Costly mistakes

Posted March 13th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Do you know, at this point in time I can honestly say I don't care if I never see a tomato or zucchini again? Talk about chained to the kitchen sink lately! From the moment I get out of bed to the moment I hop back in it, every spare moment is spent making tomato soup, pasta sauce, tomato relish and zucchini slices and quiches. Just as I think I've finally got on top of the surplus, Noel proudly stomps in from the garden carrying another 30 or so - aghhhh! However, while I might be sick to death of the sight of them at the moment, I know that I'll be grateful for them when winter comes and I'll be able to enjoy tomato soup for lunches whenever I like. The only problem is, I don't actually like tomato soup but I'm sure for the sake of saving money I daresay I shall get used to it -all seven litres of it! My freezer is looking super-organised with all its smart plastic tubs of frozen goodies too. I used up all my spare plastic containers long ago and had bought a couple of those Glad tubs but it soon became clear I was going to need a lot more and I was balking at the price. Luckily my mum suggested I look in the $2 shop and we found stacks of them, exactly the same minus the brand name. So instead of paying $3.85 for a twin-pack of small Glad tubs, I only had to pay $2 for three-packs of bigger ones! I was most impressed, although I've run out of those as well now, so goodness knows what I'll use next!

I did sort out my wardrobe as intended at the weekend - and the boys' too. As a result I filled up two big black sacks full of clothes to donate to the op shop and another two sacks full of clothes that were only fit for throwing out. I made sure I was really ruthless and honest with myself about tossing out things that I knew I would never wear again or that I looked crap in. What a difference it makes! It's such a nice feeling to be able to easily pick out clothes now every morning that I can mix and match and know I look presentable in. It's a nice feeling to be able to shut the drawers again too, now they're not buckling under the strain of being over-stuffed. I got a huge fright when I delved through the boys' wardrobes and drawers though - we found at least half a dozen garments with the tags still on that I had bought at least a year ago and the boys didn't even realise they had, being hidden under the mountains of well-worn and faded items scrunched up on top of them. 'Wow - these are cool!' they exclaimed. They most certainly are - I'm just extremely grateful I had the sense to buy them the next size up when they were in the sales, so they still have another year's worth of wear in them! It's certainly a saving I'm grateful for, as Liam's clothes are more expensive than mine these days. He's only 10 but he's in men's shoes and socks now and all his new clothes are age 14 - almost twice the price of anything I have to buy for his brother. At least Ali is economical on clothes - I managed to get three extra years out of his 5 year old's clothing before his long-awaited growth spurt! Getting rid of all the excess stuff has made it so much easier to see what they actually need in plenty of time for winter too, now I just need to keep my eyes peeled for the bargains to come up!

Anyway, so why have I called this blog 'Costly Mistakes'? Largely down to our experiences of the last few days. I'm ashamed to say it but I let my youngest son fall victim to false marketing. Ali, he who finds saving money nothing short of impossible had actually been doggedly saving his money for some time and at the weekend had amounted a grand total of $30. Enough to buy something COOL. In the past few months, his love of penguins has been replaced by a new obsession - WWE wrestling. I know - bring back the penguins! Every spare cent that comes his way gets put towards some new wrestling hero and he spends hours playing with all the figures in their specially branded ring. That $30 was burning a big hole in his pocket and he couldn't wait for our next trip to town to come around so he could add to his wrestling collection. Once in the store, he was even more excited to see that all the toys had 20% off - now he could buy something bigger! Instead of a wrestling figure, he would now be able to afford a new ring. 'But you've already got a ring' I reasoned with him. 'I know - but this one is different Mum. This is a 'Stunt Action' ring!' he explained. 'Hmm, looks like the same ring to me', I said but he wouldn't have it. 'Nope, my other ring wasn't called a 'Stunt Action' ring - AND the box was different, remember? It was a long box, not a square one!' he said firmly. 'That's true - OK, well if you're sure'... I said. He was sure and couldn't wait to get the box home so he could build his new ring. I still commented that I thought it was the same ring - even the instructions were the same but he insisted that it definitely was not. Ten minutes later I went back into the lounge to find him in floods of tears. 'You were right Mum - it is the same ring. I can't believe I wasted ALL my money on the same stinking ring!' he sobbed. 'What am I going to do? I can't take it back, I've ripped the box and all the pieces are put together,' he ran upstairs to his room in despair. I really felt sorry for him - it had taken a lot of willpower and effort for him to save all that money and he'd been done out of the lot of it, thanks to some clever marketing. It made me really angry and while I was stewing over what to do, I didn't notice Liam quietly sitting in the lounge, checking out Ali's discarded new toy. Half an hour later he called Ali downstairs and he slowly appeared, still heartbroken over his mistake - until he saw what Liam had done. 'Coooool!' he breathed. In his absence, Liam had worked out how to attach one wrestling ring securely on top of the other and combined all the various pieces to create what Ali had wanted most of all - a cage ring! This for the unitiated is an enclosed wrestling ring for the REALLY TOUGH matches. Not only are these type of rings extremely hard to find, Ali had recently priced one online at a whopping $89, which he had been told in no uncertain terms he had to save for himself. That was one of the reasons he was so upset - he knew he would have to start saving all over again and it was going to take a loooong time. Ali's smile was huge and he has played happily with it ever since. In fact, it works so well that he doesn't even feel the need to buy the $89 version any more. Not only did his big brother's smart idea save the day, it also saved him $59 on his dream ring!

