Still standing

Gee it’s been some time since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been dealing with some serious anxiety issues the last few months and so was busy blogging privately about that, so didn’t have the emotional space to give to this blog. But hopefully that will change now. I need to utilise this space now, more than ever. Scary stuff happening in Australia at the moment and we need all the help we can get.

March in March

I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, but I do feel this is worth sharing. If you are as concerned as I am about the direction Tony Abbott is taking our country, then you may want to participate in March in March .  This is our opportunity to tell Tony Abbott to shape up or ship out. The chance of His Royal Arrogance doing either is pretty slim, but it will also send a message to Labor to hurry up and stand for something, to make the people feel some confidence in their ability before the next election.

I know Christians who will vote for Abbott because they like his stance on gay marriage. Or others who will vote for him because he promises to ‘stop the boats’ (he can’t even stop his own boats from going where they aren’t welcome!). I personally see this as way bigger than gay rights or refugee rights. This guy is a threat to our country’s ecological stability. He is a threat to our democratic beliefs. He is a threat to our freedom.

Refugees living in Australia and gay folks getting married are the LEAST of this country’s concerns. I wish I knew how to articulate this to my conservative Christian friends who think that stopping gays getting married will save the universe, or my other friends who think that allowing refugees into the country will destroy the universe.

What will destroy this country is allowing this guy to continue on his path of privatisation and global warming denial. What will destroy the country is a man who wants to shut the people up and stop them from having a say. What will destroy this country is having a government who doesn’t think they are accountable to the people until it is time for an election – and what is even scarier is that if Rupert Murdoch gets his way, and Tony Abbott succeeds in his mission of “keeping politics off the front pages” – those who don’t care either way or are pro Abbott all the way, will never hear the truth about what a tosser this guy really is.

Sure as a Christian it might be nice to live in a safe little bubble where pesky homosexuals are hidden away in Assylums somewhere, where there is a Church on every corner, and everything is white washed and sanitised so you need never hear about anything unpleasant and Father Abbott, hands you a Bible, pats you on the head and says “read this and let me take care of the rest, dear” – but if you, your children and grandchildren can’t breathe the air, eat the food, afford to pay your bills and can’t pass wind without official permission, what will the homosexuals being locked away achieve for you?**

And sure, as an Anti-refugee person, it might be nice to live in the country your ancestors immigrated to illegally by boat a couple of hundred years ago, and just see white faces, beer, hotted up cars and scantily clad women everywhere you look, thanks to Tony Abbott turning back those money hungry refugees, but when you can’t afford the fuel for your car, or the electricity to keep your beer cold, and your scantily clad women suddenly have to cover up because we are a “Christian” country after all, and if you lose your job because we’ve raped the land to near death, what good will voting for Abbott do you?

Tony Abbott is a scary, scary man. He is arrogant and thinks he is above reproach. He hides from the people because he doesn’t want to hear the truth or be called to account. A man such as this has no business running our country.

So consider participating in a March near you. So far they will be happening in:

Canberra
Brisbane
Sydney
Melbourne
Hobart
Adelaide
Perth

Armidale
Blue Mountains
Byron Bay
Port Macquarie
Geraldton
Gold Coast
Gosford
Lismore
Mildura
Newcastle

Visit March in March to learn more.

** I just want to add, I am not ‘anti-Christian’ and nor am I lumping all Christians in the same basket – I have a lot of Christian friends who have no issue with my sexuality, and I have Christian friends who do, but they ‘live and let live’. I am simply pointing out that there is a certain mindset amongst a lot of Christians where they believe that same sex marriage will destroy life as we know it – and I think they are being ridiculously short sighted, in view of the REAL threats facing our country.

Incidently, if you are interested, I did post about my views regarding same-sex marriage on my old blog – you are welcome to take a look if you are interested. I don’t use that blog anymore, so if you want to comment, you can do so here.

Inspired

It’s clearly been a while since I last posted, and I am aware I have a ‘part 2′ to complete, but I was cruising blogs today and came across some awesome vintage goodness and decided I wanted to share some of my own vintage goodies. I don’t have as many as some, and some is actually in use – I use my Australian Johnson brothers plates to eat our dinner off. We use vintage/antique cutlery every day. But some stuff does tend to just sit around, waiting to be called into use, so these are the pieces I decided to share today.

