and me, I’m hoping that she does it again this year…)

6. Experiences make memorable gifts.

One of the best Christmas gifts I ever had was when I was still doing my side-hustle as a Thermomix Group Leader. Our branch manager took us out for Christmas and we did a Foodies walking tour around the laneways in Melbourne. I wouldn’t actually class myself as a ‘foodie’, but it was so much fun!

We were led to little bakeries, chocolate shops, an Indian café that looked like nothing from the outside but had the most delicious Indian food in Melbourne. We went to another place in Chinatown to sample the roast duck and we ended up in a tiny grocery store opposite the State Parliament that had a cheese cave in the basement and also sold the best ice cream I think I’ve ever tasted.

Would I – the self-proclaimed frugalist- ever take myself on a walking tour like this? Never in a million years. Do I still remember it to this day? Absolutely.

7. Look at their interests, then think a little outside the box.

My oldest son, Tom26, has done this for the last two Christmases. He knows I’m addicted to reading, and he’s always been one to put a lot of thought and care into his gift-giving. What he’s been doing is looking up which novels have won awards in the year gone by, then he buys a couple of them and gives them to me.

It’s such a great idea! I don’t tend to buy many books, because I’m such a quick reader that a novel usually lasts me a day or two, which adds up pretty quickly at $30 a pop. The popular books are usually always booked from the library, so with Tom26’s gifts, I’ve been able to read some fabulous books that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten around to read for ages, if ever.

Look at your own frugalist and see how you might tweak this idea for their interests.

8. Use your creativity to solve a problem your frugalist has.

Ryan23 didn’t just give me soap for my birthday. He also solved a problem for me. See this chart with the real-life names artfully coloured in? It eliminated a problem in our household that was really bugging me.

I live with 2 adult children. We all have our own lives to lead and we’re in and out of the house all the time. It’s all good. But when dinnertime approaches and I don’t know how many I’m catering for, it makes me antsy. I don’t want to create a huge meal and have only myself there to eat it, or, what’s worse, when no one tells me they’re going to be home and then 2 seconds after I dish up a meal for myself, they bound through the door and start looking through the fridge. It’s annoying and really inefficient.

I think Ryan23 got sick of the texts I’d send at around 5 PM saying, “You home for dinner?” He made this chart out of things that were hanging around the place. The boys just click a bulldog clip onto the nights they’re going to be home for dinner. I come home and can see at a glance how many people are eating here and I can cook (or better yet, make one of them cook) for the correct amount of people. If there’s a last-minute change they text me.

I absolutely love it. It cost Ryan23 nothing to put it together – just a few minutes of his time. I’m now no longer harassing the boys about their plans and it makes our lives that little bit easier.

So there you have it! 8 ideas to chew over when buying for that difficult but loveable frugal person in your life. Practical gifts that won’t create needless clutter are the ones to be looking out for. If you tailor your gifts along these lines, your frugal loved one will SO appreciate the thought that went into your gift.

And they’ll definitely notice the thought. How do I know?  Because being frugal means being able to pay attention to details. They’ll love that you noticed the little things about them that others maybe haven’t.

And this will make for the very merriest of Christmases!

How I choose to spend my grocery money to get more bang for my buck..

6 years ago in 2012, I wrote this post on my personal blog and I also posted it on the Simple Savings forum, where it has remained one of the forum favourites. Last night someone bumped it up again and I reread it. I thought that it was worth posting here on Frugal Friday, as there’s lots of actions I did then (and still do to this day) to keep my grocery bills down as low as possible. I can almost guarantee there’ll be something here that every one of you could adopt and use, even those of you without 4 teenagers, pets or chooks.

Keep in mind that any $$ values are 2012 costings. Also, the photo isn’t the most flattering, but it has something in the background that I’ve written about in the post. 🙂

***

I had a couple of people ask me how I kept my food spending down so low, considering I’m a single mother feeding 4 humungous boys (all taller than me so I must be doing something right!), 2 dogs, 2 cats and 6 chooks while spending $130/week. This figure includes cleaning products; things like toilet paper/baking paper/alfoil etc; the evil takeaways; things like fertilisers or snail bait if I happen to pick them up at the supermarket… in fact anything bought at the supermarket and animal produce store is included on the spreadsheet. It’s easier that way.

