Dollar Diet 2017: Week 37

money 2

Now I’ve finished a piece of work that was sucking most of my spare brain-power, I have more time again to devote to my blog and all things frugal.  This week I was stuck indoors with sick kids.  I thought we’d escaped the worst of what winter has thrown our way, but no, my tots seem to be catching everything just as the weather is warming up.

This week’s frugal happenings:

  • Made two batches of tortillas which I used for enchiladas and burritos.  Tortillas are seriously easy to make (it’s the cooking them that’s the time-consuming bit), and once you’ve had home made tortillas, you’ll never buy commercial ones again.  For the enchiladas I made the sauce from scratch too.  Yum!


  • Found a mint-condition Tinkerbell summer dress from Disney at a secondhand clothing store, which will make a perfect gift for my friend’s daughter who is turning 5 soon.  She is really into long, swishy dresses and this one fits the bill nicely.  The wrapping paper and card are, as usual,  handmade by my tots.

    party dress tots in tawhero

    Such a cute dress!

  • Stayed home most of the week.  This has been a self-enforced embargo on going out as my children came down with conjuctivitis.  It is doing the rounds here at the moment and is ridiculously contagious.  Anyway, saving my town from more pink eye saves me money on petrol and saves me from the temptation to spend.


  • Stocked up on basics that were on sale at the supermarket.  It’s not often I come away from a supermarket these days, saying ‘Wow! Great bargains today,’ but this happened to be a week where many of our regular groceries were heavily discounted.  Items like canned corn and tomatoes were 75c each, toothbrushes were 58c etc so I stocked up on as much as I could and still came in quite a bit under budget.


  • D won some headphones in a competition he entered quite randomly.  He already has a great pair so he sold them on for $130.  Apparently there’s quite a demand for decent gaming headphones, and the buyer was very happy with his purchase.


  • Purchased at $60 meat pack from one of our local butchers, which I’ve then divided up into 14 meals (some of which include our whanau* night, when we feed 5 adults and 4 children).  As we eat several vegetarian meals a week, I won’t have to buy meat for three or four weeks.  For NZ prices, this pack was a great deal, working out at just over $4 per meal.


  • D’s tax return finally showed up!  That is now salted away with other savings to help with our moving costs.  As we are moving islands (which requires taking our household goods and cars on a ferry), our moving costs will be in the thousands.


  • I made a batch of gluten-free date scones with baking mix left over from my 100th failed attempt to go gluten-free.  We have a GF family at my church, so I thought I’d surprise them with something nice for morning tea after the service.


  • Gave a bagful of grapefruit to friends.  I am not making grapefruit marmalade this year as we are likely to be moving soon and I am trying to take as little as possible with us.  I am really going to miss all the free fruit our garden provides us with!


  • We had several meatless meals, including baked potatoes, which D reckons are the best foodstuff ever invented.


Lest you think I am some sort of saint, I did splurge on some unwarranted things this week.  After several days inside my MIL offered to take both my tots for the afternoon.  I was so thrilled, I went to a cafe because I felt like I needed to celebrate!  It was wonderful to spend time without being whined at, or having to wipe snot or eye gunk.  I also went to a Tupperware party (for a friend’s birthday) where I came face to face with an old friend, their children’s tea party set.  My brother and I had one growing up which we LOVED.  I remember holding many, many tea parties in our shed.  The tea set wasn’t too expensive (I don’t usually buy Tupperware as I think it is outrageously overpriced) and I plan to stash it away to give to the kids as a joint present at Christmas.  So there you are, suckered in by nostalgia!

Image result for tupperware kids tea set

Who remembers this?  Ah, the colours of my childhood.



* whanau: (noun) extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.





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



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?


Dollar Diet 2016 : Life socks

The alternative title for this week’s Dollar Diet update should be ‘A diatribe on socks’.

As we still have a temporary nanny while I recover from a back injury, I have lots of free time.  It’s really tempting to spend that time shopping or going to cafes and doing other things that cost money.  But since re-comitting to the Dollar Diet, I’ve mostly kept myself away from any temptation.

It wasn’t hard at all, I must confess.  Even though I’d recently bought some new clothes so I am suitably attired for work, I bought carefully and with much consideration.  Did I really need another striped top?  No.  That white top is nice, but I already have one at home.  My inner dialogue definitely prevented me from making any impulse purchases, and seems to be here to stay.  My old ‘Buy it!’ voice seems to have left the building.

