All of the breaks.

I’m awfully sorry, I haven’t posted in quite a while!

I’ve been caught up with work, and holidays over Christmas, and more recently my new blog.

Check it out here – it’s my journey to lose weight and get fit. You might find it boring, but maybe you’ll find it helpful too!

I’ll try to remember to keep this one going as well because I know I’ve had some great feedback from the stuff I’ve posted and I want to keep that going. 

So, what about saving money? 

Christmas was the big one for me, I still managed to overspend a little but I think I did better than most years. I shared the family present costs with my partner, and we ended up with some really lovely gifts for people. I was quite pleased.

Since then we have made a conscious decision to SAVE this year. This most recent pay, I found myself with more money leftover than I thought I would – so straight to savings! I don’t have a keycard for that account, so it’s a bit of an effort to get money out which means I’m less likely to spend it spontaneously. I hope.

In light of my mission to lose some weight, I bought some new gym clothes. It’s a good motivator but they can get really expensive. I found an outlet store that sells my favourite brands for quite cheap, so I’ve decided I will only buy stuff from there from now on. More money saved!

I’ll keep this one short but would love to hear from you and how you went over Christmas with your present buying. Did you blow the bank or did you keep in your budget?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Further to my other post, it’s nearly mid-November which means … spend ALL the money!

Not always a good thing.

It’s scary when you add up all of the Christmas expenses … in my case, it will be:

  • Presents for my parents (Mum & Dad)
  • Presents for my brothers (1 x 20 year old and 1 x 30 year old)
  • Present for my boyfriend
  • Present for my boyfriend’s Mum & stepdad
  • Present for my boyfriend’s sisters (1 x 13 year old and 1 x 22 year old)
  • Present for my best friend and my other close friends
  • Flights back to Melbourne after Christmas (our flights home have been paid for us by my boyfriend’s Mum – early Christmas present!)
  • Secret Santa present for work

There’s also all of the incidental expenses – multiple rounds of Christmas drinks, as well as the activities I’ll end up doing when I’m home for Christmas and seeing friends.

My best friend is also due to give birth on New Year’s Day – so I have some presents to buy for her, her partner and the baby.

It all adds up!

I’ve been spending some time working out presents recently to try and plan ahead. So far, so good. Although I haven’t actually bought anything yet, I’ve got some good ideas …

  • Layby: several department stores including Target do online layby. This is perfect for a million reasons, but specifically … you don’t even have to leave your house to find gifts and you can pay it off over a few months. They’ll also deliver to your house, or you can pick up from your preferred store. It couldn’t be easier!
  • Etsy/handmade stores online and ‘in the flesh’: some of the Etsy products I have see have been pretty pricey, but there’s also some reasonable ones floating around. Always worth a look – there are some really nice things, and handmade is always a bit nicer.
  • Bargain sites like LivingSocial, Groupon and Catch of the Day (COTD). COTD currently have sections for $5, $10, $15 and $20 gifts so you’re sure to find a couple of useful things in there. The other two have heavily discounted deals and escapes so they’re worth checking out as well.

 

Another option for big families is to have a Secret Santa. You can do the Wheel of Fortune version where everyone picks a random gift, and you can steal/swap with others, or you can do the ‘specific’ version where you have to buy for a pre-determined person. These are great ideas to prevent buying presents for millions of family members, but still enjoy the gift giving and receiving that is Christmas.

What are your Christmas ideas and plans? Do you have loads of presents to buy, or just some? Would love to hear from you!

It’s been a while …

… since I’ve posted – firstly, my apologies!

I started my Master’s degree at university, so time has been lacking lately when combined with a full time job. I love it though – definitely no complaints.

I have exams in a week, then I’m on a break until March. Let me tell you, I cannot wait!

That does mean it’s “that” time of year again though … just over a month until Christmas, when everyone’s wallets start to shrink and money seems to hemorrhage out left, right and centre.

We’ve already managed to get ourselves off to a very broke season. Between booking flights to go home for Christmas, paying car registration, and all of our quarterly bills hitting at once (funny about that) – we’ve had next to nothing leftover. Perfect.

Now that we’re (mostly) past it, I thought I’d share with you some of the things we did to keep ourselves fed and watered over the past month or two.

