15 June 2011

Small changes, big savings

I read a very interesting article the other day that confirmed what I think about Italian and Greek migrants in Australia. That their various abilities to grow, cook and preserve food and drinks made them not only wonderful Australian citizens but helped them live frugally and happily in their new chosen land. According to the article, compared to our UK migrants, Mediterranean migrants paid off their houses faster, even though they all worked equally hard to build their new lives. The difference was that the Italians and Greeks knew how to grow food in their backyards, and many of them did that as well as keep chickens and sometimes goats and pigs. They had preserving days with other families when they would put up sauce, salami, cheese and wine.  And all this meant they spent less on food while eating the diet they were used to - it helped them retain a part of their culture.

We can learn a lot from those immigrants.

In the article it stated that "A family growing a few vegetables could save the equivalent of, in today's terms, $25 to $50 dollars a week. Over the course of a 25 year mortgage this works out to between $32,500 and $60 000." I believe that is true, and it's serious money. So how would you save that kind of cash by growing food in your backyard.  Well, first you have to know what you're doing, but it's not rocket science, it's something most people can do. It involves work, developing whatever land or space you have available, getting your hands dirty and being consistent. Sometimes you'll have good harvests, sometimes you won't but over the course of that 25 years, you'll get better, particularly when you know the wide variety of food you can produce and the kind of savings that are there for the taking.

There is more than one way to make money. One is to get a job, the other is to save what you've already earned and to keep that money in the bank. If you spend less on food, clothes, utilities etc., while remaining healthy, happy and nourished, you can use your saved money to help pay off your mortgage or to save for a house deposit. When you've paid off your mortgage, it will be your choice to work or to cut back on work and pursue other interests.

If we can save that kind of money out in the backyard or in containers on the porch, what can we save inside over the course of a 25 year mortgage?  Well, there is laundry detergent. If you're currently in Australia and you're buying a litre of Dynamo a month, you'll spend $102 a year or, if we stay with today's price, $2550 over 25 years just for laundry detergent. By changing to homemade laundry liquid you'll keep $2500 of that in your pocket. If you start stockpiling, more savings, monitoring your electricity, gas, fuel, phone and internet usage, more savings again. If you bake at home instead of buying inferior bread, cook from scratch, recycle, make your own jams, sauces, pasta etc., it's not only going to save you money but you'll be eating healthier food too.  Looking after what you already own, turning your back on fashion, learning to knit and sew, mending clothes and household goods to keep them going longer - all these things will save you reasonable money in the short term and will make a real difference to your life over the course of 25 years.

To make these savings you need to switch from a convenience mode to a productive mode. If you have spare time now and are spending time on the computer or watching TV, or if you need to reorganise yourself to make time available, use that time to build a new kind of life. Instead of buying the convenience of someone else's skill and time, you'll do those things yourself and keep the money that you would have spent. We're not talking about a big time commitment for many of these things - it more a way of fitting them into your life and doing things differently.  For instance, if you want to stockpile, you'll have to find a space and then just shop in a different way - when it's all set up it will save you not only money, but also time. Cooking from scratch and baking will be easier once you've got your stockpile set up because you'll have your ingredients on hand - your part will be to remember to load the slow cooker in the morning, to find recipes for quick and easy mid week-from scratch meals, or to cook twice as much and freeze it when you have the time. Making laundry liquid will take no more than 30 minutes about once every two months, if you stop buying shampoo and use bicarb instead, it takes no more time at all if you already have the bicarb in the cupboard. You can do your knitting and mending while you watch TV in the evening. Much of this is working in a different way and with different materials - it's changing your attitude and making your mind up to do it, then doing it. It's not a huge life change.

The good thing is all these things are easy to do and you can start right now - today. Everything I've mentioned above has been written about in detail on my blog, many other blogs and in books available at your local library. I know not everyone will be capable of doing this,  but most will be. The only thing that will hold you back is you.



  1. Wonderful post! I found your blog a few months ago (and absolutely love it!) and it has inspired me to try to live more simply. I make our liquid laundry detergent and am about to embark on making our bar soaps and also learning how to knit. We're working on stockpiling, slowly but surely. There really are so many little ways to save money, if you take the time to really look at your life. Every penny my husband and I save is going straight to the bank to hopefully buy our first home with sometime in the next year, and a just doing the few changes above have really helped us jump-start our savings. Thank you for your wonderful blog. :)

  2. Excellent post! We've lost one income and are struggling to reduce our costs to fit in with our new budget. I garden some and make my own laundry soap and bar soap. Time to expand my do-it-yourself mentality. Just the incentive I needed.

