Showing posts with label money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label money. Show all posts

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Realistic Expectations

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches
I blogged today on my personal blog about friends making poor financial choices and basically purchasing big ticket items (cars, house) without adequate finances. This made me really think about what are realistic expectations for life? I've blogged before on this site that life for me is a journey, I began downshifting, getting rid of debt and living a frugal life with such idealism; I was going to be able to sew, knit, crochet, grow my own fruits & veggies, become a master chef & expert baker all with the stroke of a wand. Oh how I came crashing down! I did however learn through trial & error, hard work, determination and realistic expectations that baby steps do lead somewhere and while I may not be able to knit a sweater just yet, I'm pretty good at knitting dish & wash cloths!
Taking realistic expectations a step further, I've begun to wonder about what my expectations are about my life in general? What do I expect to own? How do I expect to live? What is a realistic expectation of where I want to be physically and financially five, ten, twenty, thirty years from now.
You often read that people want to be able to retire at 55, own their home and a cottage, be able to enjoy a couple of holidays/vacations a year, eat out a few times a week etc. Many financial books I've read suggest that people have $1 million + before they retire. I have to say my own expectations are nowhere near as grand! I don't mind (and hopefully I'm physically able!) working until I'm 65, I'd prefer to work part time for more years than full time for less, I would like to own a home with a little bit of land, adopt, volunteer, live simply & frugally and give to others. Am I realistic that I will need money in order to accomplish most of these things? Absolutely! But I also know that money does not necessarily buy quality of life, it does not make you enjoy the life you are living each and every day! A friend recently read a study on happiness and finances and she said that the research showed that once someone had an emergency fund (savings of approximately $25,000) and an income that they could pay mortgage, utilities, food and enjoy one "average type" holiday per year, then their happiness factor did not increase even if they had 4 or 5x that in savings or disposable income! Just hearing this confirmed what I expected - that realistic expectations, a purpose driven life, an understanding of who you are, challenging what success means to you, living a simple life and helping others really does give you all you need to enjoy life, to have fulfillment and to contribute in a positive way.
I'd love to hear from you, how do you keep your expectations about what you can accomplish in your daily life realistic? And for the big things in life, where is it you want to be in 20 or 30 years and is that realistic?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Extra-virgin olive oil: Why pay more

by Francesca


Our neighbor, an elderly farmer, speaks lovingly about the olive oil he makes from his trees. He likes to call it “a fresh-squeezed fruit juice,” because it’s the only vegetable oil that comes from a fruit, and not from a seed or a nut. This fresh-squeezed fruit juice has been a key ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet since the late Bronze Age.

Olive oil contains a remarkable range of nutrients and has many healthful properties. In fact, recent medical research has shown it to be beneficial against conditions ranging from coronary heart disease to Alzheimers to colon cancer. But only one kind of olive oil has these characteristics: extra-virgin olive oil, the highest grade, which is made from fresh, healthy fruit that’s been expertly harvested, pressed, extracted and bottled.

picked olives

Harvesting olives is a lengthy and labor-intensive job that in our part of Italy begins this time of year, in the cold days of late November and December. Although there are mechanical ways to pick olives, much of the work is by hand, and it’s hard. To produce one liter of oil you need over 5 kilos of olives, sometimes more. Olives must be picked when they reach just the right level of ripeness, and milled within hours, before the olives start to decompose.

With all this labor to pay for, making extra-virgin olive oil is pricey. Even in an oil-producing region like ours, a bottle of extra-virgin bought in a store can’t cost less than about €10 ($14).

olive nets
olives on nets

In fact, lots of olive oil is sold in stores at half that price, or less. Most of it is labeled “olive oil.” This is an inferior grade to extra-virgin, made from over-ripe olives that have fallen from the trees and collected in nets on the ground, where they’ve started to decompose. The oil extracted from these olives can’t legally be sold as food, only as fuel (it’s called lampante, or “lamp-oil”). So it’s taken to a refinery, where it’s industrially treated, then mixed with a dash of extra-virgin olive oil, and sold as “olive oil”.

Then there’s “pomace olive oil,” which, despite its name, isn’t olive oil at all. It's extracted with solvents from the crushed olive pits, skins and flesh left over from the milling process. Not only does it have almost none of extra-virgin oil’s health benefits, but it also often contains toxic substances. It’s to be avoided at all costs!