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Most of this glassware is from my grandmother’s stuff. Would you believe I also had the opportunity to take that green glass stuff but declined because I don’t like green – yeah, I know – I still kick myself over that!!

My collection comes from a few different sources. Some pieces are from my time in the US, some has been gifted by friends, and a good selection have been op shop/garage sale finds.
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The solvol soap was a gift from Catherine a few years ago and the cadbury tin I picked up from a garage sale a couple of weeks ago for all of $1… yep!

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We love this egg basket but don’t find it overly practical to use due to it’s collapsible nature

 

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I love my vintage mix masters – and yes they both work and yes we use them!

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This cabinet I picked up for the princely sum of $65 from an op shop several years ago – I went through a “all my furniture shall be white” phase and painted it – not too sure of the wisdom of that now that I have a greater appreciation and understanding of vintage stuff, but I do prefer it white, so I live with it.

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The above three pics show items that are also from my Grandmother’s things – that ‘urn’ had me perplexed for quite some time, I was convinced that it once must have held someone’s ashes…. until I learned it was actually a biscuit barrel! I was most relieved and gained a whole new appreciation for it!

 

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A mixture of old and new – the enamel jug and butter squisher thingys are Catherines. The clock on the left belonged to my Great Grandmother. And I LOVE the bakelite elephants!!

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This dish was found inside one of my grandmother’s laundry cupboards, absolutely covered in black dust and grime. I quite liked it and was glad I got to keep it.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the Grandmother who a lot of my goodies belonged to. I had an… interesting relationship with her, she wasn’t a warm, cosy kind of grandmother and was frankly a little strange, but I do have moments when I miss her, regardless of how odd she sometimes was… we all have our stories, after all.

I do have some more goodies tucked away. And I will pull them out and share them another time. Will also endeavour to keep more up to date with the blog!

Eating well on the cheap. Part 1

I’ve always looked on in envy at people who were able to eat a more natural diet. It always seemed like something that would be unattainable for me due to either not having access to local/organic food or it simply being too expensive.

What I am discovering, however is that if you think outside the square, eating healthier is not only easier it is cheaper too!

I’ve primarily shopped at Aldi ever since they opened several years ago and what I couldn’t get there, I’d get from Coles or Woolworths. I thought shopping at Aldi was as good as it was going to get for me. Then we started growing some of our own food and got chooks – free range eggs from your own yard with lovely orange yolks can not be beaten. Whilst not a complete solution to our needs, it was better than nothing. And then my world opened up even more with the discovery of food co-ops! Organic dried goods, delivered to my door, at a fraction of what they cost in store!

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For example I can get organic, Australian Quinoa for around $10 a kilo – it is around $16 a kilo in the local health foods store. A large jar of raw coconut oil is around $20 – and the cheapest I’ve seen it elsewhere is $25. I walk through Coles and Woolworths and look at their organic options and mentally compare the prices and realise what a  rip off their prices are! Even when I factor in the extra costs of getting the food to our home, it still works out cheaper.
But our local healthfood shop is not completely out of the picture – we take our own 1 kilo jars in there, and they fill them up with peanut butter, crushed before our eyes in a handy dandy machine – $5 for the jar! You just can’t beat that in the supermarket. We have a juicer that is capable of making peanut butter – but it would cost us way more than $5 to buy enough peanuts and then I’d have to clean up the gooey mess!

We also have access to local, raw honey at $10 a kilo from Wollombi Valley Honey- and we’ve seen the hives that it comes from and met the people who sell it – connection with our food supply is always an added bonus.

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We get all our fresh fruit and vegetables from the local Harvest Markets every Saturday. Unfortunately their idea of local includes parts of Sydney and not all the food is organic, but the quality is infinitely better than the supermarket and the prices are great. We even get the odd freebies thrown in because we are regulars!

And you can’t underestimate the value of urban foraging. I always thought it was legal to take food that hung onto public land, but recent research has led me to question this, but I am not yet convinced that it is a definite no. You do need to be considerate though, obviously taking someone’s bananas would not be fair considering the plant only fruits once in it’s life time. Also, don’t be afraid to knock on doors and simply ask if a home owner is willing to sell you some of their produce. I did this recently and ended with more than I bargained for, when the lady who answered the door was quite upset because her husband had died a couple of weeks earlier, I was able to offer her some kindness and compassion listening to her talk, and she was more than happy for us to take a few lemons from her tree – it was actually quite a valuable experience for me, and it’s made me think twice before I ‘urban forrage’ without asking first in the future.