  3. That is fantastic! It is really amazing when you see the numbers! Wow!

    We have a good size garden, and I cook from scratch, make bread, jam, our own laundry detergent.

    It is so simple and I love it!


  4. Another wonderful post, Rhonda!!
    I always find motivation here! I think I will begin a list of new things to try. I'll start that list with making laundry soap!

    Thank You once again~~
    Central Illinois

  5. Hi Rhonda, thanks, for sharing that! Do you have a reference for that article? I'd love to read it.

  6. I'm redecorating this week and it has been suddenly noticeable how big the little changes really are - we are eating convenience food for a few days (takeaway burgers, pre-sliced supermarket bread etc) as the kitchen is in pieces and the lounge is covered in paint. I miss my homemade bread! My daughter had a sandwich made from the square foam stuff from the shop and said "yuck, I can't believe we used to eat this stuff!"

  7. I would like to make my own laundry liquid. I live in the UK and would be grateful if anyone could point me in the direction of washing soda powder (can only find crystals). Also it seems borax not available (according to Dri Pak website this is due to EU regulations)

    I'll pop over to the forum to see if anyone can help.

  8. I learnt everything I needed to know about growning and preserving food from my grandmother. I remember being embarressed as a child that her whole yard was devoted to growing food. But now I know she gave me valuable lessons, and tools that I will use the rest of my life. Unfortunately she has dementia now and is in a home so she has never seen my gardens but I know she would be very proud of what I have remembered and achieved.

  9. Wise, wise words Rhonda.
    Taking that big picture view is something that pays off in many ways.

  10. This post was very interesting comparing the immigrants lives style as apposed to others. I had never heard anything like this. It does make sense though. We did just that an paid off our mortgage in half the time. Another asset of living like you stated is if you grow your own food you get exercise from doing it your health will be better for it and you might live longer. With the bills paid off you can really enjoy those extra years in a relaxing way! Thank you Brenda. Sarah

  11. Hi Rhonda, I love this post, it's full of motivation and inspiration. I love seeing the savings too, I just don't realise the savings until its all worked out...another way I have noticed I save time is with the shopping, there are aisles now I don't even go down....I also love the new look of your blog...

  12. So true. We had a lovely lunch at my Greek husband's parents place last weekend. Home killed t-bones, salads from the garden, sitting outside at a table overlooking their extensive vegetable gardens, fruit trees, 40 odd chooks, two goats and two poddy calves awaiting fattening up. All this on one acre. They live very well and we try to emulate that in suburbia on an average house block as best we can.

  13. Great post Rhonda!!!
    It couldn't have come at a better time, when I was feeling frustrated with the budget. It has made me refocus on what I am doing as a stay home mum and has revitalised my mindset.
    Thank you!! Now off to make that laundry detergent and liquid soap I have put off doing for the last couple of weeks!!

  14. Great post Rhonda.... reading your blog keeps me motivated to keep live simple and remember what is important.
    Do you find liquid soap "better" than the powder recipe. I have always made the powder laundry detergent.
    Also I was trying to find your post on shampoo, you use bicarb [baking soda?]. Need more information on this method.
    Thanks again for your blog I love it !!!
    Oh and my daughter has returned home from China [ she was on her kitchen post ] and continues to live a very frugal life with the love of her life.

  15. Great post! I agree with you 100%Like you we are living this kind of lifestyle and find it much more rewarding and the bonus is that we save a lot of money.

  16. What a great post! So inspiring and reinvigorating. I have done most of these, but got discouraged with my failures.

    I should try again - there is really no downside to living like this, except that it takes time, which I probably would have wasted with tv anyway.

    Just wondering, with the laundry detergent, is there any solution to the greying that seems to happen to my whites & nappies after a few months? This is why I started using commercial detergent again (as well as hubby complaining his work shirts weren't clean enough and smelled)


  17. When I first changed the way I do things in the 70s, I took great delight in expressing to my husband how much money we had saved, by growing, making, mending etc. Now it's so much part of my life that I no longer do this, but deep in my heart I have a massive feeling of satisfaction.


  18. A lovely post. We have lots of Italian migrant families in our small town community who came to this area in the 40's and 50's. They are solid pillars in our community, still speaking broken English but they are hard working and such happy folk.

