Controlling your own life

Last Friday I linked to a forum post written by one of the members who is working on reducing her spending and doing the grocery shopping on, or under, budget. She wrote about  using a calculator to add the purchases as she shopped which helped her come in under budget. But the sentence that really struck a cord with me was this: "... it felt so good to be taking more control and knowing that it is helping me to reach my savings goals." I smiled when I read that, I've heard it so many times before, I feel it myself.

I get a lot of emails from people who've consciously moved away from the mainstream idea of living above their means to become more frugal and pay off debt. This usually involves writing up a budget and working hard to bring in all planned purchases under budget so that the debt reduction plan moves ahead every week. The common theme in these emails, and I felt this very strongly myself back when I changed my life, is the feeling of control you get from carrying out and repeating these humble actions.

When I decided I'd had enough and would change how I lived, I stopped listening to advertising and just concentrated on what I was doing instead. I thought that if I stopped buying 'stuff' I would be better for it. And that is what happened. Look at me now, I ended up here, living a life I could barely dream of back then. When you turn off the advertising and stop caring what your friends are buying you realise you don't need the latest dress, shoes or phone and at the supermarket you stop buying convenience. That results in less money spent and more debt paid off. When you keep repeating that and actively try to reduce your cost of living without sacrificing your quality of life you're well on your way to living the life you want for yourself.

And instead you do something like I'm doing today - cooking a piece of corned beef in the slow cooker to use as cold cuts because it's much cheaper than buying them already cooked, sliced and cold. This week I'm making good quality ice blocks for Jamie too. I have one of my sponsor Biome's stainless steel icy pole sets and I'll be filling them with yogurt and fresh fruit, and making an egg custard and freezing that instead of looking for expensive good quality ice blocks. It's not as quick and easy as buying cold cuts and ice blocks, it takes more time and effort but I'm not prepared to pay for someone else to do those things for me. I'd rather do it myself, know what's in our food and pay less. I don't get caught in that convenience trap anymore and I'm in control of my own life again.

Advertising and the habit of convenience tells you to sit back and everything will be taken care of for you. Everything is for sale as long as you work enough to pay for it. And that creates a cycle that starts with you wanting the best for yourself and your family, you work hard to buy the things you need and want, and tiredness creeps in, you buy more convenience to get you through and then you have to work more to pay for it. I know it's difficult finding the time and energy to become more productive at home when you're busy with paid work or small children. The trick to doing it is to choose the right things to start with. It's a slow process of picking what will make the most difference in your life, starting with that and adding more as you go along.

I'd encourage you to start with making your own laundry liquid , then use that to clean other things in your home so you can stop buying those cleaners and save that money. Homemade laundry liquid will cost you about three or four dollars for ten litres and even the commercial liquids in bulk packs will cost between $4 and $6 per litre. It works and doesn't take a lot of time to make - about 15 minutes for ten litres and that should see you through at least two months, depending on the size of your family. It might be a year's worth of laundry liquid if you live alone. Fifteen minutes every couple of months isn't much. Combine those savings with shopping at Aldi and cooking from scratch as often as you can and you're well on your way to significant savings and paying off debt. And when you do, you'll feel that elation that taking back control of your own life gives you. You never get that when you keep buying 'stuff', you just get to work longer.


  1. Thank you for this post. It is amazing how secure and in control you feel when you make a budget and stick to it. I seem to go through times when I am good at it and times when I need some work. But that's life. We are always a work in progress.

  2. Hi Rhonda I too cant seem to go to the forum Cheers affussa

  3. Well said once again.
    Not having to work longer is what motivates me to not buy "stuff", that and concern for the environment, it's definitely why I'm on this path, and I wouldn't swap it for the world.

  4. That first thing for me was home-made kitchen spray and since then it has just taken off. There re things I have started and not continued as they are just too much to sustain whilst I am still in paid work....but hey, I can now do them and they will keep for another time. I really liked the link you posted recently about the chap who makes his own clothes....this has me thinking - could be fun.

  5. You hit the nail on the head.... Not buying 'stuff' is empowering. I used to buy 'stuff' because I was unhappy or bored... Now I am neither of those things. It feels so good to eat something you have made yourself or use something you have made rather than bought. I recently recovered old pot holders in a lovely rose patterned fabric and it brightens my day every time I use them...which is everyday if course:)

  6. Rhonda, I must buy some of those Biome stainless steel icy pole sets as my grandchildren are coming down for Christmas. I hope you got some rain from the storms last night like we did although I guess it would be a bit steamy up there as a result.

  7. The most surprising thing about doing it yourself is how little time it actually takes. Saving a few dollars, knowing what we are putting in our mouths adds up to a tremendous means of controlling our own lives.

