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April 6, 2008 THE SUN-HERALD

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EXTRA
On your bike. Walk to the shops, ride your bike to work and use public transport for one month. Then consider whether you really need a gym membership. Cut your energy bills by a quarter. Open the window, line-dry clothes, turn off lights. Cut up your credit card. Use cash instead and you’ll become much more careful. Make a budget and consider where you can save. Are your pay TV and internet packages costing too much? Libraries have free internet. Consider a prepaid account. Visit the library for books, buy household items at garage sales, try op-shops for ‘‘new clothes’’.

EXTRA

Pay bills by direct debit, then take out only the cash you need for food and transport.

Keep a price book. Prices vary dramatically. Asian supermarkets do good deals, so make a monthly trip and do without if you run out.

BYO at work. Easy to fritter away $50 on lunches and coffees, right? Pack up leftovers for lunch, and keep dried fruit and nuts in snap-lock bags.

Grow your own. Lettuce, herbs, spinach and beans are easy to grow and attractive in the garden.

Eat more veggies. Be sparing with meat and try lentils and beans instead. Use frozen veggies and buy fresh only in season.

Careful with quantities. Buy half as many bananas and buy veggies with staying power: cabbage, carrots, pumpkins and beans last longer.

Buy generic. You can’t tell the difference with staples.

Plan a weekly menu and buy only what you need. If you run out, tap the pantry. Reward yourself, but carefully. Buy good cheese on ‘‘quick sale’’.

Tryingtoliveon$100aweek
W
ith my mortgage payments up by almost $300 a month, and a tank of petrol worth about $15 extra, I set myself a challenge. To live on $100 for one week. True, it might be an artificial experiment. I have a pantry full of food and shell out hundreds of dollars each month on essentials such as phone, electricity and insurance. Then there is gym membership, the odd pedicure and new-release DVDs. But with almost every acquaintance experiencing some kind of financial stress, I decide to make it as real as possible and start by cancelling my newspaper subscription and gym membership. Then plan a weekly menu and a few nights out. (It turns out one is the limit.) Next, commit to text messages and local calls, email from internet cafes, take fewer showers and drink cheaper wine. First, I ask my local purveyor of fine wines for his advice. (Everyone has a vice.) He recommends $6.50 De Bortoli Cabernet Sauvignon. I usually spend more than twice that, but discover it’s actually not bad. Really. On to my community centre. The manager, Robyn, puts on a free three-course meal once a week. She started 12 months ago with 20 people. Now she
NEW 052

>IN FOCUS
ERIN O’DWYER decided to slash

her spending but found the reality of scrimping every day tough and the novelty of hunting down free food quickly wore off.
regularly sees up to 80 people. Others work in the centre’s garden to reduce their food bill with free vegies. Robyn listens patiently to my project, then sets me another challenge – come and talk to people who really live on $100 a week. They don’t eat three meals a day and they don’t go out. On Wednesday, I do just that, taking the train and walking. It’s a 20-minute round trip in the car, but a two-hour return journey using public transport. Nervously, I walk in and queue for soup alongside elderly pensioners and young mums. Next to me is Carole, a former nurse who once lived in a fivebedroom home in Wollongong. Her friend Julie once ran a business in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and lived the high life in an inner-city terrace. Now in their 50s, divorced, penniless and struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, they live in Housing Commission units and survive on a weekly pension of $259. They are well-spoken, wear fresh lipstick and are well dressed (in op-shop clothes). ‘‘When I think how I used to live in Sydney,’’ Julie says. ‘‘I used to be up there and now I’m down here. It was very hard to come here the first time.’’ What does she miss most? Manicures and pedicures are equal first. Then shopping and eating out. She can’t afford a car or a credit card. ‘‘But you know,’’ she pauses and smiles, ‘‘I’m actually happy. I don’t worry about all that extra stuff.’’

