Category Archives: Frugal Living

Technology and living the simple life

Technology and the simple life.  No matter how I put those words together in a sentence it just doesn’t sound right.  Obviously I employed technology to prepare this blog post, to take the photograph, to distribute it across the internet and project it onto the screen of readers everywhere.  My entire professional career to date had been working for a technology company, and being a member of Gen Y, I grew up with computers and gadgets and toys with lots of flashy lights.   I should just naturally embrace technology without question, right?  – But if I’m to properly adopt the simple life, shouldn’t I be divorcing myself of this high tech world and adopting a more low tech existence?

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This is a question that has been a focus for me over the last week.  In my job I’d been provided with a laptop loaded with all the software I needed to get my job done, a mobile phone with a plan that was covered by my employer and the ability to use both for an appropriate level of personal use.   I didn’t have any choice in the matter, it was just a tool you use to get work done, in much the same way a builder uses a hammer. So now that I need to hand back my two major pieces of technology on my way out the door, do I need to replace them? Really?

This is probably a question that everyone will answer differently.  Sure, my life won’t suddenly come to an end if I don’t replace my mobile phone and computer.  But everyone has different levels of appreciation towards how such things add value to their lives.

I found some words that were inline with my own personal thoughts in the text of this paragraph, taken from the Simplicity Collective website:

It should be noted that voluntary simplicity does not, however, mean living in poverty, becoming an ascetic monk, or indiscriminately renouncing all the advantages of science and technology. It does not involve regressing to a primitive state or becoming a self-righteous puritan. And it is not some escapist fad reserved for saints, hippies, or eccentric outsiders. Rather, advocates of simplicity suggest that by examining afresh our relationships with money, material possessions, the planet, ourselves and each other, ‘the simple life’ of voluntary simplicity is about discovering the freedom and contentment that comes with knowing how much consumption is truly ‘enough.
Source: http://simplicitycollective.com/start-here/what-is-voluntary-simplicity-2

So what did I do?  – Well, I replaced them, but I did it my way…

I bought a low-cost, unlocked phone outright, and when it comes to subscribing to a mobile provider, I’m going for pre-paid, month-to-month and low cost.  I won’t receive any unsolicited offers to renew a 24 month contract and retire a perfectly good handset for a new one.  If a cheaper pre-paid offer surfaces with another provider, I can switch without feeling trapped.  If I ever decided to opt out completely I can, without being threatened with termination fees.  If the phone is to ever become lost or damaged, I don’t need to consider pricey insurance options or be concerned with hefty replacement costs – it wasn’t too expensive in the first place.

In terms of a computer, I claimed a second hand desktop for free, a few years old, that was “broken” and came with the Operating System and MS Office on CDs.  I’m pretty good at fixing computers, so after a bit of diagnosis and a new power supply and hard drive, it’s back up and running in all it’s former glory and should do me well for a few years more.

The nature of technology is that it is so quickly outdated (as much for fashionable reasons than practical reasons) and discarded like yesterdays newspaper.  Technology also doesn’t have a good reputation for being kind to the environment in terms of manufacture and disposal.   I think the best I can do to honour the impact it causes as part of it’s overall life-cycle is look after it to drive the most out of it, repair it where I can, and ensure it is recycled at the end of it’s functional life.   

And that, is doing technology in my own simple way.

Tracking the cost of living

Part of the deal in taking a year off work to take care of our newborn daughter, is accepting a reduced level of income.   I’m fortunate in that my employer will pay me parental leave, as I’m the nominated primary carer, and combined with long service leave, a bit of annual leave and some government benefits, I’m actually able to receive some sort of regular income (albeit reduced) for nearly the entire 12 months.

I’m very thankful to be in such a position, but I’m not taking it for granted.  Actually, I feel a heightened responsibility towards reducing costs, waste and becoming more efficient.

