Frequently I apply the hashtag #frugalandfabulous to my Instagram posts. The reality of our bank balance-income-budget means our lifestyle needs to be economically viable and futureproof… but fabulous at the same time.
“There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.” ~ Calvin Coolidge
Ideas simmered then last month bubbled over into notes for a blog post while I was reading Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland’s book The Art of Frugal Hedonism [TAoFH] published at the beginning of 2017, the same people who authored The Weed Forager’s Handbook. Since then, fuel and food prices have escalated making frugality as necessary as gumboots, and believe me with the amount of rain we’re having we need to wear gumboots.
It took me five years to get around to reading TAoFH. I don’t buy a lot of books. Testimony to my frugal tendencies. But recently I got hold of a freebie copy. The other reason: I didn’t think it would tell me much I wasn’t already across. I was wrong. Sort of. TAoFH is littered with frugal history and trivia. Of which I have zero interest in. That said, we’re all at different places in our journeys so TAoFH is worthy of spending the time reading; honouring the authors’ good intentions even if not inspired to go so far as to emulate their particular lifestyle and circumstances. I did encounter new ideas, some of them useful, others not so much… “Other practitioners prescribe an exercise with a raisin, where you focus on every detail of its appearance, texture and smell for two minutes, then spend another two minutes eating it. Your authors personally prefer a cumquat. There really is a lot going on with a cumquat.” Sigh. But yes, the wisdom of TAoFH is delivered with gentle humour. ~ daleleelife101 review of The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More
To me, the authors seem to be the kind of people I think of as young urban downshifters. We have downshifter in common but it’s been a while since I was city dweller and longer since I was young. Our version of #frugalandfabulous is middle-aged couple of modest means, residing in a rural village 30 km from nearest shops and who, given rising cost of living pressures more than ever need to watch their pennies.
All day happy hour… Our go-to tipples come cheaper than a night out at the pub. At the end of the day, we like to adjourn to the verandah with a cool beverage: the G.O. a beer and me a spritzer, and later accompanying dinner a glass of homemade carbonated rainwater alongside a glass of red or white wine. In both instances dilution serves to moderate cost and alcohol consumption. For occasional special drinks we have a bottle of ginger beer cordial mixer which with carbonated rainwater, dark rum and an optional squeeze/slice of lime makes a nice Dark and Stormy, and I buy small glass bottles of Coca Cola in 4-packs on sale for when the G.O. feels like indulging his Scottish ancestry with a wee dram of whiskey.
Or hipster café… In lieu of café culture and almond milk flat whites we have a beloved 12 or so year old coffee machine, and buy kilos of coffee beans in 5 bag lots for our non-negotiable morning beverage. During the day it’s black or homegrown herbal tea and rainwater from the tap, or water kefir I make using homegrown ginger root and lemons.
Vanity get thee behind me… I bought a mascara recently. The first in 6 years. Because I was attending OzGREEN training sessions where professional photographers were taking promo shots. I haven’t paid for a hair cut in the same time. I do it myself or the G.O. does. Despite my tabby-hued mop I eschew hair colour, and my modest stash of nail polish and cosmetics are still serviceable for the odd occasion. Nor do I use commercial shampoo and conditioner… it disagrees with my scalp psoriasis. I’ve tried many treatments including No Poo but homemade cleanser from Jade Miles book Futuresteading is the best alternative I’ve found. My main concessions are moisturiser, lip balm, and a few fragrant essential oils in lieu of French perfume. Personal choices that have saved me thousands of dollars over the years and taught me something about myself… I’d rather splurge on books or plants.
Fashion cents… Never mind worrying about being seen in the same outfit twice, or one which someone else is wearing. When I’m out and about you’ll see me rocking top-jeans-jacket someone donated to the op shop last month or last decade, bought for a fraction of the retail price they paid. Or my own favourite items of apparel and footwear which pre-date Gen-Z. At home, my attire is whatever is too scruffy for public but mendable and too good for the rag bag that provides us with reusable cleaning cloths and helps us use minimal paper towel.
Get off the gift horse… We give gifts when and where the fancy strikes us with the person in mind rather than the occasion. Sometimes a jar of something I’ve made, plants, flowers, saved seeds from the garden, a book we’ve enjoyed or an item we’ve found useful. Frugality is the perfect opportunity to opt out of gifts on demand… we no longer buy obligatory gifts for Hallmark holidays.
We’re no fuel fools… When we drive the 60 km roundtrip trip to town, or 160 km further afield to the closest metropolis of Coffs Harbour, we bundle our errands to make it worth the fuel spend. Mostly we take the G.O.’s 11-year-old 4WD to which shortly after purchase he fitted fuel saving technology; it’s cheaper to run than my 25-year-old BMW. By the time we’ve ticked off task number five we’re over being out and about, and keen to head home rather than retail therapy or an expensive long lunch.
