Let's see how far we've come

Posted March 26th, 2009 by Penny Wise

No Spend Month is almost at an end and I'm determined to finish it with a flourish. I've been really good this week on the whole! In fact I've enjoyed No Spend Month so much, I think I'm going to continue. Initially I thought I was taking on too much, starting off No Spend Month with a $21 Challenge week as well but it ended up being a really good decision and was by far our most successful week. Once the Challenge finished I didn't do so well and it took me a good week or more to really toughen up my resolve but now there's no stopping me. If there's any way I can avoid spending money, I do it. I hate spending money, I HATE it! This month I realised just how well the $21 Challenge works and, like No Spend Month I am going to do my utmost to keep that mentality going. I really feel at my best when I'm in Challenge mode. We save the most, yet eat the best! The $21 Challenge and No Spend Month are my 'tough guys'. They enable me to stay strong. They make the rules and I can't break them! I have also learned three more rules, courtesy of my Savings Diary:

1. I HAVE to menu plan. If I don't, I am constantly picking things up from Mr Patel's or getting Noel to grab me things from the supermarket. When I menu plan, I only have to set foot in a grocery store once all week. I pick up everything I need in one hit and know I'm done.

2. I HAVE to make everyone's lunches. Of course the boys have a lunchbox every day at school but I am really bad at making sure Noel and I have something! Noel is on the road most of the time so it's really easy for him to grab food when out and about. For starters it's not too healthy. A stock agent can get through a whole week existing solely on sausages and bread at the saleyards if things are really busy! However it's also way too expensive. I didn't realise how much he was spending on lunches until he informed me that his canteen bill at the saleyards was around $60 a month. I almost died but it gets worse - that's just on FRIDAYS! The rest of the days he's driving around picking up food from bakeries or wherever! Needless to say, I have not missed making a single lunch in longer than I can remember. If I don't have anything handy for my own lunch, I make a big pot of soup and that does me two or three days at least.

3. I HAVE to bake. If I don't, I throw money away, it's that simple. When I bake, everyone is happy. Everyone has food they can grab and we spend so much less on other, more expensive foods because they don't get gobbled up so fast. It also makes filling lunchboxes so much faster in the mornings and means when the baking tins are full I never have to give the kids money for the canteen to 'top up' either!

Three simple things, which I've always done on and off, but now I realise that I HAVE to do them. Reading the Savings Diary is painful when you scroll down and see how often we go and buy food. Just bits and pieces here and there but it all adds up. I admit, I still do not enjoy baking and I don't know if I ever will, there are always at least a dozen other things I would much rather be doing BUT! I love the results, I love the money I save by doing it and I love the warm fuzzy feeling of looking after my family and keeping them well fed.

Of all the tips and skills I have learned from Simple Savings, I think the ones I most treasure are all food related. How to make something out of nothing. How to reduce food waste. How to cook using real food. I was in my kitchen the other day using a leftover chicken carcass to make home made stock. I was feeling very SS and very proud of myself and it struck me all of a sudden how far I had come. This was so far removed from the way I used to cook and I realised that the way I used to cook wasn't really cooking at all. It was usually nothing more than chucking a jar of pre-made sauce over something or adding milk or water to a packet. I would use a jar of Chicken Tonight and a jar of bought pasta sauce at least once a week. I joined Simple Savings and I stopped doing that overnight. I haven't bought any of those in four years now! As I stood over my bubbling pot of stock, happily inhaling its herby aroma, I thought to myself 'you know what Penny? You might be rubbish when it comes to buying food out sometimes, but when it comes to food at home, you do a pretty bloody good job!

I feel so fortunate to have the skills I have to feed my family. I wonder how I would be coping now with the recession if I didn't? The other day I thought we had no food and was sorely tempted to go and buy something for lunch. Instead I stayed strong and raided the freezer. There I found a stash of delicious beef and vegetable pies left over from our $21 Challenge week. I had one of those and finished off my lunch by treating myself to one of Ali's Choc Cherry cupcakes, courtesy of Nigella Lawson. I don't usually eat any baking, I just make it for everyone else but these are to die for! As I sat there munching happily I thought to myself 'it doesn't get any better than this, why on earth would I even think of buying food!'

Noel's a huge help too of course. I had to buy a bag of potatoes today for the first time in five months as I've just used up the last of his bumper crop of spuds. I'm a dreadful gardener but I have discovered something I can grow well and that's herbs. I love fresh herbs and have this idyllic view of trotting out to the garden to pick sprigs of this and that for dinner. Unfortunately while I have no less than three large planters crammed with herbs outside and a couple of pots of mint too, I always forgot to use them. I made Noel fall about recently when I said during one of the hottest weeks of the year 'Wow, those plants must be really hardy, I've never had to water them you know!' He roared with laughter and said 'No dear, they're not at all - who do you think has been watering them all this time? They'd be bloody dead if they had been left up to you to look after!' *Blush*, I stand corrected! So I decided the best way to look after my herbs and make sure they actually get used was to bring them inside. You name the herb, I've probably got it - the only thing is I have no idea what most of them are any more, so many of them look the same! However my kitchen now sports a thriving pot of basil and another of coriander, with parsley and chives growing nicely on the window sill. It's working a treat and I can at least recognise sage and rosemary outside when I need it but I couldn't tell you what the rest are! While my knowledge of herbs may leave a lot to be desired, if I say so myself, I have become darn good at making something out of nothing and that's a skill I'm extremely proud of. You might be reading this and think 'oh yeah, whatever, we all do that!' but I think it's a skill many of us SS'ers take for granted. The majority of people around us don't have a clue how to do it. I love turning bits and pieces into awesome meals and my herbs are a great help with that. I don't waste anything any more. Where I would have once thrown out overripe bananas I turned them into banana splits last night for the kids with home made caramel sauce using a tin of condensed milk that poor old Noel can't have any more. The boys absolutely loved it and I love doing it for them. I have that pride, that $21 Challenge mentality instilled in me now.

