Living Luxe for Less

My apologies to all those who had received the unfinished post in error.  I don’t really know what happened there but it was quite a shock to have received an alert that I had posted something when I hadn’t.  LOL.  Hope you all had a good weekend.

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Since giving up our double income and excessive consumerism, we have learned to change the way we spend.  As I look back on our changes, I see that very little has been removed from our lifestyle;  if anything, our day-to-day living has become more indulgent without having to spend big bucks.  By moving into a more active role and becoming more of a producer than a consumer, we are actually still living the luxe life on so much less than we used to.

Here are some of of our indulgent pleasures at home:

A cafe-style brekafast of sourdough toast, ham, and eggs. Cost: less than $1, and I can have it in the comfort of our home every single day. Each cafe meal like this would set me back by at least $9.
Coffee, roasted to order. We’d recently run out of coffee beans, and to buy 3kgs of it would have cost us $100. This set above was $89 including the roaster, and the unroasted beans won’t go stale before we get to them. Plus, I get to have fun learning how to roast beans myself. Bonus!

Nibbling on fresh berries whilst out and about in our own backyard. The burst of flavour in my mouth is simply beyond any taste I have ever experienced from fruit bought from the shops. At the moment, our pomegranate is nearly ready to harvest — three fruits from a single young bush. It would have cost us over $8 to buy those — just a single fruit more and we would be breaking even on the cost of the plant.

Fresh flowers every single day of the year. Right now, the African Daisies and Salvias are in bloom and the spring bulbs have just been poking their heads out. We buy our tulips and lilies in May, when all the good nurseries around Monbulk mark down the bulbs to half price. I can’t wait to harvest bunches of them in the spring. It costs us just $60 to get 100 bulbs delivered, and those flowers come back year after year with sufficient care. It boggles my mind how we used to spend $10 for just three stems of lilies every week.

There is so much more on my list — homemade cheese, yogurt, and a million other things that I am sure many of you make as part of daily life.  I am so glad we’ve found our way out of consumerism, and I can’t wait to see what else this simple, gratifying life will teach us in the future.

How about you?  What are your simple luxuries?

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Goals for 2017

Every year as the days wind down, I start a new sheet and re-evaluate our goals.  I find it helpful to know the things we plan to achieve the next year because it keeps me motivated, and helps us realign our priorities if we need to drop a few things.

I keep mulling things over during the month of January, discussing items with Mr Meagre as they come up.  Being the school holidays here, it leaves me with just a little more time to think.  The rest of Australia is in vacation mode but my head is a hive of activity, sometimes even past midnight.  Just as well I don’t have to drop someone off at school the next day.

By the time February rolls around, the goals have mostly been finalised.  A few minor tweaks here and there is all it takes to see us through the next year.

Here is the list of goals we have for 2017, broken down into rough categories:


Home and Garden

  • Save funds for landscaping the front yard and back gardens.  Nothing fancy;  just some edging, crushed rock, pavers and mulched (plantable) areas. 
  • Declutter and reorganise living areas and bedrooms.  After over two years of living here we have only just unpacked the last few boxes.  We are working on the last room at the moment, but already I can see that we need to declutter the first room again!  It never ends…
  • Keep track of our garden harvest and ongoing expenses.  We are using the method I mentioned previously.
  • Keep up with caring for our vegetable garden, fruit trees and shrubs.

          The view from our front door. We are slowly saving up to fill this with edging, crushed rock and mulch. A lemon tree might be good too.


          Financial

          • Pay off the variable portion of our loan, down to the amount we have in the loan offset.  This accounts for the bulk of our disposable income.
          • Maintain the current emergency fund level and set aside small amounts to increase it further.
          • Increase the budget we have for utilities (5% increase annually) and enrichment (swimming/karate/dance lessons).
          • Set aside a small amount for quarterly driving trips now that the toddler is nearly two years old.  This took up our previous budget for having someone mow our front lawns, so come spring we will certainly be feeling the pinch when the grass reaches our knees.
          • Increase our super contributions and start investing for retirement.
          • Start investing for the kids’ University fees (Little Miss Meagre turns 8 this year).
          • Find out how I could start a home-based food business.  I am attending a “Starting a Business” seminar in March.

                    Life Goal 2017: Great Ocean Road trip. Hello, front yard grass. LOL.


                    Health and Personal Growth

                    • Mr Meagre has started a get-fit program (office gym/karate/extra cardio at home).  I intend to get back into yoga this year;  I really miss it.
                    • Make plans for graduate studies in the next two years.  This means I need to retake the IELTS exam this year.  I have been setting aside $10 a week for the exam fee and intend to schedule it in September this year.
                    • Cut back on sugar.  We very rarely buy chocolates now but I am still baking treats every week.  I have bought a sugar substitute and am re-reading the 4 Ingredients:  Diabetes book.  When we feel a craving for something sweet, a tablespoon of peanut butter is usually our first port of call. 
                    • Volunteer and get more involved in local council events and activities.

