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Dollar Diet 2017

Oh Dollar Diet, I never really left you, but it’s so good to be blogging about you again!

For my newer readers, I first embarked on a Dollar Diet back in 2015.  I had already changed a lot of my spendthrift ways, and look back on those days with some shame and embarrassment at the money I wasted.  Despite getting more financially literate, D and I seemed unable to save much despite a good income.  We needed to plug the holes in our budget.

The Dollar Diet is simple.  Buy what you NEED.  Think long and hard before buying what you WANT.  Is it necessary?  Can you do without it?  Can you borrow it instead?  Save up for it?  Even NEEDS can be slimmed down by growing your own fruit and veg, or bartering and borrowing when possible.

My 2017 list of needs is much the same as it was in 2015:

  • Groceries (since beginning the Dollar Diet I hardly ever go over budget!)
  • Electricity, firewood
  • Internet/phone
  • Netflix (How else can we watch Designated Survivor or Travelers?  I’m addicted.)
  • Insurances
  • Petrol, vehicle maintenance
  • Rates
  • Tithing, sponsor children, church activities
  • University money for kids (we put $10 a week into their accounts)
  • Doctor’s visits & prescriptions, dentist visits
  • Kindy and playgroup fees
  • Gifts (making what I possibly can myself)
  • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
  • Moisturizer, foundation, bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
  • Theology papers, Toastmasters, a few invention gizmos – D
  • Rubbish & recycling collection
  • House maintenance (2017 EDIT: I will be mowing our huge garden myself this year.  Our new mower will pay for itself in a year)
  • Chicken feed
  • Shoes and underwear for the children, and a raincoat for Chip (he refuses to wear this AWESOME fire chief one I found secondhand…)
  • Holidays (free or low-cost accommodation where possible)
  • Sausage’s hospital appointment (she is still being treated for a club foot, which means 1 trip to Wellington a year)
  • A fun budget: to fund the odd meal out/takeaway/family outing
* Rent/Mortgage is not on the list as we own our home freehold.

My list of needs will doubtless look different to yours.  For D and I, holidays are vital to our sanity.  We have a family holiday coming up in February that we have been saving towards for a couple of years, and I cannot wait!  Some might see kindy and playgroups as a want, but for my sanity they are on my needs list.  Both my children are extroverts, and are much, much happier when they are busy, challenged and socialising with other kids.

It’s the things that aren’t on the list that save you money.  No buying lunch everyday.  No takeaway coffees each morning.  No splurging $300 on a pair of shoes that are almost the same as the pair you already own.  No mindless following of ‘fashion’.  No buying takeaways just because you don’t feel like cooking.  Getting rid of magazine subscriptions, gym subscriptions, any subscription that you don’t honestly use.  No buying books (that’s why libraries were invented)or pretty tchotchkes for your home.  No greeting cards and wrapping paper.  No lavish gifts.  No recipes requiring pricey ingredients.  No expensive holidays.  No meeting up with friends for brunch at an expensive cafe.  No costly plays, concerts, exhibitions. No extravagant hobbies (unless it makes you money or saves your sanity).

The fun and the challenge comes from trying to find free or frugal alternatives to keep living the good life.  Instead of going out for brunch, host a pancake breakfast for your friends.  Take up running instead of going to a gym.  Pack your own lunch and your coffee for work.  Have a meal or two in the freezer for the nights when you are too tired to cook.  You get the picture.

I must advise that the biggest learning I have had from the Dollar Diet is the importance of having a fun budget.  Skimping and saving can get relentlessly grim without a few bright spots to look forward to.  These things don’t have to be extravagant, but small treats that feed your soul most definitely have a place in the Dollar Diet.

Our savings goals are pretty simple: have a good cushion for 2018, when D changes vocation and our income takes a nose-dive.  And enough money for a wee holiday or two.

 

What are your savings goals this year?

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October Family Month: How I did

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that just prior to turning 40 I decided to ‘take stock’ and set myself twelve monthly challenges to complete in different areas of my life.

