There are many reasons to embrace a frugal lifestyle: necessity, to get out of debt and build savings, to be a better steward of your resources, to minimise your impact on the environment, to reduce the stress that living outside your means can bring, or because you love the challenge of finding ways to live well on less.
All of these reasons and more led me to start my Dollar Dietback in 2015. Apart from the odd times where life got crazy and some frugal habits were temporarily ditched, frugality is a way of life for our family.
The biggest factor in why I choose to live frugally is so that I have the money to spend on the things that are important to me.
For me it’s travel and experiences. I would rather see a Broadway-type show than buy a latte every day. I’d rather explore a new place than have a designer wardrobe, and I’d rather introduce my children to different cultures than give them an expensive device.
Frugal living allows my family to have some money in the bank for fun stuff. It gives me peace to know that money is there when we need it, even if that need is just to save my sanity.
Mr G went away for a week recently, as part of his learning-to-be-a-minister requirements, leaving me home alone for seven days with my 3 year-old and 5 year-old. Apart from one day where I’m pretty sure I tore out a clump of hair, the kids were fine and things went smoothly. What was hard for me is that I sleep very, very, very badly when Mr G isn’t around. It’s ridiculous because rationally I know the kids and I are perfectly safe, but the reptilian part of my brain goes on high alert when he’s away because now I’m the one who is responsible for the safety of my kids if an intruder breaks in. Again, this is totally silly because anyone who knows Mr G and I, knows that I’m the one who’d be up for a fight, whereas Mr G would probably offer to make them a nice cup of tea and talk to them about making better life choices.
In short, I was extremely tired by the time Mr G got back home.
When Mr G goes away I run the house with military-like precision. But I made sure I went into self-care mode too and made myself sit down and relax as soon as all the jobs were done. I watched something mindless on Netflix most nights (House Doctor, love it), and took every opportunity to rest. I sat in a cafe a couple of times, people-watching and enjoying food I didn’t have to cook, plus I took the kids out for dinner one night. There was definitely nothing frugal about the week.
Mr G was also exhausted by the time he got home from all that learning and socialising. While the kids were in kindy and school, we shot off to Tekapo and soaked for hours in the Tekapo Springs hot pools. It was AMAZING. We both found the hot pools worked wonders – so much so that we are already plotting our return.
I undoubtedly would have survived without all of those little extras that week, but oh my word, they helped. I was grateful that our past frugality meant we had the money to splurge a little.
I know for many people there is zero room in their budget for the tiniest of splurges. If you know someone in this situation and are able – give them a treat. It helps so much mentally. If there is wiggle room in your budget, set a little aside for the times when you need to indulge in some self-care. You may not have a million bucks, but a wee sprinkle of indulgence can certainly make you feel like a million bucks.
Mr G and I often take it turns to plan a weekly date night. Occasionally we’ve had times where it falls by the wayside for a period, sometimes due to life just getting a bit busy, or when we were in a baby-induced fog.
We’ve always managed to get back on track as we take date night seriously. Even if what we do for date night isn’t the slightest bit serious! Marriages fail all the time, and we see date nights as an investment in our relationship, and as an important tool to help keep us connected.
When we lived in Whanganui, Mr G’s mum was always volunteering to babysit so we could go out on a date – I think because her marriage to Mr G’s dad didn’t make it – and we found it hard to get her to understand that we didn’t always need to go out and spend money to have a great date. We’ve had loads of great dates that didn’t require us to spend a cent, or even leave the house. You can read about some of our ideas here.
When you take turns to plan dates, something rather magical happens. Especially if you’re trying to save money, or it’s just difficult for you to get a babysitter, you are forced to be creative. My husband has gone to extraordinary lengths to wow me or put a smile on my face. We’ve stargazed, he’s made up songs for me, found a hard-to-get movie I’d really wanted to watch, reminisced with me over our wedding photos and we’ve sung karaoke for hours. I’ve made him his favourite treats, filmed him telling his life history, and we’ve danced the night away in the lounge. We’ve made cakes together for our children’s birthdays as a date night activity. It’s more fun than it sounds, I swear.
My husband would absolutely not describe himself as romantic or even overly creative, but he often surprises me with the thought and care and love that’s he put into our evening together.
Don’t get me wrong, many times our date nights involve watching Netflix because we’re so darned tired after a busy week! (We totally recommend Fallet, it’s hilarious.)
My point is, you don’t have to spend megabucks to have a meaningful date – our date this week (below) was no exception. A few minutes time spent on google looking for ideas is time well spent.
On to this week’s frugal happenings:
We sold our bike trailer. I had big plans for this bike trailer, but thanks to a back injury a few months after we bought it, the trailer ended up seldom being used, and gathering dust in the garage. Our children can ride their own bikes now, so we have zero need for it. We sold it to a someone who doesn’t drive, who is stoked to be able to transport their kiddos around. We wasted money on the darn thing, but we weren’t to know it at the time we purchased it, and at least we were able to sell it for a fair price.
The kids had friends over again, so free fun!
I had a very frugal outing with D, where we took a packed lunch with us while we played in the great outdoors, and I spent .20c on a toy from an op-shop. Contrast this with the mummy-daughter date I took E on. She had a definite idea of what she wanted to do, which involved going to a cafe, and then a (free) playground. I spent $25 on lunch for the two of us at the cafe, but it was a planned expense. E doesn’t get treats like that too often, and it was good for this mama’s soul to spend one-on-one time with her. Now she’s at school, I have to be very intentional about this. Still, not all our mummy-daughter dates will require any money changing hands, but that’s a post for another time.
It was my turn to organise date night, so I made a quick dinner for the kids, sent the kids off with Mr G for their bath and bedtime routine, while I made a special dinner for Mr G and I. On the menu was chicken tikka masala, rice, naan, and veggies, with flutes of champagne. The dinner cost maybe $10 to make, and the champagne was a gift from a friend. I lit candles, put on some music, and laid out a fancy dinner setting. And by fancy, I mean our totally mismatched set of crockery. We had a lovely night – it was just as good as a swanky restaurant, and we solved the problems of the world as we ate our dinner in peace. For parents, you can reclaim the bliss of a peaceful dinner!
