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Dollar Diet: Week 10, Use it up

This week was a very good week in our frugal Tawhero household.

te manawa 1 tots in tawhero

Sausage and Chip mucking about at Te Manawa museum, Palmerston North

A couple of bitterly cold mornings found me digging out our winter clothes, which then in turn sparked me to go through ALL my clothes.  I tossed some, ruefully packed some away that don’t fit because I’ve put on weight (gah!), and generally gave everything a good once-over.  I realised I had a serious ‘hole’ in my wardrobe – namely a decent pair of jeans that fit properly – so I toddled off to buy a pair.  I didn’t find anything second-hand, but I managed to get a great pair at one of our local stores and my loyalty card gave me 30% off.  I’m not quite sure how that happened as I hardly ever buy from that store, but I’ll take it!

The weird thing is, it’s like sorting out my wardrobe has given me a new lease on life.  It galvanised me into action, and I was a busy beaver most of the week, especially where saving a buck or two was concerned.

I woke up with a migraine on Wednesday (yay) and generally felt nauseous and yuck for almost the whole day.  I’d postponed whanau night, which then left me with the dilemma of having to cook.  It was very tempting to get a takeaway, especially as D wasn’t around that night, but I said to myself ‘nay young Angela, you’re on a Dollar Diet.  Gird your loins, girl.’ [I really do talk to myself like that, I swear.] I rifled through our freezer and was grateful that I almost always have a few heat and eat-type meals in stock.  Crumbed fish, I thank thee.

I was ruthless about eating at home and using up what we had.  When we ran out of bread on Friday (and it was too late to make some), I didn’t nip out to the shops to buy a loaf.  I whipped up a tuna pasta salad instead, easy-peasy.  I finally found a use for the tin of applesauce that had been sitting in our cupboard for ages (turns out your two-and-a-half-year-old will just love it and basically just eat that for his dinner).  Two bananas and half a pear that were starting to turn got baked into banana bread.  Slightly-manky-looking veg got thrown into a shepherd’s pie.

banana bread tots in tawhero

Only half the banana bread survived long enough to make it into the photo, RIP BB.

I’d bought two packets of malt biscuits (they were on special) as a treat for my children.  They turned up their nose at them because they like a different brand.  Toddlers!  No amount of persuasion worked and now I was stuck with two packets of biscuits that I wouldn’t eat myself (too sugary).  I did however have whanau night, our minister’s ordination (such a big deal, yahoo!), and my FIL and S-MIL come to visit, all within days of each other.  So I made my family’s fudge cake recipe that has been lovingly handed down from generation to generation.  Okay, so from my auntie to my brother and I…

Anyhow, it was a brilliant choice.  Fudge cake keeps well for several days, everyone loves it, and you can eke it out if you cut it into bite-sized squares.  One batch did all three occasions.

The kids and I had a grand outing this week, which barely cost us a cent.  My mother very generously paid for the tots and I to go to a Peppa Pig stage show over in Palmerston North.  It was so. much. fun.  I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, me or the kids?  Bing bong boo, I say!  The tots behaved beautifully – even though it was Chip’s first-time at a show.  Chip was obsessed with Daddy Pig, screaming with delight every time the porcine father appeared on stage.  It isn’t the sort of thing our budget normally allows, and I was very grateful to my mum for treating us.

We topped the day off with a trip to their favourite place in Palmy North, Te Manawa.  Te Manawa is a wonderful, free museum that is pretty much paradise to my children.  It is an incredible yes space, with so much that children can play with, sit on, create with and touch.

Te Manawa 2 Tots in Tawhero

One of the playrooms at Te Manawa

The weekend found us with two sick tots on our hands.  Sausage with a cold and Chip with a vomiting bug.  Such is the reality of life with two small children.  My MIL offered to watch them for a bit on Sunday afternoon.  I leapt at the chance to actually leave the house!  (Hello world, I missed you.) D and I went to the library, and then bought a drink and muffin each at a cafe, where we sat and read our books in blissful, sickness-free peace.  A lovely date!

reading party tots in tawhero

Reading party for two 

What frugal wins did you have this week? Chime in below

 

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Dollar Diet: The cost of keeping feet shod

This week bought its usual share of expenses, most of which were not a surprise.  I went to the dentist for an initial check-up and will have some work done in a few weeks time.  Our dentist is very reasonably priced so it’s not going to blow up our bank account.

