Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Wander Through The Garden

While the sun was shining I took the opportunity to wander around the garden - camera in hand this time instead of a cup of tea! The productive aspects of the garden are developing nicely. Most of the fruit trees are only a few years old so are only just beginning to produce fruit but it looks like this year's crop will be a good one.

This year I'll get the fruit off the apricot trees a little early as last year a large proportion of the crop exploded in the humidity - they were still tasty though.

This is the second year of flowers on the avocado. Fingers crossed for fruit this year.

The birds enjoyed the cherries last year - this year we will! I'll be netting the tree!!!

There are always loads of lemons on the two ancient trees in our yard.

Plenty of blossom on the dwarf Imperial Mandarin.


Hopefully we'll see a nice first crop off the Packham pear.

The strawberries are still producing... this is their fourth year!
If all this potential abundance comes to fruition, it will mean a busy time in the kitchen preserving a wonderful harvest. And, hopefully plenty to give away, too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home Made Lemon Cordial

Now that we're half way through spring, we're starting to indulge in cold drinks again. While water is always the best choice in cold drinks... sometimes bubbles and sweetness are needed, too. So this weekend I've made use of a bucket load of lemons from our trees and made lemon cordial. We can then use this cordial to flavour plain old tap water or for a bubbly treat, soda water. 

I used this recipe from I'm very pleased with the result and will use it again next time.
The 'hard work' - squeezing lemons.

Simmering the sugar syrup and lemon zest .

The finished product!
No artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners and no added preservatives, just sugar, water and lemon juice. And, cheap! Just $2.19 for 2kg of 'plain label' sugar!!!

If you have access to some lemons, give it a go.

Now I'm looking forward to the raspberry crop so I can try making raspberry cordial. Recipe recommendations gratefully accepted!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Freezers, Doorways and Silver Linings

My freezer died.

Yes, I know... it's something we'll all have to deal with at some time in our lives. But, the freezer is the appliance that we probably take for granted the most - until it dies. And, of course, they never seem to cark it when they're empty.

So, in the midst of my freezer grief I had to decide if:

  • I'd live without one (tempting until I remembered the wonderful berry sorbets we made last summer)
  • Get a chest freezer (better for tall people)
  • Get an identical upright freezer to match the fridge (and then, no doubt, watch the fridge die a year later)
  • Get a fridge and freezer in one unit and retire the old fridge to the shed for parties (this was the winner).

After parting with a hefty sum of money, I took delivery of a space-age, stainless steel, side by side, fridge/freezer. Totally gorgeous and swish and... too big to fit through the doorway into the lean-to kitchen. 

Apparently when they were building houses 130 years ago they didn't consider refrigerators... who knew?!

So, after much squishing, squeezing and a decent dose of lateral thinking the delivery guy and I gave up. Now we're back to the fridge and freezer being tucked away in what is currently the dining room, waiting for the time that the room is renovated and becomes the kitchen. Which is exactly where the fridge and freezer were before the temporary kitchen was constructed.

The silver lining though, is this: I am now fully committed to getting the next stage of the renovations started. That means, saving in earnest AND expanding my means. The most shocking bit of all? I'm actually excited about it!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creative Projects - Knitted Patchwork Blanket

This project has turned into a MONSTER. My original intention was to make a throw rug until... it needed another column for balance, another shade to add depth and texture and cream strips to add definition. Now, it's closer in size to a bedspread!

Created from pure wool, it will be very cosy - on a couch or a bed. Riley likes it already and I haven't finished putting it together yet!

Friday, August 12, 2011

De-cluttering – One Area Done – 17 to go!

Remember the out of control book case I wrote about in De-cluttering, still...? Well here it is. 
Not perfect, but considerably tidier.
It took hours to sort through all the old papers, magazines, photos and junk that had been shoved into any and all available spaces on the bookshelf. There was a sizable box load that got dumped into the recycling bin, too.

De-cluttering really is seriously cathartic. Choosing to let go of stuff that no longer serves you is empowering. I’ve always had a problem throwing out photographs. Not sure why, but there you go! During this sort out I found a couple of envelopes of photos from a long, LONG time ago... and a heap of them were truly awful. Blurry, over(or under)-exposed, chopped off heads... why was I keeping them? I’ve given it a lot of thought and I still can’t come up with a good reason. Actually, I can’t even come up with a bad reason. So, into the bin they went. Talk about liberating!!!