I made another batch of bean and cheese burritos. Inspired by this post, I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking, and can make these burritos for about .75c each. They freeze beautifully, and make for a quick and easy lunch.
D was sick, whiny and rather belligerent due to a cold. E was run down and in need of a day off school to recharge her five-year old batteries. D had woken up with a coughing fit in the wee hours of the morning. He was wiiiiiiide awake, so I dragged my bleary-eyed carcass out of bed to look after him. The three of us had a duvet day and watched lots of TV – I now know the entire backstory to Transformers: Robots in Disguise, so if you lie awake at night wondering what the heck happened to Russell’s mum* and why he never seems to go to school, just ask me.
D had gotten over the worst of his cold the next day, which happened to be a warm and sunshiny day, so I took him to play at the nearby Temuka Domain. I pushed him on a swing for 30 minutes while he kept up a monologue of how aliens were trying to take over the earth and get into our brains, but fortunately he, D, had special weapons and was big and strong and would defeat the aliens single-handedly. We had a ferocious debate over whether aliens have birthdays (answer: yes, but they don’t play games like ours), and then looked for Decepticons (bad Transformers) in the native forest at the domain. I basked in the sun, and chuckled at D’s marvellous imagination.
There’s a fabulous op-shop in Temuka called Paws and Claws (all proceeds go to the SPCA). It’s a treasure trove, and my kids love visiting the shop because the lovely manager always gives them a wee lolly. If you are in the area, do pay them a visit – it’s especially well stocked with secondhand clothes, books and household goods. D wanted to visit the shop, and was so filled with extroverted joy he announced it to the nice old lady passing by, “We’re going to Paws and Claws! Mummy might let me get a toy!”. I did, for the princely sum of 20c.
Little things. Snuggling on the couch with my children, warm sun, the joy of a secondhand toy.
Like many stay-at-home parents, this time of having under little ones has been an opportunity for me to take stock and decide what’s next for my career. In a little over a year, both my kids will be at school and the world is my oyster.
Yet, as I get older I am increasingly called to live small.
Since moving to Pleasant Point I’ve kept an eye on the part-time jobs on offer in the area. Each time I mentioned them to D he wisely said “But what about the school holidays? What about when I’m away?” He has a demanding job that encompasses our entire family, in a way that most jobs don’t. I’ve also been toying with the idea of going back to further study to upskill, but have felt daunted by the stress it would put upon me, along with the need to find someone who doesn’t mind doing rather bitsy childcare. Most caregivers want regular gigs, and I can’t say I blame them! I got very frustrated, and felt like I’d never be able to work without putting our children in after school care and holiday programmes (for my overseas readers, NZ schools have around 12 weeks break spread throughout the year).
I don’t want that for my kids. I’m not judging working parents. Honestly, I’m not. If my children had different personalities, I’d definitely be considering full time work. But I have two very sensitive souls, and I know that they would not thrive in a schedule that full-time work would have them locked into. Especially D. For all his bravado and confidence, he finds change hard and often needs handling with kid gloves.
And so it wasn’t because of a lightening-bolt moment of clarity, but a gentle conversation with Mr G (plus lots of prayer) that helped me to decide to continue as a stay at home mum, so I can be present for the kids. I also feel called to be present for church, and certainly once both kids are in school I’ll be available to lend more of a hand with the various things churches run. I’m also quite fortunate that most of the things I have a passion for doing in the church are quite often things that you get paid for. I love preaching, and running workshops and retreats, and there’s definitely some scope to learn a little income doing these. So stay tuned folks. I’m not ruling out further study or full time work in the future, but for the next few years at any rate, I’ll be living the quiet(er) life.
This decision requires some sacrifice, certainly in terms of income, and it limits my bigger dreams – which mostly involve my favourite thing ever, travel. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t matter to me. It does, and I’m sure in times to come I’ll find myself wishing I was at Abu Simbel or St Petersburg or even Bonnie Doon.
The song ‘Dream Small’, by Josh Wilson is one that I play on repeat, because it is just so apt for where I’m at. I’ve dreamed big dreams and even achieved many of those goals, and had a lot of fun and learning in the process. In the song, Josh talks about little moments changing the world; being used by God just as and where you are. More and more I am more content with these little moments shaping my life. I notice them, am thankful for them, and they give me direction and purpose in the same way my big dreams once did.
Dream Small – Josh Wilson
It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time
That the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things, no
‘Cause these simple moments change the world
So dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
So dream small
Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans from river
So dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Yeah, five loaves and two fishes could feed them all
So dream small
* She’s working in Copenhagen. Now you can get some sleep.
This week we chugged on pretty nicely with our frugal fortnightly meal plan – although we had two takeaways, which is unusual for us on our Dollar Diet.
The first takeaway was due to our Wednesday night church home group deciding to include a meal as part of the evening’s activities. I pushed for this as 1) I think something magical happens when people share a meal together, and 2) one of our group has a long commute and often turns up without having eaten dinner – now that’s faithfulness! I figured we could make Wednesday night easier for her by providing dinner. We kicked off with Fish and Chips, but we’ll definitely have some home cooked fare in there too in the future.
The second meal was due to having a bad day, as I referenced in my previous post Parenting with Hashimoto’s. For some reason my Hashimoto’s is bad at the moment, and I’m having a LOT of bad days. I got to early afternoon and was all-in. Mr G was knackered too. Our cupboards and freezer were bare thanks to last week’s pantry audit. It was annoying, yet funny. I’m gratified to know I had done a great job at using up all our food!
Anyway, I aim to restock our freezer this week with delectable leftovers to avoid takeaway temptation.
This week’s frugal doings:
I made vegan muffins using last week’s applesauce. Applesauce makes beautifully moist muffins. They didn’t last long! We still have lots of applesauce left which will go in more baking or as a breakfast topping.