I bought some seedlings for the first time in ages because I just hadn’t gotten around to planting seeds over the holidays.  The weather has been so terrible that pretty much every good-weather day was spent out and about making up for the bad days.

I went to a cafe as a treat, and I must admit I find this a hard habit to break at times.  It’s really interesting though, because it highlights my ‘need’ to have a treat.  I’m working on where this may have come from, because it is a strong impulse.

I went with friends to the lovely Ashley Park (petting zoo, picnic area) , and had a great time feeding the animals and watching the children enjoy themselves.  I think Ashley Park is really cheap compared to similar places, and I thoroughly recommend it.

I bought Sausage a bookcase for her room, as she has more space now Chip has vacated his cot for his big boy bed.  Sausage, like all children, has various trinkets and treasures that seem to multiply overnight.  Due to lack of space they would invariably end up on her dressing table or the floor, but now they are nicely corralled into the bookcase.  I found a small, low bookcase which I think is made of rimu at a second-hand store for $45.  This is a bit pricey for the size of the bookcase, but I’d rather have that than the MDF options that were available.  It has the bonus of being low enough to fit under most windows, so it may come in handy if we ever move house.  Which looks likely in a  year or three.

Our biggest expense was shoes for the children.  They both outgrew their shoes at the same time, so inconsiderate of them.  Finding decent shoes in New Zealand is a problem.  I often have to source mine online, which I don’t like as I do prefer to shop locally when possible.  Most department stores here get cheap shoes from Asia which a) don’t fit properly and b) fall apart if you so much as sneeze in their direction.

Fortunately we can find good shoes here in Whanganui for children, although they are two or sometimes three times the price of the cheap shoes.  My tots trash their cheap shoes really quickly, so it is a false economy to buy them.  Buying the more expensive shoes saves us money in the long run as they withstand all that play quite well.

With Sausage, we’ve often needed to buy two different-sized pairs of shoes because she has a club foot.  Even though her foot has been treated successfully, it will always be smaller than her other foot.  In her case her foot is one size smaller than the other, and in some people it can be up to three sizes smaller.  As you can imagine, buying two pairs of $80 shoes that she’ll grow out of in a few months gets me right in the wallet.  Not to mention have to chuck out the two shoes that are perfectly fine!

Fortunately one of our local stores has a great range of Bobux shoes.  They are quality, NZ made shoes that are recommended by podiatrists.  At the visit this week, I discovered that they hold Sausage’s feet so well, I didn’t need to buy two sizes.  Her smaller foot is totally fine in a slightly bigger size.  Phew.  Oh, did I mention the shoes were on sale?

I got Sausage a pair of Mary Janes and a pair of sneakers, and Chip got a pair of boots.  He is almost out of his sneakers, so I’ll be back for more soon.  I reckon tots only need three pairs of shoes: a good, serviceable pair that they can play in and that might do for a special occasion, a pair of sneakers, and gumboots in winter/sandals in summer.  And that’s extravagant in many countries.

So yeah, buy quality.  You know this.  A good pair of shoes will outlast several cheap and nasty pairs.  I think it’s getting harder and harder to find goods that quality these days as brand names are no longer an indication of something well made, but that’s a rant for another time!

This week I saved money by:

  • Staying home a lot.  I pottered around the house and garden with Chip.  He spent an hour and a half playing in his sandpit or watering the plants the other day!  Which is 2.7 years in toddler time.
  • Packing lunch and snacks when out/at work
  • Having an at-home date night
  • Baking (I made a THM cheesecake, which was terrific, hooray!)
  • Meal planning
  • Inventing whanau night.  Our friends hosted this week’s dinner, and we bought a side and dessert.  It’s a fun and simple way to catch up on a weekly basis.

