February 2011 archive
Darlings. Please, I love you all. But for the last time, THIS IS WHAT FOOD COSTS! I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. See last post and the numbers in the Otago uni study. One commenter wondered on my last post if melons were out of season; no, it’s summer here, they don’t get much more seasonal than that. Trust me when I say I don’t buy produce out of season, and that we really do spend as little as humanly possible on groceries – although we do sometimes buy too many snacks. From what I can tell from your blogs, we pay more relatively for EVERYTHING than you guys do in North America and elsewhere – on fruit, on vegetables, on flour and sugar, meat, dairy, toilet paper.
And with that, I bring you the final week of February’s grocery challenge. Amazingly, we came in at $89.95 (I also made an emergency stop for flour mid-week.) Why so low? Well, we already had quite a few staples at home. But mainly, I think it’s because – stupidly – I kind of forgot about lunches. T hasn’t been eating much at work, so we decided not to plan for his lunches. Consequently, I neglected to think about my own, so I guess it’s peanut butter or egg sandwiches all week. Also, it’s a shorter week than usual, as we’re off to Wellington for four days.
And that means we’re $25 under our $500 target for February. Amazing! Three cheers for short months.
(Apologies for crappy photos. I’m a bit short on time at the moment)
I’ve got heaps of great posts starred in Google Reader to share, but I don’t know when I’ll get time to do a link roundup. I’m halfway through a 9-day stretch of work, with no breaks, thanks to the earthquake. Busy busy busy!
Tags: groceries, money, spending
On Tuesday, I thought I was dying. I was maybe a third of the way through my run when I started to feel faint and started to lose my vision. I literally could not see, and that scared the shit out of me. Everything went super photo-sensitive – bright, white and spotty. I could only make out the world around me, vaguely, through this haze of light. Luckily, I know those roads well, and I managed to continue walking along more or less blind until I reached the shade and my eyesight began to return.
Lesson learned: Do not run at midday in the height of summer. And wear sunglasses, maybe. Dehydration isn’t fun, kids.
Then I got a call from work. Another quake in Christchurch. A big one. My issues kind of paled in comparison.
Between my faint spell and finishing off a freelance project, I hadn’t had time to get online all day. Which is very rare for me. But before I went to bed, I checked my email. What do you know…some of my bloggy friends were worried about me and wanted to know I was okay! (Who says Americans are self-centred?) And they’re smart too; as my blog title suggests, I’m in Auckland. And a quick Google will show you that Christchurch is in the South Island, down the other end of the country.
So, thanks Purse, Red, Serendipity, Sunflowers and Revanche - it means a lot .
NZ has been through a tough year. It’s been an eventful year, a good year, I guess, to work in news. It’s also been a depressing year – all the stories about the ever-rising cost of living – rent, petrol food, national debt, car crashes, drownings, baby deaths, and now, on the heels of Pike River, a second massive Christchurch quake – this time a deadly one. People from all walks of life. Including, to date, at least one journalist, killed when the newsroom collapsed.
I’m sad that I never got to see Christchurch before all this happened. I don’t know what it will look like by the time we get to do our road trip, but it will never be the same. I wonder, in one or two or five years, how many people will still live there; I think it’s safe to say nobody will want to insure any Cantabrian houses after this.
Hug your loved ones. Get insurance. And donate whatever you can – it’s going to be a slow and expensive process to rebuild the Garden City.
The worst thing about weekend work is trying to fit in shopping on a weekend night or rushing it before work. It’s people like me who shop on a Saturday night at 10pm from time to time. At Countdown, what’s worse. (T likes it because he’s less tempted to buy snacks there, or so he says.)
We also did a mini shop for a picnic on Friday, which didn’t really help with cost-cutting. Roast chickens were $13 each or two for $19, so we went with two and will be doing chicken lunches all week.
(I’m not sure what that weird stain is on the first docket, either… Oh, and I should probably have explained earlier that where I haven’t uploaded separate receipts for meat/produce, it’s because T went shopping while I was at work, and he never holds on to them.)
Plus $23.48 at the Aussie Butcher…and the damage comes to $132.02. Which is fine, but not for this month! Next week really needs to be bare bones – no snacks, cheap lunch ideas, as we only have $115 until we hit $500. Plus, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need dishwash soap and possibly TP.
While we’re talking food, apparently Otago University in 2009 determined a “basic” food bill for a man, woman, adolescent boy and girl, ranged from $274 a week in Auckland, to $263 in Christchurch. Add in the use of convenience and imported foods, some out-of-season fruits and vegetables, more expensive cuts of meat and some speciality foods, and that grocery bill would grow to $426 and $411.
