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!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cost of Living Increases Expected for 2011

This article was published in the AGE newspaper this morning:

Hikes to hurt households

Jessica Wright
January 2, 2011
    FAMILIES face cost-of-living increases that could drain the weekly budget by up to $100 this year.
    New data shows Australians are being hit with record expenses for basic services while the floods that have wiped out crops in Queensland and NSW are predicted to raise fruit and vegetable prices by up to 50 per cent.
    Any hope that the strong Australian dollar would shield motorists from increases in fuel prices have been dashed - global oil prices are tipped to hit record highs early this year.
    This year's price increases will compound the cost pressures already inflicted on households.
    The price rises for local commodities such as wheat, sugar and coal as a result of the flooding come on the back of a 26 per cent increase in global prices for grain and rice from June to November last year.
    AMP chief economist Shane Oliver said: ''There is no doubt there will be upward pressure on food - bread, fruit and vegetables. It is a bit like a few years ago when we saw a cyclone and what happened to bananas. Some things will reach up to 50 per cent extra, others not as high, but there will be definite rises. There are entire crops under water and this is going to have a big effect.''
    In the three years to September 2010, the price of electricity for the typical Melbourne home rose 54 per cent. The price of water rose 62 per cent, the price of gas rose 28 per cent - the highest price increases during the period of any capital city, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
    The bureau's projections for utility prices this year paint an equally severe scenario of escalating costs.
    The trio utility costs alone represent an extra yearly burden of about $1000 on family finances - or $20 a week - for an average household of four, while grocery bills are set to rise on average by $50 a week, based on an average weekly bill of $150.
    The figures sit in contrast with inflation, which rose during the same period by just 8 per cent.
    Annette Beacher, the head of Asia-Pacific Research at TD Securities, said inflationary pressures were increasing and could translate into another interest rate rise in the first quarter of this year.
    ''We're starting to see … [a] shift into more price rises than price falls,'' Ms Beacher said.
    Housing affordability has taken another dive, with industry figures showing the largest yearly decrease in affordability in a decade.
    A report by the Real Estate Institute of Australia showed the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments increased 5.8 per cent to 34.8 per cent during 2010, a 10-year high.
    The Bureau of Statistics also identified health costs, communications services and petrol prices as having risen sharply over the year.
    FUELtrac managing director Chris Kable said that along with oil price rises, motorists were carrying the extra costs of supermarket loyalty schemes, which he believed were artificially inflating prices.
    However, the dollar is set to continue its record-breaking run against the greenback and the euro.
    How will these price rises affect you?

    Now is defintely the time to sort out your budget, sort out your priorities and prepare for a much higher cost of living.