So I guess in Ali's case it turned out not to be a costly mistake after all. I wish I could say the same about mine though! As soon as I read the latest Hint of the Week $380 saved on fruit, I wanted to try it. As Sophie Gray says in her book 'More Stunning Food from Small Change', "Preserving nourishes our primal instincts to store food. I feel enormously satisfied as I survey my shelves full of home preserves - something to do with survival instincts I guess'. That was exactly it! The old hunter-gatherer instincts came out in force and while Noel was out hunting and gathering fish, I went in search of some cheap fruit. I figured the markets were the best place to go but just my luck, they didn't have any of the fruit I wanted - in fact, it seemed everyone there was also trying to get rid of their overabundance of tomatoes and zucchini too! Disappointed but determined to complete my mission I decided to stay well away from the overpriced supermarkets and headed instead for a local Chinese greengrocer. There was mountains of fruit, it all looked divine and all the items I wanted - peaches, plums and apricots were the same price $6.99 a kilo. It had been so long since I bought any stone fruit, being a family of apple and pear enthusiasts that I wasn't entirely sure if this was a good price or not but the staff assured me this was all the stock they had and I just wanted to get all this mouthwatering fruit home to my kitchen, where I could whip up a scene of domestic bliss with huge pots of bubbling merrily away. So I just about fell over when I was charged $55 for my little lot. I think it would probably have taken at least five years for our family to have spent that much on tinned fruit but I consoled myself that at least we could save this money now in other areas and enjoy yummy summer fruits for breakfasts and during the winter and spend less on cereal instead. I did indeed find the whole preserving experience most enjoyable and rewarding and decided to go the whole hog and whip up a couple of courgette cakes and a batch of banana muffins at the same time. I felt most virtuous and decided the next day when I popped into Mr Patel's that I would just check and see how much his stone fruit was. I wished I hadn't - his Golden Queen peaches were only $3.99 a kilo and even the apricots were only $4.71! The phrase 'sick as a parrot' immediately sprung to mind. So, not only would I have saved almost 50% on fruit by buying it in my own town, I also would have saved quite a bit on petrol by not driving an extra half an hour each way to the market. Duh - I ignored one of the most basic SS rules - do your homework and shop around first. Suffice to say the hunter-gatherer instinct has been quelled for a while. Next time any fruit gets preserved in my kitchen, it will be ones I've grown myself!

On a bit of a sad note, we had to have our beloved wee Dudley put to sleep on Monday, aged seven. We had agreed from the start that all the while he remained happy and was not in any pain we would keep him with us but towards the end of last week he deteriorated greatly and by Monday it was obvious that he was indeed in a lot of pain. So, Dudley went for his final big sleep at home, with me and my mum, his much-loved Grandma there to send him on his way. A tough decision that had to be made and it will take quite a while to get used to not having him around. However, we will remember him every day thanks to a kind and loving gesture by Noel. He had never had much time for Dudley in his earlier years but he had shown himself to be such a little battler over the last 12 months that he had found himself becoming really quite attached to 'the mop'. By the time I had picked the boys up from school and broken the news to them, Dudley's burial had all been taken care of and at the site in the orchard stood a little apricot tree. 'I wanted to plant something in his memory that was black, like Dudley', explained Noel rather apologetically. 'But they only had avocado trees and they were the wrong variety - green ones, not black. So I decided to go the opposite way and get something nice and bright to remember him by instead'. It's only been a couple of days but we all find that our 'Dudley tree' is proving a real comfort and wherever we are, feeding the chickens, weeding the garden or even just going to get the mail, we can see where he is. The only thing we were concerned about planting a new tree at this time of year was that it wouldn't survive in the drought but that night the heavens opened and the rain just fell out of the sky. It hasn't stopped since and the boys are convinced it's Dudley making it rain so his tree can grow!

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