I started the Dollar Diet this year as a bit of fun. Money and I have never quite seen eye to eye. At times our relationship has been tense, heated and demanding, due to me treating money irresponsibly and frittering away more cash than I care to admit. A few years back I decided to grow up and transform my relationship with money into a healthier, more adult alliance.
Even though my spending habits are much improved, the Dollar Diet felt like a challenge I (and my family) was ready for. D and I knew there were holes in our budget as we never seemed able to save as much as we ‘should’; plus the idea of being good stewards of our abundant resources is something that resonates with us. We knew we could do better.
They say you should be careful what you wish for. The Dollar Diet has gotten real.
We are living on a reduced income while D’s business grows (which naturally takes time), and our savings have dwindled due to holidays that were planned and booked well in advance to his job change. We’re okay, and thanks to the Dollar Diet, we are in much better shape financially than we would otherwise have been. But as we ride out this particular chapter in our lives, suddenly my fun challenge has become a necessity (and I appreciate that it is for many, many people).
Here are some of the things we are doing (or plan to do) to tighten our belts during this time:
- Become a one-car family. We bought a Mazda People Mover last year with the idea of transporting one of my family members around (a long story I won’t be sharing here), and we also thought it would come in handy as our kids get older to transport their friends, for holidays etc. We’d planned to sell our little Honda Jazz, but never got around to it as having a second car came in handy while D was required to visit Wellington each month for his old job. But the reality is we have rarely needed to transport this family member, and now D has no need to go to Wellington. A second car is a luxury that we cannot afford, so kissing it goodbye makes excellent financial sense. The Jazz is far more fuel efficient and less costly in terms of insurance. Shifting to a one-car household can save the average family thousands of dollars each year in insurance, petrol and maintenance.
- Buy a bike trailer. I have been nagging at D to get a bike trailer for me so I can take the kids out by cycle rather than a car. I see it as a great way to build in more exercise into my day, as I frequently make little trips to play groups, friends and the like. My children are hugely excited by going for bike rides, and we are lucky to live in a city where it is very safe to cycle thanks to the nice, wide streets of Whanganui. We are also fortunate that our city is not hugely spread out, so most facilities are comfortably within cycling range. D has already been cycling to his office down town, so even if the weather is rubbish or we are simply pushed for time, our car will be available to use.
- Wean our son off soy formula and onto soy milk. Chip is allergic to the protein in cow’s milk and was put on soy formula by his doctor. It was heart-breaking, but Chip has thrived on the stuff. It costs almost $30 for one tin of formula, so now that he is over one and mostly on solids he doesn’t simply doesn’t need formula any more.
- Be more diligent about using cloth nappies and wipes. I use cloth nappies in fits and starts. I will slavishly use cloth until I get sick of my kid wetting through their clothes (yes, they are on correctly and I do change them often), as laundry is my most loathed household chore. I’ve been too squeamish to use cloth wipes, which is silly because really, using cloth nappies is absolutely no different. So I’m biting the bullet and using cloth wipes as well.
- Buy in bulk when possible. The Dollar Diet has given us wiggle room in our grocery budget so we’ve often been in surplus. This has meant we’ve been able to bulk buy on meat and other grocery items when we see good deals. This week my local supermarket was selling large bottles of my shampoo for the same price as the small bottles that I usually get, so I snapped them up. I doubt I will need to buy any more shampoo for a couple of years.
- Cook in bulk when possible. Jamie Oliver says ‘if you want to save big, you have to buy big’. By that he means you get more bang for your buck buying a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts as you can usually get multiple meals out of it and use the carcass to make stock. Preparing and freezing multiple portions is also a good way to ensure all your vegetables get used before they turn all manky in your fridge; plus you have the added bonus of having meals at the ready when you’re having one of ‘those’ days.
- Shop our pantry. I don’t know about you, but we’ve got stuff in our pantry that hasn’t seen the light of day for a loooong time. For the next few weeks I will be only getting absolute essentials (like milk and loo paper) from the supermarket, until that pantry is bare. This is such an easy way to free up some cash. The money you don’t spend on groceries this week can be salted away or used to pay bills. Admittedly some meals can get rather…uh…creative, but variety is the spice of life, right?
- Cancel our newspaper subscription. I almost did this earlier in the year, but they offered me a crazy good deal so I kept it on, as we try to support local businesses whenever possible. But it’s gone now. Any sort of subscription – whether it is for a newspaper or a gym – is a luxury item and can be culled from your budget.
- Use up all the fruit and veg from our garden. I sometimes miss the pick-me-now window with some of the veggies I grow, so I will be more diligent about harvesting anything that is ready. We have tons of tangelos that are ripe, and masses and masses of grapefruit that is almost ripe, so I won’t be buying any more fruit until we’ve eaten, preserved and marmalade-ed it. We will eat, sleep and breathe tangelos and grapefruit. Until strawberry and plum season. Anyone over 60 will tell you how they got sick of the sight of tomatoes, or never wanted to see another apple again when they were kids. Somehow we’ve all gotten so used to eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – and that hits your wallet, even if you do shop seasonally.
- Say no to any unnecessary entertainment. We were awesome at this at the start of the year, but with the onset of winter some cafe trips and little outings here and there snuck back into our lives. It will be strictly free or home-grown entertainment for us. We’re at the perfect stage in our lives for this anyway – our kids are small, and the beach, forest or museum and visiting friends are quite exciting to them. If I was a young singleton I’m sure I would find this a really tough challenge.
- Scale back kid’s activities. My daughter was going to start going to pre-school a few mornings a week for the last school term this year. It’s not free for her until she turns three in the new year, so we’ve decided to wait until then. While she is ready for pre-school, it certainly won’t harm her to stay at her current playgroups which she loves. She also started kindy gym this term, but I discovered a free class is available on another day, so we will change our routine a bit so we can make it to that one. I will also be dropping a play session next term, and will be doing free things at home instead.
- Make our own cleaning products. I have been really lazy at doing this since having children. I used to in the past – mostly because I am super-allergic to chemicals – but since my kids arrived I told myself ‘I don’t have the time’ and have picked up products from an eco-friendly New Zealand store which don’t set off my allergies. The truth is, I do have time. I have loads of time, if I simply make it a priority.
- Sell off our unwanted items. I have a stash of good clothes that no longer fit, and baby paraphernalia no longer required. We may as well turn it into some cash.
- Keep on with our good habits. We already do plenty of frugal things: we cook almost everything from scratch, re-use plastic bags, save scrap paper, only do full loads of laundry, ride bikes or walk when we can, visit farmers markets, check our library books instead of buying them, and buy second hand almost exclusively. We live well and have found these habits to be pretty painless (except maybe biking into a strong wind…).
How have you managed a drop in income? Share your frugal habits here.