This seems to be the original study, in which individual costs in Auckland were:
*(“liberal” – ha! gotta love it! I can tell you if we threw things blindly into the trolley, it would blow out even higher than this)
Considering prices have gone up even more since then and we average around $130 a week for two, I don’t think we can save much more, realistically.
Also, I really hate clothes shopping, and tend to do it in bursts and spurts throughout the year. Last week I hit up my favourite place – Recycle Boutique – and made off with three work-appropriate tops for under $50. I figure I need 3-4 more bottoms and I’d like a couple more tops/cardigans…and I’d quite like new winter boots this year. I wonder if I can get away with maybe $300 for the year? Last year we spent less than $1000 for the both of us, INCLUDING skincare and the like…
Tags: groceries, money, spending
The weird – and awesome – thing about exercise is it seems to keep me fuller for longer. And, as in the case of this week – even shrunk my appetite. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had where I’ve done nothing but sit on my ass at work for hours, but plough through fruit, muesli bars, and curried vegetables with rice…and STILL arrived home basically faint from hunger. But this week I’m eating less, eating less often and haven’t even wanted dessert once. BIZARRE.
Also on the awesome list…thanks, Sarah! The Frugal Canadian Student did a shoutout to some of her favourite bloggers. For some reason, she saw fit to include moi (blush). And A Lotta Lettuce mentioned my last grocery checkin in her weekly wrap.
Om nom nom…I’m salivating at the thought of caramel coconut bars, via Cate.
I grew up on a diet of rice and other such Asian staples. I will never be a salad girl. Nonetheless, I can make the effort once in a while, especially with help from Iowa Girl Eats.
Eggplant risotto. ‘Nuff said.
The Joy of Caking has the secret to peanut butter cookies!
A Master of Nothing Employable struggles with idealism.
Penelope Trunk on the best way to cope with getting fired.
Leslie talks about the catch-22 of welfare – not being allowed to have cash assets or to build any up. It’s exactly the same here. It’s an ugly cycle, and there’s no way to get ahead, bar getting a well-paid job, I guess, and having a lucky run with no emergencies.
First Gen American shares the lessons learned from her first sweetheart.
Amber shows us how to make inexpensive customised wedding invitations.
Finally, hands down my absolute most favourite post of the week. Nicole Antoinette reminds us why it’s stupid to feel inadequate compared to other bloggers.
I’ve always been an extremely self conscious person. I would lie in bed at night when I was younger, replaying the day’s events in my mind. Berate myself for lost opportunities, for failing to come up with witty retorts, for a particularly embarrassing trip’n'fall, and so on. I had a kind of list going on. Points for having the guts to speak up in class. Points deducted for getting tongue tied in front of my crush. Basically, a tally of maturity, as judged by me.
When we got the news about this latest car repair, I wanted to throw myself on the ground and launch into a tantrum. Why’d you have to make such a big deal about one tiny thing? Couldn’t the first two mechanics’ clean diagnoses have sufficed?
I went for a long, sweaty run. Then I decided there was no point in sulking. I could let it ruin my afternoon, my day, my week. I could wallow, gloriously – if wallowing was a sport, I would be a Olympic athlete. I decided that heck, I can’t do anything about it. Shit happens; we couldn’t have done anything differently. You never know with a used car how it was treated before.
Or I could chin up, change my attitude and move on. Basically, act like a damn adult. Whining might make me feel better, temporarily, but accomplishes nothing. (I started bashing out a furious post, that went something along the lines of:
WHY do we always have the ridiculous problems? Why does nobody else we know have to deal with such insanely fucking expensive issues? Yeah, T drives a lot, but he doesn’t drive stupidly. Surely we’ve paid our dues with learning about regular maintenance, and paid our dues with his insistence on buying a stupid boyracey car and now opting for something sensible (insert LIFE’S NOT FAIR rant)
If I had double my cash savings right now, I would be seriously thinking about financing a brand new vehicle right now – 3% over 3 years, 30% down.)
before realising what a self-pitying douche I sounded like.)
And in the long run, whining only serves to make feel you worse. Instead, I would do what I do second best: deal with it. I’ve been meaning to get around to working out a new realistic number to direct into our irregulars account, which I’ve been putting off. As for ponying up the cash, it just means a blow to progress on the travel fund.
As always, car costs are the sticking point. We haven’t had any of our cars for more than two years, so judging reasonable ongoing repairs isn’t easy. Last year, the first year I tracked, we spent about $1000 on our piece-of-crap beater. So far we’re on track to spend double this year for our current 10-year-old one, between the new tyres and the new transmission (it was cheaper to replace the whole gearbox than the one specific part that conked out). I don’t anticipate much more for the rest of the year, and we shouldn’t need to get any work done to pass its warrant, but you just never know, do you?