I hope you can get some good ideas, but please feel free to share your own below too – love to hear from you!

Food:

Food is a tough one. You want to eat nice food that’s healthy and nutritious, but when your grocery budget is $50 for an entire week, for two people, that’s a little tricky – especially when you’ve already used up all of the emergency reserves!

We’ve become masters of tuna bake. It’s (reasonably) healthy, and easy to make with only 3-4 ingredients depending on how much you want to throw into it.

My favourite jar sauce for tuna bake is the Dolmio version. I’m a bit of a bargain hunter/hoarder so whenever I see the Dolmio jars on special, I stock up (budget permitting) – then I’ve always got some on hand. They’re usually $4.00 a jar when they’re not on sale.

If you’ve got the Dolmio brand, all you need then is spiral pasta (well, any pasta will do) and a big tin of tuna.

You can buy spiral pasta for $1.00 a packet these days, so it’s very cost effective and cheap.

Coles and Woolworths make their own brand of tuna in springwater which I happily use. My theory is that there’s no ‘Coles-brand’ tuna swimming in the sea – they’re all the same fish. I am sure there are differences in how they’re processed and manufactured, but it hasn’t bothered me yet – and when I’ve only got a little bit of money to spend, I don’t have much choice!

The prices between Coles/Woolworths and other brands can be as much as $3-$4 so it’s worth considering the ‘home brands’.

The Dolmio suggestion is to add cheese on top when you bake it. Grated cheese can be stupidly expensive – $5.00 upwards for a packet – so sometimes I’ll leave this off if we don’t have any in the fridge.

All up, it can be about $10-$15 to get all the ingredients. It usually lasts us for two dinners for two people – pretty inexpensive meal!

The only thing I don’t like is the lack of vegetables in it. I sometimes put in frozen peas & corn, but if we have any money for vegetables, I’ll buy fresh carrots and broccoli and steam those alongside it.

That brings me to my next point – fruit & vegetables. They’re essential but can add up to being the most expensive part of the grocery bill.

I tend to shop around – compare our grocer, with Coles, with Woolworths and figure out which is the cheapest. I won’t buy heaps of different types of vegies, but lots of the cheaper options. Generally we end up with loads of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and potatoes.

Similarly with fruit – apples are often cheap, plus anything else in season. Lately blueberries have been really cheap so I stock up on those – they’re great on muesli/porridge for breakfast, and as a snack during the day, and they’re really good for you too.

Household Stuff:

This is where we came a little unstuck in the last month. Normally I’m on top of the household things like dishwashing liquid/powder, toilet paper, shower soap etc. This month, not so much.

Let me set the scene. We live in a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen sink. We have a dishwasher. I’d stacked it lovingly and carefully, only to realise that we had a) plenty of dishes left over to handwash and b) we had no dishwashing tablets/powder.

I handwashed what I could, but I’d put all of the stubborn dishes in the dishwasher – little bit out of laziness!

Of course, dishwashing tablets and powder is expensive. Our last lot, I’d bought on sale – 90 Finish tablets for $30.00! They’d just run out though, and I couldn’t afford the $15.00 upwards for more.

In desperation, I got a box of 20 from Woolworths for $5.00 – I figured they’d be fine for a week … as it turns out, they work brilliantly! They don’t end up gooey and stuck to the tablet holder like some of the Finish ones, and the dishes are sparkling. I will happily recommend these, and buy them again myself.

Luxury Travel (ha)

I recently returned from a trip interstate to spend time with my Mum as she had some serious surgery to remove her kidney and a cancer. Lots of fun (not) but it was great to spend quality time that I wouldn’t normally have. The joys of living interstate from family!

One thing I wanted to share with you, though, is the fact that you can travel on the cheap if you’re prepared to put in a bit of work. I’m sure that part isn’t news to you!

Here in Australia, we have 4 main airlines to choose from.

Qantas is probably the most well known internationally. It’s also the most expensive, as a general rule of thumb. In saying that, they provide meals with every flight and a baggage allowance – all as part of your fare. 