Next week will involve lots of jam and chutney.  I have a surfeit of plums and grapefruit.  Yeehah!

 

 

I am not affiliated with Ashley Park or Bobux shoes in any way.  All opinions are my own.  They both rock.

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Dollar Diet: Week 3, a binge

Last week was in no way frugal as the kids and I took an impromptu trip to Wellington.  I needed a change of scene, and D needed some peace and quiet, so when I found a decently-priced holiday home on-line, I went for it.  We had two nights away and had a great time.

I’d been thinking about taking my tots to Bug Lab, an exhibition on right now at Te Papa.  I wasn’t sure if it would be too scary for my tots – who love bugs and insects – but the entry fee wasn’t too pricey ($20 for Sausage and I, Chip was free) so even if they hated it I figured it was worth a try.  The exhibition was amazing.  My tots did get a bit scared as it’s not every day you see insect models that are the size of a small car.  Sausage still enjoyed it and we spent a good half an hour looking around.  Chip got scared, but was content to play with the interactive stuff outside of the bug ‘lairs’, and of course he loves the rest of the museum.  If you’re an NZ parent who is thinking about taking your kids, I wouldn’t recommend it for under 4’s.  School-aged kids, heck yeah.

I’m looking forward to travelling by bus to Te Papa in the future so I don’t have to pay for parking.  At the moment my tots are too little to walk from the bus stop to the museum (a reasonable distance), and the thought of taking our stroller, backpack and two tots on a bus gives me a panic attack.  Anyway, another time perhaps.

We caught up with several friends on the first night, and it did my soul good to see some of my favourite people all at once.  We kept it simple, fish and chips from the local takeaway, and had some vigorous Donald Trump discussion around the dinner table.

We took my plane-obsessed son to Wellington airport.  It cost a little for parking, but it was worth it to see his excitement.  Even Sausage enjoyed it.  We followed it with a trip to Lyall Bay beach.

airport-tot-in-tawherobreach-tots-in-tawhero

I got little sleep the first night, as it was Chip’s first night ever in a bed.  He fell out twice.  Fortunately there was a spare mattress I was able to put down on the floor beside him.  Anyway, the upshot was I was so tired the next evening I was too knackered to cook, as had been my original plan.  I couldn’t face greasy takeaways again, but I managed to find a local Indian place that delivered.  Chip slept just fine that night.

In fact, once we got home he decided he wanted to sleep in his ‘big boy bed’.  He’d been rooming with his sister, and we’d been using his bedroom as a playroom and spare room for guests.  I’m delighted that he’s transitioned smoothly from his cot to his bed, but it has meant springing for a new duvet/sheet set so there is a spare in case he wets through/when one is in the wash.  I have bought second-hand bedding in the past, but it ended up having fleas in it(!), and I can’t bring myself to give it another try.  I managed to get him a duvet, duvet inner and sheets for $60.  Chip fell out again once this week so we used the pool noodle trick from Pinterest as a bed rail.  It was only a few dollars.

We’ve been enjoying all the sights and sounds of Whanganui’s best event: the Vintage Weekend.  Our city is host to all things vintage – cars, fashion, music, boats, a soapbox derby, planes…you name it.  I was feeling in rather a party mood – it is my favourite time of year – so we bought lunch there rather than take it with us.  D and I got some expensive sandwiches, but as they were pretty much the best sandwiches we’ve ever eaten, we’re okay with that.  The beauty of this weekend is that most things are low-cost or free, and it really is a joy to participate in.

