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!)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.