Now the question is, what’s next on the de-clutter schedule?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Global Warming in My Backyard

Around the middle of July, three or 4 blossoms appeared on one of my apricot trees. That’s blossom in mid-winter! I guess this could be dismissed as a freak occurrence and I did dismiss it as such, until I was looking at the tree the other day and noticed that fruit had set.
Global Warming - Winter apricots!

It’s easy to dismiss the so-called debate in the mainstream media about our changing climate but as a gardener, it’s pretty clear to me that something is going on with our weather and it’s probably not going to end well.

The real questions we need to ask ourselves are: “How much will it change, and how much will we need to adapt the way we live and grow our food in order to prosper under the new conditions?”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rambunctious Raspberries

Who knew raspberries were trying to take over the planet? Not me... I had no idea my raspberries would turn into triffids and attempt to take over my entire yard.

To be honest, I was completely naive to the tenacity of raspberries. Their cousins, the blackberries, seem to get all the publicity on that score. So it was a bit of a shock to find that raspberry shoots were appearing outside the area I’d allotted them. And, that the area itself had become a tangle of old canes, rampant grass and the odd self seeded flat leaf parsley.

Cleaning up this area quickly became a priority task and I’m on the clock, because spring is not far away.

One of the first things I did was remove some of the smaller shoots and put them in pots. The plan is to sell them from my garden gate once they’re nicely established.

The next task was to put down a heavy mat to stop any grass or weeds reappearing - I’m guessing it won’t stop the raspberries. I used thick layers of wet newspaper to smother the grass and weeds then put a thick layer of mulch over the top.
Newly mulched raspberry patch

The area looks a lot neater now and I’m pretty sure I’ll still get a good crop of lovely bright red, juicy raspberries this season; perfect for the fresh jam that goes so well with lovely light scones, still warm from the oven. Something to look forward to!

Monday, July 18, 2011

De-cluttering... still...

The de-cluttering is still under way. It really is a BIG task and it’s SO easy to get distracted, procrastinate or simply find something else to do... anything else! The major motivation though, is that I know it will be so much easier to keep the house tidy once all the superfluous stuff is gone. The other motivation is that clearing out the unnecessary means  there'll be more room available for the important stuff; like pantry supplies and other stockpile items.

There’s even a chance my life in general might be a bit more orderly, too! At least that’s what the experts say. I could certainly do with a good dose of ‘orderly’!!!

Here's the next project: One of my bookcases.
Stay tuned for the 'after' picture...

The next choice is: donate the items worth donating or try to recoup some money by selling them on eBay or a garage (yard) sale. I’m not exactly sure which way to go yet so the ‘good’ stuff is being boxed up. The less than ‘good’ stuff is being donated immediately and the junk is going out in the garbage.

The big trick will be making sure we don't end up in the same situation in a year's time!

Friday, July 15, 2011


Self-reliance is about finding ways to live life without always looking to outside sources for what you need. I prefer the term self-reliance to self-sufficiency because it really is impractical to be truly self-sufficient. Not many of us are in the position to provide for ALL of our needs. It’s one thing to make your own laundry powder but can you also produce the raw ingredients to make that product? Probably not, but in order to be self-sufficient, that’s what you’d need to do.

However, by purchasing the raw ingredients I can make my own laundry powder and not only cut out the  extra ‘nasties’ in the ingredient list but also the corporate layer that makes the most profit from the laundry powder. Meaning it costs me a whole lot less. Less money going into the coffers of the corporate world means more money in mine. Making your own laundry powder is just one example of how being self-reliant can also save you money.

When you choose to use your own time and skills to provide for your family, you’ll save more money and experience a greater sense of accomplishment.  And, it’s not rocket science. Often the most important skill you need to begin your self-reliance journey is the willingness to ‘give it a go’.

Each success; yeast doughnuts from scratch or a plant grown from cutting or seed builds your confidence. Each task you accomplish enables you to take greater control of your money and your life.

The important thing to remember is that being self-reliant takes time and not everyone has a lot, so choose one thing that you believe you can do for yourself, do it regularly and then build on that. That’s what ‘Patchwork Economics’ is all about, finding small changes you can make so you can create a new financial fabric for your life.

Here’s the recipe I use for home-made laundry powder.