And don’t forget about friends and family who may have a surplus of produce they are happy to share, barter or sell. We were visiting a lady from our Organic Growers group and she sent us home with a few bags of macademia nuts! The lady who teaches my son Italian has a few fruit trees on her property, I asked if I could purchase some oranges and she sold me a bag full for $4. One of the women who goes to TAFE with Catherine has given us mandarines and Catherine has also been able to raid the TAFE veggie garden and fruit trees on occassion!

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Part 2 will address my own gluten/dairy free journey

Green Renting

It’s an unfortunate fact, that due to various factors many of us approaching 40 are yet to purchase our own home. A lot of us are paying more to rent then what we’d be paying if we had a mortgage. That is a bitter pill to swallow. We can kick ourselves for the poor decisions and planning of our youth or not partnering up with Ms or Mr Moneybags, but once we’ve done that, we will still be in the same dilemma.

So how can we make the best of the situation, whilst trying to save for a deposit on a home of our own (or not as the case may be – plenty of people are very content to continue renting!)

I once thought that I could never really start living the way I want to live unless I had my OWN home. Somehow renting created a roadblock to happiness and contentment. What I have discovered, however, is that many of the things I want to do in my own home one day, I can adapt to fit the rental situation.

When I own my home, I want extensive veggie gardens, water tanks, solar power, chook runs, wood fires, pizza ovens, produce preparing areas and the list could go on!

Obviously I can’t have ALL that. But I can have some of it, and so can you.

Water

Catherine was given a water tank for her birthday one year, which we had set up at the old house but have yet to situate in the yard of this house. I’ve nagged about it, but to no avail ;) So instead we have some other water saving systems in place.

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Catherine rigged up a couple of these for me for Christmas. I tip all the animals’ dirty drinking water into them and we use the water on the garden.

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In the kitchen, it’s a good idea if you can keep some kind of a tub in the sink so that all that water that gets used rinsing glasses etc can be salvaged for the garden or the washing machine. I also use containers that might be sitting with water in them to rinse out other items.

Another system I plan to set up, is one I used years ago. I bought a big black plastic garbage bin from Bunnings and put it in the laundry. When the machine went into the rinse cycle, I would put the hose into the tub to collect the water, and then use that water to fill the machine up for the next load.
I also keep a bucket in our shower so that excess water can be collected and used in the front garden.

Electricity
My son looked on in joyful anticipation recently, as I opened our last electricity bill. Not because he wanted to see how much money we’d saved, but because it would amuse him to see his mother go “Oh NO, LOOK at this bill!” He loves drama that boy. Anyway the bill was certainly higher than I would have liked it to be, but we have used the dryer and heater a fair bit more than we would like to this winter. Generally though, we have been managing to lower our bill.

First of all, we had a free audit done – I can’t remember who did it, but perhaps just type ‘free energy audit + your state’ into google and see what comes up. Our audit guy gave us lots of useful information which we have implemented. We got rid of our old fridge which was in need of a new seal and bought a new fridge with a good-ish energy rating. When we do feel we need to use the air con we set the temp to be slightly higher or lower than what we think we need eg if it’s a 36 degree day, setting the temp to 24 is going to be just as effective as 22. If it’s 16 degrees, the same theory applies, just in reverse.

We turn every single power point off overnight – except for the fridge and freezer. If we are going to be out for long periods during the day – same thing. This has made a HUGE difference to our bills.

Ask yourself if you really need the heater/air con on. Can you sit with a blanket when you are watching tv of an evening? Can you put another jumper and some socks on? In summer can you have a cool drink and maybe lie down somewhere for a bit?

Some people only do their washing/vacuuming/drying at off-peak times – we are yet to be organised enough to do this.

When we’ve been cold enough to want the heater on, but it was wet and we also needed to dry clothes, we moved the clothes horse under the air con to save using the dryer.

Using the dryer in winter really is only a last resort, we try to air dry things as much as we can and then pop them in the dryer briefly with a dry towel or face cloth, which helps absorb moisture and the items dry a little quicker.

Use sand filled ‘snakes’ for your door gaps, put heavy curtains up to keep heat in/out, ask your landlord about getting a stick on double glazing product applied to the windows.

