Summer 2015’s Garden: Technically A Frugal Flop


I started growing fruits and veggies last summer and had great success in 2014. It definitely saved us at least a couple of hundred over the season and was such a wonderful way to connect the children with nature, learn about how food is grown, and was very good for my mental health and relaxation. Last year we had at least 20 + peppers, 20 + eggplants, close to 100 carrots, beets and radishes, around 10-15 lemon cucumbers, hot peppers, loads of herbs, broccoli, kale, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, spinach, hot peppers and I’m sure there is more I’ve forgotten. All this was grown in pots in our garden {aka a deck} and in a 6 foot by 2 foot community garden plot.

This year similarly I spent around $50 and we got 4 cabbages, 1 zucchini, 12 or so tomatoes and 15 or so potatoes; we did get a whole lot of scapes from our garlic {though the garlic disappeared – is that normal?!} and basil. I think we also had a few radishes, though most were so small they were inedible. Of course someone stole at least 10 zucchini from our community plot and a few lemon cucumbers. But things didn’t do well as I wasn’t able to water, weed or add compost. It was a very neglected garden…!

One of my biggest hopes is to turn my skills up a notch and do more than our successful 2014 so instead of being upset or terribly disappointed about this year, I’m just rolling with it. I mean it got to a place where it was almost comical that things would just be ready for harvesting and they’d disappear, or garlic was well and truly nowhere to be found when the stalk was pulled up. If you didn’t laugh you’d cry, right! ;) But next year, next year I plan to go big!

How did your garden grow this year?

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Financial Case Study: My Household Income Tripled But I’m Poorer Than Ever

I’ve long held the belief, and blogged about it many times before, that household income is only a fraction of your financial picture. So much depends on expenditure, help you receive and any special considerations like disabilities. Some of my friends with the highest disposable incomes have lower paid jobs, but exceptionally low housing costs compared to their counterparts. Today a friend agreed to share her story of her household income tripling, but the amount of money left drastically reducing

  • Age 40+, was single until 2014 when she met her partner, now they are married
  • Household income in 2013 {these are approximates as it was hard to remember exacts, this was based on her single life}
    • £15,000 before tax, approximately $29,000 Cdn.
    • Brought home around £1060/month, approximately $2000
    • Lived in a small house in the centre of town, was able to walk to work, shops, family visits and most friend’s house as well as Church
    • Tithe £100, mortgage £180, council tax £100, other household bills £100, petrol £30, car insurance £54, tv licence £12, food and household items £160, other insurance £30, mobile phone £20
    • Had £260 a month {$515} left for holidays, car repairs, entertainment, clothing, savings, gifts and sponsored two children overseas. She does admit she wasn’t really a saver, but always had enough left – was able to vacation every year, eat well, give generously, see friends weekly and always had about a month’s salary tucked away.
    • Did not contribute to retirement savings.
  • Household income in 2015 {married}
    • £43, 000 before tax, approximately $85,000
    • Take home around £2650/month, approximately $5250
    • Moved and purchased used vehicles as both their cars needed replacing the same year they were married.
    • She also got a new, much longed for job, with a pay increase.
    • They lived 2 1/4 hours apart before marriage so purchased a house in between where they live and work, meaning both have an hour commute each way to work.
    • His income is somewhat variable, but on average here are their costs…
      • Mortgage £530 {increased by £350}
      • Council Tax £150 {increased by £50}
      • Other Household Bills £170 {increased by £70}
      • Petrol £300 {increased by £270 a month!!}
      • Car loan on one vehicle, payment of £210/month {brand-new charge}
      • Car loan on the other vehicle, payment of  £118/month {brand-new charge}
      • Parking charges {work related since she also changed jobs} £50
      • Food and Household Items £90/week = £360/month {increased by £200/month}
      • Tv licence £12 {stayed the same}
      • Other insurance – dropped
      • Mobile Phones £45 {increased by £25 a month}
      • Tithe £270
      • Health care £140 {one partner has a health condition that requires a prescription a month, counselling and travel costs to appointments}
      • Loan £130
      • Travel to see family at weekends {train usually} £40
      • Total £2525
      • Around £125 {$245} left for entertainment, gifts, savings, clothing, travel/vacations, they do also sponsor a child overseas from this money

My friends are struggling and finding things hard. They feel like they can’t get ahead, can’t save, costs are spiralling and many months they have absolutely nothing left. My friend jokingly said to me recently that they’ve never had so many emergencies in such a short time – a car repair, two floods, a blocked sink, needing a referral to a pain clinic for a back injury, one of her parents being hospitalized and needing surgery three hours away while on a mini-break. They’ve had a really hard year.

