Eating on the cheap (and healthy!)

It’s been raining all day, but manage to sneak out this afternoon for a quick 30 min power walk without getting too wet.

I must admit, I’m not the best cook. I really don’t enjoy cooking so usually keep it super simple. What I do enjoy is eating healthy food.

But how is is possible to eat cheaply in one of the most expensive places to live in the world? Well, it is possible and here’s how:

Firstly, ditch recipes and shopping lists. I don’t have a single recipe book in my house. Why? Because having to buy prescribed ingredients means you’ll need to pay the going price at the time. When I go shopping, I have no list, rather I buy what is cheap at the time. My cooking style usually involves improvising with what I have, or just throwing everything in a pot and making a stew or similar.

Secondly, shop around, especially for fruit and vege. Here in NZ, the supermarkets usually run with two or three good specials that I’ll buy, but in most instances, you’ll pay a huge premium for the convenience of having everything under the same roof. I have a fruit & vege shop just down the road that regularly has prices less than a third of what my local supermarket charges.

Here’s what went into my vege stew tonight:

Silverbeat (Chard) – got this for $0.50 – Supermarket cost $3-4
Courgettes 2x large – $0.50 – Supermarket cost $1
Sweet Potatoes – $0.30 – Supermarket cost $1
Red Onion (half) – $0.30 – Supermarket cost $1
Coriander – $0.75 – Supermarket cost $3.50

Total $2.35 (£1.20)

I sometimes add in a bit of chicken, mince or couscous so it does push the cost up, but I can easily get three meals out of one pot.

Landscaping the backyard

At the beginning of this year, I lived in an inner city apartment. It was convenient, then the lockdown struck and I found myself constricted to a tiny, one bedroom space with no ability to “go outside”.

The thing I missed the most was a garden. Just a space to sit outside and enjoy the greenery. So when looking to buy a house, it needed to have some outside space. Nothing huge mind, as I don’t have the time, nor patience to be cutting lawns, trimming hedges and more.

My new house has both front and back “yards”. Yerp, they’re small, but suit me just fine. I also have a small forest right next door with a walking track, so can always spend time there.

The “backyard” doesn’t get a huge amount of sun and the lawn just wasn’t establishing much. You couldn’t even walk on it without getting your feet muddy.

Some of the neighbours have installed artificial turf. For $3000, I’ll skip that thanks – PLUS it looks a bit naff if you ask me.

So I decided to remove the grass and a couple of inches of soil and replace it with pebbles.

I installed a weed mat first, then a stone stabilisation system paver. This makes for a nice solid surface and requires far fewer pebbles. It wasn’t quite big enough, but oh well…I shall sit on this side mostly. I did think about keeping some grass, but it looked a bit silly.

Once everything was secured, the pebbles were spread over the surface. I asked the landscaping shop how many bags would be required I would need. “3 bags will do it”. 3 bags was hardly enough to cover a third of the space…so back down to get another 7 bags.

Once the space was covered, I ordered some outdoor furniture.

And here is the finished result. Whaada y’think? I’m pretty chuffed.

Total cost:

Weed Mat: $20
Weed Mat Pins: $7
SmartPave Stone Stabilisation System Paver: $62
Pebbles: $123
Furniture: $150
TOTAL: $362

A day inside

It’s been rainy all day. Quite unusual for where I live. It usually comes down and is gone. Managed to get the entire house cleaned though. Hoping I get get out before it gets dark for a quick run.

Work has given us all the day off tomorrow. Thinking about getting on a ferry and out to one of the many islands we have in the surrounding harbour.

Can I get near free electricity?

A colleague once told me her monthly electricity bill exceeded $1200 a month. I didn’t believe her, until she told me she had more than one fridge, a spa pool and underfloor heating. Underfloor heating? How about you go put on a jersey and save yourself hundreds?!

Now I’ve been in my new house for two full months, I’m starting to get an idea of my ongoing fixed costs, including my average monthly electricity bill.

For the past month, my bill has come to NZD$57, not bad I think. But it gets a whole lot better. Every year, the line company provides a dividend for bill payers to the tune of $280. As long as you’re paying a bill on August 5, you qualify. I moved in on August 1, so I’ll take that entire amount thank you very much :-). Over the course of the year, the dividend is $23.33/month, so my bill comes down to just $34/month.

But could I get my bill all the way down to $23 a month and therefore pay nothing at all?

Firstly, there is a fixed cost of $10/month for the lines charges. It doesn’t matter if you spend $34 or $1200 a month, you pay this regardless. So this leaves just $13/month for actual usage (down from $34). Not sure this is entirely feasible, but I’m going to give it a go.

Expense Tracking

I’ve been looking for an effective way to track my expenses. I used to use a simple spreadsheet, but found it was a bit cumbersome and generating useful insights was difficult. Some friends use an old fashion pen and paper, but I like keeping things digital.

I had a look at some of the big name tracking services and apps out there. Most offer the convenience to connect your bank account – not something I’m willing to do. Then there is the cost. Some wanted $10 or more a month. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Then I landed on Money Lover. It’s simple, has a great mobile and web interface, supports recurring payments and best of all is FREE! You can use it to track both income and expenses, but I prefer to just track my expenses only. It also provides really useful insights on where I’m spending my money.

