Joint effort

Posted June 20th, 2006 by Penny Wise

Well, my first $21 Challenge finished on Sunday night (for me, anyway) and so far I have actually made it stretch even further, spending a grand total of $17.89 in eight days! Sounds impressive? Hmm, I don’t know – for a first time round it ended up being more due to having no other alternative rather than good planning. After the week our lot have just had, I don’t know if our circumstances made the challenge easier, or harder to complete. You be the judge!

Maxine and I said long ago that we were going to stop trying to plan things in advance and just do things spontaneously, because we have always found that any time we plan something for us all to look forward to, some crisis happens, or someone gets sick and so on, so we decided that it was probably better if we just didn’t plan anything at all from now on. With my track record, I probably should have borne this in mind before attempting to prepare for my $21 Challenge so enthusiastically, but did I think of that? Nooo!

After our unexpected but enjoyable ‘power free’ evening on the first night, things settled down again and I spent a long contented spell in the kitchen on the evening of the second, recycling the roast chicken from the night before. I actually managed to get two extra meals out of this, because I had already chosen to make Chicken Pie with Herby Cobbler Topping from my Destitute Gourmet book, but the kids heard me muttering about a recipe for home made chicken nuggets that I had come across and were desperate to try them out. Feeling in an indulgent mood, I agreed to make both dishes as Noel did not particularly want to be fed a plateful of chicken nuggets – not to mention I was keen to prove my domestic worth after he had so gallantly cooked dinner on the fire the night before.

The pie was done in no time, but the nuggets proved to be an extremely lengthy process. Noel and Ivan, chatting over a beer watched sceptically throughout as I ground, grated, mashed, squished, rolled, egged and crumbed my way through the procedure to end up with 25 acceptable looking nuggets on a baking tray. I used almost every bowl, dish and pan I owned and could barely see the kitchen, but I didn’t care. I was in Domestic Goddess mode, or so I thought. Not only was dinner a good deal later than usual, but my hopes were dashed shortly after, when the boys, one after the other returned their plates with just one half eaten nugget consumed. ‘Sorry Mum, we really didn’t like them, can we have some ice cream instead?’ they asked apologetically. Understandably after all that effort I was a bit peeved, but more than anything because the meat I used for the wasted nuggets could have been used to make another meal for the Challenge! At least the remains were all used to make a delicious chicken stock – thank you savvy Forum ladies for all your Rubber Chicken tips!

Day Three went without a hitch. The Destitute Gourmet book came out again and we had Self Crusting Quiche, using a small tin of salmon from the pantry, silverbeet from the garden and eggs courtesy of the neighbours’ chooks (still haven’t got round to getting my own yet!). Day Four I took some fish fillets out of the freezer that Noel had caught and frozen the week before and used them to make a Kenyan Fish Pie (recipe courtesy of Sophie Gray once again!) and there was enough left to batter some fillets for the boys. It was all proving so easy! And then it all went wrong on Day Five when the whole family was struck down with what we affectionately call ‘The Blah Flu Virus from Hell’. Well actually, it was the exact same Blah Flu that we had all had a week or two before and mistakenly thought we had recovered from, but this was Phase Two and much worse. I had planned to cook a Chow Mein for Day Five, but Mother Nature decided to put the cobblers on that just before I was due to start. Mum and I were standing in my office when, with no warning, a tremendous lightning bolt hit. A huge bang and a flash came out of the light above our heads and an even bigger bang and flash burst from my computer. The house was thrown into darkness, the kids screamed as the loudest crack of thunder we had ever heard broke over the house and we all stood shaking in our boots waiting to see what happened next. But that was it – no more! ‘I guess its dinner on the fire again tonight guys!’ said Noel brightly and set about cooking egg burgers for everyone.

We soon learned that power-free nights are far more fun when everyone is well than when we are sick and we were all very glad when the power finally came back on! For some reason I was the only one who was afflicted with fevers and for the two days that followed, I was almost totally useless in the culinary department – not to mention every other department. Once again Noel proved himself a domestic hero as he cleaned, washed, dried, folded and cooked. He was starting to achieve more out of the $21 Challenge than I was and we all dined happily on tinned spaghetti and sweetcorn fritters the next night. The following evening saw the end of the week-long challenge and Noel served up sausages in home-made onion gravy, with mashed potatoes. When he discovered he wasn’t going to have enough potatoes, I sent him out to the garden to grab a butternut pumpkin and he cooked and mashed it in with the potato. We foolishly thought the boys wouldn’t notice our little subterfuge, but they weren’t having a bar of their ‘special orange potato’!

So, while the week didn’t exactly go as planned, we did manage to make it through the challenge with $2.11 to spare! I spent $10.36 on the first day, then another $7.53 on Day Four and that was all, which was easy to stick to as I was too ill to go out after that. The kids were sick three school days out of five, so I didn’t have to worry about filling lunchboxes, but even if I had, there was still plenty in the pantry to use for baking. Last night I finally was well enough to cook dinner and I proudly served up the Chow Mein I had been due to make several days before. The good thing about both Noel and I doing the cooking, was that he came up with several ideas to use things that I wouldn’t have, so there is still heaps left to use for future challenges. My computer was pronounced DOA when I took it to the PC doctor, so have been very glad of the insurance to cover the damage from the lightning to that, the TV and two portable phones.

The kids did grumble a bit towards the end of the week, when their request for sweets were turned down but nowhere near as much as expected. ‘Go on Mum’, they urged when I explained the Challenge. ‘Who’s going to know? We won’t tell!’ But I wasn’t giving in! I did find it a bit tough not being able to buy all the usual ‘comfort items’ when we were ill – I wouldn’t even buy Panadol when I ran out of tablets as it would have taken us over the $21, so Noel gave me the kids’ liquid version instead, eugh! I must say a huge thank you to two lovely people who made our sickest days bearable. My Mum, who felt sorry for the kids and made them a chocolate cake and me some soup on a day when my throat was too sore to eat anything else; and Maxine who kept us going in eggs, turned up with bottles of our favourite fizzy drinks (she told me it didn’t say anywhere in the challenge that we weren’t allowed to accept gifts) and even dropped off her ice block moulds, so we could make our own soothing ice blocks without having to buy any. I was so grateful I could have hugged them both on the spot, but I didn’t want to pass on my germs! Because I ended up not doing all of the cooking, it did feel like I had been a little cheated of my achievement, but when I saw my household account still had a whopping $182.11 left out of its original $200 budget I was forced to swallow my pride. Imagine if I could do the challenge once a month, think how the savings would add up? $182.11 x 12 = $2185.32! Needless to say, I’ll be doing the challenge again next month – I just won’t be giving Mother Nature any advance warning!

PS: Did you listen to Sophie Gray talking with Fiona on the Simple Savings radio broadcast last week? What a great show! If you missed it, you can listen to it anytime in the show archives!

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