Let's reduce the cost of living

9 September 2022
I've never seen financial conditions like those we have now. The cost of living is increasing in Australia, I'm affected by it and I'm guessing you are too. I'm in the good position of being debt-free, we paid our home off many years ago but I still have to watch every penny.


Make your own laundry liquid and cleaners - it will will save you an extraordinary amount of money.

Hanno and I have lived on a pension for some years and we built a nest egg that provided a feeling of security but when he died, that changed. I went from a couples pension to a single pension which is more money but when you calculate all the goods and services over the course of a year, the single pension doesn't look so good.  I've spent the past six months learning what needs to be paid, and when, and I'm also paying small amounts frequently on the large bills like rates and car registration, instead of being hit with a big bill every six months.

Hanno always organised our finances and he was very good at it. So, I turned my back on all of it and lived in that oblivious state for over 40 years. When he got sick, the last bills he paid were in November and I didn't even think about paying bills until four months later, when they were overdue! When I looked in his email, there they all were, waiting for me like a ton of bricks. Now that I think about it, I doubt I've done such a stupid thing in my life. I should have know exactly what he was doing, I should have shared that role and had I done that I might be in a better financial state than I am right now.

When Hanno was in hospital, there were no expenses - everything was covered and we had private health insurance for the extras. But before he went to hospital, when I was looking after him at home, I bought a number of high priced items - wheelchair, walker, bed rails and incontinence items. He also had speech therapy for swallowing and physiotherapy for walking. We paid for all of that while he was at home even though we had a level 4 home care plan.  That plan looked good when he got it but the funds dribbled in and it was eaten up with services - people coming to help shower him etc., and there was never enough money to buy the equipment he needed.


Cook no-meat meals.

To make a long story short, now that I look back on the past six months, I realise I should have been aware of my financial position much sooner. Had I been sharing that work, I would have been. However, now the nest egg has decreased a lot and with the cost of living higher than ever before, I'm trying to stretch dollars.  As you know, we got our finances in shape by stockpiling groceries, cooking from scratch, growing food in the backyard, monitoring our electricity and water. We stopped TV we had to pay for and buying magazines, drinks and lunches when we went out. I've already done all the big changes, now it's down to the list below. The steps are small but they're all worth doing and like buying a cup of coffee every time you go out and realising that cost adds up to hundred of dollars, stopping those small things to save money takes time too but it's really worth it.


Mend and make do.

I'm lucky, I don't have to pay rent or a mortgage, we paid that off, in eight years, a long time ago. But interest rates are rising now after being low for many years and that is hurting a lot of people and for some, it's not sustainable. If you're in that situation, I urge you to hold on and start working on these lists below. Times will be tough for you, you'll have to stop buying your favourite things, stop holidays and stop shopping without your budget in mind.

If you don't have a budget, go to https://moneysmart.gov.au/budgeting/budget-planner now. It’s the Australia government's site which holds a lot of useful information about debt, mortgage repayments and budgets.  Forget the freedom of spending in the past, think of the future and how you can save your home. It will be hard but most of you will be able to do it.  And don't forget to talk to your bank to find out how you might be able to reduce your payments for the time being. You'll have to make up for it later when things return to normal - and they will - but that one thing may help you keep your home.


CONSERVING YOUR RESOURCES

In times like these you should be mindful of everything you do that will save money. Try to cut back on the amount you will have to pay in utility bills and for transport. That money is much better in your pocket than profits for Energex, Telstra or Shell. So let’s go through a few things you can do to keep money in your pocket.

ELECTRICITY
  • Use your electrical appliances like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers in off-peak times. Phone your electricity provider and ask if you have peak times and when they are.
  • If you have solar panels, use your appliances as soon as the sun hits the roof - that way you'll use the solar power you generate instead of buying from the grid.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water and dry them outside in the sun. I always wash in cold water using homemade laundry liquid and our clothes look fine. Over the years, this has saved us hundreds of dollars.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs. A 60-watt fluorescent bulb has the same lighting capability as a standard 75-watt bulb and it will last for years. Light bulb buyers guide.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Turn off the TV when no one is watching it.
  • Turn off appliances at the power point, not just at the appliance on/off button.
  • Fill the kettle with just enough water for your tea or coffee. Boiling water you won’t use, is an expensive waste. If there is hot water left over, pour it into a thermos flask and use that for your tea or coffee during the day.
  • Buy a power board and plug in all the appliances you have close together into that one power board. When they aren’t being used, and especially at night, turn off the power board. That will stop all those appliances using stand-by power. It is estimated that 10 percent of the power used in Australia is for appliances on stand-by.
  • When you boil food, either on a gas or electric cooktop, put the lid on your saucepans because it retains heat. Your food will come to the boil faster, and then you can turn the power down to cook on a simmer.


