Thursday, 28 February 2013

A month of frugality: Blog bookmarks

Image from here

I started this blog as a record of life, my thoughts and life's little lessons. Since entering the blogosphere, I have now accumulated more words of wisdom, interesting snippets and 'must-reads' to keep track of. It is a mind-field! Blog Bookmarks is a place to highlight some of my favourite finds for the week.

There are many blogs and websites out there that dedicate themselves to frugal living. While I may have my own slant on things, if you are interested in this topic, might I suggest you take a peak at these for starters?

Frugal and thriving is an Australian blog dedicated to well, thriving in a frugal life. The writer, Melissa, writes good blog. Today's post Get what you need and more from the alternate economy is a great summary of the non-commercial market opportunities available. Next time you need something new, why not think outside the square and try the alternate economy?

Back in 2011 when I was regularly hosting the Weekend Rewind (whatever happened to that?), I did a frugal living edition. 27 bloggers, including myself, linked up a frugal living post they had written for their blog. Topics ranged from selling 100 things as a means of raising money to tips to stop spending to free styling tips. Grab a coffee and flick through the linky list. You are bound to learn something new.

Down to Earth is an Australian Blog-to-book success story. I actually discovered the book before the blog, and both are a source of much information. Written by Rhonda, it focuses on spending less to enjoy life more. 

Simple Savings is an online community dedicated to saving money. The website is packed with ideas for making your pennies stretch further. Creators of the $21 Challenge, curators of Ye Old Shoppe and originators of the Wealthy Habits calendar, there is much to read and do when you visit the site.

Why not share a link to your favourite frugal living site/post?

This is the final post in the month of frugality series.

Posts from the month of frugality are:

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A month of frugality: Short cuts in the frugal life

Image from here
There is nothing simple about frugal living. Frugal living is time consuming. Cooking from scratch, taking your lunch to work, ensuring you have no food wastage, tracking your spending; it all takes time and dedication. I lapse from time to time. I take short cuts.

Let me share some of the ways I keep things frugal but simple.

1. We have chickens. Chickens are great because they are pets for the kids and grateful recipients of scraps and slightly flaccid over-ripe vegetables. Instead of sending food to the bin, the chickens take care of it for me. And they produce lovely fresh eggs in exchange. They are the best 'short cut' we've ever had.

2. I regularly make a big batch of soup. Soup basically cooks itself. It is a great way to use vegetables and it is such an easy lunch time meal to take to work.

3. Try to cook meals that can be turned into something new with minimal effort. For example, mince is the basis for many easy meals like pasta bake, tacos, nachos, san choy bow etc. Why not cook a big batch of mince one night and freeze some portions for later use. That way the subsequent meals will be quick and easy.

4. Plant seedlings instead of seeds. Seeds are definitely cheaper, but I have had a better success rate with growing our own vegetables from seedlings. Make sure you choose vegetables that don't need a lot of TLC if you don't have a lot of time to spend in the garden.

5. Catch the train. Instead of sitting in traffic adding kilometres to your car mileage, you can enjoy a book and get some incidental exercise. Public transport is an eco-friendly, wallet friendly choice and it might just mean you can ditch your second car, which really is a frugal option.

6. Keep extra-curricular activities to a minimum. Not only do they put a big dent in your budget, you will spend your life ferrying children from one activity to another, zapping you of precious time. Set a household rule and stick to it. They have their whole lives to explore hobbies and sports.

7. Exercise in the great outdoors. It costs nothing and is so important for mental health. If you can incorporate your exercise into your general routine e.g. commute you have achieved the ultimate frugal short-cut.

Have you got any frugal short-cuts you can share?

Monday, 25 February 2013

A month of frugality: Ditch the disposables

Image from here
I wonder how much money we spend each year on disposable products? In most households there are myriad products that are used once and thrown out. It is kind of like throwing money in the bin when there are good re-usable alternatives.

Paper towel
Paper towel is very convenient, but it is unnecessary. Try using a tea towel, face washer, or dish cloth instead.

Start with recycled paper and remember to use both sides of each page you use. If you print something out single-sided, the children can always use the other side for drawing, and then use the pages for cutting, folding and gluing practise.

Remember the humble handkerchief? Try one when you have your next cold.

I use old cloth nappy wipes that I had with the children. They are awesome and soft and wash well. You can also make those awesome knitted cloths that are re-usable, if you are so inclined, or a product like ENJO that is made to wash and re-use.