I didn't realise just how much until a few days ago. Ali was having a shared lunch at school and I didn't have a lot of time to make anything but was determined to send him off with something home made. I spotted one of the recipes from 4 Ingredients in That's Life - Mars Bar Slice. That looked easy! I didn't have any Mars Bars in the house so rang Noel and asked me to pick some up on the way home, which he duly did whilst grumbling about the price of them at $1.35 each. Hmm, I hadn't thought of that! I didn't get time to make the slice until after dinner and put it together in five minutes flat, using butter, rice bubbles and the Mars bars. Job done! But as I closed the fridge door on my creation I actually felt quite sad. To be honest I felt like a bit of a failure! It didn't feel to me like that was proper cooking at all - in fact even Noel said the same. When I said 'well at least I made something for Ali's shared lunch' he said 'Hmph, well you didn't really actually have to MAKE anything did you?' Exactly!

To add insult to injury I realised that my super speedy slice had cost me dearly. Three Mars Bars, 125g of butter and three cups of gluten free rice bubbles later, it wasn't far off $10. Imagine how many muffins I could have made for the class shared lunch with that! And as for being a time saver, I didn't really save any time, just redistributed it. Noel had to go out of his way going to the shop for me, waiting at the counter and getting back to his car then going back to what he was doing. If I had counted Noel's time in my cooking, it would actually have been faster if I had made something else!

In contrast, the following day I made a pot of home made zucchini soup to help use up some of the current surplus. I used one onion, one potato, 500ml home made chicken stock and two zucchini. Added 1/3 cup of leftover cream in the fridge and it was awesome! It didn't take much longer than my slice, around 15 minutes from start to finish, but what a difference! There had been no pride or achievement in chucking together something which was largely pre-made to start with, but my soup had come almost entirely from Mother Nature and I was pretty proud of it! Not to mention it cost me next to nothing and fed me for two days. Now that's my kind of cooking! Funny though, back in my Sad Sally days I wouldn't have thought twice about making that slice. It takes something like that to realise I've come much further than I thought.

Another great new habit from No Spend Month which we have adopted and is going to stay is keeping each other informed of our spending and being accountable to one another. I mean, we always inform each other of great savings we've made or larger things we've purchased but a lot of the day to day incidentals go unnoticed. I realised there was no point me proudly filling a No Spend day into my Savings Diary if Noel had gone and spent something and I had no idea! The clincher was when I was having my second No Spend day in a row and was horrified to check the bank balance and see three new Eftpos transactions that morning alone. None of them were mine! So we agreed from now on he will bring all his dockets home each day for me to enter into the Savings Diary. I have to do the same and we berate each other soundly if the other slips up! I wag my finger at him for spending $21.99 on beer and he ribs me mercilessly for spending $8.90 on lunch. Trust me, after a while it's just easier not to do it! By the same token we are always very proud of each other and ourselves too. Like when Noel went to the supermarket the other day and came home regaling all his fabulous bargains. And I couldn't wait to tell him about my soup!

One saving we are really relishing at the moment is the reduced expense in dairy food since Noel has cut it out of his diet. Obviously we no longer use dairy products in our main family meals now either and we have really noticed the difference. We just don't have to buy any! I was worried at first that soy milk would be a big expense but as none of us ever drank milk in the first place this hasn't been the case at all, although we have all been pleasantly surprised to find that we LOVE soy milk, where the boys and I always hated cows milk! Noel however was a big dairy consumer so it is proving a really big saving for us and he has found that he is actually enjoying being dairy free. I suppose because we have become so used to growing most of our own food I am also finding it quite easy to cook wheat AND dairy free meals. Unfortunately Noel is also intolerant to eggs as well so it won't be long before they are coming out of our ears!

In fact, we were also advised to cut out as many cleaning products as we could as these don't agree with Noel either. Hooray for SS! This didn't bother me in the slightest as most of our cleaning products are already home made. I just saw it as another welcome way to save! However there were some products I wasn't sure how to replace so I popped into the Vault and came across this multi-purpose cleaner that everyone was raving about. I was fortunate enough to have everything I needed already on hand so I mixed it all up in a jiffy. WOW! This cleaner is awesome! I've never found a cleaner which works so fast and is so easy to use. Everything has never been so shiny! I love it! There's only one small problem - I can't stop cleaning!

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