                                Cutting back on sugar in baking. See the Rice Malt Syrup on the right?


                                Art and Craft

                                • I would like to practice playing the piano again but I need to work it into my schedule. Mr Meagre has been studying blues guitar in his spare time.
                                • I have started knitting at least one dishcloth per week, as well as other items we need in the home (the Ikea cork heat pads I was just talking about has suddenly crumbled into pieces).  Any extra items will be sold in my Etsy shop.
                                      I would love to knit a temperature blanket in these colours. Bring on the stashbusting. Photo credit: Bendigo Woollen Mills Facebook Page.

                                      What are your goals for this year?

                                      Five Frugal Things

                                      Here are some frugal things I’d been up to.

                                      1)  I made yoghurt.

                                      Putting the yoghurt to bed in a nice, hot water bath. Five minutes’ work is really all it takes. The rest is just magic (or science).

                                      I usually make a litre of full fat greek yoghurt every two weeks.  We have it with honey, fruits or muesli.  Occasionally we aren’t able to get through it fast enough so I would use it to bake a cake, some muffins, or make frozen yoghurt pops.  It is an eye-opener for me — making yoghurt.  I swear if I’d known how quick and easy it is to make I never would have bought it.

                                      2)  I whipped up a batch of biscuits, and froze the rest of the dough.

                                      Another minimum-effort-maximum-gain task. The Cheap and Easy Biscuit recipe from Rhonda’s book.
                                       

                                      One of my favourite, versatile biscuit recipes (cookies for my American friends) is the one from the Down To Earth book.  It makes eight dozen bite-size biscuits that I can top with anything.  I baked two dozen assorted ones right after mixing (sultanas, choc chips, jam drops, and plain).  The rest of the dough is frozen in logs, waiting for their turn.

                                      Three more logs of cookie dough, rolled in baking paper and cling-wrapped. I pop them in a freezer bag with a small piece of paper where I write the date and baking instructions. I can pull them out anytime within the next three months, and biscuits will be ready in less than 15 minutes. The Rubik’s cube keeps the toddler occupied.

                                      3)  I activated a $1 sim and got 12GB of data to use in 30 days.

                                      This has got to be my internet bargain of the century.  Kogan mobile is a relatively new entrant so I would suppose the offer is really just to entice people to try their service.  Our internet access is a precious commodity (we have no telephone lines here and no NBN.  We rely on mobile internet, which is really quite surprising given that we live in the suburbs a stone’s throw away from one of the biggest shopping centres in Melbourne).

                                      4)  I started knitting a woollen trivet while waiting for my daughter at dance class.

                                      Sorting my wool stash. I am using the green wool near the bottom right corner, doubled up with its beige sibling, to knit a woollen trivet/heat pad/Lily pad.

                                      Our Ikea cork heat pads are on their last legs, so I figured I had to make plans to replace them. I had been decluttering and sorting my yarn stash so I knew I had some 10-ply wool to use up. Yay for hitting two birds with one stone. I am doubling up the discontinued Harvest (Bendigo Woollen Mills) in Calico and Laurel, so it should be a very quick knit.

                                      5)  I am borrowing audiobooks from the library, and downloading free ebooks from Amazon Australia.

                                      Being a self-confessed book addict, I find it very hard to restrain myself from buying books.  I have, however, been trying to minimise clutter and increase our mortgage payments even further, so it just has to be done.  I must say I am enjoying the audiobooks though.

                                      I wonder, what have you been up to lately?

                                      Easy Peasy Ham & Cheese Rolls

                                      It’s back to school week here and mornings are a mad scramble to get things done again.  I baked these easy bread rolls yesterday, and they were such a hit I had to make another batch.  There just wasn’t anything left from the first batch for today’s lunchbox.

                                      This recipe is just an adaptation of the basic soft dough I use for American-style dinner rolls or any filled breads that don’t need to be shaped.  Unfortunately, I have been using it for so long that I have forgotten where it came from.  These rolls remind us of the Bacon and Cheese Rolls we used to buy from the shops, back when we still bought bread.  

                                      The dough is very sticky so I would really suggest using a breadmaker or food mixer for kneading.  I used a breadmaker, and I am not ashamed to say that the machine has truly earned its keep.  It has allowed me to make fresh bread for my family every day, regardless of how busy I am.

