Re-evaluating and moving forward

18 May 2008

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.


  1. What has struck me most keenly since your post yesterday is that you already live a very self sustaining life with very few expenses, compared to many households. It's very difficult to pare things down when you're already pared!

    I hope the Etsy shop helps with buoying your income.

    Interestingly, this current budget has not done anything much for us either. We're past having babies and don't use child care. So we too, face rising costs, and rising expenses with three growing children. We will also be looking at where we spend our money and what will work better for us.

  2. Wonderful ideas! I had already thought of you selling your stitchery/sewing to help make end meet. Also, you should consider conducting your "sustainability" seminars for a fee. I, for one, would love to attend - of course, the plane ticket from New York State to Australia would be quite cost prohibitive!


  3. Hi Rhonda,

    Glad to hear that you and Hanno have managed to solidify a plan.

    I realise that its probably not the most effective way to do things but would there be any chance to create a "branch office" for the volunteer work in your town. Maybe that day that you are dropping due to costs could be the open day for the branch office.

    As petrol prices soar decentralisation of resources is going to become a priority particularly in a large country like OZ where distance travel is essential if you local town doesn't have what you need.

    Anyway just some thoughts
    Kind Regards

  4. I would like to wish you all the best Rhonda. You know, I think you could also write a book about your philosophies, your life, your recipes etc etc. I know I would love to have a hardback copy of your wisdom.

  5. Great plans Rhonda. It's so refreshing listening to your positivity. You really are inspirational. I especially love the workshop idea. So many people I know would love to simplify but don't know where to begin.

  6. Is there any way that you could car pool, or ride a bike at least part way to your volunteer job? I realize you've probably already thought of this, but thought I'd mention it. It is difficult for me to exactly get a feeling for your gas mileage, but it sounds similar to mine when I roughly convert kilometers to miles and liters to gallons and wonder if Australian liters are the same as US liquid measure liters! Life is too amusingly complicated. But I must say, you and Hanno sound as if you have all bases covered and have really given a lot of thought to what you are doing. What on earth is happening to pensioners who aren't already doing this pared back earth friendly lifesyle?

    I'll be an etsy customer most happily, but I do live far far away! Maybe you should have something you can send by email, like patterns or stories...........

  7. Very interesting post, and helpful too as its given me lots to think about. I don't hope to be as self sufficient as you and Hanno but there are lots of other things I could be doing to cut costs.

    I'm so glad you're opening an etsy shop, I think you should do very well, I hope you will ship to England! :)

  8. Rhonda, an etsy shop will be a boon for your income. I don't remember the precise figure of your readership here which you mentioned the other day, but I suspect once you list items for sale, you'll have an instant market! Another thing I've seen for sale on ebay, buy for baby and in etsy shops that would probably be quite easy for you to make, are nappy soakers. In case you don't know what they are, they are knitted nappy covers to go over cloth nappies. They can be shaped just like plastic pilchers, or like little shorts or long trousers. Us cloth mums use them because they are handmade, from a natural fibre, comfortable and look gorgeous on little bottoms. You'd probably find a pattern at the op shop - they used to be part of layette pattern sets. These little pants commonly sell for $30 (for a basic one colour pilcher style pair), right up to $60 for something flashier. You love to knit - why not include this in your plan. They'd provide good value for your income in terms of time spent and cost of materials. (most knitters have heaps of spare wool lying around). Just an idea to add to the pile.
    Re: sustainability workshops - if you have one in the last week of July...I'll be there! Lisa x

  9. Hi Rhonda, we too are looking at the budget of our house hold. I went to the supermarket yesturday (small IGA in town), I don't go very often these days and I couldn't beleive the prices. Thanks goodness my lambs are almost ready to eat and the garden is up and going. I don't really drive anywhere so those costs aren't an issue. I love how you and Hanno have sat down and worked on a plan together, I know you will succeed. You have given me lots of great ideas once again. Good Luck with your ventures. Marlo

  10. I too got nothing from the budget as I won't be having more children and my exisiting ones are past child care age. I am going to be using public transport more often in order to save some $$. The headline on our Adelaide paper said the average cost of living had risen by $80 per week! I will try to continue to be frugal and I'm off to the local markets this morning to get my fruit & veg.
    I'd love to do one of your workshops, if I ever get up your way! Ditto the soap - I'd love to by some. I know another bloger who has an etsy shop and she also0 does private sales which saves her commission and means a few $ more in her hands.