    I remember one old lady coming into the mercantile store I worked at - she wanted 'nail bite' and it took me and a colleague about 10 minutes to realise she wanted 'snail bait'! Too funny!

  19. Thanks Rhonda. I find it extremely useful to get these reminders, it is so easy to forget in the rush of the day to day that we in charge of where we spend and consume! Like others, I need to make savings at the moment and your ideas and tips are forever useful.

  20. Great post. My parents came out from Germany after the war. We always had a veggie garden, and nothing tastes as good as home grown! We played lots of card and board games - hours of cheap entertainment. We survived without a phone (shock horror!) and dad bought good secondhand cars, rather than new.
    They had no credit card: If you didn't have the money for something, you didn't get it. Oh, and for doing dishes, we used a bar of sunlight soap in a soap shaker.
    They paid off their home on an average income and also managed to travel overseas a number of times. One thing mum did, and still does (at 87yrs) is keep a list of every cent she spends - it really shows you where your money's going.

  21. THANKYOU !! I have just spent the whole morning researching ways to work from as my little man goes off to school next year and I have been told I need to get a job. All I have found so far are dead ends and red tape and was feeling very down and ready to give in. This post was a timely god send. Thankyou. Thankyou for the pick-me-up.

  22. Rhonda,
    thank you for this excellent post,,i've been thinking of gardening myself and hopefully can make my own laundry soap...i never knew that we can actually make our own really..thanks again..:)

  23. I so agree. When we lived in Sydney, we knew a lot of Greek families, I remember a lot of the older men were busily farming bees/honey, growing olives, having chickens, and just dabbling in general. It may not seem such a big deal when you read about this sort of stuff on here everyday, but you have to remember, I lived in Sydney, LOL. Hardly anyone was doing stuff like this, it was all consume, consume, consume.

  24. One of the reasons I love Melbourne so much, is because of the Greek and Italian people. A friend's parents were Greek immigrants and had blue collar jobs but managed to buy three houses in Nth Balwyn (lovely, middle class area). She made all their meals - never take aways, wouldn't even think to buy magazines and the whole extended family shared a holiday house at Arthur's Seat, so that's where they had holidays (no flying involved).
    I was very blessed to have a wonderful, retired Italian couple show me how to make a vegetable garden and I think we must be the only house in our Brisbane suburb to have one :)
    Great post, Rhonda.

  25. Oh, and as Erin noted "SOAP SHAKERS". I haven't seen one of these for years (decades, really).

  26. Hi Rhonda..you may not remember me but I contacted you while pg with our fifth bub who is now 18mths as I found your blog to be very inspirational :)

    We have only ever lived on one income and with five children still find it manageable...I op shop, grow what I can..though am still only learning, make my own laundry powder...the kids and I are attempting soap as a homeschooling project, cook from scratch and knit/sew/crochet. None of this is through necessity but rather through a passion that I inherited from my grandparents who lived a very frugal life.

    Anyway just wanted to let you know that I am still an avid reader of your blog and have shared it with many of my like minded friends.


  27. Thank you for this encouraging and inspiring post.
    What I struggle with is that I work full time but would like to do all the home keeping things anyway. There are just not enough hours in a day.

  28. Hi Rhonda - I can totally relate to what you write about Italian immigrants - my parents are both Italian. The stuff you write about is stuff that I've grown up with - cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting - my nonni and parents were all into it. I count myself as very lucky, as I've seen how it is done, and now try to do the same.
    As for mortgages - my grandparents only took out a loan for their land. My grandfather then built a small two room dwelling, which the family of six lived in while he built the main home. He did everything (including making his own concrete bricks) except for plumbing and electricity, and paid for materials as he went along.

  29. Oh, oh, oh!!! I just remembered Vasili's Garden which has been shown on Channel 31 and (I think) SBS. He is a Greek man who shows viewers around other Greek people's gardens (in Australia).
    How exciting. I've been reading, and love, your blog for a long time and now I finally have something to contribute. Will stop commenting now. Promise. :)

  30. Thanks Rhonda for reminding me about making things from scratch! I have slipped a bit lately and not making as much. I have been lucky enough to have been given some home grown capsicums (peppers) and red stemed silverbeet. I'd forgotten how good the flavour was :)

  31. I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago, and I am hooked, as I get time I intend to read as many back posts as I can. I have to add this, your face on your profile picture looks so familiar, maybe I've seen it via other blogs, but I'm not sure. I know I will put my finger on it one day. Any way good to know there are so many others out there striving for simplicity.