Reusable batteries save you a fortune, and you don't have to worry about the issues associated with disposing of old batteries. Try to buy products that have a rechargeable battery e.g. night lights.

Plastic wrap
I use plastic wrap very rarely. I have little bags that I can put snacks in that are washable, or I use plastic or stainless steel tubs. When you buy storage tubs, make sure they have lids so you can put leftovers in the fridge or freezer without the need for plastic wrap.

Go the cloth nappy option. It can be inconvenient at times, but is definitely a money saver. I admit that I use disposable ones at night, but my last three children all used cloth nappies when they were in nappies full time. Lots of washing but little expense after the initial lay out.

Menstrual products
I have never used a menstrual cup, but plenty of women swear by them. 

Plastic bags
Obviously reusable bags are a better environmental option for shopping, but don't forget all the other plastic bags used around the house. Plastic garbage bags? Line your bin with newspaper. Plastic freezer bags? Use reuasble containers. Plastic snack/sandwich bags? Use reusable containers.

If you do find yourself inundated with plastic bags, remember to re-use them eg. as bin liners before getting rid of them. I once did a challenge and it was very successful.

Plastic water bottles
Bring your own water in reusable containers like stainless steel or plastic. You shouldn't need to pay for water. Your tap water, filtered or otherwise, is perfectly healthy if you live in Australia. Don't believe the hype!

What else do you re-use in your home?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A month of frugality: Cleaning and pampering the home-made way

I like making my own washing powder, shampoo/conditioner and cleansers. Apart from the health benefits and environmentally friendliness of using natural substances, it can be a frugal alternative too.

There are many recipes out there for making your own products, so I will share mine and link you to some others.

Washing powder:

I currently use - 1 cup of washing soda, 2 cups of grated sunlight soap and a tablespoon (or so) of vinegar in the rinse cycle. It goes okay.

I used to use this recipe, until I read this article. Borax is not a friend to your garden, and you don't need it, so ditch it!

In frugal circles, people swear by liquid laundry detergent like this one. I'll be honest and say that I have never made or used it, but it is definitely a cheaper alternative to the one I make.

Shampoo and Conditioner

When I was Buying Nothing New for a Year, I started using bicarb and apple vinegar to wash my hair. I did it for more than a year, having stopped only a few months ago when we had a nit invasion and I needed to buy conditioner in bulk! It is a simple and cheap way to maintain your hair and will reduce the amount of hair washing you need to do (once a week only). Check this out if you want to know more.

There are many other alternatives to traditional shampoos and conditioners. Take a look at this for a nice summary of your options, but bare in mind that these have an green priority and may not be as frugal as you'd like.

Facial cleanser

Wash your face with honey. Nothing else. Give it a try and let me know how your skin feels after a week. I like it because it is natural, simple and it works.

Maria from EcoNest has some great ideas for natural face cleansers, toners and moisturisers with varying degrees of difficulty. Mostly they are made from foods that you can find in your garden or crisper, so they are frugal and a good way to use up strays from your shopping list.

Do you make your own household or beauty products? Share with us.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A month of frugality: Leisure, pleasure and holidays

Image taken by TNL with thanks
Life is so busy sometimes, that finding time-out for leisure, pleasure and holidays is not always easy for me. When my Dad visited me last week, helping out while the Geege hiked in Tasmania with some fellow adventurers, he made the statement "You don't have much time for relaxation, do you?" The man speaks the truth.

Finding ways to celebrate life without spending up a storm is a constant pre-occupation of mine, being a frugalista and all. Is it wrong that three weeks into school term I am already looking forward to the next holiday?

Lucky for me, our family loves to camp. We do this regularly and once you have acquired your gear, it is a very cheap and cheerful holiday for families.

There are many places to camp for free (like friends farms and state forests) or for a minimal expense (like National Parks). The trick is to camp outside the very busy periods (to avoid feeling like you are sleeping with another family) and to go with another family with age-matched children so your kids are happily occupied so you can relax. That is the plan anyway.

We will spend Easter camping with a group of happy campers. The thought of it gets me through the snore of school term. While Easter is probably the busiest camping weekend in the calendar, the remoteness of our destination will ensure there will be no-one else there but us chickens. And, of course, the flies. And rain.

If you aren't up for camping, and I know some of you are horrified at the thought of a night under canvas, all is not lost for a frugal holiday. I suggest the road trip. Fondly known as a 'roadie' in these parts. Spend as little as possible on accommodation. Try out house swapping if you are game. We find renting a house is cheaper than the two hotel/motel rooms we would otherwise have to get. Investigate the impact of staying a night or two versus a week at one spot. If there are plenty of day trips, sometimes staying put is a cheaper experience.

