• Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: Reflections on privilege and COVID-19

    Posting my usual updates on how the Dollar Diet is going just doesn’t feel right to me at the moment. COVID-19 is dominating the news, our shopping habits and our thoughts. Many of my friends around the globe are in self-isolation already, and I believe it will only be a matter of time before New Zealand takes that step as well.

    I was musing on the enormous privilege that I have as I watched a batch of my made-from-scratch pasta sauce thicken and boil away merrily on the stove top. Does pasta sauce do that to you?

    I am very privileged.

    I guess I’ve been thinking about this stuff because I am intrigued by what makes my society tick. There’s been a lot of shaming language relating to COVID-19 being flung about, at least here in New Zealand. People are ‘panic-buying’. People are being ‘selfish’. People are ‘overreacting’. People are ‘underreacting’. People are ‘not taking it seriously’. Where is the moral line that separates ‘panic-buying’ from ‘being prepared to stay at home for two weeks’?

    Having worked with people on the margins, I am deeply worried about how they will be affected in the weeks and months to come. Those of us who are privileged have a duty of care for them. Indeed, there are many people among us who we also need to check in on. Let me explain.

    I am not out there panic-buying because we already have plenty of pantry items due to having a fully-kitted-out emergency supply of food and water. We live in New Zealand. We have earthquakes. Sometimes really bad earthquakes. I was told that this is why New Zealand supplies are faring better than in Australia, because New Zealanders tend to have emergency supplies as a matter of course.

    The way I shop and meal plan means we normally have a decent supply of food in our pantry. We have four people to feed. Several friends who live alone have said to me that they needed to stock up in case they had to self-isolate, because they shop almost daily due to only needing food for one. When you live alone, it’s very easy for things to spoil before you can get around to eating it, so I know plenty of single people who shop this way. I used to when I lived alone! So before judging someone for stuffing their trolley, just remember it could be someone in this situation who normally has very little in their cupboards.

    The Dollar Diet means I’m able to take advantage of items on special and can afford to buy a few discounted items at a time. It’s not uncommon for us to have several boxes of crackers and soy milk, jars of peanut butter and gluten free pasta in our pantry, because when our frequently used items are on special, I snap them up! I am privileged to be able to do this. Many families and individuals aren’t able to shop like this because there is no extra money. An extra tin here and there is an impossible ask. It’s more important than ever to donate to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters, and to be generous with people in your community. We’re not even in self-isolation yet, but my local Facebook group is full of people offering to help. People are beautiful.

    Should the shopocalypse get any worse (although currently my local supermarket is fine…), I am confident in my ability to make what food we have stretch for quite some time. I am a pretty decent cook (having learned the art from my friend R), and know how to use up what we have. This is privilege (not to mention that having a home with a kitchen, electricity, pots, pans etc is a huge privilege in itself…). I know loads of people who might look at their cupboards in despair, wondering what to do with that tin of chickpeas lurking at the back of the shelf, a manky zucchini and half a tomato, and a past-its-used-by-date box of Chinese Five Spice. Many people don’t know how to cook, and are dependant on takeaways and eating out. They don’t have the basic skills, let alone knowing the skills of how to stretch a meal or making things from scratch. If you know someone like that, check in on them.

    I am currently housebound – not because of COVID-19, but due to damaged tendons in my knee (probably a knock on of last year’s car crash). I am under strict instructions to rest my knee for at least two weeks. I live with my supportive husband who can get groceries and do housework, and with two children who are capable of getting themselves dressed, fed and passing me the remote control etc. I’ve had friends drop meals around, been inundated with books to read and DVDs to watch. I have people who care and who are praying for me (healing is going well, by the way!). My community is a privilege. There may be sick or immune-compromised people where you are who live alone, and who have no one to ask for help. Again, please reach out to your neighbours and friends – particularly those who are elderly or live alone.

    The idea of self-isolating doesn’t fill me with dread. I have a family to interact with. My children are very entertaining, and I’m sure we can fill the time quite happily. But again, many people live alone. Not everyone has a wide circle of friends and a close family. Loneliness is a real problem. Check in with your single friends, with any elderly relatives. Maybe have regular phone calls, texts or Skype etc with those who are particularly vulnerable. Organise a online group with friends to chat and keep your spirits up. Make sure you include your more introverted friends who wouldn’t normally instigate something like that!

    Please stay safe and connected, my friends. Think of others, reach out. Be the village.

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet Week Two: Panic stations?