You should definitely pay a little more for extra-virgin olive oil: in olive oil, even more than in most other foods, you get what you pay for. (You can read a more detailed discussion of olive oil production, trade and fraud here.)


We live in a prime olive growing area, and my family is the proud owner of an olive grove consisting of … well, only one olive tree! We’ve been putting off the idea of an olive grove until we have our own land. But we’re lucky enough to know the best local producers, and we buy our extra-virgin olive oil, made from the local Taggiasca variety, which has a delicate fruity taste, directly from them – buying from a known source is the best way to make sure you’re getting quality oil. Also, as part of our efforts to forage whatever we can eat from the wild (like the chestnuts I posted about earlier), each November we head out to pick some olives from the old, overgrown, abandoned olive trees that grow on hillsides around our house. I put them in brine for several months to cure them. Meantime, we dream of the day when we’ll produce our own extra-virgin olive oil.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

How I broke my dependance on credit cards

By Eilleen
(x-posted from my blog: Consumption Rebellion)

Hello everyone,

Earlier this month, a reader from my personal blog asked me how I managed to stop using credit cards. I answered him at the time, but I thought I'd also share my answer here...

Firstly, a bit about me: I tend to be more "future-focussed" - I love planning and thinking up goals for myself. Sometimes in the journey to achieve particular goals, I pick up skills or knowledge along the way but I am so focussed on the goal that I am not even conscious that I've picked up those skills or knowledge.

For me not having credit cards was one of those things. Giving up my credit cards was a side-effect in my journey to become a more ethical consumer. It was not, at the time, my end goal. Of course, now that I'm in "maintenance" mode for my consumption habits (rather than "change" mode), I can see now the importance of not having credit cards.

I guess the first step for me was when I decided to not buy anything brand-new for a year. That was the year when I made a conscious acknowledgement that I was an over-consumer - that I bought too many things that I didn't really need or even really want. I acknowledged that I had too much stuff and the stuff didn't make me happy.

I found that trying to cut back my consumption (by deliberately leaving credit cards and bank cards at home, or setting a budget) didn't work. Oh it would work for a few days - maybe even a few weeks, but then old habits would creep back in and I would end up buying stuff again.

Looking back, I can see that it mirrored classic addiction symptoms and cycles - with the exception that I never bought stuff to the point where it was obvious that I had a problem. In fact, my consumption habits were very similar to everybody else! (hmmm a case of normalised addiction perhaps?)

Everyone I knew could empathise with the maxed out credit every now and then. Like everyone else, I got into debt, but not so much debt that my wage could not service that debt. Everyone I knew went to end-of-year/christmas/boxing day etc sales. Everyone I knew would go crazy over a "bargain". Everyone I knew would every now and then, complain about lack of storage and/or too much stuff.

In the end, I had enough and I decided to just stop. Oh not stop completely but I stopped a major source of my buying - I stopped buying brand new. I set myself a goal for a year.

At first, I sought to maintain my consumption habits by buying lots and lots of second-hand items. This worked for a little while, but I found myself not reaching the same "highs". It was a lot harder work to buy second-hand. I had to look around. I had to learn how to see the potential in items when they're not being displayed at their best. There was less "hype" around second-hand items so I couldn't get carried away by the enthusiasm of the crowd.

Most relevant in this subject not all second-hand sources would take credit cards. I HAD to learn how to carry cash and to bargain (when appropriate). I had NO CHOICE but to learn to walk away when I didn't have enough cash to buy that second-hand item.

My foray into second-hand buying gave me good skills (indeed, I am thankful for it because it enabled me to furnish my entire house for under $1,000) but in the end, it came down to the fact that the second-hand market simply could not meet my over-consumption habits.

And that's when I learned how to create. If the second-hand market could not give what I wanted, then I learned to how to make what I wanted. Now I learned how to do this during my no buying brand-new year, and for that I'm truly thankful because I think this could have become another source of over-consumption for me. But no, the option of buying brand new supplies would mean breaking my challenge, so I learned how to source second-hand supplies for my creations.

When I created things, I realised how much work was involved in making the stuff. I realised how I was not truly paying for the labour costs for most of the things I bought. It really brought home to me the depth of human exploitation I participated in by buying my goods for "a bargain".

And that when I learned how to just make-do. If I was not willing to put in the work to make something exactly the way I want it, then I learned to accept the next best thing, or learned to do without it all together.

In the meantime, I am now wandering around the place with these credit cards in my pocket.... and I had not used them in months. In fact, the only time I used them was when I was reminded to use them.