Try not to do more than one paid-for activity per day. A trip to the museum in the morning, followed by a picnic lunch and a scoot at the park in the afternoon, is a much less expensive day out than museum, bought lunch and another outing to, say, an aquarium in the afternoon. There are so many free ways to spend time and explore a new destination:
  • Park time - scooting, riding, playing ball sports, playing cricket
  • Bush walking
  • Swim at the beach or a local river
  • Map out a 'tour' on your free tourist map and walk from place to place
  • Learn about the history of a town by learning about the architecture
  • Go wine tasting
  • Visit the library
  • Visit friends/family
  • Forage for food
  • Go twitching
  • Go geocaching
  • Star gaze
  • People watch at a busy location
Obviously these free activities can be enjoyed at home as easily as when holidaying. The key is to find activities that your family loves so that everyone enjoys themselves.

Do you holiday the frugal way?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A month of frugality: Menu planning

Image from here
With six mouths to feed, we go through a fair amount of food in our household. The cost can be overwhelming sometimes. The good news is that you can control how much you spend on groceries.

It is all about shopping to a menu, eating seasonally, and learning to 'shop your pantry' so nothing is wasted. Easier said than done? A lot of the time. I am always best with sticking to my menu plans when the budget is tight. You need to spend some time putting together a repertoire of cheap and cheerful recipes so that you can feed your brood on the proverbial smell of an oily rag when you need to.

On a good week, I do an inventory of what's in stock at our place, plan some menus around that and add the extra bits and pieces I need to finalise seven dinners, seven lunches, some breakfast for all and a couple of home-baked treats.

Breakfast is pretty standard Weetbix with sultanas for most of us. I switch up the cereals sometimes (usually when the store has a special at which time I stock up) but mostly I find a big box of Weetbix is a reasonably affordable start to the day.

Lunch supplies include cheese, deli meats, tinned salmon, salad, crackers and nuts. I don't have any brand loyalty with any of these products. I just get what I can afford at the time I need to buy it. This means we get variety, even in the basics.

For dinners, I have a good repertoire of easy meals that I make from scratch off the top of my head. Nachos, spaghetti bolognaise, fettucine bosciaola, pasta bakes, bangers and mash, lasagne, dahl, apricot chicken, stir-fries, quiche, fried rice, homemade pizza, san choy bow etc. When I have time, I add a new recipe from one of my many recipe books or from online.

I just buy what I need to make the meals; trying to have enough to stretch for another meal or snack. I take left overs for lunch or, sometimes, we have a night of leftovers with bits and pieces from the previous couple of nights.

I never allocate meals for each night of the week; that would be way too organised for me. I just have a list of possible contenders each night and tick them off throughout the week. It works for me, but I am not one for routine.

Here's my latest Spaghetti Bolognaise recipe (Feeds 2 Adults; 4 children for two nights):
500g pork and veal mince
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp onion flakes*
1 tsp garlic powder*
1 vegetable stock cube
2 cups water
1 tin tomatoes with basil and oregano**
1 tin condensed tomato soup
I packet dried spaghetti

1. Cook the mince with the lentils, onion, garlic, stock cube and water until the lentils are soft and the water has boiled off. It will look brown and mirky.
2. Add the tomatoes and soup
3. Cook spaghetti as per packet instructions.
4. Combine the bolognaise sauce and cooked spaghetti.
5. Serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese, a salad and some garlic bread.

* Use fresh if your children will tolerate it. Mine refuse to each fresh garlic or onion and won't eat the rest of their dinner if it is in there.
** Use fresh when they are in season or if you have the herbs in the garden. You may need to add a bit more water though

What are your menu planning tips? Feel free to share your frugal recipes in the comments.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A month of frugality: Lock up your passwords

I have been hacked! By my own son. He stole my iTunes password and got himself a new App. He told me the App was free. That was Wednesday.

I woke up this morning to discover I had 19 new iTunes bills. They added up to a large debt. I was shocked and thought it must be some crazy mistake. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the 'free' App my son had downloaded had 'in App' purchases and he had wracked up this huge bill. In two days.

He says he didn't know it was real money. He has no concept of just how many times he bought himself some 'essential' tool for the game. He doesn't get it at all really. He doesn't get that a sheepish "sorry" doesn't really cut it in this case.