Anyway, after all that spending I did make some honest attempts to limit any more.  This week:

  • I packed lunches and snacks, including when we were on our trip.
  • We’ve stuck to our meal plan and used up leftovers.
  • I included free activities on our trip, such as the beach and a visit to a friend.
  • We enjoyed a free lunch out using a gift card.
  • Although there were loads of things we could have spent money on at the Vintage festivities, we settled for a traction engine ride (a gold coin), a ferris wheel ride ($3) and entry to the family zone where free games, activities and bouncy castles were available (gold coin).  Looking around at the amazing car collection or listening to bands playing cost nothing.
  • D and I enjoyed a date night at home, watching The Mask of Zorro.  Love that movie.
  • We had our first whanau night.  My brother has been coming over for dinner once a week for ages, and now we’ve expanded this to include our friends who recently moved here.  One week the guys will go off to Toastmasters while the kids play and my friend and I have a chat, and on the non-toastmasters night we will play board games.  We’re alternating who hosts, and we all contribute to the meal.  Simple and fun and much cheaper than a restaurant!
  • We went on some free outings in Whanganui.  The kids and I went with friends to Gordon’s Reserve and Kowhai Park.  Hours of fun for zilch.
  • Swapping childcare to get a break.  My daughter gets on well with my friend A-M’s daughter, J.  J came over for an afternoon so her mum could get a break.  (It ends up being a break for me too, as the girls play so nicely I barely see them.)  A-M had Sausage for a few hours the following day.  Both times I was able to get loads done on a sermon I was writing.
  • I managed to get 3 sets of summer pyjamas for Sausage for $4 each.  I couldn’t find any in Chip’s size but I will keep a look-out.  I buy for the following year at the end-of-season sales and save big.  Even though I am not buying a single item of clothing for anyone THIS year (none of us need a thing!), I am still practising the frugal habit of buying ahead for next year.  I save huge amounts of money doing this (along with buying ahead second-hand, accepting hand-me-downs and going to clothes swaps).

 

This week has left me feeling rather a sham at frugality!  But I guess I am grateful that we have the money to go on impromptu trips.  Next week will definitely involve belt-tightening and getting back to basics.

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How I save money on children’s clothing

Keeping children clothed when they insist on growing every few months can be an expensive exercise, but it doesn’t have to be.  Although I confess to going a teensy bit mad buying adorable duffel coats and bear-shaped booties while pregnant with my first child, these days I don’t spend much money clothing my tots at all.

Here’s how I keep our clothing costs to a minimum:

  • I don’t expect my tots to have a vast wardrobe.  Last time I checked, my children aren’t North West, Harper Beckham or Suri Cruise, so they don’t require 150 outfits to see them through Paris Fashion Week or the Cannes Festival.  Children who grew up during the Great Depression counted themselves lucky to have two changes of clothing, and some of those were probably fashioned from flour sacks.  I love clothes, but I don’t think my children need several pairs of skinny jeans or party clothes for every day of the week.  A few outfits that are comfortable and weather-appropriate – plus one ‘good’ outfit – are all kids really need.
  • I gratefully accept hand-me-downs.  I chuckled as I wrote that last bullet point because although that is my personal belief, my children do currently have more than they need!  We are often given clothing from friends with bigger children, and the clothes rage from mint to I’ve-played-the-heck-in-this condition.  I appreciate all hand-me-downs as they are brilliant for my tots to wear to kindy and to get mucky in.  I don’t sweat it if they get covered in mud and finger-paint, like I would if it was something I’d paid good money for.  I opt for second-hand clothing myself whenever possible and hope that my children grow up appreciating second-hand clothing just as much as new.
  • I let it be known that I am on the lookout for hand-me-downs.  After we moved cities we didn’t get any hand-me-downs for a while, but as I made friends I let them know I was happy to receive them.  Friends can often assume that you are getting things from someone else, but if you’re not, let them know.  I always ensure I share the love by passing on my children’s clothes to others.  I get a real buzz from seeing a friend’s child in something one of my tots wore.
  • I go to clothing swaps.  Clothing swaps are so much fun.  There’s usually nibbles, wine, good friends and several tonnes of clothing involved.  I have never, ever come away empty-handed.  One swap netted me enough clothing for Chip which lasted him a year.  Here’s a picture of the last swap I went to – bear in mind that this was just the children’s section! clothes swap totsintawhero
  • I buy second-hand.  I baulk at paying $40 for something my child is going to wear for six months.  When I need something for myself, I always look in second-hand stores first, and I do the same with my children.  I’ve paid peanuts for really, really beautiful clothing.  I often find expensive labels like Oshkosh, Gap, Pumpkin Patch, and the like, for a fraction of what they normally retail for.
  • I ask for clothing as presents.  When grandparents and friends ask what to get my children for their birthdays or Christmas, I often suggest clothing.  Today’s children are overloaded with toys, and I struggle to stem the tide of toys that come into our house from well-meaning friends and family.  Clothing is a great – and useful – alternative.
  • I buy ahead.  If I am at an op-shop and spy something really cool or useful (like waterproof overalls, bathrobes etc) but it’s a size or two bigger, I buy it.  We have plenty of storage, and I’ve saved so much money this way.  My daughter attends a forest pre-school which necessitates waterproof clothing over winter, plus I like for us to get about in all sorts of weather.  A pair of waterproof overalls retail for $40-$60 here.  I found a pair for my daughter for $3 and a pair for my son for $1.99.
  • I buy on sale.  A major chain-store in my city has a half-price clothing sale in the middle of winter.  They sell awesome merino singlets and other thermal gear, so I stock up for the next year if we haven’t already inherited some from other children.  I’m also not totally opposed to buying new clothing.  If we were on the bare bones of our arse, I would expect my children to wear what they were given and be grateful.  But we’re not.  So when my daughter went into a fit of rapture when she saw this dress – and I saw it was heavily reduced – I said sure.  She’s all about dresses, and tulle and sparkles and butterflies right now, so she just loves, loves, loves this dress. Dress tots in tawhero
  • I buy clothes for my daughter that can be passed down to my son.  When possible I do try to get items for Sausage that are plain and serviceable for her brother too.  Chip wears loads of his sister’s cast-offs and no one would ever know.  Or care.
  • I don’t pass things on too quickly.  My son is very slim so he gets away with wearing smaller-sized trousers for a few months before beginning to resemble Steve Urkel.
    steve urkel

