Have just returned from a surprise couple of days away! Last Thursday was our 15th wedding anniversary. There's no denying we're chalk and cheese but opposites attract as they say! In typical romantic style, I presented Noel with a copy of the latest 'Homegrown' book from NZ Gardener about growing your own fruit trees. In return I received two charms for my beloved Pandora bracelet and a whole two days away, just the two of us! It was a huge surprise and I had no idea where we were going. First I was taken for a dip at Miranda Hot Pools, where the lady kindly gave us an $8 discount simply for having to wait a few seconds for a staff member to arrive. We sat in the fog and munched happily on fish and chips before I was taken on a mystery tour through the back of beyond to our final destination - our favourite motel, Ashwood Manor in Hamilton! We have always enjoyed staying here over the years as it's so lovely and peaceful and everything is within walking distance. Not to mention we love the enormous spa baths!
We went for a leisurely stroll around the city and came across the most wonderful secondhand book store called 'Browsers'. I could easily have spent all day in there! The atmosphere was lovely, the books were awesome and so were the prices. One thing which really grates me is secondhand book stores which charge almost the same price for pre-loved books as it would cost to buy the exact same book new. Not so Browsers! Fiona calls places like this 'hidden gems' and I have definitely committed this little gem to memory for future visits! We had worked up a bit of a thirst after all that culture so we went to The Bank bar where we were instantly handed a free drink! We're still not entirely sure of the occasion but were very appreciative nonetheless! From there we went to one of our favourite restaurants Iguana where Noel managed to score two more complimentary beers thanks to it being their 'Wild Food Month'. Of course this was right up Noel's alley! I stuck to a nice conservative pasta dish whilst he tucked into everything from paua and wallaby to snails!
The next day we decided to have a wander round the shops to see if we could find anything for Ali's upcoming birthday. I had been excited the day before to see a sign in the boys' favourite clothing store '50% of all clothing!' 'Wow, perhaps I'll finally be able to get Ali that glow-in-the-dark skeleton jacket he's wanted for ages!' I told Noel. So we drove round and round until we found the nearest carpark (which was miles away) and ran through the pouring rain until we finally reached the store. I was delighted to find the aforementioned jacket - but to my disappointment it wasn't on sale. It was in the ONLY rack which wasn't on sale. 'Hmph, there's no way I'm paying full price for it!' I grumbled but as I made my way around the store I saw not one, but two large signs - one by each doorway blatantly saying 'Up to 50% off ALL clothes'. The big fibbers! I was pretty miffed and instantly pointed it out to the shop assistant. 'You said up to 50% of all clothes, but it's not at all!' I pouted. I would never have done that before SS and to be honest I felt a bit guilty having a go at her as it wasn't her fault but still, it was false advertising! Just the other day a local furniture store was fined $28,000 in court after admitting providing misleading information about the savings to be made on sale goods so I was darned if I was going to let anyone else get away with it. She agreed totally and she and another staff member said they would tell the manager and make sure the misleading signs were taken down. She also kindly offered me a discount of 10% but as that worked out to just $9 on a $90 jacket I still wasn't going to take her up on it. I'll wait for a REAL sale thank you!
Looks like I'll have to wait a while though. Round and round we traipsed but all the sales were rubbish. I hopped into one store excitedly after spotting a big sale table inside the doorway with a sign advertising popular brands for $20. The sign had been strategically placed so it looked as though the whole contents of the table was on sale for $20 but alas, no. Only a single small pile of t-shirts at the end of the table was $20, the rest was still $50 and upwards. The whole experience made me very cynical I can tell you!
Disillusioned with our false bargains we decided it was time to wend our way home, via the supermarket. Fifteen years of marriage or not, I decided I am never setting foot in a supermarket with Noel again. In recent months he has designated himself Chief Supermarket Shopper; a title I have been more than happy for him to have. It's a job he takes very seriously - a little too seriously if you ask me. Heaven help me if he spies one of my dockets and I happen to have bought something which could have been bought for less elsewhere or does not meet his approval!
