• Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet Week One: The $8 cushion of happiness

    image credit

    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?

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    It’s back! Dollar Diet 2020

    That’s right folks, the Dollar Diet is back!

    For my newer readers, I first embarked on a Dollar Diet back in 2015. Several years before that, I was quite the spender – now that feels like a lifetime ago! I am now a frugal living pro, and I love the freedom, creativity and fun it brings to my life.

    There isn’t just more than one reason that I choose to embrace frugal living, but my reasons include:

    • wanting to get my shit together and live like an adult!
    • eliminating the stress of living paycheck to paycheck
    • necessity, as we switched from two high-incomes to one high income (as I became a stay-at-home parent), and then to one medium income (as Rev G became a minister for the Presbyterian church).
    • saving for emergencies, holidays, housing, retirement etc.
    • being a good steward of the resources I have…which leads into…
    • living ethically when we are in the midst of a climate crisis, and millions of people around the world live in poverty. Compared to how most of the world lives, I live in luxury, and I never want to lose sight of that. We commit to reducing, reusing and recycling whenever possible.
    • and finally…spending less means we can give more. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have the money to help out people with emergencies, or to help support the work of the agencies we donate to.

    Despite getting myself more financially literate, and changing my spending habits over the course of a few years, Rev G and I seemed unable to save much, despite a good income.  We needed to plug the holes in our budget – and that’s where the Dollar Diet came in.

    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?  Save up for it?  Even NEEDS can be slimmed down by growing your own fruit and veg, or bartering and borrowing when possible.

    My 2020 list of needs has changed since 2015 to reflect our new living situation, and the fact that our children are both at school:

    • Rent* (This is a nominal figure, as the church pays most of our accommodation. Yes, that’s a sweet deal, and reflects the unique calling of the profession. It also reflects the fact that were ministers and their families charged market rent, most could not afford to live in places like Wellington, Auckland etc as the cost of accommodation is too high).
    • Groceries (since beginning the Dollar Diet I seldom go over budget!)
    • Electricity
    • Gas
    • Internet/phone
    • Netflix 
    • Insurances
    • Petrol, vehicle maintenance
    • Rates (for the house we own in another city)
    • Tithing, sponsorship, church activities
    • University money for kids
    • Doctor’s visits & prescriptions, dentist visits
    • School fees and donations (we pay a fee for our kids to attend a Montessori unit at their school)
    • Performing arts class – Miss E
    • Gymnastics class – Master D
    • Gifts (making what I possibly can myself)
    • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
    • Moisturizer, the odd bit of makeup, sunscreen and bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
    • A few invention gizmos – Rev G
    • Rubbish & recycling collection
    • Garden maintenance
    • Shoes, clothing and underwear. This budget line is pretty low. We make do with what we have, mending when needed, accepting hand-me-downs, going to clothing swaps, using second-hand clothing whenever possible. This line used to be zero, but then I got real about my love of charity shops. I must add that I am very good at hunting out bargains, and about 80% of my wardrobe is secondhand.
    • Holidays (free or low-cost accommodation where possible.)
    • A fun budget: to fund the odd meal out/takeaway/family outing

    * We do get a small income in rent from the house we own (freehold) in another city.

    Our list of needs will doubtless look different to yours.  

    For D and I, holidays are vital to our sanity, and for me they are the main reason I save money.  In fact, I will probably post later on in the year about why holidays are particularly essential to my well-being. We spent a lot on travel last year – for various reasons – but will be reining this in over 2020.

    image via Pexels

    It’s the things that aren’t on the list that save you money.  Walking or taking public transport when possible. Meal plan to slash your grocery budget and eliminate food waste. Pack your lunch everyday.  Say no to 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’.  Learn to make ‘fakeaways’.  Get rid of any subscription that you don’t use.  Don’t buy books or movies (that’s why libraries were invented) or pretty tchotchkes from K Mart for your home.  Avoid lavish gifts, and recipes requiring pricey ingredients.  Try a staycation, or camping.  Meet friends for a walk instead of brunch at an expensive cafe.  Learn to sit with FOMO by saying no to costly plays, concerts, exhibitions. Let go of extravagant hobbies like golf or skiing (unless your hobbies make you money or saves your sanity). Limit the amount of activities your children engage in.

    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.  Exercise for free by taking up running or using You Tube workouts instead of paying for the 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.  You get the picture.

    Frugality unleashes creativity

    I must advise that the biggest learning I have had from the Dollar Diet is the importance of having a fun budget.  Skimping and saving can get relentlessly grim without a few bright spots to look forward to.  These things don’t have to be extravagant, but small treats that feed your soul most definitely have a place in the Dollar Diet.

    For example…

    Me, I love this incredible brand of peanut butter. Rev G likes the odd beer, or a gadget from Ali Express. I love to go to shows, concerts, exhibitions and basically anything cultural – but I look for free or inexpensive events. My Christmas gift from Rev G was a ‘friends’ membership to Te Papa (a wonderful museum here in Wellington), as it offers me discounted entry into exhibitions, and free or heavily discounted entry to the various talks and workshops Te Papa runs throughout the year. Membership is not expensive, and I get to learn, be inspired and be a culture vulture all year long.

    We were so grateful to be gifted a family pass to Zealandia by our new church. Zealandia is a bird and wildlife eco-sanctuary not far from our new home, with beautiful walking tracks, and a great education programme that runs most of the year. Our pass gives us unlimited entry for the year and invitations to special events. I plan to ‘go bush’ at Zealandia a lot this year!

    Our savings goals for 2020 are pretty simple: have a good cushion for emergencies, enough money for a wee holiday or two, and to give more generously to our church and the various charities we support – and to anyone we know in need. Last year we gave several hundred dollars to a friend in a terrible crisis, without blinking. The Dollar Diet enables us to live generously.

    I plan to post regularly about my Dollar Diet attempts, triumphs and failures this year, so come along for the ride.

    Caveat: I can never post about the Dollar Diet without first acknowledging that I come from a position of enormous privilege.  I am a white, well-educated, happily married, middle-class, heterosexual female.  We have no debt and some of this is due to the privilege that Rev G and I were born into, and the opportunities given to us.