In my quest to consume in accordance with my values, I had learned how to buy things, only when I had cash for them. I learned how to walk away from items I really wanted but didn't have enough cash for (and walking away got easier as time went on). I learned how to make things so I didn't have to buy so much. I learned how to live without certain items or accept the next best thing.

And by learning how to do all that, I no longer needed my credit cards.

Late last year (and over two years from when I stopped buying brand-new), I finally closed my credit card account. I wasn't using it and was only paying account keeping fees for it. I've started to build my nest egg.

My nest egg, is not, by all means perfect. My posts on how I've lost it - once I lost most of it for real, and another when it got lost by mistake - show that I'm still learning how to build a nest egg and how to keep it secure. But the fact of the matter is, without the constant debt of credit cards, I am actually in a position to build a nest egg in the first place... and I feel that's the most important step in the first place.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day..

What I do to "sales mail" that sneak past my "No Junk Mail" sign..
Origami Crane. Photo by me.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Laid off? Unpaid Furlough? Here's How to Cope

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

It seems that every time I check in on what the pundits are saying about the economy the picture has changed...a little. But overall, people still seem to be hurting. Unemployment is real for many, and scary for most everyone else. Right now some workers who still have jobs are being forced to take unpaid furlough days on a regular basis. This is better, one supposes, than losing a job outright or watching a coworker lose a job. But it still cuts into the budget at a time when every penny counts. The old saying goes that, "time is money." If that's true, then it should be possible to convert some of this unsought time into money, or its equivalent. Quite often suggestions made by frugal bloggers are met with the canned response: "But I don't have time for that." (We shall pass over without examination the fact that such commenters manifestly have time to surf the internet and leave said comments.) If you're newly unemployed, or looking at an unpaid furlough and less money in you paycheck, you now do have time. So here are several things you can do to balance the books.

Get a real handle on your household budget.Have you been meaning to find the time to sit down and really sort through your finances? This is the time to do it. You have time to call your credit cards and ask for a better rate. If you have a budget, review it in light of your lower income. If you don't have one, make one. Balance your checkbook. Review any automated bill pay to be sure your smaller paycheck doesn't cause any overdraft fees from your bank. Start a price comparison book to help make smarter grocery purchasing decisions.

Make your home more energy efficient. With one spare day you can shop for compact fluorescent lightbulbs and swap out the standard bulbs around your house. You can by some silicone caulking and seal the air gaps around your windows and doors. You can add some insulation to your hot water pipes. None of these things require a lot of money, time, or expertise. And your investment in those three things will continue to pay dividends for a long, long time.

Take stuff to a consignment shop or hold a yard sale. Yes, it takes time to organize selling things. You've now been given the time to do that. This will put some cash in your pocket. If you're serious enough about getting rid of stuff, you may free up enough extra space to make room for a roommate, or to rent out part of your garage for storage space - another way to help balance the books.

Get cooking. Now is the time to send the kids to school with bag lunches, and prepare the family dinner from scratch. It needn't be elaborate. A simple pasta dish with salad, or a roast chicken with two veg will do it. Better still, get a jump on future meals by trying out once a month cooking. The basic idea is to make up several oven-ready or crockpot-ready meals and stash them in the freezer. (No room in the freezer? Now's a perfect time to clean it out!) You don't need to go so far as to actually prepare a month's worth of food at one time. But here's your chance to help yourself out on those crazy working days when fast food seems like the only solution for getting everything else done. Make a huge batch of soup and freeze a few quarts for later use. Look online or at your library for "once a month cooking" or "freezer meals." If you are not an experienced cook, there are plenty of online tutorials to help you with the basics.

DIY There are probably a few things that you know how to do, but which you have not done in the past because you've been too busy. Well, this is a good time to fix that leaky faucet that's been driving you nuts, but which you haven't wanted to pay someone else to deal with. Wash your delicates by hand with a safe detergent in lieu of taking them to the dry cleaners. Manicure your own nails if you must. Reconsider every service you pay for and see what you can do for yourself now that you have extra time.

Reduce your childcare costs. You probably put your child in daycare in order to work, so now that you're not at work, ask yourself if it still makes sense to pay for this service. You may want to hold off on this option until you've done several other things on this list to make the best possible use of your time. On the other hand, if money is really tight, find a way to get some of these done in the company of your child, or if need be, during naptime.