If you can, grow food in the backyard - or in containers.



WATER
  • Fill a bowl with water to wash vegetables. Letting the tap run while you wash wastes litres of water.
  • While you’re waiting for the shower water to warm up, fill a bucket with the cold water and use it on your garden or in the washing machine (top loader only).
  • Have shorter showers.
  • Turn the tap off when brushing teeth.
  • Flush the toilet only when necessary.
  • When washing your hands, wet your hands, turn the tap off, apply soap and lather, turn the tap on again to rinse.
  • Install water tanks if you have a vegetable garden, or at least set up some water barrels at the down pipes to catch what rainwater you can.

COOKING
  • Cook larger portions of food and freeze the leftovers for use on other days. This will enable you to cook meals for more than one day and use only the electricity to warm the food again.
  • When you boil something on the stove, bring it up to the boil, then turn it down to a fast simmer.
  • When boiling on the stove, always keep the lid on the saucepan. This reduces the time it takes to come to the boil.
  • If you’re using your oven, cook more than one thing.
  • If you’re baking bread, do more than one loaf and freeze a couple of loaves for later.
  • If you have a small convection oven, use that instead of your large oven.


If you have a small convection oven, use that instead of your larger oven.


Cook from scratch.


Preserve your excess.


Bake bread, cakes and biscuits from scratch.


PHONE
  • If you're not on the cheapest plan right now, do some research to find out what you can do to reduce your phone costs.
  • If you're on a contract, never let your contract go from one year to the next without negotiating a better deal with your phone company.
  • While you’re saving, use the phone only when absolutely necessary. Stay in touch with your friends online instead.
  • Use Skype or Zoom for your long distance calls. Make sure you download the right version for your equipment - there are versions for Apple phones, ipads and computers as well as for Android smartphones and computers.

TRANSPORT
  • Plan your trips so you're not using the car to go to one place. Work out what you have to do and plan your trip going to multiple places to use the least amount of petrol.
  • If you have to take the children to school – share that with other parents in your neighbourhood. Even if you share with your next door neighbour so that you take them and she/he picks them up, it will halve your school trips.
  • Start a walking bus. Parents take it in turns to take a group of children to school by walking with them.
  • Download the motormouth app to find the cheapest petrol in your area.
  • If you run a business, make sure you keep a diary of your business and private car expenses so you can claim what you're entitled to at tax time. 

REGULAR BILLS
  • At least once a year, look at the details of all your regular bills. Bills such as phone, internet, electricity, phone and insurance should all be checked. Ring up the opposition and ask what they would charge you for the same service. When you have a good idea, phone the company you deal with and tell them you could get a better deal with a rival – and tell them the company name. Say you’re ringing to ask if they can equal or better that because you’d rather stay, but as you’re on a tight budget you must go with the best deal. Often this pays off and it should become part of your financial practice each year to test these boundaries. 


This is one of our old gardens. We were vegetarians then and we grew most of the food we ate. 


GENERALLY THERE ARE A FEW WAYS TO CUT BACK.
  • Separate your wants from your needs and be firm with this.
  • Ask yourself if you really need it.
  • If you do need it, can you barter something for it instead of spending money? Bartering used to be quite a common way of obtaining goods in small communities. Ask around, you’ll probably find people who are keen to barter. See if your neighbours or work colleagues are interested in bartering.
  • If you can’t do without it and can’t barter for it, can you make it yourself? One of the skills you’ll develop in your simple life will be to hand-make many things from food to clothes. Maybe you could learn to make what you want.


