Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Back on the frugal train

I have a bit of a dilemma on my hands at the moment.  I don't know what to have for lunch.  I know, first world problems right?  But seriously, I've been so busy in the kitchen lately using up every scrap of what we have and turning it into something else, I actually have too many choices!  Do I have chicken noodle soup?  Or a curry pasty?  Or some sausage hotpot?  Or a chilli beef and cheese pie? And don't get me started on everything I have in the garden right now!  Tomatoes, bok choy, lettuce, beans (three kinds of), rhubarb, carrots, silverbeet, broccoli, courgettes, plus these freaky looking Asian greens that I don't know what to do with but taste nice anyway... it feels like I have a little supermarket right in my own place!

All picked yesterday!

It feels bloody good actually.  Feels like I'm getting on top of things again.  It's lovely to look in the freezer and see it all stacked nicely with food I've either grown or saved.  Keeping on top of all the weeds in the garden is a bit of a pain, it's a never ending chore but so worthwhile.  I have to say this week would be the least I have spent on food in a very long time.  It's something our household is really committing itself to because the amount we've been spending lately is crazy.  I thought it was just me being slack but I saw a friend yesterday who is one of the savviest, most frugal people I know and she said she was off to another supermarket 45 minutes away because she was so sick of going to our local one and spending an easy $100 each time on just a few bits.  She reckons she saves an average of $1 - $2 per item at the supermarket out of town, which when you add up how many items you'd put in your trolley works out to a hell of a lot - far more than the petrol it would cost to go there.  It's tempting to give it a go.

Not that I need to go for a while however!  It also helps that the blokes in our house are REALLY unfussy.  One of our big wasters which we've been trying to stamp on and make better use of is to stop cooking too much and eating it all, but making it stretch into another meal or freezing the leftovers instead.

One such example is buying a big bag of sausages on special and cooking up the whole lot rather than only the amount we need.  Even if we don't eat them all right then and there, simply knowing there are leftover sausages in the fridge calling to us means they don't last five minutes and we just eat them for the sake of it, rather than saving them until we're hungry.  Getting rid of this habit alone is proving to be a big saver and it really helps when everyone is on the same page money wise. Although I have to say I guess not working is also a big factor in being more organised.  I mean, I have to do something productive with my day!  So I spend it largely in the kitchen and the garden and although there's always that financial stress in the back of my mind, I have to admit to being a much happier little bunny.  As Murphy's Law would have it, I've had job offers coming out of my ears lately but at this stage am unable to take up any of them!  Still, it's nice to be asked.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, so they say and I'm pretty sure that Yorkshire Pudding is the main reason my man puts up with me.  Gareth LOVES Yorkshire Pudding!  Actually everyone I know loves Yorkshire Pudding but a lot of people have never tried it until they come to our house.  Once they do, they're instantly converted. And I'm more than happy to make it as often as everyone wants because it's so cheap.  Honestly, how can something that's basically made from nothing taste so good?!  So seeing as Valentine's Day is coming up, here is my age-old foolproof recipe for good old fashioned Yorkshire Pud to amaze and astound your loved one with.  If you've never tried it, it's about time you did!

Yorkshire Pudding 

1 cup plain flour (it HAS to be plain, not self-raising!)
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp water

Put your flour and salt together in a bowl (they reckon sift it but I'm too lazy for that and it always turns out fine).  Make a 'well' in the centre and crack the eggs into it.  Stir gently, then add the milk and water (again it says gradually but I just chuck it in!)  Mix well until you have a smooth batter. The earlier you can make your batter before you needed (the recommendation is to chill for an hour) the better it is, however in our house Yorkshire Pudding is often a spontaneous decision and I've found it really doesn't make any difference if you use it straight away.

Anyway, however long you leave it, once you're ready to cook them, put the oven on to 200C. I use a large 6-pan muffin tin to make mine in, or a Swiss roll size tin.  Put in about two tablespoons of oil, then pop the empty tray into the oven and leave it until the oil is smoking hot (that's an important bit). Quickly pour the batter into the tin and then shove back in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes or until golden.  Best served with roast dinner and lashings of gravy but we've been known to eat pretty much anything with them!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Stop Crumbling, Start Kicking!

It seems to me, that when pretty much anything crap happens in life you have two choices.  You can either crumble and let it beat you - or you can step up and kick it in the ass.  Sometimes it can take a while to stop crumbling and start kicking.  And sometimes, such as in the case of illness, things truly are beyond your control.  But on the whole, when it comes to most things - money going down the gurgler, relationships coming to an end, loss of something or someone; whatever, how you react, how you bounce back and how you survive from here on is up to you.  One thing is certain - good or bad, there is always something to be learned from it.

