How a family of 4 in Australia lives frugally but has fun
I’ve gone from being homeless to CEO and despite the drastic changes in my life, I choose to live frugally. In the past few years, I have lived through quite a few scenarios which were financially tough, making me appreciate what I have worked for so much more, including:
When I was married my ex-husband lost his job for nearly 12 months and wouldn’t allow me to get a job. We divorced because of domestic violence.
I divorced in 2013 due to domestic violence. We had separated in 2012, the divorce was processed in 2013 but custody took years and was extremely expensive.
Homelessness: we’ve lived in a garage, couchsurfed and had lots of trouble when leaving my now ex husband.
Medical issues: earlier this year I was paralysed for a while and am currently awaiting a medical procedure which should help, but it has meant the past few months we’ve had high medical bills and income has been reduced due to inability to work.
Daughters with extra needs requiring extensive treatment
This has all happened in a matter of a few years. Any one of those things can be financially crippling, let alone multiple events. Thankfully, I have been raised fairly frugally, so frugality is part of my life in general. I love finances, finding ways to make and save money and always ensure to plan for my future including superannuation.
As a single mum, I am teaching my daughters the balance of frugal living and being good with money instead of having a poverty or rich and entitled mindset. Having been homeless and now being well off, I want them to appreciate what we have and realise not everyone has that and we should be grateful. I also want them to live sustainably.
Menu plan – We do this very simply by eating the same meals on a regular basis. It makes shopping a breeze, we are healthier and spending less money. We eat mostly Indian with a lot of vegetables, stirfries and my daughters get involved in helping with the cooking.
For their lunches they eat vegetable sticks, rice crackers, cheese, fruit, slices and things we bake at home loaded with super foods instead of sugary snacks. Added bonus, eating this way we feel fuller for longer, don’t crave so much junk and we have Friday as our special family night and treat day.
I’ve also used discounts in my meal plan such as 40% off EveryPlate and $50 off your first HelloFresh box. Or $90 off HelloFresh with $40 off your first box, $30 off your second and $10 off each of your third and fourth. Marley Spoon offers $100 off, split across your first 4 boxes as $40, $30, $20 then $10. Each of these boxes has been used by me at times and I loved them.
Shop with a list – Since we eat so specifically, our list is pretty much the same each week. Having the list we know exactly what we need, we don’t buy random items and don’t end up with multiples of one item and nothing of another.
Stick to a budget – Set your limit then work within it. Shop around, compare prices, buy in bulk, use shopping points, look for coupons, do what you need to do to stick to your budget.
Eat simply – We eat the same meals on a regular basis. Eating simpler means we aren’t buying a plethora of ingredients for different dishes and then wasting food. It is easy to keep the pantry organised too.
Chickens – We got chickens earlier this year and they have been fantastic for providing eggs, eating food scraps and getting rid of pests in the garden. We haven’t had to mow the lawn since we got them. We don’t need bug spray or worry about spiders anymore, saving a few hundred on pest control alone. I used to spend $7 per dozen free range eggs. Now it is a bit of feed every few months which is significantly less than I was spending on the eggs.
Markets and bartering – Shop at local farmers markets. You get fresher produce and usually cheaper prices as you are taking out the middle man. As well as markets, look into barter arrangements, food co-ops and freecycle in your area. Offer something from your garden or items you no longer need in exchange for produce and food you would like.
Snack or meal swaps – Get together with other mums from school or in your local community, church or family and arrange swaps. For example, say there are 4 families. Each family could cook a different snack for school or a different family meal but cook a bulk batch, enough for the 4 families. Then divide them into 4 and do a swap. This way you all have 4 options of snacks or meals, but only needed to create 1 batch of 1 type. It gives variety with less effort.
Buy in bulk – Look at bulk food warehouses in your area and compare prices. Try bakery suppliers and catering suppliers too. If you can’t store that much food, combine with other people to split the cost.
Plan takeaway – Make some meals which are cheap, quick and easy to make or can be made ahead and frozen instead of getting take away. Have them on hand ready for days you want takeaway instead.
Always be prepared – I try to keep a packet of nuts or snacks in the car or my handbag. This can hold off the munchies if we get held up somewhere and can prevent blowing the budget on takeaway.
I have owned a home which was sold in the divorce and currently we rent. I work from home so half our house is an office and photography studio now and I love the layout. Before converting half the home into workspace it simply felt way too big for the 4 of us.
Go smaller – The smallest home I lived in was 1 bedroom unit when my daughters were very young. I have also lived in 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 2 lounge and 2 dining room homes with just my 2 daughters and I. I prefer the smaller homes. Homes are getting larger and larger which costs more in rent/mortgage, maintenance, insurance and to heat or cool. Reduce the size of the home and you reduce all those expenses.
Make money from it – Rent a room to a boarder, get in an exchange student, look at renting your home on Airbnb, rent it out for movies or TV if possible, rent the space in your driveway to someone who wants to store a boat or caravan. Look at ways to make money from the property.
