Excuses, excuses

Posted February 26th, 2007 by Penny Wise

You would not believe how many $21 Challenge Survival guides I have sent out lately! Over 1,000 people have now jumped on the Challenge bandwagon, much to the amazement of its creator, Barb K. The number just keeps on growing too! For all the people who email me and ask 'is it too late for me to join in?' - it's never too late to join! That's the joy of the Challenge, you can choose to do it any time you like, whenever you want - or need - to. Mind you, I feel I may have come to take our paltry grocery bill for granted after all this time. I thought I had been doing pretty rubbish on the savings front lately but a recent conversation with friends showed me that I'm really not doing so badly on the grocery side of things after all. The three of us were discussing how much we loathe supermarket shopping and which ones we shop at. The other two said that they always shop at Pak and Save, which has always been considered the cheapest supermarket in NZ and were ribbing me because I said I shop at Woolworth's, which has a reputation for being more pricey but I actually found this not to be true during two years I spent as a Mystery Shopper. For every item that was cheaper at Pak and Save, I would find another which was twice the price of its competitors! However, not being an argumentative type I wasn't about to push the point, so let the conversation continue until it reached the subject of grocery budgets. When the other two complained that they spent an average of $300 every week at the supermarket for a trolley full of 'nothing', I was gobsmacked. Not as gobsmacked as they were though, when I confessed that I couldn't remember the last time I had done even a large-ish supermarket shop. 'Er - I think it was before Christmas?' I offered helpfully. 'But what on earth do you EAT?' they asked, amazed. 'We spend $300 a week on just the basics, there's nothing left in the kitty for luxuries! We just couldn't manage on any less.' At which point I couldn't refrain from rubbing it in just a little! 'Actually, we regularly live on as little as $21 a week!' I announced. The look on their faces was priceless.

Not surprisingly they wanted to know how I was able to feed the family on such a tiny amount so I told them all about Simple Savings and the $21 Challenge. While they thought it was a fantastic concept, they immediately agreed it was 'far too hard' and they would never be able to contemplate it. 'But surely you have food in your pantries?' I asked. 'If you actually had a good look, you'd be amazed at the meals you could make!' The pair of them were even more aghast when they asked what happens when you run out of bread having already spent your $21. 'Easy - you bake it yourself, using ingredients in the pantry!' I explained. 'Ah well, there you go then - there's no way I could do it', one said finally, 'I'm a terrible baker, my family just refuses to eat anything I make!' I went on to explain that I had worked out the cost of an average muesli bar (50c) compared to that of a home made muffin (18c) and while they were suitably impressed, I could see I was fighting a losing battle and before long we changed the subject. To be honest though, I felt sorry for them because I used to be just like them, trucking off to the supermarket every week and parting with hundreds of dollars. It's not as though the supermarket is just up the road either; our nearest one is a good half an hour's drive away. If there's one huge difference I have discovered between being a Sad Sally or a Happy Hanna, it's excuses. Sad Sally's make excuses. Excuses for not baking, excuses for taking the car out on trips that can wait, excuses for 'having' to get fast food. I should know, I used to make them all the time! Sad Sally's forget all about the 'Time is Money' equation as they add another $20 or $30 worth of takeaways to their weekly food bill. I have found 'Time is Money' to be one of the hardest things to remember on my savings journey but I'm learning that it's one of the most important and every time I use that equation with success, it's such a rewarding feeling. For example, at the weekend we were invited to a family day at the horse races. We didn't have to leave until mid-morning and knew we would be back around 7pm, so instead of allowing us to buy takeaways on the way home, I made good use of a spare half hour to turn the fresh silverbeet Noel had brought in from the garden into a quiche, threw together a salad and popped them both into the fridge. When we returned home, our dinner was waiting for us and I had successfully kept us from forking $30 or more at McDonalds. All it took was half an hour's effort - and no excuses. Which reminds me of one of my favourite hints at the moment Weekly menu saves on takeaways. I'm definitely going to try that one!

As mentioned, we went to the races on Saturday and it turned out to be a day spent in true Simple Savings style. A group of Noel's colleagues had organised a gathering of families and when we arrived they had everything all under control. They had borrowed a huge gazebo and barbecue table from a local client, which they had erected trackside and brought along a barbecue from home. Families brought their own bread and meat and a wonderful day was had placing $1 and $2 bets. Ali proved most adept at picking winners, poor Liam couldn't pick anything that didn't come last and I at least managed to double my wager with each race (not a huge amount when you're only spending $2 but still not a loss!) and in typical jammy Noel style he managed to win over $70 by betting on outsiders. After the last race, Noel and the boys waltzed on to the track carrying a cricket bat, ball and wickets. I have never seen a swarm of kids gather so fast! None of them had ever met but they all had a wonderful game and it was almost two hours after the last race that we were finally able to leave. An awesome day which cost barely a cent but what made us laugh the most was the sight of all the people who had spent an absolute fortune on the same occasion. The hats, the hair, the frocks, the champers, the fake tans and false laughs - they were all there in their multitudes but I bet not a single one of them had half as much fun as we did!

This week it's just Ali and I at home as Noel and Liam have gone on school camp. The two of us plan to live heartily off the smell of an oily rag - or in my case zucchini and tomatoes. Technically we shouldn't need to set foot in a shop at all! Looking after Noel's vegetable garden while he's away is rather daunting though. He picked 43 tomatoes alone before he went! Funnily enough, after laughing at my suggestion of keeping a 'Harvest Diary' not too long ago, he has turned out to be the one filling it in with enthusiasm and hasn't missed a day yet. We have been keeping this diary exactly a month as of yesterday and in that time have picked 10 broccoli, 2 cauliflower, 16 onions, 2 bunches of celery, 33 eggs, 1 bunch of spinach, 25 zucchini, 2 apple cucumber, 8 scallopini, 12 feeds of beans, 7 lettuces, 12 telegraph cucumbers, 2 pumpkin, 2 bunches of silverbeet, 13 sweetcorn cobs, 49 tomatoes, 1 marrow, 1 bunch of Pak Choy, 1 red cabbage and 2 spring onions! Phew - is it any wonder we don't need to go food shopping? Liam also thinks the Savings Vault is brilliant since I found the magic hint which fixed his Star Wars game. He had rediscovered it recently but it was no longer working and when I removed the batteries I found out why, one of them had rusted inside the game. I remembered seeing a hint in the Vault about fixing kids' games and it didn't take me long to find the one I wanted, called Fix leaking battery damage with vinegar. It did the trick in next to no time, suffice to say that Simple Savings has gone up a long way in Liam's estimation!

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