Laundry Powder Recipe
4 cups grated laundry soap (Velvet) or homemade soap
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda

Mix all ingredients together.
Use just two tablespoons of this powder for each wash. Suitable for both top and front loading machines as this mix is low suds.
I use my kitchen whiz to grate the soap and mix the ingredients – quick and easy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Learning to Love Legumes

If you’re like me, your stockpile contains an assortment of dried beans. It’s easy to see why, they are cheap, easy to store and nutritious. Trouble is, they’ll go to waste if you don’t actually eat them!

Which is a timely reminder of the number one rule of stockpiling: Only store what you normally eat. There’s no point in stockpiling either dried beans or tins of baked beans if you don’t like them and/or don’t normally eat them.

So, if you’re new to legumes (beans) then now is a great time to learn to love them. Start small and work your way up. Don’t try to get your family to eat beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner right from the start. Try adding small amounts of beans to meals you already make, then as your family becomes accustomed to them, you can get a little more adventurous.

Beans are the friend of the frugalista because they are also a great filler for a variety of dishes, for example, you can super charge a basic vegetable soup by adding beans or you can flesh out a meat dish like lasagne by adding red lentils to the meat sauce. These are frugal ways of increasing the volume of the dish for very little cost.

Are beans a big part of your diet? Do you have a favourite bean based recipe? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Energy Audit

Energy is a commodity very much on everyone’s mind; between the proposed pricing of carbon emissions and the ever increasing cost of all forms of energy, we’re facing an ongoing challenge paying for our high energy lifestyles.

One thing we can be sure of is that the price of all fossil fuel based energy will get more expensive. Even if there’s no ‘carbon tax’, if the form of energy we rely on requires oil as an input, it will get more expensive as the competition for oil supplies heats up.

So, what are our options? Well, unless you’re in a position to put a photovoltaic array on your roof, (which I’m not) then you’re going to have to learn to live with a lot less electricity.

I’ve kept an eye on my electricity use (Kilowatt Hours not $$) for a number of years and for most of that time, it’s averaged around 7 kilowatt hours per day. It has recently climbed to a little over 8 per day. The time has come to find out where the ‘leak’ is and fix it but not only that, I’m setting myself the challenge of reducing my usage by at least 25%.

In my home, electricity is used for heat, light and small appliances. I use natural gas for hot water and most cooking. I also have a wood burning combustion heater in the main living area. That means I have a few options for reducing usage but nothing that will show a sizeable reduction, quickly.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be tracking my usage via the meter and taking note of which appliances are being used and for how long. Hopefully that will point out any obvious power drainers and also, if there are some bad habits that have snuck into our daily routines. 

It also means I’d better get the block splitter out and get some more firewood sorted!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vertical Gardening - Aerial Pumpkins

I mentioned in my pumpkin soup post that this summer I had rogue pumpkins everywhere: here's the photo to prove it.
Pumpkins growing in a stand of silver birches

The vines made their way into my silver birch 'wood' and set fruit that I've called my aerial pumpkins. Actually, I think the real variety is a hybridised version of a Queensland Blue.

If nothing else, this shows you don't always need vast expanses of ground available to grow vine type vegetables, there are a lot that can be grown vertically, too. 

Food for thought!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Stuff...

A while back I read two books that really touched a nerve with me; Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much and Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. Both books explore our seemingly insatiable desire to acquire 'stuff'. 

The growing 'Donate' pile
The 'donate' pile growing in my hallway shows that I'm not immune to the impulse buy... A large garbage bag has already gone out with the weekly garbage collection. I had a full bin for the first time in months!

The aspect of this exercise that I find most confronting is thinking about the amount of money spent on these things that could have been put to better use.

The purge will continue this coming weekend. 

Friday, May 27, 2011


Lately, the chore of keeping my little house tidy has reached Herculean classification and it comes down to one reason: too much stuff.

I know I'm not the only one in this predicament. Self storage businesses seem to be popping up everywhere. And, the crazy thing is, I don't remember solving clutter problems being a serious business proposition twenty years ago, so what's changed? Why do we all have so much stuff?

I'm sure there are multiple reasons and they'll differ depending on who you ask but I know that sometimes, just sometimes, a little bit of retail therapy sneaks into my life. Especially in stationery stores...