In speaking with my friend we’ve spoken about a few financial lessons she’s learned:

  • Commuting is very expensive. They spend just over £700/month on cars {that were used and have values of less than £5000 each}, petrol, insurance and parking. They both tried to get jobs in the other person’s city and were not successful, now they are trying to get a job in their new city. They know the only way to increased disposable income is to drastically reduce their commuting costs and get down to one vehicle only and cut out at least one person’s commute.
  • Bigger house = costs more money. My friends were very smart in scouting out less expensive areas when they had to move {they actually chose the area I suggested which was funny!}. The area they chose is up to £50,000 less than others surrounding it. It’s smaller with less amenities and they went for a new build in an area where most people want period features. And while on the whole they still have a lower mortgage than most, the increased cost, plus increased council tax, plus increased bills still makes a dent. On a positive note they live in the middle of commute to several cities with jobs, so if either faced unemployment they wouldn’t be in a pickle, and they bought a house that was around 500 square foot bigger to have a third bedroom for future children. They don’t plan to move as they know moving is expensive. They were also approved for a much larger mortgage but kept to simply securing enough to have a 3 bedroom home with a small garden. They feel the house is within their means, but the transportation is tipping them over the edge.
  • Sickness/Illness/Disability/Health Conditions = cost money. The loan {for previous costs related to ill health} plus health costs come to £270/month because one partner has a long term health condition that while in no way impacts life expectancy, it does impact life and costs. If they were both without health conditions they would have a significant amount left each month. This condition won’t go away and will likely always need £ spent. It has in the past also meant days off without pay.
  • Things Go Wrong – For my friend she went from very little ever going wrong in her house and her brother just down the road for help in a pinch, to a larger, newer house, with many many little things causing serious dents in their money. Being further from family also means it is harder to ask for practical help – a few months after they moved her brother’s job moved 40 minutes in the opposite direction. There’s a huge difference between someone popping in to look at your sink when they are 5 minutes down the road, instead of almost 2 hours drive from their work. My friend’s have almost cleared their savings.
  • Lives Are Complicated – My friend admits that before meeting her lovely partner she had a very neat and tidy life. A wonderful caring family, she’s close to her parents, maiden aunt, brother and sister in law and nephews and nieces. They support one another, no one struggled with infertility, no mental health related challenges that impact daily life, no chronic illness or disabilities, no special needs, no money worries. While she was by far the least well off, she had enough, her parents definitely provided support in times of hardship {though she always always always did everything she could do first and very rarely needed or accepted help}, but there was always emotional support, love and practical things. Her parents also very kindly arrange a family vacation each year for the whole family to have a weekend away, and they donate a week’s timeshare to each child. Her new partners family? Well, they have a lot of troubles – finances, mental health, disabilities, relationship strife, siblings who don’t get on. Her partner moved away from it to protect his own well-being at a young age, but there’s a lot of pain. My friend says she went from a woman of faith who lived in a bubble, to well and truly understanding vulnerability, pain, marginalization, intergenerational trauma and poverty and so much more. This is a lesson she is so so thankful for because she said it makes her a better human, partner, friend, member of her community, citizen and hopefully eventually mother.
  • When Family is Far You Need A Budget – His family is over 7 hours drive away, and they are not really in a place where my friends can stay with them when they visit. While they have loads of troubles my friend and her husband try to get there at least twice a year to show support, let them know they care for them and just try to make a difference. It isn’t easy. But going means at the very least {staying for 3 nights in a nearby budget hotel and driving there and back in a day each, and contributing food because of the family’s finances}, £450. They stay at a budget hotel that includes breakfast, they usually provide lunch or dinner for the family and she makes loads of snack like food for when they get back to the hotel. One thing I’ve suggested is instead of 5 days that are somewhat fraught, maybe renting a cheap cottage or section of someone’s home a little further but nearer the coast or countryside so they can combine it with a break for maybe £50 or so more and stay a week. They are going to look into it because visits are very stressful and they are trying to reduce stress.

My friends are wonderful people, they have a strong and beautiful relationship. They support me through thick and thin, they write to the wee children, they’ve sent us support and others in their lives too, they’ve found frugal ways to cope with some of the stress life has brought them. They’ve taken up £5 a month badminton club just down the road from them, they saved up change to have a night away for their anniversary via a discount site, they’ve provided meals for people who are shut-in, they live a simple, good life and are so thankful for one another.

When I think of their financial story, I think of success. They live an honest life, are hard-working, contribute to making the world a better place, prioritize bills over wants, find ways to help his family, and find joy in very simple things. My hope for them over the next year is that they are able to reduce their expenses, perhaps through job changes, and move on to other anticipated and longed for life events. And also, that they can boost their savings because another important lesson in all this is that they desperately need an emergency fund because without either of their salaries their expenditures will quickly push them over the edge.

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