Well my No Spend February might not have turned out as productive as I had hoped but the boys really finished the month in style. They have been trading up a storm on Trade Me and Liam made a whopping $357 while Ali managed a very respectable $170. Not bad for a week's work! Liam is the proud owner of brand new Eftpos card - and also a Nintendo DS, which is what he was saving for. He's only had it two days and already I'm sorely tempted to throw it out the car window while driving along at great speed. On the positive side, he doesn't move for hours at a time so the house is no longer messy but I would rather have my son back than this uncommunicative zombie. Fortunately he has come to the realisation on his own that too many hours sat staring at a small screen is both bad for his eyes and his fitness so he has borrowed my kitchen timer and for every hour he plays his Nintendo, the buzzer goes off and he goes outside and bounces on the trampoline or practices goal kicking. I still don't reckon it's worth the $200 he paid for it but I'm proud of the effort he went to in order to get it.
As February ended up being such a rotten month I've decided to start over and make March my 'No Spend' month. Noel keeps laughing at me and says I'll never do it but the whole 'want vs need' issue really strikes a chord with me. It literally tips the balance between me buying something or not - which is great! I do admit to splashing out on a few treats on February 29th but they were all a bargain on Trade Me and I truly believe they will help our family save even more money in the long run. Firstly I picked up two books by new Simple Savings newsletter contributor, Anita Bell. I bought 'Your Mortgage and How To Pay It Off In Five Years (By Someone Who Did It In Three)' and 'Your Money - Starting Out and Starting Over'. I bought the mortgage book because as soon as the last of our debts are paid off I want to concentrate on paying our mortgage off a lot faster. Interest rates have gone up again to over 9.5% and I really don't want to pay a cent more than I have to. Our current mortgage stands at $169,000 which is small by many standards but I wouldn't want it any bigger. When we bought our home, we signed up for 25 years because we wanted to have a life. However here we are not yet five years in and the thought of being stuck paying it off for another 20 years doesn't exactly have me doing cartwheels. Still, we know how to manage our money a heck of a lot better than we did five years ago and I would love to think that we could pay it off well before then now. After reading so many recommendations from members who have successfully used Anita's books, I decided that they were a must-read. The other book I bought because I want to learn more about 'sanity money'. I think I need to set this up for myself to protect against me doing daft things like buying four CD's at a time again! Seriously though, I had read about sanity money but never met anyone who actually did it until I met the Holland family - the SS No Spend family from Campbell Live. It obviously worked really well for them so I decided I would look into it and other budgeting tricks further. Of course, I can't spend any of my sanity money until after my No Spend March though, so I reckoned this month would be a good time to read up on the subject.
My last treat was a little naughty maybe but I weighed up the pros and cons carefully beforehand a la Eight Steps to Happiness and I decided that our family had far more to gain than lose from buying it. One of my favourite people is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from the 'River Cottage' series. His books and DVD's are plentiful but hard to get here and cost a fortune so I have as yet refused to succumb. However, when I spotted one book entitled 'The River Cottage Family Cookbook' I just couldn't resist. Hugh is a great believer in teaching children where food really comes from in its natural source - not pre-packaged on a supermarket shelf. As well as the usual frugal, making-from-scratch things like bread and pasta, this brilliant book also teaches us how to make butter, cream cheese, yoghurt, real fruit jellies - even how to make our own sausages, as well as all kinds of mouth-watering recipes to use up our home grown fruit and veggies on, or the fish and game Noel catches throughout the year. The book is a fascinating read in itself and is aimed at enjoying learning these skills together as a family. Great timing for Ali the health fanatic, who swore yesterday that he was never going to eat a bought pie again after learning the average steak pie contains around a golf ball of fat. I chuckled and said 'everything in moderation' but it's amazing how many more things the boys will happily scoff if they come from Dad's garden that they wouldn't touch if I bought it home in a plastic bag. Poor Noel can't grow broccoli fast enough to cope with their demands!
