Questions from the paying off your house posts – food, savings and utilities

I promised I’d address some questions I had from the paying off your bond posts.

From MamaCat

What about ensuring you have available cash already saved? For emergency situations?

The way we do it is to have a set amount that you automate to go into normal savings, in addition to the increased amount to pay off your house quicker.

The trick with savings is to do it first. For me, it’s the second thing I pay – first, my tithe and then my savings. I tried for a month or two in 1998 when I got serious about money to see what was left at the end of the month, and that just never worked.

The best is to decide which amount you want to save and move it out of your main bank account immediately – you will somehow make the rest of the money work if that’s all you see.

Your savings will then be used for true emergencies (not “we need new furniture”, but insurance excesses and such) and infrequent expenses, like TV licences, car services and so on.

The financial gurus recommend that you save at least 10% of your income; my aim is much higher 🙂

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From Jacqui

How do you handle the ever escalating food/petrol/utilities prices? I feel I need my annual increase to fund all these unavoidable increases in daily expenses.

I feel your pain. Really I do.

Electricity – we had “open” electricity at the old house which I do not recommend. At the new house we have a prepaid meter and we’ve not spent more than R1000 per month. At the other house our bill was in excess of R5500 for rates, water, electricity, sewerage and refuse removal.

Water – I almost don’t want to speak about this because it is my current cause. I’ve already investigated prepaid water meters and will be installing one of those soon. I’m afraid I’m suspicious of the metering system because I can’t see how it can be accurate….

Food – I feel like a broken record but the more I am intentional and menu plan, and then shop accordingly, we actually are okay. Cook two meals at a time and put one in the freezer. If you have leftovers, don’t throw them out. Put them in the freezer. Some nights I take out 3 – 4 different things, lay them out on the counter and it’s a buffet for everyone to help themselves 🙂

Things that throw out the budget are all the junk food and convenience food. If you need to buy a box of something, then choose whatever is on special that week. I haven’t bought boxed fish for months because it’s just too expensive. So chicken it is.

The very obvious one is also if you shop for food at the W store, you’re going to blow your budget immediately. I would much rather put that extra money in my bond…

Also, write the date you start using an item on the container in permanent marker. It’s psychological…. when I forget, we fly through margerine, butter, etc. but when I write the date, somehow it lasts for the full 3 weeks…. Do the same with cleaning agents so you know how long things last.

I also don’t believe in stockpiling. When I stockpile, I’m poorer, and that’s a fact. I buy what we need for the month because the shops are just down the road if you need something and also, you could just make do 🙂

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Weigh-Less has been a big help here too because I’m aware of what actual portion sizes should be. It’s a strange thing; because produce is so expensive, I’m very aware that we have to eat all the apples/ oranges, etc. because I don’t want to waste a bag that cost R25 – R35.

If we’re not going to get through things, I toss them into the freezer (broccoli, etc.) or cook up the fruit (granted, only apples!) so they don’t go to waste. In winter, I make soups.

Evaluate what portion sizes actually cost. My kids liked a particular brand of muesli but a 500g box cost about R40 and they’d finish it in two days. Not okay. So now they can get that once a month but the rest of the month, they eat more economical cereals like oats, Weetbix, or they have toast.

Petrol – there’s nothing much you can do except to drive properly so you don’t use up too much petrol, take your car to be serviced and don’t speed. Other than that, I always tell myself, at least I don’t live in Ireland (which has been the most expensive petrol I ever saw – R22 per L in 2009…). Funny story, when I saw the price of their petrol, I vowed there and then to never moan about the price of petrol ever again, and I don’t.

If you travel for work, explore whether Uber might be cheaper for you. I have many Pretoria clients and about a year ago, I took an hour to do some homework. I found that in all those cases, it’s cheaper to Gautrain + Uber rather than drive my car, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year.

Hope this helped, ladies.

Readers, please share your tips in the comments below.

PS If you’d like a fresh eye to look over your situation, send me a mail. We often can’t see things objectively because we’re too close to the action; I’m happy to help. And it’s my passion 🙂

What kind of food planning do you need?

