Confessions of a cost saver

With the cost of living increasing drastically over the past year, families need to shop smart and save where they can. Here are some timely tips to help you juggle your family budget.

FOOD

I shop at my local Pak n Save for grocery items  but try to get my fruit and vegetables and meat at local speciality stores. Not only are they cheaper, but they sometimes offer better quality. This sort of shopping can be time consuming however, and pointless if you offset your savings with increased petrol costs. Other ways to save on fresh fruit and vegetables include shopping at weekend produce markets, growing your own, and swapping crops with your neighbours, friends and family. Budget brands of groceries are generally pretty good these days – they are often made by the same manufacturers of more expensive branded products, the difference in cost being budget packaging and labelling, and less product advertising. Specials, bulk and multi-buys also save money.

COOKING AND BAKING FOOD

I find baking for the children’s lunchboxes can save money, but only if I make very simple recipes that don’t require expensive ingredients.

You can use less meat in your meals by padding them out with vegetables and legumes. Kidney beans, red lentils and grated vegetables, such as carrots and courgettes, are ideal and the kids often don’t notice they’re eating them. The high cost of fish means most families don’t eat as much as they should – twice weekly recommends the National Heart Foundation. My husband is a keen fisherman, but in between fishing trips I have been buying smoked fish from the supermarket and making a pie out of it. It’s cheap, filling and the children will eat it.

CLEANING PRODUCTS

You don’t need a different cleaning product for every kind of job. There are many multi-purpose cleaners out there that will take care of most tasks. I have been making many of my own cleaning products over the past year, not only saving money but doing my bit for the environment as well. I use former women’s magazine editor Wendyl Nissen’s recipes (wendyls.co.nz) for liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing powder, liquid hand soap, window cleaner and mould preventer. You can’t go wrong with white vinegar and baking soda for most things and you can buy those ingredients cheaply in bulk stores. I also ditched my grungy mop, floor cleaner and buckets of hot water for an electric steam mop. There is obviously an upfront cost in this, but there are companies out there selling two mops for the price of one – I split the cost with my sister. Invest in a good microfibre dust cloth and you won’t need furniture polish, and light a match and open a window instead of using air freshener.

TOYS AND BOOKS

When it comes to soft toys and things babies will put in their mouth, I always go for new but a lot of my children’s big ticket item toys have been purchased second-hand. Toy libraries are also a wonderful way to ensure your children are exposed to a wide range
of toys. You pay an annual membership fee and swap your toys every few weeks. Visit www.toylibrary.co.nz to find your nearest toy library. And for books, you can’t go past joining your local library. It’s free, which is a rarity these days. I also buy books from second-hand shops and swap with friends and family. Libraries also have an extensive selection of magazines if you can wait to catch up on your favourite read.

POWER, WATER, INSURANCES

Gotta have them. Make sure you’re getting the best deal out of your energy companies by using Consumer New Zealand’s PowerSwitch website www.consumer.org.nz/powerswitch to work out whether you’re on the right pricing plan. The Energywise website has tips for saving power around the house www.energywise.govt.nz. And www.smarterhomes.org.nz/water/easy-ways-to-save-water has some tips for saving water. We use heaps in the summer for watering the garden and filling the kids’ swimming pool. Next summer, I’m going to try collecting rainwater. We used an insurance broker (it’s a free service) to check whether we were paying too much for our insurances. We weren’t, but he did manage to find us better protection for our money.

ENTERTAINMENT

We cancelled our Sky subscription a few years ago and replaced it with Freeview. It’s paid for itself now, but we do miss being able to watch live sport. Socialising at home has become the norm. We went shares in an Entertainment Book last year (they cost $65 and are often sold by preschools and schools for fundraising). They have thousands of dollars worth of savings from the entertainment industry, including restaurants and bars, cinemas and attractions. And if you don’t have grandparents and extended family on hand to babysit, do a swap with friends and coffee group members.

EXERCISE

Apart from investing in a good pair of shoes, walking and jogging is free. I haven’t belonged to a gym for years. I got myself a Swiss ball and some hand weights and downloaded some exercises off the internet. One of the latest top 10 health and fitness sites in NZ is www.workoutrightnow.com, which features exercise for post-natal mums to do at home. Some local council leisure facilities and community centres offer cheap, and sometimes free, group fitness classes.

HOLIDAYS

You don’t have to go overseas to have a holiday. Friends of mine did a house swap a few years ago. One family spent a week on the beautiful beaches of Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland, while the other enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere in Tauranga. We’ve had a few weekends away using rental accommodation in recent years. It’s even cheaper if you team up with other families and you have the added bonus of your children playing together and leaving you free to relax!

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