Next day, at a free barbecue lunch at a church in Wollongong, there’s Tanya, another 50-yearold divorcee who once lived on lattes, smoked salmon and prosciutto. She would like to try the Wednesday lunch at the community centre but cannot afford the $2.50 round train trip. She allocates $10 to transport and $45 to food from her weekly pension. She tries to eat well, and avoids the sausages served up today. How does she do it? A 300-gram kangaroo steak makes three lunches – a 100-gram portion served with home-grown lettuce and basil leaves. Dinner is a cup of lentils and some frozen steamed vegies. A container of soy milk lasts two weeks, as does a tub of yoghurt. ‘‘What I really miss is a flat white,’’ she says. ‘‘Well actually, a decaf soy flat white.’’ Then out come Julie’s words again: ‘‘But I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,’’ Tanya says. ‘‘Because life is simple.’’ That day, my $100 seemed shockingly luxurious. But by week’s end there is nothing left in the fridge. Living on $100 is tough but not impossible. It’s a challenge making food last and exciting to hunt out freebies, but if you love eating out and enjoy a nice bottle of wine, think again. My aim for next week? Take out $150 – no ifs or buts. And I actually think I can do it.

DAY

DAY

Spend $140 on hosting Easter Sunday barbecue. Spend $70 at deli fruit shop to buy salad greens, strawberries and gourmet snags, crackers, cheeses and dips. Spend another $70 on wine, beer, bread rolls and a hot chicken. Leftovers fill a few takeaway containers. Hope it might carry me over into the week. Demolish half for dinner. Take $100 out of bank and vow to live on this for the rest of the week.
DAY

0 Sunday

Blow the budget on a trip to Sydney. Spend $15 on petrol plus $7.50 in tolls. Vow not to use car again. Food is taken care of, thanks to brunch with a friend who spares no expense. I dig into eggs benedict, home-made quiche and a fruit platter loaded with lychees, starfruit and pineapple. An out-of-town friend springs for two bottles of champagne. It’s the best I eat all week. Scrounge fridge for dinner. Leftover chicken and salad on toasted bread rolls. Am extremely careful with the fetta cheese and return the chicken carcass to the fridge. Tomorrow there will be chicken broth. Total: $22.50 Remaining: $77.50
NEW

1 Monday

Another trip to Sydney – groan. Return peak-hour ticket will set me back $17.20 so catch lift with a friend. Ditch usual breakfast on the run and eat porridge, yoghurt and sultanas at home. ‘‘Paper bag’’ my lunch too. Eat it with said friend at eastern suburbs cafe. Scramble enough change for a coffee ($3) and surreptitiously eat my lunch at the table. Strawberries, salad and half a vegie burger – the last of the barbecue leftovers. Arrive home starving. Find stale corn crackers in pantry and eat with remaining fetta cheese. Make chicken broth for dinner. Add half an old capsicum for flavour, plus herbs. Shopping must occur soon (and I’m out of toilet paper!). Total: $3 Remaining: $74.50
DAY

2 Tuesday

video shop is cheaper for email than the library. Spend $4 for four hours on the internet and spend an hour in the library reading newspapers. Search through books, CDs and DVDs but too boring to mention. Leave empty-handed. Spend $23 on groceries – staples like rice and couscous plus watermelon, bananas and a few vegies. Splurge on salmon roe dip ($3.60). Choose home-brand kidney beans and go without OJ. Visit bottle shop for cheap red (two bottles at $6.50 each). Entire trip takes four hours. Realise living cheaply is time-consuming. For dinner, add chopped carrot, mushrooms and lentils to last of chicken soup. Total: $45.60 Remaining: $28.90
DAY

