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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No one knows better than Maths Guy.

I don’t often go for end-of-week drinks, but this one was a bit special. An end-of-week drinks and sausage sizzle to celebrate the end of year 12 classes. Seeing as how I teach year 12 Theatre Studies, I moseyed on down to the local bowls club, grabbed a drink and a sausage in bread and settled in for a chat.

As often happens with these things, I was sitting near people I don’t normally hang out with. If people aren’t in the same faculty or staffroom, your orbits rarely collide. I was talking with a Geography Guy and a Maths Guy and the subject of retirement came up.

“Do you have a definite figure in mind?” Maths Guy asked me.

I laughed. (Do I have a figure in mind?? LOL! LMAO! ROFL!  He was talking to Frogdancer Jones!!!)

I said, “Yep, I do. I’m looking to pull the pin when my investments reach  50K/year.”

He looked at me, frowned and shook his head. “That’s not enough.”

I smiled. “Well, seeing as I live off 30K/year now, I figure 50K a year will be plenty.”

“No, you’re wrong. It won’t be enough.”

I blinked. Seemed slightly dogmatic for someone I barely knew. Then I noticed his wedding ring. Of course! He’s thinking of supporting two people, not one.

“Well, it’ll probably be enough money. I’m single so I’m only supporting one person – myself.”

He sighed, as if talking to an idiot. “I’m telling you, it won’t be enough. I have enough put away now that I could retire and we’d have 60K a year, but that isn’t much for any sort of lifestyle.”

Now it was my turn to blink. That’s double what the boys and I live on. If I had that amount of money in retirement I’d be as happy as a pig in muck. I’d buy diamond-studded dog collars for Poppy, Jeff and Scout; diamond-studded underwear for my good self and a solid gold spade to do the gardening with. I’d go to Europe and the UK every year for 2 months and I’d see EVERYTHING. Imagine the HISTORY…

I don’t know what expression I was wearing while I was imagining all this, because he went on to say, “Of course, we go out to dinner a lot. My wife saves nearly all her money – I’m the spender. She says that she’s about at the point where she can retire, but that I’m nowhere near. Gives me the irrits because we’re spending my money when we go out all the time!”

Then he doubled down on the fact that 50K wouldn’t be enough for me to live, thrive and survive. (That’s a Blues Brothers reference for all the people playing at home.) 

I let it go. I knew what the problem was. He didn’t have as close a handle on his expenses as I have. There’s nothing wrong with that – he obviously has a two-income family and they’d be able to afford the extra things that clearly bring them pleasure. But what I found really interesting was that he seemed utterly incapable of picturing a lifestyle where spending thousands of dollars less per year was anything other than the utmost deprivation.

Whereas from my perspective, I think that working a few more years to lay down a nest egg capable of paying 20K over what my expenses are, is being extremely conservative – almost prudent beyond belief.

This is only the second time someone has questioned my financial plans. Two years ago, when I told my Mum that I was aiming for 40K/year, she advised me to rethink it. She said that she and Dad live off 30K/year each, so 40K for one person mightn’t be enough. I had a think about it, agreed that she was right and raised my target to 50K. With no mortgage and no debt of any kind and 50K rattling around in my wallet, I think that I should be able to have an awesome lifestyle when I walk away from teaching.

This conversation with Maths Guy was a classic case of a ‘spendier’ person coming up against a more frugal person. The thing I found most interesting was just how dogmatic he was about my situation – of which he knew nothing. No matter what I could say, he had his mind made up and that was that.

Will I raise my target again after my chat with Maths Guy?

Unlikely.

***

(I was on a podcast last week, being interviewed about my North Korea trip. If you’re interested in listening, here’s where to go. I listened to it on the way into work this morning and boy! You can tell my nationality from my vowels alone!)

Approaching retirement from a position of strength.

It’s funny how when you’re young, retirement seems a lifetime away. Which, now that I’ve typed up that sentence, seems pretty logical, at least for the traditional view of retirement. I’m clearly a genius…

 I vividly remember when superannuation was introduced in Australia. ( For the benefit of overseas readers, it’s the retirement account that employers pay 9.5% of a worker’s wage into. People can’t access this money until a defined age, based on when you’re born. For me, it’s 4 years away…yeah, baby!)

I was around 18 and working at a Coles shop in the Bourke St mall on the weekends when I was at Uni. When I started I was asked if I wanted to sign up for voluntary superannuation. I didn’t even know what it was. When I was told it was for retirement, I laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t think I need to worry about that yet!”

I was an idiot. The compounding on that money would have been incredible by now.

For most people, myself included, tipping more money into superannuation only becomes a priority when we reach the more mature decades of the 40’s and 50’s when retirement becomes more concrete. But by that stage, many people are up to their necks in debt. How can people save for their ‘golden decades’ when a huge proportion of their wages are earmarked to pay interest on stuff before it even hits their bank accounts?

That’s when the panic sets in.

I suppose I was fortunate to have a different model when my brother and sister and I were growing up. Mum and Dad were frugal. Dad had an all-consuming passion for bringing home vintage and veteran cars (usually Rileys) home in boxes or on the backs of trailers and restoring them to mint condition. He was a perfectionist, spending hours of time and quite a few dollars on bringing these cars back to how they looked when they were new. 

