Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Living Well on Less

This picture from art.com seemed to suit my thoughts regarding money, at the moment...flying out the window! Is that you how feel too? Like your money seems to take flight and disappear before you realised you even had it to begin with?

I know that's how it feels around here quite regularly! When I start feeling like that I take a very short walk back in my memory and remind myself how we survived when dh wasn't earning anything, in the first couple of years that he owned his own business. My those years were difficult. There were other factors about our lives that caused a great deal of stress and, for me, depression. But not earning an income beyond toilet paper and laundry detergent made life that much more difficult to endure.

We are very fortunate in Australia, that our federal government has a very generous social security system. Without that things would've been impossible. That being said, we still had to survive on not very much, and I find myself again thinking that if things continue to go the way they are, our wages again will look like they are not enough! So what is a 'professional Mum' to do? Given that my career choice is being a SAHM, getting a job isn't really on my radar. I tackle our financial management on many fronts. Since I manage our family's finances I find I am able to do many things that enable us to continue with me caring for things at home. Following are things that we do regularly to help us manage a tight budget.
  1. I make a spending play each month, taking into account regular things that need to be paid each month, along with bills that come in less often, but still regularly.
  2. About once every few weeks I put all our expenditure into an excel spreadsheet so that I can see how much we're spending and what we spend it on. It helps when you need to plan ahead for big bill months and when you need to fill out school fee-relief forms.
  3. We only use cash. I pay bills using online facilities, but if I'm handing money over for something in person I make sure I have the cash. I withdraw what I need either fortnightly or monthly, depending on the timing of bills, from doing step #1.
  4. We are careful with our power consumption. We rarely use the dryer, choosing instead to put clothes horses over ducted heating vents, which are on regularly now anyway. In warmer weather I hang washing on the clothesline outside. We only have one light switch (with two low-voltage down lights on it) on in the evening. The heater is never set over 21C. We turn it off altogether overnight. The coldest the house has ever been in the morning is 9C. An extra blanket sees us through cold nights like that.
  5. The biggest way I see that I can save money is with our grocery budget. So I plan my menu carefully so as to alternate different meats with vegetarian meals. By doing this I can ensure an overall balanced diet using cheaper cuts of meat. Vegetarian meals also reduce your grocery costs. We genuinely enjoy the vegetarian meals I make. We all enjoy our meat, but I have discovered many tasty, satisfying vegie meals along the way too.
  6. Once the menu plan is completed, I prepare a shopping list according to what I need for those meals and what I need to replenish. When shopping, if you set yourself a rule that you only buy what is on your list you will be amazed how much money you save!
  7. Shop carefully. If you go past a Safeway, a Coles and an Aldi regularly then get to know which have the best prices and be prepared to shop in a few different places. If you have to travel to get to a cheaper shop then you should calculate how much you save and compare it to the cost of the petrol to get there. You may find you're spending more in petrol than you save, in which case, you should just shop locally.
  8. Cook from scratch as much as you can. It's cheaper AND healthier. You'll save money on doctors bills!
  9. We grow our own vegies in summer ~ tomatoes, zucchinis, green beans, herbs. I hope to expand our repertoire this coming year. But anything at all that you can grow, even in a pot, will help your budget. Homegrown vegies taste better too!
  10. Finally, make use of second hand clothing shops to buy your family's clothing. I would estimate that 90% of the children's wardrobes, 50% of mine and about 10% of dh's clothing are bought at Op Shops. We have usually been able to get what we've needed. Certainly, start there and then move on to retail stores if you can't get what you need. I am currently wearing a fantastic denim skirt that I picked up from Savers in Dandenong a couple of months ago ~ it is my absolute favourite skirt for every day wear that I have right now. It cost me $7 rather than up to $50+!
When you need to employ guerrilla frugality measures, the only thing we really added was saying NO. Our children still do not attend out of school sporting activities or music lessons. We just don't have the funds to sustain an extra $250/month for the three of them to do something like that. You know what? They're are turning out to be well adjusted, normal children. They also enjoy special things with great appreciation because they have not grown up with an attitude of entitlement.


The Tin House said...

Oh Tracy, it's like reading my own thoughts. I think your final point about saying "no" to kids is a really substantial one. Our 8 year old is playing soccer this year, but we have flagged our concern with him over the cost of fuel for attending training, and then match day, and that he may not be able to play next year. This is the same kid who LOVES school holidays most of all because he can visit the op shop. We all know money won't buy our kids happiness. (....but a little extra would certainly be handy!!!)
And I don't know about you, but outside of the odd whinge for junk food, our kids don't feel deprived. Lisa x

Terri said...

Thank you for sharing, Tracy. We do many of those things and have been able to pay off all our debts. I agree with you about children being able to appreciate things so much more!

Vickie said...

Hi Tracy,
wonderful to read how you manage..as many have too these days and soo many people losing their homes it's horrid-I totally understand the sports thing with the chikdren..I come from a money poor upbrining,where as my ex never went without wnything and all our kids played whatever sports they wanted-talk about feeling like a flippin taxi he never took any of them to anything and yes it cost a darn fortune..and truly I don't think they are any diff too any other kids for it,
I also love your recipes I find them very tasty and easy on the $$
cheers Vickie

Tina said...

Fab post Tracy! I wholeheartedly agree with everything...it was like reading about ourselves!! Praise the Lord that He provides our needs. Also, contentment is free!

Love, Tina :)

Kez said...

Great post Tracy! I agree with everything you said. Our young guy does drama, Auskick & swimming lessons, but because we homeschool I'm a bit more reluctant to cut those group activities out. Drama I will definitely be revisiting at the end of the year though, as it's an hours drive away. As much as I hate to do it, I think we'll be looking for somewhere much closer to home. Swimming I consider more of a safety thing that he learns, but this will be the last year he does regular swimming lessons I think. Auskick is 10 mins down the road and is relatively cheap so so far it gets to stay :)

We only have one child too which makes a big difference.

Tracy said...

Thanks for all your comments gals. It's nice to know that there are others with similar financial values!

Lisa, my kids are the same. Fish & Chips from the shop (rather than my freezer or homemade) is a real treat!

Terri, we have also carried no debt apart from mortgage for over 5 years now ~ very freeing!

Vicki, I'm glad you're enjoying the recipes. :)

Tina, I don't know about you, but I think as we trust God to provide we are able to feel more contented.

Kez, I think if I homeschooled I'd be more inclined to get the kids involved in some of those things too. It's all part of a well-rounded education!

Tracy said...

This is a great post Tracy. We use most of these tactics as well and although some family members feel 'sorry' for us because we don't buy new clothes or eat out much, we never feel deprived. If the children want to buy something that isn't necessary, they learn about the value of saving. It also makes them really think about whether they really want the item or not.