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Being organised would also save a fair bit – not that I’d know much about that, because organisation is not a strength of mine, but using the oven to bake a few items at once, getting up early to do the washing so it has time to dry (I really need to do this here, because the sun is only on our line for a short amount of time during winter), researching who has the best electricity deals – there really are many ways to try to save your power usage.

We’ve talked about getting a small portable solar panel and a solar oven and making a solar drying unit (for food) – there are free patterns galore online.

If you have any other energy saving ideas, I’d love to hear them!

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I’ve already talked about gardening on this blog, but suffice to say that renting does not mean you can’t grow your own food. Even if the landlord is narky about his grass, you can grow in pots. Or maybe a polite letter to the landlord asking to be allowed to put in gardens with the agreement that you will restore the grass at the end of the tenancy. Also, don’t be afraid to approach your landlord about having chickens – if there are only a few of you, you won’t need too many. We wrote to the landlord, stated how many we’d like and he agreed!

There are even websites aimed at people who want to rent sustainably. In Australia, one I am aware of is called Green Renters they have a facebook page too. You can also check out The Rented Spade as well as do your own research to see what is out there.

It is possible to lead a fulfilling life in a rental property doing all those things we envy others for being able to do. You can make your own soap and laundry detergent. You can cook from scratch. You can take your own bags to the shops. You can do meaningful and productive crafts that you might even be able to spin into an income. Don’t let lack of ownership stop you from following your dream. We certainly aren’t – and trust me, if two lazy lasses like us can do it – you can too!

Frugal = Fractious or Fab?

I recently enjoyed an interesting little book that was a series of short stories written by older Australians talking about the ‘good old days’ – when newspaper didn’t just carry the days news -  it wrapped your hot chips, wallpapered your walls, created ‘sponge’ under lino and wiped your bum.

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The overall sense I picked up from some of the writers was yes, life was hard. Yes, they missed the simplicity. But by gosh they were greatful for all the mod cons and comforts that the 21st Century provides.

And then you come across folks like Fixie.  What this woman can’t do with her own two hands probably isn’t worth doing. She lives an almost medieval life in some ways and is a really inspiring individual. Other people are going back to basics as well- eschewing modern plumbing, heating, cooling, cars, whatever they think they can live without.

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We also have dreams for a much more simple life – but one that is well thought out and comfortable. I look forward to the time when we have paid off our mortgage and will live off our own produce, solar power and water tanks. But first, ofcourse, we have to be in a position to get a mortgage.

Frugality can be fun. Making dollars stretch sometimes feels more like an extreme sport than a way of making ends meet, but the challenge and eventual success of feeding a family of 4 for a few dollars over the course of a week can leave you with a similar high that might only be understood by those who have accomplished similary great feats, like climbing Mt Everest or creating works of art out of grass seed and chicken poo.

But what about when living frugally really is necessity. Day after day after day. You aren’t mortgage/rent free. You have kids who need to be within cooee of civilisation and make frequent, expensive forays into said civilisation. You feel you need two cars because public transport and safe riding paths are in short supply. You can only supply a small amount of your own food needs, and even that is at risk of annoying a none too progressive landlord. Rego’s, electricity bills, water bills, phone/net bills, insurance – they don’t often get cheaper and sometimes you feel you really have cut back to within a hairs breadth of donning a cap and turning Amish.

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Times like these frugality can feel overwhelming and stifling – maybe only for a brief moment (as was my case recently) or maybe for you that feeling of despair could last a little longer.

Catherine is a School Learning Support Officer (fancy name for Teacher’s Aide), she doesn’t get paid during school holidays and sometimes I forget this fact leading up to the school holidays and do not plan accordingly which is what led to my recent despair where I wondered, “What the HELL are we going to do?”. Bills needed to be paid, we wanted to take the kids out to do some fun stuff during the holidays, our cars are both in need of some mechanical work, I’ve got rego coming up soon – and I just felt like the weight of the entire world was on my shoulders and I chucked a little bit of a tanty and threw in a pity party just to round out the whole experience.

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Thankfully Catherine has the most amazing amount of patience with me and thanks to some fortuitous influxes of funds (courtesy of the School Kids Bonus and a garage sale) I am now feeling a lot more positive about things. I’ve re-done our budget so that school holidays will not leave me with a fear that starvation and homelessness are nipping at our heels. We’ve worked out how we are going to shop from now on, which willl not only be healthier, but also cheaper!