I've been awake since 3.30 this morning, paying off debts in my head - trying to visualise how I can do it (particularly when there's nothing to spare), how long it will take and ticking them all off mentally in my head, imagining how good it's going to feel, getting rid of the blasted things one at a time until there's no more left.  I can credit two triggers with changing me from a crumbler to a kicker this week - one is Simple Savings, the other is my bank.

The bank want to help me you see.  I'm not sure how they plan to do this yet and I'm not sure who was more surprised to hear this, me or my bank manager.  But despite the fact that things look nothing short of disastrous on paper, they don't want to take my house from me.  At least, not yet.  I have around six months to try and turn things around.  I'm not sure if I can do it because at the moment, I simply don't have enough to make a difference.  I have to turn my negative balance into a positive balance with enough surplus to pay off all my arrears as well.  But if they're willing to give me a chance, I have to give it my best shot.  I have to start doing some serious ass-kicking.

The first thing I had to do after meeting with the bank this week was pick up the phone to all the people I owe money to.  All the ones whose letters and phone calls I had been ignoring, whose bills had gone unpaid by anything from two to six months.  It took me six hours to contact everyone.  Yeah, there were a lot.  The list was endless and I dreaded each one but I was amazed to find that everyone I spoke to actually cared (or if they didn't, they did a bloody good job of sounding like they did) and wanted to help.  As I progressed down the list I found myself being offered two months free this, three months suspended payments on that - and I realised that shit must happen to people all the time and that's why they have these things in place.  All they ask for is that customers communicate - which I've always known but was too busy crumbling to communicate with anyone.  Now, whilst I still have to pay everything back, at least I have a bit of breathing space and I feel like I have regained a smidgeon of control.  I still feel like a failure - but not as much of a failure.

Gareth came home later that afternoon and I cried all over him.  Poor bloke, must have been lovely to come home to!  I try not to cry very often but even though the day had been so productive, the whole process had been exhausting.  The bank also got me to write a new budget and although it was good to know exactly where I was at, seeing the enormity of the task at hand and the money I had to find was nothing short of overwhelming.  Still, I know what I have to do now - I just need to come up with a way to do it and whilst I felt overwhelmed, I didn't feel down or despairing.  The hardest part is over.  Now it's time for the fun part, kicking those debts into oblivion!

Until the other day, I hadn't been a member of Simple Savings for over a year and I wonder now how much NOT being part of it possibly affected me financially during the past 12 months.  It's not that I don't know what to do to save money; I still know more about that stuff than pretty much anyone I know - and so I should!  It's the motivation side of things; the constant focus and being in the presence of like minded people that is really pushing my buttons now.  We cheer each other on, we commiserate with one another and most of all we inspire one another.  In just over a week of being back, I have read many stories of people such as the 22 year old who was $52,000 in debt until she joined Simple Savings.  Six months down the track she has reduced that debt by $18,000!  Or the 39 year old woman who was so determined to buy her own house before she was 40 that she has managed to save $60,000 in less than three years.  Or the long-time Simple Savings legend Shane O'Donnell who was one of the first people to inspire me by sharing how she reduced her debts by $30,000 in one year.  That's real ass-kicking stuff.  That's the kind of thing I want to do.

Saying that, I don't think any of these ladies have teenagers.  It must be a hell of a lot easier to save money when you don't have to worry about anyone else and can just focus on yourself.  If it was just me I could exist happily on beans on toast and save a shitload too!  But it's not just the stories, it's the ideas too.  One of the reasons I couldn't sleep last night was because I was imagining myself paying a little extra off each debt every night online, by rounding off whatever was in my account.  By this I mean, say at the end of the day I had $519 in my bank.  Jeez, now I am dreaming, but for explanation's sake imagine I did,  I would pay that $19 into one of my debts, so that even though I'm already paying them a set amount each month, I'd be paying it off faster using all those little 'leftover' bits here and there.  The next day I might only have $412 but again I would chuck that $12 into something else.  After all, we all know how much those little bits add up!  To me it seems a painless way of getting ahead faster and is something I really want to do.

Every time I jump on Simple Savings it makes me think more about what more I can be doing, or things I used to do which I've forgotten.  It's stopping me from crumbling and keeping me kicking.