Jetstar is Qantas’ cheaper little brother (sister?). Most of the time, their flights are the cheapest. They don’t have a huge amount of legroom and meals/baggage is an additional cost. 

Virgin Australia is part of Richard Branson’s empire and fits somewhere between Qantas and Jetstar. Meals aren’t included unless you pay a little more, just like baggage.

Finally, Tiger is the newest kid on the block. It often beats Jetstar in terms of price but has lots of add on fees including insurances and taxes, and it doesn’t fly to as many destinations around Australia.

I tend to fly with Jetstar, mostly because they are the cheapest for the flights I take. If I had the choice, I’d fly Virgin or Qantas though. 

You can imagine my surprise then, when for my interstate trip, Qantas and Virgin turned out to be much cheaper than Jetstar and had better flight times for the plans I had made. 

I was a little excited to be travelling in such luxury, I can tell you! A meal served to me without having to pay? Oh, okay! Free baggage allowance? Why, I’ll take as much as I can fit in the suitcase! 

The take-home from this blog is to shop around. Don’t always assume that you know the cheapest carrier (supplier) – check it out. 

I use Webjet to compare flight prices – you can see all of the flight times and costs and then work out what’s best for you. Beware that if you book through Webjet, they do add on some fees for their service – so you may prefer to book separately on the airline’s website. But it’s certainly a useful tool and you may find yourself flying in a bit more luxury than you had planned!

(PS – Mum’s surgery went well, doctors are very happy and she is now in recovery mode. Cancer sucks.) 

So much food, so little time …

My boyfriend and I have been having a mad few weeks/months at work. Most nights, we’re both home quite late so the last thing we want to be doing is cooking! I don’t like cooking at the best of times, to be honest, let alone when I’ve been at work for 11 hours and just want to crawl into bed.

As a result though, it’s easy for fresh food to be left untouched in the fridge and end up in the rubbish bin as it flies past the use-by date. Such a waste of money!

We’ve realised that during this period of late nights, it’s actually cheaper/more economical for us to buy dinner from a nearby takeaway place. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but we are lucky enough to live in an area with little takeaway places for every cuisine imaginable.

There’s an Indian place which offers $10 main meals (curry, rice, pappadum and naan bread), there’s a Thai place which offers stir fries and noodles for $7.70. There’s Spud Bar which averages around $10 a meal. There’s a few little pizza places and a few Greek places as well. There’s a seafood place which offers a fillet of fish, chips and salad for $13.

When you consider how much it would cost to buy the ingredients for most of those meals, plus the time to cook, it really works out cheaper for us to buy.

It’s not something I want to maintain long term – I like knowing what we’re eating, and I like having a home cooked meal (even though I’m not the one cooking it!). But depending on what you eat, most of these places offer healthy dinners so at the very least, it’s a big step up from McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and the like.

It’s definitely something to consider though, if you know you have a period where you won’t be home all that often. Rather than letting perfectly good food go to waste, don’t buy as much fresh food and opt for a takeaway meal instead.

10% off insurance? Oh, okay!

I am a sucker for saving money where I can. For example, I hate that insurance is so expensive so if I can get a better deal then I’m there!

Here in Australia, there’s quite a few insurance companies to choose from. They tend to be around the same price range with different ‘extras’. A general rule of thumb, however, is that under 25’s will always pay more in insurance especially if they are male. This is due to the fact that most accidents on the road involve young drivers in that age group.

My insurance company does charge me extra because I fall into that age group, however they are also taking steps to prevent the accidents from occurring in the first place and that forms the basis of today’s blog.

AAMI Insurance is currently offering a free skilled drivers course to anyone under 25 who is insured on their comprehensive car insurance policy. It can be their own policy (as in my case) or their parents policy. The course is run by AAMI at their own custom-built ‘track’ in each of Australia’s capital cities.

I signed myself and my boyfriend up as soon as I was offered the course. It seemed a great opportunity to refine my skills and get to know my car. The idea is that you spend the day in your car so that you understand how it behaves in an emergency situation. There’s no point learning in an instructors car – all cars handle differently.

The bonus? 10% off insurance until I turn 25. Not a bad deal!

If you have this kind of course available near you, I highly recommend it. We would all love to think we are great drivers but honestly, not many people can claim that and mean it.