    Our budget has taken quite a beating as we settle into our life in Wellington. School and stationery fees, building up pantry supplies, items for the new house or garden etc. This is just the reality of moving – it’s expensive.

    Not only are groceries in Wellington way more expensive than our previous home of Pleasant Point, but we’ve had to spend considerable moolah just building up a supply of basic pantry items and cleaning supplies. Because we were required to put our things in storage for several weeks between houses, we had to run down our pantry supplies before the move; as movers will not move and store pantry and cleaning supplies that are open. For obvious reasons like vermin and spills.

    We have also usually kept a supply of items to last us several days in case of an emergency – most usually earthquakes here in New Zealand. You can find my previous post about putting together a kid-friendly survival kit here. I get a few days worth of non-perishable items that will make nutritious meals, water for drinking and cooking, plus a few treats and things like colouring books for the kids – because I imagine it’s pretty damn traumatic to be in a natural disaster.

    I said to Mr G a couple of Fridays ago, “We need to get our earthquake kit together. Should we get a bit extra in case Covid-19 gets here?” We weren’t panicking, but it seemed like a wise idea in case schools get shut. Later that day, after we’d finished putting our kit together, it was announced that the first case of Covid-19 had come to New Zealand.

    I am not freaked out about the virus, as it seems unlikely it will give my family and I more than a bad cold. However I do have a propensity to developing pneumonia – my last bout was only 18 months ago, and it took me three months to recover – so I’d say I am a bit more worried about it than my peers.

    I’m not sure why people are stocking up on toilet paper like it’s Armageddon. If Covid-19 was a gastro bug, I could totally understand! I do think it’s prudent to have two weeks worth of food in your cupboards, especially if workplaces or schools are closed down. If that doesn’t happen, then you’ve got a disaster kit at the ready.

    Two weeks worth is a lot of food, but Covid-19 seems to stay present for several days after symptoms have gone, and is why the recommended period for self-isolation is so long. You don’t have to rush out immediately and get two weeks worth at once, but you might want to pop a few extra items in your trolley, if you can afford it. And if you are able, think about donating non-perishable items to food banks, as for many people on low incomes buying ‘extra’ is impossible.

    My tip is to mark on your calendar to start using those supplies six months from now, so nothing goes to waste. We have done this for years and this system works well. Just remember to buy a few days worth of food to replace your emergency kit – at least three days is recommended. I would rather feel a bit silly for ‘overreacting’ (I’m finding the language and shaming around this pandemic very interesting!), than be stuck at home for two weeks with hungry and bored kids.

    Anyway, that was a long ramble just to say we went over our usual grocery budget.

    Here are some things I did to be frugal this week:

    • Started packing Rev G’s lunch for him. That sounds absolutely vomitous, seeing it written down. I swear I’m not Suzy Homemaker, with my apron and coiffed hair, kissing Rev G on the cheek as he goes to work. I currently pack lunch for everyone as my family seriously struggle with getting out the door in the morning (I’m sure we’re not alone in this!). Whilst totally capable of making his own lunch, this simple act has reduced his time pressure in the morning, and means no one is late to school or work. Rev G has taken a packed lunch for work for years, but me making his lunch has reduced the times he’s had to pop to a cafe for lunch because he forgot to make it/ran out of time. There are many times that frugality requires teamwork. And I like that.
    • Batched my errands to minimise car use.
    • Relied on free entertainment: books, catching up with friends, hobbies (most of my free time has been taken up with writing a small-group Lent study based on The Two Popes).
    • Meal planned and was diligent about using leftovers and things lurking at the back of the fridge.

    Anyway, wishing you a safe and healthy week!

  • 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.
  • Frugal Living,  Parenting

    Frugal snacks for hungry kids

    One of the best things about living in a small town like Pleasant Point, is that it’s so easy to get together with friends.  Everywhere is a 5 -10 minute walk away, and the roads are safe enough for older children to bike or walk on their own.

    After school and at weekends our house is usually overflowing with children, as our kids play with their friends from school or church.

    I love it.

    When we had children, I said to Mr G that I wanted an open house when our children’s friends felt welcome – just like my family house was when I was growing up.

    Well, we’ve definitely got that sort of house!

    All those children (it’s not unusual for us to have five or more) mean there’s extra bellies to fill, and that can really take a chunk out of your budget if you’re not careful.  I do a lot of baking, and that helps to cut costs down considerably.