I hung out our washing on the line as the weather permitted.
I baked, and baked and baked some more. Biscuits, scones, those muffins. It all makes filling lunchboxes, filling tummies, and hosting guests that much easier. And you can make much healthier alternatives to store-bought baking.
The kids had play dates with friends at the weekend – free entertainment. The mother of my son’s friend stayed to chat and she brought brownie. She’s a keeper…
A friend of mine came over with a DVD and wine. She’s most definitely a keeper!
We scored a secondhand Pippins uniform for E. She adores Pippins (which is baby Girl Guides/Girl Scouts if you don’t know what it is) and asks nearly every day if it’s a Pippins day. Getting the uniform cheaply is a big help as their activity fee is high. I’ll elaborate more on why we chose Pippins as an extracurricular activity at a later date.
I decluttered the kid’s clothes, toys and books for approximately the 1,237th time. Seriously. I seem to be constantly biffing out things the kids have outgrown or broken or had no idea they owned in the first place. Decluttering gives many people a headache, I know, but I LOVE it. I give away what I can to friends, and donate to op-shops; only relegating broken stuff or things that I wouldn’t wear or use myself to recycling. Why is it a frugal thing to do? 1) You can sell your unwanted goods for profit. 2) The less stuff you (or your kids) own, the less time and money you have to spend cleaning it, caring for it, storing it and stressing about it. Your time, energy and money are better spent elsewhere. 3) It’s freeing to get rid of things that are otherwise collecting dust, plus I love giving back to the frugal chain of charity shops, where I get most of our clothing and household goods from. My trash is someone else’s treasure. Donating your goods to charity shops helps them stay open and usually funds all manner of good works.
Our church has a budget for children’s ministry, but I like to save them a buck or two whenever possible. On Sunday the church kids entered an art competition, and used paint, brushes and palettes I had leftover from a rock painting event I ran; and they used some high quality paper we’d had lying around for ages after it was gifted to us by a neighbour. We even used Mr G’s old t-shirts as painting aprons. $0 expenditure for the kid’s ministry this week!
Quicksand probably doesn’t feature as a hazard in your life, but I fall into it on a regular basis. It’s simply life with Hashimoto’sdisease.
The body-walking-through-quicksand feeling is a common symptom of Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease (also calledHashimoto’s thyroiditis). It’s no exaggeration. Some days my entire body feels like lead. Walking to the corner of the street is like an marathon, and the stairs in my house take on Mt Everest proportions.
Imagine you’ve just climbed Mt Everest – and now your kids are clambering over you, begging you to play with them.
This is my reality as a Hashimoto’s parent.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, where the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed. There is no cure. Your thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, and regulates many of your body’s functions. It stores and produces hormones that effect almost every organ in your body. This one little gland can cause big trouble when it doesn’t work properly. Your thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism, your heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and even your mood. Millions of people around the world suffer from Hashimoto’s; many of whom are misdiagnosed, as Hashimoto’s symptoms are often mistaken for mental illness. Medication helps, but it’s estimated that up to 90% of people who take thyroid replacement medication remain symptomatic. In other words, despite the medication, they feel rubbish. Here’s a list of the most common symptoms, there are many more:
Some days I am totally fine. I can walk for miles, do 10 impossible things before breakfast, and have a very productive day. There’s usually no way of telling whether it’s going to be a great day or a quicksand day. Hashimoto’s is a mostly invisible disease, so you can’t tell by looking at me if it’s a good day or a bad day.
On good days I have to take care not to do too much because I’ll pay for it the next day. And probably the next. I have to leave my weekends mostly free of plans so I don’t burn out – and that’s tough for an extrovert like me. I have to cancel plans a lot, because when I made those plans I felt great but when the day arrives I feel like a slug. It also means I can’t volunteer or help out like I want to, because I don’t want to be a flake and let people down. I also have the super power of sleeping for 10 hours and waking up tired, and getting insomnia.
I can put on weight just by looking at a doughnut. My hair is thin and fine. I have trouble regulating my body temperature. I can feel cold while everyone is fine, and I also struggle to cope with hot weather. My joints ache almost every day. I often feel like I’m 90 instead of 42. I occasionally have the brain of a 90 year old, where I can’t think clearly or find the right word.
I have periods where I am totally fine for months and months, and periods where I can barely function for months and months. I lose heaps of weight during the fine times, and then put it all back on during the not-so-fine times.
My thyroid function is always on a knife edge. It takes very little for it to get all quicksandy, and my medication can require a great deal of fine-tuning. I have to take Mr G to my doctor’s appointments, because I am not taken seriously otherwise. Just having him there to back me up, has hugely improved my treatment. If unaccompanied, when I complain about being tired and sore I am immediately screened for depression by doctors. This is despite being a Hashimoto’s patient with Hashimoto’s symptoms. Which include tiredness and aching muscles and joints.
As you can imagine, Hashimoto’s can make parenting really, really hard. Some days my kids watch way too much TV because I have zero energy to do anything else. My kids are used to me telling them to ‘get off me!’ because their clambering on me is excruciatingly painful. It’s especially hard for my son, who likes to show love with body slams. It’s difficult to be a kind and patient parent when you are so, so tired or in pain. It’s heartbreaking to have to cancel a fun trip because you’re just not up to it, or watch from the sidelines as the rest of your family plays because your oomph is used up for the day.
It’s also hard to be the partner of a Hashimoto’s sufferer. Many marriages fail, especially if Hashimoto’s has developed after the marriage. You are quite literally not married to the same person anymore. Your partner (mostly) looks fine, yet lazes around all day. They’re grumpy, tired and not pulling their weight. Which has almost certainly gone up, by the way.
Pretty grim huh? It doesn’t have to be.
How to cope as a parent when you have Hashimoto’s
Accept that you have it, and that you may never function as you used to. This was key for me. I spent years trying to carry as normal, berating myself for being lazy or stupid. My poor body couldn’t cope with the frenetic pace I expected to keep, and I ended up with a bad case of burnout, on top of the Haashimoto’s. Once I accepted that I had this disease and therefore needed to change how I lived, it became sooooo much easier to manage my condition.
