It's raining, it's pouring and I've got the crock pot on already with a big slow-cook beef curry according to the menu plan on my fab new wall planner. Yes, we may be half way through March but you can't rush these things and I have finally given in and gone and bought one of those big 'family organiser' calendars on super duper special. It's a new strategy in my never ending mission to 'Get Penny Organised' because between rugby, cricket, basketball, zumba, singing and goodness knows what else I can never remember who is supposed to be where on what day. It's actually a really valuable money saver because it reminds me that I need to keep the baking tins full and plenty of healthy, filling food available in the fridge for quick reheating. The boys currently have sports training or games six or even seven days a week and often get home from school and have to leave straight away again and aren't home until the evening, so it's really important they have good food to eat, otherwise it would cost us a fortune in chips and muesli bars (or worse, they would end up spending their pocket money on junk food and energy drinks!) So as well as writing the day's activities on the family calendar, I also use it to plan the evening meal ahead of time and remind me when the baking tins are getting low. I know for many people this would be second nature but for someone like me who would forget her own head if it wasn't stuck on, having something in big letters yelling "BAKING!!!!" when I walk past means the difference between doing something productive that will save money and be good for my family or wasting half an hour achieving absolutely nothing on Facebook. I also came across a Simple Savings newsletter from last year which had a section on food for hungry teens and this has been a great source of yummy inspiration!
However our new big calendar is just one strategy in an aim to really 'wise up' our family because at the moment every cent really counts - and I mean every cent. You see, if I'm blatantly honest I guess you could say we're paying the price for being too nice. I sincerely hope this doesn't come across as whinging or complaining because it's not meant to be, it's just saying how things are and perhaps serve as a warning to others. I love our friends and I love the kids' friends and we all feel extremely blessed to have them in our lives but there's no easy way to say it, having a constant houseful over the last three months has absolutely crippled us financially and now we are desperately trying to claw our way back into a position of security. From mid-November to the middle of February there were no nights where we did not have extra guests staying. Most days we were cooking and shopping for a family twice our normal size, not to mention all the extras such as washing and drying costs, toiletries and so on. And even though we had meat in the freezer, fish in the sea and fruit and vegies in the garden, you can only realistically keep it up for so long. By the end of the summer we were running out of everything and going to the supermarket twice a week, both times for a big grocery shop. One week I was horrified to tally up that we had spent almost $800 at the supermarket! Thank heavens this was a one-off but boy it didn't make us feel too good.
As mentioned, don't get me wrong, we loved everyone's company and wouldn't have changed it for the world. It was a wonderful summer but a very expensive one and not just financially. Family time was non-existent and this really took its toll on our boys, who had no space of their own for a quarter of the year and consequently grew apart as a result of only spending time with their friends and spending no time together. It's only now, a month after everyone has gone that they are getting along again and even talking to each other. I never thought I would be so glad to see them wrestling and throwing each other around in the lounge! But hey, it was our decision, our fault and I think we have learned from it. You can't be the 'cool people' or the 'fun house' all the time without counting the cost somewhere along the line. Still, it's time to really get our act together again as a family now and it's not going to be easy, it's going to take time to get back to where we want to be but we'll get there. The boys are also an important part of this process as they need to see exactly where all our money - and theirs - goes and how quickly it adds up to having a big impact on your bank balance.
So as well as the family calendar we now also have the 'Big Savings' poster on the wall in the kitchen. You can find it in the Downloads area on the site. This is to remind us all that every time we leave the house and think 'it's just a $3.00 can of drink' or 'it's just $5.60 for lunch' that it soon adds up to much more in the big scheme of things. In particular the boys with their pocket money - even Liam admits that if he didn't buy so many cans of V or Just Juice by the carton his bank balance would be a lot healthier! As for Ali, our little Good Samaritan spends more of his pocket money on treating his friends than he spends on himself. I know Fiona has always been really fond of that poster and the visuals really do work, which is why you'll also find it on page 26 of the $21 Challenge book.
Last but not least we have the Spending Board! Which goes, yep you guessed it, in the kitchen as it's where everyone constantly passes through and is the first room people enter when they come through the door. This is simply a whiteboard where everyone records every purchase they have made each day. It works the same way as the Savings Diary on the Simple Savings website but acts as a bigger 'in yer face' reminder to each family member that we all need to be accountable for what we spend and have a darn good reason for it because if we don't it will show up on that board. It really is a brilliant way to show how much money goes on non-essentials. Already Liam is learning that it's better to keep his money in his wallet than have to endure the shame of writing 'Dr Pepper and Gummi Bears' on the Spending Board!
One family I do think has it right and I can no doubt learn a lot from about feeding and shopping for a large number of people are Bruce and Tracey. Not only are they savvy SS members but Bruce has the most wonderful blog here on the SS site, or you can read it in its entirety at http://bigfamilylittleincome.blogspot.com.au/ - I am absolutely hooked and even Noel falls about laughing at the extracts I frequently read him. Whether you have small children or teens there is something for every family to relate to, so check it out and you'll be full of warm fuzzies and nodding your head and giggling away in seconds!