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 s 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!

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Retire? But what will you DO all day?

A few days ago Millionaires Unveiled released a podcast I recorded with them. When I was talking with the hosts, part of the conversation was to do about my goal of retiring earlier than the norm. One of my friends IRL asked me the question in the title – which gave me the idea for this post. I can understand where she was coming from; work takes up huge chunks of everyone’s days.  So I grabbed my phone and walked around, snapping pics of things that I think will make the time in retirement slip by very peacefully.

I’m a big believer in little projects.

See the maple tree in the middle of this photo? One of the things I want to do is to make a garden on my front verandah. I’m in no hurry – I visualise terracotta and deep blue pots with a mix of ornamental, edible and flowers that I’ll gradually accumulate. Last week my sister asked me to go to a market with her. I saw a red maple for the backyard and bought it, then went back the next week to pick up this green one. When I look at it through the lounge room windows as I’m sitting here on the couch, it looks lush and green and relaxing. This will be a project that will take me years to complete, probably, and every season I’ll be swapping out flowers for different colours and looks. It’ll make me happy every time I arrive home.

Also, do you see the 3 tiny succulents in the pot on the right-hand side? Remember them – they’ll be coming back later. That right-hand pot holds my bay tree. I bought it 15 years ago when it was a tiny sprig, planted it in the pot and it’s been giving me fresh bay leaves for cooking ever since. That was a little project that’s worked pretty darned well.

Not all projects are lush, green, tree-hugging ones. I was at home on Melbourne Cup Day, when I discovered that I have a water feature in my front yard. Look at the size of the hole in the guttering! I’m so unobservant – I had no idea. Part of the joys of being a homeowner is that you have to run around and do the boring jobs that need doing around the place, as well as the fun ones.

At the moment I feel like I’m never home. My commute is nearly an hour each way and I work full-time. But when I retire, I’ll have time to tick off all the things I want to get down around the house. I’m really looking forward to having The Best House In Melbourne be totally tailored to how I want to live. There are advantages to being single…

So many things in this photo!! Anyone who creates something will never be bored. I finished this scarf for Izzy, David25’s girlfriend. They’ve been going out for 18 months and they still seem very fond of each other, so I thought it must be time to invest in a hand-made item for her birthday. It took about a month to knit.

See the china cabinet in the background? It’s full of family curios and, more importantly, things I’ve brought back from my travels. There’s the Babushka dolls from Lincoln, the twig from the actual apple tree that Isaac Newton was sitting under when he worked out what gravity was, the wooden acorn that was carved from an oak tree that Jane Asten herself planted, the Delft owl sheltering her babies under her wings that I bought over the canal from the Anne Frank house and so many more.

Above the china cabinet are the Staffordshire dogs from England that my dear friend Scott organised for me, a hand-drawn copy of an ancient North Korean painting that I bought in the art gallery in the centre of Pyongyang, a chest from Singapore and, just out of frame, a print of ‘The Cavalier’s Friends’ – which every breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels has somewhere in their home.

I fully intend to keep travelling all over the place. I’ll always have dogs. The things in the china cabinet and elsewhere around the house will be added to as time goes on. Old Lady Frogdancer will be surrounded by beautiful and quirky things from all over the world. She’s going to have the BEST decor!

I just finished reading this book. It’s a good one. There’s a pink speaker that I picked up in Beijing that I take around with me that I listen to podcasts with. My laptop is here. There’s a wealth of entertainment and information right there – most of it free. As long as there are libraries, bookshops and the internet in the world – I’ll never have time dragging on my hands.

Another set of projects. The pebbles on the ground will soon be replaced by brick paving, which means no more weeds. The bougainvilia is waiting to be planted outside my kitchen window. Every time I put the kettle on or walk to the sink to start cooking I’ll see a mass of flowers. Every year it’ll get bigger and bigger. I know that it’ll make me smile.

There’s also a more practical project, with the worm farm just behind it. I’m collecting ‘worm wee’ to put on my plants. Free fertiliser!