Accept that you won’t be a perfect parent. Hashimoto’s can rob you of being the parent you want to be. You can bet that on those tv-watching days, or times when I have to watch the fun from the sidelines, I have a massive attack of the guilts. But I try to…
…Make up for it on the good days! If I’m having a great day, then chances are I’ve taken my kids out or done something really fun with them. These are the days for spontaneous picnics or parties, for nature walks, jumping on the trampoline, and letting the kids stay up past their bedtime to play spotlight. Keep a list or a Pinterest board of things you could do the next time the stars align and you’ve got both a good day and time on your hands. I may be Slug Mum at times, but I’m also Fun Mum too.
Rest whenever possible. Even when I have had a week of feeling great, I avoid the temptation to rush around like a headless chicken doing all the jobs I had to put off on bad days. Before Hashimoto’s I could function solidly all day. Now I do my most physical jobs in the morning, so I have the afternoon to chill out. And by chill out, I mean you’ll usually find me writing on the computer/picking my kids up/pottering around in the kitchen. I’m a stay-at-home parent, but many Hashi’s folks hold down full time jobs and don’t have this luxury. If you are working, think about how you structure your day to maximise your productivity during the hours you have the most energy. For me, it’s the morning. Also, if you have very small children I understand how rest is virtually impossible. If your Hashimoto’s is giving you grief and you are the main caregiver of an infant or toddler, I strongly suggest you get some kind of care for your child. A morning or two of childcare a week could help you function better.
Don’t compare yourself to non-Hashimoto’s parents. Just don’t. Sure, they’re tired and bleary eyed too, but they probably aren’t feeling like an octogenarian either.
Find your tribe. There are loads of Hashimoto’s support groups on Facebook and elsewhere. It’s really important to be selective, because Hashimoto’s can vary greatly from person to person. One person can be on the same dose of medication for 30 years and function reasonably well, while the next person can barely make it to the letterbox. If I had a dollar for every person who told me their cousin/grandma/tennis partner/twelfth-cousin-twice-removed had Hashimoto’s and drank chamomile tea/only ate lemongrass/used organic leeches/imported pure oxygen from the Arctic circle and felt terrific, I’d have, well… a chunk of money. Sure, give things a try, but hold them lightly. What works for cousin Ethel might not work for you. These groups are also a godsend when you wonder if [insert weird symptom here] could be because of your Hashimoto’s. Chances are if you ask online you’ll soon have hundreds of people saying ‘Yep, me too’. Let me give you an example: A lesser known symptom is a blank facial expression (I have no idea of the science behind why that might be). I am frequently described as ‘calm’ by others – despite being nothing of the kind, and people who don’t know me well often stop to explain “That was a joke” if they’ve just said something witty, despite me being well aware and responsive to their joke!
Eat well. Many Hashimoto’s sufferers find relief by making dietary changes, like giving up gluten and nightshades. The AIP diet is popular and has helped some people go into remission.
Plan for bad days. Help yourself and your family out by having meals at the ready in the freezer for the days you have no energy to cook. Stash some DVDs or download some movies your kids haven’t seen to keep them entertained. Have understanding friends and relatives on speed dial.
Educate your kids. As your children get older, share what it’s like for you to have Hashimoto’s. Kids are great observers but very poor interpreters. Your failure to show up to their dance recital might be taken to mean you don’t love them. Once they understand, they’re more likely to cut you some slack and not take it personally. You can then hate the disease together and have a victory ice cream on your good days. Hashimoto’s also has a genetic component to it, so it’s important they know what to look out for.
Be your biggest supporter. Because Hashimoto’s is a (mostly) invisible illness, some people will think you are lazy or a bad parent. Screw them. They don’t know what it’s like to walk a mile in your quicksand-filled shoes. You are NOT lazy. You are fighting a disease that affects pretty much every cell in your body. Box on, friend.
Keep perspective. On my bad days, I tell myself there are so many people out there who have far worse things than Hashimoto’s. And I’m grateful for the things my body CAN do. It’s a bit Pollyanna, I know, but it helps.
Since my last post about the Dollar Diet and how to do it, I’ve been on fire this week, doing whatever it takes to save money and spend less.
We’ve returned from a much-needed long weekend in Dunedin. Although we had a few days ‘holiday’ in January on our way from our previous town to Pleasant Point, we were moving house, which isn’t a terribly relaxing thing to do. I get cabin fever if I’m stuck in one place too long, so a change of scene was definitely in order. A couple of days away does wonders for recharging my batteries.
We kept the costs down by choosing cheap, self-catering accommodation away from the CBD, and mostly stuck to doing free stuff – like playgrounds, bike parks and visiting Mr G’s aunt and uncle who live in the area. I cannot stress enough how much self-catering will keep your holiday spending at a minimum. I would much rather spend $40 on a fun outing with my family than on lunch at a cafe! Mr G and I read several books over the weekend – now that’s luxury!
Because we’re museum junkies, we did fork out money for the extra activities at Otago Museum. Most of the museum can be seen for free – and it’s well worth the visit alone – but you do need to buy tickets to enter Tuhura (apologies, I can’t figure out how to do a macron on here!), which incorporates the very interactive science centre, butterfly rain forest, and planetarium. I wouldn’t do the planetarium again, but the science centre and butterfly rain forest were totally worth the money.
Anyway, on to the frugal stuff!
Mr G’s relatives gave us a huge bagful of golden delicious apples and feijoas from their trees. Paying for feijoas hurts, especially when we used to get tonnes from a tree at our old house. The free fruit means we don’t need to buy any for a couple of weeks. My daughter E is a fruit fiend and munches her way through an awful lot, so it’s a significant saving.
I made applesauce from the apples. Unsweetened applesauce is a great substitute for oil or butter in recipes, and is a yummy porridge topping.
