The evidence is in: it’s the year of the Austere Aussie.
As ‘frugal February’ draws to a close, we appear to be heading directly into money-saving March. The more-than 100 interviews I’ve conducted with debt-free and debt-focused Australians for my new book suggest it… and official retail-spending, mortgage-repaying and saving data prove it.
“She’ll be right” is morphing into “she’ll be responsible” as en masse we’re aiming for debt freedom rather than slavery to 'stuff'.
But all the mortgage-free Aussies who’ve generously confided their top debt-reduction tactics to me have one clear message for you: it’s possible to cut your costs and still live large(-ish).
Of the hundreds of fabulous savings ideas they share, here are some of my favourite pieces of what I’ve dubbed stinge-spiration… proven ways to stash, rather than splash, the cash.
1. A waste warrior
We play the “empty-the-fridge challenge".
My kids think it’s so much fun – we totally empty the fridge and then we get to go to the shops and fill it up again. We never throw out anything and if we end up having some very strange dinners that may involve a sliced peach on the side, so be it!
2. Inexpensive entertainers
A DIY – um – MO is the top tip from the belt-tightening brigade. ‘Cocooning’ is a term coined in the aftermath of the global credit crack-up that refers to recreating otherwise expensive experiences at home.
So, the collaborative dinner party where each guest brings their hero dish… the cocktail party where everyone supplies an ingredient… the movie on your own (probably enormous) television.
One cost conqueror spoke of her family recently clearing the lounge, filling it with mattresses and having a “gold class” party, complete with far more economical popcorn.
And here are our own home-made choc tops on my @NicolePedMcKMoney Instagram. Okay, they could be neater but not cheaper!
3. An economical quaffer
"I buy whatever wine is the discounted BWS/Woolworths Rewards 2-4-1, with WISH eGift cards bought through the Entertainment Book. This gives you a further 5 percent off… so nice drops usually come down to $9.50 a bottle."
4. A phone-bill fighter
"Use your mobile until it dies – upgrades really don’t offer anything significant other than more cost. No contracts and no old phone company to fight with to switch to the constantly better deals.”
5. The frugal fashionistas
“Today’s espadrilles are tomorrow’s embarrassment. Just don’t buy into – or buy – fads. Keep it classic, then adding cheap accessories to trend-it-up saves a fortune.”
Okay, this tip was mine but it I swear by it.
When you do shop, to make the bargain hunting super simple, I like www.lasoo.com.au, which aggregates a bunch of sales catalogues so you can see where it’s cheapest to head.
Many traditional retailers will price-match e-tailers too. And check out the website Honey. It is great to search for the best coupons, vouchers and discount codes on, well, everything.
Then there is this ‘click tip’ from a cost combatant: “Searching on shopping websites under ‘sales’ helps you find bargains faster. Provided you key in the specific item you are after, it may also limit the opportunity to find something else you want to buy.”
In any case, wait and wait until long after the traditional Boxing Day, stocktake et cetera sales to do your bargain shopping.
Myer is my favourite place to find a forlorn rack of random clothes they are just desperate to disappear. The leather jacket in this picture cost me $10... down from $179.95!
Better still, go ‘shopping’ in your wardrobe. It’s that simple, say the sartorial soldiers.
“Get your clothes out and mix them around a bit to find different combinations,” one suggested. “You’ll possibly even find clothes you’ve lost.”
And happy days if you discover far more than you want/need/fits…
6. Savvy sellers
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure and there is a strong market for pre-loved clothes in particular. They don’t even have to be designer – anything vintage earns a sweet sum too.
Fashion and money-savvy Aussies are cutting out the middleman from stores (online or bricks and mortar) that sell your stuff on consignment, to do it themselves.
Instagram is probably your best bet… and your hashtags are key.
We all know people love ‘pretty’ pics on Insta, so get good shots of your merch first, including ones with the label showing. Then post them with measurements, fabrics, price and postage arrangements, and how they can arrange to buy (messaging through the platform is usually preferable).
Then all you need do is use hashtags like #shopmywardrobe, #shopconsignment, #resalenotretail and #resaleboutique.
You can complete transactions via PayPal or any P2P payment system, and don’t forget to update your photos with the word “Sold” when appropriate.
7. A library devotee
“We add up how much it would cost my son to purchase all the Bookclub books he wants. Then we go on the e-library catalogue of our council library and look up the same books. My 10-year old can see the savings as it would have usually cost at least $50 through book club.”
8. Another penny-pinching parent
“When it comes to sizing a new bike for a child, if their toes touch the ground, it fits them.”
OK I’m calling ‘too far’, my friend!
A far safer idea the savers extol is to buy everything – both for kids and yourself – second-hand from Gumtree, eBay, Facebook Marketplace or the like.
“You’ll likely even get a higher quality bike for a cheaper price."
9. My in-eggs-pensive input
Buy and give cut-price regular-shaped chocolate instead of expensive ‘eggs’ this Easter. It tastes the same and you’ll save a packet.
10. Two inspired economical eaters
“Bonne Maman jam jars are wide topped and are the perfect size for lunches, so you just make a layered salad,” one evangelised.
Her partner excitedly chimed in: “So you start off with your wet ingredients, where you put your dressing, then you layer your protein and any beans or corn etc., and then you put your grains – you basically plug it with those – and then your greens. You just tip it out on your plate at lunch.”
But wait there’s more. You can make them in advance in a family cook/’can’ up.
“If you’re careful about what you put in them they’ll last two days, or even three at a push, and then everyone can just grab them and go. It’s also meant we could eat down the pantry because we use all those dregs of different leftover grains, rice, barley etc.”
How much does the couple think they’re saving?
“Well we’ve bought lunch five times this year and we save $165 dollars each week. And that just points to the incredible amounts you can spend in a very unknowing way when you are just buying your lunch in these $9.50 or $12.50 bursts.”
That even makes the tired old money-saving mantra “pack your lunch” sound appealing!