Forewarned is forearmed

Posted May 15th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Apologies for the large gap between blogs! Noel and the boys have all been struck down with the first of the winter bleurgh viruses. I have mercifully stayed bleurgh-free thus far but fussing over my poor sick males has given me plenty of time to think about saving, even if I haven't been able to write anything down! Let's face it, money is a topic which is never out of the news but over the last 12 months or so, the amount of coverage regarding debt and spending in NZ is just incredible, I imagine it's the same in other countries too. Scary stuff but how did we get this way? I can't answer for everyone but from personal experience I would say because we live in denial. We stick our heads in the sand about our spending and pretend there isn't a problem. Some of us actually believe it! We make bad choices because so many of us are uninformed. We spend so much time just trying to get through each day, we have absolutely no idea what is going on around us. Over the past few days I have come to the conclusion that the key to saving money is to be informed. Not only do we need to learn how to be Happy Hanna's but to truly succeed, we also need to learn how to be Fiona Lippey's.

Since I have had the pleasure of getting to know Fiona over the past couple of years, I have been constantly amazed at the amount of information in the brain of this Miser Extraordinaire. I have never met anyone who knows so much stuff! Honestly, it's staggering. I don't know how she does it but she is always up to date and informed on pretty much everything. I was very excited to be able to tell her today that I had discovered the British Royal Family are great users and supporters of homeopathic medicine. In return Fiona told me they have been using it for 155 years and use the same homeopathic first aid kits that Fran Sheffield has available to order on her website! I should have known she would already know! Compared to her, I feel as though I wander around all day with my eyes shut! I'm one of those people who never watches the news because it's too scary and depressing. Anything else that isn't scary or depressing usually either goes over my head or simply passes by unnoticed. However, I have finally learned that the way to achieve financial awareness is to actively seek out the information. For too long I have been insular with my spending habits. Whilst I know now I can save my family money by getting through a day - or even a week - without spending a cent, keeping informed and aware of the bigger picture too now stands to save me a lot more. I learned this quite by accident when I changed my magazine subscriptions!

Over the past year or so, I have tried my best to steer clear of buying magazines unless I can really learn something from them. I don't really give two hoots on what Brad and Ange, or Tom and Katie are doing - reading about them is not saving me money, it's just throwing it down the drain. Instead publications such as 'Growing Today' or 'Earth Garden' have taught me a lot about keeping healthy chickens and as a result we now have far more eggs, so they have been worth the money. They're also really good to keep long-term to refer back to on all kinds of things. However, the ones I am enjoying and learning from most of all at the moment are Consumer (Kiwi version of Choice) and the humble Reader's Digest. I remember my parents getting the Reader's Digest back in the Seventies and in typical kid style, thought it was a very boring book for old people and OK, I admit, I have spent a good part of my adult years thinking the same - isn't it funny how wrong you can be! Only after several afternoons spent in the doctor's waiting room treating Ali's burn did I discover the joys of this wee publication. I didn't want to put it down and was quite upset when Ali's name was called to go in! Just this week I have learned the following from my Consumer and RD:

How supermarkets manipulate their customers and why every supermarket aisle follows a certain layout. Fascinating reading and very cunning of the retailers. They're not going to suck me in with their sneaky tricks again!

Which fruit drinks on the market have the lowest sugar content and the highest Vitamin C content. Interesting to learn that while Ribena was exposed recently for not containing enough Vitamin C, other companies are just as guilty of manufacturing products which contain five times too much! Made me think very carefully about which ones to buy my kids in future.

The cheapest NZ supermarket according to Consumer's recent survey is Pak 'n Save, with Countdown next in line and Woolworths being revealed as the most expensive. However, while they may have the lowest prices, this is largely due to the fact that their range is much smaller. They only stock items which sell well and the high turnover on these items means they can have lower profit margins on these goods. No wonder I have always left both these supermarkets feeling like I have nothing in my trolley! No doubt this is the same among supermarkets in other countries too. I think I'll stick with Mr Patel's.

The top performing laundry powder is Persil. Unfortunately it's also the most expensive at a cost of more than 50c per load! Sadly, the eco-friendly powders did not perform well, due to the fact they don't contain enzymes, the main stainbusters. However, all it takes is a quick flick through Shannon Lush's book 'Spotless' to come up with plenty of alternatives to enzymes - and cheaper ones too!

I felt very smug to see that my new digital camera came out tops in the best compact camera survey. That's what some careful product research and shopping around does for you!

How to deal with an uncomfortable situation when a friend or family member asks you to lend them money.

Last but not least, I can download The Ultimate Grocery List as used by over 36,000 shoppers and learn heaps about other people's shopping habits!

Not to mention countless other fascinating subjects completely unrelated to saving money that keep me avidly reading in the bath long after it has gone cold. My Consumer knowledge was even able to help a friend out the other day. Her son's school has taken up a healthy eating crusade, which is fantastic and very commendable but unfortunately some of the teachers were going a bit overboard and physically taking snacks out of the kids' lunchboxes if they deemed them to be unhealthy. My friend and her son were very upset when his teacher removed a natural, fruit-based snack from his lunchbox and told him he wouldn't be allowed to bring them to school again. Fortunately when they told me the story, I was immediately reminded of a Consumer report where this product came out tops and was able to give her the relevant information to pass on the teacher!