And so it was this week when I wander into a department store to buy socks.  I walked past the women’s clothing section and just said to myself ‘There is nothing I need’ (because there really isn’t) and off I toddled to get socks.

I did need socks because mine all had holes in them.  Seriously.  All.  The beyond darning kind of holes.  It’s a recent phenomenon, but as our socks mostly come from Asia these days, I’ve noticed that women’s socks now run small.  I bought a few pairs in 2015 and they barely lasted six months before I put holes in them.  It’s because all the women in my family are cursed blessed with size 10 feet.  Like I said, as a great deal of NZ’s shoes and socks are manufactured off-shore and therefore now run small, I often need an 11!  Except women’s socks stop at the ‘new’ size 10.

I had to give up on the women’s sock department, and headed for the men’s section – crying on the inside.  My reasoning is that maybe, just maybe, the men’s size 10s might be truer to size.  I’m crying because my husband’s socks are invariably black or brown, and utterly boring.  My last lovely-but-holey women’s socks had tigers, foxes and racoon faces on them.  What can I say?  My mantra has always been that life is too short to wear boring socks.

So part of the problem with my socks, is that they are a bit too small, hence the holes.  But secondly, the quality is rubbish.  Not just that particular brand, but almost all women’s socks.  Men’s socks are often made of sterner stuff, and have things like reinforced toes and anti-hole micro-robots who detect and instantly repair any damage (okay, so I made that bit up).  Why???  Are men on their feet any more than women?  Are they cursed with hobbit feet and pointy toenails that tear socks to shreds immediately?  I don’t think so.  I suspect the ol’ genderisation of clothing plays a part here.  Whatever it is, men definitely get the better deal when it comes to socks.  Go on, have a look at your local department store and tell me I’m wrong.

Anyhow, I drag my reluctant carcass over the the men’s socks, and Lo!  There are some of the funnest (totally a word) socks ever in existence.  And they are half price!  I am now the new owner of socks with pink flamingos, roosters, and – my personal favourite – T-Rex’s on them.  They fit perfectly, and I pray will last longer than six months.

trex totsintawhero

T-Rex on your feet! What more could you want?

Everyone knows that when it comes to clothing we should opt for quality over quantity if we expect to get decent cost-per-wear from an item, even if we’re just talking about socks.  The trouble is, it’s really difficult to find quality clothing any more.  I would love to buy quality, locally-made goods but it’s often not an economic option for me, and I suspect, for many people.  Ethically made, local manufacturers can have amazing clothing, but it is often prohibitively expensive.  $100+ for a top or a t-shirt.  I get that their cost of production is higher than a sweatshop, believe me, I get it.  But my bank balance often trumps my conscience.  Then there’s the fact that some ‘designer’ labels are not guarantee of quality.  I’ve seen ‘designer’ t-shirts retailing for $200-$300 and the fabric is of no better quality than what I can find in a chain store.

If these new socks give out completely I will admit defeat and buy the best socks I can find, and cross my fingers that they service my feet for several years hence.  Or move to a tropical island where socks and shoes are useless.  Actually, that might be the cheapest option.



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!


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.


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.


Dollar Diet: Swapsies

I’ve been a bit quiet of late due to sick children and leading an advent study at my church.  Sausage has come down with a virus, but the advantage of having a kid who is only fit for sleeping and watching TV is that I get a chance to blog.

We’ve been a little spendy of late, but some of it has been in the cause of getting chickens.  D put together a coop, which we plan to move around with a run so our chickens can live the good life, and keep the weeds down around the place.

Chickens are go!

Chickens are go! D putting the coop together.

We hope to pick up some chickens this weekend.  I already have some ridiculous names picked out for them.

I spent money on new pyjamas for the kids, but I did get them at 50% off.  If I could have gotten them second-hand I would have, but decent pyjamas are actually quite hard to come by at charity stores.  They tend to be quite battered or missing either the top or the bottom.

D spent money taking me with him to a Chamber of Commerce dinner, where local business owners can network.  As D’s business is new, getting his face and name out there is important – especially in a small city like ours, where word-of-mouth recommendations are key.  We hit it off with the couple at our table and had a really fun night.  I relished the opportunity to get dressed up, eat a fancy dinner, and talk with adults!

We have however, continued to be frugal whenever possible.  I attended a clothes swap recently which was a tonne of fun and my word, were there some stylish threads to be had!  I got rid of a whole pile of clothes which were gladly snaffled up.  I gained several tops and cardis in the next size down (which I am tantalisingly close to getting into, come on THM), because I know that I will need them in the next few months.  I also picked up this fabulous dress.

