Why is it, do you think, that the universe always sees fit to bestow good fortune upon us with one hand, then take it away with the other in the blink of an eye?! Just as you dare to think life is finally going to cut you a little slack, along comes the hand of Fate to slap you a big backhander and knock you down again. Apologies for sounding all doomy and gloomy but I'm not actually wallowing in self pity - really! Whilst this has indeed happened to me in the last month on several rather unwelcome occasions, some of my dearest friends have also been going through similar trials, both financially and emotionally. It's always harder to watch people you love struggle than it is to go through it yourself, isn't it? The only good thing is, well, after all this time I'm used to it. All these months of trying to survive and deal with life's ups and downs on my own has given me so much valuable insight and wisdom; you don't realise how much until you find yourself using it to help others. Despite being wise by name, I've never thought of myself as wise by nature! I see it in the Forum all the time and am blown away by the amazing advice and assurance other members have to offer but I've never really thought about what people have had to go through in order to be able to give that amazing advice. Being able to use your own dark times to help others in a positive way really is a wonderful thing. As Noel often used to say 'there's always something good to come out of something bad' and there really is.
One thing I do know for sure is that my years of Simple Savings knowledge has given me a huge advantage over my friends. We may all have a lot of the same dramas - unexpected vet bills, mechanic call-outs, speeding tickets, you name it, just like everyone else. We may all lie awake at night worrying how to make ends meet, pay the bills and still afford new school shoes or birthday presents for the kids. But unlike them I have SS as my secret weapon, constantly encouraging me to think outside the square, get creative and find new ways to save. I don't have to buy cleaning products, or beauty products or so many of the things other people do. They can't imagine not buying them because they've never known any other way. They don't know how to lower their food bill by cooking from scratch instead of expensive packets and jars. All these things we as Simple Savers do as second nature is still literally a foreign language to so many. Simple Savers know how to literally live on nothing when we need to. And when we run out of nothing, we still manage to find a way to eke out more.
Most of the time I find saving money is pretty effortless. Of course things will always come along to stuff up your efforts, such as getting a flat car battery two hours from home and all of a sudden having to pay $70 to renew the AA membership you weren't going to bother renewing so you can get home! But bills aside, it's actually very easy not to spend money, although sometimes you have to justify whether the savings are worth the effort. Take my vegetable garden. Several weeks ago I made the decision to get rid of the whole area and put it all back into lawn. It was a hard decision and one I struggled with for some time but as soon as it was gone I felt a weight had been lifted. The clincher for me came when a neighbour smiled kindly and said 'Gardening should be a pleasure, not a chore' - and that was exactly what mine had become. The vegie garden I had inherited with my house was 10 metres long by five metres wide, it was huge! And while initially I found growing my own food hugely rewarding, it soon became apparent that all my spare time was going to be required tending to it. When you're the solo parent of two teenagers, your weekends and after school times are not your own and before long I just couldn't keep up with the constant weeding and planting. It got to the stage that I had actually stopped looking out of the window as I couldn't bear to see how much it was getting away on me. Not only that; but once my Gilbert's Syndrome symptoms really started to make themselves known, I couldn't get out in the garden when I wanted to as I was too often stuck in bed. These days you would hardly recognise me as the same girl on the cover of the $21 Challenge book, my body weight has almost halved since then. When you only weigh 44kg you tend to run out of energy pretty quickly!
Not only that, keeping a vegie garden of that size constantly planted was proving expensive. Eventually it got so that I was buying plants I didn't even like to eat just to have some variety and to try and keep the weeds at bay. I also found that much of my spare time was spent driving around the neighbourhood giving huge amounts of food away. Don't get me wrong, that part was fantastic and so rewarding but it just became so time consuming and was actually costing me money, particularly in petrol! As soon as my garden was gone, I was able to look out of the window at my beautiful yard, still full of fruit trees and smile again. As I type I still have an abundance of lemons, oranges, mandarins and tangelos and locals will still benefit from my free produce. I also have two large half-barrels and a long wooden planter which I will use to grow food in from now on, in quantities we can manage, as well as many trellises to grow beans up and am looking forward to still being able to enjoy home grown lettuce and tomatoes in summer. It's all about getting the balance right I guess; the main thing is, I'm still growing something!
Even so, I am finding not having a vegie garden is making a difference to the food bill and the amount and variety of vegetables we eat. Before, I was spoilt for choice and would simply create meals around what was ready to be picked. Now I find myself wincing at the cost of broccoli! It has also had an effect on the kind of dishes I cook, as I no longer base my meals around whatever produce needed to be used up. But I still feel the decision to get rid of my monster vegie garden was right. Ali, my littlest 'baby' turned 16 yesterday and Liam is 18 in less than three weeks. He'll be leaving home at the end of the year and Ali won't be far behind. Already the three of us couldn't keep up with the mountain of food coming out of it and our household is only going to become less. A Simple Saver I may be but I would rather spend what precious time I have left with them watching Liam flying round the rugby field or Ali wielding a cricket bat rather than at home on my own pulling out weeds. There'll be all the time in the world for that soon enough and when that happens, I'll probably be wishing for that enormous vegie garden again!