    Cheryl Lismore NSW

  32. My boyfriend's family is Italian - his grandparents moving from a poor part of southern Italy to the UK in the 1960s, with four kids in tow. They sound like your grandparents - growing their own food by default and building everything from scratch. John's granddad died in about 1998 but his grandma continued growing her own until just a few years ago - when she turned 80. I assumed that it was because she couldn't find her favourite vegetables at all locally - but that the frugal angle is very interesting too.

    I'm tracking how much money we're saving by growing our own food this year - early days at the moment but it's already starting to add up. I also can't forget that money saved is worth more than extra money earned - since we're not having to pay any extra tax on the money saved.

    dancingonabladeofgrass - we've bought Borax at Wilkinsons before - that was a couple of years ago though.

  33. A wonderful and inspiring post!Rhonda I grew up in a household where we had an enormous garden which produced most of the fruit and vegies that we ate...my dad was an Italian migrant and he paid our house off in less than 10 years because he hated being in debt. Therefore he did lots of double shifts in the fruit shop where he worked and we lived frugally!

  34. I love your timely reminders. It makes me think of all the things you have inspired me to try - knitted dishcloths, home made laundry soap, home made bread, no store bought shampoo. I also still read my electric and gas meters; makes me realize how much each project uses.

    I shop at thrift stores and repurpose clothes. Sometimes I think I'm just cheap, but there is such an abundance of items that are almost new and I take advantage of it. Frugal, the word is frugal.

    There are things I cannot do because of circumstances, but I try the rest and they usually become permanent. The only thing I want to try is a liquid dish soap/hand soap. This summer should be the time I try.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful posts and ideas.

  35. Ange asked about the greying and lack-of-clean smell...

    I noticed the same thing years ago when I made my own laundry detergent. I found that the washer needed to be emptied immediately... within 10-15 minutes or it started smelling musty. Even then, some clothes just didn't seem "fresh". However, the clothes hung out on the line, in the sun, seemed to fare better. Some of my friends found that adding grapefruit seed extract, tea tree oil or some other essential oil to their bucket of detergent eliminated the smell problem and even helped a little with the dinginess.
    Another tip for the dinginess (I didn't try it but my neighbor did) is to use vinegar as a fabric softener - it does soften and also helps rinse any residue free of the fabric. It will smell like vinegar when you take it from the washer but one dry, the vinegar smell is dissipated.
    i guess the bottom line is you must experiment and find what works best with your type of water, soil and washing/drying style.

  36. Melissa, if you click on that different coloured text in the post, that is the link to the article.

    dancing, I noticed Pippa helped you at the forum.

    Eileen, the liquid is cheaper because it lasts longer. I also use it as a very effective stain remover and for various cleaning jobs that require liquid soap.

    Ange, you could add a scoop of powdered oxy bleach, like Napisan/Oxyclean. It will whiten clothes but it's much better environmentally than liquid bleach. I use the generic version of Napisan that I buy at Aldi, it's very good.

    Hi Tammi, yes I remember you. :- )

  37. Thanks, had my tired eyes on and missed the link.

  38. I know I'm a bit late, but this post has been playing on my mind... Yes, frugality was a factor in many immigrants decision making re the way they lived, but replicating their old life in a new country had a significant impact and the ties to memories cannot be underestimated. Unless there's an underlying passion that's not just driven by saving $$, veggies, preserving, making pasta by hand etc etc etc just doesn't happen. It's a commitment to a way of life. My in-laws are very financially comfortable, thank you very much, but still celebrate their heritage by having salami and tomato bottling days. My parents, the same.

  39. Thanks so much Rhonda,

    a timely reminder for me to contact a few family and friends to see if they'd like to do some days of bottling or learning to make a skill. Will send an email now with a link as I find these things can take a back seat without a timeline in the face of a busy family life.

    great post,

  40. Rhonda,

    Those tomatoes are beautiful! I always love pics of your garden.

    Thank you for the link and new pictures they are the perfect combo for me just now. This post gives me hope just when I need it most.

    It helps me to see that planting tomatoes by flashlight last night (9:30pm) becuase there was work, supper, laundry and babies to care for first is WELL worth the bug bites and being over tired.

    Only 2 dozen more and I will be done with them for a bit. :) Time to move on to other parts of the garden.

    Thanks again and have a wonderful day.



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