Here’s another project that Future Frogdancer will be so glad I’ve started. An asparagus patch. This is the first year they’ve come up, so I can’t touch them. Next year, I might take a spear or two, but basically, you’re meant to leave them alone to grow and develop. The third year – open slather!!! For the next 20 years or so.

I’m a big believer in having things to look forward to.

Remember those tiny succulents? They’ll end up here, next to my project to see if the lavender bushes will bring bees to fertilise my apple trees. I decided I wanted the steps up to the veggie patch to be lined with terracotta pots. I’m in no hurry to fill them. Some will be permanent plantings, others will be seasonal flowers. Every few months there’ll be a different look I’ll be POTtering around with.

There’s always conundrums to solve, as well, and that’ll never change. When I redesigned the backyard, I had soil brought in for the veggie beds. Turns out that it’s pretty ordinary and my seedlings are all turning yellow. Here is a row of tromboncino zucchinis that I planted in a bed that I’d previously dug in coffee grounds and crushed up eggshells. See how they get worse as they go along?

I hadn’t quite reached the end of the bed with the coffee grounds. Now I know that adding them is clearly something that the plants love, which probably means that I’ll have to swap from Shiraz to coffee to keep the supply up! Sleep is for the weak, anyway…

Improving the soil will take time. Hopefully, by the time I pull the pin from work, I’ll have made the veggie garden a fertile oasis that Old Lady Frogdancer can make the most of.

Another project that will keep me busy. One day this will also have brick paving, a new fence and (maybe) a collection of fuschias. They don’t like the sun, so being on the south side of the house they’ll enjoy the shade. Or maybe it’ll be something else. So many options! (When I retire), so much time!

Another experiment! There’s always something to do to keep your mind busy.

As part of the “Improve The Soil” push, I bought 6 tiny worm farms to sit on the surface of the garden beds. They have holes in the bottom, the theory being that the worms move into the farm to eat, then move out to move their way around the soil and gradually improve it. Trouble is, these farms are meant to be put in the shade. What I’ve decided to do is to plant bean seeds around the outside of them, so that when the summer temperatures reach 40C or more, the plants should shade the worm farms and protect any worms stupid enough to still be inside the farms from being boiled alive.

So far, so good. The Lazy Housewife beans are growing and the worms appear to be going ok. After Christmas is when we’ll see the hot weather and by then the bean plants should be covering the outside. We’ll see if it’s a brilliant idea or a bit of a fizzer.

Tomatoes on the Rapunzel cherry tomato plant. David25 gave it to me as part of my birthday present. Gifts like this will continue for as long as Old Lady Frogdancer can continue to totter up to the garden beds.

Sometimes projects and experiments don’t work. But sometimes they do. Apples! The lavender bushes bring all the bees to my yard.

Sometimes, like my friend, I wonder if retiring early will mean days filled with tedium. But with all these little things at my fingertips, along with the theatre, art galleries, travel, friends and family… I think my days will slip by very contentedly.

Roll on retirement!

Lessons from Literature 7: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

I first read this novel when I was 15 or 16. We had driven up to the Gold Coast to see my Dad’s parents for Christmas. Grandpa told me I could borrow anything from the bookshelves to read and I wanted to take something down to the beach with me while I sunbaked.

I’ll never forget the horror of reading about life in the bitter cold and privation of a Soviet gulag while I was in the burning sun, eating icy poles and swimming in the sea when I got too hot. The contrast made the novel even more terrifying, if that’s possible.

Solzhenitsyn was actually a prisoner in a gulag in the 1940’s and 50’s, so this account is totally authentic. Even as a teenage girl in the 70’s I could feel it. This novel, while dealing with a setting and situation worlds away from our lives in the modern-day West, still has echoes and lessons that we can take away with us.

If you haven’t read it – do yourself a favour and pick it up. It’s a slim volume. It’s worth it for the last 2 sentences alone.

  • “The hammer banged reveille on the rail outside camp HQ at five o’clock as always. Time to get up.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the alarm feels on a weekday morning? Mine normally goes at 5:30 – I didn’t realise until I read this that I get a sleep-in compared to the gulag! I’ll feel slightly better now.