The bottom line about all of this is that I scrimp and scrape on the things that aren’t that important to me, so that I can spend/invest the money in things that ARE important to me. An integral way of doing that is to keep the grocery spending as low as possible. This is the one area of the household spending where there is room to move because so much of it is down to choices. Any money that I don’t have to put towards going down our necks can be put towards getting us closer to our goals. I find that an exciting challenge.

I will disclose at the outset that we get free bread from a bread shop. We get whatever they haven’t sold on Tuesdays, so we turn up with 2 or 3 laundry baskets and collect the bread, buns and pies that were unsold and we share them with a couple of families in the area (and I take donuts to work for staffroom 1.) I sometimes get a box or two of fruit and veggies from my ex-husband’s fruit shop when the boys come back from a weekend at his place. (This varies wildly as to how useful it is, depending on who packs it. Tom19 brings back 3 watermelon (whole), 5 bags of carrots and a couple of cantaloupes. The ex-husband packs things that aren’t selling and these things tend to go off quite quickly, while Evan15 packs things we really need such as potatoes and pumpkin… plus baking ingredients for gingerbread. Last time he included 3 packets of vanilla sugar, because he saw it mentioned in a thermomix recipe.) Long-term readers may remember the drama we had a couple of years ago with child support issues. That angst has simmered down, but I make it a point of honour not to waste a single THING we get from his shop! If all else fails then the worms or chooks eat from it, but nothing gets thrown away.

With the bread and the fruit shop things, we save a fair bit right there. I maximise the savings by feeding the chickens from the bread shop buns and pies first thing every morning, so the edge is taken from their appetites by the time I put the feed pellets out for them before I go to work. On Saturdays, if there’s still a fair amount of stale bread and buns left, I give the chooks a “pellet-free” day, where they get fed exclusively from the bread shop leavings. I wouldn’t do this every day, because they need their nutrients, but I figure once a week is acceptable. After all, in the olden days chooks were fed on leftovers and whatever they could scrounge and they seemed to do ok. Tuesday night is “Pie Night”, where we take our pick from the pies, pasties and sausage rolls from the bread shop. It seemed silly to be bringing all this food home and not to use it for the humans as much as possible. (We’re getting a bit sick of pies, but we still make ourselves eat them!)

With regards to the rest of the shopping:

I like to stay out of the supermarket as much as possible. I actually really like food shopping, but every time I pop into the supermarket for something I always end up buying more than I went in there for in the first place. So I learned that the more I stay out of the supermarket, the less money I spend overall.

So I tend to do a fortnightly – 3 weekly shop. This is pricey when it happens… I usually spend between $300 – $400 dollars at a time…. but it’s amazing how much I save by NOT buying all of those impulse buys.

My first shop of choice is Aldi. I adore Aldi with a passion. SO much cheaper than the supermarkets, Aldi has been an absolute godsend to this family. They opened up near here just when the boys were hitting their teenage growth spurts, eating like horses and my grocery bills were soaring. Now I go to Aldi first, stock up with multiples of what we use and then I go to IGA or Coles to buy what Aldi doesn’t sell.

* I look at the supermarket brochures, particularly the “loss leader” specials on the front and back covers. If there’s a particularly good special on something we use, like coffee or peanut butter, for example, I’ll make a special trip to Coles or Safeway and stock up big. A year ago, Coles had a special on 500g tins of Nescafe for $10. I bought about 8 or 9 tins. I’m still working my way through them. Not a bad buy when the tins are usually $18 or so, which means that I’ve been drinking coffee at a rock-bottom price for the last year. I love going into the ‘rip off’ supermarkets with my junk mail brochure in hand, wheeling the trolley around the shop and then walking out with ONLY their specials. It makes me feel great that I’m minimising their profits.

So at any time, our pantry could have 10 jars of peanut butter, 20 tins of tomatoes, 15 tins of marked-down beans as well as all of the other things that are in there. It doesn’t matter, because they’re not going to go off and we work our way through them, bit by bit. When an item is a good price, I buy lots of it, usually in multiples of 10. My supermarket trolley looks very different from most other people’s, but it means that we’re eating a lot of our food at discounted prices. Over time, it all adds up.

Look at the unit prices on EVERYTHING. I was rapt when they changed the law and had to provide the unit price on everything on the supermarket shelves. It saves so much money, especially when I assume that the larger size is cheaper, but it actually turns out otherwise. For those of us who are mathematically challenged, this has made life so much easier. I also look at the top and bottom shelves of supermarket shelves, because they quite often put the cheaper products away from eye-level. This puts the sport into supermarket shopping and makes it fun when I bag a bargain.