  11. Rhonda
    I was hoping you would have an Esty shop. Now I can buy soap and other things from you that we have been wanting to make but haven't because of lack of time. I'm sorry Hanno had a stoke a few years ago my mother had one as well. You two are just wonderful I enjoy your writings about your life. What an encouragement you are to us all striving to live on less.

  12. Hi Rhonda
    Good on you for having a plan!! It is quite amazing how petrol prices have impacted on everyone isn't it. I drive to work every day and I have really noticed how my weekly petrol bill has increased by about $20 - $30 per week Yikes!!!

    Although private health insurance is very expensive, I think it is worth it. Waiting lists and non choice of Drs is a bit scary for me (just having this baby alone would be costing me about $8500 if I used the providers I have now and didn't have PHI!!!).

    All the best to you and Hanno :-)


    PS I LOVE the hen and chicks on your second picture - can you tell me where you got them from (it's my birthday soon - I might make a request :-)

  13. One thing that I haven't seen mentioned is the concept of tithing.
    Since I don't know your personal beliefs, I want you to know that I am not trying to push this on you, just to mention it. I have witnessed over and over and over how my husband and I prosper when we pay our tithe and how we fall behind when we get behind. In the King James Version of the Bible, Malachi 3:10-11 says "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes......"

  14. Rhonda, I too am going through our budget with a fine tooth comb. I realised a couple of weeks ago that our grocery bill had increased by about $30 a week in less than six months.

    I was going to suggest a bike for your volunteer trips then realised the amount of km's you would be riding.

    Re: the budget; I am a feeling let down and disheartened by the environmental policy changes and feeling like my Green vote has been ignored.

  15. Rhonda,
    You really are an inspiration with your clear, logical thinking and planning when confronted with this dilemma. You have much wisdom to share and I thank-you immensely for this blog.
    It seems to me that people world-wide are being challenged finacially these days. I am believing that people will be drawn to "old" ways again. By this I mean incorporating many of the things you are doing in being self sufficient. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


  16. Congratulations Rhonda for getting on with life. Your plans sound well developed. Best of luck with them. If your previous budget was made up three years ago as you say you have done very well. We all have to adjust to some things in this otherwise fast society that we are part of.
    Bev C

  17. With the volume of readers you get I still cannot see why publishers would not grab at you to write a book( hard copy). I much prefer a book than e-book.
    Sustainability seminars would be wonderful and I would attend. Perhaps even streamlined individual ones where you can choose what you want to learn for the day (as many of us are already doing some of the things listed). I may be moving to the hinterland and was only thinking yesterday that it would be great if Rhonda could visit and tell me some words of wisdom of where to put the chook pen, etc etc. So maybe you could even do home consultancy visits.

  18. Hi Rhonda Jean :) I'm cheering for you here, and praying for you as you and Hanno plan. You are so dear to me!

    I'm looking forward to the shop and to what projects will come along as a result of this challenge. Love and hugs, Q

  19. addit, would Hanno take up building chook pens?? And if your giving sustainability seminars you could also do retail supply of some materials too.

  20. I love the idea of sustainability workshops and wish I were closer so I could attend!!! You and Hanno are doing such a great job and I have learned so much from the two of you. Good luck w/ the Etsy shop ~ I think you will do wonderful!

    Central Illinois

  21. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Sort of an aside - do you have the pattern for you dishclothes posted somewhere on the site? I'm not very handy, though trying to improve, but one thing I can do is basic knitting, which is sounds like it would be (it's the adding and subtracting stitches as you go that messes me up for more complex patterns).
    i will look forward to hearing how you continue to economise - and hope for a more friendly budget for pensioners next year!

  22. I am so glad that you are starting an Etsy shop! Your soaps alone would sell like mad. My sister lives in Adelaide and will likely want to purchase some of your handwork (she makes her own soap already).

    Our missing chicken never returned. It is always so hard to deal with loosing them. I know, we need to toughen up and remember that it is part of this life that we are blessed to lead -- that doesn't make it easier when our little hand-fed babies go missing.

    It's been a busy couple of days! We had our second installment of the IMPACT adoption class Saturday and then had guests over. I only just finished cleaning up the kitchen and am utterly exhausted.

    Of course, I had to come by and see your blog before dropping off to sleep.

    I didn't know that you used the same recipe for laundry detergent! How wonderful! I got my recipe from my aunt a few years ago.