Gas, electricity and water
Switch off everything when not in use – This includes mobile phone chargers, microwave, washing machine and dryer, everything. If it can sit on standby it is using power ALL day and night.
Block vents when not in use – We recently blocked all the vents except to one lounge and 2 bedrooms. Previously we needed the heat on 25C to feel like the home was being heated. With all the vents blocked off, it heats up those few rooms very quickly plus with it only set to 18C it feels much hotter than when the whole house was being heated to 25C. I suspect this is because it is a very old system and is pumping out the same amount of heat as if it was heating the whole house still, instead of only a few rooms. We have drastically dropped our heating use this way.
Block all gaps – Go through your home to find all drafts and seal them. Put pelmets on the top of block out curtains to stop hot air escaping and put bubble wrap on windows to increase insulation.
Reuse water – Redirect your washing machine water to the lawn. Use water that you soaked clothes in in the washing machine as well. Use water you cook veggies in on the garden or in soup as part of stock. Rethink how you are using water and see ways you can reuse it. Years ago, I had 2 kids and 3 adults living in a house and we used less water than the average 1 person household in Sydney.
We have a fuel efficient car, walk when we can, combine errands so it is one trip instead of five, sometimes we carpool or arrange lifts. We use public transport when needed and especially when traveling. Uber has been brilliant (although it’s not here in Canberra, yet) and in a pinch, I have offered money to friends I know are available but struggling who would give me a lift no problems, but might not be able to afford the petrol. It is cheaper than a taxi and helps them out too. Use the code kyliet591ue and get a free ride if you want to try it.
Look at your options – It might be more economical for you to live without a car than it is to keep it. Maintenance, petrol, insurance and eventual replacement all add up very quickly. It is thousands of dollars a year.
Make money – If you do keep your car you could look at ways to make money such as Uber or if the car is modern, you could do a car wrap which is signing on your car for a company. They pay you to drive around as it is a moving ad for them.
My daughters attend a public school and I have worked extensively with their speech pathologists doing much of the work at home to help them with their learning difficulties.
We buy their school uniforms on sale and buy in the next size up so it lasts a little while. We have also used the school’s second-hand uniform store and looked in op shops. We label everything and my daughters change out of their uniforms as soon as they get home from school.
I budget for school excursions and have at times offered to be the parent helper if I can. Assisting in the school often sees other expenses reduced.
We have Friday Fun Night which my daughters look forward to every week. They get to pick a movie, a treat such as lollies or a chocolate or something and sleep in the lounge room. They love it.
For other entertainment we do things as a family, I look out for free events in our area and check out Groupon for coupons.
Do you really need ALL your clothes? Most of us only wear 20% of our wardrobe. I got a personal stylist, worked out my style and what clothes work for me and what does. I have a basic ‘uniform’ in that there are certain clothes I mix and match for work things. They are versatile enough I can wear them to most things. By having the ‘uniform’ I don’t think too much about what I need to wear plus by knowing what looks good on me I am not sucked into sales or things.
I shop second hand or in sales. I have been to clothing swaps in person and online plus swap with friends and family. Clothing can go around a few members of my family before it finally ends up in the trash or donated if it is still in good condition. It has not been unusual for an item to go through 3 or more of my siblings and I or our kids.
If you cannot afford to replace it, insure it. This is your car, your belongings, your house, check your life insurance etc. Compare policies or get an insurance broker to do it for you.
I don’t have a gym membership. I have a few pieces of equipment and a couple of apps I use instead.
Health insurance is a must in my opinion and this year alone it has saved me a lot as well as gotten me in for treatment faster. Look at what you think you will need and get even the basic cover if you can’t afford much.
Keep fit – Drink water instead of other liquids, aim for a minimum of 2L a day and get to know your body. Rest when you need to and don’t push yourself too hard.
Compare all your banking such as personal accounts, personal loans, credit cards and mortgages to ensure you are getting the best deal. Check your interest rates, monthly fees, bonus features and ensure that the products you have are the ones best suited to your needs. You can compare online, call or go in branch.
- Shop around with every purchase you need to make. Look at how you might be able to do it for free or shop from home first by repurposing something.
- Barter with friends and family or join groups on Facebook and online to swap.
- Create a community. I have needed help from my community at various times in my life and have been more than happy to help where I can. This is sometimes swapping childcare, providing meals or cleaning. Whatever we can do for each other we do.
- Put it out there. Let people know when you need something, it might not be asking them outright if they have the item, but if people know what you are looking for, they might come across it.
For example, I recently needed black out curtains. I asked my sister where she got hers and she told me. Then the next day she messaged me saying someone was offering their old curtains for free if I wanted them. By letting her know what I needed, when the opportunity came up, she knew they’d be perfect for me
- Look for ways to make more money. There are 101 ways to make money from home here.
What tips do you have for saving money and living a frugal lifestyle?
Originally posted September, 2015. I now live in the city but still have a frugal lifestyle.Get Exclusive Ways to Make and Save Money