Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Day of Rest

Sydney's Chinese Friendship Garden
 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28

How well do you rest? How often do you take time to truly rest, to allow your body and mind to regenerate so that you can give every person and task in your life the best of God's gifts to you?

Take time this week to rest. To put away the books, the plans, the schedules. No TV, no ipods, just you in a quite place for 30 minutes.  You may find that when you truly stop for a moment, sleep will come. That's ok, relax. You need it. 

Take 30 minutes this week to rest. True, God-honouring time to be in His presence. Pray He would restore you better than any Spa treatment, therapy session, shopping trip. 

Relax, and let Him hold you. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Starting Out With Savings... Part 5

This is our final post (for now) on our savings system. I wanted to make sure that I didn't give anyone the impression that this system would be easy or foolproof.

Moving to cash is difficult. We have lived a DINK lifestyle (double income, no kids) for two years. We are used to getting what we want when we want it. Not only that, but we drew our own money from our own paychecks. This meant that there was very little accountabilty to each other over what we spent or what we were aiming for. Basically as long as bills were paid, we could each spend whatever we wanted. On what ever we wanted... 

That's not a long-term solution. 

We are already realising the limiting nature that this system will have on our lifestyle. We will have to check if one of us has cash before going out to supper with mates after church. Buying a new album online might not be a spur of the moment purchase... 

The way I see it is this; living this way is freeing. The way we were living, we felt like we were living it up because we could have what ever we wanted. Except, we actually can't achieve our bigger financial goals like buying a house because we haven't saved any money. And if something goes wrong, if one of us looses our job, if our mortgage repayments change, if one of us gets injured or sick, we have a very temporary buffer. Then, we are done. 

By saving, budgeting and managing our money, we might actually have a shot at making our lives easier in a few years. Its short term pain (and really, is waiting a few weeks for new shoes really a pain? If it is, you need a reality check. Sorry, but that's the truth), for long term gain. 

Below of I have listed some sites that make being more thrifty a reality. I hope they are helpful to you.

Finally, a reminder from God's Word:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." so we can confidently say,

   "The Lord is my helper;   I will not fear;what can man do to me?"
~ Hebrews 13:5-6

Helpful Resources
Money Saving Mom - check out her series on paying down 100% of their first home. Lots of other awesome money saving ideas.
Small Notebook - you know how sometimes you read something and go... "hey, that is really sensible. Why didn't I think of that?" This post helped put things in perspective, but there is oodles of interesting and helpful, simple stuff on her site. 
Simple Mom - lots of ways to save, reflect and minimise our impact on the earth.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Starting Out With Savings... Part 4

Over the last few days, I've been focussed on the macro of our budget.

Now I want to look at the micro - my stuff!

I am in charge of groceries, petrol for the car and taking car of any appointments or activities that I want to do.

I now have a system for managing this.

Each week, I have a set amount for 'my stuff'. It looks something like this:

- $100 for groceries and household cleaning etc
- $50 for 'fun' - we can use this to go out for dinner, to see a movie etc.
- $50 for petrol - we both live close to work and only have one car so $50 is enough most weeks to get where we need to go. Any left over grocery money would be diverted here each week.
- $100 for me and $100 for Awesome. This is to pay for phyiso on my back, to buy little bits and pieces that come up each week. If I want something specific, like new shoes, I save what's left each week and go shopping when I have enough.
This is probably the hardest part of this system.

We are a generation of instantaneous gratification.
We love to have stuff.

I think it is entirely healthy to wait. We learn to appreciate what we have. To take care of it. To make do.

I kind of want an ipad. I've been playing with one for weeks. But the reality is it can only do what my computer already does. Except I can do it in the lounge room. Really? We don't have to be slaves to this stuff. If someone wants to give me their number, I don't have to 'bump' their phone. I can write it down. Call them later. On the phone I already own... hmmm anyway, end rant..

Because I am an extremely visual person, I needed something tangible to help me manage the cash. Enter the cash envelope system. I found these online. They are beautiful, and if I had the money for them, I would have bought them right away. I usually do. But I can sew. So, I made my own. I don't want to steal beauty that moves' thunder though, so if you want them, you can go to her etsy shop.

The idea is that you use what is in the envelope. When it runs out... you stop buying.

Pretty simple concept. Let's see how long we go with this!