So, today I'm setting aside some time to do some serious de-cluttering. I'm also going to watch The Story of Stuff again to remind myself why I need to make conscious purchase choices not impulse ones.

I don't expect I'll get it all done today but I do expect to get A LOT done today.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Keeping It Simple - Pumpkin Soup

I never plant pumpkins but I always seem to end up with a garden swathed in pumpkin vines. This year they've even climbed my silver birches and produced 'aerial pumpkins'!

One of my favourite ways to cook these freebie pumpkins is Pumpkin Soup.
Chopped Golden Nugget Pumpkin

My recipe is simple:

  1. Saute onions in the fat/oil of your choice. I prefer either lard or chicken fat but if neither is available I use butter.
  2. Add chopped pumpkin and cook for about 5 mins.
  3. Add enough chicken stock to more than cover the vegies.
  4. Add a chopped potato or two.
  5. Add a tablespoon or two of tomato concentrate (homemade or commercial)
  6. Simmer until pumpkin and potato are completely cooked.
  7. Add salt and pepper to your own taste.
  8. Puree.

Pumpkin Soup with fresh baked Wholemeal Bread

Serve with freshly baked bread for simple yet luxurious meal.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Oil Price v Petrol Price

I readily admit that Mathematics was neither my favourite subject at school nor was it my best subject but, try as I might, I fail to understand the correlation between oil prices and petrol (gas) prices.

On Friday, the price of unleaded fuel at my local petrol station jumped from $1.359 to $1.529 per litre. Yet over the last week or two the price of oil has dropped to less than $100 per barrel.

Makes you wonder which price is being deliberately manipulated, oil or petrol?

The bottom line... higher petrol prices mean that EVERYTHING that requires transportation will increase in price, too.

Time to revisit the budget.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Along with many other things, my kitchen garden has been a little neglected of late.

Despite the lack of attention, I've just picked these:

Fresh and delicious...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When things get overwhelming...

Life's a little overwhelming. 

There seems to be an unending list tasks to add to my 'to do' list but a diminishing amount of both time and energy with which to do them.

I don't imagine for a moment that I'm the only one in this predicament but some days... it certainly feels like it.

The trouble is, 'To do' lists in and of themselves are overwhelming and a little depressing. They point out the tasks you HAVEN'T DONE. The completed tasks are usually obscured by straight or squiggly lines and it's the tasks yet to be completed that stand out. The jobs you haven't got to yet. Depressing...

So, in an effort to avoid the paralysis that often results from looking at my current list, I've decided to do things in reverse. I've started a 'Done' list. That way I get to celebrate my achievements whenever I look at it. Lets face it, I know what needs to be done. The weeds are obvious, the overly-long grass is obvious, the cobwebs in the corners are becoming increasingly obvious. 'To do' lists really are superfluous.

Is it working? Well, it's early days yet, but I feel more motivated. And that, in itself, is an achievement!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blogger gone A.W.O.L. (Absent WithOut Leave)

I'd like to be able to say I've been absent because I've been on some sort of last minute round the world trip, or secret mission or some other equally exciting adventure but the truth is, I've just been absent.

February was an odd month. Lots of 'busy-ness' but I can't really see what's been achieved.

And here I was... hoping February would be a month of achievements!

So, March WILL be different. It WILL!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pantry Pics

This is my dining table. Once again it is in use as a storage space rather than a piece of furniture used to make dining more comfortable. On the table is part of my stockpile. 
Stockpile 1
I had to empty the cupboard this lot was stored in so it could be moved. Yes, more disruption due to the ever-unfinished kitchen. I figured if I need to move it then I might as well do a stocktake, too. 

Stockpile 2
Most of my canned goods and consumables are stored elsewhere but I'm hoping these pictures will show that anyone can start to build a reserve of food stuffs. 
Stockpile 3
Stockpiling is not an exact science or a one size fits all set of instructions. We're all different so we all have different needs. The trick is to start, then build on it regularly.

Whatever happens, you're prepared to ride out the worst of it if you know you have a well stocked pantry.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Introducing Riley

A couple of weeks ago, the latest member of our household arrived.
Riley - Life's tough!
His name is Riley. He's now 11 weeks old and as anyone who's ever had any experience with kittens knows, when he's not fast asleep; he's a total lunatic.

Riley - The paper was like this when I found it... honest!
He's also firmly entrenched in our lives and our hearts.