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I thought we was doing pretty well for ourselves, but then a reader – Toby – put me onto a guy called Mr Money Mustache a few months ago.  His claim is that if you live a middle class existence your current lifestyle is “an exploding volcano of wastefulness”, and by changing your attitudes to a few things you can easily save 50%, or more of your income.    I’ve really enjoyed his no-nonsense perspective on finances and he’s inspired me to save even more.

Rhonda over at the Down to Earth blog recently wrote a series on reducing debt and gaining control of your finances.  I’ve followed through on her suggestion to track all spending via the “Track My Spend” app provided by the Australian Government.  I’ve always been pretty good at preparing a budget, but the next step of tracking actual expenses and performing a “true up” against the plan has never really happened.   It will be a month tomorrow since I started plugging in all our spending, so I’m looking forward to going over the numbers – I think the data will yield a few surprises.

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Preparing for the baby

It’s all about the baby at the moment.   We’re now down to about seven weeks before the due date, and there’s painting to do.   Lots and lots of painting.

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When it came to nursery furniture I always had it in my mind that we’d get something pre-loved rather than buy new, and my approach was confirmed when I walked into a baby store and found the cheapest cot they had was about $800!  My wife needed to pick me up off the floor!   So during the Christmas break my mother was looking over the classifieds and found a cot, change table, chest of draws and bookshelf for $170 total.  They had all been painted by the previous owner – a combination of blue, pink and grey –  but it was decided that our furniture should be white, so let the sanding and painting begin!cotbeforehandsandingIt’s taken weeks, but the cot is almost there – just a few touch ups here and there before it can be bolted together and made up with sheets and a blanket.   The change table is on its way too, then I’ll start on the chest of draws and bookshelf – I’m hoping that these last two pieces will be the least fiddly.cotpaintingThere’s also a lot of action happening in the baby’s room.  The carpets have been steam cleaned, the walls washed down, and framed cross-stitch pieces from one of my sisters lay waiting to be hung.   One of my brothers, an electrician, will come over on the weekend and install some double power points, and a new light fitting as the current one is broken beyond repair.  Mum and I will paint the ceiling, walls and trim.  A great family effort overall.  We should have the room and a cot for the baby to sleep in all ready to go by Sunday, then I’ll have just the few other pieces of furniture to finish.dulux tincrosstichDespite the time invested in the cot – I can’t help but get this great sense of satisfaction from breathing life back into something.   Beats the sensation of swiping a credit card any day.weeliebug

Car Servicing

Cars and engines have always been a little bit of a mystery to me.  I know how they work at a basic level, but I suppose I’ve always been concerned that if I start to tinker I’ll mess something up and it will cost a fortune to repair.  As such, every 6 months I don’t ask any questions and take my car straight to the “specialists”, which involves driving it to the other side of Canberra and handing all my money over to the car dealership, for total piece of mind.

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Well that was the old me.  I had a bit of an awakening recently.  Our car is 11 years old now, and probably not worth more than a few grand if I was to put it on the market – who am I trying to impress with dealership stamps in the service booklet?

So as part of my general strategy to become more self-sufficient and independent,  I asked my brother-in-law (a mechanic himself) if he could teach me to service the thing – to which he replied “it’s a piece of cake mate, I could teach anyone to do it.”

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Turns out he’s right – not so scary or difficult after all.  It was only a minor service – an oil filter, 4 litres of oil, and a few minutes to check a few things like hoses, fluid levels, brakes and CV joints.  It cost me less than $50 in parts, which saved me around $170 compared to the cost at the dealership.

It’s good to go now for another 6 months, and then I repeat the same.  It’ll be due for a medium service in a year’s time, and he’ll teach me how to do that one too.

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I’m still smiling about the fact I’ve freed myself from these shackles – there’s nothing like being able to do something for yourself in this world of specialisation and dependence.

Volunteer Pumpkin Ravioli

This growing season I didn’t get my act into gear in time to plant pumpkins – or so I thought – until late in January when harvesting the potatoes, I came across a young pumpkin vine amongst the potato plants.  It was a “volunteer” plant, from the compost I had spread about.  I had no idea what variety it was, but as I had been a lazy gardener I was willing to give it a chance, and decided to leave it be.