Are you a cash person, or do you prefer to whip out the card?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cloth Pads

An example from Moon Pads. Google image 'cloth pads' - sounds weird but I think they can be pretty :p
{taking a break from our series on Starting Out With Savings - back tomorrow}

I'm going out on a limb here. Most of the people who read my blog know me in real life. And this is one of those things you would normally blog about from the privacy of an anonymous identity!

I want to talk for a minute about pads. Yep, pads. 

They are pretty gross. They are something we just chuck in the trolley and hope that the checkout chick doesn't call out for a price check. We use them and we throw them out. They are cheap. So what?

Well... they don't really break down. They are similar to disposable nappies in that they become landfill for many, many years. They can cause rashes and irritation, and it was this that lead to me googling for answers one day. 

In 2009 I tripped across this article after suffering from (I'm not going into details) complications of regular plastic pads (by this stage I was buying the expensive cotton covered 'natural' disposable pads - what a load of rubbish...!).  I read more here... and I started to think - maybe she is on to something. So I ordered a set of cloth pads from America. 

This is going to sound weird. There's no other way around it. 

I love them.

No more sticky plastic. No more plastic wrappers shoved into bins or the pocket of my handbag because I'm in a hurry. No more running out in the middle of the night. Awesome is happy that I never have to send him to the shops to buy supplies! 

I have two sets of six, with two liners each. The combinations are endless and I can tailor what I need each day. Right, that's all I'm going to say about that!

I have a soak bucket in the laundry for those few days. Yes, I wear them out of the house. I have a plastic lined pencil case to put the used ones in when I am out and then bring them home to soak. 

Comfortable, free once the initial outlay is made (I paid about $120 for the sets I have - now that I can sew I will make future replacements myself - I bought enough flannel to make 2 new sets the other day - cost me $6. Bargain). My original sets are going strong - they are hardy, and when you think about it, you only use them for a short time each month. 

Look, that's all I'm going to say. I use them. I recommend them. I will answer questions if you have them. If you really like the idea, and I know you in real life, and you want to try it - I will make you some. It will only be a little bit awkward. I promise. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Starting Out With Savings... Part 3

Over the last few days, I have been breaking down our savings problem. Now I'm going to explain how we have started to take control of what we are spending and analyse our habits.

I think that this is an area where we as Christians have to be careful, prayerful and honest. It can get a bit addictive, hoarding away money for a 'rainy day'. That is not helpful. 

It's important to examine your heart and seek God's Word through the scriptures to find the example of wise money management that God sets out for us. 

This includes things like tithing, not letting money rule our hearts, choices or service, being gracious and giving with our money and seeing money as a blessing from God, not a right that we have in life. There are people out there who have done a much better job of writing about this than me, so take time to figure this out yourself. 

Right, so now we knew where the money should be going each week, we needed to have a system for ensuring that the money was in the right places at the right times. 

This is how we are going about this:
  1.  Looking at our credit card statement and figuring out what it is we really used it for. For us it was holidays, the occasional dinner or grocery load that was out of routine, and online purchases of hobby or gift items. 
  2. Examining where else these purchases could have been allocated so that the credit card would not be used. Then we moved those payments. For instance, I had a weekly fruit box that was coming off the credit card. I moved this to our everyday account.
  3. For online purchases, we have now set up debit mastercards.  This means we can still order as though it is a credit card, but the money comes from our own account and we can't overdraw. If its not there, we can't spend it. 
  4. I have changed my every day account to be the one that Awesome uses, so that the billing/direct debiting account is left alone completely. This means that there will be no more savings raiding. The bill money will sit untouched until the bill is directed from the account. This is probably the most important step. When all your money is together in one place, it can be very easy to 'rob Peter to pay Paul' as someone once said. This has to be the first change made. There are lots of products available from banks to help with this. We chose the fee-free internet only accounts available from ING Direct. 
  5. For me, I need to start paying attention to what I'm buying, so each week, Awesome will now withdraw the cash from the account (although I have a debit card for this too just in case) and I will put it into cash envelopes. More on those later. 
  6. Awesome doesn't like cash, so he will continue to use the card, but once the allocated money is gone from the account, we will both have to wait til next week - instead of hitting up the credit card.
  7. Once we have done this for a couple of months, we will be cutting up the credit card. I'm looking forward to that :)
You can probably already see how we got into this mess. But we are confident that we are heading towards a better and more accountable system for both of us. 

