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Dollar Diet: My Not-So-Secret Weapon

In the past we’ve tried several ways to stay on budget, including a cash envelope system.  The idea being you allocate a certain number of $ for things that aren’t on an automatic payment, like groceries, entertainment or clothing.  And when the money is gone, that’s it for the week.  The theory is you are much less likely to spend cold, hard cash than zap a card through a machine.

While I know it works for many people, the cash envelopes were a dud for us.  I’m in charge of grocery shopping and 9 times out of 10 I would leave the blasted envelope at home and then have to reconcile it when I got back.  Or we’d forget to fill the darn things.  We’re New Zealanders, we hardly ever carry cash these days, having been some of the earliest users of EFTPOS in the world.  It just wasn’t going to work for D and I.

D, being a techie, reckoned he could invent an app that could create an envelope-like budget for us and keep it updated in real time. Meaning that when ever either of us spent money we could code it to a particular budget line, and see how much money is in a particular ‘pot’.   We would instantly know if were were about to go over our allotted budget,  All on our smart phones.  I have no doubt he could have whipped up an app in double-quick time, but being sensible, he soon discovered that such an app already existed.  Thanks interweb!

The app we use is Goodbudget.  D sat down and created envelopes for all our categories of expenditure, and we worked out how much money we need to ‘fill’ the envelopes with each week.

D demonstrating the Goodbudget app (you'll notice things like clothing and date night are currently at zero for the spending fast)

D demonstrating the Goodbudget app (you’ll notice things like clothing and date night are currently at zero for the spending fast, and that our car budget is waaay in arrears as we recently purchased a new car and haven’t sold our old one yet)

People, let me tell you that if you are struggling to stay on budget, or if one of you is regularly overspending and you’re not sure why, this app works.  I would ALWAYS overspend on groceries and simply didn’t realise that a couple of extra trips to the supermarket to pick up things I’d forgotten or run out of would blow our budget for that week.  These days I make-do or change the recipe if we have spent our grocery budget for the week.  The ease and immediacy of pulling out my phone and being able to see how much money I have (or don’t have) stops me from being all spendy-spendy and turns me into a mindful spender at the swipe of my phone.

We can easily tell if there is money available to shuffle around.  If we have overspent in one category, but another one is in surplus we can reallocate some of that surplus money.  If you find that you are regularly overspending in one category you know that either it’s time to increase that budget line, or take a good hard look at your expenditure for weak spots so you can cut back.

Goodbudget helps you to instantly see what you are spending our money on.  Sometimes we think we know, but a quick glance at an envelope might shock you to discover that you spent $5672 on gifts last year or $494 on takeaway coffee.  It takes a few weeks to get in the habit of coding every.little.thing into Goodbudget (it’s a very easy process), but now it is second-nature to me to pull out my phone after making a purchase.  The habit of coding everything (including utilities and other regular bills) also helps you realise that you’ve forgotten to add a line for it in your budget, which may account for times when you’ve had less money than you’ve thought.

The app does cost money ($45 a year) but I think it’s worth the expense when I look at the money I’m saving because the app is helping me to change my behaviour.

For me, the only downside to Goodbudget is I can’t use it on a ‘dumb phone’.  I’d like to get rid of my smartphone (I hate them, they are so addictive and such time-wasters), but I’m keeping mine so I can use Goodbudget :-).

I am in no way affiliated with Goodbudget, I am merely a very happy customer.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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Whanganui Playground Review: Peat Park

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

Ah, Peat Park.  It’s one of Whanganui’s oldest playgrounds as evidenced by the Art Deco entrance.

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Tucked away at the foot of St John’s Hill, the park is located on the corner of Halswell St and Peat St, and is next to Cullinane College.  The play areas are unfenced but are a reasonable distance from the road.  The streets were relatively quiet while we were there, although I imagine it gets rather busy around school drop off/pick up time.  Outside of those times you should find ample parking space.