‘Shaun’s lived on soup kitchen handouts for 10 years.’
Feel guilty when I think what I usually live on. Realise living cheaply can be humiliating. Go home via newsagent. Choose cheapest birthday card for my sister ($2.95 + 50 cent stamp) and one newspaper ($1.30). Spend afternoon looking forward to $6 roast advertised at local workers’ club. Arrive to find cheapest meal on the blackboard special is $17. Walk out, embarrassed. Go home and make giant pot of sweet potato and lentil soup for dinner. Add spinach from the garden. Watch free-to-air TV Get . frustrated by ads and go to bed early. Total: $9.35 Remaining: $19.55
DAY

leftover lentil soup for lunch. Break vow not to use car and drive five minutes to shops to top up groceries. Spend $1.25 on chick peas plus $2.60 for two tomatoes, an onion and garlic. Stop into bottle shop for wine tasting; try a $20 pinot noir from WA. Politely refuse to buy and leave store emptyhanded. Stop by video store to check out weekly rentals. Cheapest DVD is $4.40. Go home to check out TV guide. At home, turn one large pumpkin into two meals and vegie burgers with kidney beans and couscous and sage (again) from garden. Dishwasher is broken but can’t afford repairs. A friend drops round to trim my garden hedges. Can’t afford to buy him even a six-pack of beer. Offer him my $6.50 red. We enjoy it in the sun. Friday night too boring to mention. Realise only way to save money is not to do anything. Total: $3.85 Remaining: $15.70
DAY

and assorted vegies dying in bottom of fridge. Needs parmesan cheese. Resort to barbecue sauce instead. Make plans to spend evening at a short film festival. Put $5 in the car and spend $5 on a ticket. Boyfriend spends $3 of my money on a program and looks sheepish. I tell him he has to pay me back. Feel like a cheapskate. Film quality is questionable. Leave at intermission and drive home. Park by the beach to watch the passing storm. Better than anything on TV . Total: $14.90 Remaining: $1.40
DAY

Buy day-old croissant ($1). Buy day pass from railway station ($4.60) and take train two stops for free lunch at community centre. Sit down beside Julie and Carole, two divorcees on disability support pensions who survive on $259 a week. Swallow my pride to join them and 80 other elderly pensioners for minestrone soup; salad, a sausage, a chicken kebab and ice-cream for dessert. Carole gives me a lift to shopping centre. Julie tells me the

3 Wednesday

Bypass regular cafe breakfast and make scrambled eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms and sage from garden. Take train ($4.60) to Wollongong for free barbecue lunch at Lighthouse Church. There is seafood salad, a Greek salad, chicken patties and sausage sandwiches donated by the congregation. I’m too embarrassed to whip out my laptop to use church’s free wi-fi hot spot. Meet Shaun, who tells me he lived on soup kitchen handouts for 10 years. Tanya, another divorcee, tells me she spends $45 a week on food.

4 Thursday

Water melon with (very questionable) yoghurt for breakfast. Two plates of

5 Friday

Plan to blitz garage sale for new wine glasses but wake up too late. Spend morning at the beach instead (it’s free!) Splurge on chocolate croissant ($2) and newspaper ($2.30). Can’t afford coffee. Make plunger-full at home and sit on veranda – happy days. Eat leftover pumpkin curry for lunch. Spend the afternoon walking along the headland. Ignore craving for hot chips. Have forgotten to remove vegie burgers from freezer. Make Moroccan feast from couscous in the cupboard

6 Saturday

Can’t afford a newspaper or a coffee. Can barely afford to call my mother. Turn nose up at speckled brown bananas and plunder the freezer for old bread rolls for breakfast. Barbecue home-made vegie burgers for lunch and serve with brown rice, yoghurt (very dodgy by now) and (very small) chicken breast hiding at back of the freezer. Save leftovers for dinner. Vow never to cook anything with pumpkin again. Plan to hang out at pub in afternoon and listen to a touring US blues band but can’t afford beer ($2.80) or pool table ($3) so stay home. Drink tea and read a book on veranda. Check wallet. Have $1.40 in change left. Check cupboards. Almost bare. Thank goodness tomorrow is Monday. Total: zero Remaining: $1.40

7 Sunday