Tomorrow we are having a tiny break from the money series, just for fun. Tune in for something that is actually quite embarrassing  Thursday and Friday will be the final posts in this series. 

While you are waiting, why not share your long-term goals for savings? 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Starting Out With Savings... Part 2

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on debt and why living with debt can be useful. Today I want to share that most of the time, living with debt can be a trap we don't realise we are in. 

We have one, just one, credit card that we use for 'emergencies'. Or dinner out. Or to pay the health insurance... basically anything we forget to leave money aside for. It's only a little card - it has a small limit. Problem is we let it sit there with money on it pretty much all the time. We pay off chunks here and there, its not over our heads or making us panic, its just not something we think about much. 

The question is, would we miss it if it wasn't there? 

In order to find that out, we have started to investigate our own system of finances. It was an exercise in surprise!

 We used this tool because it is set up for Australian climates and it made sense to me visually!  This helped us establish what we currently pay out weekly. If you think about it, this is really the trap. See we both get paid weekly, but most of our bills are monthly or quarterly. This is tricky because as long as I had the lump sum there during the week the bill was due I would consider it taken care of. 

Problem: what about when two bills were due that week, and they totalled more than was sitting there? Soloution: Raid the savings.
Problem: That's this week's savings gone.

Believe it or not, it actually took me 12 months to realise we hadn't saved anythingThat's because we never dug into the savings past what we were putting in each week, but we dug out every cent we had saved in a 12 month period. So even though we still had a 'buffer' in our savings - it hadn't grown. At all. 

The budget tool showed me that we had $15- $20 amounts each week that needed to be available for the utilities and regular payments.  I was spending that every week. I didn't realise it had to be allocated. 

We have now come up with a system to ensure that I won't be spending those little amounts any more. And yes, it was really me spending those things, as the account I regularly use was both bill money and everyday money. For us, that is a disaster! But that's Ok now. Tomorrow I'll show you how we fixed it. 

While you're waiting, why not share with us how you handle debt in your life?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Starting Out With Savings...

Yes, this is our Australian currency. It's plastic. It can go through the wash and live!

This week, Awesome and I have started our plan to become debt-free and live on what we have.

Inspired by this post at The High-Heeled Housewife, I started to do some more research in to what it would take for us to start paying down our debt and living on what we earn.

First things first. I think there are seasons for which having debt may be a necessary part of life. Studying at Uni, for instance, carries a relatively small amount of debt in Australia and for some people, carrying a student debt which is interest free is smarter than using your 15% interest credit card to pay off your "free" loan.
Debt can be important to cash flow. It can be necessary to have debt in order to ensure that bills get paid and that direct debits don't overlap and cause the headache of overdrawn accounts. In a given year, when I was single, I managed my money well and accounted for every in and out - after all, I was the only one who was spending the money. When I got married, I found it more difficult to keep track. In our first year of marriage I paid around $200 in overdrawn account fees, simply by not keeping on top of the ins and outs of our accounts. What a waste! If having some bills come out of a credit account in the short term and then paying them off the following week is what stops this from happening - then that makes sense to me.

Over the next couple of posts, I want to explain our problem, and our new system to you. I think that Gen Y particularly has a problem with budgeting and saving for the future. I'm hoping that our experience might be helpful for others!

From the Recipe: Slow Cooker Potato Bake Review

Cookbook: Australian Women's Weekly Slow Cooking

Recipe: Potato Bake
Method: A simple potato bake flavoured with dijon mustard and chicken soup mix. 
Prep Time: I measured out all the ingredients, cut up the leek and bacon and left everything out on the bench for Awesome to put in the slow cooker. Unfortunately it took about and hour to cut up the potatoes apparently so the prep time took longer than an ordinary oven potato bake... 

Cooking time: Our slow cooker is ... slow... meaning that I add 2 hours cooking time to every recipe, and most things are only just cooked at that point!  This dish should have been 4 hours but was still a little crunchy in the potato domain at 6 hours. I think I used the 'wrong' kind of potatoes (I don't know much about potatoes...) so my own tip would be to slightly pre-boil the potatoes... or otherwise leave the cooker on longer. There was enough liquid still in the mix to make it work. 