I remember talking about this with Mum one day when I was about 10 or 11, and Mum saying, “Your father always wanted to restore a ‘Riley 9’ because it was the first car he had when he was growing up. But he didn’t bring home a single car until he’d paid off the mortgage.”

Dad modelled that being debt-free was something important that you had to achieve. He also demonstrated self-discipline by denying himself the car. He’s a man who, when he has a hobby, throws himself into it whole-heartedly. He was obsessed with his cars, to the point that my clearest childhood memories of him are of his feet sticking out from under whichever car he was restoring when I went to the garage to call him in for lunch or dinner.

It would have been very easy for him to take out the mortgage on the house, start his family and then ‘reward’ himself by bringing home a car. Why not? That’s what everyone else seems to do.

Instead, he set himself the goal of paying off the house and being debt-free, THEN rewarding himself with the car. And not a brand-new car, either. It was a 30-year-old Riley 9 that he literally brought home in boxes and rebuilt from the ground up. He bought it very cheaply, then cash-flowed the restoration, giving himself untold hours of entertainment right in his own backyard.

He and Mum also joined the Riley car club, where the main activities seemed to me, as a kid, to be driving to parks with picnic lunches, where they’d all park their cars in a row and admire them. Mum would chat with the other women, Dad would crawl all over the cars with the other men, while we kids would race around with all of the other kids. Pretty cheap entertainment!

(I found this photo online that shows how we three kids would ride in the ‘9’… in the boot, with no seatbelts. NO WAY would it be allowed today! But by gum, it was fun.)

Meanwhile, what was happening with the money that used to be paid into the mortgage?

At first, Dad was the sole wage-earner, but once my little sister was in school Mum went back to part-time work. Her wage paid for the ‘extras’ – ballet lessons, cosmetic renovations to the decor, little family holidays etc. Dad paid for bills, groceries and a ‘big’ renovation to add an extra living room to the back of the house. Once that was done, he began to invest.

He was primarily a real-estate investor. He was able to throw hundreds every month towards a deposit because they were operating from a position of strength with no debt. They bought a small unit, but after some troublesome tenants they sold the unit and switched to small commercial factories.

Mum and Dad own them to this day. They’ve been retired for around 20 years and they still earn income each month from these properties. After buying 3 factories, they switched their investments to managed funds and were able to top them up rapidly, again because they had no debt.

As their children, my siblings and I absorbed these lessons growing up. Interestingly, nowadays we all appear to be on vastly different spots to each other on the spectrum. I won’t comment on where they are in their finances, (it’s none of my business, after all), but I know that I can see how clear-sighted my parents were about the future they wanted when they were working towards their eventual retirement.

(Mum in Bali. She and Dad go there for a month every year, as well as doing other trips.)

Dad turned 80 this year, while Mum is a couple of years younger. They still take trips overseas every year, as well as frequent long weekends away with the Riley Club. Dad collects watches. He doesn’t have to check his bank balance every time he wants a new one to add to the collection. Mum does Art classes a couple of times a week. They live comfortably on the income from their properties and investments, still living in the house that they bought 3 years before I, their oldest child, was born.

This was all made possible because they valued being debt-free and investing for the future, all while bringing up their family in a lifestyle where we had all our needs met, with some of our wants granted. If their health deteriorates they’ll be able to sell their factories one by one, as well as their house, to provide for themselves as their healthcare costs rise. They made sure they would not be a financial burden on their children.

I so admire this! In literally 10 minutes the school bell will go, and I’ll be walking off to a class that… well… let’s just say that I’ve had classes I’ve liked better. Would I like to turn around and walk out of the school and do something more enjoyable? You bet! Have I reached the number I need to reach to be able to live off my investments without worrying, just like my parents did? Noooo…

So off I’ll go to class, keeping my money invested and compounding, with my parents’ example firmly before me. Present Frogdancer can work for a few more years so that Future Frogdancer can kick back and enjoy her life.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Mum and Dad would want.

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: What can you scavenge from your job?

I work at a large suburban secondary school in Melbourne, Australia. Schools are funny beasts – they’re a glorious mix of theory and practice, with all sorts of materials and resources on offer to satisfy the requirements of teaching over 2,000 hormonally-challenged humans the skills to survive and thrive in the real world.

We have subjects ranging from English and Maths to Dance, Food Technology, (ie: cooking), Outdoor Ed and Studio Arts. We have kids scampering around making films in Media Studies, putting on productions in Theatre Studies and poring over computers creating games and other programs in I.T.

Our campus is home to 2,300 kids, with around 200 teachers. Can you imagine the resources that pour into this place every week? And, more to the point, can you imagine the resources that flow out, usually as rubbish? The trash that this place produces is prodigious. I began to wonder how I could use some of it in a way that reduces the waste but also saves me money.

Obviously, not every workplace will have the little bonuses that mine does, but it doesn’t hurt to step outside the box and think about how you, as a legit worker in your place of work, can engineer a win.

When I say this, I don’t mean things like stealing office supplies!! Here where I work, the school already gives teachers all that we need, so there’s no point smuggling out pens and paper clips – when we run out we just order some more. It’s not an issue. Photocopying is all free – you just punch in the code of your department and you’re good to go. Handy when you need a new passport, etc.