Horrified, on so many levels, I began what will be a very long process of getting a refund. I started at the local Apple store, got fobbed off to a website, posted a complaint, got a call back from a computer that managed to tell me that the call centre was closed until Monday. I will be pursuing the issue with the energy of a dog at a bone. It is disgusting that this is even possible. There is absolutely nothing 'free' about this App.

I bet there are many people in the exact same position as me.

This situation has highlighted some major flaws in my online security. I have deleted the game, changed my password, and confiscated his iPod, so in the short term, I have solved the problem. I also need to change the settings on his iPod to disallow 'in app' purchases and get him off my iTunes log in.

I simply do not know what to do to adequately punish my son; to help him to understand the value of money. To teach him that a virtual 'gem' in a virtual world is NOT a good way to spend real life money.

This is the madness of the world we are now living in. You can go broke buying stuff that doesn't actually exist. What chance does a young boy have of understanding that?

Has this happened to you? How do you think you would solve this dilemma?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A month of frugality: Sort your cash flow

Image from here
Running a household is expensive. While our income usually stays pretty fixed, the outgoings ebb and flow throughout the year. Right now we are up to our eyeballs in start-of-school year expenses, but later on it will be all about the car for us.

It is important that you have an understanding of how your money is spent throughout the year and when the 'big bills' are coming in so you can sort your cash flow.

I am not a lover of budgets. I once spent a lot of time going through all of our bills for a year, tallied our daily spend for a month and worked out a budget. I have never tracked our incomings or outgoings again, but this did help me to work out how much money we essentially could spend on groceries, presents and other variable expenses, and how much we can save. I have stuck to the grocery budget and savings plan. I wing everything else.

Things I do to improve cash flow:

  1. Review insurance premiums when they are due -shop around, speak to your current insurer about a better deal. It is possibly the most boring thing you will ever do, but it is worth it.
  2. Review mobile phone, phone and internet contracts when they are due - it is the most time-consuming thing but, again, worth it because it can save you a lot. If you are happy with your current provider, pretend that you aren't and ask for a discount! It works.
  3. Review savings accounts/term deposit interest rates - it is sometimes hard to work out when to make the switch, but as a basic guide, look for the highest interest that pays you the most frequently ie. monthly is better than three-monthly; calculated daily is best.
  4. Pay off credit cards in full (better still, don't use them!) - once you start paying interest or other charges, things get out of hand.
  5. Pay bills (including your savings) on the first day of the pay-cycle - at least you know how much you have 'left' to play with.
  6. Shop online - no impulse buying, and no embarrassment if you blow the budget and have to put something back! If you prefer to shop at the store, take cash with you.
  7. Magazine subscriptions - buy yourself a present at Christmas rather than each month at the newsagent. Better still? Read online.

And when things get desperate (and they sometimes do), try one of the money challenges:
40 Day no-shopping spree
Declutter and sell your stuff
$21 challenge
52 Week Money Challenge
Grocery Saving Challenge
No spend week

How do you manage your household finances? Do you save each week? Ever done a money challenge? Link us to it in the comments.

PS: I recently changed my comment options on Blogger due to high Spam. If you'd like to comment but can't do it here, please email me on MultipleMum@gmail (dot)com or drop over to my Facebook page 

Monday, 4 February 2013

A month of frugality: Kids and school

I heard the other day that it costs over $65,000 to send a child to school in the public system from K-12 (more like $260,000 for private schooling). I find that quite daunting, having clocked up only four of the 52 years of combined schooling for my four kids which only equates to about 8% of my total spend.

With the kids settling in for another year at school and the school fees, band fees, text book levies and dance fees notes trailing behind them, you can quickly see how the costs add up.

There are a number of areas where you need to watch your spending in relation to school. Some expenses are fixed, like school fees, but mostly the costs are variable so you have some control over how you manage them.

School Uniforms
I only buy what we need, and wash fairly often. Three T-shirts, two shorts, three pairs of socks and a hat. Brand new stuff only looks brand new for a short while. Doo Dah got one new T-shirt and the rest were Nugget's hand-me-downs when he started school. I topped up the ratty t-shirts with some second hand ones ($5) half way through the year.

We got some hand-me-downs from a couple of families who left the school at the end of last year, so this term I didn't need to get anything (except a sport's shirt for Nugget). A lot of people I know get the plain polo shirts, rather than the ones with the school emblem on them, especially for sport and for under jumpers in winter. Same goes with plain grey socks  for winter, rather than the ones with the stripes on them. No one really sees them under the long trousers anyway.