Start (or plan) a small garden. I'm not going to kid you and tell you that you can maintain a big garden using just one or two days of furlough per month. You can't. But you can certainly maintain a small plot of lettuces, onions, or carrots with that much time. Or you can opt for container gardening, which is even easier. One tomato plant can yield 40 pounds of tomatoes in a season. If you keep it simple and take decent care of a few plants, you can garden on a small scale with little money or time. Recruit more helping hands by making it into a family project. Kids learn a lot when they work alongside their parents.

Learn a frugal skill. Bread baking and sewing well enough to make a few repairs can be learned with a little practice. Both will save you money. If you want something more manly, do you already know how to change the oil in your car? Can you sharpen your own lawn mower blade? How's the air pressure in those tires? If nothing else, detail your own car to make yourself feel like a million bucks on your way to your next job interview or business meeting.

Switch to no-cost exercise. More time on your hands combined with less money means you can and should find free and cheap ways of exercising. If you haven't been exercising previously, starting now can improve your appearance, help relieve stress over your financial situation, and pay dividends for your health overall. If you have been paying for gym membership, cancel the membership and save that cost. Start walking. If you've taken yoga classes for more than six months or so, you know what you need to know to do it yourself at home for free. Use whatever home exercise equipment you've paid for over the years and then neglected. If you're really enterprising, turn your daily exercise into a dog walking service that puts money in your pocket while you reap the health benefits.

Maximize this "bonus time." Write a list of things you're going to do to improve the way your household uses money and do your best to blast through it.

Keep your spirits up. Money woes can be seriously depressing. Remember to do something nice for yourself and your family, something that shakes up your usual routine and stops you thinking about money for a few hours at a stretch. Visit a local park, nature reserve, or hiking trail. Find some free local cultural events to attend, or a low-cost museum nearby that you've never visited. Most of all, don't play the blame game with yourself or with others. You'll get through this time, and any frugal habits you put into place now will stand you in good stead for the future.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Work Options

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

People are often surprised when I tell them that I’ve never had a permanent full-time job. I have worked full-time hours as a waitress and in office administration, but they weren’t permanent positions – I was doing temp work or extra shifts as a student mostly.

I was a student doing a double-degree before I became a mother. I intended to go to work, to study further, to do something with my life. I’m glad I realised that being an at-home mother is a wonderful way to live. A blessing. A privilege.

I’ve been at home whilst my husband studied, did an adult apprenticeship, worked very long hours, worked away and worked part-time. We’ve always found a way to pay for our expenses and move ahead. We have struggled, but we made it through!

I have usually dabbled in some sort of paid hobby:

For awhile I did some design work on the computer – stationery, address labels etc.

I have usually sold our excess household items etc through auction sites and on internet forums.

For awhile the children and I were packaging our saved seeds and bulk-bought seeds and selling these online. This appealed to us because growing food is something we are passionate about.

We’ve also sold excess eggs, produce, jams and plants from a roadside stall.

I have done some freelance writing and editing. Sometimes a lot of hours for reasonable pay, and sometimes only small amounts of work and financial reward. I stick to my interests with the freelancing, and don’t pursue work outside my field of parenting and education and my passion of gardening.

A couple of years ago I decided to buy an online business from a busy friend who had returned to full-time study and couldn’t keep up with the business. It is called Spiral Garden and is a real blessing in our lives. It is growing slowly into another stream of income for me, while I’m at home with my children – homeschooling, growing food and planting trees.

Ideally our home-based business would also support us all, but then I would be stuck in my home office several days a week keeping the business going. At the moment my husband can earn much more than me per hour, so he’s still out there working. He'd love to be at home with us on the farm, though.

While my hobbies have paid me, they’ve been very much about keeping my mind active and showing my children how there are many ways to make money. The pocket money is lovely, and has helped to support my hobbies at least – more plants for the garden, some fabric for sewing, magazine subscriptions etc.

Now that they're older, the children have developed their own streams of income - husking and weighing out macadamia nuts from our trees and breeding chickens, ducks and guinea pigs. The older three also busk at local markets.

If I needed to make more money to be able to stay at home I would initially look at where I could further save money. A dollar saved is a dollar earned – more because it’s not taxed! If we were still struggling I’d further pursue one of my 'jobs' above or even take in ironing or childcare, because these fit with my lifestyle of being at home with children. If this didn’t work, I would look for casual work outside of normal working hours so that I would go to work when my husband was at home with the children. Now that they’re older (our youngest is five), I can see that this would be much more manageable. I would try to avoid commuting a great distance and a job where I needed to outlay a large amount for clothing etc. I’d want to keep as much of my earnings as possible. For example, I'd rather drive 3 minutes to clean rooms at a local Bed & Breakfast than travel across the region to a more complicated position of employment.