But how about things like food waste? I’ve just begun my veggie garden again and the soil isn’t good. I need lots of compost to improve it. I could drive to Bunnings and load up the car with bags of compost at $15 each or…

… I could have a brilliant idea instead.

I chose the latter.

I’m an absolute genius. Look at the staffroom compost bin at the end of my desk.

My brilliant idea began with this. Most teachers are idealistic hippies at heart. You have to be if you expect to last more than a few years at this job! I printed up a list of what couldn’t go into the compost, walked across to the library and had Anna laminate the page, then I set it up. Every day I line it with pages from the staff newspapers that I collect at the end of the day from the common room, once everyone has finished reading them.

People love it. They laugh at how excited I get when another apple core or banana peel is dropped in and they like feeling that their food waste is actually going to be put back into the food chain, not just being left to rot and create methane gas in landfill. There’s even one teacher who loves the idea so much, she brings in her food scraps from home. She lives in a flat so she can’t have a garden.

This set-up was going for about a week when I thought of the Food Tech kitchen just down the hall. They have cooking classes in there all the time. Maybe I could get them to put a compost bin in there for me?

The kitchen staff were SO enthusiastic. They told me to bring in a little bin that could sit on the countertop and the kids could drop the scraps in. Then came the game-changer:

“Why don’t you go down to the canteen and ask them if they’d put a bin in there for you?”

OMG. That canteen serves hundreds of kids and teachers a day. Imagine the scraps?!? Imagine the compost?!? Imagine the food I could grow?!? I ran down there as fast as my portly frame could carry me.

The woman who runs the canteen is Just Like Me. She’s making a food forest at her house, she has bees, she even has a few horses who live out in the country somewhere. She was rapt at the thought of turning the food scraps into Something Useful. We bonded over talk of harvests, home-made honey, horse poo and the like. I now have a 20-litre bin in the canteen kitchen and I take the contents home twice a week.

The Food Tech teacher has my year 7 English class. When she told them that the compost bin was for Ms Frogdancer Jones, she said that they were so excited to be putting their eggshells and scraps in. Teachers love getting gifts of love from their students. Usually, I prefer wine, but this is great too.

I’ve had to buy another compost bin to accommodate all the scraps!

I know a guy who works in an office in the middle of the CBD. He collects coffee grounds from his office kitchen, plus from a café that he stops into on his way to work every morning. He takes them home and uses them in his garden and worm farms. Over time, he’s fertilised his entire garden for free.

I also have access to a library, where the staff love to buy books. Naturally, they buy lots of Young Adult books for the kids, but they also buy books for adults and they’re happy to take requests from teachers. I still buy some kindle books, but only a couple of times a year. I just wander through the library shelves or borrow from their Kindle books, which is even better. Having access to this place has saved me hundreds of dollars each year.

It’s not just the library. People here love to read and they’re silly enough to buy their own books. Especially the English teachers. Every now and then people cull their bookshelves and bring them in. Once I finish these, I’ll pop them out for someone else to read. The (reading) circle of life…

When our principal took over, she introduced free tea and coffee. We had a speaker come and talk to the staff about well-being a few years ago and she mentioned that green tea is really good for serotonin levels, so ever since then, we’ve had green teabags as an alternative as well. I like the green tea with mint. It takes the edge off the whole lawn clipping taste. We have plunger coffee ready and waiting for us every recess – the aroma when we walk into the common room after class is amazing.

Yet some people on staff still go out for coffee instead of using what’s already provided. I just don’t get it…

Over the years I’ve been to so many theatrical productions through the school, due to my Drama classes. It’s awesome. The kids have to see a play as part of the course, so I look at what’s on, then book the one that I want to see. It’s a sacrifice, but I steel myself every semester.

But I’ve also been on so many other excursions, due to the fact that there’s student: teacher ratios that have to be met for safety reasons. So I’ve been lots of different trips to the zoo with the year 7 Science classes, to the Werribee sewage farm, (for some reason I only went once- once was enough), various beach and city walks for Geography, Art exhibitions at the NGV for year 7 Eng/Art… the list goes on.

The photo above was taken when the NGV art staff let me into the Van Gogh exhibition in the back door not once, but twice, when I was taking kids to the Art Gallery on 2 separate days. How amazing was that? I queued for an hour to get into the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I loved it, but somehow these snatched viewings were sweeter. Love a freebie!

The more active teachers get to tag along on surf camps, ski trips and hiking with the Outdoor Ed kids, while there’s always a sporting team needing a coach. When they’re playing another school, those teachers get to escape the campus and get out into the fresh air and help kids sport their little brains out. Sounds like hell to me, but still – other teachers love it.

Camps, both in Australia and overseas. Anyone like to travel?

Every year level goes on at least one camp a year, with subjects such as French, German and Music going on extra trips. There’s a French and German exchange every year, with teachers ferrying the kids across to Europe and staying with them for the month. The year 10 French kids also go to New Caledonia, which is a little closer to home. The music kids have been to Iceland, the US (two of my boys went on this one), China and Cuba, as well as tours of regional Australia, all with teachers going along with them.

