Never let a stumble in the road be the end of the journey

As indicated in my post Obstacles to the dream – Options and opportunities, I recently encountered a challenge to my goal for early retirement.

Without recounting the whole story, I had been assigned to a particular work location for an indefinite period. The issue being that the location provided very little in the way of night or weekend work. This means reduced shift penalties, which means less money.

I’m not talking a few dollars but potentially hundreds each fortnight. For me, this is significant. The other problem was that the location has a low customer volume. I thrive on high-volume work and the difficulties this presents. It is definitely not uncommon during night shifts to have to deal with inebriated customers and those on illicit substances. For some, that sounds horrible. For me, it’s a learning experience and challenges and improves my customer service skills.

For the purpose of my early retirement though, the financial aspect was the key issue. I had been advised by management that I was obliged by my employment agreement to be assigned where there was a business requirement. From a business perspective, I appreciate the necessity to fill a space with staff but I didn’t want that space filled with me!

I asked if there was a further avenue to request reconsideration. I was told that I could contact the head of HR but my chances would be slim. Well, a slim chance was better than no chance, so I went about drafting an email that detailed my claims. I was wary of indicating my financial issues as a primary concern and focussed on points that would benefit the business and others within the business. I made it clear that I could contribute significantly more to a busy station environment and customer satisfaction. I pointed out also there were several other employees that were seeking to obtain a position within the work location that I had been assigned and they would more likely be more motivated and enthusiastic.

Well, I was called by the head of HR today. I was expecting a long-winded explanation of the employee agreement and I had to accept my work location and suck it up. To my surprise, the HR head was very understanding. She agreed that it was much better for the business to have people where they want to be. I suggested at this time the name of a colleague that had expressed an interest in Monday to Friday work. The HR head said she would organise for shifts to be changed for next week and would contact my colleague.

True to her word, the HR head has organised for my shifts to be changed as of next week. I’m back to a busy station and I have a week of night shifts ahead. My mood has been immediately elevated, not just because I have achieved my goal of returning to the work I want but also by the understanding the business has shown to an employee. After being told by a manager at a former company, ‘You don’t get to pick and choose the parts of the job you do’, this was very refreshing. It is positive acts like this that create loyalty and happiness with staff.

I add also that my colleague is very thankful that I had been put her name forward to HR and she has secured a role that will work better with her family commitments and her career goals within the business. A win-win for all I reckon!

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The point of the story I suppose is to not let go of your dream lightly. If the HR head had responded negatively, I would have taken the matter to the next level until I either ran out of levels or received the response I wanted.

Another point to consider is how you win someone over to your way of thinking. Whinging and complaining about how much I didn’t want a lighter wallet would most likely get a negative response. Think of what appeals to the person or the business. If they see the proposal as something that will benefit them, they will more likely look at the matter the way you want them to. In this case anyway, it worked!

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The frugal benefit of balding – The $0.06 haircut

Oh, how I used to love my monthly $50.00 haircut.

It wasn’t cut at a barber’s but at a salon. Everyone that worked there seemed to be slim, flirty and quirky beautiful. Electronic dance played but at a soothing background volume. I was offered a coffee or champagne while I waited in the comfy lounge chairs, while I flipped through the latest magazines that covered numerous topics and interests. When I was fortunate enough for my time to come, I was escorted by the beautiful receptionist to the equally gorgeous hair stylist, who was introduced by name. This person would become ‘my’ hair stylist and would always remember my name and everything about me the next time I turned up.

The hair stylist would proceed to faff around with my hair for the next 20 minutes before passing me off to get my hair washed. Again, I was escorted to yet another beautiful person, who lovingly massaged my hair with just the right temperature water for the next 10 minutes. Just before drifting off to sleep I was returned to my hair stylist to make minor adjustments to my hair cut, trim any rogue hairs from my ears. etc etc. My haircut was complete and it looked wonderful. I considered the $50.00 investment a bargain for such excellent service, the exceptional experience and perfect haircut.