They also gave us a stack of towels in good nick. It’s not often I regret getting rid of something, but I definitely regretted giving away some of our towels last year before we moved. I didn’t factor in the amount of visitors we’d receive in Pleasant Point (some of our friends have large families), and I should have hung on to them. As you can imagine, I was chuffed to get the towels from Auntie R.
I baked a LOT this week. We had some mozzarella cheese that needed to be used up, so I made a margarita pizza, which is E’s favourite dish in the whole, wide world. I made cheese scones and a banana cake for my family (using up bananas that seem to have been in my freezer forever), plus several batches of biscuits (cookies) to feed a hoard of children during an impromptu playdate.
I did a pantry audit – making a list of everything in my cupboards/fridge/freezer – and made a two week meal plan. (I shop fortnightly to save on petrol as we live 20 minutes away from the nearest big supermarket.) I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I ended up with things like: a pack of sausages, a whole frozen chicken, leftover chickpea curry, two meals worth of home made soup, half a pack of brown rice, lasagne sheets, a pack of arborio rice and 10 pumpkins. Yes, 10 pumpkins. With a modicum of effort, it didn’t take long to work out a meal plan e.g. the sausages went into a very frugal hotpot (let me know if you’d like me to post this recipe, it’s really fast, easy and delicious), and the chicken went into a risotto one night and a curry the next. The combination of items in my pantry meant I only spent $123 on food this fortnight. $61.50 for a week’s worth of meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – is pretty awesome! Doing a pantry audit a few times a year means you no longer get packets of couscous/leftovers languishing at the back of the cupboard/freezer. You save money buy using up everything and waste waaaay less food, plus it’s also a good way to free up extra cash that you’d otherwise be spending on food that week. Give it a try the next time you’ve got an unexpected bill.
I tried out a new recipe to use up some of those pumpkins (from our own garden), and made a pumpkin, spinach and lentil lasagne. Oh my word, divine! You can find the recipe here. It’s very time-consuming so best left to a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but worth the effort. We eat several vegetarian or vegan meals a week, which helps to keep our grocery budget low – plus they’re healthy and delicious.
Mr G sealed up two open fireplaces and a meat safe (our lovely house is from the 1930s) to reduce heat loss, using a masterful application of bubble wrap, tape and corflute. Open fireplaces are ridiculously inefficient at heating a room; it’s actually more cost-effective for us to run a heater in these rooms.
We had a very quiet Queen’s birthday weekend. We had little on our social calendar – which was just as well because my son and I are a bit under the weather – so most of the weekend was spent mooching around the house. Just what the doctor ordered.
It wasn’t all frugal around here though. I had to admit defeat and recognise that I really, really do need more warm clothes, and that a woolly hat is a necessary item in E’s school uniform. I baulked at paying $10 for a plain blue,school-issued beanie, and I got one for $5 elsewhere. (FYI, I despise knitting, in case you wondered why I didn’t whip one up myself. Seriously, I’d rather stab myself with the needles…) I’m not a wuss when it comes to the cold; I’ve lived in much colder climates than Pleasant Point, but they were in countries that have embraced central heating and double glazing. Get with the programme, New Zealand.
Despite stocking up in merinos from op-shops last year and layering like the Michelin man, I needed some thick tops to wear around our icebox house. Having come from mild Whanganui, I didn’t already own that sort of thing. I couldn’t find what I wanted secondhand and had to resort to buying two brand new tops. Still, I figure the money I spent on them is offset by spending less on heating the house! With Mr G and I at home most of the time during the day – Mr G’s church office is in our house – our power bill gets quite high, so it all helps. Mr G is usually the type of guy to be found in shorts and t-shirt during a blizzard, but even he has succumbed to thermal underwear. Ergo, it actually is quite chilly in Pleasant Point.
Long-term readers of my previous blog Tots in Tawhero will know that a few years ago my family and I embarked on what I call the Dollar Diet. A reader asked if I was still doing the Dollar Diet, and I’m happy to report that yes, yes I am.
The Dollar Diet is very simple: only spend money on necessities. Easy, right?
I had already significantly reigned in my former spendthrift ways when we first attempted a Dollar Diet. In the past I was careless with managing my money and got into debt at various times. It was shameful and stressful and my strategy of burying my head in the sand had to go. It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but slowly and surely I got better at saving more and spending less.
I got married to Mr G, and we both earned reasonable money. Mr G is pretty good at money management but we found we weren’t saving as much as we could. We then had kids. I decided to stay at home with the kids – at least until they were at school – so we went down to one income. It was still perfectly liveable, as Mr G got decent money as a software developer. However, not long after we married, Mr G felt called to become a minister for the Presbyterian church.
Even though the minister thing has been years in the making, learning to thrive on one, low income drove me to try the Dollar Diet. I knew we could do better with less, and salt some savings away. I knew we could track our spending better and plug the holes on our budget. I had some specific savings goals that year (like a trip to Australia), but the idea of getting into a mindful spending groove over the course of a whole year really appealed.
In the first year of the Dollar Diet I had lofty goals – there would be NO extras. No cafe visits, no store-bought gifts, no paid subscriptions of any kind, no new clothes. You get the picture. I didn’t quite get there, but I had a lot of fun along the way.
It’s true in a 1984-esque way: There is freedom in restriction.
With restrictions on how I spent my time and money, my creativity was given free reign. I cooked up a storm. I sewed (very badly). I learned how to make jam and chutney. We threw frugal parties. I grew a veggie garden. Mr G learned how to DIY gates and fences. I even upcycled some curtains a la Maria Von Trapp. For real.
But I also learned that it’s hard to find time to make gifts from scratch when you have little ones who catch all.the.illnesses. Unexpected events and invitations happened. I learned to make gifts waaay ahead of when they were needed because of this. Most importantly, I learned how important it was to have a fun line in our budget, because I have a deep-seated need to have things to look forward to in my life, and scrimping and saving can get a bit grim at times.