I was toying with the idea of volunteering for the year 10 Central Australia trip next year, which is (I think) a 10-day bus trip with around 60 kids, where they see Coober Pedy (an opal mining town where people live and work underground), Uluru, Alice Springs etc. It’d be a cheap way to see a part of the country that’s normally very expensive to get to, but then again – this year’s year 9s aren’t really my favourite year level. I have 2 classes of them and … meh. Maybe I should wait for a more congenial year level and go with them? Ten days is a long time to be stuck on a bus with a group of kids who are a P.I.A…

The Antipodean trip is a huge one. Year 11 kids have to fundraise the money for their own tickets, then they go to a place like Africa, Vietnam, Nepal etc and do things like help build schoolrooms or buildings for orphanages and things like that. They get to travel as tourists and see the country too – and guess who gets to go with them? Of course, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with taking kids overseas, but these teachers get to see parts of the world that usually cost an arm and a leg to get to. You should see the photos that they post on Facebook while they’re away!

When I stay back at school while other teachers are off risking life and limb on football fields, trekking in Nepal or teaching kids how to surf, there’s still things happening on campus. I learned how to do Bollywood dancing when the year 7s had an incursion – I would never have tried that if I wasn’t with them! We have music concerts and theatre companies that come to the school – ‘Romeo and Juliet’, anyone?

We also have speakers who come to talk to the students – I’ve heard authors share how they ended up writing for a living, a survivor of the Holocaust sharing his story of survival, a famous AFL coach giving motivational speeches every year to the year 12s – even a man whose grandmother was born a slave in the US who came to talk to the year 10s about ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’

A few years ago we had James Randi from the American Skeptical Society come and demonstrate things like psychic surgery to our kids, in order to get them to think critically about things and not just blindly follow whatever tripe charlatans dish out to them. Political lecturers from Monash University come and explain things to the kids when interesting things happen, such as when our previous Prime Minister was unceremoniously dumped a few weeks ago.

Teachers can pop along to these lectures and classes, providing they don’t have to be in front of their own class at the time. But most of them are at lunchtimes, so it’s all good.

This is a rundown of the opportunities I’ve noticed at my workplace where people can use resources by simply noticing what’s lying around, ready for the taking. Some are good for the planet and save money; others are opening up to experiences that people might not otherwise get to do.

Obviously, not every business has these exact opportunities lying there, ready for the taking. But you have to ask yourself: “What might I be able to do at my workplace?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: How I spent 2 hours today getting the most bang for my grocery bucks.

There’s a chicken warehouse about a km away from my place, where I go to buy the chook necks for the dogs’ breakfasts. They have fantastic bulk deals in meat, so every holidays I go there and buy a bag or two of either breast, thighs or drumsticks and spend some time parcelling them up to use in the upcoming term. This time I couldn’t go past chicken breasts at $6/kilo. So cheap!

If I’d bought the “skin off” version I’d be paying $2/kilo more. But why on earth would I go that when I have dogs? Tonight, instead of their meat patty and dry food dinner with some yoghurt, I’ll replace the patty with the chicken skins. They’ll be in ecstasy and it’ll cost me nothing.

As I was cooking and chopping and measuring, I thought I’d do a ‘Frugal Friday’ post about everything I was doing today in the kitchen between 10AM and 12PM to save money and make everything stretch a little bit further.

Most of the bag of chicken went into these packaged-up portions. I use Skinnymixers recipes a lot and she tends to have the protein in 700g lots, so that’s what I’ve packaged them in.

I label all my freezer things with masking tape and a pen. Works like a charm. I decided to do this after the day I was running late for work and didn’t have time to make a salad for lunch, so I grabbed what I thought was one of my Emergency Lunches from the freezer. Imagine my dismay at lunchtime when I opened it to find a couple of uncooked drumsticks in some marinade instead of the Butter Chicken I was expecting…

So far I had 6 meals’ worth of chicken to feed 3 adults and have at least one or two lunches left over with each meal. Not a bad start…

While I was doing this, I had 2 Costco chickens on the stove, making stock. I’d been to Costco a couple of days before and I picked up two chooks. At $6 a pop, how can you walk past them? We’d had a couple of dinners and lunches from them, so today I put the carcasses and the leftover meat into a saucepan of water, brought them to the boil and then simmered them for a couple of hours. I read somewhere that if you add a dash of vinegar to the water it helps draw out the calcium from the bones. I have no idea if this is scientifically valid or not, but I do it just in case.

This is real ‘set and forget’ stuff. I can get 3 or 4 soup bases out of each chicken. It just burbles away on the stove while I’m busy doing other stuff.

Once it’s done, you drain the bones and meat from the stock.

DON’T do what I did once – I cleverly put the colander in the sink and poured the stock and carcass into it – only to watch all my precious stock go merrily down the drain.

Once the stock cooled a bit on the bench, I popped it in the fridge to get cold. Later, I’ll skim any fat from the surface and pour it into plastic containers to freeze. Nearly every Saturday we have soup for lunch, using up any sad veggies, leftover pasta or rice and things like that. I flavour it with chicken stock paste, or tomato paste, and throw in beans I’ve cooked from scratch and frozen – anything that will be tasty and that I need to use up.