    Remember this guy?

    My daughter has several dresses from when she was a baby that we use as tops.  They look terrific as breezy summer tops.  So don’t be too hasty to get rid of things.  Children slim down a LOT once they start walking, and trousers that once need to fit around bulky nappies will often still fit the child when they are older and toilet-trained.

  • I deliberately befriend people with children slightly older than my own.  Just joking.

 

How do you save money on children’s clothes?

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Dollar Diet 2016

Last year I embarked on a Dollar Diet to curb my spending habits and save for a couple of overseas trips.  I simply divided up our wants from our needs and did my level best to stick to the needs.  No clothes, shoes, handbags, trips to the cafe or movies, takeaways, expensive gifts, magazine subscriptions…you get the picture.

It was a good year and we mostly stuck to our game-plan.  I learned a great deal.  I came to accept the fact that as much as it pains me, I am not a crafty person.  My friends and family will not be getting any knitted gifts made from my own hand-spun wool any time soon, nor will they be dazzling the masses with designer threads hand-sewn by me.  Despite my best intentions, I ended up buying most gifts I gave out last year.

I went into this year intending to keep on Dollar Dieting, but life threw a teensy curveball.  I got a job.  I only work a couple of mornings a week, but suddenly I needed to get suitable clothes.  I’d lost weight so some of my old work clothes were too big.  Regular trips to my favourite second-hand store were suddenly back on the menu, as I gathered a new work wardrobe together.  Because I baulk at paying full-price for clothes, I felt justified at getting a few things for work when they were only a few dollars a piece, but it was hard to stop at just a few things.

Though my job is small, it required me to develop a new parenting programme.  This took considerable time and head-space, and I fell out of the habit of posting each week about my efforts in frugality.  This regular habit helped keep me motivated and focused over 2015.

We had sneaked in the odd takeaway during last year’s Dollar Diet.  I discovered that of course, sometimes I would just have a rough or exhausting day and couldn’t face cooking.  And this year I’ve been to the movies several times as I’m making the most of having a nanny while I recover from a back injury.  D and I had a wonderful weekend away at an expensive hotel for our wedding anniversary (no regrets here though!).  We resubscribed to the local paper.  Had a few cafe visits.