  23. I love the idea of your Etsy shop, and especially like the idea of sustainability workshops there at your home. Jack and I discussed what we'd suggest, but it was difficult coming up with anything since you're already very aware of your spending, are out of debt, and manage your household so carefully. The one thing we came up with was something along the lines of the sustainability workshops, and yes, to teach soapmaking, sewing, making eco-friendly cleaners & fertilizers, organic gardening, jam-making, etc.
    If you were in our area, we'd gladly pay for an afternoon to be taught some basic necessary skills such as you have.
    We'll be watching carefully as you implement the new changes, and we wish you success with each of them! :)

  24. Thanks for taking the trouble to set out that post. I was trying to rethink what I had read previously.

    Your grocery bill is much lower than mine, I should add that instead of meat we use smaller amounts of sausages, so loved what you said about sausages. We first started eating bigos with rookwurst I think when we changed to cooking with sausages. We had moved to a community with probably more German shoppers than where we lived previously.

    Love the guineafowls in pic.

    Thanks for explaining about why no advertising, that makes perfect sense.

    I was having a lovely time yesterday reading articles by Shannon Christman.

    I wish you well with the Etsy shop.

    I must say from talking about things with hubby, he mentioned LPG for cars is going to be taxed. We have this like another reader.

    This is very encouraging. Maybe I could look for more ways to cut back too.

  25. I am reading comments, and thought of the craft shop we have here. Not sure how widespread they are, it is the second one I have heard of. The retired and other ladies sell their plants, sewing, knitting, jam etc. in a shop, they volunteer their time to run the shop. They write the label information into a book. From what I know about craft shops, it is a place to get money for your craft items, the overhead is the electricity shared I am guessing. I get lovely plants there, it is a blessing to me, today we are planting out a windflower from there.

  26. Hi Rhonda Jean. Thank you for sharing your budget difficulties with us. The clear, objective way that you've gone about assessing and suggesting solutions to the problem has been a real inspiration to me. I live in the UK so unfortuately wouldn't be able to attend any sustainability classes you'll run but I really would love to. Good luck, and Bright Blessings to you and Hano, I look forward to hearing how you get on.


    P.S. Mrs Broody is still on her clutch....

  27. Perhaps you can also sell homemade jams, preserves, sauces, tea in your shop?
    Here in Holland the prices of fuel are rising too. Here a litre diesel costs 1.35 euro! And about 70% of it is taxes for our government. We pay tax over taxes. So people got angry sometimes about it. When my husband has to buy fuel he has to pay now almost 70 euro's. Our car uses 1 litre for 18 kilometres.
    But we need the car for my husband to go to his work.
    Good luck with all your new ideas. I'm also very curious about them.


  28. Hello Rhonda, good to see so much focus - it's so sensible to have a plan, and to constantly re-evaluate where you are. Good luck with the Etsy shop, am sure it will work for you. Re the e-books: if I check the exchange rate, uk pounds to aus dollars, I often feel I'm getting a good deal, so don't be put off by that. I also loved Tin House's idea of the nappy wrappers, and am sure you could add that to your skills, being an accomplished knitter already.Best of luck to you and Hanno. Warm hugs, Diana x

  29. What about making your own cheese? You would still have to buy milk but perhaps that would be cheaper?

  30. Interesting post! Lots of ideas, but it looks like you're already doing so much. I guess gas is a huge cost, so car pooling or riding a bike (I don't know about public transport?) seems a cheaper option if possible at all.
    The Etsy shop and workshops are great ideas, the knowledge you have about making things is worth a fee for many!
    I'm sure you and Hanno can make it work, and it's a great adventure indeed. I look forward to reading about it!
    Christine from the NL

  31. Good luck with the esty shop. You are an inspiration Rhonda. Keep up the good work.

  32. Hi Rhonda,
    Thanks for all the helpful tips. I see you've said you use paper tissues. I find hankerchiefs much handier (and cheaper) and you can throw them into a normal wash when they get dirty.
    Good luck with cutting back.

  33. Rhonda,

    Thank you for a lovely well put together blog. I would like to sign up for a sustainability workshop, and would be very interested in an at home consultation...we are on the North side of Brisbane. I think that you have so much support and the wisdom that you and Hanno have gone about this dilema is very encouraging. If only you could bottle your wisdom and sell it!! You could make a fortune.

    I will pray that you will be richly blessed as you go about implemeting the changes to your life.

    Kindest Regards Michelle

  34. We are quickly approaching the day that we will be half way through 2008. What a great idea to go through our current budget and goals and see what's working and what could be pruned back.

    Would love to see some easy beginner stitchery patterns for children. Most everything is directed or designed for adults. Perhaps you can design a little girl character that will win the hearts of both mothers and children.

    Best Wishes on your new endeavor.

  35. I am so glad you took the ideas on board, I love the Esty shop idea, I would love to be a customer, but the poasteage would be prohibitave.

