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!

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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!

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: In praise of just sittin’.

When reading blogs in the personal finance sphere, it sometimes seems that everyone is so darned busy.

“It’s the end/beginning of the month!! Update your net worth spreadsheet!! QUICK!”

“Get that side-hustle happening! HURRY!! Every day that goes by is another day wasted!”

“Sell some stuff on Gumtree/Craigslist whatever that is… /eBay… TODAY!!! Invest it! NOW!!!! Every day wasted is another day that compound interest won’t work in your favour!”

Yikes! It seems that if you’re interested in FI/RE you have to be in perpetual motion. But I’m just finishing off a two-week holiday where, although you could say I got a fair bit done, there were also quite a few days where there was a lot of sitting on the couch, reading, knitting, taking naps and watching Netflix. And you know? It was pretty darned good.

There’s a lot to be said for staying put and entertaining yourself with what you already have hanging around at home. No racing around, no putting on the glad rags and stepping out dressed to impress. I had more than a couple of days where I basically spent most of my time either reading or napping. They were good days. I’ve got so many books either on my bedside table or lined up in my kindle that I could probably entertain myself for weeks if all I did was read.

I’ve just put a new garden in. Do you know how many hours these holidays I’ve spent planting seeds, watering, plotting and planning what to put into it? Admittedly, there’s also been a couple of trips to plant nurseries to buy pea straw, compost tumblers and a few plants, but the leisurely hours spent at home wandering around the garden beds have been precious, time slipping through my fingers like pearls. There’s a quiet happiness that comes from leaning over the garden beds you’ve planted, gloating at your babies sprouting – similar to a FI/Re person looking at a net worth spreadsheet I suppose. But this comes with sunlight, the sound of birds and the prospect of growing your own fresh food.

The photo is a row of Ballerina apple trees and lavender. The lavender will bring the bees, which will, in turn, pollinate the apples. If you’ve ever picked an apple straight off the tree and bitten into it, you’ll know why I have 5 trees.

Can you see the bee? I can’t tell you how quietly satisfying it is to plan out an experiment such as the apples and lavender, then as you’re watering hear the gentle hum of bees visiting the blossoms. The apples are appreciating it too. Already we have blossoms.

Not everything on this journey is whizz-bang! Exciting! OMG!!

Some of it is simply deeply satisfying – simple rewards from little things. A blossom. The smile from a son in love as he comes home after a date.  A contented snore from one of the dogs on the couch beside me.

Oops. I think I woke them up. Jeff looks particularly snakey about it.

Anyone here tried making something with your hands? When I paid off my first house, I celebrated by buying 2 things. The first was a pair of expensive sandals from a Real Shoe Shop, (ie not Target). Poppy, pictured in the first photo, was 5 months old at the time. Those sandals lasted a week before she chewed them. The second thing I bought was knitting yarn. I bought All The Yarn. In Every Colour. I have 2 suitcases full of the stuff up in my walk-in-robe.

Now I’m slowly chipping away at it. Did you know that when you knit, your brain goes into the same waves as when you meditate? So you get the benefits of meditation, with the added bonus of also getting a woolly handicraft to wear as well. Sitting on the couch, hearing the quiet clack of the needles clicking together, with music or a podcast or just sweet sweet silence is one of the nicest ways to spend a couple of hours. Just chillin’ and knittin’.

I guess the take away here is that it’s ok to sometimes let some moments gently slip by. Or hours. Or days. It’s not a race to the finish line to reach FI. Or RE. Don’t let your enthusiasm to reach the big goal blind you to the quiet satisfactions of contentment along the way. They make the journey all the sweeter.

 

 

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to my experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Frugal Friday: The media agrees with me about leftovers!

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

I had to laugh. We already know this!

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

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

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