    Sometimes I laugh about the "new tools" that are available to "save" time. Ordering a home delivery pizza? Go online or phone to order it, log on to the widget to "track" the delivery of the pizza, open the door to the delivery man, pay for it, bring in the packaging ...

    By this time I've heated the oven, made my pizza and it's smelling good.

  8. I vividly remember shopping with my gran and either adding up the groceries on paper or a calculator. I think paper was more reliable than the calculator as it always seemed to get accidently turned off just as we were nearing the end of the shop. Even when she stopped using a calculator she would just round up to the nearest dollar and make a mental tally in her head. This is the way people used to do things. I guess when you only have cash it is crucial not to go over our budget. It is all too easy to whip out a credit card if your purchase goes over these days. Sorry for the long post, but just a word/thought about ALDI. I shop at ALDI but am rather annoyed that other than the basic ingredients there doesn't seem to be products that encourage home baking. In general you can't buy muffin liners, choc chips, yeast etc. I do go and buy them from woollies but then I seem to pick up extras on my 2nd shopping trip.

  9. Wonderful post thank you Rhonda for your very inspirational posts, they are helping me so much with reducing our outgoings. Sue

  10. I make your laundry liquid every time now. Just washing for one so it lasts me for months. Just give it a shake, and pour it into the machine. Clothes come out just fine. And then onto the line for a good blow.
    Brisbane at the moment washing dries before you turn your back.

  11. I so agree with you that living below your means allows you to be in control of your own life. It can be done. This afternoon, I visited my local thrift store and for $8 I was able to gather enough craft supplies to keep several young children busy on Thanksgiving day making Christmas ornaments they can then give to family and friends as gifts. There will also be enough for me to make some for package toppers. This will allow each child to make several gifts (depending on attention span and age) at no cost to their parents. I am happy to be able to entertain the kids while the cooking and prep work is being done by other family members and it fit well within my limited budget.

  12. This is so true and I am trying very hard to get this through to my grown up children. they are all in the consumer cycle of spend and work but they think my ideas are all odd and old fashioned, if only I could get them reading your blog. so much good sense info I am sure they would be better off. thank you and god bless from Judi

  13. I actually take my graphing calculator to the grocery store every time I go. I'm able to really keep track of what I'm spending, add groups of items (3*.79)+(4*.87), subtotal by group (grains, produce, dairy, etc). It's amazing.

  14. Another good post! It's addictive, really, living a simpler lifestyle. Pretty soon that mindset starts filtering into everything you do. Such as, whatever you are using at that moment you are constantly thinking, "Can I make this instead of buying it?"

  15. This was such a timely post for me. I know I don't "know" you Rhonda, but I've so wanted to pick your brains about my new living situation. My husband and I are now separated, as of November 15. He was the 'bread winner' and I've been at home with our 6 and 3 year olds.

    With all my money now going to be coming in from Family tax benefit, parenting payment and child support, although the figures are yet to be finalised, I've still sat down and worked out a new budget for me and the girls to live off, which includes our weekly mortgage payment. Things will be tight, and I will need to be extremely frugal. However, I am finding myself almost excited with the anticipation of being the ONLY one in charge of my home's finances. I've never truly had that as an adult (I moved out of my parents' home and in with my now ex-husband when I was 18, 13 years ago), and it almost feels me with relief.

    I'm using the following few weeks to build up my savings (until ex has officially moved into a new house, he is keeping up with the mortgage and bills until Centrelink get through all the paperwork needed for my payments to be settled), and have an 'emergancy fund' ready to go.

    I am of course going to return to paid work in the future, but for the next few years while my kids are so little I'd rather keep my purse strings tight and be home.

    I am sure a while back you posted an entry about "when things go wrong", and people find themself in situations such as mine. I've had a look but can't seem to find it, but would love any advice you can give me, or if you recall the name of the post, it would be a big help.

    This isn't exactly what I planned for my life, but I am still going to be ok and through me, my kids will be too.

    Thanks Rhonda. Any help would be wonderful.

    1. Hi Larissa, I'm sorry your marriage didn't work but some of my friends tell me that when they ended their marriages, it was a relief. Sounds like you're feeling that too. I will help but don't have the time at the moment. I'll be back later to write more. In the meantime, you might get some helpful suggestions from other readers here. {{hugs}}

    2. I did a search and came up with these posts you might find helpful: <-- there are three of these, just follow the links below the post.
      Larissa, I know it's possible to live as you wish to in those circumstances. You can put off earning money until the children are at school and then go back to work to build a nest egg and buy a few things you and the girls need.
      The one thing that troubles me is that you've not mentioned a budget. Do you have one? One that's written down? If not, that is your first task. It is vitally important to go through the act of writing it out because you must make every cent count. Read the other posts and get in touch if I can help.