     

    Here are my go-to snacks for feeding a tribe of ravenous children on a budget:

    • Some genius came up with the 100 biscuit recipe (cookies, for my American readers) which you can find here.  It makes a large bowl of biscuit dough to which you can then add whatever you like.  I use chocolate chips, sprinkles (aka hundreds and thousands/nonpareils), cocoa and cornflakes, raisins, lemon zest, m&m’s etc.  It tends to be whatever I have lying around!  The dough freezes well, so you can make a huge batch of basic dough, divide it into whatever flavours you want to add, and pop some in the freezer for another day.  Biscuits obviously aren’t the healthiest choice, but for an active child, one or two with their afternoon tea won’t hurt them.  This recipe really does make 100.  Because the mixture spreads out a lot while cooking, a teaspoon of mixture is all that’s needed per biscuit.

    100 biscuits may still not last long…

    • Popcorn.  We have one of those air popper machine thingees, and a little goes a long, long way.  I can get a big bowl of popcorn for about 25 cents.  I’ve never met a child who doesn’t go crazy for popcorn.

     

    • Tiny cheese muffins.  I use a recipe from New Zealand’s famous Edmond’s Cookbook, but there is a similar recipe over at Just A Mum.  I use tasty cheese because a little goes a long way when it comes to flavour.  I use the same when I make…

     

    • Cheese scones.  My kids go nuts for scones.  I have made scones so many times I have the recipe committed to memory, and I can churn out a batch in 15 minutes.

     

    • Seasonal fruit.  My daughter eats a lot of fruit.  My son is picky about which kind of fruit he likes, but even he will chow down on anything when he’s got to fight four of his friends for the last slice of apple.  Peer pressure can be a good thing!  I’ve also found that children will eat pretty much anything if it’s put into a cool shape or design.

    These ‘palm trees’ get gobbled up quickly!

    • Real fruit or juice popsicles.  If you have some juice leftover from a party, you can put into straight into popsicle moulds or blend berries with banana for a creamy, frozen treat.  Popsicle moulds cost about $2 at stores here in New Zealand, and are worth this very modest outlay, as one single popsicle can cost upwards from $2 at the shops.  Plus you can make yummy treats that are actually healthy too.

     

    • Carrot and cheese sticks (I go easy on the cheese, it’s so expensive these days).  My children turn up their nose at hummus, but I live for the day when they’ll embrace it like some of their friends do.

     

    • Pikelets.  If you don’t know what a pikelet is, it’s basically a small, sweet, fluffy pancake.  I don’t make these often, but pikelets are great if you have a big crowd of children.  A little jam on top of the pikelet = happy children.  Generally I put out a plate of pikelets, things quickly resembles a school of piranhas in a feeding frenzy.

     

    • Crackers.  I stash away boxes of ‘company’ crackers when they’re on special at the supermarket.

     

    Lastly, I find the key to feeding a gaggle of children is portion control.  If I leave them with a box of crackers it will be gone in 1 minute.  If I plate up a snack for each child, then I’m rarely eaten out of house and home, and the children still seem satisfied.

     

    What are your go-to snacks?

     

  • Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: When it pays NOT to be frugal

    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 Diet back 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.

  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living,  Parenting

    Dream Small

     

    It was both a quiet and momentous week.

    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.

    The Decepticons are here somewhere…

    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.

    image credit

    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
    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
    Live well
    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
    Dream small
    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
    Live well
    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
    Live well
    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
    Dream small

     

    * She’s working in Copenhagen.  Now you can get some sleep.
  • Faith,  Family,  Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: Use it up

    This week’s frugal results of the Dollar Diet. 

    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.

      image credit and recipe here

     

    • 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.

      What Pippins Do
      image via Girl Guides NZ

     

    • 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!

      God’s wonderful creation by Z, age 7

       

     

    What frugal things did you get up to this week?

  • Frugal Living

    Dollar Diet: It’s on!

    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.

    Finance Sketch Near Laptop Computer
    Just for the record, twee mini succulents are NOT an essential budgeting tool…

    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!

    Marlow Park, Dunedin

     

    Waitaki Bike Park, Oamaru

    Moeraki boulders, Otago

    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.

      Pumpkin, spinach and lentil lasagne
      image and recipe via taste.com.au

     

    • 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.

     

    What frugal things have you been up to lately?

     

     

  • Frugal Living

    How to go on a Dollar Diet

    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.

    cash, coins, money

    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 DietI 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!)
    • Internet/phone/cellphones
    • 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
    • Garden maintenance 
    • Chicken feed
    • Clothing (secondhand or free whenever possible), shoes, underwear for the children
    • 2 short holidays away (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.

    Pink and White Ceramic Pig Coin Bank

     

    *We prefer Goodbudget but any app will do!