Monday, 17 October 2016

My shopping ban: the beginning of a permanent change?

When I first started my shopping ban on 1 June (four and a half months ago!) I suspected I would stop buying stuff until the end of the year and then go back to my usual spendy ways in the new year. I can shop again! Yay! I will buy all the shoes! 

But fairly early on I realised I did not want to go back to the way things were. My intention now is for this challenge to be the beginning of a permanent change in how I spend my money.

It's possible I will extend the ban - wouldn't it be great to say I went for a whole year without buying shoes and clothes? - but if not, this is how I plan to continue beyond 31 December 2016.

I want to mostly only buy clothes and shoes that I actually need. I won't promise to never again buy the occasional thing just because I love it, but I don't want to go back to the compulsive acquisition of stuff I don't need, while letting most of the clothes and shoes I already own sit unworn in my bulging wardrobe. I do not want to get sucked back into a constant state of yearning for stuff. I don't want to waste hours a week scrolling online fashion websites for things I don't need, when I could be doing something more worthwhile with my time. I don't want to see my credit card balance inching up and up while my savings stagnate - or go backwards. I don't want to miss out on a holiday overseas because I bought too many pairs of shoes, some of which I DON'T EVEN WEAR! (When I think about that, it really sheets home just how idiotic my behaviour was.)

When I do buy something, I want to focus on buying second hand, or purchasing from small businesses, especially local makers (the latter of which is more expensive, so I'll be forced to buy much less). I want to opt out of fast fashion because, although it seems awesome to be able to buy so much for so little, it's actually NOT awesome for many reasons

The quality is often poor, so it doesn't last long and then if you replace it with something of similarly poor quality...well, that's false economy in any language. 

Giving the really crappy stuff to charity shops seems like the responsible way to get rid of it, but in reality it just becomes someone else's problem.  Almost a quarter of all donations (i.e. not just clothing) to charities in Australia end up in landfill (going on 2014 figures) because they are not fit to be resold, recycled or exported. Dumping rubbish at landfill isn't free, so rather than helping the less fortunate, donations of very poor quality clothing actually cost the charity money! (Dumping waste outside a charity store to avoid paying landfill costs yourself  - a major problem for charities these days - also forces charities to pay for disposal. Don't do it!)

According to ABS statistics, Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles/leather each year (second only to the US) and - gobsmackingly - we discard an average of 23 kilograms textile/leather waste each year. That's a total of 500,000 tonnes of leather and textile waste every year. I was astounded when I read this.  

A lot of what we wear these days is made from synthetic fibres - wearable plastic basically - and, just like plastic, synthetic fabric takes decades - probably many, many decades - to degrade in landfill. Even natural fibres like cotton and linen don't degrade readily because processes like bleaching, dying and printing, mean they don't stay natural for long. 

Of course, the ecological impact of clothing starts long before it hits the shops/website. Clothing manufacturing consumes a lot of resources - water, electricity, chemicals, petrol - and it's a dirty business. According to one American fashion insider, clothing manufacturing is the world's biggest source of pollution after oil (or the third largest polluter according to another source. Whichever, it's bad). All this, just to make poor quality goods that end up in landfill!

Because I care about the environment, it's hard impossible for me to justify spending money on fast fashion.

All this is reason enough for me to farewell fast fashion, and I haven't even mentioned the direct human impact: most fast fashion is made by factory workers in developing countries toiling away for a fraction of the retail price of the garments they make, in poor, frequently unsafe, conditions. Remember the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 (not the only accident in the industry, just the most high profile)? There have been some improvements since then, but we'd be delusional to think everything's hunky-dory there and in other garment factories around the world.

With all this in mind, I want to stay off the fast fashion treadmill. I plan to reduce (buy less), re-use (buy secondhand) and only recycle (sell or give to charity) as a last resort, which is the way the 'recycle' part is meant to work. I want my purchasing decisions to be more sustainable, more ethical and more mindful. I want to be an even more conscious consumer. 

The reduce, re-use, recycle ethos is a great place to start, but wait! There's more! This Greenpeace article sets out another nine Rs for a more conscious consumption. It also contains this excellent graphic created by Sarah Lazarovic, which is a good guide for shopping and spending less. 
In my next post I plan to gather together a bunch of practical advice on how to shop more sustainably. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Small ways to save money when you're already pretty frugal

As well as banning myself from buying shoes and clothes, plus reconsidering my health expenses, I've been trying to save money in other ways to make my four-day-a-week pay packet go further and to boost my savings. But it's not easy because, in the grand scheme of things, my boyfriend and I are relatively frugal already.  

Most of our meals are home cooked and nothing fancy. We don't shop at gourmet stores and we try to buy what's best value for money at the supermarket. We rarely go to bars (I hardly drink at all). He rides his bike to work and I take public transport. He owns a small, fuel efficient car and I don't have one at all (I never have). We have the smallest internet/home phone bundle we could get. We got rid of Foxtel (cable TV). A lot of the things we like do in our spare time are free or cheap. We don't need to have the best of everything when it comes to furniture, appliances and electrical equipment - a lot of what we have is old, but serviceable, and we don't upgrade for the sake of it. We don't care about labels or brand names. 

