Eek, sorry it's been so long! I've been buried under an avalanche of work lately. I can happily vouch that having no life for a few weeks is an excellent way to save money! Seriously though, it's been really quite good for our family. I never realised until now that I'm actually a bit of a control freak. Coupled with being the most disorganised person on the planet it seems rather a strange combination but I am one nonetheless. I'm one of those annoying martyr-like types who is always saying 'Tut - if you want something done properly, do it yourself', or 'It's alright, I'LL do it (accompanied by a deep sigh). The last few weeks I have had no choice but to let other people do things for me - and it's been a real eyeopener! I always knew I was a bit of an overindulgent mum when it came to buying things for my kids, but I never realised how little I actually let them do. All these years of mollycoddling and cleaning up after them has actually done them no favours at all. It's not that they are incapable of doing things for themselves, far from it. It's just that until now I never let them! I am now the proud mum of two boys who CAN do a fantastic job of vaccuuming, doing the dishes, tidying their rooms, getting the washing in, filling the firewood basket and all sorts of other things. We have even made the boys their own recipe book of healthy, filling things they can make themselves in minimal time without resorting to scoffing biscuits or potato chips because Mum isn't at their beck and call. As a result, we get far more time together as a family in the evenings. Even they have to agree it's well worth the extra effort on their part. Nobody's indispensable, as they say!
Noel, bless his heart has been holding the fort. He has become the chief grocery shopper in our house and always comes home proudly regaling all the wonderful things he got on special. We have a bit of a chuckle about it but he really does do a good job. The last time he came home from the supermarket there was barely an item that didn't bear a red and white Home Brand label. 'Very good Simple Savings!' he grins as he goes on to tell me about all his '4 for $5' deals and other bargains. Last week he decided a feed of fish was in order and challenged himself and Ali to go and bring home their limit of fresh snapper without spending a cent on bait or anything else. This they achieved in a morning and brought home enough fish to feed three families for two days. Which brings to mind one of Fiona's favourite sayings, 'Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for life'. I don't think we'll ever have to worry too much about going hungry with my hunter-gatherers around!
Noel has often joked in the past when I've made the odd slip-up or daft decision, 'I should be the one to write a blog, I'm a better Simple Saver than you!' I'm not entirely sure about that but he has certainly raised the bar lately and in turn made me step up too. After a horrendously hectic week I accompanied him on a trip to the garden centre last weekend to get his favourite 'mega broccoli plants', a variety called Green Dragon. He had the most amazing results last year, we've never had so much from a single plant, it just kept growing and growing! Anyway, the trip was about 35 minutes each way and in my typical martyr-like way I was bemoaning the fact that I shouldn't really be taking time out to go to the garden centre when I had so much work to do. My eyes were hanging out on stalks, my brain was completely drained and most of all I was starving. I wanted KFC and I wanted it NOW. I was exhausted and truly believed it was going to make me feel better. So I nagged, whined and even dropped my bottom lip until Noel gave in and said 'Fine, you can have your blasted KFC'. 'Cool!' came the chorus from the back seat. 'But I want you to think about this. It's going to cost around $40 for lunch when we have plenty of food at home. You can eat whatever you like for free in half an hour but if you really want to send us $40 backwards for the sake of one meal, that's up to you. And don't come to me moaning that you're putting on weight after you've fed your face with it either'.
Well that did it for me. 'Fine! I won't have it then', I snapped. 'I won't even be able to enjoy it now anyway, I'll just feel guilty!' But I knew he was right. It wasn't worth sending us $40 backwards for. Even the kids had to admit their dad had a point. But I was still peeved and to add insult to injury the queue for the drive-thru was backed up out of the car park. Even so I was prepared to wait. My argument for eating fast food on the way home was that it would save me time. I could scoff it on the way, be nice and full and get straight back into my work as soon as I got home, without having to waste valuable time stuffing around making lunch for everyone. 'Firstly, you don't have to make everyone lunch, we are all big enough to get it ourselves', came Noel's reply. 'Secondly, you won't be saving any time at all because you would have to work even longer to pay back your $40 lunch! I knew he was right but it didn't cheer me up any. Now what on earth was I going to eat?
To prove his point, Noel headed for the kitchen as soon as we got home. 'You get to work, I'LL make your lunch' he growled, despite my protests. In a grand total of 15 minutes he had got steak out of the freezer, defrosted, seasoned and cooked it and served it up accompanied by a freshly made salad and creamy scrambled eggs on the side. 'There you go - now that is fast food', he said. 'If you had had your way and queued up for KFC, we would still be on our way home!' Once again he was right. My home made lunch was delicious, healthy and so filling I could hardly move by the time I had finished. 'That will do your brain AND your body a lot more good than that deep fried stuff', he went on. I was miserably defeated but eternally grateful at the same time. He had saved us $40 in one hit but had really done much more than that. I'm a great one for not taking lunch breaks for fear of running out of time but he made me see that I COULD afford to take 15 minutes out to have a really good work lunch. I had never thought of cooking anything like that just for little old me before! The meal Noel made me cost next to nothing with our homegrown meat, salad and eggs and it kept me well fuelled for a productive day's work for hours afterwards. Point well and truly taken dear!
