Sunday, February 21, 2010

chapter 2: the great escape

Chapter 2: 'The Great Escape'.

Reaching the depths of economic despair, Joe and I pulled ourselves together and stopped thinking depressing thoughts like 'we'll never afford to live in our own home let alone rent anywhere vaguely gentrified ever again'. No damn it, we would rise above these bleak and socially elitist thoughts and finally learn how to budget even on one income. After a few unsuccessful budgeting attempts we came to the realisation that we had to budget day by day.

Our basic formual was this: Our total monthly pay - rent - $150 grocery/week - bills - $200 safety net - other regular expenses = $ left over for the month - $1000 savings divided by the number of days til next pay day = our daily allowance.

The daily allowance usually came to something like $25/ day, we spent this on things such as petrol, dvds, beers, extra groceries, and so on. Each day we would write on our weekly budget sheet how much we had spent to keep track of our expenses. It wasn't easy but once we got the hang of it we were saving $1000 a month.

Along with this budgeting there were some other major changes we made to our habits that helped us to save, or more importantly, to not spend. We started shopping at Aldis, which we had not fully embraced until this stage for fear that our child would not sleep well at night in an aldi's brand nappy, or that because we were such coffee loving gurus we couldn't possibly diverge from buying our weekly $18 Lavazza coffee fix.

If Aldis had a fanclub we would be the first to join. Aldis brought our family closer together, our weekly Aldis adventures are a far cry from our virgin voyage into a bagless Aldis experience. For those of you who have never experienced Aldis, take a deep breath, be brave and try to look beyond the quasi-communist, pack-your-own-trolley-or-die, gladiatorial, incongruent post-modernist weekly specials and just try one of the myriad of brands that you have never heard of before (but sound alot like those that you know and trust). If you are a first timer try their chocolate, corn chips or milk and for the more adventurous shoppers don't go past the haloumi cheese, kalamata olives or a loaf of the sliced light rye bread. Once you are a seasoned shopper you won't think twice about buying practically any product sold at Aldis and save yourself hundreds in the process. Our top Aldis buys include nappies for $15 (all sizes work perfectly well), ground 'Brazilian' coffee for $8 and pasta for 59c. Just get to your nearest Aldis and have a go, you will easily fill your weekly shopping trolley for under $200.

Starting a veggie garden
Back at home, one day Joe decided he was going to grow a vegetable garden. He had grand notions of self-sustainability within 3 sqm. We built 2 vege boxes about 2 m long by 70cm wide by 50cm deep, we even built them on concrete. First we layed newspaper, followed by a thick layer of sugar-cane mulch, a sprinkling of fertiliser and a top layer of soil. Our first crop included, shallots, lettuce, garlic, spinach, carrots and onions. Surprisingly they all did quite well which prompted us to grow some tomatoes, peas, potatoes and chillis. Despite a few initial setbacks involving possums (which was overcome with bird netting) our little vege garden provided us with enough lettuce and shallots to make it worth its while. Shallots in particular are fantastic and will last years as they keep growing back again and again.

One day we noticed our 86 year old, next door neighbour peeking over the fence at our vege garden. I asked David "Do you like our vege garden?" catching him by surprise. "I like it so much I'm going to make one myself", and the very next day David embarked on the Taj Mahal of vege gardens, that put our humble boxes to vegetable shame. He boastfully wofted giant Bak Choys over the fence and gifted us with 1 and half foot cucumbers, bragging about his endless glut of tomatoes and the size of his lettuce. David had done his research, he wasn't one to do things by halves. Up until this point David and Nancy, the elderly couple next door had been highly suspicious of us, which is not uncommon amoungst neighbours in Umina. Using a potion of horse manure and comfrey 'tea' his vegetables left ours for dead. Despite the rivalry, the vege gardens opened the doors to a fruitful friendship and many shared green thumb tips from both David and his lovely wife Nancy.

Starting a vegetable garden was one of the best and most satisfying things we have ever done. David's enthusiasm for gardening was infectious, he generously gave us a 'Diggers' gardening club membership and book which is one of the largest retailers of heirloom fruit and vegetables in Australia. Like David, we caught the gardening bug! It has now become an essential component to the way we live.

In Chapter three we will chat about the lessons we learnt on buying a house and raising our two children.

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