I hope this post helps you to think about your own employment options, especially if you have young families. I encourage you to think about what you’re good at, where your interests lie, what sort of work you prefer, what’s lacking in your community and how you can perhaps make a little extra money to help the family budget or save for the future. I’m not saying that staying at home is better than working, but it has been a wonderful lifestyle for us. Watching my sister juggle her children and work, and seeing my own mother (against her wishes) do the same from when I was three years old – I choose this way because it’s what I can handle. I prefer to be home, cooking from scratch, growing food, bartering with friends and neighbours, mending clothes and making do, and feel blessed to have been able to do so for over 15 years.

Further Reading:
Bringing it Home by Wendy Priesnitz
Hundreds of Ways to Make Money From Home by Rosalind Fox and Tessa Stowe
Making Money from Home by Better Living Collections
Making Money from your Garden by Jackie French
Write to Publish by Vin Maskell & Gina Perry

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

My big mistake - my first attempt at self-insurance

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

Readers of my personal blog will know that I am currently on a drive to re-building my nest egg. See, I once had a very healthy nest egg until about 3 months ago...and then I lost 90% of that nest egg.

I lost it as a result of a frugal mistake - a very poor attempt at self-insurance...

Have you ever wondered if it was worth insuring? I have. Especially car insurance.

As a bit of a background - here in Australia, we have compulsory third party insurance. This insurance covers any costs incurred by a person who may have been injured or died as a result of my negligent driving. While this insurance is good, it does NOT cover damage to vehicles. For that I would need additional cover - for many Australians this additional cover takes the form of "comprehensive insurance". This would cover damage to vehicles, tow truck etc etc.

Now, I've been on the road for 16 years now and I've never had to claim against my comprehensive insurance. For 16 years, I drove and paid for comprehensive car insurance and wondered...what if I just put money aside instead of paying insurance?

Then in recent months, with so much going on in my personal and work life, I just let it...lapse. I set aside the money for comprehensive car insurance in my "nest egg" account and forgot all about it, fully expecting that nothing would happen (as nothing happened in 16 years).

And of course, it did. Three months ago, I hit another car. It was dark and raining heavily. Three cars ahead of us, one of the cars suddenly braked (not sure why). I was behind another car and didn't really see it happening. All I know is that suddenly the car in front of me touched his brakes then swerved wildly on to the large median strip in the middle of the road. I panicked and hit my brakes *hard*. Bad move. This just 'caused my car to lock up in the wet weather and I slid out of control and into another car.

No one was injured - thank goodness. However, the damage to my car (above) was over $3,000. The damage to the other car (which I was fully liable for) was about same.

Now if I recalculated my car insurance. If I had continued to pay car insurance - to date, I would have paid the insurance company $8,000. So *if* I had not paid the insurance company, and saved the money I would have $8,000 in the bank. But of course, I don't. I only stopped paying car insurance this year...

So what were my mistakes (aside from the driving mistake of hitting brakes hard in wet weather)?

I did not think through my venture into self-insuring. I just approached self-insurance from a "savings" point of view and did not think about the risks involved with it. Darren from Green Change commented on my post about the accident and succinctly gave me the direction I needed to have in approaching self-insurance:

"insure against the things that can wipe you out financially"

While my first attempt at self-insuring did not exactly wipe me out - it did take out 90% of my nest egg. I was lucky - it could've been much much worse. I shudder to think what could have happened had I not had the nest egg to begin with. I shudder to think what could have happened had I hit a luxury car.

So what am I doing now?

With Darren's advice in mind, I've now thought through my approach to self-insuring my car.
  • I have chosen to take out third-party property damage insurance rather than comprehensive insurance. My car is a very common model - parts are easy to get, as well as quite reasonable in costs. I can afford to repair my car BUT its another story with others' car/s or property. Third party property damage covers the cost of any property damage I may cause to others as a result of my negligent driving.
  • I decided to lower my insurance premium by increasing my minimum claim threshold (known as 'excess' here in Australia) to $1,000 instead of $500. Given my savings patterns, its almost certain that I would be able to pay $1,000 towards my claim in the event of an accident.
  • I have decided to take advance driving lessons. While this doesn't lower my insurance premium in any way, it does (at least in my mind) lessen the chances of me making the same driving mistake again.
So those are my lessons for self-insuring. I have now also reviewed my house and contents insurance. I have increased the insured amount for the house but lowered the amount for contents. I have realised that I can repair or source second-hand most household items myself. I have also raised my excess for that too.

