Posted September 19th, 2007 by Penny Wise

Hmm, so much for my 'no spend' week, I discovered on Monday morning that we didn't possess a single toilet roll. Luckily Mr Patel had a dozen on special for $4.30 but far worse than breaking my 'no spend' week on its first day was the fact that my Eftpos card got declined. DECLINED - for $4.30! How embarrassing was that - thank goodness it was Mrs Patel and not Mr or I would never have heard the end of it. The annoying thing is about Mondays is that I always need to top up my groceries on a Monday morning - but my weekly household budget doesn't get transferred over to my account until Monday night. This is somewhat inconvenient but has never been a huge problem as I have always manage to stay well within my budget. Unfortunately now my cheap and cheerful existence has been shattered by a never ending demand for fruit, I'm not left with much on a Monday morning. In my own defence, I did check the balance the night before and there was more than enough to buy at least three packets of toilet rolls but unbeknown to me, $10 of it was whisked away into my Christmas savings account in the middle of the night, hence I was caught short. You probably didn't need to know any of that and neither did Mrs Patel but she got the lot anyway. After all, one always has to justify oneself when one gets declined!

Still, today is Wednesday and I haven't spent a thing since. I'm too embarrassed to go back to the shop at the moment anyway so that helps to strengthen my resolve even further. The fruit bowl is looking perilously low but at least I'll be able to get us through the week with all the fruit stashed away in the freezer from autumn. I can't wait for our orchard and edible hedge to yield something more than grapefruit. It's going to be a real saviour for the food bill one of these days but you can't rush these things. Even the freezer is getting mighty low on meat. One thing's for certain, I am never buying bacon or ham again unless it is 'homegrown' - my Chemical Maze book says the packet in my fridge contains some real nasties! The only way I can see at the moment to lower our food bill and make it as safe as possible for the kids is to grow as much of our own food as we can. I mean, we already have been to a certain extent but now I really mean AS MUCH of our food as possible. My savvy gardening hubby is raring to go and is in the middle of giving the vege garden an overhaul. He has been busy growing seedlings in old plastic tomato and strawberry punnets and watering them with his home made mini watering can made from a recycled juice bottle. It's exactly the same as the hint I recently spotted in the Vault, except he had already gone and made one of his own before I could tell him about it! It works really well I must admit. He was most disgusted at the weekend though when he had only just planted some beans and turned his back for five minutes to find the blackbirds pulling them out. 'I'm going to have to make a scarecrow', he grumbled but I had a much easier alternative! I can't remember where I read it, I'm sure it must be in the Vault but a few minutes later I had rummaged around and found half a dozen old damaged CDs. He simply strung them up with fishing line in the garden and left them to sway in the breeze. The sun catches the CDs and makes rainbows that glint; for some reason the birds hate it and stay well away!

That earned me a few brownie points but we hadn't finished yet. For ages we have been wanting to create a portable area in the vege garden where we could enclose a couple of chickens and let them 'weed', dig up and clean out ready for planting - without being able to get to the precious plants already growing. We found the answer hiding in the shed - an old dog crate! Years before I used to show Labradors and I had a large crate for transporting them in. It cost a fortune at the time and my foray into dog showing didn't last long but we had always felt it might come in useful one day so we hung on to it. All we needed to do was cut off the bottom steel tray and the wheels and we had the perfect cage for our chooks! Now we just put a couple of the girls into the 'scratch patch' and it only takes a couple of hours before their beaks and feet have worked their magic. The chickens are happy and so is Noel as this brainwave will save him hours of weeding!

As we discovered last summer, the main problem with growing large quantities of food is storing it, or finding enough ways to use a 'glut' of something without getting bored with it. After a lengthy study of the threads on food dehydrators we decided this could be the answer so we looked around to see if we could find a bargain. While eBay and Trade Me proved expensive ($80 or more for some which were 10 or 12 years old!), I had a look for the first time on Sell Me Free which works in the same way but without the selling fees, as the title would suggest. I found just what I was after - a Sunbeam model which was only four months old for $50, free delivery. It arrived this morning and looks great! I can't wait to start using it to make the boys some healthy fruit roll-ups, not to mention countless other things. The seller was lovely and even gave me her phone number if I wanted any advice or tips on using the machine - she had loved hers but was moving to a tiny apartment and just didn't have room for it. At last I will have something else to do with my overripe bananas instead of endless banana cakes!

I have a feeling that the next six months is going to be full of 'no spend weeks' or $21 Challenges. I took Liam to enrol at the local college yesterday and found that his 'Welcome Pack' contained an order form for his school uniform. The primary school he currently attends does not have a uniform so this is all very new to us. Liam has been wearing age 14 clothing since he was 10 and is still growing at an alarming rate - there was no way I wanted to buy his school uniform when he's not going to be attending for another five months! However, I was told not to panic - the order form was simply to give parents an idea well in advance how much their child's new uniform was going to cripple them financially so they could start saving now. They weren't wrong either - we're looking at $300 just for the basics, and that's without even a jumper! Apparently the stationery list comes later but that's not much better. Honestly, where would I be without my frugal know-how? Let me see - it is exactly 18 weeks until Liam starts his new school, so if I could put aside $16 a week from now until the end of the holidays, that would make things a LOT less painful when the time comes. I shall start today!

PS: Before I go, I must point out another rather unusual recipe to use up bananas 'One of everything' soup! I admit, I am scared to try it out but the temptation is proving too great. Unfortunately I'm going to have to wait until next week so I can buy the banana now!

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