Maybe aiming for $1200, the same figure as our motor insurance bill, is a good starting point. I figure this is actually not that crazy, because between his commute, visiting friends and family, and trips, we put a lot of kilometres on our one car. Where tyres might last 2-3 years for some people, it’s more likely to be closer to 18 months for us. So that’s already nearly $500 there. Add to that maybe $100-200 on fluids and filters for regular servicing, plus room for other nasty surprises.
So, do you love wallowing? Or are you a chin-up-and-get-on-with-it type? And how much do you spend on maintaining your car each year?
Tags: cars, money
Image by Daniele Sartori via Flickr
I’M GOING TO RAROTONGA!!
Yep, first week of July, I’m off. Farewell, winter birthday – I’ll be celebrating on the beach.
In the end, the Cook Islands edged out my other choices. Vanuatu would have been a lot pricier, and they don’t use NZ currency. The Cooks do – so that’s one less headache for a first-time traveler. Niue, another of my top choices, just couldn’t compete package-wise either and I simply wasn’t sure we could entertain ourselves on such a secluded island for an entire seven days, as there is only one flight a week (although I think I’d quite like to visit Niue at some point. Who wouldn’t want a whole island practically to themselves).
This will be my:
- First overseas trip since I was 15
- First overseas trip without the parents
- First air trip with T
- First overseas trip with T
Up until now, life has always been about studying, getting to graduation, job hunting, making ends meet. That we have just booked this trip is…well, I’M SO STOKED!
And I can’t recommend visiting the Travel Expo enough. We went on Saturday, collected oodles of brochures, and, overwhelmed, I opted to go home to look them over and Google reviews. Sunday, I was better prepared and knew what I wanted. Best of all, it turns out my birthday doesn’t fall in the school holidays this year! (All my life it has – and people go away and can’t come to my party, I never got sung Happy Birthday by the class, and so on. I was grateful once I hit uni though as it meant I couldn’t possibly have any assignments due on it.) I’m told they changed all the holiday dates due to Rugby World Cup, which I find outrageous…yet totally believable). That means we’re less likely to have to deal with lots of kids at the resort.
Initially I wanted a full package deal, but once I saw Edgewater Resort was doing a stay 5 nights, pay for 3 discount, I decided it was worth the hassle of organising separate flights. I found an awesome consultant at the St Lukes Flight Centre booth who walked me through the process and then took me around to the wholesaler’s booth to confirm flights and dates. And what do you know? They conjured up a full package deal for way less than I could have ever hoped for. I’m talking stupidly cheap – $1362 for both of us for the whole shebang. It’s a shame all the flights are at ridiculous, middle-of-the-night times, but what can you do?
My only regret: I shouldn’t have bought travel insurance there. I didn’t even think to have a look online before going, so I was lured in by the “10% off policies here and the chance to win back the value of your trip!” I could have probably halved the cost, but you live and learn.
(For non kiwis: We have a supermarket duopoly [So what else is new? It's just like every other industry here]. Foodstuffs owns Pak n Save and New World, their super budget, no frills chain and their deluxe chain respectively. Progressive owns Countdown and Foodtown; the former is their cheaper chain, but it’s still more expensive than PnS.)
Since we moved to this area, we’ve only ever shopped at Pak n Save. It’s close, and of course, it’s cheaper. They also don’t advertise, so you never know what their deals are until you get there…but that’s fine by me, because I’m not the kind of person who sticks rigidly to a list anyway.
At our old place, we lived closer to Countdown, and would randomly split our trips between CD and PnS depending on, well, how we felt that week.
But the expensive Mt Eden Foodtown nearby has now been converted into a Countdown, its cheaper sibling. And I’m kind of tempted to see how well we might fare there. There’s more variety, and it will almost GUARANTEED be better stocked. Also, PnS produce is generally crap, and we don’t always have time to get to a separate fruit n veg shop. Also, the Progressive chain actually sends out flyers, so with a bit of forward thinking maybe it wouldn’t increase our bill by too much. Although…is more choice really a good thing here?
Anyway, chance – okay, traffic – led us to Greenlane Countdown this week. I have to say, I don’t really like visiting new supermarkets. I’m entrenched in routine and I like knowing where aisles are and where to find everything. And this particular supermarket is pretty big (although the aisles could be wider…are you listening?). Basically, the whole experience was nicer. Pak n Save = grey and concrete. Countdown = bright, light, tons of choice. I’ve been to tons of other branches before, but never noticed it quite as starkly. There were some good specials this week – part of the reason we spent nearly $10 on drinks. I’m a water drinker, but T is the opposite. Sadly, produce was not particularly cheap, and we refused to pay their meat prices fullstop.