In response to my changes in insurance, I have also increased the amount I put aside for my savings.

In short, I am now partially self-insuring. I am insured for things that can wipe me out financially but not for things I can repair, easily replace or even just do without.

As for my nest egg? Well, I'm also slowly re-building that. To date, I have recouped 25% of the original amount. I have more plans for rebuilding my nest egg but that's a story for another day.

How about you? Do you self-insure? What is your approach to self-insurance?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Reflecting on my "Buy-Nothing" Month

Last month I participated in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge. The challenge was simple, to not buy anything other than groceries for a whole month. That meant no meals out, no new clothes, etc. but also no haircuts or other salon services, no makeup, and no entertainment expenses either.

There were a few exceptions: necessary things like school supplies or other purchases, and also "items used for canning and food storage". This was explicitely spelled out as jars and pectin for canning, which I did purchase during the month.

I did, however, extend this definition somewhat with my first and most major breach of the month, to buy a small chest freezer. Yikes! But let me explain: as many of my readers know, I'm expecting a baby very soon--2 weeks and 5 days to be exact (well, as exact as "due dates" are anyway!)--and I figure one of the most important things I can do right now is to stock up on prepared food that I can rely on for our dinners once the baby arrives and things are turned upside-down. I also bought some zip-lock baggies to store food in the freezer.

I remember two and a half years ago when our daughter was born, we were not prepared food-wise and we ended up getting a lot of convenience items. Take-out pizza, grocery store barbecued chickens, frozen lasagne, etc. Since I got my freezer in early August, I've been slowly filling it with yummy food like spaghetti sauce, chili, pesto made with local organic basil, and a variety of creamy soups. It's so great to know I won't have to spend the extra money for lower-quality additive-rich food later on.

I made other purchases as well during the month, such as my weekly cookie purchase at a cafe where I meet friends to knit. This is a sanity-saver, as it's just about the only time I get away from the house and my toddler. Don't get me wrong--I love spending time with her--but it's great to be able to escape once a week and not be a mom for about 90 minutes!

Some other things I bought were perhaps less excusable: one lunch out for myself, plus at least two lunches at the farmer's market when I was not organized enough to pack one up before leaving. Replacement batteries for my kitchen scale (an absolute necessity!!), a stupid $10 sippy cup (in a desperate, failed attempt to night wean my 2 1/2-year old off the boob and onto the bottle . . . didn't work!), a gift for some friends, and a bunch of second-hand baby stuff, which we got an AMAZING deal on. I'm probably forgetting something, but I do feel I did pretty good . . . until the last couple of days.

For some reason, buying nothing felt pretty easy for most of the month. I had lots of energy to prepare lunches and snacks, and I was okay delaying or redirecting my desires for new fun stuff. We went to the park, brought our lunches, met friends at the park, avoided the mall, ate well at home instead of going out to restaurants, made gifts by hand and gave away jam. For entertainment we went to the library and hung out in our building's back yard. We watched downloaded TV shows and used our membership to go to the museum. We had fun, and life really didn't change in any way!

But for some reason toward the end of the month I started to suffer from buy-nothing burn-out. I started to want. I started to NEED! So on August 31st when my mother-in-law came visiting in her Mazda Protegée, I took advantage and went . . . to Ikea.

Oh my, but it was satisfying. After a full month (almost!) of not indulging in "retail therapy" I broke down and bought: some new bibs, a "park" potty and a baking kit for my little girl, a children's rug with roads drawn on it to put in the living room for the coming baby, some light bulbs for our hall light that's been burnt out for over 2 months, and a tray to serve as the top of my "utility cart" so I can pretend to be a hotel chambermaid as I move through the apartment tidying up. Overall, $100 damage. Way to go out with a bang!

So, what did I learn from my "Buy-Nothing" Month? The first thing I noticed was that our bank account was much healthier than usual (before the Ikea trip in any case!) . The second thing I noticed was that I do have a bit of a retail addiction that works against my otherwise frugal lifestyle. In times of stress I react by buying things. Not for myself (as in makeup or clothes) but for my daughter, or more likely, for the house.