I buy one pair of good school shoes (I tried the cheaper ones and Doo Dah went through three pairs last year which cost me more than one good pair would have).

We use the school issue bags which are expensive to start with but seem to have longevity (Nugget's has lasted three years and is going strong) and they have a library bag with their names embroided (used to be their daycare cot-sheet bag).

School Supplies
Using the school-supplied list, I go through the craft stuff we have at home and just get what we don't already have. So what if the black pencil is slightly shorter than the orange one? In a week, a new set would look the same. I buy things like glue-sticks, contact and plastic sleeves in bulk and divvy them up at the start of each year. I make my own book tags. I label everything and hope for the best.

School fees
My tactic is I hold off until it works best for me, so instead of paying everything in the first couple of weeks, I spread it out over the year. I never miss a deadline where the kids would miss out on something, but I don't rush either. You have the entire year to pay school fees and there is no interest charged, so what is the hurry?

School lunches
We try to have waste free lunchboxes most days, so I buy things in big packets and serve individual portions. I find this is cheaper than individual packets (however it is more time consuming).

I have a template for the lunchbox
 - a seasonal fruit item (strawberries, apples, banana, blueberries),
 - a vegetable (usually carrots, tomatoes or cucumber),
 - a home-made treat (muffin, banana bread, cupcake),
 - a sandwich or wrap (usually with meat or cheese), and
 - some crisps, rice crackers or savoury biscuits.

We mix it up a bit but with the fussy fusspot aka Nugget it is easier to do the same thing each day. Doo Dah likes variation so we give him leftovers sometimes, instead of the sandwich. The one big extravagance is they usually have a popper in their lunchbox. We are trying to wean them off, but it guarantees that they drink something during the day (Doo Dah is not a good drinker) so it gives me peace of mind, even though it costs a bomb.

We only do lunch orders twice a term.

How do you manage the costs of schooling your children?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A month of frugality - The fancy dress party

We went to a friend's 40th last night. It was a dress-up party. You know how I feel about dressing up! The theme was 80s and, while I did think from time to time about what I might wear, it came to Friday and I hadn't made a start on my costume. The Geege was still humfing at me every time I mentioned the dress up factor; clearly as keen as I was.

I don't like spending a lot of money on fancy dress costumes. You can hire some great stuff, but it seems such a waste. And then there are the cheap costumes you can buy online. I did that once and it was a once-only deal. My 'sexy sailor' suit was barely intact by the end of the night, which was a little embarrassing.

So here's what I did for our 80s theme:

1. I set a budget of $40 for each complete outfit.

2. I searched the internet for ideas of a) what to wear and/or b) 'who' to go as. From this I decided to go for the general blue-light disco attendee. Geege decided on Marty McFly from Back to the Future.

3. I 'shopped my wardrobe' for possible options. From this, I came up short on all fronts (no fluoro in my current wardrobe. Who'd have thought?), except for some shoes and a skinny white belt. Oh and a crimper! For the Geege, we found a puffer vest, shirt, red t-shirt, and blue jeans.

4. I headed to the op-shop. For my 80s vibe, I found an awesome purple taffeta number, but it was sadly not my size. I think the fact that 80s is also 2013 made for slim pickings. We also found nothing for the Geege.

5. I went to the cheap and cheerful retail store to see what I could find. I hit the jackpot at one store which has a wide variety of fashion straight from the 1980s. At this stage, I tried to think about re-wear factor, but the cute little shop assistant kept telling me I was being 'too safe'. I guess I will be donning the hot-pink tights for my early morning walks. The Geege found some high top white sneakers for $9, some headphones for $3 and some black braces.

6. When I had the bulk of the outfit sorted, I borrowed what I could from friends (and neighbours) to finalise the look. I got some great jewellery from a friend from school. The Geege got Marty's denim jacket from our neighbour.

If I'd had more time, I would have reversed 5. and 6., but I was limited by my procrastination.

All in all I spent $50 (including the leg warmers I went back the next day for*) and the Geege spent $23.

We had such a fun night. I danced all night, including a group rendition of the Bus Stop (with local variations). It was like being at the Leagies again.

Funny thing was, it was the only party I can recall in a long time where I knew every word to every song. All those teenage years spent listening to the Top 40 seem to have left the lyrics permanently implanted in my brain.

What are your tips for dressing up on the cheap without looking cheap?

* I can't believe you can still buy them. You should have seen my face when the lovely ballet dancer-type asked me what colour I was after. I actually had choices!
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