After a full month of tracking (and a few big purchases moving into my new place), this is how I’ve spent my money (key below):

27% of Food & Beverages – that includes a bit of eating out etc. 18% on Fees & Charges – this is mostly Council Tax. 18% on Travel – this is from the few hiking trips I’ve been on (including accommodation etc), thinking it’s way too high. And lastly, 15% on Shopping which has been mostly one off purchases for my house.

It’s going to be super interesting to compare September with August – will keep you posted.

(Almost) Spring

Yesterday’s weather was beautifully warm and spring-like. A welcome change to the week we’ve had of constant rain. Normally, I’d be out hiking somewhere, but under Level 3 lockdown, I have to keep my daily exercise within the local area.

So after dropping the key back to my old apartment landlord, I headed to Mount Hobson, which is one the many (now extinct) volcanic cones in Auckland.

There are a number of paths to the summit, climbing 143m. I took the northern path through beautiful old oak trees and patches of daffodils.

Passing a lone dandelion flower floating in an old bird bath. Magical.

And after a short and easy stroll, I make it to the summit with stunning views over our beautiful city. From this vantage point, you can see Rangitoto (another volcano) and further out to the Coromandel Ranges.

Clocked up another 10km of walking today and a nice addition to my Walk1000Miles challenge.

Disrupting routine

I met an old colleague the other day. I hadn’t seen him in over a decade so we had a lot to catch up on – and a lot of laughs, reminiscing about the old days. He couldn’t quite believe how little I had changed either. And that got me thinking. Of course it was a big compliment (who likes getting old?!), but was it less to do with physical appearance and rather that I hadn’t changed as a person? Was this necessarily a bad thing either? If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it right?

Routine is healthy, it helps form habits and generally enables me to feel more in control. But it’s also comfortable and can be detrimental to my learning and growth. Routine can get really, really boring also.

To avoid stagnation, we all need to assess our routines and determine which parts are healthy and where we need to disrupt and force change.

The first step in the disruption journey is to acknowledge that it can be hard. We often have good intentions, but quickly revert back to our normal ways. Some like to go all out and change everything about their lives in a flash. For me, I like the more measured approach of getting satisfaction from the micro-disrupters. Perhaps to switch my evening exercise to the morning or try a new hobby.

I’ll leave my specific ideas and areas to tackle for another post, but in the meantime, here are my three routine smashing operating principles:

Seek out the unfamiliar
How many times have you avoided something because you thought you’d never like it, only to become a big fan? But imagine how much enjoyment you’ve missed out on all those treasures that remain undiscovered.

Try it once
So, seek out the unfamiliar and try it once. If you don’t like it, walk away.

Break the routine, break the habit
If I get home too late, there isn’t time to go to the gym. Then I feel sluggish and so the cycle repeats. Think about how your routine behaviors could be reinforcing negative habits and start your disruption journey there.

Walk1000miles Challenge

I love a good challenge and my first one is the “Walk100miles” Challenge.

This challenge involves walking or running 1000 miles (1609.34 km) in a year. That’s 2.74 miles (or 4.4km) a day.

I love hiking the trails around New Zealand and finding new parks and streets to walk/run around my house. I use a Fitbit to track my activity and will be logging my distance each week below.

Now normally I should have commenced this in January, but there’s no better time to start than the present right?! So I’ve decided to kick this off from the first day I’ve moved into my house – August 01 2020.

I’ll be logging my distance week by week here.

Stop being who I used to be

You have to know the past to understand the present and plan for the future. Over the last decade, you could say I’ve had huge highs and equally huge lows. I’ve had incredible experiences way beyond my comfort zone (traveling to Antarctica and other far-flung corners of the planet) and had countless days where I’m too lethargic to leave the house from a terrible night’s sleep. Highs and lows are part of life, but it’s almost like clockwork for me.

I’m going to get into some of the causes of my highs and lows in time, but it’s important to firstly explore and reflect on those attributes and habits in need of change.

Here’s where I’ve landed:

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Routine

Comfortability

Indecision

Demotivated

Going after what I can’t have

Overwhelmed

Lack of learning

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At this stage in my journey, I’m not in a massive rush to solve for them – rather just to be aware of them. As I progress through my day, I want to trigger a thought process on how my decisions lead to these outcomes and over time, form strategies to overcome each. Let’s go!

First post and a start of something new

It’s August 1st, 2020. I’ve just moved into a new home, a home that I can finally call my own. This new stage in my life has brought about a renewed sense of optimism and confidence to make a plan for future me. A plan with a simple aim that gets me out of the rat race, grows leisure time and puts me on a trajectory towards a more meaningful career.

I’ve begun laying out my development plan and the operating principles that are going to get me there. Spending less and therefore needing to earn less is at the very core of this.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing my journey as well as some of the weird and wacky things I do to save money and a live a simpler life. It will be my true story and it will be raw.