Of course, the main question is how much did we spend?!
Sorry about the ugly/confusing docket. Countdown prints the original price and then a deduction for the discount. I do like how they show the unit price for produce, though.
Add to that $33 something for meat from the Aussie butcher and we clock in at $135 this week. Pretty average. And two weeks into February, we’re at $254 of our $500 goal. Can we do it? I remember, vaguely, a time when we could occasionally pull off a $100 weekly shop. Now I’ll be happy with $125.
So, do you shop at the same supermarket every time? And do you go to independent butchers/produce shops for fresh food?
Tags: groceries, money, spending
Image via Wikipedia
** Huzzah! I’m in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance. Thanks to Well Heeled for hosting. **
Spending $25,000 on a credit card over two years is unlikely to earn you even $180 on reward schemes, a survey has revealed.
I consider myself a savvy credit card user, and stories like these annoy the hell out of me.
Unless you spend heaps on your card…and fully pay off your card at the end of each month, most of these schemes won’t be worth it.
Well, no shit, Sherlock. That’s the credit card game, isn’t it? Don’t spend more than you can repay, and you win. Plus you get points or cashback. There’s nothing good about the alternative.
Sadly, unless you manage to be completely self sufficient – work for yourself, grow your own food, generate your own power and so forth – you need to spend money.
I will admit, I’m not making oodles of money from CC rewards. In fact, I would need to spend $27k to earn $180 in rewards. But I certainly am making something for nothing. If I must be ripped off by supermarkets, petrol stations and the like on a regular basis, I’m going to claw back every cent I can.
Let’s say $150 a week goes on the Visa (a ridiculously low number. That’s full groceries plus bus topup, or perhaps petrol plus a supermarket shop minus meat and veggies.) That earns $1. That’s $52 in rewards for $7800 spent in a year for doing nothing but LIVE LIFE. Or perhaps a more realistic $200 a week, earns $67.60 a year. That does not include the countless other expenses which crop up over those 12 months. Insurance. Clothing. Mystery shops. Concerts. Other dining out. Presents. Travel. Car registration and repairs. Purchases made for people we know who don’t have their own credit cards. Oh, and I can now pay Sky TV by Visa for no extra charge.
In fact, I put everything I possibly can on my credit card, and only regret I can’t do the same for rent. At a guess that might double or triple what we put on the card, and thus earn rewards for. One has to feed, dress and transport oneself, and this one would rather get something out of it. In the meantime, my money earns a little bit more interest in my account, which is calculated on a daily basis.
Quite frankly, I would find it near impossible to live without a credit card. I buy stuff online semi-regularly, from contact lenses to guitar strings to daily deal coupons to event tickets to hotel bookings. (Well, some of those are more regular than others.) My other options would be to, uh, ASK someone with a credit card to do it for me, or get one of those Visa Debitplus cards. In which case, I may as well get a real Visa, with a rewards programme. I don’t doubt Visa Debitplus is a fabulous option for many people, but it offers me absolutely nothing. The idea is you use your own money, but you do get charged a fee for it. I’d rather use the bank’s money for a month and earn wayyyy more than enough rewards dollars to cover the higher fee. And I won’t even get into the other benefits that some credit cards also offer.
I get it. It sounds like too much trouble for some people, especially given our relatively crappy rate of return. Especially for those who have fallen into the debt trap using credit cards. But others, like me and my mother and many more, can handle ourselves. And who else would book tickets online for our friends and family with shot credit and who don’t have a Debitplus for whatever reason? If you can handle money responsibly, there’s a bit of free money in there for you.
Please. Trust us. We’re grownups and we know how to play the game. Maybe the majority of Kiwis don’t, but there’s no need to treat us all like imbeciles. Or is there?
Tags: money, personal finance
Image via Wikipedia
Once, I believed in soulmates.
And I harboured a little dream of first love being the only love.
My first love was often a tumultuous one. It was inevitable really, a couple of insecure, introspective teenagers. At times, it was beautiful. At times, we soared. But I often tried to imagine us together, with a family, in 10 or 20 years. And I never could.
I don’t doubt that there are couples who meet the one and marry their first, true love. But that was never going to happen for us. I – we - had so much to learn. I did not have very good role models, relationship-wise, growing up. I felt…yes, I felt…that was never the problem…but I could not express. Words backed up, trapped somewhere in my brain, unable to make it through to my vocal cords and escape into the atmosphere. Words that needed to be spoken and heard, were never uttered.