    3. Thanks so much Rhonda, I will certainly read through those posts. I do have a budget worked out. I'm lucky in that I will qualify for a concession card, which cuts a few bills down a lot. (eg, my yearly water bill will be caped at $300 now, where as a family of 4 our water bill is about $1000 annually). I have also been stock-piling as a habit for a little while now, and also cook from scratch often, and enjoy making what I can myself. Luckily I was also raised to be quite frugal, and genuinely enjoy looking for bargains, recycling things and op-shopping etc.

      I know the next year in particular will be a huge learning curve for me, but I'm hoping it will also be one of a fresh start and getting some happiness out of a simpler life with my kids. (I don't mean to sound as nonchalant as I probably do, I am a bit terrified, but also comforted knowing there are ways to make a tight budget work!)

      Thank you again for replying, I will see what I get out of those posts you linked and be in touch :)

    4. Larissa,

      Please look up She is based in the States but has readers from all over the world. She's a stay-at-home-mom of 7 and her blog is great. So are all her "replies."

      Mary Ellen in Pennsylvania

  16. me encanta leerte Rhonda, tu sabiduria me encanta, debo decirte que luego de años con deudas malas y tarjetas y todas esas cosas logre ordenarme y ahora tengo prioridades en mis gastos, voy al mercado en lugar del supermercado, porque compro cosas mas frescas, directo de productores locales y a mitad de precio que en el supermercado, solo visito un centro comercial si tengo que comprar algo que necesito como zapatos, ya no compro ropa nueva, mi closet hoy es pura ropa usada de buena calidad que en lugar de costarme $30.00 me cuesta $3.00 $5.00 una blusa. entonces mi gasto se redujo sustancialmente, tengo que probar eso de hacer mi detergente. eso estara bien
    un abrazo!!!

  17. Your blog title can "controlling your own life" budget are great. But since your retired time is a complete different then mine.
    I still have to get up and punch a clock. So we still need a paycheck and my life is being control as pay check slave.
    Coffee is on

  18. Another lovely blog dear Rhonda. I've recently met some young women who also follow your blog and they told me that you have really helped them to think twice about what they buy when they go shopping now. I hope you don't mind that I've put a link on my blog to your blog post today as I feel that if more young folks (and even the not so young) read your words they may be able to start really living and not just existing day to day. My friends envy me that I only need to work 2 part days per week now, (I've just turned 60yrs) but when I tell them how I manage to do that, they don't know what I'm talking about. Being frugal and living within their means is so alien to them and yet they would love to have the financial freedom that we have. And by that term (financial freedom) I don't mean rolling in riches. Thanks for your blog. Sally from Jembella Farm

  19. "Everything is for sale as long as you work hard enough to buy it".... says it all! I'm tired of buying convenience!!! Thanks for this post.

  20. Hi Rhonda,
    I so agree with your words. I totally recognized myself in Larissa's situation about 1 and a half year ago. Ending a marriage is sad, but I was reminded that one never ends a good marriage, the situation is generally so bad that taking this decision is a relief. At least it was my case.
    Part of the relief was also to regain control over my finances, even though they are much tighter than during the marriage. And having a budget, knowing exactly what bill is coming and when, and being able to plan about it is such a powerful feeling.
    My technique is to have a yearly budget. I know for example that the car insurance is coming in August, the home and content in Mai, etc. I then divide my annual income (which comes, a bit like Larissa, from Government Support, Child Support and in my case salary) by 12 and save the adequate amount during the "lighter" months to compensate during the "havy spending" months. I make sure I always cover all invoices and savings, and live off the rest.
    Having a stockpile also really helps during tight periods. I sometimes go for 1 or 2 weeks without grocery shopping (except for fresh vegies&fruits) - I shop in my cupboards instead. And then I replenish when specials are on and my budget allows for it.
    I also found that making my own soap and washing liquid makes a huge difference in my budget, as does making bread and cooking from scratch. I honestly think that I wouldn't make it without this precious knowledge, it saved me hundreds of dollars over the last 2 years.
    Honestly, nothing beats the feeling of being in control, and not panicking when the next invoice is coming because I know I have the knowledge to properly take care of myself and my children.
    At least once, I wanted to thank you for that because it is very precious to me.

    1. Thanks so much Corrine, it is so comforting to hear there are others out there who have lived what I want to do. I think I'm doing basically what you do, our bills are paid fortnightly on an agreed payment plan rather than quarterly or monthly, and if any cant be paid fortnightly (ie car registration) I am instead putting that money into a separate savings account. I feel like I'm a bit in free-fall at the moment but I know I'll find a groove. Thank you again for sharing your experience, it is priceless for me at the moment.