Here’s the meat I saved from one of the carcasses. I’ll probably get 2 soups’ worth of meat from this. I like to freeze them in shallow containers lined with baking paper, so when I take it out to use them I can lift it out of the container and snap off how much I think I’ll need. It’s crazy how much food is left on a leftover chicken that would normally have been thrown in the bin.

 

I mentioned the chicken stock paste that I make. I had some vegetable stock paste still in the fridge, but I’d run out of the chicken stock paste. Making it yourself is so much tastier and healthier than using stock cubes. You can definitely taste the difference. So I used one of the breasts in the bag of chicken to make some stock paste, while another 700g of meat was used to cook dinner for tonight – a Chicken Tikka Masala. I had both thermomixes cooking this up while I was busy chopping the rest of the bag of chicken into the portions you’ve already seen.

I’d call this stock paste ‘Liquid Gold’ if it was a liquid! It has a heap of salt in it, which is the preservative, and it lasts in the fridge for weeks. I’ll put one jar in the fridge and the other in the freezer and I’ll be right for Chicken Stock paste for the next 6 months or so.

There’s enough chicken skin here to keep three little dogs very happy tonight.

The recipe for the Chicken Tikka Masala calls for 70g cream, but I always use the yoghurt I make myself. I use an old Easiyo container to store it in, but I make it in the thermomix for around $1/litre.

This capsicum was soon chopped up and thrown into the bowl, but have a look at what I’ve got planned to save money here in the future:

Here’s a sneak peek at the mini greenhouse I’ve got. Once the garden gets going, hopefully I’ll have lots of produce chopped up and frozen to use throughout the year. AND all of these plants are heirloom vegetables, meaning that I can save their seed for next year and I’ll never have to buy seeds or plants again.

The bag of chicken breasts wasn’t finished yet! Now that Spring is here, I like to take salads, rather than cooked lunches, to work. I decided to steam the last couple of breasts so that I could shred them and use them as protein in my salads or on pizzas.

Here’s a shot of the Chicken Tikka Masala cooking on the left, while the steamed chicken pieces are cooking on the right. Meanwhile, the second Costco chook is bubbling away on the stove behind me and I’m stacking the dishwasher. I have a podcast on my iPad and it’s all happening!

Once the chicken was steamed and then shredded, I portioned it up into small handfuls.

9 single-serve meals’ worth of protein here, either for salads or pizzas. This is making me feel all warm and fuzzy – I love having meals prepared for Future Frogdancer and the boys.

Speaking of preparing meals – here’s dinner. I’ll just have to cook some rice and then the boys and I can help ourselves. There’ll be enough leftovers to freeze for an Emergency Lunch or two as well.

While all of this was going on, I was bagging up the chicken necks that I’d put into piles of 5 and flash-frozen. Each pile is enough for breakfast for the dogs. All I have to do is remember to grab one at night when I feed them, so by morning, they’ll be defrosted. (The chicken necks, not the dogs.)

And finally, all of the veggie scraps and the dog hair that Ryan23 cut from the Cavaliers yesterday was put into the compost, so that one day it’ll all be recycled into feeding the plants that will then feed us. Apparently, hair adds nitrogen to the soil. Who knew?

For around 2 hours in the kitchen, pottering around and listening to podcasts, I’ve organised around 20+ meals for us. The main cost was for the chicken, with the bag of chicken costing $36 and the 2 Costco chickens costing $12. (But we’d already had 3 or 4 meals from those Costco chickens…) 

Anyway, it’s impossible to calculate how many actual servings this will all produce. My boys are adults and they are sometimes here for dinner, sometimes not. They eat a lot – they’re men. So some dinners are totally eaten on the night, while others have leftovers that get packaged into smaller lunches for people the next day.

But I like to calculate how much it costs me per meal, obviously with the shredded chicken portions only serving one person, while the diced chicken and soup stock could be serving as few as 3 people or as many as 5. So let’s just count each meal portion as 1, with each soup stock counting as 3 meals.

9 X shredded chicken + 6 X diced chicken + 6 X soup stock + 1 X Chicken Tikka Masala = 22 meals’ worth of protein.  Plus the 4 meals we had from the Costco chooks before I made stock from them = 26 meals overall. (I won’t count the dogs’ dinner of chicken skins tonight! Let’s call that a bonus.)

$36 bag of chicken breasts + $12 Costco chickens = $48.

$48/26 = $1.85 per meal of protein. If I was able to estimate how much it would be per person then the costs would go down even further, because the dinners and Costco chicken meals are covering multiple servings that I haven’t accounted for. I’m pretty happy with that.

I think that the 2 hours or so that I spent in the kitchen today was certainly time well spent. By the time term starts in another week I’ll have my freezers and pantry prepped and ready, so that Future Frogdancer won’t be driven to get takeaway meals when she feels tired at the end of a long week.

This makes me feel all Laura Ingalls Wilder – my family is being looked after and I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse, should it occur.

I like feeling prepared.

 

Advertising – North Korean Style (2): Where a picture says a thousand words.

Remember this guy? The golden Kim Il Sung? He was where I left the discussion last time.