Peat Park is sometimes used as a sports ground as the place is huge.

So much space!

So much space!

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The original playground equipment is long gone, and there are now two play areas for children.  There is a massive climbing frame structure for older kids.

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It has an obstacle course sort of feel to it, and will probably appeal to older children as there are arm grinders to test their strength on as they go from one end of a bar to another.  This structure however, left me cold.  It seems rather characterless, and is definitely more the sort of structure I would expect to find being used in a school for P.E.

 

There is a small toddlers area with two swings (one bucket, one regular), a cool bug-shaped see-saw, and a spinning pole with a platform.  Sausage needed my help to use the spinning pole, but I reckon in a few months time she will be capable of using it on her own, which is always a plus in her books.  This area could do with more play equipment, such as a slide or a toddler-sized climbing frame.

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One of the reasons I have always loved this park is it lined with really old trees (mostly oak).  The trees are huge and provide plenty of shade (hoorah!) for parents to sit and watch their children at both play areas, and for those watching team sports on the playing field.  There are two picnic tables – one near each of the two play areas.  There are toilets on-site, but they were closed when we visited and looked like they had been for some time.

 

 

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As a kid these were my favourite reason to come to Peat Park.

DSCN9557DSCN9561 The foot of the hill is used as a deer sanctuary, and it is a delight to be able to view these graceful creatures up close.  At the time of writing there were several baby deer.  The deer are quite used to people and were not in the least perturbed by my noisy toddler squealing ‘REINDEER Mummy!’ when she saw them.

 

Pros:

  • The park is beautiful.  Lovely established trees, wide open spaces, what’s not to like?
  • Deer!  A great chance to get your tots up close.
  • Shade!
  • Picnic tables
  • Play equipment suitable for toddlers and school-aged kids
  • Reasonably quiet location and good parking

Cons:

  • The play equipment is just a bit boring (but that’s just my jaded, world-weary adult opinion 🙂 )
  • No rubbish bins
  • No toilets

Tots in Tawhero rating:7/10 because I love deer…

 

 

* My eagle-eyed readers will notice the smudge on my camera lens.  The culprit shall remain nameless but I’m sure you can guess whodunnit…

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Dollar Diet: One month in

Wahoo!  One month of saving our pennies done and dusted.  One month of no unnecessary spending.  No takeaways.  No cafes.  No buying pretty things.  Nil. Zip. Nada.

I am loving the ride so far.  I haven’t felt this creative in a long, long time and boy does it feel goooood.  It gets me wondering how much our pursuit of ‘stuff’ holds us back from the really important things in life:

  • Spending more time at home = puttting down roots.  More time at home is more time to spend on my own hobbies, to rest, to play with my kids in the backyard, to chat to my neighbours, to take care of the gift that is our home.
  • Hosting or going to friends’ houses instead of a cafe = deeper connections due to more sharing of life in all its messy glory (you should see the state of my garden…).  Life doesn’t look so perfect when your guests see your laundry basket piled sky high and globs of weetbix drying on the kitchen floor.  And that’s a good thing.  People are desperate for real connection.
  • Staying out of the shops = being a mindful consumer.  Do I really need this?  Can I borrow it from someone (deeper connections)?  Am I trying to fill some sort of void in my life?  Suppress an unbearable feeling?
  • Not buying more than I need = being a better steward of my resources.  I can already feel the scarcity fear which marketers very skillfully bombard us with fading away.  There is enough.  I have enough.  I certainly have enough ‘stuff’ to create a workaround for almost any situation that might crop up.  Birthdays, parties, soirees with the Queen…
  • Rejecting paid entertainment = making my own fun.  Admittedly I have always been pretty good at this one (I seem to accumulate info on free or cheap things to do where ever I am), but I too fall prey to thinking that expensive stuff is somehow better than what I can create or re-create at home.  Sorry Sting and Paul Simon – I won’t be buying a ticket to your undoubtedly cool concert this year.  I may however learn to play some of your songs on my ukelele so we can sing along atrociously to them at my next family gathering.  My daughter may hate me for not taking her to Chipmunks playground one day, but right now she loves all the free parks and beaches we go to.

