Sensible Spending, the plan

Last month I spent $900 on food, including both groceries and takeaway. That’s $30 a day for just one person. Way too much! Part of the problem is that I have no real constraints on my spending; no mortgage or major debts, no dependents to support and no partner to explain myself to. I can go out to dinner any night I like and get takeaway on the way home if I don’t feel like cooking. A month ago my department (ICT) was moved off the main part of the Uni campus, which means I no longer have meeting rooms I can use for my meetings near where my clients work. So I have been meeting in coffee shops several times a day and each time ordering a tea and a cake/biscuit/chocolate. And of course none of this food is healthy so the recent weight gain is easily explained.


Cape Schank Lighthouse. Not at all relevant to my post :-)

Last time I lost weight I did it through Weight Watchers which worked really well at the time because I really needed to learn what healthy food was and some portion control. I have tried doing that again but now my lifestyle has changed dramatically and the problem is behavioural rather than knowledge based. So I’m following some excellent (research based) advice from Dr BJ Fogg of Stanford Uni’s Persuasive Tech Lab. He recently released a great little mobile book “Design for Lasting Change” (which you should really read) that gives a clear and simple explanation of how to make a lasting change to behaviour. You should read it yourself, it is designed for a mobile touch screens, is only 28 pages long and very well written.

Following BJ’s advice I have picked a few small baby steps I can make and I have determined on how to change my environment. I’ll leave the baby steps for another post because the environmental change is the thing that I am focussing on at the moment: I have tried to completely remove my ability to spend money. (I’m dealing with motivation and triggers via the baby steps I’ll explain next post). In fact I am hoping to go a whole month without setting foot in a shop, cafe, restaurant or retail establishment. If I do end up in a cafe for a meeting I will not spend any money as I won’t have any to spend.

Here’s how I think I can live through October without buying any food from cafes, supermarkets or Hot Jam Donut trucks.

  1. I have ordered Lite n Easy, which is delivered weekly and includes all the food I need except milk, already prepared.
  2. I’ve setup all my regular bills to be paid via BPay or Direct Debit.
  3. I’ve given my credit card to my daughter to mind and taken my debit card out of my wallet and put it away at home.
  4. I have enough milk for a week and will either order more next week online for home delivery or ask my daughter to drop some around.
  5. I’ve put a Keep Cup and some tea bags in my work bag and will be taking my own tea to coffee shop meetings. This has the added benefit of getting tea that is made properly! With boiling water!! Ahem, where was I?
  6. I have two friends who owe me takeaway dinners and I’ve worded them up about their emergency responsibilities in October should I be desperate enough to think about buying takeaway.

Best of all I have a two level reward planned for October 31: if I make it through the month without buying any unhealthy food I will buy myself the kayak I’ve been wanting for ages. But if I make it through the month without buying anything unhealthy and also without going into a shop, restaurant or cafe at all, then I will buy the new bike I really, really like. Realistically I don’t expect to get the bike as the cafe’s are the easy choice for meetings at work but I am very determined that I am going to get that kayak! You will note that I have not mentioned weight loss here. Probably I will lose weight but that will be a side product of behaving in a way that supports healthy eating

Theme for October – Sensible Spending

I see I’ve only posted to this blog once in the last year and that was to announce a whole lot of plans for the year that I completely forgot about once I got busy. Well I’ve decided I need to be blogging again because that seemed to be one of the things that kept me on track a few years ago when I was trying to lose weight, get out of debt and get organised. This time I’ve got totally different goals – I want to lose weight, get out of debt and save to travel. I’m as organised as I want to be :-)


Some of the muffins I’m blaming…

When I finally got around to replacing the batteries in my bathroom scales after a winter of hibernating and making muffins I discovered I had put on 6 kilos in only two months. I do recollect, in addition to the muffins, a few vanilla slices a week, some sampling of every flavour of macaroon, and of course the hot jam donuts at Uni on Thursday. The jam donut man is clearly to blame. He sells one donut for 90 cents, two for $1.80 and 3 for $2.50. That’s a discount of 20 cents if you buy 3 so you practically have to get 3 or you aren’t getting a bargain are you?!

Anyway after a bit of soul searching I have decided that I can’t be trusted with my own money. Instead of saving it for the trips I want to take to the UK, USA or NZ, saving it for a house or early retirement or just for a new bike, I have been frittering it away on daily (or sometimes twice daily) cakes, weekly jam donut binges and takeaway dinners whenever I’d had too much sugary food to feel energetic enough to cook. This is increasing my backside at the expense of my future happiness, health and wealth and I’ve decided it has to stop. Right now.