Slowly, slowly, softly, softly.  Little expenses have crept back in this year.

So I’m calling time on it.

One of the things I absolutely love about blogging is how it keeps me accountable.  I simply cannot in good conscience blog about doing something without actually doing it.  So here is what we’ll be up to for the rest of the year:

  • Have a fun budget.  I need things to look forward to.  I don’t need to escape to a tropical island on a spa retreat (although that would be heavenly), but I do need the odd date-night out with my husband or a trip to see an out-of-town friend.  But with limits.  D and I have a regular date night which we take turns to organise.  We usually stay in (see here for inspiration), but for this year’s Dollar Diet, we’re allowing one date each month where we can go out and spend money.  Within reason.   We also have ‘family night’ once a week.  We eat something yummy for dinner and watch a show together/have a dance party/play games etc.  Every now and then I let Sausage decide what we’ll eat (Chip will get to have a go once he’s three), and she invariably asks for fish and chips.  Not Mummy’s home-made fish and chips, but from the store.  And that’s perfectly fine.
  • We have all we need.  Seriously.  D, my tots and I have all the clothes we could possibly need so I won’t be buying any more this year.  If things wear out I do possess enough skills to mend them.  My kids have all the toys and books they need.  Chip’s birthday is coming up fast, but I think instead of a present we will take the children  tobogganing in the mountains for a day.  He’s not old enough to ‘expect’ a gift from us, so we can easily get away with this.  My only caveats for this embargo are underwear (for all of us), decent shoes for the children, and clothing swaps.  My friends and I do this a couple of times a year, and I usually end up with plenty of of clothes for my tots in the next size (or two) up.
  • Give perishables whenever possible.  There’s so much pressure on us to give gifts.  So. Much. Pressure.  That’s why we all end up with hand cream, socks, ties and the like when people are stumped as to what to get us.  Most people I know have all they need, and I don’t want to add to everyone’s pile of stuff.  I may not be a terribly crafty person, but I am good at baking and cooking, and intend to give home-made food as gifts.  I’m also trying my hand at home-brew (I have a batch of Feijoa wine on the go right now), and D makes the best ginger beer on the planet.  So we should be sorted for things like Christmas.  Which is just as well, as this year we’re participating in Buy Nothing Christmas.
  • Save on heating.  In my last blog post I wrote about a huge power bill being the impetus for moving my tots into together so we had fewer bedrooms to heat.  We’re lucky enough to know a sustainable energy expert.  We had a consultation with him,and have several other things we plan to do in order to keep warm over winter.
  • Use our bodies more, and our cars less.  At the moment I find cycling painful due to my back, but if it’s not raining I walk to work.  It takes me less than 30 minutes, and it’s a pleasant walk.  D cycles to work when possible.  I could do with shedding the habit of taking the car for little trips instead of cycling or walking, and this is definitely an area I will be working on this year.
  • Always have something in the freezer for ‘one of those days’.  This year I’d like to keep takeaways to family night, and have something quick and easy I can just throw in the oven for the times I don’t want to cook.
  • Spend TV/internet time doing something constructive.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do muck about on the internet more than I should.  Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to do more constructive things with my leisure time, like learn to make the perfect curry, play my ukulele, finish my novel and spend more time in prayer.

Our list from 2015 hasn’t changed much, but here’s a breakdown of our ‘needs’:

  • Groceries
  • Electricity, firewood
  • Internet/phone
  • Netflix
  • 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
  • Kindy/playgroups etc
  • Ballet for Sausage, swimming for Chip
  • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
  • Moisturizer, bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
  • Toastmasters – D
  • Rubbish & recycling collection
  • Lawn mowing (our place is HUGE)
  • Garden & home maintenance
  • Chicken feed & maintenance
  • Shoes for the children (but trying to get second-hand or free where appropriate)
  • A small holiday to attend a wedding
  • Materials for gifts

I know it’s almost half-over, but here’s to 2016!