Anyhow, back to some Dollar Diet details.  I was fastidious about using up all our fruit and veg.  It really was down the wire come Monday grocery shopping.  We spent a fantastic afternoon with friends at Whanganui’s best playground (review to come).  We made use of the free BBQ’s and I used the last of our veges to make a quiche for a vegetarian friend.  Instead of buying processed cr@p, I made a healthy fudge out of avocados, dates, cocoa and a banana.  We gave away three GINORMOUS bags of plums (deeper connections) to neighbours and our friends at church.  I’ve done lots of baking and hosted a church morning tea, the leftovers of which will be used to feed the hungry hoards at a meeting tomorrow night.  Last year D (or technically, my tots) gave me a voucher for a cruise on Whanganui’s paddle steamer, the Waimarie (prounounced Why-mah-ree-ay).

Knowing the fabulous weather we’ve been having was going to continue I arranged babysitters, and D and I enjoyed an incredibly relaxing date on the Waimarie.  We had two tot-free hours to sit and look at gorgeous scenery and soak up some history.  The cruise was over the lunch break so instead of spending money on board I packed us a picnic.

Next week I have a dentist appointment as I have a sore tooth and I’m pretty sure that’s going to hurt me right in the wallet.

I haven’t calculated our savings for the month yet.  Flights to Australia will negate any savings but we’ve had a blimmin’ good first month.

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Low Sugar/No Sugar Chocolate Cake (Dairy Free, Egg Free)

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This cake was a huge hit at our family party for Sausage’s second birthday.  I’ve adapted the recipe from Nicola Galloway’s excellent book Feeding Little Tummies.  I highly recommend this book for any one with babies or toddlers in the house.  It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to feeding tots, and this book is crammed full of easy recipes for meals, snacks and parties.  Nicola is a trained chef and nutrition consultant and is big on making healthy food tasty.

I love this book as Nicola keeps sugar in her recipes to a minimum, and I am firmly back on the sugar-free wagon.  I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, so I used a sugar substitute* and was thrilled with the result.  The cake is very dense and moist, and was well-received by everyone at the party.

The recipe makes a smallish cake so to make one like the picture above, double the recipe.

 

Low Sugar/No Sugar Birthday Cake

1 1/2 cups flour (could use gluten-free flour)

3 Tbsp cocoa (or cacao powder)

1/3 cup sugar/alternative sweetener (I use Erythritol)

1 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp white or cider vinegar

5 Tbsp neutral cooking oil

1 tsp natural vanilla essence

1 cup water

1 banana, mashed

1/3 cup finely grated carrot or zucchini, excess liquid squeezed through sieve

 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and lightly grease a 22cm/8.5in round cake tin.

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda into a large bowl.  Add sugar/substitute and stir to combine.  Make 3 wells in the dry ingredients and pour vinegar into the first well, oil into the second, and vanilla into the third.  Pour the water over and stir to combine.  Fold in the mashed banana and strained vegetable.

Pour into the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Decorate with fruit and cream.

 

 

* Even though I use some sugar substitutes (the only ones I recommend are erythritol, rice malt syrup, stevia and occasionally dextrose) I remain uneasy about them.  Sugar is bad, but I don’t think that the substitutes are really  that much better.  So moral of story: make treats occasionally.  Party food is for parties and all that.

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Whanganui Playground Review: Whanganui River Holiday Park

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

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The Whanganui River Top 10 Holiday Park in Aramoho on Somme Parade, is adjacent to the playground where my brother, cousins and I were allowed to play in BY OURSELVES.  We were permitted to walk there – a whole block away ON OUR OWN.  Such freedom!  My old stomping ground is now bereft of its flying fox, thus rendering it a rather limp and lukewarm version of the original.  Fortunately the holiday park next door has stepped in to fill the gap and has a pretty good playground all of its own.