I figured something out ages ago.

When life feels too busy, the one way I can restore some order quickly is to menu plan.

I’ve been menu planning about 9 years now and it’s the best! It saves time because you’re not thinking about what to cook every night, and money because you buy exactly what you need.

Grocery prices in South Africa (and I’m sure over the world too) have skyrocketed, so if you can save money, that’s always a bonus.

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I usually only plan menus a week at a time, but I really want to get all the “old food” cooked and eaten, so this weekend past, I menu planned for two weeks.

My menu planner hangs on the side of our microwave, and is one I get from CNA. I buy whichever ones are in stock at the time, but I really love the current one I’m using because it has notes down the right, so I can note down which meals are in the freezer, or which I have to cook from scratch. I also use that section to plan my lunches for the week.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – as long as you have your 5 meals “ready” on the list, you can mix them up. If you don’t feel like pasta but it’s on the plan for Monday, do the meal for Wednesday instead.

Menu planning helps you use up food too and I can tell you my kids are so glad the broccoli is all used up now because we had that twice this week 😉

IMG_0930 Do you menu plan?

If yes, do you plan weekly, two weeks at a time or a month at a time?

If no, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you give it a bash, just for a week?

PS Friday evening/ Saturday morning is when I menu plan for the following week because Dion goes shopping on Saturdays. I have strict rules for myself – we never just “pop” out to the shops; we make do if we don’t have what we wanted. As I always say, no-one’s going hungry; it’s just that your first preference might not be available 😉

Inspiring spaces #14 – MINE!

Today’s the last day to register for the virtual Spring into Organising workshop. The handbook is done and I can’t wait to share all this information with you. We already have people registered from Australia, the US and South Africa. Are you next?

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Since I started using Pinterest, I’ve been a huge, huge fan.

Mainly because I used it to store and organise my bookmarks.

Now that that’s done, I’ve been using it like a second Google.

I have a love for washi tape (that’s a story for another post) and recently I went into Pinterest and typed “washi tape” and tens of lovely pictures popped up on my screen.

Too lovely.

Anyway, the point is I search for things I know I want to find, and sometimes I also find other things I didn’t know I wanted.

Like handmade liquid soap.

When I clicked over and read the post, I thought, “no way, it can’t be this easy” but duly put glycerine on the shopping list so I could try it this weekend.

It is EASY as pie, people.

1 cup grated soap flakes (5 minutes – and I didn’t even use a whole bar of soap)
10 cups of water (2.5 L)
1 Tablespoon glycerine

(you can add essential oils if you want to play with fragrances)

That’s it.

Combine all in a pot, heat til the soap has dissolved and let it cool completely.
It will look like it’s not going to set (mine looked like milky water for the longest time) but my best advice is to forget about it. I left it overnight and when I checked it on Sunday morning, LIQUID SOAP!

Use a funnel to pour into bottles and enjoy.

Over 2 L of liquid soap for about R7 (one bar of soap cost me R10 and I used about 70%)

I chose a neutral, non-girly fragrance so that if it worked we could use it as shower gel too.

Next up, I’m going to use baby soap and make some baby foam bath – I can’t WAIT – I’m on a soap-making high 🙂

Here’s my Pinterest link if you want to see what tickles my fancy.

As an aside, a few weekends ago I went to do a load of laundry and after I screamed in frustration because the nanny hadn’t put fabric softener on the list, I went to my friend Google (the real one) to look for alternate solutions.

(I really needed to do some laundry and I hate getting behind)

I found lots of links that said a quarter cup of white vinegar would do the trick.

Well, friends, I’m happy to report that we haven’t used “real” fabric softener since then but I have been through about 2 bottles of white vinegar 🙂

There is absolutely no vinegar smell – the clothes just come out smelling clean.

Do any of you have some tried and tested homemade recipes for cleaning solutions? Please share links and so on in the comments and let’s all save some money.

Let’s talk about money

I hate to say this but it’s true.

I’ve been using money not very intentionally but I’m happy to say I’ve turned a corner…

Bond

I was paying x on my bond and when interest rates dropped I forgot to do what I normally do in these cases which is pay in the difference every month anyway.