Riley was one of the lucky ones. Most of his litter mates were unable to find homes and went to the local animal welfare centre and inevitably, were euthanised. I will never understand why people neglect to get their pets de-sexed. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Treats that Nourish Body and Soul

One of my favourite treats is 'salty maple syrup almonds', you can find the recipe here. It was pure serendipity that brought these treats into my world.

I love almonds, but they don't love me. Each time I ate them: raw, roasted, scorched, it didn't matter, I felt worse. I wasn't about to give up though so I did some research and discovered that soaking nuts (and seeds) makes them far more digestible by:

  • Neutralising the natural enzyme inhibitors in the nut
  • Enabling the body to absorb more vitamins
  • Breaking down the gluten so digestion is much easier, and
  • Reducing phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of vital minerals.
I'm a fussy soul though, and I wanted the almonds to be full of flavour. That's how Salty Maple Syrup Almonds were created. And, not only are they very tasty, they're also full of vitamins and minerals. Just make sure you use real maple syrup and preferably Celtic salt as these ingredients are packed with nutrients, too.

They take a little while to roast so I usually have them in the oven while I'm also baking other things. 

Try them, and let me know what you think.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stockpiling 101, cont...

Step Two

Now you’ll need to spend some time thinking about menus. In order to know what to stockpile you need to focus on what you use. If you don’t bake, then it’s pointless having 50 kg of flour stored. If you don’t eat baked beans they shouldn’t be in the cupboard. You know what you and your family eat on a regular basis. Most families have a dozen or so favourite meals they cycle through regularly. What are your family’s favourites? That’s where you should start your list.

Make a list of the ingredients or food items you buy regularly and start checking prices. Write the price, the size of the packaging and the store in a little note pad that you keep with you all the time. This enables you to take advantage of specials when you see them therefore making your stockpile a real budget superhero.

Remember though, only buy what you use, don’t buy it because it’s cheap. Cheap is still expensive if it sits at the back of the pantry collecting dust until it’s finally thrown away during your next spring cleaning session.

Once you’ve started to build up a supply the food items you use regularly, you can expand your stock list to include consumable items like toiletries and cleaning supplies.

When you’re comfortable with your ability to manage your well stocked pantry you’ll no doubt want to take it to the next level – preparation planning.

Preparing for an emergency, whether or not it’s financial or physical or both takes planning based on an intimate knowledge of your needs. Emergency Preparation requires you to store everything you need to survive a short term (or long term) emergency. Working on your well stocked pantry is giving you the knowledge, skills and a head start on stockpiling.

As your stockpile builds you will begin to feel a sense of self-reliance. You’re no longer a slave to the supermarket. The roles have been reversed. You can choose to buy when it suits you rather than them. You’ll start to get a taste of the real power of the money in your pocket and your respect for its power will grow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Well Stocked Pantry or Stockpiling 101

Step One

You need to know where you are in order to map out how to get to your destination. Organising your stockpile is no different. 

Once you decide you'd like to create your own well stocked pantry, you'll need to do a stocktake. That means getting everything out and making some decisions:
  • What's in your pantry now?
  • How long has it been there?
  • Is it past its expiry date?
  • How many of each item do you have?
  • Will you (and your family) still eat it?
  • If not, can you donate it?
You might by surprised at just how much stuff has made its way into your pantry and never seen the light of day again. Sort through it as quickly as you can, if you linger too long at this task you'll start to focus on the money that's potentially been wasted rather than the task at hand and that's not useful at this point.

Create three separate piles; keep, use immediately, donate. It would be prudent to throw away some things and I'm sure you know which ones when you see them. The 'keep' pile will form the basis of your stockpile, the 'use immediately' pile will mostly consist of items you bought on impulse rather than items you buy regularly so find a way to use them immediately. If you can't, donate them via a local food charity. Anything you can't ever see yourself or your family eating again, that's still well within its “use by” or “best before” date, donate.

Give your pantry a clean while it's empty. You might want to cover the shelves while you're at it, too. But, don't get too carried away or you'll lose sight of your objective, which is to start organising your stockpile.

When it comes time to refill your pantry, take a lesson from the supermarkets. Make sure the items you use every day are the most easily accessible and that usually means eye level. Items that are heavy or bulky should be on the lowest shelf or floor, items that are used less often can go on higher shelves, which is probably a good place for the biscuits!