Today my family needs the Dollar Diet more than ever, because there’s very little room for extras in our new, reduced-income budget. The Dollar Diet helps us to define our priorities, and takes away some of the stress of making ends meet. I’ve long since shed many of the trappings that first-world society tells us we need to be happy and successful – no, I don’t need a fancy car, or an iPhone, or to attend a yoga retreat on Bora Bora. I actually find it fun to see how much I can shave off my grocery budget for the week, and finding ways to do what I want for free or cheaply.
Before I show you what this year’s Dollar Diet looks like for me, let me caveat this by saying that even though my family and I are now living on that much-reduced minister’s income, I’m still coming from a place of privilege. We own a home in our previous town and have no mortgage. Money from renting this out pays for much of our rent here in Pleasant Point. We have savings. We don’t have debt. Despite Mr G’s salary halving this year, we’re still not on the poverty line.
Okay? Onto this year’s Dollar Diet!
The Dollar Diet is simple. Buy what you NEED. Think long and hard before buying what you WANT. Is it necessary? Can you do without it? Can you borrow it instead? Can you wait while you save up for it? Even NEEDS can be slimmed down by growing your own fruit and veg, or bartering and borrowing when possible.
My ‘needs’ will be different to yours, no doubt, but that’s the beauty of the Dollar Diet. What are your non-negotiables?
My 2018 list
Rent (For the first time in a few years we have to pay rent. We pay $250 a week for the massive manse we get to live in during Mr G’s internship. This rent is offset a bit from income from our rental home, but we still have to pay rates and maintenance from the rent income.)
Groceries (I typically spend around $150 for our family of four, which is well below the national average of $230 a week, but I know I can get this much lower at times when necessary).
Electricity, firewood(Our current house is like most NZ homes – poorly insulated and freezing, so our power bill is rather frightening. We were so grateful for a generous gift of firewood!)
Netflix(Hi, my name is Angela and I like to binge watch Occupied and Zoo. There, I said it.)
Insurances (life, home contents, vehicle, house)
Petrol, vehicle maintenance
Rates (for our house in Whanganui)
School fees($100 a year, plus 4 term activity fees)
Extracurricular activities for the kids (E does dancing – paid for by a grandparent- and Pippins; D does soccer. E currently hates putting her head under the water, so swim lessons next term are probably in order so she can keep up with her class.)
Sponsor children (2)
Doctor’s visits & prescriptions, dentist visits
Gifts(making what I possibly can myself)
Haircuts(I only get my hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
Moisturizer, foundation, bug spray(mozzies LOVE me), undies, watertight shoes (why oh why is it so hard to get decent shoes anymore! Mine always fall apart after a couple of years wear), a few items of warm clothing (secondhand) – A
A few invention gizmos, a few items of warm clothing – Mr G
Clothing (secondhand or free whenever possible), shoes, underwear for the children
2 short holidaysaway (free or low-cost accommodation where possible). Holidays are a luxury, but Mr G and I both recognise the value of making memories with our kids. We aim to give them experiences instead of toys.
A small fun budget: to fund the odd takeaway/outing/school holiday activities
Big Goal: family trip to Australia for BFF’s wedding next January. (We’re keeping this as low-cost as possible by avoiding pricey tourist activities, and staying in cheap and free accommodation. Travel insurance is free under Mr G’s credit card programme.)
It’s the things that aren’t on the list that save you money. No buying lunch everyday. No takeaway coffees each morning. No splurging $300 on a pair of shoes that are almost the same as the pair you already own. No mindless following of ‘fashion’. No buying a new outfit for a special occasion when you have plenty of options in your wardrobe. No buying takeaways just because you don’t feel like cooking. Getting rid of magazine subscriptions, gym subscriptions, any subscription that you don’t honestly use. No buying books (that’s why libraries were invented) or pretty tchotchkes for your home. No greeting cards and wrapping paper. No lavish gifts. No recipes requiring pricey ingredients. No expensive holidays. No meeting up with friends for brunch at an expensive cafe. No costly plays, concerts, exhibitions. No extravagant hobbies (unless it makes you money or saves your sanity).
The fun and the challenge comes from trying to find free or frugal alternatives to keep living the good life. Instead of going out for brunch, host a pancake breakfast for your friends. Take up running or workout to YouTube clips instead of going to a gym. Pack your own lunch and your coffee for work. Have a meal or two in the freezer for the nights when you are too tired to cook.
I’ll be getting back to my weekly frugal report. It’s a powerful tool which keeps me on the straight and narrow. Speaking of tools, two other important items in my frugal toolbelt are Goodbudget *(we use the free version) which is an envelope budgeting app that updates in real time; and a weekly family meeting where we discuss how we’ve been tracking for the week. Sometimes this is a tad painful, but it certainly reigns me in.
So stay tuned, I hope that some of my adventures in frugality will help my readers out there.
Natural disasters and catastrophes aren’t something I go around thinking about a lot. Truly. But having been the health and safety person for several voluntary organisations, I’ve come into contact with folks that do it for a living.
Here in New Zealand we have Civil Defence, who are the wonderful people that spring into action when disaster strikes. Spending time with Civil Defence made me realise how complacent and naive I was about the likelihood of being in a large-scale emergency situation. Which is stupid as I live in New Zealand. One of NZ’s nicknames is the ‘shaky isles’ due to the large number of earthquakes we have! Earthquakes are the biggest threat to us here, so this post is earthquake-preparation heavy, but many of these tips can be adapted for your particular situation in the world.
One member of Civil Defence (who was just like Mad-Eye Moody, for Potter fans. Constant vigilance!) told me about the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 where he was based at the time it struck. The earthquake was terrible, leaving many dead and injured, and even now, years later, some people are still waiting to get their damaged homes sorted. He told me many things that Civil Defence learned in the aftermath of the quake, and shared with me the story of how it affected his workmate. His colleague was a single dad, who, upon rushing to the day care where his child was, arrived to find it empty. It took him three days to be reunited with his child, during which he was unable to do his job as he was too distraught.
Here are some tips to help you get through an emergency.