He is on one of the 3 decorated stations in the Pyongyang metro that we visited, larger than life and twice as golden. I want you to keep him in mind when we revisit the metro later in this post.  He isn’t the only item in the station I want to show you.

Last time we were talking about how The DPRK regime has clearly observed the power of advertising in the capitalist West and has used some of the tricks that work so well in the West, to instead endear themselves and their government to the North Korean population. Pictures and other visuals were a key component in gaining and then holding power.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, when Kim Il Sung came back to North Korea after WWII, North Korea had around 2.5 million illiterate people. Not surprisingly, there was a huge push for education. In 1946 the first University was built and in 1953 compulsory primary schooling was introduced. In the meantime, it makes sense that painting, murals and other visual arts would be crucial in gaining the largely illiterate population’s support for the new government and its programs.

This reliance on visual aids is still heavily used to this day.

These two photographs (with the helpful English subtitles) were in the foyer of the 6-star hotel that we stayed in when we went into the country. Whenever any of the leaders visited a factory, school, mine or farm, photographers were clearly on hand to document the visit, with the photos and captions proudly displayed for evermore.

Do you notice the phrasing of the captions? It was always the same – the leaders were not just touring and observing… they were always giving “on-site guidance” because their knowledge is deeper and more intuitive than anyone else’s.

Notice too, how Kim Jong Un is smiling and others around are laughing. By all accounts, he’s a very funny man and when we were in North Korea we saw many photos of him looking like he was full of warmth and good cheer. But in the West, it’s rare we see any photos of him cracking a grin.

Photos aren’t the only images that are used. In every foyer, whether it be a school, a hotel or a public building, there are massive paintings of at least one of the older 2 leaders. This one was in the foyer of the primary school in Pyongsong that we toured. Kim Il Sung is surrounded by happy children, Kim Jong Il is over to the side looking adoringly at his father, while the children are in an idyllic place, with more children rushing to join them. They are shown literally hanging off the two leaders, as metaphors for the Korean people as a whole, being supported and uplifted by these two Great Men.

See the bouquet of flowers at the foot of the painting? They were fresh flowers, and I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s a fresh bouquet brought there every day, probably by the families of the students. If I was running the school I’d have the flowers brought on a roster, with each family’s child/ren having the honour of bowing and laying the flowers down in front of the portrait. Nothing like teaching them young!

This portrait of Kim Il Sung is in the foyer of the Grand People’s Study House, which was built to honour him on his 70th birthday. It was probably one of the biggest paintings we saw and I regret that I didn’t have a person in the frame to show you how large it is.

Mt Paektu in the distance, which is the most sacred mountain in the Korean peninsula for both North and South Koreans, the pine forest behind him with its positive ions and the blossoms of the foliage with its renewal and growth after the hard times of winter. Everywhere the North Koreans go, they see paintings like this all around them. They are steeped in the mystique of Kim Il Sung, in particular.

And here we are down in the metro again. This is at the very end of Puhung Station. See the shine? This isn’t a painting – it’s a mosaic made up of very tiny tiles, entitled ‘The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung Among Workers’. This is one of many mosaics that decorate the walls of these stations. They are all incredibly nationalistic in style, usually with political images of the leaders and the workers, but sometimes with views of Pyongyang itself and of vistas showcasing Korea’s natural beauty.

Actually, when you walk up to get a closer view, you can’t help but notice that Kim Il Sung’s face has far more detail than the others’ faces.

These mosaics run the whole length of the stations. They must have taken ages to plan and complete.

The next two photos are portions of the mosaics that run either side to the big gold statue of Kim Il Sung that is at the beginning of this post. Running for at least 30 feet alongside both platforms, these mosaics feature workers and citizens from all walks of life joyously celebrating the glory that is Kim Il Sung.

There’d be at least a hundred different figures all facing the statue, with their flags, signs and ecstatic expressions showing just how incredible their leader is. No matter where a commuter looks, there’s the evidence of how fortunate and blessed he or she is.

I’m sure by now you recognise the mountain behind Kim Jong Il! He’s standing in the worker’s parka that he wore in public in winter for the last decade or so of his life. Underneath that, he’s wearing the khaki uniform that again, he always wore in public to show that he was always working for the people and so didn’t have the time or the inclination to waste on dressing in expensive suits. (Sadly, in private it was another story. But the North Korean people haven’t an inkling of it.)

The lights in this station are meant to look like fireworks, celebrating all that he has done for and sacrificed for the country. Notice the newspapers in frames so the commuters can see what’s going on? When the people left and we were the only ones on the platform, we asked Mr Kim, one of our guides, what things were being reported on. The big news of the day was that it was the 30th anniversary of Kim Jong Il being appointed the head of some committee or other. Later on that day we saw women dancing in their national costumes in celebration of this.

The man has been dead since 2011! But still, they dance.

But BY FAR the most important images are these two. Every single house has them. Every single classroom, office, business, restaurant, factory … even, to my surprise, every single train carriage. No matter where a North Korean goes, these two faces are above them. These are the only shots used, so they are as familiar as the back of your own hand.

Every house is expected to have these hung up in the main living area. They are to be kept clean and dusted, and woe betide you if one gets broken. We were only in the DPRK for 10 days and even in that short space of time, we saw these faces so often that they became utterly familiar.