Now that your pantry is clean and uncluttered, you’re ready for the next step. Tomorrow we’ll start on stocking your pantry.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Benefits of a Well Stocked Pantry

Once upon a time, in every corner of the world, food security was the first priority of every family and/or village community. Food was harder to come by, took effort to grow or hunt or gather and it was the difference between hunger and health. If you didn't store food for the lean times you went hungry or died. 

A well stocked pantry is insurance against roller-coaster prices, financial trouble and external adversity. When your pantry is full, you're prepared for any kind of siege; cut off from civilisation by flood waters, snowed in or the financial wolf is at the door.

Food security was paramount in the thoughts of most communities until relatively recent history. 'Just in time' logistics systems apply not just to the movement of stock to stores but also of produce to plate. How many times have you gone to the supermarket to buy food for just one meal? Dropping into the shops on the way home from work to pick up what you need for dinner is 'just in time' logistics.

A well stock pantry or stockpile is central to patchwork economics. It enables you to shop less frequently, buy in bulk and take advantage of specials at the supermarket. You've probably heard this before, but to put its value in context, you just need to have read, watched or listened to the reports of panic buying in Queensland during the floods to see the value of a well stocked pantry or stockpile. Panic buying was experienced in a lot of towns and suburbs that were faced with being cut off from that 'just in time' logistic system during the floods. Supermarket shelves were emptied in hours. In some cases, police had to be called as violence erupted and some supermarkets were forced to employed security staff. There were also reports of price gouging. In most cases these localities would have been without fresh supplies for only a few days, a week at most.

You can avoid scenes like this if your pantry or garage or spare room contains the basic supplies for at least a month. This doesn't mean three dozen tins of baked beans stacked up in neat rows, unless of course you love baked beans, it means a back up supply of the ingredients you use every day. If you cook from scratch, you understand intimately which ingredients you need a decent supply of. If you rely on prepackaged foods it might be a bit more of a challenge - they will take up more space and cost a lot more.

My pantry it an integral feature of my patchwork economics approach. It has ample supplies of white and wholemeal flour, other baking requirements like yeast, the raw ingredients for baking powder plus salt, sugar, milk powder and cocoa. Protein ingredients are dried legumes and tinned tuna, plus there's also tinned tomatoes and tinned fruit in the cupboard. And, complete meals will be added to the shelves as I get the hang of using my new pressure canner. I also have a stock of basic consumables on hand too; toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, etc. I keep a supply of fresh milk, meat, butter and lard in the freezer. Oh, and cat food, lots of cat food (Woolworths recently had my cats' favourite at brand half price). These are just some examples of what I keep a stock of in my cupboards, your needs will probably be different. 
Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner/Cooker
A well stocked pantry gives you choices not available to those who operate on 'just in time' logistics. It saves you money if you buy only those ingredients you use, and you buy them in bulk or on special. It gives you a buffer against financial adversity because even if you're without an income for a few weeks, you still have food in the cupboard. And, the future always looks brighter on a full stomach!

Not sure where to start when it comes to building a stockpile? Stay tuned as we cover the basics on putting together a stockpile over the coming week.

Here are some news reports on panic buying:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Spend February

For many years now I've appointed February as a designated ‘No Spend’ month. I think it all started as a way to recover from the additional costs of Christmas, the summer holidays, and the back to school spend fest.

It’s also the shortest month.

Last year was the first in a long while that February escaped this challenge as we had other challenges, ones that transcended money.

This year, it’s back...

What is a ‘No Spend’ month?

In very simple terms it’s a month when only the basics can be purchased. That means food, petrol and regular bills. No clothes, cosmetics, shoes, plants for the garden, toys for the cats, extra special notebooks, trips to the movies. No car washes, haircuts or manicures. No takeaway, no ‘treats’.

Obviously, emergencies can arise but the definition of an emergency is strictly limited to health and vehicular; a long awaited DVD release doesn’t count.

While the ‘No Spend’ month will inevitably change your bank balance in a positive way it will change your habits in a positive way, too. You’ll become more aware of how often you get your purse or wallet out when you’re then putting it back, unopened.

Challenge yourself to a ‘No Spend’ month. Or even just a week and see how you go.