  • “Shukhov never overslept. He was always up at the call. That way he had an hour and a half all to himself before work parade – time for a man who knew his way around to earn a bit on the side.”

Honestly, if this doesn’t make you feel guilty for not having the time for a side-hustle, nothing will! Shukhov carefully manages his time and uses every scrap of time that he has to himself as productively as he can.

  • “The commandant set great store by that order. Nobody dared argue with him. The warders grabbed lone wanderers, took down their numbers, hauled them off to the jailhouse – but in the end, the order was ditched. Quietly, as so many loudmouthed orders are.”

Anyone who has had to work under an incompetent or impulsive manager would know all about this one.

  • “Apart from sleep an old lag can call his life his own only for ten minutes at breakfast time, five at lunchtime, and five more at suppertime.”

Of course, life isn’t exactly like this on a work day, but honestly – doesn’t the job take up a HUGE portion of the day?

  • “Amazing how time flew when you were working. He’d often noticed that days in the camp rolled by before you knew it. Yet your sentence stood still, the time you had to serve never got any less. “

I don’t think this needs any elaboration…

  • “But when the camp suddenly needed a bricklayer – Shukhov thought he might as well be one. If you can do two things with your hands, you’ll soon pick up another ten.”

Here, Shukhov shows the value of flexibility and being willing to step outside the box and learn new skills. He gets slightly more food as a skilled worker and he also keeps his mind active – both things that will vastly improve his chances of survival in the camp.

  • “Easy money had no weight: you didn’t feel you’d earned it. What you get for a song you won’t have for long, the old folks used to say, and they were right. “

Lottery winners anyone? How many times do you hear that within 4 years a huge proportion of them are financially worse off than when they bought the winning ticket? A similar thing seems to happen with generational wealth – if a person/couple builds enormous wealth, it’s rare for their grandchildren to still be wealthy.

  • “But even after eight years on general duties he was no scrounger, and as time went by, he was more and more determined not to be.”

This is one of many times in the novel where we see that Shukhov’s sense of self is hugely important to him and is at the heart of how he continues to survive. He has some ethics and standards that he refuses to give up, while others have been left by the wayside. We all know people who seem to live for their job and appear to have very little in their lives left over for other things. These are the people who crumble when, for whatever reason, their career is taken away from them. Shukhov isn’t one of these people.

  • “He could barely stand, the Captain, but he kept on going. Shukhov had an old horse like that at home once. He took good care of that old horse, but he worked himself to death. And then they skinned the hide off him.”

This quote follows on from the other in the way that some people give their all for their jobs, believing themselves indispensable. And yet – when they eventually leave, there’s always someone to replace them. That last sentence is brutal – I don’t believe I work for a business like this but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories that make me believe that there are companies around who drain every last thing that they can from their workers.

  • “In jail and in the camps Shukhov had lost the habit of scheming how he was going to feed his family from day to day or year to year. The bosses did all his thinking for him, and that somehow made life easier. But what would it be like when he got out? “

This made me think about how daunting people find the thought of not having a regular pay packet coming in any more once they hit retirement. This leads to the ‘one more year’ syndrome, where people are financially set for retirement but quite bring themselves to turn off the wages tap and start to draw down from their portfolios.

  • “Your foreman matters more than anything else in a prison camp: a good one gives you a new lease on life, a bad one can land you six feet under. “

The horrifying thing about ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ is that, while we might say this metaphorically, he means it literally.

  • “The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favours, it always wants more tomorrow.”

THIS IS THE BEST QUOTE! I’ve never forgotten it and it’s helped me so much when I’ve ever had to deal with ephemeral little wants and indulgences that I might enjoy at the moment, but I’d completely forget about a day or two later. I don’t know how many chips, snacks and other little things it has saved me from buying.

The very best thing about reading is that, while most books fade away after you’ve finished them, some stay with you forever. ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ is one that you’ll never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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