Verdict: The cooking to a recipe thing was actually counter-intuitive for me... I felt as though I could have tweaked this recipe to make it easier to cook. Having said that, the flavour was amazing and much tastier than most things I prepare (as Awesome likes mainly plain foods.)  
We liked this and would make it again, but even though I halved the recipe (and yes, still had to increase the cooking time!) there was way more than we could eat. So I would use this a s a side dish for guests rather than a main for us. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Live Exports...

Head to Kimlovesjozi - this is where my head is at today...

Monday, June 6, 2011

From The Recipe: Making A List

   Sometimes when I go to the supermarket, I walk out wondering where that extra $20 went. I didn't really need 4 bottles of orange and lime juice, but they were next to the apple juice and they were on special for a $1 off. So I only wasted $6, not $7...

I am a pretty conservative shopper by conventional standards, but I have found that even I have difficulty ensuring that I only walk out with what I intended. Being a working wife, I find that I have a haphazard approach to shopping. I only get groceries when I have to, or when I have a large block of time. But this means that I often don't have on hand everything I need to make an entire meal.  So I get creative and that's where I fall down. 

Enter the Shopping List

The shopping list can save you money. IF YOU STICK TO IT!  There is no point having a shopping list that you see as a basis for buying other things. That's how you will come unstuck. 

There are some awesome resources for menu planning and shopping lists. 

I bought myself an A5 folder and printed out a bunch of free menu planning and shopping list printables. You can find some of my favourites below.

For this week, I sat down and picked the recipes I wanted to cook. I wrote out a list of the ingredients I didn't already have at home. If one recipe called for mushrooms and another recipe also needed mushrooms I would just write (times 2) next to the item on the list so I knew to buy more. I'm sure you could get technical with quantities, but its only early days for me! 

Then I organised my list. I shop at two different supermarkets. Aldi because the staples there are cheap, and the big supermarket down the road for the 'other stuff'. The simple way to do this is to go to Aldi first and cross off what you can get there as you go, and get the other stuff afterwards. But if the idea of that does your head in, then stick with the one supermarket. You pay for convenience these days! 

To make the Aldi portion even easier, you could use their phone app to plan, or their online shopping tool to pre-prepare your list. 

Once you are at the supermarket - STICK TO YOUR GUNS! I find it helpful to organise my list in sections in the order I will walk through them at the local supermarket. That way I feel like I'm buying things in order and don't get side tracked. What ever works for you!

The goal is to use up what you have, to focus on only buying what you need and to make a system that works for you. For me, the extra 30 minutes planning (even less as time goes on) is well worth the $20 saving each week

For more info on menu planning: 

Organizing junkie has great info and a weekly link up
Info on menu planning and batch cooking from
Free printable pages for menu planning and shopping lists - Organised
More Free Pages from The Household Planner
If you want to get serious, pay for a membership here - I had one for 6 months and it was great -

Disclaimer: This is an unsponsored review and link up, I do not have any affiliations with any of the above companies or pages.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

From the Recipe

Dear Readers, 

What kind of cook are you? 

Are you a peel and press, microwave-loving kind of person?

An exact-measurement-to-the-letter chef?

A we'll-just-chuck-it-in-and-see-how-it-goes type?

I am of the latter variety. I love to look at a bunch of ingredients at the last minute and make it up as I go. If I was a cooking show, I'd be Ready, Steady, Cook. And I thought I was pretty good at it. 

But after yet another hmmm.... not so good meal, Awesome pointed out that perhaps it was time for a change in strategy... 

So, I began to look through the 30 or so cookbooks I have on my shelves. I thought about great websites I have read like and who cook and review recipes from cookbooks they come across. 

I'm not aiming to attain their status by any means, but I have decided, that for the next couple of weeks, I will try to plan the majority of our dinner meals at home from cookbooks. And, I thought you might like to join me :) 
My Cookbook Collection

Here's the rules:
- Plan 1-4 meals per week from cookbooks you already own
- Create your shopping list and stick to it
- Cook your meal following the recipe
- Blog your experience and then come back to Eyes Above to share your success (or area of potential growth!!). 

You can blog and post as many meals as you like, but try to aim for at least one meal a week for the month of June. 

I'll be back on Monday to share how I went with my slow cooker Potato Bake recipe!