Austerity and writing | The Crayon Files


Austerity and writing | The Crayon Files.

How frugal is too frugal? It depends on your circumstances. About 10 years ago, I remember being horrified when a TV reporter advising people how to save money said that forgoing buying a coffee Monday to Friday would save $750 a year. I would, I reasoned, rather have my daily cappuccino than $750.

A decade on, however, I’m starting to see how much sense that makes, and now I buy only one hot drink a week (chai latte is my choice these days) or fewer.

I started out with a comment on Caron’s original post but it kept getting bigger and bigger and so I’ve split it out into a post in its own right…

I’ve been in the same position for the last four years and I note each year the irony that it is summer and Christmas and traditionally the season of extravagance and excess…

My first lesson is that you can save as much as you like but sooner or later there will be a point where you still need to be generating some income for life support, probably even if you go totally off the grid.

I learned early that actually measuring stuff instead of the ‘good enough’ or ‘she’ll be right’ philosophies saves heaps…we have two large dogs that consume a lot of dog food: simply by measuring their meals instead of guesstimating saw an average increase of 2-3 days per bag of food (while not upsetting canine morale). I read the breadmaker instructions and found that I did not actually need to use a tablespoon of treacle (which I don’t use in any other cooking) but could get away with a teaspoon of normal sugar without affecting the quality of my loaves. A little experimentation also found that I could reduce the yeast input from three to 2 1/2 teaspoons with no loss of of quality or reliability…


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Looking at the prices of wholemeal bread in the supermarket yesterday, there is a lot to be said for making own’s own bread. I’m not sure how long it would take to recoup the cost of a breadmaker (we got our first one through the Flybuys loyalty programme so it was essentially free – and the second from an estate sale at the bottom of the hill) but with 1.5kg of flour being less than $2 and being enough for 3-4 loaves, and considering the cost of a trip to town if we run out of bread, I think that we are ahead of the game making our own bread, and bread crumbs as a byproduct. Still on flour, here. it is usually cheaper per 100 grams to buy the 1.5 kg bags over the 5kg ones (go figure) and so we generally stock up when it is on special e.g. yesterday it was $1.79/1.5kg, and keep it in a large 20+ litre Tupperware container in the back pantry with a smaller ready-use container in the kitchen pantry.

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The big flour bin (which needs refilling)

Stock up on high use items during sales and discount offer – we do this with canned goods, especially canned tomatoes which we use in a range of recipes, and canned fruit. This is generally a good rule for anything non-perishable but perishables may need closer management. As Caron says in her post, avoid ‘lazy’ products like pre-sliced/grated cheese – premixed coffees, etc are another – if you can’t make a decent coffee/cocoa/tea on your own, learn!

You can do many interesting and flavourful things with a rice base as an alternative to potatoes…and you can use the rice as the filling ‘bulker’ while using less other ingredients for flavour. Something that I have learned this year is that you can reduce serving sizes by starting with a smaller serving and giving it 30 minutes or so before deciding that you are still hungry…

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A well-stocked pantry

You might not save much in fresh produce by having even a small vege garden in the backyard and it can be quite a bit of work (albeit usually quite satisfying). Where the savings come in is when you can save fresh produce for off-season months. Learn how to blanch fruit and vegetables for longer-term storage – we do have a dehydrator too but I don’t think that we have used it at all yet. Summer-grown pumpkin etc can provide yummy soup for a good part of winter; and herbs (parsley, basil, coriander, mint, etc) grown in summer and then dried can keep you going during the colder months; other herbs like rosemary while provide and then some year-round.

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If we can grow fruit here, you should be able to grow it most places and even a small apple tree can provide enough fruit for current consumption and freezing or drying for later use. Rnubard is another ‘fruit’ that will grow most places and year-round.

For both vegetables and fruit, check out farmers markets or nearby produce stalls as alternatives to supermarket fruit and vege – and I do mean, check them out: the much-maligned supermarket is not always the most expensive option.

Meat can be expensive so experiment with vegetarian meals and those which do not require as much meat as a ‘meat-led’ meal; I listed some examples of such meals that I like under my Masterchef Raurimu category…neither option means sacrificing taste or satisfaction.

