18 May 2008

Re-evaluating and moving forward

There have been many emails and very thoughtful and helpful comments to my previous post. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Every comment made me think. We are doing a number of the suggestions already so I thought it might be helpful for you, and a good summary and reminder for me, to go through what we are doing here. I have got a reasonable idea of where we're headed so I'll get to that at the end of the post.

Hanno and I will write out our new budget later today so I'm not much wiser with my figures yet but I do know that insurance is our biggest expense. We were paying just under $2000 a year for private health insurance but few months ago we reduced that by $500 a year by agreeing to pay an excess when we use it. Hanno had a small stroke a few years ago and also goes to a cardiac specialist occasionally so keeping the health insurance is important. I'm confident we've got the best value for money with our car, house and contents insurance, so they're not being touched now.

We gave up pay TV a few years ago, we have one mobile phone that costs us about $10 every three months to run (yes, $10), our landline is one of the Telstra pensioner budget accounts. We get around nine kilometres a litre from our car. My job is in the next town so that's currently a 30 kilometre (19 miles) round trip three days a week. I'm cutting that back to two days soon but at the moment it's costing me $54 a month in fuel for my voluntary job. Yikes! Obviously the fuel bill will need to be talked about but I'm not going to give up my job which supports my simple living philosophy and has come to be an important part of my life.

Our vegetable garden, which includes potatoes and fruit, supplies most of our fresh food at the moment. It costs very little to keep it going, except the work to maintain it. We make our own fertiliser with comfrey, compost and worm castings, we buy seaweed extract and sulphate of potash a few times a year. We have two water tanks to store harvested rain water. They hold 15000 litres (4000 gallons) and we have enough rain fall to keep them going. They have very rarely been empty.

Our chooks keep us in eggs and soon, when they're all laying, we'll sell the excess eggs to pay for our dog and cat food as well as the chook food. We make our own dog food at a cost of about $5 a week for two Airedale Terriers (fairly big dogs). We buy tinned cat food at Aldi.

We don't eat meat, although Hanno does buy smoked meat about four times a year for his winter German grunkohl and sausage fest. If we buy fresh fish, we buy that from the fishermen's co-op down on the coast. The last time I bought fish it was about $20 a kilo for snapper/barramundi/coral trout. A kilo does us for about three meals. We buy fresh fish about once every six weeks. The rest of the time we eat vegetarian-type meals but this is something we did before we started living as we do now.

We have solar panels for our hot water so all our hot water is free. I wash up by hand, except when we have visitors here, I sweep the floor and only use the vacuum cleaner a couple of times a month. I make all our cleaning products, including soap. We still use toothpaste but we also use bicarb and salt. We've disposed of all paper disposables except tissues and toilet paper. I knit dishcloths, I've cut down dramatically on the amount of plastic wrap I use and probably now use about a fifth of what we used to use. I found a French pyrex glass container for cheese, I cover leftovers with upturned bowls. We have compact fluros light bulbs in every light socket in the house. I use a slow cooker. I am monitoring our electricity and water usage again by checking the metres every day but I already know we use a fraction of what is considered normal nowadays.

We spend about $250 a month on all groceries and food, including fruit, vegetables, milk and cheese, which I buy locally. I am not going to increase that as prices rise, we'll change and adapt as we go. Most of our food and grocery shopping is done at Aldi, what we can't buy there we buy at the local IGA. When we need fruit or vegetables we buy them at local markets. I buy all our flour, bicarb, nuts, seeds, spices, yeast etc from a bulk food shop. I bake our bread and always cook from scratch. I never buy pre-cooked or convenience foods. I always cook with the lid on the saucepan to retain heat, I cook with powdered milk, I use loose tea, not teabags, I always use leftovers. We preserve our excess and always make our own jams, preserves and sauces. Nevertheless, if there is one place I could cut back on costs, it would be in the kitchen. I used to fill a Thermos flask with boiling water but stopped doing that for some unknown reason, I'll start that again today. The kitchen and cooking is always a work in progress, because I am constantly looking for ways to simplify and cut back.

We gave up buying books and magazines. Hanno buys the weekend newspaper sometimes. We belong to our local LETS but rarely use it because most of the people listed now are offering products and services we don't need.

I will think about doing some sustainability workshops here at home - maybe a day long course that is hands on making bread, soap and laundry powder, lunch with the bread and salad from the garden, followed by an afternoon outside showing how to develop and maintain a vegetable garden as well as keeping chooks and worms.

I'm already writing regularly for Warm Earth magazine, I'll ask them if they'd like two articles instead of just one. I might also approach other magazines like Grass Roots and Organic. I'll think about the e-books again. My concern initially was that they'd be too expensive with the various exchange rates to make them worthwhile.

The biggest change is that I've decided to start an Etsy shop. It will take a while to make enough products to open, but I started working on it yesterday. I'll sell stitcheries, new patterns, soap, the e-books and a few small sewn things for the home. When I have loofahs, I'll sell soap and loofah gift packs. I think it will be fun but it will also take a lot of time. I might have to rearrange my days in small ways to accommodate the extra needlework.

I won't have advertising on my blog. I am hoping to encourage thrift, not spending. I will however, use my Amazon box again when I get around to it so I can get some new books for myself and Hanno.

Every simple life is a series of challenges - which begin with everyone telling you you're crazy when you start. I see this as just another challenge, a problem that can be solved with a bit of thought and change. I love being challenged, I love doing the best I can with what I have and I love taking charge of my life and doing things my way. This will be a time of change for Hanno and I but we look to it with enthusiasm and, as usual, we'll walk this path together, writing about what we find as we go. Thank you for your support, comments, emails and kind wishes, our lives are better for them.
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