Then come back and share your experiences.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Spending Less – The Top Five

This year money is going to be tight, very tight.

There are a several reasons for this:
·         I have employment for six months but beyond that I’m not sure
·         Whispers in the press of another interest rate rise
·         Inevitable rise in prices for basics like food, utilities, petrol (gas) and insurance plus the effect of the Queensland and Victorian floods on those prices
·         And... the roof needs replacing - desperately.

I’ve been practicing a simple, frugal approach to life for many years but in the last year or so, I’ve dropped the ball a bit. Now is the time to get back on track and to ramp it up a notch or two. That’s going to mean being very organised, spending less on everything is much easier when you’re organised. For example, last week I grabbed a serve of chilli con carne out of the freezer for my lunch at work. When I’d divided the chilli into single serves and put it in the freezer I was in a hurry and didn’t label it thinking that I’d recognise the contents easily. If only that were true... Instead, I’d picked up a serve of tomato and vegetable sauce, which is very nice over pasta or chicken but not so appetising on its own. So, I was faced with buying a sandwich or going hungry. I’m motivated to save money but starving requires more motivation than I possess!

Sandwich - $6.00
Lesson in labelling frozen food – priceless

Five ways we’ll be spending less this year:

Library only for magazines, books and DVD’s
Our regional library carries a great range of titles and they’re free. It also has an online catalogue which means I can log on at any time and request the book or DVD I require and they let me know when it’s ready to pick up. This saves time and money.

Home cooked
Food in general will continue to get more expensive but when you pay someone else to prepare it you’ll be paying even more. This year I’ll be vigilant about preparing our food at home.

Stay out of the shops
When I first chose to change my approach to money this was the first step I took – I deliberately stayed away from the shops. I no longer went for a stroll through the central shopping area during my lunch break and I was amazed at the effect on my bank balance. In order to reinforce this mindset again, I’m having a ‘No Spend February’.

Stay out of the car
This is a no-brainer. The less you drive, the less you spend on petrol. And petrol is getting more and more expensive every week.

Turn off the television
The television is a dangerous object to have in your home. It not only sucks vast quantities of time from your life but it also exposes you to a universe of ‘wants’. The introduction of the television heralded a substantial shift in our society. People we would never normally associate with were suddenly in our home deliberately influencing the choices we make in our daily lives and those of our children - for their benefit not ours.
Also, the time we lose while watching TV undermines our ability to do what we need to do. Have you ever totalled up your viewing time? What else could you have been doing during that time? While I don’t watch much television per se, I do watch DVD’s. The end result is pretty much the same, though – less influence perhaps but lots of lost time.

These are the top five ways I’ll be spending less this year. There are many other lesser approaches that I’ll be employing in my quest to spend less money and ultimately reduce my mortgage and I'll be sharing them with you, too.

What are your top five ways to spend less money?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Queensland Floods and Food Security

The short term impact of the severe flooding throughout Queensland is devastating. Even to those who have just lost property and not loved ones, the scars of this experience will last a lifetime.

The long term effects will filter through to us all.

Many areas of Queensland currently under water grow a large proportion of Australia's food supply. Unfortunately, replanting can't begin as soon as the waters recede. The ground will need time to dry out and so will the equipment. A lot of equipment will have to be replaced, too. Seed stocks will no doubt have to be replaced and fodder for livestock will also be a problem. It could be 12 months or more before these regions are planting again.

What does that mean for the rest of us?

It means we'll be facing short supplies, strong demand and high prices for fresh food. When the tonnes of fresh produce grown in Queensland as well as commodity foods like corn and sugar are removed from the supply chain there will be shortfalls. Certain items might not make it to the supermarket at all, for example: tomatoes might go straight to the food processors.

How can we soften the blow to our budgets?

The most obvious first step is to ramp up your vegie garden (if you have one) or at the very least plant a couple of vegie 'pots'. Any options available to add fresh food to your table for the least cost are worth exploring.

The next step is to consider the state of your pantry. Do you maintain a stockpile? It's always worth buying items you use regularly in bulk, if you can. That can mean going to a wholesaler to buy 10kg bags of flour or just buying extra from the supermarket when items are on special. Maintaining a reserve of the basics enables you to ride out the high prices caused by temporary disruptions. It's also an insurance policy against being 'shut in' for any reason.