“Ah, there’s our mates!” we’d say as we walked under them. How much more powerful must it be if you were born under these faces and literally grew up under them all your life?

Here they are in the English classroom that I taught in at the Grand People’s Study House. They’re almost as big as me!

One morning towards the end of our tour, we went for a walk around central Pyongyang. By this stage, I had become very blasé about the pictures and signs, but I liked this one. It’s rare to see a woman featured at the forefront of a battle scene. This was one of a series of images on the side of the State Theatre.

Dotted in and around Pyongyang and other cities were billboards like these. They were everywhere, usually with cheering, victorious soldiers, but I particularly liked this one with the nuclear missiles flying up above the cheering population. I don’t know what the words below mean.

Every time you walk down the street, you are surrounded by images like this, or of the national flag.

Speaking of which, here it is.

It’s a clever design, with strong colours, (ironically the same red white and blue of the hated American Aggressors… and our flag too, come to think of it!), and it looks very effective when you see a whole heap of them in a line or grouped together on a street corner. The red star in the centre is placed everywhere. We noticed it a lot at the DMZ.

On our walk through Pyongyang, I decided to ask Un Ha, our other North Korean guide, what a couple of the signs were saying.  I couldn’t quite remember the exact wording, but I’ve got it down in my book as being something about the constant fight for reunification with South Korea and how they will never give up.

Aha! Another sign! I asked Un Ha what it was saying.

“We promise to uphold the leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un with the utmost loyalty.”

It makes you wonder.

Here is a population being groomed to adore their government above all else, while we’re being groomed to believe that KFC is finger-lickin’ good, that Red Bull gives you wings, and that maybe she’s born with it – or maybe it’s Maybelline.

There’s more I want to show you. Advertising is incredibly powerful.

 

Advertising – North Korean style (1): Where leaders are larger than life.

A little while ago I was sitting at home on the couch,  a dog either side of me and one balanced on my lap with my laptop, reading blogs before going to work. It was about 6AM, still dark and pretty chilly, and I was filled with impotent anguish about having to grab my things and leave for work in the next 20 minutes to catch my train.

Be that as it may, that morning, as I was working my way down the list of blogs in my feed reader, I saw there was one by The Escape Artist. Ever since I heard Barney on the Choose FI podcast, I’ve been reading his blog. Turns out on this particular morning he’d written about advertising. If you haven’t already read it, go ahead. I’ll wait.

Barney wrote about the power of advertising. I loved his post, but one thing struck me. It’s all too easy to read about the hold that advertising has on us, particularly when we’re galloping along on the road to FI/RE, being frugal, getting out of debt and investing the surplus money we have kicking around.

“Oh yes, advertising is evil but it doesn’t affect me!” we say as we prepare our home-made dinner and settle into a night at home with a board game or book or Netflix binge.

But this is all slightly smug. How do we know how deeply or not we’re affected when we’re already neck-deep in a society that’s awash with consumerism? Is there any way to tell how advertising affects us when we’ve been bombarded with “Buy this!” “Subscribe to that!” since we were in our cradles?

There might be a way.

What if you were able to visit another society where consumer advertising was not and never has been a ‘thing’? That’s a huge point of difference right there. But instead of being indoctrinated into the joys of buying the latest fad, these people have been immersed in the advertising of a totally different kind of commodity.

Enter North Korea. Absolutely no consumer advertising whatsoever. Not so much as a single billboard about a single product. Instead, there’s advertising of a very different sort: the constant stream of adulation about the leaders and the regime who run the country.

The beauty of this trip for me was that because it’s indoctrination of a totally different sort to the one that we’re used to, it sticks out. We can observe how it’s being done and we can’t help but notice the effect it has on the population. Some of the methods they use are very obvious; others are more subtle, but they all tie together in an intricate jigsaw that holds the population in thrall. Probably like consumer advertising does with us.

The people of North Korea have absolutely no access to the internet. Their intranet has around 6 websites and they’re all run by the Government. Their tv is filled with patriotic songs, marches and military films of missiles going up and tanks being paraded around. Their ‘news’ programs are chock-full of absurd statistics of how well the country is doing in every conceivable way, under the wise and loving leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un. Anyone coming into the country have their bags searched in case anyone tries to bring in literature such as travel books, newspapers and bibles.

I’ll be writing in the next few posts about how the government of North Korea has harnessed the power of advertising and has used it to sell itself to the people. This will take several posts to cover, as I want to look at a few different ways that they’ve manipulated sights, sounds and messages to convincingly sell their brand to the population. Just as advertisers work their psychological games out here in the West.

But first, a little background:

For around 150 years, up until WWII ended, North and South Korea was all one country under the control of Japan. The Japanese treatment of the Koreans was very harsh, to say the least. Korea was looked on as a resource to be exploited, with both its natural resources (such as gold, timber and fishing) and its people, being taken full advantage of.

Kim Il Sung was the first leader to take control after the Japanese were booted out after WWII and the Korean peninsula was divided arbitrarily into North and South by the Americans. He was a soldier in the USSR army during the war and the Russians put him into power in Korea when a leader was needed, but the North Koreans firmly believe that he was a freedom fighter against the Japanese and this was what caused the Japanese to leave Korea. They aren’t told about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So Kim Il Sung was and will always be the saviour of the Korean people.