We do spend a lot on rent because we live in an affluent area that we love in a flat that we love (even though it's old and bit shabby), but we do get free heating (wooh!) and we don't pay for water consumption. We expect to have to move out in the next year or two, so we'll look for somewhere cheaper then.   

Because we are already relatively frugal, making our money go further requires a bit more thought. I can't think of any 'big ticket' ways to cut back that I haven't already done, so I've been trying to come up with a lot of little ways to spend less in the hope that, combined, they will make add up to noticeable savings. For example, I've always been a bit obsessive about turning off lights when I leave a room (it was ingrained in me during my working class upbringing), but now I'm being totally obsessive about it. If I can do what I need to do without turning on the lights, then I don't flick the switch. I'm even peeing in the dark! (Although when you live in a city, it's never truly, totally dark.) 

Turn it off

So here's my brainstorm on small ways to save. I already do some of these, but I'm listing them anyway.

Make stuff go further by using Every. Last. Ounce. Use those last sheets of toilet paper; apply that last little nub of lipstick; store near-empty shampoo bottles upside down to get the last bit out; squeeze that toothpaste tube until it can't give any more. There's some useful advice here on how to make stuff go further/last longer.

Only buy what you need. I'm thinking here about food/perishables that will spoil if you don't use them in time. Plan your meals and buy what you need to make them.

Do your grocery shop in one go - you usually end up spending more if you make separate trips to get what you need (especially if you're hungry!). 

Make fresh food last longer.  There's some good tips here  and here on ways to make fruit and veg last longer. I started using Keep Fresh Bags a couple of years ago and they really do keep things fresher for much longer.

Grow your own herbs. We buy a lot of herbs, but our attempts at growing them at home in pots (we don't have a garden) have so far been unsuccessful. But we will persist! (I think the key is to grow them all inside as our balcony doesn't get enough sunlight).

There are loads of fruit and vegetables that can be grown in pots if you don't have a garden. Here's a list of things you can regrow from fruit and vegetable scraps. 

Cook meals from scratch - packaged and pre-prepared food is expensive. 

Buy bulk spices at Asian supermarkets for very little (if you use a lot of spices, anyway). 

Only use your dishwasher when you have a full load. Dishwashing tablets are ridiculously expensive and, according to the guy who installed my dishwasher, they aren't as effective as powder anyway. You don't need to fill the little drawer up with powder either - dishwasher guy said a tablespoon is enough. We use a cheap, generic brand dishwashing powder and it works fine (even without pre-rinsing,which is mostly a waste of water, if you ask me).   

Wash your clothes only when they are dirty or stinky - some things just don't need to be washed after every single wear.  This not only saves energy and water, it makes your clothes last longer.  

Yeah, this is my back yard

Minimise use of your tumble dryer. Sunshine and wind are free (when available!). Be wary of hanging dark coloured clothing in the sun though, because they fade and look shabby so quickly. We dry everything inside because we don't have access to a clothesline, but we do have a drying rack in the cupboard where our gas hot water service is and it's the bomb (and my black clothes barely fade at all). 

Look after your clothes well to make them last longer.  This is a great list of clothing care tips. or google 'laundry hacks'. 

Look after everything you have to make it last longer. Get things serviced on schedule, clean and store them properly. Protect them from the elements.  

Avoid single-use, disposable products, such as antibacterial wipes for cleaning kitchen benches and floors, facial cleansing wipes and make-up removal pads. We use machine washable dishcloths to clean everything, but I need to find alternatives for some other stuff, like make-up wipes. I just found this DIY and this one for reuseable make-up wipes. 


Make your own green cleaners. Store-bought cleaners are expensive and full of nasty stuff. Vinegar and bicarb soda are cheap as chips and they smell like chips too!

Use your own bank's ATMs to avoid paying fees. I reckon this would save me about $20 a month. Note to self: walking a bit further won't kill you. I can't wait until the Bank of Melbourne opens its new HQ in my office. 

Look around for a better deal on health and other insurance. I only have extras health cover and I get value for my money, but I'm interested to see if I can get the same for less.   

Buy generic brand pharmaceuticals (prescription and OTC) where possible. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Health isn't free, you idiots

The best things in life are, in fact, free. Love. Relationships. Health. Personal growth. Contribution. Six-pack abs.

I read this status update on The Minimalists' Facebook page last week and it made me a little cross.  

I agree with most of it, but health? Health is free? What the hell!? Health is only free if you have the good fortune to be born healthy and able-bodied, and to remain so throughout your life. I wanted to reply "PLEASE CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!", but I refrained. 

