Beyond the call of duty

Posted March 19th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Eugh, it's bill paying day today, I'm not looking forward to it. Thank goodness for online banking - at least now it only takes a couple of minutes to pay a month's worth of bills and file them in the Bill Payment System; a far cry from all the years spent shuffling through piles of papers and getting writer's cramp from filling out so many cheques. The part I'm dreading is finding out how much - or how little - we're going to have to get us through the next month since Noel's bought all these blasted cows. The kids have been told in no uncertain terms that we can spend NOTHING except on essentials, so don't even bother asking. I think it's actually got through to them too! 'Is that why you never buy any food any more, Mum, 'cause Dad's spent all our money?' asked Liam in all seriousness. 'Er no, mate, that's because there is no spare room to store any food among Dad's vegetable avalanche,' I explained - also in all seriousness. Although I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has sent me recipes to use up my glut of tomatoes, they all sound wonderful and rest assured I have plenty of tomatoes on hand to be able to try them ALL - especially the tomato wine! I also really appreciate the clever ideas for containers for freezing in the Forum. My friend Maxine also gave me an idea, which turned out to be an excellent one. She suggested I buy some pita breads and use the tomatoes to make mini pizzas and freeze them for lunches and kids' dinners. As it happened, Mr Patel's had pita breads on special so I bought a load and cut them in half. At first I was shocked to think I had spent $12 on pita breads, cheese and tomato paste, but once I got home and assembled the pizzas, I was delighted to find that I had enough ingredients on hand to make 32 pizzas! 32 yummy lunches for $12! Considering I would normally spend $12 on one measly panini and drink at the local cafe, that really put the cost of eating out into perspective.

I don't think I'll be going to Mr Patel's again for a while though - I'm too embarrassed. Sometimes I wonder if the things I do in the name of saving money go way beyond the call of duty. For example, at the weekend Noel decided to take on another huge fencing project, tidying up the other side of the driveway and road frontage where we chopped all the trees down before Christmas. Our kind and generous neighbour once again donated all the wooden posts and rails we needed, Noel's staff discount at the rural supplies store entitled him to 20% off all the fencing bits and pieces and the job was done in a couple of afternoons thanks to borrowing a friend's tractor and post rammer. Seeing as he had 101 things to do that day and was in a bit of a hurry to get the fencing done while he could borrow the tractor, I begrudgingly said I would do some of his errands for him, the first of which was to take a trailer load of rubbish to the dump. It made sense as I had to go to Mr Patel's anyway and this would save money on petrol by not taking two cars. The only problem with this was, I remembered as I arrived with my load that I cannot reverse a trailer. With nobody at the dump around to help me, I had no choice but to park where I could face the right way home, which was some way away from the skips and cart all the stuff off the trailer one armload at a time. A bit of an inconvenience but no big deal. The only problem is, being such an environmentally conscious family means we don't dump much rubbish unless really necessary. We don't have a rubbish collection in our rural neck of the woods and it takes a long time for us to fill up a decent sized load, so by the time it actually reaches dumping stage, you could say it's rather 'on the nose', especially at this warm time of year. I was certainly glad to deposit the last of my whiffy trailer contents and with some relief hopped into the car, ready to move on to the next errand. Whereupon I was immediately engulfed by the most awful, indescribable smell I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. To my dismay I discovered the culprit was me. Whereas Noel would have backed the trailer capably up to the landfill and simply tipped up the trailer to empty it, my efforts to carry all the rubbish back and forth had resulted in me smelling as though I belonged in the skip too. I'm not joking here, it was BAAAAAD.