    I am going to print off your soap making workshop and see if I can make some soap. Currently I buy the cheapest washing powder I can find and mix it with washing soda. I would love to find an alternative, especially if it is cheaper, right now 3 months supply of washing 'stuff' costs me about £2.00. I keep it in a plastic crate with a lid and stir it about to make sure that the soda is mixed through. I use about half a cup full to a full load of washing.

    Good luck Rhonda, I will look forward to reading how your projects are going.

    I would love to attend a seminar, but UK to Aussie......think of all the pollution!!!!!!!!!!!and the cost.

    Today we have planted up the allotment with climbing beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celebrease and brussels, lettuce and courgette. I had to weed out all the mustard that had grown whilst we were away, its all in the compost bins now.

    We need rain, although all our barrels are full, they will not last long, the ground is cracking now..........

  36. Hi Rhonda

    In the Uk volunteers are entitled to expenses ie it shouldn't cost you anything to volunteer

    couldn't you claim your fuel costs from the centre you work for??

    if they are grant funded they can apply for this money as part of a project so technically your not taking money away from the project

    could the centre not apply for funding and pay you for doing things like budgeting,cooking etc

    i have done these for vollie org and been well paid for it especially if the course you offer is a governments pet project ours are healthy eating and skills

    Sharron in the UK

  37. Rhonda you are such an inspiration, I wish you well with the Etsy shop, I would love some soap and stitchery patterns. I noticed a previous comment regarding tithing - you already give so much to your community in my eyes and I am sure in many others that is you tithe (in hours of volunteer work). All the best for the future to you, Hanno and family - best blog, first blog I read everyday.

  38. Rhonda,
    I wish you much success with your Etsy shop and new plan. Rising prices are forcing everyone to make changes and sacrifices.

    Thank you for being such a good example for all of us.


  39. I think the idea of the sustainability workshops (yes, for a fee) is a winner. I know enough women, including myself (unfortunately in California, but still) you would love to take part and would walk away with a new sense of confidence. It's a great idea!!

  40. I read your blog with total awe! So many excellent ideas that WE can use in California! One idea you may not have considered is that of a solar cooker. It looks like it would be easy to build and use (google "solar oven"). We have a real fog problem where we live and I don't think we have enough sunny hours to cook food but I know people who have used them. Excellent energy free idea for veggie cooking but I am not sure if it is safe for meat containing recipes.

  41. What struck me about your post is how other pensioners are surviving - you live so carefully through thrift - I am sure many don't, and I wonder how they are making it.

  42. Rhonda, I hope your new financial plan works out. Good luck!

  43. Hi Rhonda,
    I just wanted to say that I would most certainly purchase one of your stitchery's from your shop if you posted to the UK. I understand your principle to not want to make us spend but for me it would be 'spending to save' as every time i looked at it, it would remind me of why i am living like i am and the reasons behind it. Here in the UK food prices and fuel are also rising at an astonishing rate, we have started our stockpile and our veg patch is really taking shape, so things for us will be ok, and we will continue to baby step our way to spending less saving more for he more uncertain times ahead. Thanks for your words of wisdom. Stacey Wall x

  44. I am sorry you are struggling, but I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am that you will begin selling your stitchery! Please let us know when your etsy shop is open.

  45. Good Morning Rhonda, I wish you luck in your Etsy shop and sustainablity workshops. I would just love to attend one of your soap making courses.

    Have a happy day.

    Pippa in Cornwall.

  46. Hi Rhonda,

    One other thing that may save you a bit is on your cat food. Now I'm in the UK and used to buy their tinned cat food, as it is the cheapest around of that type of food. However, I've discovered a dry food called Burns - I don't know if its available in Australia, but it works out about half the cost of the Aldi tins, and the cats absolutely LOVE it, as its all natural ingredients, no nasty chemicals like in other commercial pet foods. We buy a 7.5kg bag for a bit under £25 and it last our 3 cats for 2 months.

    If they don't sell it over there (or anything like it) then you may want to consider buying cheap meat (that is out of date, or not fit for human consumption, but is generally considered fine for pets) from some meat wholesalers and prepare their food fresh (just boil it up and add gravy.stock with a bit of flour to thicken). Standard pet food is more than double the price pound for pound than prime steak, allegedly, although I've not costed up that particular rumour myself.

    Just a thought, hope it helps.

    Much love,


  47. Fantastic ideas. It's great to read about your solutions! Thanks for keeping us up-to-date as many readers are watching their budgets and wondering how and where to cut back next...



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