Love what you do what you love… For me it’s spending time employing
food alchemy kitchen witchery to make something out of what’s at hand in the garden, fridge-freezer, pantry or a neighbour has shared with us. My food processor and slow cooker are my best culinary friends. I make things I think are better value or quality for being homemade. Off the top of my head, on repeat are yoghurt & labneh, butter-olive oil spread, sourdough bread-focaccia-pancakes, muesli, pesto, hummus, green goddess dressing, tomato & sweet chilli jam, tomato relish, tomato onion & butter sauce, pickles, preserved lemons, marmalade, vanilla essence, chai, flavoured salts, spice rubs, dehydrated mushrooms and culinary or tea herbs, Worcestershire-style and other sauces/condiments/dressings inspired by recipes I encounter or ingredients which need using, marinades, mustard, kimchi, soups, stews, stock, roasts, baked beans, lasagne, most of the meals we consume, biscuits-cakes-desserts on occasion, as well as cleaning and personal care products.
Not for sale… Over the years I’ve fielded requests to sell some of my homemade culinary repertoire but for me the reasons why not are many. There’s little financial incentive: small scale costs outweigh fair remuneration; on occasion such things are nice gifts; and the real value is not in doing for someone else but inspiring and teaching and all too often once you turn an enjoyable activity into a job or business the love is lost and so is your valuable ability to choose what to do with your time and energy including make such things for yourself.
Don’t ask what’s for dinner… Out here in the hills our village isn’t graced with noteworthy takeaway-home delivery-dining out options i.e., there’s only the pub. I’ve become versed in the craft of creative ways with ad hoc ingredients and leftovers. More often than not I make enough food so there are 2, 3, or 4 or more dinners-lunches-freezer meals. We call our freezer stash “Taylors Arm Takeaway”. You may ask: How many ways can you cook green beans?
Thank you but no… A lesson I learned during the early days of our treechange is sometimes it’s prudent to decline. Because much as I love my kitchen, back then I happily accepted well-meant donations from friends-family-neighbours of any and all amounts of excess produce: giant cucumbers and zucchini; hard pumpkins; soft fruit; soft pumpkins. Way beyond practicality, I expended
hours days of my time, and stores of vinegar, sugar, flour, herbs and spices turning them into something edible or storable.
Food mantra… Ours is quality-value-no waste: pasture raised, free range, local, organic, homegrown, favourite, affordable, practical. Buy the best you can, enjoy it the most you can, make it go the furthest you can. I attempt to set world records for food storage using recycled jars, beeswax wraps, reusable plastic containers, tea towels and handy tips garnered from savvy savers. Best before dates are guidelines. If all else fails chooks-compost bin-worm farm are worthy scrap recyclers.
Garden therapy… Throughout my city life I bought bunches of flowers or potted plants [condemning them to short sad lives on our dining room table or dusty balcony] for our apartment most weeks. Calculating $20 per purchase, that’s $1000-ish per year. These days I spend similar but get better value because like spending time in the kitchen, the garden is both pleasure and practical. I buy seeds, plants I can seed save from or propagate, vegetable and flower seedlings because sometimes I’m late sowing seeds for the next season or the seedlings have perished due to pests and/or weather. It’s cheaper to buy flowering plants than bouquets. A bare rooted rose costs $20-25 and affords priceless joy in picking fragrant blooms to bring inside. Stating the obvious… but nevertheless, I buy good quality potting mix because I grow some plants in pots and homemade compost isn’t conducive to drainage, and recycle old healthy potting soil into the compost bin. Seed saving, propagating, no-dig garden beds, wicking beds made from recycled materials, turning food scraps and garden clippings into compost/organic matter reduces the amount of inputs we buy.
Tend and mend… When we buy a thing we want it to last and we’re prepared to do our bit by properly maintaining it. We don’t replace items unless they’re worn out or no longer efficiently serve their purpose. If it’s broken, we have a go at fixing it. The G.O. in particular saves us a fortune because he’s handy at fixing-adapting-building. Not for us a new kitchen or bathroom. We refurbished them… they’ll do. Too much new would make our prevailing old style decor look shabby; from there it would be a slippery slope to a full and expensive renovation. Even if it’s not exactly what we’d choose but is in good enough working order we live with it rather than replace. Case in point, our home’s flooring and window treatments which although old-timey function as insulation during hot or cold weather.
The shed shop… When -after 10 years- we moved from our small fully furnished Sydney apartment to our fully furnished house here in the village we ended up with numerous duplicated items. What we knew we’d never use, we gave away. The rest we sorted and stored in big plastic tubs on shelves in the shed which we call “the shop”: a handy repository for spare items and our first stop when something in the house wears out.
Bargain hunting… Comes after wait and see. Often, we discuss buying something, decide we don’t really need it right away, or wait for a better deal. When we do need to make a purchase, we phone around locally and compare prices… sometimes our nearest small town is a bit more expensive and the next larger town cheaper but not enough to warrant driving the distance. At other times both options or lack thereof warrant Googling along the lines of “wigwam best price Australia”. Similarly, we keep tabs on our electricity/gas/phone/internet plans/insurance and shop around for the best deal.