So I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into some of those recipes with the kids and making our own butter and so on. I'm so grateful to Simple Savings - not only because of the money it teaches to save but I have learned so much about what we consume, where it comes from, what it contains and how it reaches us. So many things I use to buy without thinking have become unthinkable to us now, because I know what is in them and where they have come from. Take yesterday for example. Ali worked really hard at his swimming and asked if he could buy a new drink called Demon that all his friends were drinking. I told him with a name like that I would have to check the label first and sure enough it said 'Not Suitable For Children and Pregnant Women'. In very small letters at the bottom of the can. Once upon a time I would have said 'Cool!' but because of everything I have learned from SS I was able show him the label, the ingredients and tell him what all of them did and why they were bad for you. Ali was disgusted 'Why do they even make drinks like that? How can they be allowed to sell them?' Makes you wonder doesn't it. He was even more concerned at the number of his young friends who routinely consume several a day but needless to say he put back the $3.30 Demon with goodness knows what in it, in favour of a can of apple and orange juice at $1.10 with nothing but apple and orange juice in it. I'm really glad that through SS I am able to bring my kids up to be informed but it worries me about the number of parents who obviously aren't.
So now I've got my treats I'm keeping my head down for the month and going to do my best for a more successful month. Last weekend was a very productive one and lots of fun! I made my first batch of passionfruit jam using a recipe from the Vault. The results were fantastic and it tastes wonderful - and I don't even like passionfruit! I've got an avalanche of them at the moment as Ali loves them and grew his own vine. Luckily there are heaps of great recipes in the Vault for passionfruit butter, cordial and all sorts of things. I think I could learn to like passionfruit after all! Also - VERY EXCITING - well, for me anyway. I have had to wait sooooo long to get through my huge bucket of washing powder so I could have a go at making my own laundry detergent but it finally happened! I used the recipe from the Bumper Book of Cleaning Clues (in the Downloads area) and added everything except the borax because I couldn't get any and preferred to give it a go without if possible. Noel thought it was hilarious watching me devotedly tend to my bucket of sludge but I'm chuffed to bits with the results so far. In fact, my home made version has managed to get rid of stains that my old washing powder couldn't! OK, so it might not smell of Ocean Breeze or Blossom Fields but the Sunlight soap does the job and still makes the washing smell nice. Will be interesting to see if Liam and Noel's eczema improves too! Noel also had a productive weekend, giving our revolting old wooden toolshed a revamp. It needs bulldozing really but it's the only storage space we have until we can afford a proper garage, which is still a long way off so we put up with it but it's such an eyesore and now the house is being painted (well - sort of, we won't talk about that at the moment) it made the grotty shed stand out even more. So Noel borrowed Mum's waterblaster and then used the scrapings from the painter's tins to slap a coat on the shed to match the house. It looks a hundred times better and my Mum gave me some of her hanging baskets to plant and hang up. The difference is amazing and it didn't cost us a cent as the paint tins would have just got thrown away! The house is two-thirds finished being painted and is looking fabulous but we haven't seen the painter for over a month now and the colder weather is on the way. Sigh...
Apart from my No Spend March, I've got one more mission this month. It seems as though wherever I go lately, I see or hear of relationships which are suffering because of money. Couples who want different things and can't afford them all so they fight and blame each other. Couples who are sending themselves broke through 'keeping up with the Joneses'. Couples who are in way over their heads with huge mortgages they don't have a hope of being able to keep up. Couples whose incomes or circumstances have changed and they are unable to adjust their living costs to within their means. Couples who continue to spend blindly in the hope that money will magically appear from somewhere. I see pain all around me at the moment and it's all caused by lack of money management. Some of them want help. Some of them know they need help but are too embarrassed to ask for it, and others wouldn't dream of asking for help and just dig themselves in deeper. So many of these people would benefit from the latest newsletter - Fiona's 'Retrain Your Brain' article, Sophie's 'tell me what you want, what you really, really want' feature and the 'Best of the Forum' on how to motivate yourself and your partner. So I'm going to be brave. I'm going to print off a few more copies off the newsletter and keep it in my car. Then next time I see them, or their family members hurting, I can give them a copy or tell them to pass it on to whoever needs it. Who knows, hopefully it will ring a few bells! Now if you'll excuse me, I must go and do some more washing - I've never been so excited about doing my washing before, hooray for home made sludge!