We spent the day doing some theory, but then focusing on the practical side of things. We drove in & out of cones at different speeds to demonstrate what difference a few kilometres can make to the handling of the car. We practiced emergency braking at different speeds & distances to see the different effects of speed as well. We simulated being distracted by a mobile phone or radio.

When you drive, it feels like 45km/h is a ‘nothing’ speed – you could walk faster. But when you’re trying to stop in time or when you’re trying to handle the car around a sharp bend at that speed, you realise just how fast you’re actually going.

The statistics we were given were humbling and, in all honesty, a little frightening. The instructor made the point that if he got our group of 20 back together in 12 months, there’s a good chance one of us would be missing due to a car crash.

I came out of that course feeling much more aware of my surroundings and myself when driving. I feel I am a better driver because of it. I won’t go so far to say I’m a good driver – still plenty to learn! But it was definitely a course worth taking (not just for the 10% discount on insurance, either).

Holidaying on a Budget

It’s been a little while between drinks, thanks to several months of craziness at work and a sneaky holiday in the middle!

I’m sure you’ve all been hanging out for some more penny saving tips though (or am I just deluded?) so here I am, back at the keyboard.

Firstly, I wanted to update you on the final result of my holiday jar. If you recall, I mentioned our plan to throw as many coins and notes into our jar as possible in preparation for our holiday. We used the proceeds of the jar for our recent interstate trip to Hobart, Tasmania (Australia, for those of you playing from overseas!)

I’m really proud of the final amount – $450! Considering it was mostly made up of coins and a few notes here and there, I think we did pretty well. The biggest thing I took from it is that we really didn’t miss those pesky coins weighing down our wallets. In fact, it was quite a shock to be carrying coins again while we were on holiday – I’d forgotten how heavy they were! I actually started a mini coin jar at the hotel and emptied my wallet each night … and, you guessed it, these coins have now formed my next holiday jar!

Secondly, I thought I’d tell you about our “holiday on a budget” and how we managed to have an amazing time without spending thousands of dollars.

The holiday itself was booked on the spur of the moment. Jetstar, one of Australia’s low cost carriers, often have sales with cheap flights and it was during one of these that I picked up $9 flights to Hobart. I bought them, figuring we would only be out of pocket $20 if we couldn’t go.

As we neared the dates, we confirmed we could take the time off work so started to piece together the rest of the trip.

Accommodation: I found a beautiful B&B online that happened to have a special for the period we were there. Rather than $150/night, they had a deal for $99/night if you stayed a minimum of 3 nights. We ended up staying for 4 nights, so it worked perfectly. If you’re interested, look up Amberley House. It was built in the 1800’s and has been beautifully restored to a guest house. They offer a generous European continental breakfast as part of your stay, along with a cosy guest lounge (which happens to include complimentary chocolates!)

Transport: We also hired a car – Hobart is very spread out and they don’t have a train system, so a car gave us the flexibility to go where we wanted, when we wanted. There are the usual car rental suspects – Budget, Thrifty, AVIS etc – but we went with Bargain Car Rentals. Definitely a lot cheaper and very friendly, despite a minor hiccup when we first arrived. I’d highly recommend them.

Food: We are both milk-fanatics. Give us a bottle of un-homogenised ‘proper’ milk and we’re happy. Thankfully Hobart/Tasmania are not short of farm fresh milk. We tried 5 different brands while we were there (10L of milk in a week!) and although it is more expensive than the supermarket brands, it’s worth it in so many ways. We ate out for all meals except breakfast (enjoyed at the hotel) and were able to find lunch and dinner meals for under $15 each. This kept the budget down as well.

Things to do: There’s plenty to do around Hobart and you don’t have to spend thousands to enjoy it. Notable sights include Mt Wellington – the largest mountain in Tasmania, the views are spectacular and it costs absolutely nothing … well, except for your own energy as you battle against the wind to stay upright! We also visited the Mt Nelson Signal Station. There’s a brasserie there with delicious scones ($8 for two) and coffee – if you’ve got the time and money, stop in for a quick morning or afternoon tea.