I hope all the mothers out there had a wonderful Mother's Day! I got a pile of dishes, a trip to the dump, a rat in the toolshed, a dozen concrete posts to paint and almost burnt the house down cooking dinner! However, I also got no less than four adorable home made cards and an oven mitt Liam had made me at school. Ali's class invited all the mums to a 'Queen for a Day' morning at school on Friday, so off we all went, dressed in our finery and expecting to be waited on hand and foot. We were indeed given crowns to wear but no sooner had we settled in our chairs than we were promptly shoo-ed outside to play relay games with the children. We must have all been quite a sight leaping around trying desperately to hold onto our crowns while at the same time trying just as hard not to break our necks in our high heels and skirts! I told Noel I didn't want the kids to buy me anything but he wanted to go to the garden centre and get more vegetable plants so we compromised and spent ages shopping around for cheap baby fruit trees and vines to create an edible hedge out of where we chopped a huge row of trees down before Christmas. We bought three tiny feijoa trees, two oranges and a mandarin, two grapevines and raspberry, blackberry, loganberry and boysenberry bushes. This time next year I hope to create a picture of domestic bliss in my kitchen, whipping up home made jams and blackberry and apple pies. Just as my mum did for me, I can't wait to do the same for my kids too! That's if any of them actually make it into the kitchen of course - I'll have to sneak them past Ali first! As for what I bought my mum for Mother's Day, I racked my brains and really couldn't think of anything - until I thought about her upcoming trip to England. She hasn't been 'home' for eight years and is due to fly out for a month in six weeks' time but she suffers dreadfully with back pain and is a little concerned about the effect such a long flight will have on it. This time last year Fran Sheffield kept Mum both pain-free and flu-free all winter, so that's what I got her for Mother's Day, a consultation with Fran. I figured there's nothing more important I could give her than her health and if it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for my mum!

The last few days have been great ones for saving. I've saved hundreds of dollars in fact and am pretty proud about that - not to mention relieved! Liam has decided all of a sudden that he doesn't want to share a room with his younger brother any more - 'it's for babies', he reckons. While I respect that he's growing up and would like his own space, it's not really a good time to be forking out for a new bed (the boys currently have bunks). I also wasn't inclined to spend too much on setting up a new room for him until he proved he could stick at sleeping on his own either. For a kid who doesn't even like being upstairs on his own, I'm not exactly confident that he won't be demanding to move back in with Ali after his first night alone! Then there's also the fact that my car has cost us $600 in servicing and a new cam belt sensor in the last week. Not to mention the other fact that the room he wants to move into is so small, it's hardly practical. Still, I said I would do my best to sort something out, so I have searched department stores, scoured second hand shops and looked online at eBay and Trade Me. Due to the room being so poky, what we were really hoping for was a single bunk bed with some kind of storage options underneath but to buy brand new was really not a path we wanted to go down. We found some that looked perfect on Trade Me, but they would cost a fortune to ship up from halfway down the country. We asked around locally but nobody had even a regular single bed going cheap. Liam found a bed he set his heart on in one of the bedding stores, with a desk and chair underneath. I loved it too but not the price at over $1000! So we went to another bedding store which was directly next door and they offered us the same bed for $300 less. A handy saving! The salesman was very charming, helpful and not bad looking either! A dangerous combination, especially when he's offering me 12 months interest free on one side and Liam's pleading intently with me on the other. It was a lovely bed but I just didn't want to commit to it. The very thought of racking up so much debt was making me feel sick. So I stopped and thought in the nick of time. Instead of signing on the dotted line, I asked the salesman to write down the dimensions of the bed so I could go home and make sure that it would fit adequately in Liam's tiny room before buying. He was happy to do so and immediately on arriving home I got Noel to help me measure it up and guess what? It was hopeless, he would have had a light fitting sticking into his head and wouldn't even have been able to open the door fully! Being faced with the evidence, Liam could see the pitfalls and so could I. I promised him that he would get his own room and that I would continue looking for the perfect bed but he was just going to have to wait until the right one came up - and at the right price. Thank goodness I stopped, thought and saved!

To finish with, I must just share my exciting shopping experiment! Well, I think it's exciting anyway but it might be suitable for Kiwis only so apologies to anyone from other countries who are unable to do this one. For ages my mum has been telling me about our local bulk store, which is part of a nationwide chain called Bin Inn. Mum shops there to support her friend who owns the franchise but it's a bit out of my way and not somewhere I ever need to go in general. However, I stopped in there yesterday to get some brown rice and was amazed at what I saw. Bin after bin after bin of pretty much every product under the sun! Herbs, spices, pulses, baking needs, dog and cat food, home brewing needs, bulk cleaners and beauty products, the list goes on and on. Amazing! The Bin Inn website is a great resource too, chock full of interesting tips and recipes. Another plus which the company is very proud of are the environmental benefits of only using what you need and using less packaging through refilling only. Honestly, I was blown away; this store has been around for years and I have never realised what a treasure trove it is! The big question is, how much money am I going to save by shopping there? I don't know but I mean to find out. I may be going a little out of my way to shop there but I reckon the savings could well be worth it!

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