It's extremely rare that we both go to the supermarket but on this occasion we had no choice but to venture in together. Straight away Mr Chief Supermarket Shopper took control. He strode his way purposefully around the fruit and vege section without once stopping to make any decisions about what we wanted or needed together. I did try to help and noticed there were some lovely looking Nashi pears. 'Hmm, Ali likes these', I thought to myself. 'Hang on!' came the voice from around the back of the tomatoes, meaning 'don't buy anything without me!'. Needless to say we did NOT get the Nashi's, they were deemed too expensive. The further we went around the aisles, the worse it got. 'I know my prices! You don't!' 'I am a smart shopper! You're not!' I swear he took at least 10 minutes faffing around in the bread aisle finding the best bargain loaf. I was already close to wringing his neck by that stage but the last straw was when he went and took the block of cheese I had picked up on special out of the trolley and smugly replaced it with another. I could take no more and left him to it. Never again!
I do admit to him being right about one thing though. I know we've got tons of meat in the freezer but I had had a craving for Beef Rogan Josh for ages and I didn't have the right cut of beef. So we perused the meat counter carefully for some time but it was no good. 'Sorry but I refuse to pay this sort of money for crap meat', Noel looked at me apologetically. I had to agree, we've been too spoilt with our meat for too long - our prime steak at home costs less than the supermarket gravy beef! I remember growing up in England that beef steak was so expensive it was something we only ever had on very special occasions such as birthdays. Now we have so much of it we think of it as mundane! We grow our own beef and they are raised solely on grass, the way nature intended. While not everyone has the space to keep a whole cow, many people don't realise they can source a whole beef animal just the same way the farmers do. You don't have to 'grow your own' to get awesome value for money. OK you do have to pay more up front but the savings are well worth it. The cheapest way to do it without growing it yourself is to get yourself along to a livestock sale. These are usually held several times a week and are advertised in your regional newspaper. You can either go along yourself and choose a suitable beef animal, or contact a livestock agent in your area, explain what you want and he will do it for you. Although we have our own animals on the place I refuse to eat anyone I know so this is what we do (it helps that Noel is a livestock agent!) To find a 'stockie' in your area, either do a Google or Yellow Pages search, or ask at a rural supplies store. You can even buy cattle on eBay or Trade Me these days but if you see it yourself at a sale you can be confident you know what you are getting.
Here in NZ, the price of a whole animal changes with the seasons. In winter or summer you can get yourself a decent sized beefie for the freezer for around $500. During spring and autumn you can expect to pay around $800. If your budget won't stretch to that in one go, many people go 'halves', 'thirds' or even 'quarters' with friends/family members. Once at the sale, if you don't know what you're looking for, ask a stock agent at the saleyards to help you (you can't miss them). Once you have selected your beefie you don't have to take it home with you! You can either 1) make a call to your local wholesale butcher and ask them to pick it up from the saleyards or 2) ask the truck drivers nicely at the saleyard if they will take it straight to the butcher for you. Don't be scared to ask for help or advice at the saleyards, there will be plenty of experienced farmers and buyers there who will be happy to share tips. From there, the butcher will contact you to ask what cuts/portion sizes and so on you want. He will then contact you again a few days later when your fresh, top quality meat has been processed and packed and ready for pick up or delivery. Easy when you know how! The cost of butchering a whole beef animal is usually around $200 (NZ). With beef mince currently selling for $10 a kilo in the supermarket, the amount of mince alone you get buy purchasing in bulk this way more than pays for the cost of the animal and the processing. That's without the porterhouse steak, scotch fillet steak, rump steak, stewing steak, schnitzel, corned silverside, topside roast, rib roasts and sausages that you also get!
The process is the same for lamb. We have our own sheep, but I could never eat Edwina, Poppet or Mimi! So I nag Noel into buying one I don't know at the sale. Sheep are actually really expensive at the moment by usual prices, they're around $70 for a hogget but again the value is amazing and it costs less than $50 for processing and packing. With lamb shoulder chops priced at $16.99 a kilo at the supermarket and lamb roasts at over $20, the savings are massive in comparison. So that's how we do it - food for thought, hmm?