    2. Hi Larissa Jade,
      Thanks for answering my comment ! I have re-read your lines of yesterday. Just want to share a little more that might be useful to you. It took me approx. 1 year to get ready to separate and get out of a pretty controlling situation. While I was still in the marriage, I tried to get all invoices from the last 2 years I could think of, put them on a excel spreadsheet as a retrospective budget. I then tried to speculate a "mock" budget by adjusting the figures. For example I have now a much smaller car that cost a lot less than the previous one, I use much less electricity and water than previously, etc. I got rid of all unessentials (who needs Foxtel ?). It worked beautifully, not only with the accuracy of the figures, but it really really relieved me from the anxiety of the unknown. I used to spent a lot of time looking at these spreadsheets, working different options.
      Another thing that I'm thinking of : it might be wise to learn as much as you can (soap making, cooking from scratch, etc) now that you are home with the children. A time might come when you need to get back to work (even part time) and believe me, juggling kids, work and a life that is satisfying at home is sometimes exhausting. As Rhonda often said it here, living the "simple life" is all but the opposite of putting one's feet under the table. The more you already know, the less time you spend searching for good solutions. For example, the first time I made soap, it took me half a day, now it's barely 45 minutes.

      Also, having a good routine that SUITS YOU will help tremendously. In my case, after the kids are in bed, I start a very productive 1-2 hrs every night. First dishwashing (I don't have a dishwasher), then prepare lunchboxes for next day, cook food for next day or prepare ingredients to put in the slow cooker next morning, prepare bread dough to be put in the oven first thing in the morning, some days prepare and program a laundry load that will start automatically the next day, some days cleaning of living/dining room/kitchen, pay bills and manage school notes. I really like this time of the day when I can think, plan, prepare. Then, in the morning, I have (almost) no stress and the routine to go to school/work is (most of the time !) smooth.
      It might be something totally different for you, but finding a good routine will help to feel in charge and on top of everything. I really wish you all the best. It's a very stressful time in your life, but you will get through it stronger and so proud of what you have accomplished.

    3. Our very frugal farming family was thrust into single parenthood when my dad died in an accident. My parents had been grooming us for independence from a very young age. Our skills were put to good use as we focused on pulling together as a family so our mother could work to pay the bills and maintain us as a family unit. Mother tried to make our chores and learning skills “fun” and/or “social” activities and build in a sense of pride for a job well done. It sustained us until we children were all independent and she later remarried.

      Wishing you the best in your journeying!

  21. I have begun to do a very simple thing. When the ads come onto the TV I now use the mute button so I can't hear them and I also leave the room to do a chore over the time I now know it takes on average for the programmes I want to watch to resume and that includes the News. In a programme averaging an hour in duration often the Advertisements take up 20 minutes of that time. Another thing I did was put a NO Junk Mail sign on our letter box. Instead of our recycle bin being full every 2 weeks from unwanted advertising and papers we have now only have to put our bin out every 4-6 weeks. Not having those Ads constantly in my face and hearing has brought me to a place of more contentment within myself

  22. HI Rhonda, a little bit late reading this post as they are not coming through daily for some reason but that's okay. Your post headline grabbed me today as tomorrow I give up my second job and relax with 3 days work a week only. We have no mortgage anymore either so that's a huge relief.It gives me time to study, be with the grandkids and get to my own health appointments etc. Just less stressful overall. The more you earn the more you spend, I found that out over many years of working part time with small kids, you buy a takeaway chook, you buy more food for fear of running out and no time to top up (we live out of town)you get disposable nappies for a change.
    I remind myself I am controlling my own life!
    BTW have you tried a large tin of australian pears in juice, blended, for iceblocks! Its quick and nice! Thaks for all you do sharing with us. Jenn

  23. Thank you for this excellent post!! Reading it has been a pleasure!!

    Our country has native soapnuts/soapberries. On-line information guided me to learn to use soapnuts/soapberries instead of making laundry soap, shampoo and hand and body wash. [I read that growing soapnuts/soapberries in Australia is illegal. They are considered a weedy species.]

    When I sit down to plan my day, I work to “stack” my activities so several things can be occurring at the same time. I also plan activities by seasons and around sales, which helps to be more efficient and thrifty.

    Last week I was shocked to be totally turned off by the processed food, cleaning supplies and household additions I found when I visited a well respected store in a neighboring town. It was a revelation that I have turned my back on so many things.

    Internet is our source of news and also ideas that I can mull over, modify and incorporate into a simpler lifestyle. In retirement I find that since activities take longer to finish, I need to be more selective and mindful of how I use my resources.


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