I'm sure the helpful young chap in the rural supplies shop thought I was most odd in my insistence to keep a respectful ten metres away from him as I followed him around the store with Noel's shopping list. In doing this however I figured I was only drawing more attention to myself, so by the time I reached Mr Patel's I decided I may as well throw caution to the wind and mingle with the other shoppers. Typical, the store was buzzing with people, I hadn't seen it so busy for ages but I did my best to move along the aisles as discreetly as possible to avoid wafting the horrendous odour around any more than necessary. By the time I reached the checkout I had convinced myself that there was really nothing to worry about and the only person who could smell anything was me. Wrong. The overpowering stink became worse with every second that passed and as I waited patiently for my payment to go through, Master Patel Jr began sniffing at the air. 'Ugh - what's that smell?' he looked at me quzzically. It took all my willpower not to burst out laughing on the spot but I did my best to look suitably offended and looked around, saying 'Ooh I know, I noticed it too! Isn't it terrible? I don't know what it is'... I hoped to goodness this would convince him enough that it wasn't me - after all, I was one of their most regular customers and to the best of my knowledge I had never had a reputation for smelling so appalling in their store before. By this time a queue had formed behind me and I couldn't get out of the store fast enough but I couldn't believe it when I was told there was a problem with the Eftpos machine and we'd have to go through the whole payment rigmarole again. Master Patel Jr was still sniffing around and called over to his wife in Indian to ask if she could smell anything, frowning and waving madly under his nose. At this point I was dangerously close to collapsing in hysterics and was desperately trying to hide the fact I couldn't stop smirking - how I held it in I'll never know. Mercifully my payment went through at last, just as Ms Patel Jr produced an air freshener. As I hurriedly dashed out of the shop, I helpfully dropped my plastic shopping basket on top of the pile at the door and as I did so, the corner of the basket somehow caught in the zipper of my shorts, pulling it down and exposing my wobbly white tummy and faded old undies for all to see. That really was the last straw. I ran to the car, laughed until I cried, carried on laughing all the way home and was still cackling to myself three hours later. Of course, none of the above would ever have happened if I hadn't been so blooming conscientious about saving petrol in the first place!

Needless to say, I have told Noel if he runs out of beer, he's just going to have to go to Mr Patel's and get it himself, although I never thought I would say it but I think he's actually gone off beer at the moment! Thanks to some clever marketing by Heineken, Ali's got his dad switching from his usual brand and drinking it like it's going out of fashion in a desperate attempt to win tickets to the Rugby World Cup. Talk about minimal chances - the idea is that you have to collect bottle caps featuring the names of all 12 countries competing in the World Cup, which of course takes ages because you end up with countless double-ups and triples of ones you already have before you can actually acquire a full set. Ali mistakenly believed that this was all we needed to do in order to score free tickets and was disgusted to find that wasn't the case. All it means is that we have to send our bottle caps in along with every other Heineken swilling mug in the hope our name gets drawn out of thousands. While Ali is of course not able to help his dad drink the bottle contents, he has done a stirling job of keeping his eyes peeled wherever he goes and has picked up a surprising number of bottle caps along the roadside and even at the beach, in order to help his cause and relieve poor Noel of having to drink a few more bottles. He never liked the stuff before and is certainly heartily sick of it now but as Ali rightly pointed out, it's a far cheaper way to get seats to the World Cup than forking out $50,000 or more for a guided tour. Quite.

Just as well our house is a Heineken-free zone once again, because as far as I'm concerned beer is a luxury we shouldn't be buying when we've got half a herd of cows to pay off. At least I'm trying to go the extra mile to save even more where possible. For example, after reading all the Forum responses to the hint Wash your hair with soap and vinegar I couldn't resist giving it a go. I washed my hair that night, following the instructions carefully and let it dry naturally. The following morning I got up and was gobsmacked when I looked in the mirror - I looked like Tina Turner! I wasn't expecting to be able to get a brush through my hair but it glided through easily and I was amazed to find that my hair actually did as it was told for the first time in years - and stayed that way! I couldn't help laughing at the thought of the squillions of dollars haircare companies make on volumising products, when here I was experiencing far better results than any of them with vinegar and Sunlight soap! Noel was most impressed too and assured me I didn't smell like a fish and chip shop. 'Think of all the money we'll save on shampoo!' he said. Well - that's the idea and if that's what we need to do to save money I'm happy to keep up the effort - even if it means storing what looks like a giant bottle of wee on my bathroom shelf. I even gave in and cooked a lamb roast for the first time since Friday and Bob's demise. There was enough left over to make Sophie Gray's 'Vegetable Soup with Lamb' the following night, which was a real hit with the family and made more than enough for three days' worth of lunches.

I did wonder today though if perhaps I have become far more of a miser than I thought. Chatting with a group of school mums this afternoon, I was appalled to hear that they had gone shopping for the day and spent a fortune on what I considered useless household items, which had no use other than for appearances only. What a terrible waste of money, I thought! Honestly, I felt truly sorry for them, not least because once upon a time I was the same but now I knew better. They had had a great time but now were regretting how much they had spent. 'Sounds like you need to join this website I know!' I piped up. 'Really? What does that do?' someone asked. 'Teaches people to save money,' I grinned, eager to help. 'Oh - I don't think this lot need to save money,' was the answer. I was genuinely taken aback and very nearly up for an argument, which is most unlike me but I couldn't believe anyone would seriously believe they didn't need to save money. Then again I've been there and done that. This Sad Sally has come a loooong way!

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