This belief is fostered in many ways. The use of statues is one that is used extensively throughout the country.

This photo is a place in the middle of Pyongyang which we reached as the sun was starting to go down. The people of North Korea love their current leader, but they absolutely revere the two leaders that have gone before him, particularly his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, (the one on the left.) Visitors to this site are encouraged to buy flowers, which they then lay at the feet of the Leaders, then you go back to your group and you all bow in unison. Then you quietly leave to make way for the next group.

The symbolism is obvious.

The whole area is laid out on a grand scale, with enough space for a few hundred people to gather. There is silence, enabling contemplation of the leaders and all that they’ve done for society. Their statues tower above us. There is a picture of Mt Paektu behind them, which is the most sacred of all the mountains in Korea, and where the second leader, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born. (He wasn’t – he was actually born in Russia but the North Koreans don’t know that…)

 

It’s the custom for wedding parties to come and pay their respects to the Leaders on their happy day, which of course fosters closer links to the Leaders as they are tied into memories of important milestones in each person’s life. This group arrived as we were leaving. It is unthinkable not to visit the Leaders on a day such as this. Naturally, there are places like this in every town and city in the DPRK, so people can come and pay their respects; and to be seen to be coming and paying their respects, which is almost as important.

These statues were in a regional city that we went to for lunch after we visited the DMZ. It was a dull day and yet the bronze figures shone in the little light that was around.

Here is the way leading up to them. The two figures are set high above the city, with solar panels attached to the lights that illuminate them at night. Power blackouts are a frequent occurrence in the DPRK, but these statues will never be in darkness. The leaders will always be there, shining a constant light over the whole city as they gaze benignly down over all.

Again, the symbolism is obvious.

This is the ‘old town’, one of the few cities in North Korea that wasn’t flattened by the US bombing in the Korean War. This view is less than 2 minutes walk from the statues in the photo above. Compare the feeling of space and tranquillity around the statues compared to the cramped conditions here. Elsewhere in the town there are apartment blocks that date from after the Korean war, but these of course also have people living together in close quarters.

So much space, serenity, landscaping and light surrounding the images of the Leaders enlarges their importance in the minds of the population. It’s an effective piece of the jigsaw.

It’s not just in the towns. The pervasive cult of personality pops up everywhere. This is a statue located on a co-operative farm midway between the capital city of Pyongyang and the coast. This statue is huge, but it’s not anywhere near a large population base – it’s out in the middle of the countryside. The story behind this statue made my blood boil, but it also clearly illustrates the importance that the regime places on “advertising” itself to the people.

For around 30 years after the Korean war,  North Korea outstripped South Korea in terms of quality of life. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, there was no more food, machinery, fuel and financial help coming from a superpower to prop up Kim Il Sung’s grossly inefficient methods of running agriculture and industry. Within a couple of years, North Korea was plunged into a famine that lasted from 1994 – 1998 called ‘The Arduous March’. It’s difficult to know for certain just how many people starved to death during this time, due to the secretive nature of the government and the fact that many death certificates listed differing causes of death, but estimates range from 2 – 3.5 million. In a country with a population the same size as Australia, (25 million), that’s a significant proportion.

This particular co-op farm, growing mainly green vegetables and grains, had been visited a couple of times by Kim Il Sung during the 1980’s. The farmers asked him if they could put up a statue to celebrate the honour of his visits and he refused them, saying that it was unnecessary and that they were already doing important work.

Three years after he died, his son (Kim Jong Il) suggested that now was the time to build it and so here it is. The farm is so proud of it and it depicts actual people who were working there when Kim Il Sung came to visit. This story is all very nice and cosy…

… except if you’ve done your homework and you know that in 1997 famine was laying waste to millions of people in North Korea who were literally starving to death. People were eating grass, bark and anything they could to survive, particularly in the north of the country, far away from the major cities.

Meanwhile, here’s Kim Jong Il, in the middle of all this, telling a FARM to give up land and resources to erect a monument to his father. I don’t know that I could find a clearer story to illustrate just how important these symbols are to a government committed to portraying itself as the saviour of the Korean people. See how Kim Il Song cared about the farmers gathered, (dare I say… “worshipfully”) around him?

In the car park of the farm was this massive stone document, giving what I think are the words of one of the speeches Kim Il Sung gave when he came to the farm. It’s not just images of the Leaders that loom metaphorically and physically over the people, it’s their words as well.

The woman cleaning it wasn’t there purely to make it spick and span for our benefit – any images of the leaders and their words are expected to be kept immaculately clean at all times, as a mark of respect. Still, I’m sure she would’ve preferred to have been finished before a bus-load of tourists pulled up…

In a country with no billboards, video screens and magazine ads about anything other than how fortunate they are to have had such caring, capable and almost god-like leaders, it’s easy to see how huge monuments like these are an integral part of selling the sizzle. The people are told from infancy that their leaders are giants among men and are larger than life – and so how fitting it is for the population to see them literally depicted as such.

I’ll leave you with this photo taken in a station in the Pyongyang metro. Imagine seeing this every morning and evening on your commute…