We also managed to do some fun stuff with the kids that didn’t cost much and helped me feel less guilty.

I’ve accepted that this year is our annus horribilis, financially speaking. But I also know that how things are right now, are not how they will be long term – Catherine and I are both studying our ample backsides off so that we can finally be in a better financial position, I just need to keep reminding myself that this short term pain will result in long term gain.

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Plastic Free July

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I recently heard about refusing plastic for the month of July. I was sold on the idea straight away. We already do a lot of ‘plastic free’ stuff – we buy our fresh food from the local farmers market and take our own bags, refusing packaged produce. We use our own bags when we have to go to the supermarket and avoid buying ridiculously over packaged items – don’t you think it is crazy that the old and delicate light bulbs came in flimsy carboard boxes, but if you want to buy something like a remote control or a pair of scissors it is packaged up like it holds a faberge egg! We use stainless steel drink bottles when we go out. We don’t use a plastic bag in our kitchen garbage because we compost food waste and wrap what can’t be composted so that the bin doesn’t get dirty, and if it does, we just soak it. We’ve started making our own bread so there are no more bread bags or bread tags coming into the house.

I had no intention of going all obsessive about it, I was happy to make allowances when necessary, so Plastic Free July was going to be a BREEZE for us!

Or so I thought.

The first hiccup came when Catherine and I were at a local restaurant having dessert, I ordered a chai tea and the honey came in a plastic, sealed container – what to do!
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At first I thought this was going to be one of those situations where I would just accept avoiding all plastic was not going to be realistic. But I couldn’t bring myself to open it. So I risked being an ‘annoying customer’ and politely explained to the waiter about plastic free july and asked if perhaps they had a jar of honey that a small amount could be taken from and given to me in a little dish. He was quite interested in the whole concept and went to find out what could be done, and not long after he came through with the goods!

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I was feeing quite chuffed with myself, until I mentioned the encounter on facebook. A friend explained that due to health and safety policy, it is highly likely that the unopened container of honey was tossed in the bin! Whether this happened or not, I’ll never know, but I guess the lesson I’ve learned here is to make sure that in future, I ask for the honey to be served to my specifications when I place my order.

Yesterday, I took my almost 17 year old daughter shopping for  a friends birthday gift. She is not quite as environmentally concerned as I am, and she grabbed two plastic bags at the checkout “because we need them”. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to push my eco-friendly ideas on her does not always end happily, so I didn’t say anything.

I’ve decided to give going gluten free a go in the hopes that it might clear up an itchy rash I’ve been dealing with off and on for a few years. I’ve done my bulk order with our organic food co-op, but was hoping to grab a few things to try out from the supermarket – potato flour, brown rice flour etc – but it all comes in plastic, so we left them sitting on the shelf – which *I* found hard to do, because in my mind they would have been an ‘exception’ item – but Catherine made a comment about waiting, so I decided to just wait and go without.

Then today we realised we needed meat on our way to the harvest market. Do we turn around, using more fuel to come back home and get containers or do we just go get the meat? We decided that we would just go to the butcher (as opposed to Aldi where we usually buy our meat which is cheaper than the butcher) and wash the bags and re-use them. But next time we will take our containers and ask them to just place the meat straight into the containers and bypass the plastic bags altogether – but I find that option leaves me a little anxious, because I need to ensure they will set the scales accordingly and not charge us for the weight of our containers, but I know this can be done, as we’ve had it done before, so maybe I need to just chill a little.

How does the rest of the month look? Well I know we’ll need to buy cheese, as it’s one of the few things Master 11 will eat for lunch – so I either get the big block from Aldi (in plastic) or try and find a deli who sells cheddar unpackaged… I have no idea if that is even an option, so if it isn’t – that will be one of the ‘exceptions’. Toilet paper we normally buy in a pack of 12 from Aldi, but we’ll be going to woollies and getting the paper wrapped packets instead – plus Catherine and I use ‘wee wipes‘ which cuts down on the amount of TP we use, incidentally, we also use home made cloth menstrual pads as much as we can, which also cuts down on plastic packaging and all the nasties that are inside the commercial pads.

I’d love to live plastic free completely, though I can’t see that happening any time soon, but I do know we will continue to reduce our plastic use as much as is realistically possible, now and into the future.