If I can keep a watch out for my triggers, and work through these desires in a less spendy way, that will help me to maintain my frugal lifestyle. For the moment, I'm thinking about doing a buy-nothing week once a month, just to keep myself trained and practice being better organized.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Are You Using the Envelope System?

Heather Beauty That Moves

The envelope system for budgeting one's money/cash has been written about very nicely in many places on the web. If you are not familiar with this system please check out some great info at the following places:
The Simple Mom
Envelope System Tutorial

For quite some time I have wanted to implement this system for our family. Part of what has kept me from getting started (procrastination aside) was the lack of an 'envelope' that seemed suitable. Standard paper envelopes would be messy and not very secure, could easily tear, and would need regular replacing which seemed wasteful. Plastic pencil cases (I've seen this suggested) seemed a little large and I honestly couldn't get too excited about purchasing a bunch of plastic cases. Eventually, I came to my crafty senses and found my solution lying right in my own supplies.

Following this tutorial, I made four (to start, I bet I'll think of one or two more categories) cloth, reusable zipper pouches, sewed a strip of linen (leaving the edges raw) to the front, and used rubber stamps with fabric ink to spell the words of my cash spending categories. I carefully chose to make these just a bit larger than our American currency, I wanted them to be just big enough.

I used a 7 inch zipper, and cut my fabric pieces (outside and lining) 4.25" x 9". There is a little squaring-up that takes places after all the pieces are attached to the zipper, this combined with seam allowances made these measurements work really nicely for finished money pouches..

My Categories:
Threads (clothing)
Good Times (dining out, movies, concerts, museums...)

I chose not to use a cash envelope for gas/fuel. Here in the states we can pay at the gas pump with a debit card - having a child in the car it works well to just go ahead and pay this way rather than running into the store with cash for the clerk. Currently, my daughter has been asking to go into the store to pay (if we are using cash), but it is summertime and I just don't see her interest in leaving the warm car lasting through the winter months. ;) So, because I see no long-term pattern here, I skipped making a pouch for petro.

Do any of you use this system? What works for you - what doesn't work? I am so looking forward to the sense of control, organization, and order that I imagine comes with this practice.

As a side note - as I was reading up on this method I read a comment in which someone stated the sense of financial understanding children (even little children) have from being in a family that uses the envelope system - that once the money is gone... it's gone! Such simplicity, of course they get that.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Small changes really do add up!

By Frugal Trenches

A little more than 6 months ago, I was a city girl living in London, working around the clock (often leaving my flat at 6am and arriving back sometime after 9 or 10pm), I was frequently flying for the day to Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh or taking trains across the country for meetings. I had a never ending list of things to do that I simply didn't have time to do. My weekends were often spent trying to get some work done from home, meeting a friend or two and simply crashing. The weekends were when I tried to recover, only in reality you can't really and truly recover from a 80 hour work week when confined by walls, in a city that doesn't sleep and when you know you have at least another 10 hours + of work to get done before Monday morning at 5am rolls around.

The last six months have involved a lot of changes, it was as if I knew where my destination was, but I wasn't so sure of the steps to get me there. I knew I needed to leave London, I knew I wanted to live back near family in another part of England, I knew I wanted to work on my health, stop being so exhausted and really live but I really didn't know how. So I started small and blogged through it all. Slowly I learned how to knit, began reading more. These two small steps brought me enjoyment and forced me to leave work at work and enjoy an hour or two in the evenings of a hobby that brought me so much enjoyment. I won't let you know how terrible my knitting skills still are 6 months later, but I live in hope :0). I joined a book club and helped form a knitting club. I worked out with my employer a different work schedule (part time) knowing that it was simply buying me time to leave. A couple of health difficulties and sick time really gave me the push to put myself first now rather than later. I had saved up 6 months worth of expenses so knew I could take the plunge when needed. I began swimming again, something I'd spend many hours of my childhood enjoying. I met a great group of early morning swimmers who while 50+ years older than me, are a great source of inspiration and determination. I resigned.

Many people questioned what I was doing. What I was doing was finding my life and learning how to live it. Instead of a complex, career & money driven existence I was embracing a simple, green and frugal life - a life filled with new experiences (growing veggies, making my own shampoo and soap, learning to make things), volunteering, helping others, working in order to live not living in order to work. I let go of the illusion that I needed my own house (I don't say home because a home is anywhere you feel at home and at peace) and decided more than that I needed balance in my life in order to live fully. I cut my expenses by 75% in the areas of housing, bills, travel, food. And I learned to live and love life.