You need to know your prices! There’s no point buying something on special at Coles if it’s cheaper at Aldi. I sometimes put together a price book, with the unit price of our staples written down, but in the last part of every year, I let this slide. It’s one of my holiday jobs to get this started again because it’s a very useful tool. I just have a small notebook that lives in my bag, and when I do a large shop I sit down after I’ve put everything away and take the prices from the docket and put them in the book. It’s handy to have this record because sometimes you’ll be out and about and see a special on something. Instead of just grabbing armfuls of it and racing to the checkout, it’s good to know whether it’s REALLY a special or not. The warm glow you get when you stop yourself from being inadvertently ripped off (or when you realise that it’s a rip-snorter of a bargain) makes it worth all the nit-pickiness of starting the book in the first place. I want to go with my friend Liz to Costco to see what it’s like. Having a price book will DEFINITELY stop me being carried away and spending up big on things that I think are good value. I need to be sure they are.

Brand loyalty is stupid. The bottom line is by far more important. Having said that though; I will NOT buy any brand other than Vegemite. Don’t mess with my breakfast! I only buy Nescafe instant coffee and Aldi powdered milk. Their powdered milk is the only brand we like the taste of. Oh! And Masterfoods Devilled Ham spread for a treat. (My grandfather used to use this all the time, so I buy it for my boys. Call me a sentimental fool…) Apart from those things, nothing else we buy is brand related.

My rule is to buy the generic/Aldi brand product first. If we don’t like it, then we try other, more expensive brands. For example, the kids declared that they didn’t like the Aldi peanut butter. Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference, but it’s the boys who eat the most peanut butter, so I complied. We buy the Black and Gold brand from IGA because it’s the next-cheapest and the boys like the taste of it. Recently Coles had a special on Kraft peanut butter (om nom nom… the taste of my childhood…) that made it cheaper than the IGA one, so I bought 20 jars. The kids LOVE it, but when the jars run out we’ll go back to the IGA version, at least until Coles runs the fabulous Kraft Peanut Butter Special again. Though on second thoughts, now I’ve bought the thermomix I can grind down peanuts to make our own peanut butter, so that might be one item that stays off the shopping list. Things change…

Think ahead. Last December I read a comment on the Simple Savings forum where a woman called Joan said that every January she goes on a marked own ham hunt, where she freezes the portioned-up ham and uses it throughout the year. What a bloody brilliant idea! Me being me, I got a bit carried away and bought 3 hams. I chopped them up into pizza/macaroni and cheese-sized pieces and froze them in little meal-sized bags. Those bags of ham lasted us till the middle of September. I can’t tell you how fantastic it was to be able to reach into the freezer and pull out a bag of good quality ham pieces to chuck into a dish when I was cooking in a hurry. I was quite upset when we used the last one. So a couple of days ago I bought 4 hams. Cost me around $150 up front, along with the 4 hours solid I stood at the kitchen bench slicing and dicing away. TEDIOUS. I’m guessing that a lot of people wouldn’t want to put the time in.

But I now have 54 meals’ worth of ham (including the 4 ham bones for pea and ham soups throughout the year) in the freezer. That works out to $2.77 a meal, or 0.55c per person for each meal, (assuming the boys and I are all eating each meal together). Now that’s what I call affordable meat, and makes the job of cutting it up so worthwhile.

Another way I thought ahead was when I was renovating the kitchen. I allowed enough space to buy a full-sized fridge and FREEZER to stand side by side. I have enough freezer space to be able to take advantage of bargains when I come across them (such as the Christmas hams, for example.) I can freeze our excess produce that I grow in summer and use them in winter casseroles and spaghetti sauces. I love my huge freezer. This item is an integral tool in the next point which is:

Waste not, want not. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s really very true. Anything you spend money on, you should use… otherwise, it’s a waste of money. With food, “waste not, want not” is truly a motto to live by. We all have to fill our stomachs at regular intervals. If you have teenage boys, they are adamant that they need to fill themselves up every 15 minutes or so. If you manage to fill the stomachs with food you’ve already bought/been given/grown yourself, rather than going out and buying some more, then you’re ahead of the game.