For the next few days I felt like a superstar. My hair was perfect and I was certain that I was attracting glances and double-takes by random admirers as I walked past. As the week passed, however, I found it more difficult to shape my hair into the desired style and more and more product was required to maintain the required coiffe. A half inch growth on long hair may not make much difference but with my relatively shortish hair, it was scruffy and needed a trim by the end of the second week.

I couldn’t afford a $50.00 haircut every fortnight at the time, so I battled through for the next two weeks until I could go through the whole salon experience again.

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I was always quite proud of my hair. It was thick, wavy and someone even remarked that it resembled Patrick ‘McDreamy’ Dempsey’s hair on Grey’s Anatomy. My reality was shaken though when a hair stylist remarked that my hair was thinning on top but I still ‘had a couple of years left’. What?!! I went home and found a hand-held mirror to get a good angle to see the top of my head. It looked fine to me. Almost daily, I would come home to make the same investigations to ensure there were no signs of thinning and I hadn’t lost a few follicles.

This process of examination went on for almost 6 months. I even lost sleep as I dreaded the day when someone would notice my hair loss….that I had yet to notice myself.

Just as you see the same car as yours on the road once you buy a new car, I started to see follicly-challenged men everywhere. I noticed how they styled their hair. Some were subtle with the styling, while others went all out with the always admired and attractive, comb-over. Whatever these guys did though, the balding was obvious.

I decided then that rather than continue to stress about my hair loss and go the path of trying to hide my hair loss disgracefully, I would embrace it. I went to a pharmacy and bought a pair of cheap hair clippers for $22.00. I initially used a #2 blade and trimmed my whole head at the same length. This gave me about a half-inch stubble on my head. It was neat, tidy and after a few days I got used to the very short hair. Again, as my hair was short it started to look scrappy after a week. I didn’t have to wait a month for my $50.00 haircut though, I just got the clippers out and went over it in 5 minutes.

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I was liberated. I no longer stressed about my thinning hair that still, incidentally, looked solid in growth to me. My hair styling regime in the morning consisted of running water on my head in the shower. I would indulge myself every few days with shampoo just to make sure my stubble was free of sweat residue. I often rode my motorcycle but no ‘helmet hair’ for me. It looked the same before and after the helmet went on and off.

The hair stylist was right though. A few years later my hair did start to thin on top. By this time though, I was so used to my short growth, I was not concerned. I just threw away and the hair length guides and started to use the minimum clipper length, which is little longer than a spiky stubble.

Every week, I clipper my hair. I spend nothing on product and manage to cut my hair by myself. With the exception of that one time when I left a landing strip on the back of my head, it has always looked perfect. I am grateful also that stubbled heads are no longer associated with neo-Nazi’s and it is quite a common and accepted way to maintain one’s hair very short or even shaved.

My $22.00 clipper lasted me 7 years. 7 years of haircuts at one cut a week. That’s 364 hair cuts for $22.00. If my poor math skills serve me right, that works out to $0.06 a hair cut. If I had continued with my monthly $50.00 haircut for the same period, I would have spent $4200. I do miss the theatre of the hair salon but I don’t miss it as much as I would miss the $4178 in my pocket. That hair stylists one comment ended up saving me a great deal of money.

It seems that my frugality started before I even knew I was doing it.

 

Saving dollars & cents – Bulk buying at the supermarket

I quick review of my weekly outgoings revealed that a significant proportion of my money was being utilised by my grocery bill. The amount was actually quite surprising, considering that I am buying only for myself and a cat.

My review further indicated that I was shopping on almost a daily basis. This practice in itself is not productive. I would buy small volumes of items I needed and invariably, there was one impulse item or another that I bought. If I was strong and avoided everything else, the pull of the confectionary aisle was always too strong. I’m still waiting for the day that since finds that excessive intake of chocolate is healthy. Until then, I try to avoid consuming too much for my waist line and my wallet.