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This sausage frittata makes four large servings but only uses six sausages and six eggs against the 8-12 for individual servings of sausages and eggs…

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Chickens can be a bit of a Catch-22: it costs about $25/month for chicken feed and that is less than the quantity of eggs we consume…but…we only consume that many eggs because they are there: if we had to rely on store-bought eggs our consumption would be much less…you also need both the space and amenable neighbours…

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Unless you are really really picky, like uber-super picky, use a Sodastream machine for carbonated mixers for drinks…austerity does not need to = abstinence from G&T, rum and coke, vodka and V etc…this will pay itself off in a year, especially if you already have a well-stocked drinks cupboard.

My parents bought me these ‘ecoballs’ as a ecologically-friendly alternative to laundry detergents. I’ve been using them for two years and they do the job as well as laundry powder although I still add Napisan to white loads (I still toss the ecoballs into assist the agitation).

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We have options for water heating here. For the first six years we were here, we relied exclusively on the laundry chippy for water heating and only switched the water heaters back on when our flat line fee got to the ridiculous point that using the water heaters did not actually affect our monthly power bill that much at all. Before the Lines Company took over the power infrastructure on the Central Plateau, our monthly power bill with the water heaters off was consistently around $80-90 – now just the line fee is $150 each month. The heaters are off at the moment because I can not afford to get them fixed til next year but the chippy is there when needed and on summer days there is always the trusty solar shower! Probably 50% of our wood comes from the property and we still have a quite a large stock of coal from when we were living in Waiouru and able do a bulk buy each winter…

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Review your phone services…will uncapped broadband being more and more a staple (and stable!) service, you may find that a flat fee to Skype will be a better option for all your non-local calling – and of course, Skype is free for conversations with other Skype users…

We used to have SKY subscription TV but as neither of us were into sport, the value of the investment worth off at about the same rate as the novelty of having access to so very many channels. There is probably a point with channel numbers where the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the greater the selection, the less the satisfaction. For the last four years, we have just had Freeview – and access to our own large DVD library which we expand largely by waiting for new releases to not be new any more and keeping a weather eye of bargain bins for ‘wish list’ titles. Yes, they are ALL legit titles!!

Depending where you live, plan trips into town. The round trip for us to either of the three closest life support centres (Taumarunui, Turangi and Ohakune) costs about $12 in diesel (more in petrol) and so there are definite economies of organisation here. Public transport may be a viable alternative to driving/parking where a practical and useful service is available.

Check appliance settings: when we first got our plasma TV our power bill increased noticeably; on investigation aka reading the manual, we found that it had been delivered with the brightness set to ‘showroom’ which was dramatically bright but not really necessary even in sunlight and which sucked A LOT more power. I’m not such a zealot that I go around religiously turning off all appliances at the wall to save the LED power consumption but if you are so inclined I would encourage you to consider a. whether the standby mode actually prevents condensation if you live in a cold area and b. whether the start up power consumption is actually more that what the LED would have consumed.

There are not too many places with free rubbish disposal but costs are often based on bulk so, after breaking out anything that can be recycled wherever you are, crush as much as possible of your non-recyclable rubbish. Try to recycle as much organic material as possible into, for here, dogs, chickens and garden…this includes much of our paper waste that which is not required for starting the fire in winter being used in our own mini-landfills as we fill holes in the landscape (a perk of rural living). We did look at making our own paper bricks from the fire but these require a lot of space and time to dry properly and I am not sure how well they would perform in modern burners…this will only become a real problem for us when we run out of holes in the ground to fill…

I will be hunkering down, weathering the lean times for another year and…hopefully, at the end of summer, I will have the first draft of my new novel done. That will be a major achievement, since I’ve been researching this topic in various ways for 20 years, and recently, finally, came up with what I think is the perfect formula for the book.

And so should I be…while cash is short, I should be focusing on those things that require less/no money and more muscle or mental input…I have so many stalled writing projects that this should be the perfect opportunity to at least advance them significantly…

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3 thoughts on “Austerity and writing | The Crayon Files

  1. What a great post. And yes, I so agree that we also need to generate an income. It’s only when you are “between contracts” that you realise how quickly the money is swallowed up by ordinary expenses.

  2. If you’re looking for excuses to write, I could use some input, criticism, prodding when I’m back in the swing of things after the New Year…Buckle up!

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