Spoils of War

Spoils of War

I absolutely love the print; it’s William Morris-esque, and that’s a good thing.  Anyway, clothes swaps are simply the bees-knees for people on a Dollar Diet.  Update your wardrobe for free, reduce your carbon footprint, and give the fast-fashion industry the fingers.  What’s not to like?

I have been trying to bake more – which isn’t always easy with my active wee boy under foot – but I’ve managed to make pikelets and THM muffins so far this week.  None of which remain after being gobbled up quickly.  Fancy Chamber of Commerce dinners aside, our entertainment has been going for walks, hanging out with friends or pottering around at home.  Much easier on the pocket than cafes, movies or the like.

My biggest challenge coming up is Christmas.  I am making a dress with a digger on it for Sausage, while D is making Chip a busy board.  We try not to go overboard with gifts for our kids at Christmas, but I do have quite a few friends I give gifts to.  I could tell them I’m not doing gifts this year, but part of why I embarked on the Dollar Diet in the first place was to stretch my creativity.  I have a couple of low-cost gift ideas in mind, and will share what I came up with after the season has passed.

As part of my Advent study, I have been looking at the consumerist nature of Christmas, and it has made me even more mindful that usual to not get sucked into the buy, buy, buy mentality of it all.  Many people overspend, some go into serious debt, while others run themselves ragged preparing an elaborate feast for Christmas day.  The pressure to have the ‘perfect Christmas’ is intense, and completely nuts.  So I will be sharing some ways to reclaim Christmas and enjoy a meaningful holiday over the next few weeks.


Dollar Diet: Week 23, bargain-hunting

At the weekend my MIL, Sausage and I went to a huge vintage craft market held at Feilding.  I had initially baulked at the $5 entry fee, but an advertising blurb made the market sound like it would be a great place to source materials to make crafts from, so this was the main attraction for me.  I have several gifts/sewing projects I want to start but I am on the hunt for some great fabric.

The market was awesome, but was NOT a place to source much craft material unless you were into jewellery or card-making.  All the other stalls were filled with people selling the crafts they had made themselves.  While this was disappointing, it wasn’t a wasted trip – I managed to find the perfect gift for my BFF and scored a wooden ‘threading tree’ for only $5 (perfect to help my kids with their fine motor skills).

The rest of the week was pretty frugal.  We bulk bought some ground beef and still managed to underspend on groceries – hooray!  I harvested another load of apples from one of our trees, and gathered the last gasp off our feijoa tree.  I got two dresses and a top for Sausage at a ‘bring and swap’ table at one of the playgroups we go to.  If your playgroup doesn’t do this, I highly recommend asking the organisers to start one.  It’s very easy to set up, and really just needs one person to take care of it.  You bring clothes, shoes etc that your tot has grown out of, and take what you need.  Simple.  I have never seen anyone abuse this system.  Sausage was particularly thrilled with her new/old Dorothy the Dinosaur (from the Wiggles) T shirt I found in the clothing pile.

D had reason to celebrate last week after some hard graft, and really wanted some beer.  We rarely drink most of the time so we had none in the house.  D had enough money from his own ‘allowance’ to cover it.  We both have a tiny weekly allowance that pays for our life insurance with a little bit left over to spend on whatever we want.  As both of us almost never spend it, we have enough money to cover occasional treats like this.  If I need more money that I currently have, I look for ways to make it, like selling something on Trade Me.  This has been an incredibly useful habit that the Dollar Diet has gotten us into.  Instead of mindlessly giving myself a treat because I/D/the kids have ‘earned’ it, I really have to give it some thought.  For instance, raising cash to buy D’s Father’s Day gift is already on my radar despite the fact that it’s not until September here in New Zealand.  The kids can make him something for free, but there is something else he really needs that I cannot make myself and will have to buy (oooh, so mysterious).


Dollar Diet: Week 22 – aberrations

Tots in Tawhero

Okay, so this week was not the best in terms of expenditure and frugal living.  We were very spendy over the long weekend, as that extra day off gave us more opportunity to get into the garden.

D tried to borrow a chainsaw to do maintenance around our property for about a year, but chainsaws are the sort of equipment that people aren’t keen to lend out.  Everyone with a chainsaw attests to the temperamental nature of their own machine.  A builder friend of ours offered to come over and do some chainsawing for us, but as he is a busy guy with a family it just didn’t happen.