Back to the main point, the daily visit to the supermarket was a waste of time, petrol money and I was paying a premium by purchasing items in small quantities. On the whole, the larger the quantity, the lower price you pay per kilo/pound. It therefore is more cost effective to buy in bulk.

The definition of bulk will vary for each person and their situation. For instance, buying 40 rolls of toilet paper might be practical for a large family. For me, 40 rolls of TP would last me an eon, in addition to being a lot to store. Conversely, I could probably get away with buying am individual toilet roll but it would not be very efficient financially. You have to strike the balance that works for you.

For the most part, I find that buying bulk has the largest impact with meat products, which tend to be one of the higher ticket items in my basket. I won’t buy a whole cow or 10 chickens, only an amount that will last me 4-5 days. The larger packs are usually less per kilo and it is easy to save several dollars per shop by purchasing bulk quantities.

As indicated, I only shop for 4-5 days of meat product. Ideally, larger quantities that would last me much longer would be financially better practice. I have a quirk though that I think that freezing meat effects the product. For a ‘normal’ person, buy much more!

I have started to apply a bulk buying philosophy to my grocery shop. I am confident that I should be able to reduce my grocery bill by 20%, in addition to the abovementioned reduced petrol costs and savings in time. For someone with a higher quantity demand and has the ability to shop less frequently, I’m certain that 30% or more is definitely achieveable.

One last rule is to use the savings for the purpose of savings or reducing debt. Saving money to include additional items in your shopping basket is not the aim, it’s about reducing the overall grocery bill. Leave the extra money in your own pocket, don’t use it to increase the profits of the supermarket.

 

 

Saving dollars & cents – Baked Beans

I have been told that when you have money you eat steak. When you’re broke you eat beans. Well, I like baked beans and eat them when I’m flush with money or when the purse strings start to tighten up.

I live by myself, so the unfortunate flatulence normally associated with eating baked beans is of no issue to anyone but me and the cat. I will note that through frequent eating of baked beans, my digestive system has adapted and I don’t have a gas reaction to bean consumption.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a fart joke but will move on to more mature discussion. I genuinely enjoy baked beans. I like the flavour, texture and they fill me up. I prefer to eat them cold straight from the can. I rarely go a day without eating a 420gm can of baked beans. I just like baked beans! The cans of baked beans can be sometimes loaded with too much sodium but other than that they are healthy and provide a good source of fibre.

ok…maybe one long fart joke before I move on….sorry!

Anyway, in line with my transition to the frugal way, I started to take more time in the supermarket to determine what brands of baked beans are the most economical, while still retaining decent taste. The following is my review of the most common baked beans brands:

Heinz – For me, Heinz produces the best baked beans. The beans have good texture and the sauce is flavourful and has a pleasant consistency. However, at a normal retail cost of $2.15 a can, they are the most expensive. I do find them at half-price quite frequently, so stock up when I can. 9/10

Homebrand – These are the cheapest at $0.65 per can. In this situation, you get what you pay for. The sauce is watery in consistency and flavour. Only edible for me if drained. 3/10

SPC – I usually find these beans for $1.15-$1.30 a can. Beans are good and sauce is decent. A fair way from the quality of Heinz but they are not bad at all for the price. 6/10

Corale – A really good, cheap baked beans. $0.85 a can, so definitely on the lower end of the pricing. The sauce is fair but it is the beans that are a stand out for me. For lack of a better description, I would call them ‘al dente’. There is a slight firmness to the bean that is not present in other brands that I really enjoy. They are my second choice behind Heinz in preference and first as far as cost. 8/10

I haven’t included the organic baked beans available. On the whole, they are more expensive then most, so I don’t eat them. Obviously, you could save additional money by making the baked beans by scratch but time is a valuable resource for me, so I take the quick and easy way to obtain my baked beans fix.

I’m sure that someone submitting a blog on the prices and virtues of various baked beans is uncommon, however, I am committed to providing information of where I am finding options to save on my grocery bills.