3

Dollar Diet: What I have learnt

It’s hard to fathom how swiftly this year has gone by.  For our Tawhero household it’s been an interesting year – one of change, growth, sickness, adventures and yet more sickness.  But on the whole, it’s been a positive year.

I embarked on the Dollar Diet simply to see if I could.  I wanted to plug up the holes in our budget, save money for two overseas trips, be more mindful of my spending, do more with less, and challenge my little grey cells.

Has my year of penny pinching been a raging success?

Yes, and no.

Yes we saved money.  That’s for sure!  I cannot give you an exact figure as lots of our Dollar Diet savings got gobbled up after D quit his job to start his own business (which is doing rather well).  We had several months of no income as we waited for the business to get up and running.  Suddenly the Dollar Diet wasn’t just to challenge myself – it was a necessity.

Our savings gave us enough of a cushion to withstand those months with no income, and as we were already practising frugal habits there was little adjustment to be made to our lifestyle.  The Dollar Diet protected us from some of the pressure and stress that happens when you suddenly experience a drop in income.

Using the Goodbudget app, which tracks all of your spending, we quickly discovered the myriad of holes that were in our ‘carefully constructed’ budget.

Yes, I am much more mindful of my spending.  More often than not if I see something I like in the shops, I merely appreciate it and move on.  I still love nothing more than perusing an op-shop, but usually come away empty-handed because there is nothing I need.  This year I have gone to a restaurant exactly four times, we stopped frequenting our favourite lunch bar (now I think ‘Gadzooks! Why spend crazy money on sandwiches!’), and we have rarely darkened the door of a cafe.  Little things to ‘treat myself’ like magazines, nice stationery, or a new scarf went unpurchased and unmissed.

I think the gamechanger for me has been to calculate total expenditure on something over a year.  There really is no better perspective than going ‘Umm, we spend $1000 a year on wine/coffee/takeaway lunch/chocolate/[insert your vice of choice here]’.  All those little purchases each week can add up to a frightening sum.

Yes, I can do more with less.  One very surprising thing is thing is how much I have enjoyed playing around with my wardrobe now that I no longer go out and buy what I want.  Despite giving away about three-quarters of it thanks to Trim Healthy Mama, my wardrobe is still in reasonable shape, and it’s been fun to play around with different combinations of outfits.

I’ve enjoyed making cards and wrapping paper, and busting out my markers.  I’ve enjoyed making crafts with Sausage using things nabbed from our recycling bin, even if it means we make thirty collages.  That kid loves collage.

Fewer activities and events has meant more downtime, more time at home.  Which has been SUCH A GOOD THING.  D and I have never experienced so much sickness in one year before.  The kids, me, him, all of us at the same time (such fun!) – none of us made it through this year unscathed.  I try to limit the amount of things we do as a family but sometimes there’s just a whole bunch of crazy on the ol’ social calendar.  Saying no to things – especially those things that cost money – certainly helped us to get some much-needed rest.  Although, being parents of two toddlers, D and I would still like to swim in an ocean of rest, thank you very much.

Yes, it has been brain food.  I have learned new skills like making sandwich gardens, chutney and marmalade; and dusted off old skills like sewing, colouring, and hosting frugal shindigs.  I’ve enjoyed upcycling things like old tablecloths into Christmas sacks, or curtains into play costumes.

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Christmas sacks made from an old tablecloth adorn our mantelpiece

I look forward to that mythical creature – having more time when my children get a bit older – so I can do more upcycling.  It’s incredibly satisfying.  D has discovered his inner-DIYer, and has made fences, gates, paths, shelves, irrigation systems, and all manner of things which has saved us a considerable sum of money.  Great stuff, D.

No, being frugal ALL the time is hard.  I learned that I simply cannot be frugal all.of.the.time.  It’s hard work.  Being super-frugal means thinking and planning ahead.  For everything.  Meals, bring-a-plates, gifts, clothing, unexpected bills.  As the parent of two tots, my life is simply not that predictable.  I had good intentions of making every gift by hand this year.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  I made some, but many gifts ended up being purchased from a store because I was too tired, or sick, or unprepared.