Cards on the table: it will cost you $5 per person so it’s a special occasion sort of thing.  We went there in the name of research for this blog and I’m so glad we did, as Sausage and I had a ball.

Firstly, I apologise for the rubbish photos.  When we got there I realised I’d left the camera behind so these were taken on my phone.  Anyway, back to the playground.

$5 gets you all-day entry to the holiday park, which includes the playground, pool, games room, kitchen and dining facilities and use of the gas barbeque.  The holiday park is neat and tidy and was quite busy on the day that we were there.  There are plenty of picnic tables and shady trees, and fabulous views of the Whanganui River.  If you have school-aged kids you could probably hole up there all day, just for something different.

The main attraction of the playground is its gigantic ‘pillow’ trampoline.

Sausage on the pillow

Sausage on the pillow, bird aviary in background

You could fit a whole classroom of kids on that trampoline and still have room for more.  It’s perfectly fine for adults to use (hurrah!) so Sausage and I spent most of our time at the park jumping up a storm while Chip slept in his pram.  Sausage LOVED being able to play with me in this way and I got an awesome workout.  The trampoline is surrounded by sand, and the park owners have thoughtfully supplied some sandpit toys for tots to play with while they are there.  There are a couple of kid-sized picnic tables and a bench nearby.  The trampoline is well-shaded by nearby trees.

There is a small bird aviary (visible in the photo above) filled with brightly coloured birds who all looked well cared for.

Next to the ‘pillow’ is a regular trampoline with mats and a safety net.  Going by the amount of injuries I inflicted upon myself on our trampoline as a kid, I think those nets are a genius idea.

There are two swings – one bucket and one regular, and a cool climbing frame which has a swinging log to access the platform, and two curly/wavy slides.

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The holiday park also has a range of trikes that can be hired ($5 for 30 mins), and offers paintball (from $30) and kayak hire ($20 an hour) as well.

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Pros: 

  • Wide range of activities on offer which would suit every age
  • Lots of shady spots to sit/have picnics
  • Access to barbeque and kitchen, showers, toilets etc.
  • GIANT PILLOW TRAMPOLINE
  • Neat, tidy place

Cons:

  • It costs money.  Fair enough, it’s a business, not a council-run playground.  But if it wasn’t for the giant pillow, I probably wouldn’t go there just to use the play equipment.  It was cool, but there are plenty of just-as-cool free playgrounds around.
  • The other cool things on offer there cost money too.  I was lucky to escape demands to go on the trikes.

Tots in Tawhero rating: 8/10 (deducting points for cost)

 

Prices correct as of Jan 2015

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Dollar Diet: Week 3

It’s been a very good week in Dollar Diet Land.  There were no big purchases of tickets to Australia (so excited!) although next week we will have to shell out some $ for a new car seat.  Like most people in NZ we hired Chip a baby capsule for the first 6 months but that needs to be returned soon.

Sausage and friend at a local playground

Sausage and friend at a local playground

This week I have been fastidious about using all our leftovers, although I found it was possible to get sick of eating quinoa, tuna and veges for three meals in a row.  My Auntie gave me some rhubarb, so I made a no-sugar rhubarb crumble, and we harvested a load of plums off a tree in our front yard.  I made cheese scones which lasted for several morning teas and were handy to give to visitors who came for a cup of tea.  I discovered a batch of my ‘Nana’s chocolate truffles’ lurking in the fridge which I had made for Sausage’s birthday party and promptly forgot about.  I quickly chucked them in the freezer as they will be perfect to take along for morning tea at Church on Sunday.  I even made breadcrumbs from some bread that was going stale.  Woah.

Entertainment (It’s school summer holidays) was either free or very cheap this week.  We went to two local beaches, and several playgrounds – one of which cost me $5 (it’s at a holiday park) which was worth every penny as Sausage and I spent ages jumping on a huge inflatable ‘pillow’.  We had a hilarious family dinner with extended family which we plan to make a regular event.  It ended with a ukelele/guitar jam session, complete with purposely-bad singing and Sausage dancing the night away.