Well, with nothing more than a bit of water from time to time, that small, self-seeded plant grew to be an enormous vine, and now has 7 full sized pumpkins on it.  On Sunday afternoon when considering ideas for dinner that night, I did what I often do and that is walk out into the backyard larder for inspiration.  Check out what I saw – a bright orange pumpkin against a backdrop of dying leaves – it was practically crying out “Pick me! Pick me!”

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So with the pumpkin under one arm and a handful of thyme in the other, I headed inside to set about trying Rhonda’s pumpkin ravioli recipe.  Rhonda is an amazing women and I’ve the greatest respect for her.  We’ve never met in person, live thousands of kilometres away and are at different stages in our lives – but through reading her words of wisdom over the years I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.  Big fan here.

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I love rolling out pasta – flour and backyard eggs.   So simple, and so tasty.   There’s nothing like fresh pasta, nothing.  Gives your arm muscles a good workout too.

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The finished product was absolutely divine, and I especially love the fact it’s another vegetarian meal we can add to our repertoire, with most ingredients sourced from the backyard.  This meal probably cost a dollar or two and wouldn’t be out of place on a restaurant menu – it’s that good!

Quite something when you consider that this meal came from such unintentional beginnings – a plant that seeded itself but ended up provided so much, asking for nothing more than a drink of water during a few hot summer days.  Next on the menu, pumpkin soup!

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Things need fixing around here…

I’ve been learning a bunch of new skills lately – handyman stuff.  These are skills that use tools – things like spanners, screwdrivers, hammers, and big tubes of silicone.  Our house is over 50 years old now, so the reality is things break and need fixing.

Most guys out there would probably pick up a few of these skills from their fathers while growing up.  My old man was fairly handy, but being in the Navy we moved around all the time, living in mostly brand new rental properties all my childhood, so there were very limited opportunities to practice and learn this sort of stuff – (thankfully I have YouTube to fall back on).

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Last week the handle of our front screen door broke off in my hand, and the rubber join between the cistern and the porcelain bowel of the toilet deteriorated to the point of causing minor flooding every time it was flushed.

It’s satisfying to know I can attend to most of this stuff now.  Only a year ago I probably would have lived with the problem until I was thoroughly sick of it and called someone in.  It’s a good feeling to have the confidence to order a new handle assembly off the internet straight after it broke, knowing it will be a 10 minute screwdriver job.  I was even bold enough to tear apart the toilet, leaving my (pregnant) wife without proper plumbing for an hour while I sourced and fitted a replacement part! – Now I’m really living dangerously!

There’s much to be said about having some faith in your own abilities, and to be able to save money and mend something yourself, instead of being dependent on someone else, or throwing it out to buy a new one.

Simple backyard pasta sauce

I love it when you can step out to the backyard and build a proper hearty meal from what is growing only meters from the kitchen.  After all the rain we had on Sunday there were a few Roma tomatoes that had split during the day, so I picked those, plus a few more and headed inside to cook dinner.

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This meal is as simple and fresh as it gets.   Take your backyard tomatoes picked a minute ago, pour boiling water over them and let them sit in a bowl for a minute.  Score the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife and the skin will pretty much slip off.

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Add to a pot on low-medium heat with a clove of minced backyard garlic.  Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher and let it cook a while to thicken up.  Just before it is ready, add a small amount of backyard herbs – parsley, oregano, thyme, marjoram, and basil.   I say “small” because I only just want to be able to detect their presence over the fresh tomatoes, and no more.

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Season to taste with a pinch of sugar, and a good grind of salt and pepper.  Spoon the sauce over some pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  

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This meal may not be awarded a perfect score on “My Kitchen Rules” but it is real, honest food, and something you can be very proud of.  If you’ve got some tomatoes and herbs growing in your backyard, give it a go, and see if you aren’t still thinking about it the next day too.

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