I feel that by embracing simple, frugal and green living (and yes I still have a way to go!) I found myself. I awakened something inside me that lay dormant when only focused on following the herd - working full time, climbing the career ladder, building up my pension and owning a house. The reality is we need money, but my reality is needing money will no longer interfere with every other area of my life. It will no longer be the reason I do something, instead it will be 1 or 2 pieces of my puzzle. The reality is I'd rather have a lot less stuff and more experiences, I'd rather be true to myself, I'd rather have the time to help others and contribute towards a better earth so really the choice is simple.

Had anyone told me I'd be capable of these changes I would never have believed them. They didn't happen over night. It was a year long journey that in many ways is just starting. I didn't turn into a green thumbed, domestic goddess overnight and yes I'm still far away from reaching some of my green goals but now I have no doubt I'll get there because I have not only the motivation but the time.

I thought I'd leave you with this quote that really sums up the learning I've experienced:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, "Wow, what a ride!!!"

I'd love to hear from any of you who have made big changes, where did you start? How many little steps did you have to take before you realized just what you'd accomplished?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Expensive Children?

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

A multitude of articles have been written recently about the massive costs involved in raising children. Estimates range between approximately $120000 and $600000 to raise one child to adulthood. As the mother of a larger family, that is not good news for me! When thinking about a lot of the expenses used in these calculations, though, I gratefully realised that our lifestyle allows us quality at a lesser price.

Money’s well-researched article on the costs parents are facing included a list from University of Queensland’s Dr Paul Henman. He divided the costs into 10 groups, listed below in descending order:

* housing
* childcare
* food
* energy
* clothing and footwear
* household goods and services
* leisure
* personal care
* transport
* health

How does a family save money on those criteria?

Housing –
* When choosing location, try to balance commuting and price
* If possible, with work and family commitments taken into consideration, a small town will generally offer better value for money housing
* Everyone doesn’t need their own room, take a tip from other cultures where sharing and multi-use rooms are the norm

Childcare –
* do the sums, is it cheaper to stay home while the children are little, at least part of the time?
* are you aware of all subsidies and refunds available to you for childcare?
* have you looked into all options for childcare?

Food –
* Grow your own
* Buy in bulk
* Cook from scratch
* Meal plan
* Save ‘treats’ for special occasions
* Don’t eat empty calories – price food items per kilo and learn where your money is better spent (eg: 1kg of potato crisps cost about $20, whereas a loaf of wholewheat bread costs only around $4 per kilogram – try to get some nutrition and value for your money).

Energy –
* teach good habits from a young age – eg: shorter showers, switching appliances off at the wall
* try to heat/cool fewer rooms by sharing spaces
* discuss energy use as a family, so everyone is responsible – it’s about treading lightly as well as the cost

Clothing and Footwear –
* for as long as possible try to use recycled clothing and handmade or altered items
* buy quality, make it last

Household Goods & Services – (includes education)
* wait – don’t rush out to get what you think you ‘need’
* look at all your options – consider secondhand goods, buy quality appliances to last, think about homeschooling (often described as the ultimate private education)

Leisure –
* don’t skimp on really important things, fun matters so make it quality fun!
* find cheap and free things to do as a family to strike a balance

Personal Care –
* looking good and feeling good are important, but needn’t cost a lot
* go for quality over quantity and learn some DIY beauty tricks – have a pamper session with friends or family
* stay away from products laden with chemicals – they’re not necessarily any more effective than cheap and natural alternatives, but they’re certainly more likely to cause problems for the person using them, or the planet

Transport –
*car pool
* maintain your vehicle so it lasts longer
* combine trips to save time and fuel

Health –
* prevention is better and cheaper than cure – eat well, look after your teeth, exercise and live a balanced life
* don’t skimp on health care, if everything else you have vanished into thin air, your health would be all you have left - it’s all that really matters in the long term
* Australia is extremely lucky to have a lot of free healthcare for children - from clinics for babies and children, to bulk-billed (ie: free) medical treatment by most GPs, quality care in many public hospitals, ambulance transport in our state, and free dental care for school-aged children, including a new program for teenagers

Those are just a few hints from our family. Do you have any tips to share for saving money in any of the categories above? Do you think the estimates are accurate?

Related Posts by Bel
Menu Planning for Many
Babysitting Clubs
Real Nappies (diapers)