Being Appreciative

Sometimes it is very easy to become bogged down in the things that make us unhappy and focus on them – I believe the expression is “seeing the glass as half empty”. Instead of noticing the 6 hours of clear sky, we instead cling to the 3 hours of grey. Instead of noticing how quickly we accessed a park at the shops, we whine about how long we had to stand in line to get served.

Not everyone is like that, but many of us are – myself included. I think an important part of living a frugal life is being grateful for what you do have. So today is my ‘gratefulness’ post.

1. Right now I have some kind of virus or bug – not much to be grateful for in that, you might assume. But I am grateful that I have a partner who is looking after me, bringing me hot cups of tea, fresh orange juice and nutritious food. I am also grateful for the opportunity to slow down and rest.
2. I am grateful that I have two terrific kids who make me laugh and make me proud.
3. I am grateful to live in a house where we can have chickens and veggie gardens.

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4. I am grateful for a partner who loves to garden and puts a lot of the hard work in so we can enjoy fresh organic produce. I am also grateful for a partner who enjoys many of the things I enjoy – opshopping, going to garage sales, learning about alternative ways of doing everyday things and who is willing to try out some of my more ‘challening’ ideas when it comes to reducing disposables in our lives.

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5. I am grateful to live somewhere where I can have easy access to great people who share some of my own values and dreams and who include us in some of what they do.

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6. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to home educate my kids – they have had the freedom to become true individuals who aren’t afraid to follow their passions.

I have to admit this gratefulness idea doesn’t come easy for me – for all those positives I could have come up with many negatives, but I guess it is about training our minds to think a little differently. Charlotte Mason, a 19th Century educator spoke about how our minds have the ability to form, what she called, ‘ruts’ and how what we do and how we think deepens and cements those ruts and so we have to learn to make sure that we are deepening and cementing are positive habits – not negative ones and we have to be willing to retrain our minds should the need arise. This is what I am trying to do – I want nice, firm, stable ruts in my mind, not muddy, miry ones that I keep getting bogged down in.

It isn’t easy, and I will never stop learning how to do it, but I think the key to living a happier life is being willing to try.

Eat or Die

Food is pretty important, and truth be told, I LOVE food! LOVE IT! I am fortunate in that I have a partner who can cook something yummy from almost nothing… which comes in handy during those times when being frugal isn’t just a ‘lifestyle choice’ but is pure necessity.

One of the best things a frugal hearted soul can do to feed themselves on the cheap, is grow their own food. I am not a ‘green thumb’ – I chuck seeds in the ground and cross my fingers. That’s just how I roll. My partner on the other hand, runs around, throwing Lime, killing bugs, applying fertiliser etc. But between us both, we manage to grow stuff. And that is awesome.

I’m not going to ramble on with facts and figures about what to plant and when – that’s what Google is for. I just want to show you that gardening doesn’t have to be all about chemicals and complexities and hard work – sure the last two are part of it all, but they don’t take up the majority of your gardening time. Truth be told, most of my gardening involves wandering around amongst the leaves, discovering all the wonderful things we have growing!

We rent our home, so we have to get a little creative and be mindful of how we grow things and the potential impact on the property. Obviously we can’t plant fruit trees with deep root systems, and can’t dig up the entire front and back yards and just plant food – which is what we’d do if we owned our own place. That being said, there is still a heap you can do if you live in small spaces or rent your property.

You can grow food in almost anything. A shoe, a bucket, a helmet – anything that you can drill holes into the base of, and then fill with soil and pop some seeds in will work. Sure, we’d all love a garden with windy paths that gently guide you through a delcious food wonderland, but it just isn’t the reality for many of us… so make do, and do it well.

Here is how we have our main garden beds set up – it’s just some $5 pieces of timber from Bunnings or Masters, nailed together to form a bottomless box, lined with some stuff to protect the soil from anything leaching out from the wood and then filled with bags of compost. We then just pop the seeds straight in… and then we are done. Too easy.

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But does it work? Sure does.

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pumpkin growing on a trellis, supported with an orange bag

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loofah – this is great to use an exfolliator in the shower or as a scourer in the kitchen

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We eat lots of chickpeas, so I threw a few from a packet into the garden and look what happened!

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and some of our pumpkins – they are REALLY yummy and oh so easy to grow!