We visited MONA which was about $35. Average for a museum these days but very worth it. It’s an amazing museum in terms of both the art inside and also the architecture. It’s built into the cliffs of the river and is incredible.

Right around the corner from MONA is the Cadbury factory. It was the first in Australia, the second oldest in the world and the second largest. You can’t visit the factory itself but they have a visitors centre where you can buy discounted chocolate and learn about the chocolate making process. $7.50 for adults to enter which isn’t much at all and they give you some chocolate to take home too – not a bad deal!

We spent a day down at Port Arthur. This can be expensive depending on what you choose to add onto your ticket price; we opted only for the Ghost Tour which was entertaining (I’m a non-believer, so didn’t see any ghosts myself). The basic entry gives you a harbor cruise and guided walk, so it’s definitely worth the trip. Port Arthur itself is stunning, despite its gruesome history, and I’d highly recommend you visit if you can.

I would say, overall, we spent around $1000 for the entire trip. That’s including accommodation, flights, food and transport. Not bad for a 6 day holiday for 2 people, I think!

We could have been even more budget conscious, I’m sure, and stayed in $50/night rooms with cereal for breakfast. At the same time though, when you go on holiday you’re there to enjoy it and relax, and that’s exactly what we were able to achieve this time. I can’t wait for our next visit!

Budget is not a dirty word.

For Gen Y, when they hear the word budget, they probably think of that boring time of year when the news coverage is filled with talk like “surplus” and “treasurer” and “election”. Yeah, it’s not appealing.

But on a smaller scale, budgets are useful and easy to understand. They also have the added benefit of helping to balance your money. Who would have thought!

Seriously though. Years ago, when I started in my first proper job, I started a budget. I was getting paid monthly and it was the only way to manage my money. As a young person, getting paid a (relatively) huge amount at a time was horribly tempting. So many possibilities, so many things to spend my money on! But I also had bills, rent, food to pay for so I had to try and maintain some control.

You can use a range of budgeting tools online and a range of mobile apps. They’ve all got their benefits and they’ve all got their limitations.

I’ve kept it simple though and stuck with a good old MS Excel spreadsheet. I’ve set out one column which lists each expense I know I’ll have in that pay period. I also list savings and general expenses.

Against each item, I allocate an amount. I usually round upwards to a multiple of $10 for bills – if the power bill is $54.60 then I will put it in as $60. This way, I have little bits of money left over at the end (which I’ll explain later).

Using some nifty formulas, I make sure that the total expenses matches the total of my salary. If the expenses are less, then I add on additional amounts against certain expenses e.g. I might put more into savings or more for general expenses.

Once I get paid, I use this budget to track bills as I pay them and to track what’s left in my account. I use a second column for this – if I’ve allocated $200 for groceries and only spend $50 in one visit, I change the field to show $150. This way, I always know how much is in my account and also what I’m supposed to spend it on.

As compulsive and (maybe too) organised as it all sounds, I find it really works for me. On any given day, I can see how much is in my account and what I have to spend. I very rarely over spend as a result and I don’t ever miss bills or other expenses due to not having the money.

Nowadays I’m on a fortnightly payroll which is much easier to manage with rent and against my boyfriend’s pay as well. But the budget is still just as useful.

The other thing I use is a mobile app for my bank account. Most of the big banks offer these now. I find mine brilliantly useful. Remember those little extra amounts I told you about? I have a good purpose for those.

My online banking is linked to my car loan. Any extra little amounts, I throw straight onto it. Even though they’re small amounts ($3 at a time perhaps) it generally adds up to around $50 a month, if not more. That’s a big chunk on top of my normal payments which in the long run, means less interest. Not a bad thing!

Once again, I’m pretty compulsive so if I see my bank account being anything other than a multiple of $10, I get rid of the extra amount onto the loan. Sounds ridiculous, I know!

So. If you want some help setting up this type of budget, let me know. I’m happy to send you a blank template of the budget I’ve been using.

Otherwise, check out the range of mobile apps and online budget tools. They’re worth a shot.

Bulk it up

Buying in bulk is such an old lady tip but it’s such a good way to save some money and ensure you never run out of supplies.