When I was a SAHM over a decade ago when the boys were running around being toddlers, I remember seeing an Oprah show where they were clearing out someone’s messy house and they were throwing rotten food out of the fridge. The organisation guru who was doing the cleaning totted up the prices of the food that he was throwing away and declared the total. It was around $200 or so. He then said, “This is exactly the same as taking four $50 bills and putting them straight into the trash. In fact, it’d be easier and quicker just to do that, rather than go to the trouble of going to the store, buying the food, carting it home and then throwing it in the trash a few weeks later.” That hit me right between the eyes and I’ve been mindful of waste food ever since.

Nowadays we have a food chain going on here which guarantees no wastage. Humans first, then dogs.

If the dogs don’t want it (or they’re getting too fat) it goes to the chickens. Added bonus… eggs for us and manure for the garden.

If the chickens won’t eat it then it goes to the worms. Added bonus, castings and worm wee for the garden.

Anything unsuitable for the worms goes into the compost. This, of course, gets put onto the veggie garden to produce more food for us.

We grow food. There’s no denying that I’ve put in a lot of money up-front to establish things like the water tank and the raised wicking beds, along with fences for the chicken run and veggie gardens. Ryan17 looked at me recently, raised an eyebrow and asked if this whole veggie growing thing was cost-effective. I said that now that we have the groundwork done, then yes, every year it’ll get more and more economically worthwhile.

Saving and swapping our seed; using home-made fertiliser such as weed tea, worm wee tea and castings; composting all of our waste scraps and chook bedding to use on the gardens; freezing and making jams etc from the things we grow; substituting ingredients to use the things we grow rather than buy the “correct” ingredient from the supermarket; all these things add up to big savings. The main way it saves money for us is that if I’ve gone to all the trouble of growing it, then I’m by far more likely to respect the time from my life that I devoted to it and so actually USE it to cook with, rather than go and buy more food. Again, keeping out of the supermarket is helpful in keeping the grocery bill down.

Without a doubt, the main reason I grow our food isn’t for the dollar savings. I got fired up about growing food when my son’s battle with debilitating depression surfaced. I decided to cut out as many chemicals and preservatives as possible from the food we eat so that I could help him to get well. My philosophy was, “it can’t hurt and it might help” and anything I could do to help him – I was going to do. However, the dollar savings aren’t to be sneezed at either.

*Powdered Milk. Substituting this one product has saved me hundreds of dollars over the last 3 or 4 years. I don’t drink milk (ugh!) but two of my kids drink it like there’s no tomorrow. The up-front saving is, of course, that litre for litre, the cost is less by using powdered milk. The savings with this alone are worth it. But the other saving is that if you keep a few bags of powdered milk in the pantry…. YOU NEVER RUN OUT OF MILK.

This means that I don’t have to drop into the supermarket on the way home. This means I don’t spend money on impulse buys when I’m in there looking for milk. Obviously, there’s no way of calculating the savings I’ve made by not going through those supermarket doors, but I have a shrewd idea that the amount would be substantial.

Put shampoo and conditioner in pump packs. This makes shampoo and conditioner last SO much longer. Instead of the kids picking up the bottles and squeezing a huge dollop of shampoo in their hands, the pump-top containers dole out a measured amount. The kids have to work to get a comparable amount in their hands, which takes too long. They’ve adjusted to using a smaller amount, which of course mean I don’t have to buy shampoo as often. It all helps and if I can get savings by doing something so simple, I’m going to do it!

Making things from scratch is usually far cheaper than buying ready-made things. I work full-time and I definitely class myself as ‘time poor”, particularly during term times. Sometimes I don’t get around to making biscuits or cakes for the kids’ recess snacks, or I’m racing around on the weekends doing gardening work or housework and so the kids rustle up their own snacks. I’ve noticed that particularly in the last parts of the school terms, I buy shop-bought biscuits/cookies and convenience foods to save myself the effort of baking. Seems cheap enough… a couple of dollars for a pack of bikkies/cookies, right? But the biscuits I make myself are cheaper, have far more filling ingredients and have no nasty chemicals in them. Buying “cheap” packets of bikkies adds up to $10 a week, which over time adds up to a huge amount. All this for a snack that doesn’t even fill my boys up, so they’re peckish heading into period 3 and by lunchtime they’re ravenous. How can they concentrate on their work?