Pennies saved today adds up to dollars over time. Not every step towards early retirement has to be a big one. Any step forward is a positive one.

 

 

 

Saving dollars and cents – My morning coffee

I’m old enough to remember when there wasn’t a café on every corner selling speciality coffees. Go back a few years earlier to that and those corners were probably pubs instead.

Anyway, back in the ‘olden days’, you could still get a coffee in a café but it was normally to accompany a meal and it was often served from a jug that had been percolating for hours. The coffee was often rough and only served the function of providing a caffeine hit.

Move to today and you can barely walk 20 feet without coming across a café, van, pop up shop or any hole in the wall that is big enough to fit a coffee machine and a human. The term barista has now a common place word, whereas in the past it was normally associated with a poor spelling for a lawyer.

Over the years, it was my practice to grab a coffee on the way to work to start the day. To me, it was a nice treat to start the day and get me going. Over the years also, the prices have gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) increased and increased. Most recently, I was often paying $4.50 for my morning coffee but occasionally found I was paying up to a dollar more. Many shops I’m assuming trying to justify their prices by a speciality coffee blend that had been sourced from some exotic country from the excreted remains of a camel and pressed individually by hand through a blessed cloth…ok, maybe I’m stretching that part a bit.

Even at only 1 coffee a day, I’m was spending over $30 a week on my morning coffee. Multiply that by 52 weeks and its over $1600! The math isn’t hard if you are a 2 or 3 coffee a day person. It really starts to add up to something significant..

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick Google to find out the breakup of my morning coffee cost. The following table was indicative of what I found.

Though the $3 figure is obviously a bit dated, it provides a reasonable idea of how the cost is made up. Based on this chart, the product associated with my morning black coffee is only $0.35. The majority of the money handed over is for labour. While I definitely won’t argue that a worker should be paid, the coffee normally takes around a minute to make. That’s a pretty decent hourly rate, with the majority presumably going to the owner. I don’t want to get into a big economical debate though, with the main point being that it really adds up to buy my morning coffee.

Anyway, as I’m pursuing the frugal way, my morning coffee is now instant coffee. It took me a while to get used to the taste. While not offensive, I can’t say the instant coffee compares to a barista coffee. I drink black coffee, so it’s hard to mask the taste of terrible coffee so I do tend to spend a little more to buy a good quality instant coffee just to improve the taste slightly. That said, I’m probably talking $2-3 dollars more a can, which still works out massively cheaper than barista made coffee.

My best rough calculation is that I’m spending less than $100 a year now for coffee versus $1600 for barista coffee. That’s $1500 a year that will now be going towards paying off debt and making steps towards by end goal of early retirement.

 

Sugar vs Sugar – Which is sweeter to your pocket?

Though I have only recently been approaching frugality with focus, I have always had the approach that I (1) buy the best priced product if it is of comparable quality and (2) that I do not want to purposely give more money to large corporations to make them larger.

During a recent shop, I had to purchase some white sugar. I won’t name any brands but it was obvious that there was a huge disparity in cost. A 1 kilo branded sugar cost $1.90 and a generic brand cost $1.00. A further bit of research found that there were a number of different brands of sugar with prices varying from just under a $1.00 a kilo to $2.14.

Clearly, with this cost disparity, there must be a difference in the ingredients that make one superior to the other. Imagine my complete lack of surprise to find that the sole ingredient in every package was 100% cane sugar!

Perhaps where the sugar was manufactured resulted in the cost difference? An army of cheap labour from overseas maybe? No, they were all produced in Australia.

Finally, the taste must be considerably different, resulting in the significant extra for the branded product? Low and behold, the ones I have tried all tasted like…sugar! Go figure!

My only assumption is that I’m paying for a recognised brand name, which has yet to pay me for my loyalty, or that only less attractive sugar canes are harvested for the low price brands.

I reckon my money is better in my pocket than fattening someone elses. Look around and keep it to yourself.