I had to reconcile what I’d learned of love through books with the reality of a living, breathing relationship. To add to these internal issues, there were external, familial conflicts.
How does one learn to love? How does one learn the art of romance?
I grew up with parents who did not touch each other or call each other by name.
Of the things I learned at home, I do not feel nurturing a healthy relationship was one of them.
First love for me was a practice run. To get my first taste of arguing (occasionally in a healthy way, but mostly not), of reconciliation, of compromise, of loyalty, of demonstrativeness.
Today, many things come naturally. Saying “I love you” multiple times a day. A goodbye kiss in the morning. I will not judge my parents’ relationship – particularly as I no longer observe them on an everyday basis - but I know I want to continue to be the couple who go on date nights. Who always sleep in the same bed. Who respect each other. Who takes the time to cut his love’s steak into manageable chunks. Who knows her love, like a puppy, likes nothing better than belly-rubs, and obliges. Who wipe food from each other’s faces. Who playfight in the supermarket. Who do the hip bump while walking along the footpath, just because.
Without that first taste, I would be a completely different person today. I would still be struggling to relate to others in the most basic of ways. I would still retreat into silence at the first sign of conflict, my throat and mind closing up, sealing my thoughts away. I would not have the confidence that rests in the knowledge that once, someone else loved me. And that one day, others could, too. Bigger, better, bolder.
Second love does not have the same fairytale ring to it, but life is rarely so kind.
Tags: reflections, relationships
Don’t get me wrong. I like living in a studio; we don’t really have much use for a living room. When we had one, the boy insisted on having the TV in our bedroom, and now I have a laptop I like working in bed when it’s late. Less floor space = less cleaning.
But sometimes, I really, really wish I could conjure up a Room of Requirement. Because headphones or no, guitars are never completely silent, and there is not enough space for me to play properly while he is home.
Living Well on Less shares some resources on going dairy-free. (I’m into my third cereal-free, and thus, milk-free week! Hummus on toast is the ultimate breakfast; it fills me up like nothing else. Apart from, er, a big hearty, hangover-style brekky. But dude, I could never ever ever relinquish cheese. I live in New Zealand)
Have you ever been asked to choose between dark, milk and white chocolate? I used to hate that question. White chocolate may not be real chocolate but it’s damn good. Smitten Kitchen’s mixed brownies look amazeballs. I don’t have a cookie cutter, so I’ll be devouring them square, thank you very much.
I’ve probably bitched about not having the room to buy a food processor about fifty times. I did so again this week after getting all excited about this babaganoush recipe (which DOESN’T require one) and then realising how damn expensive tahini is.
I’ve been after a cinnamon roll type recipe for a while but never found one I could translate to Antipodean sensibilities. Thanks Hungry and Frozen!
Vietnamese food has never been big on my radar but I’m keen as a bean to try making my own pho courtesy of Wandering Food Lover. (Although I’m not even sure what a good one tastes like.)
Ai yi yi – and my recipes folder explodes. Not Eating Out in New York presents a hot and sour lemongrass soup. Drool…
Hmm, call me a tightwad, but I’ve always used shampoo or conditioner to shave. Anyway, here Molly on Money experiments with home made shaving creams.
Would you live apart from your SO for financial or career reasons? Debt Ninja is.
I’m starting to think the Newlyweds on a Budget are living our lives in parallel on the other side of the world. This week they’re embarrassed by their slightly shabby digs (high five).
The Frugal Traveler shares some ideas on how to be a frugal traveler. (Not looking so good for me – privacy, bathrooms, food, sleep and safety all rate pretty high for me.)
Hija de la Luna asks: Would you rather travel young and broke or old and rich?
This is great – a list of free social media tools via Social Glitz.
Who’s your work nemesis? Ben at No Ordinary Rollercoaster’s is, um, inanimate.
I want to marry this guest post by Marian on Redhead Writing on the truth about location independence. Y’all have probably gathered that while I’m sure it’s great for some, I think it’s way overhyped.
Similarly, Alexis Grant also posted The Myth of Getting Paid to Travel. Word.
Small Steps for Big Change asks: Are you lost, scared, wandering or a go-getter?
Geek in Heels has been documenting her pregnancy and new baby honestly and here she tackles the topic of keeping it real while blogging. Yeah, sometimes her posts are far from upbeat, but life isn’t always strawberries and rainbows. I get that everyone’s experience is different, but I appreciate her warts’n'all chronicles – I don’t find them depressing, but refreshing.
Also in the soul-baring basket: “You Probably Won’t Like Me”; it’s DC Princess/Berrak on…oh, just read it.
Hope you all had great weekends!