Well, I fixed that a couple of months ago.

Interest rates have continued to drop so I’m still paying in the difference into our bond account.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing all those “extra payment” entries on our statement.

Am I the only one who gets excited by debt reduction?

Credit Card

We get HUGE cash back every month (on average R1500) simply by using our credit card at partner stores, like Pick and Pay for groceries and ToysRUs for nappies and other baby-related purchases. Places we were shopping at anyway.

Again, we used to fritter away our cash back which is literally like a credit on your credit card, and the money seemed to just disappear.

Odd, that.

But again, since October, I’ve been adding that cashback to my trusty little spreadsheet as “extra money” coming in. So that I’m forced to budget it.

The weird thing?

We seem to have more money even though we’re not even using that extra money.

It’s the power of intention – it makes you more aware and I think, makes you wealthier.

I know it’s been said that if you respect money, it will respect you. Suze Orman?

On a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being terrible, how good are you at managing your money?

I’d say I was an 8.

Save money. Make your own baby food

My babies will be 9 months old tomorrow (gosh! where has the time gone?) and have still not had a drop of Purity (our local jarred baby food, for the non-South Africans) pass their lips.

I will admit – I nearly, nearly cracked this weekend when we had two SPECTACULAR power failures, but I didn’t.

Still, there was NO WAY I was going to be spending R6 per baby for a jar of baby food, 2 – 3 times a day.

After all, I have twins (my new excuse for being cheap :))

So I decided to try my hand at making my own.

It’s a lot easier than you think especially if you cook them in batches instead of cooking daily.

We bought a butternut squash for R12,78 (let’s not forget the 78c ;)) and it made all these portions.

6 portions for Connor and 6 for Kendra.

That’s at least 9 jars of baby food = R54

Saving = R41

You can save even more money when you use cheaper vegetables like sweet potato.

Another way I like to save money on our food is this – every month there is one week (happens to be this week) where I cook from the freezer and pantry.

I’m forced to get creative using strange combinations of whatever cans and bits of frozen food I have, all to empty it out.

Sometimes these strange combinations work really well, like a potato bake I now regularly make with a can of sweet corn stirred in.

How do you save money on food?

Cheap nappy/ diaper disposal

We go through around 12 – 14 nappies a day and I’m proud to say I still have not bought or used ONE fancy nappy disposal bag.

Why?

I use bread bags. And apple bags. And bags from the CD and DVD stores.

They work beautifully and they’re free.

When you’re spending thousands on nappies, bum creme and baby wipes every month for your babies, you save where you can!

What do you do to save money that others may find unconventional?

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P.S. I don’t see us running out anytime soon. Either I hoarded quite a bit before the babies were born or we eat lots of bread and rolls. Or both 🙂

Save money on your groceries by menu planning

pic from the Household Organising File

(part of the Organise your Home ecourse) 

 

Do you menu plan?

Menu planning is probably the one thing I do that saves me the MOST time every single week.

It’s also going to save you mo.ney when you start using up all the food in the freezer and in the back of the cupboards. Oh, and not doing so much impulse shopping.

Note – you should do your menu planning BEFORE you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping 😉

Here are the five steps I use:

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to or want to use, and make a list.

2. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food.

3. Add any items that you need additionally to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping.

4. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.

5. Follow the plan to the letter, or move things around and have Monday’s meal on Wednesday, etc, etc. At least you have the ingredients for all the meals available.

Now you don’t have to rack your brain every night wondering what to cook.

You have a PLAN.

Another tip that will save you lots of time is to cook something on a Sunday afternoon. This meal is not for eating that day, but for freezing.

When you have a busy day it’s easy to just defrost the meal and have a healthy supper on the table in minutes.

We went through a stage where we didn’t buy any meat for two months while we finished everything in the freezer and started on the cupboards.

You see, we all get into a habit of buying the same groceries every week without checking if we really need it.

If you’re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a month and give it a good go. If it REALLY doesn’t work with your personal style 🙂 then so be it.

If you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables for your next shopping trip and eat from your freezer and cupboards.

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