The next 12 months will be a lesson in 'making do' for a lot of us. Food security will become a headline issue and will hopefully create a new awareness of the need for greater self-reliance in food production. We'll also become much more aware of the fragility of our supply lines and 'just in time' delivery schedules as the interruptions to transportation will affect our food security just as much as the loss of crops. Ultimately, what we do with this knowledge is up to us.

Our thoughts are with those people directly affected by the tragedy of these devastating floods.

You can donate to the Premier's Flood Relief Appeal here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Renovating - Investment or Vanity?

Renovating is an expensive business. It costs you money, even if you do most of the work yourself, but it also costs you time, stress and general disruption. So why do we do it?

Renovating your home can add considerable value to your property if done properly. It can also detract from the value of your property if the renovations are poorly designed, the workmanship is below standard or it's not tastefully decorated. You can also over-capitalise by spending more on the renovation through sheer vanity, than can be gained in extra dollars when you sell.

Renovating your home can also add considerable value to your life. If the renovation makes it easier to do the things that are important to you then it has a value beyond that of the purely financial.

For me, the area of my home that didn't work was the kitchen. The one room I probably spend the most amount of time in! It was tiny: 2.5 metres by 2 metres. Too small for the fridge/freezer to fit into and a bench for preparation that was not much bigger than a chopping board. For someone who values cooking from scratch as well as preserving produce from the garden, the kitchen was a daily frustration.

The effort to create a new kitchen has been huge because I was not in a position to just add a bigger kitchen, I had to work within the existing footprint of the house. That meant relocating the bathroom to the third bedroom (which was really just a junk room) so that the kitchen could expand into the space made available once the old bathroom was removed.

Cinnamon Scrolls - The first batch of baking from the 'almost finished' kitchen.

The work hasn't come cheap and it's been a major disruption for months and months, but it's much easier to reconcile the costs (financial, physical and emotional) when the benefits are more than cosmetic. And, the financial investment pays dividends each time I cook from scratch rather than rely on ready-made convenience.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kitchen Renovation Update

This renovation was never supposed to be a big deal. It was supposed to be the next (small) step toward a bigger renovation goal but... that's not how it's turned out.

To cut a long and stressful story short, things did not run smoothly once the builders finally arrived.

One of the big surprises for me when I started removing the lining from the walls was the absence of any kind of insulation. The lean-to in summer is unbearable but I figured it had to at least have flashing on the roof and external walls, but no, absolutely nothing. When I made this discovery I decided to strip all the lining off so that insulation batts could be put in the walls and ceiling. (I'm using any and all passive methods I can to keep the house cool in summer).

The kitchen stripped bare. The whole in the floor shows where the wall used to be. And, of course, Loki.

After seeing very slow progress for the first two days, I arrived home from work on the Friday to discover that not only had VERY little been done in a full day by TWO men, but they'd forgotten about the insulation. They'd put up the plasterboard on the west wall (external) and ceiling before they remembered. I was livid! To make matters worse, all they'd done for the day was put up plasterboard in a room that measured roughly 4 metres by 2.5 metres.

This is the state the kitchen was in when the builders were 'let go'.

What really ignited my temper was the builder's suggestion that even though THEY forgot the insulation, I could fix that when I put new weatherboards on the outside walls. AARRRGGHHHH! There was no way I was going to pay for their mistake so I gave them their marching orders. So, my kitchen is STILL not finished. But, at least it is usable... more so once the electrician fits off the powerpoints.

Looking lived in already! The Udden sink from Ikea is great. It's just waiting for the dishwasher to be installed and then I'll organise the Udden cupboard for underneath the sink.

Temporary bench and cupboard space.

Commercial shelving from Officeworks. It's heavy duty and BIG!

The whole debacle has added much more to my 'to do' list than I'm comfortable with. I now have to put up the cornices, architraves, skirting boards and frame up the doorway plus the tasks I was planning on doing myself anyway, like sanding and painting the floor. And, it has been an ongoing lesson in disappointment, however there have been glimpses of a silver lining in there, too.

I've learned a bit more about my own capabilities. Demolishing the majority of the old bathroom and kitchen took a huge effort to do on my own and it brought with it a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Also, confrontations are not my favourite form of communication and I'm adept at avoiding them but this time I said what had to be said and dealt with the situation rather than just letting it go.

All in all, I'm pretty proud of myself!