We have several large trees that are in serious need of trimming, and some trees that need to be removed because they are too close to power lines or they were planted in rather odd locations.   Along with a slightly derelict chicken coop, we also inherited a shed full of wood – which is brilliant as we have a wood-burner, but the pieces of wood were too large to fit into said wood-burner!

Normally I recommend trying to borrow items like these, but we caved in and bought a chainsaw after seeing one for an excellent price at one of our local hardware stores (D had trouble assembling it and took it back to the store where it was discovered the chainsaw was defective, so D got the next, more expensive model up for the same price as the original.  Score).  The chainsaw has almost paid for itself in terms of firewood that we don’t have to buy this winter, now that we can chop up the wood in our shed into useable pieces.

D also bought a water blaster as it was half price, but I am not so sold on the ‘need’ for it.  Oh well, we will at least be able to lend it to our neighbours.

I spent about $40 at one of our local garden centres buying plants for a part of our garden that has been a nightmare to maintain.  I still cringe when I see this strip of garden that runs up the side of our house (which we almost never use) as much of it is still in dire need of weeding.  Again, this garden was um, strangely planted, with almost no covering plants so there is considerable room for weeds to grow quite comfortably.  There are several lovely rose bushes up against a fence, but it is almost impossible to weed by them due to a reasonably high box hedge planted right in front.

A strip of bricks was also put down between the fence and the path, and was also a weed-friendly zone.  While I love, love, love bricks in the garden, these beauties served absolutely no purpose (it wasn’t a wide enough strip of bricks to walk or sit on) so D and I took them out.  I replaced them with several groundcovering plants, so at least this section of garden will be easier to maintain.

Deciding where to put my plants

Deciding where to put my plants

It is very tricky to garden with my 10 month old in tow as he tries to eat everything in sight, but when I get a chance, I will be looking to give the rest of this side garden a similar treatment.  Even though I balked at spending that much money for such a small strip of garden, I truly believe the new plants are a good investment as I won’t have to spend hours and hours weeding that area any more.

I have plans to recycle our lovely red clay bricks, which are a slice of Whanganui history as they are quite old and possibly put in the garden several owners ago.  I haven’t quite decided on what I will do with them, but I like this idea, or this fun idea, and this one too.  I have plenty of bricks to do all of them when time permits.Another thing we did was not meal plan before we went shopping, something we’ve not done in years.  We managed to come in under budget, but several things were forgotten and neccesitated further shopping trips.  Admittedly our first non-meal plan trip happened accidentally.  As it was a long weekend we popped in to grab a few things the day before I’d normally shop and ended up just going ‘what the heck, let’s just do a big shop now’.  I can’t even remember shopping this way in the past, without a meal plan in mind, but I did prior to getting married.   I certainly won’t be doing that again!


Dollar Diet: Week 21 – Simple dinner parties

It’s been an extremely busy week!  As well as our frugal anniversary, we had a dinner party with friends, helped my brother move, and did quite a bit to get his new property ready.

D and I are very social people and love to host people at our house.  A few years ago D and I were part of a Christian community, and were in a team of 12-16 people at any one time.  We had a shared meal once a week, which we took turns providing.  Having had to cater for kids, vegetarians, and celiacs within that group means I do not sweat about dinner parties anymore! The most important thing I learned from that experience was to Keep.It.Simple.  People don’t need fancy dinners if they are enjoying great hospitality.  Some of the best dinner parties we’ve had saw us serve things like soup and bread, or a hearty stew.  I use my slow-cooker a lot for such occasions so that I’m not running around like a headless chook when my guests arrive.  The meals we serve are simply a larger version of meals we’d normally have, no searching for star anise or whipping up ganache for me.

This week’s dinner party included lots of children and a vegetarian, so we had chicken wraps, with lots of fillings, and I made a bean burrito mix for my vegetarian friend.  We roasted the chicken, and I made the tortillas myself as I cannot bring myself to buy them when I know how easy and cheap they are to make by hand (if you want the recipe, let me know).

Friends gave us lots of fruit and nuts as a thank-you for dogsitting – which they totally didn’t need to do as he is a dream to look after.  But it was very kind of them, and saved us buying any fruit for the week.

We harvested even more feijoas, just when I thought the tree was done for the season.  I planted seedlings that I had grown myself into my new vege garden, so I am looking forward to munching on winter veg in a few weeks.