Lesson One: Know where your child’s daycare or school will evacuate to in an emergency. Now, any daycare or school has to adhere to the strictest building regulations, and will most likely be safe in a large earthquake. Schools are often used as emergency shelters for just this reason. But it is impossible to predict how things like liquefaction or downed power lines etc may affect your child’s daycare or school, which in turn may necessitate an evacuation. So ask your child’s teacher. If they don’t know, ask the manager or principal to find out.
Lesson Two: Have a family emergency plan. Talk about what you will do in the event of a disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. Who will find the kids? How and where will you meet up? What will you do if it’s not actually safe to meet there? Loads of parents in the Christchurch earthquake spent hours trying to get to their kids, only to find the other parent had got to them first. Go through the plan with your kids. Many times.
Remember: it is unlikely you will be able to use your cellphone in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster. For one thing, the phone lines get slammed by worried friends and relatives, and can it take hours or even days to get through, depending on the damage. During the Christchurch earthquake a major phone provider actually shut down their network to give text messages the change to get through. Texting is the best way to communicate, don’t call.
Lesson Three: Designate a family member or friend who lives in another part of the country as an emergency phone contact. What they discovered after Christchurch was that while it was impossible to make contact locally, sometimes it was possible to make calls out of Christchurch to other parts of NZ. In the event of a large-scale disaster, your family could all agree (at least the adults, anyway) to call Aunt Enid in Auckland to let her know you’re safe. Then Aunt Enid can tell anyone else who checks in. Sort of like a lower-tech ‘Safe’ tag on Facebook. Aunt Enid can also call your family in other parts of the country to let them know you’re okay.
Lesson Four: Educate yourself about the likelihood of you getting home/to your kids in an emergency. It was quite eye-opening when I talked with Civil Defence for my daughter’s kindy in Whanganui. The kindy was in a very safe spot, even for an earthquake, but the Civil Defence worker pointed out that in a major earthquake, most of the CBD (located near the Whanganui river/awa) would be knee-deep in liquefaction. The bridges connecting the city from east to west would likely be destroyed or unpassable. What this meant for the kindy was that MANY PARENTS WOULD BE UNABLE TO REACH THE KINDY if they lived or worked in the CBD or Whanganui East, as they were on the other side of town.
So again, you need a plan. Most emergency response teams in your area will happily share this sort of information with you. If you work, keep a ‘grab and go’ kit there. Many folks in Christchurch say they wish they’d kept a pair of sneakers at the office after they had to walk hours and hours to get home. If you’re someone who has a long commute, would you be able to walk the distance home? Where might you stay if you couldn’t, or if your usual route was unpassable?
You can find ideas for what else to include in a ‘grab and go kit’ here.
Lesson Five: It’s recommended that you have at least three days worth of food and water, in the event of a disaster. For my family I have two bags of canned goods, cereal, long-life milk and milk powder, a tin opener, and water stashed away in a garden shed. One lesson learned in Christchurch was the need to have emergency supplies stored somewhere away from the house, as many homes were not safe to enter. It’s also recommended you have a wee stash of medication, a torch/flashlight, a first aid kit, some cash (there’s often no electricity for ages, therefore no cash machines or banks in working order…), nappies and formula, and pet food. I’d also add some lollies (candy for my overseas readers) and chocolate. If there’s ever a time it’s okay to give your kids some comfort food, it’s then!
I’m a super-organised person by nature, and here’s my tip. Don’t have anything in your emergency supplies that you don’t like eating. If you hate baked beans, they will be cold comfort if the worst happens. Every six months I simply swap out the emergency stash for new supplies, and we consume the old stash. As it is filled with things we like to eat, it’s no problem. You can find a comprehensive list of emergency items here.
Lesson Six: Quake-proof your home. Don’t store heavy objects up high on a shelf. Fix your bookcases to the wall, secure TV’s and other appliances.
Lesson Seven: Unless you can smell a leak, do NOT turn off the gas, unless instructed to do so by the authorities. Gas can only be turned back on by a professional, and many Christchurch homes waited weeks and weeks and weeks to get gas back.
Lesson Eight: Know your neighbours. You don’t have to be best friends, but simply knowing that old Mr Allen down the road at number 10 would need checking on, or that Trev at number 13 has a massive gas barbeque, could be the difference in bouncing back quickly after a natural disaster like an earthquake. Connected communities are resilient communities.
Lesson Nine: Keep half a tank of petrol in your car in case you ever need to evacuate, and know how to open your automatic garage door if the power goes out.
Lesson Ten: The 2011 Christchurch earthquake happened during school hours. What they discovered was the difference between children who were very traumatised and those who were okay (at least initially), was often down to the reaction of their teacher. I haven’t been in a major disaster myself, but if I ever am I hope I remember this. My reaction, trying to stay calm (at least on the inside) will help my children. Keep things as normal as possible. Keep them away from social media and the news. Share only what is strictly necessary for them to know. Try to keep discussing your worries for after they are in bed.
What tips would you add?
*Please use your common sense and look up the disaster recovery advice in your own area.*
Apparently two big-shot reviewers here in New Zealand hated the recent release of Peter Rabbit(now in cinemas). I haven’t read these reviews, but I strongly suspect these reviewers are a) old men; b) white and c) are very similar to Mr McGregor, the curmudgeonly, rabbit-killing fiend of the book and movie.
Peter Rabbit rocks!
I loved it just as much as my children, and was snorting into my popcorn from start to finish. My 3-year old who is always on the move only got antsy with 10 minutes to go, which earned him a lifetime achievement award. My 5-year old is still going on about the movie, three weeks later.
This incarnation of the much-loved tale of Peter Rabbit takes it fully into the 21st Century. If you’re a die-hard fan of Beatrix Potter, you might want to give the movie a miss; kind of like if you prefer real Winne-the-Pooh over Disney Pooh. In no way does this version of Peter – or any of the other characters – resemble the original. If you’re not a purist, then simply enjoy the ride.