If I sounded like a spoilt brat before, you'd be absolutely right! Still, it's a crystal clear example of why you should never shop on an empty stomach; it really impairs your decision making, just as Fiona says! And on the positive side, ever since the KFC incident I've been having heaps of creative fun in the kitchen. With no time to go to the shops I have had no choice but to 'make do' and have come up with some wonderful concoctions. I pulled some lamb shanks out of the freezer, which I had no idea what to do with but found some wonderful recipes in the Slow Cooker Recipe Book. The one I made was simply called Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks. It was delicious! There was just one problem - and it was a very small one - I had wayyyy too much yummy sauce left over. Far too much to waste, and with a cup and a half of red wine in it there was no way I was giving it to Ella the Labrador either! So I got some mince out of the freezer and simply browned it before adding some mixed herbs, chucking all the leftover sauce in and cooking through. We had no potatoes left in the house so I served it over rice with green veges on the side. I was already apologising in advance to the family for my made up creation but everyone loved it and scraped the plates clean. Very $21 Challenge-ish!
It doesn't bother me at all that I don't have time to go food shopping; we could quite happily survive for days. The kids absolutely love this recipe for fruit crumble, which I made the other day from a few sad apples and pears and half a tin of leftover boysenberries but you can adapt it to use whatever fruit you like. I still have enough sad looking fruit in the bowl to make another!
4 – 5 apples, peeled and sliced (or pears, peaches, apricots! If using tinned, drain well first)
½ dried fruit OR 1 cup fresh, tinned or frozen berries of your choice.
Juice of half a lemon (not essential but good!)
Drizzle of golden or maple syrup (optional)
1 cup flour
150g softened butter or margarine (or 125g at a push)
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup coconut
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the peeled, sliced fruit in a deep baking dish. Sprinkle the dried fruit or berries on the top. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit if using and drizzle the syrup over the top. If you don’t have lemon juice or syrup, sprinkle a little extra brown sugar over the top instead. Put the oats, flour, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the butter and combine all together by running the ingredients through your fingers (you can of course use a food processor but it doesn’t take long to do by hand and avoid the extra dishes!) Keep running the mixture through until well mixed and crumbly. Scatter the crumble over the fruit and bake for 50 minutes. Delicious on its own or served with ice cream, cream, custard, even milk, whatever you have!
Now I'm not the main one doing the shopping, we have resurrected one of my favourite money savers - the short term and long term shopping list! It's nothing flash, just a sheet of paper drawn into two columns. The column on the left says 'Need it Now'. In this column we write down everything we have run out of, or are running out of and will need to replace the next time one of us goes to town. The one on the right says 'Need It Later' and contains all the stuff we might run out of but don't have to replace until Noel does the next big shop. It's a really good saver for us, as it means I'm no longer grabbing bits and pieces from Mr Patel's (where I hate to say Mr P but it costs more) but waiting until we go elsewhere where we can find the same things for cheaper. With the average rule of thumb being at least a dollar saved per item, all those dollars really add up! It also means I no longer run out of bits and pieces like paprika (that I don't usually remember I've run out of until I go to make a Goulash and kick myself every time) - I just put it on the 'Need It Later' list when I run out and remind myself not to make Goulash for another week or two!
One area I'm determined to save money on this year is on food for sports games and practices. Rugby starts for the boys next week and they are playing for a different team this season. Being out of the area we now have to travel a lot further for training. The midweek trainings are also held later and fall on our busiest night of the week. The boys arrive home from school at 3.30, we have to leave the house by 4.30 to be at training for 5pm. They don't finish training until 6pm (usually later) by which time we have to rush hell for leather to get back to our home town for Ali's scouts at 6.30. He doesn't finish scouts until 8.30pm so it's a long night for him and he's usually starving in between times. The first week of training we agreed that it was 'too hard' to cook dinner that night, so as we would have to go past McDonalds on the way to scouts we would make training night our weekly Maccas night. Even I was looking forward to the first one! However $40 later I had changed my mind. My car was full of chips, I had lettuce all over my lap and they forgot Noel's fries. Ali kindly donated his own to his dad but by the time I got Noel's burger and fries to him almost 45 minutes later they were pretty lukewarm and ordinary. After all that, we still weren't full anyway and ended up having a second supper when Ali got home from scouts. Never again!
So I was really glad when I came across the tip 'A sporting approach to saving money'. Just as the author of the tip says, it's common sense really but every now and again you just need a reminder of what you should be doing and that was just what I needed! I'm so glad I found this tip at the start of the season and not the end, I'm really looking forward to seeing what yummy, home made tummy fillers I can treat the boys to after trainings. After our takeaway experience I no longer consider training nights 'too hard' for cooking. I would rather rely on my trusty crockpot than Ronald McDonald!