Power play… We’ve always been happy with our low electricity bills. We don’t think we do anything special but there’s no clothes dryer or dishwasher, we prefer to run ceiling fans but our air conditioner is set to 25-27 degrees Celsius the most efficient summer setting, we chose gas cooking to better manage power outages, and a combustion wood heater which burns windfall firewood warms the house in winter. It meant although we’d looked into rooftop solar panels we couldn’t justify an upfront outlay, and were sceptical of the proliferation of door-to-door salesmen. When I saw an advertisement for NSW Government Solar for Low Income Households offer, we applied. In exchange for our Low Income Household Rebate for 10 years, we got a “free” 3-kilowatt solar system installed by a reputable local company. It worked out better than we imagined, as our meter board needed to be upgraded and the government kicked in almost two thirds of the cost of that as well. It’s cut our electricity bill by at least a third: much more than the rebate amount.
Shipping news… We can’t imagine living rurally without the convenience of online shopping. Especially items we can’t source locally and bulk buy products. Delivery saves using our own time and fuel. However, it doesn’t mean we’re not careful about shipping-delivery costs. Without going overboard if we have to spend over $X to get free delivery we’ll double up on an item or find something else we’ll use so we exceed the order total that entitles us to free shipping.
Cheap entertainment… Our broadband plan affords us much amusement via the internet: blogging-social-media-news-music-tv-movies-books-apps-games. Who isn’t doing Wordle? I know, subscriptions add up but we get value from ours. We share Spotify Premium for on-demand music but no longer buy CDs, and Amazon Prime offering free shipping, limited Kindle books and video streaming. If there’s something we really want to watch, after exhausting their free trials we’ll subscribe to Paramount/Binge/Netflix/Stan for a month. For digital books [after exhausting their free trials also] from time-to-time we share Scribd or Kindle Unlimited (never both).
Freebies… TV streaming via Kanopy (free with library membership), Mubi (free with Scribd), ABC iview and SBS On Demand, and we apply Telstra Plus points earned via our home phone/internet/mobile plans to rent Telstra TV Box Office movies. I hardly ever read magazines and never buy them. They’re expensive for what you get and I’d rather spend it on a book but I have a long affection for Country Style and read it via Libby (free with Library membership). No gym membership: just gardening, housework, house and yard maintenance, dog exercise and walking on the beach or wherever and whenever we can.
Something for nothing… Our credit card doesn’t earn us reward points but we don’t pay an annual fee, get up to 6 weeks interest free, and pay it in full each month to avoid interest charges. A certain amount of grocery shopping from local supermarkets is one of the practicalities we’ve had to accept among the retail offerings within reasonable driving distance, so we joined a rewards program and opted to convert the points earned to frequent flyer points which can be used for purchases or -one day- flights. And by shopping monthly we can order enough to get free home delivery.
Fight for your rights… When we spend hard-earned money on something that breaks or isn’t fit for purpose, we return it. Online, I purchase via PayPal for the safety net of their Refunds and Returns, which I’ve used several times to obtain refunds on faulty-misrepresented-missing goods. Ditto Amazon Australia and eBay. It’s not about the money, it’s the principle. Okay it’s the money too: it’s worth understanding consumer rights.
The upshot… Reinforced by reading TAoFH; it’s apparent to me our frugal isn’t about hedonism. It’s always been about fabulous, hence the hashtag. We’re constrained by common sense but it’s not what defines our spending. After relocating from city living to downshifter rural village lifestyle sans our city jobs and incomes, it makes no sense to spend unwisely and have to find jobs in a rural employment market to pay for things we don’t really need and can’t really afford, leaving us no time to live the life we love. What defines our spending is the underpinning question we ask ourselves… Will we get value out of exchanging our precious [and limited] funds for this thing?
Free time… #frugalandfabulous keeps us busy and these days more than money, we value our ability to choose what we do with our time. Thank you for spending a few minutes of yours with me. Writing this post was a labour of love over many frequently rainy afternoons, an exercise that made me realise how far we’ve come following our natural inclinations: love of old and second hand, ability and passion for reusing, recycling, upcycling, foraging, trading, salvaging, repairing, building, making, mending, growing, cookery, as well as patience, persistence and pragmatism.
There’s more… And all different kinds of wisdom on frugal-sustainable living topics; notably Down to Earth and The Simple Home books by Rhonda Hetzel. Despite the expansiveness of this communiqué I’m not planning to write one. For me the most important thing is honouring the process of learned life experience and recognising all the permaculture principles at play because frugal isn’t simply about finances it’s at the heart of living lightly upon the earth.
“By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.” ~ Maria Magor
I’d love to read your comments, suggestions, ideas, tips and inspiration.