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We also have some fruit trees! Guava, dwarf cavendish banana and dwarf lemon and lime

We have our fair share of failures and issues, you do need to provide the right nutrients for your plants and you need to try and keep on top of the bugs, but again, Google can help you do that, once you have the knowledge, you have the power.

My favourite book so far, that fits in with my own personal philosophy on gardening was Jackie French’s Backyard Self Sufficiency – she is a ‘chuck it in and see what happens’ kind of grower and appears to have had great success.

Keep in mind, we’ve been gardening for few years – you need to start small. Go and find yourself some kind of container that has holes in the bottom (or get a hammer and nail or a drill and put the holes in yourself), fill with some compost and plant something you will eat – what about a handful of carrot seeds? Google the conditions they need regarding sun, shade etc, pop your container in the right spot and then watch them for about 8 weeks – and then harvest and enjoy. Then add another container – maybe some tomatoes, or lettuce… whatever it is you eat, plant it – don’t be scared. It’s not hard work and the world won’t explode if it doesn’t work the first time. You’ve just got to be willing to give it a go.

Budgeting

I’ve been trying to decide how best to start this new blog – I have a rough idea of how I want it to look in my head, but because I have this view of perfection, I’ve been putting off starting it at all – and that obviously is going to defeat the purpose entirely!

So I thought I’d start with the obvious and talk about budgeting.

Budgeting is really the core of living frugally – even people who say “we have nothing to budget”, would find, that if they allocated EVERY cent,  they would be financially better off.

We have a varied income. Catherine works 2 and a half days a week and studies the other two days. There is potential for her to pick up more work soon, but for now, we are on a tight budget.

We are far from well off, but we are certainly not destitute. If you can afford broadband, pay tv, mobiles, debt, longer than 4 minute showers, running more than one car and to buy a can of coke or an iceblock when you fill up the petrol station – you really can’t be doing too bad.

Personally, as someone who was a single mum for many, many years, living solely on the sole parents pension, I have *had* to make do living on a low income. budgeting is no great drama for me, but I wasn’t always very good at it. I had many weeks where I had *nothing* left and had to wait till my next pay day before any more funds would come in. Those times were always quite depressing. Homeschooling the kids also added an extra element of expense.

So, how do I work out a budget? Do I make complicated spreadsheets? No way – I am a but a simple soul, who is FAR from mathematically inclined. What I do is figure what my incomings for the fortnight are and then figure out what needs to go out. I also make sure I put *something* away into savings – even it if is only $5 a week, at the end of the year you will have $260 sitting in your account – and whilst that is certainly not a king’s ransom, it is better than nothing and can certainly be put to good use.

Now, for the sake of maintaining a semblance of privacy, I will make up actual amounts, just so as I can give a working example of how we organise our finances.

So, say our income was $800 per week, after tax. This is how I would break it down:

Weekly Rent – $300

Food $150 (this is actually really how much we spend to feed our family of four,as well as one dog and one cat!)

Electricity $35 (When you get your bill – divide the total by 12 and put that amount, every week onto your electricity account – just set it up using bpay in your internet banking, or take your bill to the post office every week)

Mobiles (we have 3) $10 (have a look at TPG who have great deals)

home phone/internet $25

car insurance  $20

Car loan/Credit card $50

Kids pocket money $20 (total)

Parents spending money – fuel and frivolities – $120*

Total weekly expenses would be $730 leaving $70

*Catherine and I both get a little bit of ‘free’ money every week – we have to pay for our fuel out of that money and any other bits and bobs we may like – for Catherine that might be a can of coke, or her smokes. For me, it probably goes on my obsession with op-shops, getting the kids a treat every now and then, putting in extra fuel – or whatever.

The reason I do this, is because it can feel quite depressing and constraining to have NO free money – even $5 that is yours to do with as you wish, is better than nothing.

You can also have some of  your FTB withheld and  get it as a lump sum every 6 months it’s about $350 each time, I think. Don’t forget you may also get money back at tax time and other FTB money – this should all go into savings which helps pay for the extra on yearly rego and kids activities etc.

Ok, so do you get to run amuk with that leftover $70, seeing as your weekly expenses are covered? Not a chance. You need savings. You have yearly car insurances/rego, Christmases and Birthdays, unexpected car repairs, everyone will need new clothes/shoes at some stage – all kinds of things can come up and if you’ve got nothing there to cover them what are you going to do?

