9 April 2012

Starting and saving

I had an email from a reader last week asking two questions:

  1. If you were to start over again, what activities would you start with first? and ...
  2. If you had limited time what activities would you do first to achieve the biggest savings?  

When I read the email, I thought the questions were the same, but when I thought about it, they're completely different. I hope I have a grasp on what she is really asking because I think the difference is important. Changing your life to live in a more simple fashion is not just about activities, it's about how you think and what you value as being essential, authentic and significant in your life, and then changing what you do every day to reflect those values.

If you were to start over again, what activities would you start with first?
The first thing I'd do would be to think carefully about my life to identify what my priorities are. Some of the questions I'd ask myself would be:
  1. Am I getting the best value for the dollars I work for?
  2. Am I happy at home?
  3. Do I spend my time wisely?
If I answered those questions truthfully, I'd have three areas that I could start with. But maybe I could add one more question and that would get me started right now: What can I do today that will improve my life? Maybe the answer to that last question is to make a list. Those of you who read my book would probably remember I made such a list at the very beginning of my journey. I kept that list and over the years and it has helped refocus me when things got tough, so making a list of what you want your life to become can be your master plan or your map into unchartered territory. It is your start.

If you had limited time what activities would you do first to achieve the biggest savings?
We're all at different stages and have differing family commitments, nevertheless, I think focusing on how I shop, making what I can at home and cutting back where I can would probably serve all of us well. That is where I'd start to achieve the biggest savings. So let's see what difference these changes can make to the bottom line.

One litre/quart laundry liquid from the supermarket costs about $9. This will do 20 washes. So 10 litres of commercial laundry liquid would cost $90 and you'd get 200 loads of washing done. That would cost you 45 cents per wash, you'd have the convenience of not having to make it at home but you'd be bringing unknown chemicals into your home as well as the packaging. Not to mention having to carry it all home from the shop.

Ten litres/quarts of laundry liquid made at home using soap, borax, washing soda would cost you (less than) $2 and you could make it in less than 15 minutes. You'd have enough laundry liquid for 160 loads of washing and each wash would cost you just over a cent.

Laundry liquid savings:
For a young family doing seven washes a week, that homemade laundry liquid will last 22.8 weeks and cost about $5 a year. A pensioner or senior couple doing three washes a week, that laundry liquid will last 53 weeks, so $2 a year.

That same young family using commercial laundry liquid will spend $163.80 a year on their washing product.
The pensioner doing 3 washes a week will spend $70.20 on commercial laundry liquid a year.

By switching to homemade the family will save $158.80 a year and the pensioner will save $68.20.

Green cleaners savings:
I won't go into the cost comparisons of making, instead of buying, soap, shampoo, conditioner, Chux/dish cloths, floor and wall cleaners, spray and wipe type cleaners and creamy cleaners for the bath and shower, but if you buy white vinegar, caustic soda/lye, soap making oils, borax, washing soda, you'd be able to make all your cleaners and it would cost you about $30 for a year's supply and you'd have more than enough to do several batches. Compare that to the cost of each individual cleaner you might buy at the supermarket: toilet cleaner, floor cleaner, anti-bacterial wipes, Jif, Spray and Wipe, Chux  I didn't include the 6 pages of air fresheners the start off Woolworths online cleaning products because I'm unsure who would buy Air Wick Freshmatic Diffuser Refill Vanilla and Soft Cashmere 2x174g for $12.89! Jif $3.16, Ajax multi purpose spray $2.97, Ajax floor cleaner with BAKING SODA (ahem) $4.07, Harpic toilet cleaner 700ml $4.07, White King antibacterial wipes 100 pack - $10.73, chux - $6 for 20.

So for a pack of products that would last about three months (I'm being generous) $31, buy them four times a year and that is $124.

By switching to homemade instead of store bought, a saving of approximately $94 on cleaning products. Yes you'd have to make them yourself but they're easy to make and the laundry liquid would take the longest amount of time - 15 minutes for 160 washes.

General savings:
If you shop at Aldi, you'll save about 30 percent so if you're spending $200 a week at the supermarket you'd pay $140 a week at Aldi. If you spend $200 a week at Woolworths or Coles you're spending $10,400 a year on groceries.  If you spend that same amount at Aldi, you'd spend $7280 a year. That is a saving of $3120 a year on a $200 a week shop or $60 a week saved. Add to that the savings made if you make your own cleaners and laundry liquid and you're looking at an excellent weekly saving.

Imagine paying off an extra $3000 a year off your mortgage, simply by changing how you shop and making a few things at home. You would still have similar food and products, your homemade cleaning products would do just as good a job, but you'd be using fewer chemicals, and would probably be healthier for it. I know your environment would be.

There are other ways to save in the home - being conservative with the use of electricity and water can save quite large amounts. Hanno and I have just received our second electricity bill since we installed the solar panels and we're still in credit. I'm really pleased about that because this bill was for summer which is the season we have our highest use. But all of us can save on electricity just by turning off switches when we're not using the appliance, baking a few things at once, installing power-saving light bulbs and turning off at the wall instead of using stand-by power.

Further savings can be made by stopping pay TV and mobile phone accounts and phoning around to see if you can get better deals on your phone, internet and insurance. Even if the savings are small, it's better than an increase.

I would start with these things and save money. I'd start cleaning with safer products and the money saved could go towards debt repayment or what the family needs. When I had myself set up with green cleaning and more mindful grocery shopping, I'd teach myself how to cook from scratch and start a stockpile.

It all seems so simple now but when I was starting out, it wasn't. If you're still just reading here but haven't taken your first step, I encourage you to dive in right now. Get your pen and paper out and start thinking about your list. Be bold. You don't have to live like everyone else. I'll hold the light up for you while you walk through that first tunnel. The first one is always the most difficult but we both know you can do it.

Later this month, on 19 April, I'll be a guest speaker at the monthly meeting of Permaculture Noosa; Hanno will be with me. I'll have a few books there to sell and will gladly sign one if you want me to. If you've already bought a book, bring it along if you want me to sign it. I'm happy to do that.

The next day, 20 April at 12.30pm, I'll be meeting people and signing books at Dymocks in Brisbane. Please come along if you can. I'd love to meet you, especially if you've been reading or commenting here.

On 17 May at 6.30pm, I'll be at Avid Reader in West End signing books and meeting whoever comes along.

And on 25 May at 10am I'll be giving a talk at the Maroochydore Library and again, I'm happy to sign your book if you bring it along. All these events are free and open to everyone.
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