We live near a Costco, the crazy American chain. Picture a supermarket on steroids (BIG steroids) and you’re halfway to imagining Costco. Honestly, it’s mental but it’s so much fun at the same time.

We joined as a member, the lowest 1 year price was about $50. It seems expensive and silly to join a supermarket but it’s worth it and if you shop right, you recoup the costs pretty quickly.

Some examples of our bargains include a vacuum cleaner for $80 less than other stores, alcohol for $20-30 less than other bottle shops and general grocery items such as a box of lettuce for $5. 

You have to plan a trip and you have to have a bit of cash with you – there’s no point bulk buying if you only have $20. You also have to be prepared to eat a lot of the same food which is why I recommend steering clear of fresh food in bulk unless you know you will eat it quickly. There’s nothing worse than force feeding yourself carrots because you bought 5kg and you don’t want them to go to waste … 

Things like cereal, muesli bars, condiments (jam, Vegemite etc) is great to buy in bulk. They take forever to go off and they are staples you will get a lot of use out of. 

I have to confess, I love buying in bulk. Even if it’s not at Costco, I can’t resist stocking up when there are things on sale at the local supermarket. For a while, we had about 5kg of Special K cereal in the cupboard because it was on a 50% sale at the supermarket (admittedly, I can’t eat Special K now …).

I enjoy knowing that I’ve got a stash of food in the cupboard for weeks where money is a little tight. For example, right now I have some spaghetti mince in the freezer, some pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti in the cupboard. It’s not a planned meal for this week (more on that in another blog!) but it’s a good backup for a nice when we’re low on money or need a quick meal.

I think buying in bulk, as a rule, is part of the same theory that applies to living on a budget – preparation. Plan to buy in bulk, save up the cash, and it will save money in the end.

Grocery Shopping for the lazy/undisciplined person

I had to do a quick trip to the supermarket last night to pick up some supplies before we head away for the weekend.

Inevitably, I walked out with more than I needed. Somehow the additional Easter eggs made their way into my basket … like magic, really!

I will admit, that’s my biggest problem with grocery shopping; I’m great at setting aside a certain amount for groceries, I’m very conscious of making a list and raiding the cupboards to work out exactly what we do or don’t have, and I can stick to the list and buy everything on it. The problem is I end up buying a little bit more … then I reach the registers and realise I’ve gone over my allocated amount for groceries. I’m always too embarrassed to take things back at that point, so just grin & bear it.

I’ve found a way of dealing with this issue however, although it does require some forethought and preparation.

Coles & Woolworths, the big supermarket chains here in Australia, offer online shopping and ‘click & collect’ services. The former allows you to browse online through all of the aisles, add them to your online shopping cart and have them delivered to your door at a nominated time. You can either pay via credit card online or EFTPOS when the groceries arrive. The driver will even bring them in & put them in the kitchen for you.

The latter allows you to shop online as well, but rather than having them delivered (which costs a small fee), you can collect them from your local supermarket at a nominated time.

The online shop offers all of the discounted specials on grocery items – you can even browse by the catalogue – so you can pick up some great bargains.

(At this point, I think I should clarify that I’m not writing this on behalf of Coles/Woolies – just that they’re the stores around me that offer it, but really, these options work for any store that offers delivery!)

I am a big adopter of online grocery shopping. I find it really helpful to watch the total of my grocery bill increase as I add more items so if I hit my budgeted amount, I can take off the non-essentials. There’s no more embarrassing “can I put this back?” scenes at the register and it really makes me think about what I’m buying. I often do a detailed browse through the online shop and add everything I think I need, then review the list at the end. Funnily enough, there’s always items on there I really don’t need! The option to second-guess my list is really handy.

We used to live in a house which made it easy to have the groceries delivered, but these days we are in an apartment and it’s too hard to arrange for the driver to buzz our apartment. Instead, I utilise the ‘click & collect’ service. It saves me about $8 in deliveries and means I don’t have to worry about explaining how to buzz our apartment to a different driver each time!

If you’re like me, and you struggle to buy “the essentials” at the supermarket, I strongly suggest you try out these options. If anything, it’s more convenient than what you are doing currently – you can shop in your PJ’s, you can shop while enjoying a glass of wine, you can shop while watching TV. What more could you want?