Out to lunch

Posted March 30th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Ahh, the wonders of the Internet! How else would us non-Aussies have been able to watch Fiona talking about ALDI on A Current Affair from the comfort of my computer? I thought the report was great but it has only made me even more impatient for the ALDI powers that be to send a few of their stores over our way. I was talking to a friend this morning who is moving to Victoria in June and I immediately thought 'Lucky thing - she gets to shop at ALDI!' It's amazing how many likeminded frugals have come out of the woodwork since SS launched in NZ - I wish I had known that before, we could have started our own wee savings group! I've managed to make some great savings myself the last few days, firstly on bulk meat. Sounds rather strange coming from a vegetarian but I am really looking forward to having our meat delivered this afternoon. We go halves with Noel's parents on a whole beef animal and while I don't eat it myself, I am looking forward to being able to offer the rest of the family something new as I have absolutely refused to buy meat lately, I've been so horrified at the prices. Why on earth should I fork out $20 for a teensy topside roast (that will shrink to half its size again on cooking) when for $350 I can have half a cow? Our 100kg share of meat costs just $3.50 a kilo, professionally cut and packed. I know we are lucky to live in the country and be able to 'grow' our own meat but I have been really impressed at the number of SS city dwellers who also buy in bulk from out of town. One of the first recipes I am looking forward to trying out is Carol H's French Shepherds Pie from the Forum. My mum pointed it out and I had to agree it sounds divine - and I don't even eat meat!

I've got a real bee in my bonnet lately about cafe's. It all started last week when Noel had to work at a client's farm at the weekend. He was sent out at lunchtime to buy pies and sandwiches for the crew from a nearby foodcourt and was appalled to find he couldn't buy any. All the bakeries and greasy spoons had been replaced by posh cafe's and they were all heaving with people - mainly kids bored out of their minds while their parents chatted over latte after latte. I knew exactly what he meant about the kid part - our boys would rather do pretty much ANYTHING else than go to a cafe but even they don't dislike setting foot in one as much as Noel does. 'Honestly, what a waste of a day!' he raved. 'Sitting there hour after hour drinking overpriced coffee - why don't people get out and DO anything any more?' Put like that I guess it is a bit of a pointless way to spend a precious day off! However until recently I have always been guilty of hanging out at cafe's on a regular basis. Mum and I like to meet for lunch at our local twice a week for a 'mum-and-daughter' catch up. Just the two of us, no kids, phone or other interruptions that usually occur when we're both together. It's always been our little treat but recently our local haunt went through a big staff change and things just weren't the same any more. The food definitely wasn't the same any more. The final straw came when Mum was served up a toasted sandwich that could have been better made by Ali and was expected to pay $8 for it. We decided enough was enough and that we wouldn't bother going there any more - but we were going to miss our lunches out. So we came up with an idea - instead of buying filled paninis from the cafe, we would meet at Mum's house twice a week for lunch instead and take it in turns to bring paninis from home. I wondered out loud how much a panini toaster-cafe grill thingy would be and we decided we would keep an eye out for one and go halves. I received notifcation yesterday of a massive one-day sale at Farmers (it's a bit like Kmart) where they were having 30% off appliances, so Mum and I decided to go and shop around for a bargain panini toaster. However, first we thought we had better do some maths to make sure it was a viable option. The two of us currently were spending $12 twice a week on a panini, drink and side salad. We were horrified to add up the costs and discover this mediocre treat was costing us $1248 a year - EACH! Just slightly more than a panini toaster, so off we went.

As we browsed the aisles together, we could see these ranged in price from around $60 to $100 but then I happened to spot a shiny stainless steel Sunbeam model all alone on a clearance stand marked $30. Its normal retail price was $73.99; all that was missing was the box and instructions and it didn't look as though it was going to take a rocket scientist to work out how to use it. 'Sold!' we smiled and headed off up to the counter. 'Just a minute, I'll go and find the box for you', said the lady at the checkout. We told her that we didn't think it came with one but she went off to look anyway. 'No, I can't find one', she sighed. 'It's got a scratch on it too - would $25 be alright?' Well! It would have taken a blind man to see the scratch but we weren't going to say no. So we are now the proud owners of a shiny new panini toaster for the price of just one lunch out each - what a great long term saving! On defrosting my freezer this morning to make room for the meat, I also found three multi-packs of paninis hiding in the ice, so that will get us off to a great start!

We were feeling pretty chuffed with our bargain and although it was nearing lunchtime we decided we wouldn't dream of eating lunch out again and would wait until we got home but we were pretty parched, so agreed to stop at a service station and grab a drink for the 40 minute trip home. I left Mum in the car and went to see what I could find. Mum doesn't like most soft drinks but I spotted a coffee machine so thought that would do. I had a spot of trouble working out how the darn thing operated and sent hot coffee shooting everywhere before I got the hang of it but finally I had it and as I waited for the cup to fill a soft voice said behind me, 'Are you going to pay $3 for that ma'am?' I looked at the young lady behind me, then up at the machine and saw the huge orange sticker I had missed in my haste, with the price emblazoned on it. Apart from not eating meat, I don't drink tea or coffee either so I had no idea how much one usually costs. 'Oh - I didn't see the price, I was just trying to get the machine to work!' I chuckled, somewhat embarrassed. 'Oh yes, that is expensive isn't it? Right, I shall go and choose something MUCH cheaper for myself...' and made a hasty retreat to the fizzy drinks cabinet. The thing that made me feel so uncomfortable though was that, even if I had known how much a cup of coffee was supposed to be, I wouldn't have thought a thing about spending $3 if I was thirsty enough. I could see now though that for the other lady it was beyond comprehension. As I watched her move around the shop, asking the attendant how much all the different drinks were, it became obvious to me that she couldn't afford any of them. In the end, the attendant relented and said that she could have a slushy for $1 instead of $1.50, as that was all she had. As we both went out into the howling wind and pouring rain, me with my steaming hot coffee and her with her cup full of flavoured ice, there was something about her that made me want to say 'Look, do you need help? I know heaps about saving money - really!' Yeah - like she was going to believe that after my display at the coffee machine. Fancy not even looking at the price! I felt like the biggest Sad Sally on the planet.

The whole experience made me feel extremely grateful for everything we have. With all the media coverage about the horrendous price of houses lately, Noel and I can't help but be amazed at how things have changed in last few years. If we were to try and buy our own house today - the very one we currently live in - we probably wouldn't be able to afford it any more, the prices in the area have all gone up too much! Yet just four years ago, when we wanted to buy our first home we went to the bank with a deposit of $36,000, told the bank excitedly about the house we wanted to buy and asked nicely if we could please have a home loan of $140,000. The bank manager actually laughed at us - 'I don't think so!' he replied. Needless to say, we're not with that bank any more and thank heavens our real estate agent knew of a bank which would happily lend us the money but even back then, $36,000 was a pretty darn good deposit. So it amazes us now that our friends and acquaintances are able to walk into any old bank and sign up for a mortgage of $300,000 and even $400,000 with zero deposit and one income. They think it's so exciting but watching them scares the heck out of me. Even though our mortgage is less than half of these people's, I don't know where we would be without this website. I'm just gonna keep on spreading the word about SS until they get sick of me and join!

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