I guess I was hoping that all that frugality would force me into being some sort of budget Martha Stewart, making incredible creations from Weetbix boxes and loo roll.  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  Not to say that I didn’t get a few flashes of personal inspiration, but flipping heck, thank goodness for Pinterest.

No, I need a fun budget.  This did not really come as a surprise.  I am someone who needs something to look forward to.  I often get more of a buzz more from anticipating a good thing than from the thing itself.  I like taking my children on adventures.  Most of them have been free, but every now and then something really cool will come up that costs money, and I have gone ‘Stuff you, Dollar Diet!  Let’s go to the zoo’.

I also need a change of scene every now and then.  I have been somewhat of a nomad most of my adult life, so putting down roots in Tawhero is something of an experiment.  (It’s working, as I never want to move.)  But I still need to dust off my suitcase every once in a while.  If you are the sort of person who doesn’t really like travel this can be hard to understand.  I need to travel every now and then just so I can be settled in my ‘real life’, if this makes sense.

So next year, while we will continue in most of our frugal ways, we’re going to put in a little wiggle room for a few fun outings, or a date-night meal at a restaurant.

The Dollar Diet has been absolutely worthwhile, and I see no reason to ever stop.  I like throwing off the shackles of the consumerist system that we in the Western world are born into.  I like thumbing my nose at all the trappings my society says I should have in order to be considered ‘successful’.  I like being a good steward of the resources I have – and believe me, we are very blessed to live where we do in Tawhero.  I like spending time pottering around my house or garden, or visiting friends rather than a cafe.

It’s a good life.

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Dollar Diet: Week 14, in which I fail to plan

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We had a wonderful surprise this week, one that means most of our future Dollar Diet savings for 2015 can be put towards paying off our new car (we still haven’t sold the old one) instead of paying for D and Sausage’s trip to the Netherlands.  D’s Opa gave him $1000 euros towards the flights (so, so generous)!

Annoyingly, my ninja meal planning skills failed this week, resulting in several trips to get groceries instead of the usual one.  I didn’t get quite enough breakfast and lunch food for myself.  This meant I found it hard to stick to Trim Healthy Mama on the days the supermarkets were shut.  Ah well, I’ll do better next time.  We came in under budget, even with splashing out on a leg of lamb for Easter Sunday.  That leg of lamb went the distance as I eked out generous portions of roast lamb for our special dinner, lamb sandwiches, a gorgeous lamb curry (I even used leftover veges from the Easter dinner – I am so Dollar Diet), and I made stock from the bones.  Leftover kumara (sweet potato) was pureed into yummy solids for Chip.

A big savings this week is D tightening his handyman belt and getting stuck into making fences himself.  We need a couple of fences at the sides of our house so the children can play in the backyard and be safe from cars coming and going in our front yard.  We could have paid someone to do it, and D did look at getting prefabricated panels, but it was much cheaper (of course) for him to do it all.

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D reports that he’s really enjoying the process of fence building so far, and is delighted his high school classes of technical drawing and woodworking have come in useful after all.  There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in making something yourself, and this creativity can get squashed out of us due to the demands of daily life.  Who has the time or the mental energy to devote to hobbies when you are working 40+ hours a week at a job you don’t like just to scrape by?  I’m sure this is why many people waste their evenings blobbed out in front of the TV.

Our Easter break activities were very frugal (barring the roast lamb!).  We spent most of it either at home, church or with family and friends.  A friend held a wonderful Easter egg hunt/pizza night at her place, thereby introducing Sausage to the joys of chocolate eggs.  I was a bit sick over the weekend so D and I kept our evenings really low-key.  We downloaded a couple of movies (we thought How to Train Your Dragon was great; Guardians of the Galaxy not so much), and I did something I rarely do – I watched a TV show.  I loved, loved, loved the Carrie Underwood version of The Sound of Music (who knew Stephen Moyer could sing?!).  I read several books.  We took the kids to a nature reserve so we could enjoy a walk in the ‘bush’, as we call it.  It did not disappoint.  The reserve was small, but the birdsong was lusty and sonorous.  It was a great end to the week.