I have a few birthdays coming up so I did something I’ve not done in a while: I got out my sewing machine.  I am NOT a terribly crafty person.  I did sewing at school many years ago and loathed.every.second.of.it.  My embroidery sampler is testimony to the torturous time I spent in that class because if you look at the back of it, it looks like the place where embroidery threads go to die.  But something must have sunk in because I can sew.  I found some cool fabric and some bamboo bag handles at one of my local charity shops (guess what I’m  making…).  $4 for the fabric, handles, plus a replacement side plate and dinner plate.  Oh yeah.  I had heart palpitations at the cost of fabric at a store so refashioning from op-shop finds is definitely the way to go.

This past weekend is one of the best in Whanganui’s social calendar – our Vintage Weekend.  It’s an absolutely fantastic three-day event, paying homage to everything vintage.  Steam boats, steam trains, vintage car rallies, concerts, a pop-up Museum, an outdoor banquet in the main street, an open-air movie, and a soap-box derby.  So much fun to be had, and most of it is FREE.  My MIL babysat for us so our guests, D and I enjoyed a child-free date night, where I must confess we spent $7.50 on a huge plate of chips for everyone to share.  It was 9pm and we were hungry.  I wanted to take Sausage and some visitors for a ride on the steam train, but at $25 per adult it was simply too expensive.  Next year I plan to set aside some money for this as both my tots will be old enough to find it thrilling.

Waimarie and Waka

Waimarie and Waka

image credit

 

One funny thing is that the Dollar Diet has now entered our vernacular.  D and I often say ‘How very Dollar Diet of you’ when the other one has resisted temptation to spend, or done something very frugal.

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12 Things My Two Year Old Has Taught Me

  1. The world is full of wonder and delight, especially if you notice all the little details like flowers, leaves, ants, cracks in the pavement,  chimneys and cellphone towers.  (Okay so I made that last one up.)  Anyway, it’s perfectly fine to ask over and over ‘What’s he doing?’  ‘What’s she doing?’  ‘What’s that Mummy?’ because it’s the only way to learn.

    OMG!  Leaves!

    OMG! Leaves!

  2. Two year-olds actually have prodigious memories.  My tot can remember things from several months in the past ‘Daddy burnt his finger on the barbeque!’, recognise places she’s only visited once before ages ago, and can recall vocabulary not used often like ‘Ooh, look Mummy, a cherry picker!’
  3. I need to stop rushing and slow the heck down. My toddler doesn’t need to be anywhere in a hurry, so why do I?  The world will not end if we are late for playgroup because we had to touch ALL the dandelions along the way.
  4. Everyone is worthy of my attention and respect. The ladies at the checkout.  The postman.  The old man working in his garden.  The scary-looking dude and his scary-looking dog.  A bright smile and a cheery hello goes a long way with absolutely everyone.
  5. I need to move more. Preferably run or dance whilst singing Incey Wincey Spider.
  6. Jumping in muddy puddles is a legitimate activity.
  7. Food is fuel. My tot might be the first kid at the morning tea table, but when she’s done, she’s done.  And is off to more exciting things.
  8. Everything will be okay if you just get enough cuddles and kisses.  There is no injury too big that can’t be made better by running to Mum or Dad.
  9. If you haven’t laughed a hundred times today, you’re doing life wrong.  Everything has the potential for hilarity – the way Mummy brushes her teeth, the way her brother squawks like a constipated pterodactyl, the fact she’s fallen over 10 times already that morning.
  10. When someone else is upset, it’s okay to cry along with them.  No one feels your pain quite like a concerned, sobbing toddler.
  11. I need to read many, many books every day. The same ones over and over and over is good.
  12. Even when I mess up and am not the best Mum I could be, she’s okay with that.