                                      Just like the ones my daughter loved to buy from Woolworths, at $4.50 for a 6-pack.


                                      Easy Peasy Ham and Cheese Rolls

                                      Makes 12 hearty bread rolls, enough to feed a hungry horde.


                                      Dough

                                      7 grams instant dry yeast

                                      520 grams baker’s flour (or replace 100 grams with wholemeal flour for a denser, heartier roll)

                                      10 grams salt

                                      45 grams sugar

                                      350 grams water

                                      20 grams olive oil (or any flavourless oil such as canola or vegetable)

                                      60 grams butter (or replace 20 grams with olive oil)


                                      Topping

                                      60 grams Tasty cheese, grated

                                      40 grams sliced honey ham, diced

                                      I used these because they were what I had on hand. We could buy everything in the photo (less than $9 total) with the money we saved, making our own rolls instead of buying them. Best of all, the bread is freshly baked with no added preservatives.
                                       

                                      1. Put all the dough ingredients in the pan according to the order suggested by your breadmaker.  Set the machine to run on the dough setting.
                                      2. Lightly grease and line a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ rectangular pan.  You may use any pan you have (e.g., a round Pyrex pie plate, or two 8″ x 8″ square pans.  Just ensure the sides are at least 1.5″ high, as the dough does not hold its shape as it rises and the high sides will keep it from spreading out.
                                      3. When the kneading has finished, allow the dough to rise in the pan for about an hour or so until it doubles.
                                      4. Tear out and roughly shape the dough into 12 equal rounds.  Space them evenly on the prepared pan.  Alternatively, take two large serving spoons and spoon the dough out into 12 rough circles.
                                      5. Leave the dough to proof for about 30 minutes, or until the rounds have squeezed into each other and filled the whole pan.
                                      6. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (conventional, not fan-forced).
                                      7. Spread the topping evenly on top of the dough.
                                      8. Bake 20-25 minutes.  The bread should be firm and the cheese should bubble and melt, and turn golden in some parts.
                                      9. Remove immediately from pan and cool on racks.  You can portion and freeze them once they have cooled. 
                                      10. To thaw, simply move to the fridge the night before.  Consume within a month for best results.
                                          The ham and cheese rolls, topped and ready to go in the oven. This is the healthier part-wholemeal version, with olive oil replacing part of the butter.

                                          The bread itself is quite versatile, and you can top it with whatever you fancy.  You can also bake them as plain rolls, just brush the tops with a bit of milk before baking.  I have also added poppy seeds and sesame seeds.

                                          I hope you try it and let me know what you think.


                                          Disclaimer:  I did not get paid by ALDI, nor was I given any of their items to review.  They do not even know I exist.  My children just happen to like their cheese and ham.

                                          Five Frugal Things

                                          Over at Kristen’s, she talked about her usual Five Frugal Things.  As I had my second cuppa of the day, I began my own list and here is what I came up with.

                                          1)  I made bread.

                                          It was a bit overcast (no free solar power for us) so I decided to let the breadmaker do all the work.  My trusty old Panasonic makes an okay loaf — the best I have found among the handful of breadmakers I have had.

                                          2)  I sliced/diced/grated cheese from a block.

                                          Now I know this sounds strange to some, but I used to baulk at the thought of preparing cheese myself.  I would buy them cubed, shredded, sliced… but never in blocks.  Luckily I have overcome my laziness (at least for that part of my life) and now only stock up on blocks of cheese.  It is, after all, the same cheese for a fraction of the cost.  And a little elbow grease would certainly not hurt me.

                                          3)  I saved a plum pit to propagate.


                                          Mr Meagre has been bringing home some excellent black plums so I have been saving the pits from the children’s fruit for future rootstock.  I usually keep them in pots on the kitchen windowsill until they sprout, on the heatmat in the winter, or directly into pots outside in the spring/summer. 

                                          4)  I refilled the foaming hand soap bottles.

                                          I think I learned this trick from Wendy.  One part regular hand soap to four parts tap water equals a frugal version of the foaming hand wash refill.  The change is not noticeable apart from the less overpowering scent, and there is one less working dispenser bottle thrown into recycling.  I keep an empty hand soap refill bottle under the sink to mix them well without shaking. 

                                          5)  I made a shopping list.

                                          Here at the Meagre house we try to do a monthly shop, and weekly top ups are only for milk and fresh produce.  Occasionally, I would see something we need on half price special at a certain shop so I check the catalogues for any other items on our shopping list for this month or the next.  This week, the big bags of Australian grown rice are on half price so I will be getting that along with some other things like sugar and pasta.  That part of the pantry should be set for a month or two.

                                          What have you done today (consciously or unconsciously) that saves you money or time?