August was an absolute dismal failure, September was a bit meh, but October?

I absolutely nailed it.

My challenges aren’t ridiculously hard, makeover-my-entire-life sort of stuff.  I choose three or four things to do in the area of my life that I am focusing on.  I make them specific, I write them down, and I DIARISE them so they actually happen.

October was Family month.  This month I decided to focus on my immediate family and my side of our extended family (not that I don’t love my husband’s side, it’s just they are a bit more scattered than mine).  My goals were:

  • Have a ‘day of fun’ with my husband and tots
  • Spend an afternoon hanging out with my brother
  • Have a family meal with my extended family
  • Complete some tasks I set myself for marriage month in August.  See here for why this month bombed.

Early in October D and I took the kids to Dannevirke to visit their Fantasy Cave.  Dannevirke is about a 1&1/2hr drive from our home town, and has all the makings of a great family day out.

The Fantasy Cave is simply wonderful.  It doesn’t take more than an hour to go through it though, so I would recommend tagging something else onto a trip there, like we did.  We first had a picnic lunch at the Dannevirke Domain on Christian Street (about 1 min away from the city centre).  Dannevirke gets its name from the Danish settlers who developed the area in the 1870s.  The town has capitalised on its heritage, and has a Viking theme all over it.  The domain has a great playground, complete with its own Viking ship.

Vikings ahoy!

Vikings ahoy!

This part is more for older kids, and as you can see, there is plenty for them to climb on.

The toddler area is fabulous – and, most importantly – it has shade!!!  (Very lacking at Whanganui playgrounds.)

Shadecloth. Brilliant.

Shadecloth. Brilliant.

Chip and Sausage having fun at the toddler's area

Chip and Sausage having fun at the toddler’s area

There are plenty of picnic tables, rubbish bins and trees nearby.  On the other side of the domain are beautiful gardens and a fountain.

But, back to the Fantasy Cave.  The photos below aren’t mine as you aren’t allowed to take photos while inside, but these are from accredited websites.

The Cave was created by locals about 20 years ago, originally as somewhere the children could visit Santa.  But it blossomed into so much more.  The cave meanders over several levels of a large building, and has displays of well-known nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  There are a lot of animatronics, and huge amounts of detail in every vista, so you could spend quite some time looking at each one.

If you have a kid who just has to touch something, this is not the place for you.  My almost-three year-old surprised me by sticking to my command of ‘look with your eyes, not your hands’.  She was so delighted with the place, exclaiming each time she spotted something that caught her eye.

Chip really enjoyed it too, although restraining him from touching things was much trickier.  You can’t take buggys into the cave, so D had to carry Chip around.  Just as well he’s so strong and manly, eh?  Now Chip is even more mobile, I can’t see myself taking him there again until I know he can keep his hands to himself.  Sausage is still asking to go back six weeks later, so I think we’ll have to go on a special Mummy-Daughter road trip.

My brother has had an incredibly tough time in the past year, and I don’t often get to spend time with just him.  With D’s help, I took him out for an afternoon of fun.  He had no idea what we were doing, but went along with his hare-brained sister nonetheless.  We saw Bridge of Spies, which was absolutely fantastic.  I have no idea how closely it resembles what actually happened (it is based on a true story), but it remains the best movie I have seen this year.  My brother and I found it gripping, and the cast is superb.  We followed it up with a slap-up lunch and a good, long chat.

My parents, brother and my family have been having dinner together every Friday night, which has been lovely.  I get a kick out of the loving relationships my tots have with my folks, and I’m sure all the love and attention has helped them develop into the friendly extroverts that both my kids are.

D finally managed to get away for a couple of days on a retreat.  He didn’t do much but sleep, eat and read, but came back refreshed from his time away.  D is an introvert so time by himself to rest and re-energise is important, but incredibly hard to get at our stage in life.  Juggling both kids by myself was tiring, but being able to give D a break was priceless.  I believe that giving each other permission to practice good self-care is a key ingredient to a good marriage.