Frugal Living

Dollar Diet Week One: The $8 cushion of happiness

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As always, I start off my Dollar Diet with a hiss and a roar, feeling smug about my frugality. “I can do this. It’s easy”, I tell myself.

But of course, the reality of how much work it takes to be frugal sets in quickly. It’s cheaper and healthier to make snacks for my children’s lunchboxes than buy them, but first I must find the time and energy to make them. Baking never takes as much time in real life as it does in my head, and with this mantra, I got to work. I turned on my full Suzy Home-maker, and baked cheese muffins and chocolate chip biscuits as a lunchbox treat this week. The kids had a playdate with a classmate, who turned out to be gluten-free like me, so I made him a brownie, which he was beyond thrilled with. (As a GF adult, I regularly cannot eat anything at social events, so I can’t imagine how stink it must feel to GF kids!)

We had to fork out an eye-watering amount for our children’s new school, as they are in a Montessori class that is not fully funded, and there is a ‘new student’ fee related to it. But it’s not an expense we begrudge, as the money funds their smaller-than-regular-class sizes (they only have 12 kids in their class) and specialist Montessori equipment. Even though we have to pay a bit extra (it works out to about $40 a week for both kids), it’s still nowhere near private school fees. We’re pretty sure that Miss E has inattentive ADHD (that’s a blog post for another time), and feel that the small class size, and the emphasis on following the child’s interests, is a better fit for her than regular ol’ school. So far she loves it.

Last time I said I am pretty good at keeping to my grocery budget. However, this week it was impossible, due to:

  1. My husband decided on a last-minute whim to have a birthday party. And invited over 20 people. It was loads of fun.
  2. We have already had several parties and dinners, just reconnecting with our friends and family here in Wellington.
  3. We’ve had visitors staying with us almost every week since arriving.
  4. Food is SO FRIGGING EXPENSIVE here! Walking into my local supermarket, I just about died at the prices. Food in the South Island is simply cheaper, especially at Pak N Save, where they have the excellent Sticky Club – which is not available here in the North Island, for reasons that remain murky and impenetrable to me.

So alas, my first week of Dollar Dieting wasn’t a massive success. However, a few weeks of mostly meatless meals and carefully using up the items in our pantry and freezer will soon have our grocery budget back in black. And we’re going to stick to having one or two people over for meals for a while.

Even though I allow myself a little money to spend at op-shops (charity shops), I have had to enforce a new rule on myself: I can only shop there if I have something specific in mind. Keen op-shoppers like myself tend to just pop in to see what’s there, and can come home with bargains that we didn’t know we wanted. And there’s the rub.

I think it’s fine to nab something you know you need (like clothes the next size up for you kids) and even the odd knick-knack that makes you smile. We all need little treats now and then. But if you find yourself ALWAYS coming home with a bargain, or your house is full to bursting with them, it might be time to make some changes.

Having just biffed/donated/sold a whole bunch of stuff before we moved to Wellington, I am not racing to collect more things. Indeed, I found the amount of stuff we got rid of to be embarrassing – even if a lot of it was shedding the detritus of my children’s toddlerhood (bye-bye, balance bike!).

I am trying to be more mindful of what we bring into our house, the reasons for which recently morphed from mere thoughts floating in my mind to seeing people struggle with their harsh reality. We spent several weeks staying with friends, whom I love dearly. One is a compulsive shopper, the other a hoarder. Not a great combination. Their house is overflowing with stuff. To the point where they regularly give up in despair over the state of the place.

I could see what a massive strain their never-ending to-do list and their mountains of stuff placed upon their relationship, and their ability to spend time together as a family. It’s hard to spend quality time with your kids when you’ve got 101 things to tidy up just so you can sit at the table. Less stuff to sort through, care for and maintain, means more time can be spent doing something fun with friends, or pursuing a hobby, or taking a trip out with the family.

Anyway, this less-is-more mindset is why it took me two years to buy a cushion. I swear I am not Steve Jobs, who took even longer to buy a damn couch, agonising over the ‘right’ one. I don’t even need a cushion. I never use one when I’m sitting on the couch, and can’t quite fathom why people want to shove one in the small of their back, but we frequently have elderly visitors who request them, and I have to trot out my son’s R2D2 one or my daughter’s bunny one. But I decided it was probably time to find one that could live on the couch.

I am careful not to go into op-shops all the time, because the temptation to spend is great. I love vintage things, and the thrill of a bargain, and now I live close to no less than four excellent charity shops; I could pop in almost everyday if I wished. But my list has served me well, and reminds me that I don’t need yet another striped top, or vase or book. What I did need, was a cushion.

I rejected many over the months of my hunt. Too frilly. Too shiny. Too lumpy. Too pink. Too many tassels. Too 90s. Too ‘Nana-ish’.

And then I saw it.

The $8 cushion of happiness

I bought it immediately, forking over my $8 which IMHO is rather expensive for an op-shop cushion, but just look at it! (It actually has two sides – the other side has an equally French chic cat, but in blue, tres bon!) I love this damn cushion so much. It’s like the anti-Nana cushion. It’s cute and whimsical and makes me smile every time I see it. And if you don’t know me, I love anything cute and whimsical and just-a-bit-silly. I have a Hello Kitty toaster, after all.

Anyway, if you come to my house, come, sit. Would you like a cushion for your back?

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