Peter (voiced by James Corden, who I’m ashamed to say I didn’t recognise, have turned in my movie buff card), his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, along with cousin Benjamin spend their days trying to nick vegetables out of Mr McGregor’s incredible, immaculate garden. NZ’s own Sam Neil is almost unrecognisable as the grizzled, apoplectic gardener who wages war on the rabbits. His artist neighbour, Bea (played by Aussie Rose Byrne) has looked after the rabbits since they were orphaned at the hands of McGregor, and gives them free range of her impossibly quaint cottage. Where she manages to live quite well despite creating truly terrible art and not seeming to have any other form of income…I digress.
(SPOILER) Mr McGregor suffers a fatal heart-attack during a daring raid by Peter. Peter and his animal mates move into to McGregor’s house and stuff their faces with all that delicious veg. Cue party time!
McGregor’s uptight nephew Thomas, played by Domhnall Gleeson (you may remember him from Harry Potter), inherits his uncle’s property. Thomas works at Harrods, making sure that everything is perfect with a capital P. Upon learning that his uncle’s house might be worth a bit of coin, he decides to go and see it, with the view of selling it. Thomas finds the house overrun with animals, and Peter finds him a challenging adversary. The two go head-to-head to get rid of each other, something made a little more complicated by Thomas falling for the lovely Bea.
There’s loads of slapstick comedy – especially by Domhnall Gleeson – and the humour is pitched both at kids and adults. It’s a little bit cheeky in places (it is rated PG), but nothing outright rude. There are explosions, and yes, people trying to kill the cute bunnies, but my two highly sensitive kids, saw it for what it was – a funny plot device. They weren’t scared one jot.
Peter Rabbit is a great family film, two thumbs up.
When you hear the name Jesus, many non-Christians – and heck, many Christians – conjure up an image a bit like this:
We know from scripture that Jesus was kind and compassionate, and didn’t shoo noisy children away. But the historical Jesus was also a troublesome rebel who went around saying seditious and (for the time) totally outrageous things, and was ultimately killed for it.
This Jesus, not twee Jesus, is the Jesus we encounter in Mary Magdalene. Told entirely from Mary’s perspective, we learn what Mary gave up to be a follower of Jesus, and the story shows some of Jesus’ ministry, his death, and resurrection. Taking liberties with her background (we know nothing of Mary’s antecedents), Mary (played by Rooney Mara) lives in the small fishing settlement of Magdala, where she lives a simple life with her family. As an unmarried woman, she is an object of curiosity and embarrassment for her family who are doing their best to marry her off. Mary yearns for something more than the traditional role her culture demands, and becomes very distressed when told she must marry. Her distress convinces the men in her village that she must be possessed by a demon, and they attempt to cast it out of her.
Into this situation comes Jesus, and he SEES Mary, really sees her. He speaks to her and his words bring her great comfort. This in itself is extraordinary, if you know that in this culture and time, men were not permitted to even greet women in public. Jesus has an extraordinary attitude to women – he never treats women as inferior, unclean or unworthy, unlike the patriarchal society in which he lives. Not only did historical Jesus teach women, he had female disciples who travelled and served with him, and who were highly regarded by early Christians.
Jesus (played by Joaquin Phoenix) describes a kingdom where peace and justice reign, a topsy-turvey world where the lowly are lifted up and an end to oppression. Mary is so captivated by Jesus’ message that she gives up everything to follow him. In becoming a disciple, Mary not only gives up her home, but she gives up her reputation and chance of marriage – for no man would ever be permitted to marry an unmarried woman who associates with men outside her family. The Mary Magdalene of scripture is Jesus’ most prominent female disciple; she is always listed first in named groups of female disciples, and with ‘movie Mary’ they explore just how important she must have been to Jesus’ ministry in such a patriarchal society.
I was very moved by this film. Firstly, I’m stoked that Mary Magdalene has been so accurately portrayed. She’s long been a subject of fascination and respect for me. Thanks to Pope Gregory who wrongly identified Mary as the prostitute who washes Jesus feet with expensive perfume (and merges her further with yet another Mary) Mary has been wrongly associated with prostitution, seduction and sinfulness. The dichotomy of the Virgin Mary vs the Penitent Whore served to oppress women for centuries – women were either expected to be good, dutiful wives and mothers, and those that weren’t were often considered mad or bad and in need of repenting. Don’t get me started. Scholars surmise Pope Gregory wanted to downplay the importance of women in the early church, because, you know, patriarchy. There is absolutely no evidence that Mary was anything but a devoted disciple, who was so important, that she was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. To see the society in which Mary lived, and to understand the courage it must have taken for her to follow Jesus makes this film inspiring viewing.
Secondly, it was great to see historical, rebel Jesus doing his stuff. Giving poor and oppressed people hope, smashing the patriarchy, performing miracles, and to get a sense of how much the disciples were waiting for Jesus to smite the Romans, and usher in his new kingdom. Thirdly, I thought their treatment of Judas was sensitive and thought-provoking, and it made me understand what may have motivated him to betray Jesus in a whole new light.
I do have my criticisms of the movie, however. The actors playing Mary, Jesus, and Jesus’ mother are way too old, and white. They play their parts well, but it still bugs me. Joaquin Phoenix is 43, and looks every bit of it. The actress playing his mother is positively geriatric for someone who should be in her 40s, given that many women were married by 14. Blue eyes are everywhere. There’s also lots of inexplicable lying down, and Jesus swoons rather a lot. While I think Joaquin Phoenix does a good job as Jesus, he is let down by a script that offers a Jesus who smiles and gives compassionate looks, rather than life-changing teaching. I found the depiction of the Last Supper and Jesus’ resurrection rather flat and disappointing.
Despite its shortcomings, I recommend seeing Mary Magdalene to learn more about this remarkable woman. It is beautifully shot, with great attention to detail, and is reasonably faithful to scripture, although some liberties are taken.
Lastly, I would like to say I’ve seen some Christians raging online, and telling people not see the movie because the movie-writers also used the Gnostic gospel of Mary to inform the movie. Yes, there is something from the Gospel of Mary included in the movie, but hey, let’s think for ourselves, okay?