Try to live on less than you earn.  If you can't do that, you'll be paying off debt all your life.  But now in these current difficult times, with high interest rates, unemployment, increasing food and fuel prices, there ARE things you can do to reduce your expenses. This won't last forever but it will last a few years. So if you start helping yourself, following a budget and reducing costs, you'll come out of it in reasonable shape, and hopefully still living in your own home.  How are you tackling this problem, please share what you're doing and we might all learn something.  I wish you all the best of luck,  Now, let's get to work and start reducing our expenses.

Organising my home - it's been life changing!

25 August 2022

I've been organising my home over the past few weeks but this time it's not the same as what I've done in the past. I don't think of it as decluttering anymore because to me, clutter is a group of unwanted items making a room look untidy; most of what I let go of was hidden in drawers, cupboards and sheds and taking up space that I wanted to reclaim.



I gave away the foods Hanno liked but I didn't and when I go through this cupboard, there'll be fewer things. 


This was way overdue - my spices.  I only had one bottle that was passed its use-by date but that date was 2018!


I was much more mindful this time. Now it's only me who lives here, I didn't have to consider anyone else's ideas or choices - I was creating the spaces where I would live in the coming years. The thought of cupboards and drawers containing unwanted clothes and shoes, unneeded bed linens, tools, manuscripts, fabrics, timber, paper work, photos and who knows what else forced me to sort through it all.  It was a horrible job, it took a lot longer than I thought it would but it was liberating, satisfying and SO worthwhile. If you've been thinking of doing something like this, I urge you to go ahead with it. It's life changing.



It made me think of my parents and my grandmother's homes. Back then, houses generally didn't have spare rooms, garages or sheds packed full of "stuff".  Now, in a world where most families need storage space for all the things they buy, we also have the newish business of storage sheds where you can buy space to store things you own but never use. 🤔 My mother, like most parents back then, packed summer or winter clothes away in the top of the linen press and used the clothes appropriate for that season.  At the end of the season, they were washed, folded and put away again. That was the only kind of storage I can remember. 


Hanno's office. I spent a long time here working out how to pay things on time, what accounts could go and shredding papers.


Sadly, we've fallen into a trap of buying what we like because it's cheap. We've surrendered our dollars to China/India who make what we want while they become stronger and we are weakened. We need OUR OWN manufacturing industries so that our people have jobs and we stop giving money to other countries. When we pay our own populations to make the goods we need, they'll be paid a fair and decent wage and the products will be priced appropriately. It's a good way to cut rampant consumerism.


While I was at it, I made a new ironing board cover.


I started reorganising our home soon after Hanno died. Tricia organised Hanno's clothes so I didn't have to deal with them and I started on the kitchen cupboards, Hanno's office, laundry, bathrooms and garage.  I thought about doing this for about three weeks and I decided to keep what I love as well as what I absolutely need, and remove the rest.  And when I say remove, that doesn't mean it's now in the garage or in the car boot, it's ALL GONE from my life and my home.  For instance, I got rid of my old china, cutlery, glassware, pots, pans, bakeware and some furniture and small appliances.  But I kept the dinner set Hanno gave me for our 25th wedding anniversary - a Villeroy and Boch Petite Fleur set that I love and had on display in a cupboard. We only used it at Christmas and birthdays, now I use it every day and it makes me SO happy. I got rid of my bread maker and slow cooker. If I want bread I'll knead it by hand and I can easily use my old cast iron pot on the induction top for slow cooking.  I'm currently working on my wardrobe and the linen press. I'll be finished next week. 🙃


I use my Petite Fleur dinner set every day now and wish I'd done it years ago. I just kept a few extra dinner plates and bowls because when all my family are here, there are ten of us.


It took a long time because I wanted to be sure of my decisions and I was dealing with my stuff as well as Hanno's, but now can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most of my reorganisation is done, 90 percent of what I want gone is gone and I feel that the work I've done is an investment in my future. There were SO many things I could have been doing instead of sorting through rubbish, getting stuck with pins, sneezing because of the dust, and having to decide where to put what was in my hand (most of the time it went to recycle and sometimes the rubbish bin). 