Every one in our family has their own savings account. I tend to put little bits in my kids accounts and they are also encouraged to save – at the moment, my 16 year old has more savings than I do!

So, if we had $70 left for savings, we would break it up like this:

Our Savings (not to be touched unless for pre agreed reasons) $30 (giving you $1560 at the end of the year)

Cat Savings $20

Mel savings $20

And that’s it – DONE! Every cent is accounted for (except personal spending money) The Mel/Cat savings accounts are ours to do with as we wish – usually we would use that to buy each other gifts for birthday/Christmas etc or to get ourselves something that we really would like.

So, how do we feed our whole family for $150 a week? First up, I menu plan – that is crucial – I go through all my recipe books and find recipes that I know will be easy for me to prepare (remember, I’m lazy) and try to work out a 4week plan. Catherine and I take turns cooking – I do Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and she does Thursday, Friday and Sunday – we both do Saturday which is our home made pizza and movie night.

I try and incorporate something vegetarian two nights a week (that cuts down on meat). We have our own hens, so that means we get our own eggs. We have veggie gardens, but we certainly couldn’t live off them at this stage, but every little bit helps. I shop at Aldi, which is probably where we save the most money.

I do not buy biscuits, cakes, fruit bars, chips etc on a regular basis, primarily I make all our snack food. The only regular snack I buy would be plain cracker type biscuits that Jak likes eat with cheese. I have also had to buy some foods I wouldn’t ordinarily have bought, as Catherine likes a bit more flavour and variety – and whilst this was challenging for me at first, being the control freak who thinks everyone should do things *my* way because it works, I am slowly accepting that it is ok if she wants cordial to take to work or to buy little foods that I find disgusting but that she really enjoys. She is, after all the primary bread winner – the least I can do is accommodate her tastes for the hard work she does for us. And, I have discovered that these things don’t break the budget at all, so I have started to *encourage* her to get the things she likes.

For the cat and dog, I buy Aldi pet mince, I also cook up a heap of rice and some veggies, mix it all together and put it into containers which they get fed every evening. They also get dry food, which I try and buy on sale, or the cheapest brand that I know they will eat. The chickens get a bag of feed once a month which probably costs us about $20, as well as all our scraps.

Regarding utilities, I think it is important to shop around. For example, TPG have some really great deals. All three mobile users in this house are on the $10 a month plans and we’ve never had an issue – running 3 mobile phones for $30 a month in total is a pretty good deal!

Shop around for phone and broadband deals – There are some *really* cheap deals around at the moment – I think dodo has a good one going, but most of them do from time to time. (Though I find the big players tend to be the most expensive)

And like I said before, for your electricity, gas, water and insurances, just make sure you put some money aside every week, either straight onto those accounts, or in another savings account that doesn’t get touched, so that when bills come, you don’t suddenly wish the ground would open up and swallow you :)

When it comes to clothes and other odds and ends, don’t be afraid of garage sales and op shops etc. Often times you will get higher quality items (especially when it comes to toys – I can’t handle the cheap plastic crap that Kmart and the like sell, I prefer good quality wooden or cloth toys for younger kids) for a fraction of the price.

Opshops also help you think outside the square when it comes to furnishing your home and gift giving. I’ve found a couple of nice gifts in the past for various relatives that I wouldn’t have thought to buy, had I seen them brand new.

Most of my furniture is second hand – our dining table, which I have had for about 9 years, was picked up by a friend’s ex husband from the side of the road. Other furniture I have purchased from op-shops or sourced myself from the side of the road pickups that some councils have.

Ebay is another great source for cheap gifts – I got my son a game for his DS that he *really* wanted, second hand, a fraction of the new price and it works perfectly fine.

Also, you can join up with sites like freecycle most areas have a local one, and they are GREAT source of getting and giving items for FREE.  Also, check out LETS which is a trading system using their own currency – no money exchanges hands from my understanding – we have plans to join up, but have yet to do so, so can’t comment on it personally, but lots of people love them.

Blogs are another great source for learning how to live frugally, some of my favourites are:

Down To Earth

Fixies Shelf

Funky Front Yard Farmers

Living the Good Life

Frugal and Thriving

You can also join up with sites like Simple Savings and Cheapskates

Also check out your local neighbourhood centres, some of them have all kinds of classes and resources that you can take advantage of for no or minimal cost.