What's particularly astounding about this assertion is that these guys live in America, where even a relatively short stint in hospital can (or could, pre-Obamacare) cause extreme financial stress or even bankrupt someone. In Australia, even with Medicare, health is most definitely NOT FREE. I went to see my GP last week and while I was waiting, I noticed a sign tacked to the reception desk advising of increased fees:

  • A standard consultation of 15 minutes is now about $90, with a Medicare rebate of around $38 (I can't remember what it was before).
  • A long consultation - which I'm assuming is 30 minutes long - is around $160, but I don't know if you get a larger rebate for it.
  • A "prolonged consultation" - anything beyond 30 minutes, I suppose - is a whopping $215!! Again, I don't know if the Medicare rebate increases commensurately. 
These are weekday fees too - they charge even more when you go on Saturdays, which is what I usually do because my GP doesn't work on my days off, dammit. I was flabbergasted. More than $200 to see a GP! That's more than I pay for a standard consultation with my neurologist!  

To be fair, it seems the clinic my GP consults at charges well above average. It's on St Kilda Road, in an affluent area, so I guess they figure they can charge more. According to research from 2014 by the Australian Medical Association, the average cost of a GP visit was only $51, with $47 paid for by Medicare, and $5 by the patient. I can't recall the last time I paid such a small amount to visit a GP. Maybe bulk billing (where the patient has no out of pocket costs) skews the patient contribution figure? 

I have thought about changing doctors - I went to a different clinic nearby recently with bronchitis when I couldn't get in to see my regular doctor and it was quite a bit cheaper - but I've been seeing my GP for years now and continuity of care is important to me (as it is for anyone with ongoing health issues). Although she's a little eccentric, she is a good, caring doctor.   

Without spending money on shoes and clothes and not including rent and food, health costs (including pilates/yoga class fees, osteopath charges, consultation fees for my GP and specialists, and medication/supplements) are my largest expense. They might have been before my ban started too, but I never kept track of my outlay on clothes etc.  

And it's not like I'm seeing my doctors weekly (or even monthly), or taking a dozen different expensive medications daily like many other people with ongoing health conditions (some cancer treatments cost THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS), so my health costs might be high as a proportion of my spending, but I'm sure they are quite low compared to what many others spend. I can imagine how these people would react if some privileged American idiot suggested to them health is free. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

When being sick pays off

When you give up shopping, you'd expect your bank balance to show the results of your restraint, wouldn't you? Until recently though, my balance didn't seem any healthier than before my shopping ban started on 1 June. I was puzzled and disappointed.

The obvious reason would be that I've diverted funds I would normally have spent on shoes, clothes and accessories into "permitted" areas of spending. I was worried I might be tempted to do this, but I haven't. My shopping ban has actually made me a little tight-fisted generally.

But this month my bank balance is finally looking a little healthier, which I think is only because I've been sick for more than a month and not following my usual routines. I haven't been going to pilates or yoga, and I postponed my last osteopath appointment. Pilates was costing me $54 a week; yes, it's expensive, but that's because it's clinical pilates where the classes are small (up to three people, but often only me), the instructor is an osteopath, and I have a program tailored to my needs. I was spending about $20 a class for yoga, although I've only being doing yoga for a month or two.

I usually visit the osteopath once a month, which costs about $60 after I claim it on my health insurance. Combined, that's $90 a week - $360 a month!  While I wholeheartedly believe in spending money to improve health and wellbeing, whether it's discretionary or necessary (and I fall mostly in the latter camp because of a couple of chronic health conditions), I have to consider if this outlay is sustainable, particularly if it impacts significantly on my ability to save money. 

This isn't actually me

Before I cut back to four days a week I had a gym membership for $120 a month (unlimited visits/classes) and I was going to pilates once a week ($216 a month for four classes) but I couldn't afford to keep doing both on four days' pay. I opted to drop my gym membership which seems stupid, but because I wasn't actually going to the gym much it was mostly a waste of money. Pilates is much more expensive, but I went nearly every week and I was seeing and loving the results, which made the cost easier to justify.

But now I'm thinking I need to go back to the gym and drop pilates. I can do pilates (and yoga and many other) classes at the gym and even if I only went to one class a week, it would still be cheaper than going to pilates. Pilates at the gym isn't specifically tailored to my needs, but it would still be beneficial. 

The other option is to buy a DVDs or find some online classes that I can do at home in my own time for free or close enough to it. I've been going to pilates long enough that I think I'd be fine without face-to-face instruction, plus I'm much better at motivating myself to exercise at home than I used to be. I think I will give this a go (once I'm feeling better) so I can work on my health and wellbeing and afford a nice holiday. 

In other news...

Although my bank balance hasn't grown as much as I'd hoped, I have nearly paid off my credit card. There's only a couple of hundred dollars on it now. Hooray! It's not really due to my own financial management though - I put almost my entire tax refund towards reducing the balance, but I did pay some extra off it with the money I've saved while being sick. 

Needless to say, I don't recommend illness as a way of saving money!