I resolved that from now on I'll deal with excess by not buying it in the first place and if something I already have becomes superfluous, I'll get rid of it. No more putting things in a box or a cupboard to gather dust for years simply because I couldn't decide, or was too lazy to deal with it there and then.  This has been life changing for me and it makes me happy every day to get out of bed and look at what I've done. I'm not looking after junk I don't need now, I have extra space inside my home, it feels right and I'm SO glad I did it. If you've got a lot of stuff you're not using and have stored away, I hope my story will help you to do what I did. It's not easy but it will make your future life easier.


Grandma Donna always has good tips for cutting back and focusing on the home

Delicious basic recipes to help with your grocery bill

Housework - nothing has to be perfect

8 August 2022

Sometimes readers ask me how I keep going and why housework isn't boring for me.  It is boring sometimes but boredom doesn't stop me from doing anything. I keep going because of the rewards I get from doing my house work - it gives me the life I want. There are a lot of things we have to take responsibility for when we're adults and one of them is creating a home that you feel comfortable in. If you don't have the drive to regularly do the work that gives you that home, push yourself.  If you keep at it you'll see the benefits and the work you do in your home will change you. It did that for me. It made me slower, more generous and thoughtful and I'm glad for that.



Cleaning up the kitchen.



When you get stuck in, you'll be surprised that it doesn't take much to make a really warm and comfy home. Nothing has to be perfect, it just has to be to the standard that makes you feel comfortable. And remember, housework never ends. So when you have enough, stop and come back to it the next day. The sky won't fall in and you'll feel better for it.



I think you'd be surprised at how much you can get done in a short time.  For instance, when I'm waiting for the kettle to boil or the toast to cook, I clear the kitchen bench. If I still have time, I wipe the bench too. If the bench is already clean but the kitchen bin is full, I empty it. If you have 15 minutes to spare, empty everything out of the fridge, wipe the shelves and put it back in. It's a good habit to get into the day before you do the grocery shopping. 


I've got a couple of meal ideas for you today. I had these two meals this week and they're ideal for one or two or five or ten. If, like me, you're living alone, the ravioli bake makes four portions, the omelette makes two. 


Ravioli Bake

This will take less than an hour to cook. You can put it all together and have it ready to cook in the fridge and just heat it up when you come home from work. It will be ready in about 20 minutes.  Just enough time to make a nice salad. 


When you freeze the leftovers, put it in a container already cut into portions but without them touching so you can remove them easily if you only want one piece. I had one on the day of cooking, the second portion the following day and I froze two portions for next week. 


Buy a bag of ravioli or make a batch of ravioli. I bought a bag because I wanted this to be a fast meal.

Make a tomato sauce. I made mine with a 400ml bottle of tomato passata that was on special that week. I fried off an onion, half a capsicum/pepper, diced two sticks of celery and added oregano and parsley from the garden.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the uncooked ravioli to a small oven-proof dish and pour the tomato sauce over it. Sprinkle on some cheese if you like it. and bake in the oven at 180C until the top is golden. Mine took 20 minutes.


Spanish Omelette 



This recipe takes two eggs per serve. I used four eggs and it served me for two days.


Peel a medium potato and slice it into thickish slices. Microwave for four minutes and cool.

Use a non-stick frying pan you can put in the oven. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, sliced onions, capsicums/peppers, garlic and any vegetable you have in the fridge or backyard. I picked baby silverbeet/chard and added that after the onions and peppers were cooked.  Remove the vegetables and keep the pan on the stove.


Break the eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper and about a quarter cup of cream.  If you want a spicy version, add some chilli flakes. Pour that into the frying pan, add the vegetables - potatoes and onion mix - making sure they're distributed well over the top of the eggs. 

Cook on the stove top on medium heat for five minutes then put the pan in a preheated oven at 180C. Cook in the oven until the top is golden and the eggs are set. 

I used a small frying pan - 150mm and I cut the omelette in two for two meals. I like this when it's cooled rather than hot from the oven.


Here is my constant companion. Gracie and I sit out on the front verandah most afternoons and watch the world go by. She's an easy dog to live with. She likes to stay by my side but does go a bit mental running around the house with a lamb fleece in her mouth.  It's her seventh birthday on Wednesday. How time flies.