Doing my own baking saves us heaps every year. Adding some bags of flour, extra milk, cocoa and sugar, along with some fun things like chocolate bits or hundreds and thousands to the shopping list may seem like I’m adding extra items to the shopping trolley, but in reality the raw ingredients end up so much more cost effective than the ready-made items, because (for example) I can make 5 day’s worth of biscuits from a bag of flour costing far less than $2. The same is true for the other ingredients. Over time, it makes a huge difference. One of my holiday jobs, before I go back to work in February, is to have a few logs of biscuit/cookie dough in the freezer for those mornings when I can’t find the time to make a cookie dough from scratch, but I CAN switch the oven on and slice up a log of cookie dough while I go out and water the veggie garden, and have the cookies cooked and cooled, ready for the boys to grab on the way out the door to eat for recess. It’s an investment in their health and wellbeing, plus a money-saving thing as well. It just takes some thinking ahead and some organisation.

I also make our own soap. This doesn’t save us money because I used to buy the cheapest soap on the shelves. What it DOES do is give us the purest, best quality soap in the world for a very reasonable price. The pay-off with our healthier skin is absolutely worth the extra money I spend on the ingredients.

Watch the attitude. I look on this as a challenge. I love finding a bargain and shaving yet another thing off the shopping list (Why do you think I’m so excited about the thermomix? I can make SO many more things for us with ingredients made from scratch, which means I my shopping list and shopping bill will keep going down!) If things become a chore, I know I won’t do them. I choose to look on the cost-cutting as a fun thing, rather than a burden.

Get priorities right. I don’t “do” coffee in cafes. My sister and some of my work colleagues can’t understand that, because much of their social lives revolve around meeting friends for coffee and cake. I look at that and think that if you did this every weekday, at a conservative estimate of $6 for a coffee and something to nibble on, that’s $30 a week, or $1,560 a year. Even allowing for a couple of weeks off here and there for holidays, etc, that’s still a huge pile of money for coffee beans and water. You may be able to shrug your shoulders and say that’s ok, but for me… that’s a sh**load of money that I could use for far more useful things, like braces for Evan15, braces for David18 *sigh* or a water tank. Or school books… 2 days ago I just spent over 1K on textbooks and stationery for the 3 high school students. Gotta love it. Thank goodness Tom19 pays for his Uni textbooks himself!

My priorities will be different from yours. My main financial priority is to be totally and utterly debt free, which means that I want to pay my mortgage off. I bought my ex-husband out 14 years ago and I still owe money on this place. I hate that, so I’m throwing money at it. However, I could have paid it off by now, but I have other priorities as well.

Overseas travel for the boys, so they can see how other people live and how good we have it here. I don’t want them to grow up to be ignorant bogans. So I took all the boys to Bali in 2006, then we went to Phuket in 2007. (Shouldn’t waste all those empty pages in the passports! Waste not, want not…!) The first Christmas (2009) that David18 chose not to spend with his father, I took him to Singapore to get him out of the empty house and away where he’d be distracted by all the bright, shiny Singapore things. Then, of course, we had the school’s Stage Band tour in Los Angeles, where David18 and Ryan 17 went for 2 weeks. There’s also expensive school camps, but they get to see places like Central Australia and Tasmania that otherwise they’d never see. So I don’t begrudge spending money on travel. It broadens the mind, so they say.

When I started full-time work, I decided to renovate my 1950 weatherboard house to put a decent kitchen and bathroom in it, as well as a ducted heating and cooling system in. I was going to pay off the house first and then do it, but then I thought about how silly it would be to be getting all of these things done to make the house more liveable… just when the boys were moving out. So I decided to get the work done while we were all still living here and able to enjoy it all. So I doubled my 100K mortgage, got the work done and now I’m almost back to where I started, mortgage-wise.

This past year I bought a lot of Project Things, such as a water tank, solar panels, the thermomix, solar oven and such like. They’re one-off purchases to minimise our bills in the future and/or make like easier. Now I have them, the job is done and I don’t have to buy them again, barring unforeseen accidents, of course. Now that I have these things in place, I can turn my attention back to the main priority, which is the mortgage.

I have also spent a lot of money on music lessons, over the years. Again, I don’t begrudge this, as playing music and singing well is a skill. Investing in developing skills is money well spent.

As I said in the beginning, I’m very conscious that I’m a single wage earner who is supporting a lot of people. I don’t want to end up eating tinned cat food in an indigent old age, so I’m paying down debt and stewarding my money in the most prudent, mindful ways possible. Cutting down on our food bill while still providing my family with the best food I can is probably the most important way I save money to safeguard our financial future.

Plus, I like the challenge!

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