Luckily I decided this in time to make a plan for all of October so I could have a theme for the month to get me off to an enthusiastic start. Some of you may remember my abortive earlier attempt at a monthly theme – No Cake August – which was derailed on day 3 when I accidentally went to Brunettis and bought a lemon meringue pie. I did keep trying a bit after that but my heart wasn’t really in it. This month it will be completely different because I don’t just have a theme – Sensible Spending October – but I also have a plan (tomorrow’s post), and both theme and plan have been vetted and given cautious approval by the most sensible people I know: my daughter and her partner. These are young women in their 20s who spend their Saturday nights at home instead of out at gigs with me, which I take as proof that they are more sensible than me. Plus they haven’t yet built up debts or backsides the size of mine, which is even more persuasive…

Plans for 2014

RelaxingThe holiday season is over, my house guest has gone home and I’m not due at work until Monday! A prudent and frugal householder would eat all the leftover cheese and crackers and finish off the whiskey so it wasn’t wasted, don’t you agree? I have set myself up in the lovely courtyard of my new home to do just that (in the background you may see the beginnings of my veggie garden – a lone tomato plant looking less than happy to be here).

Since it is the start of the year it is normally the time when I would make some annual goals and review how I did on last year’s goals. Unfortunately last years goals all went out the window when I moved back to Melbourne and changed careers so reviewing them seems  pointless. In fact, this year instead of making goals I have decided to follow the lead of Matt Cutts and take up 30 day challenges. For the sake of expediency I will make these monthly challenges though and start my first one today. Last year I was trying to start something new each month and I found that was a great way of trying out things and doing them enough times to know whether I liked them or was good at them. So this year I will slightly adapt this approach and try to focus on one area of my life, or one thing I want to make a habit, or one new thing I want to try each month.

January just has to be finance month. After the excesses of Christmas I really need to sit down and work out a budget, plan my holidays and major expenditure for the year and get some control over my money. I’ve had a copy of Your Money or Your Life on my bookshelf only half read for years but after picking it up the other day I’m now keen to follow Joe and Vicki’s advice and work on financial peace and independence. This will require quite a bit more than just reading one book though, I will also need some budgeting tools and motivation to keep focussing on finance for a whole month.

I’m starting off by working out roughly what my expenditure for the year should be for almost everything and what my savings goals should be. For the last few years I have been using the wonderful free personal finance tools and advice on MoneySmart, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s website for personal finance. This is without doubt the best government website I’ve seen, it is really well designed and the advice and tools are very simple to use, written in very accessible language and general enough for everyone to find them useful. The savings calculator and budget planner will get me started on my planning.

Then I plan to use YNAB (You Need A Budget) to budget my income to meet my savings goals and planned expenses. I have had a copy of YNAB on my Mac for some time but have never really used it well so this month I am going to setup a budget, track my spending on the mobile app and review every week to make sure I am putting my money where my goals are, rather than where other people (or companies) would like me to put it. YNAB have some great online videos and free live webinars on all aspects of using YNAB to budget so I will watch one or two of those a week this month to make sure I am getting the most out of the software and app. Hopefully by the end of the month I will be able to adjust my budget to be a realistic base monthly budget for the year.

I’m also planning on using Lift to remind me to track my expenditure daily and review my budget weekly. With daily reminders and some daily reading through the personal finance feed on Zite I should be well and truly focussed on personal finance every day! Hopefully all these reminders and tools will help me get my finances sorted and by the end of January I will not only have a good idea of where all my money is going but also be well on the way to making sure I am in complete control of when and where my money is spent.

I’m not sure how to explain this really…

My last post here, some months ago, was a review of my progress toward my goals for the year. This post is an attempt to explain how I’ve dropped all my goals, moved interstate, changed jobs (and possibly careers) and basically totally changed my life. And I’m not sure I really can explain.

View across the Yarra river to Federation Square

View across the Yarra river to Federation Square

I started this blog to document my attempts to change my bad habits for good ones and during this process of self-examination I came to the realisation that a large part of my general discontent was because I didn’t enjoy the lifestyle in the city where I lived (Brisbane). Although I was born and bred in Queensland, I had moved back to Brisbane three years ago after living for a few years in Melbourne, a bigger and more diverse city.  My stint in Melbourne coincided with my daughter moving out of home so I developed a whole new set of friends and social activities that were based around the fabulous live music, theatre and arts scene in Melbourne which Brisbane just doesn’t have to the same degree. The lifestyle in Brisbane tends to revolve more around sports and outdoor activities because of the climate. It is a great place for swimming, surfing, diving etc but not so great if you like art house movies, public lectures, album launches and art installations.

So I’d been looking to move back to Melbourne for a while but I needed a job in Melbourne to move to and there hadn’t been many around as good as the one I had in Brisbane. At the same time I had been working on improving my life and making holiday plans so that if no job came along I would still be doing as much as I could to be happy and productive. Then right after I paid for some of my holiday travels a great job came up and I was lucky enough to land it. Cue sudden panic and frantic scurrying around trying to wind up a job and lease, pack the house, drive to Melbourne, buy a whole new wardrobe for work in a variable climate and start the new job. There are still lots of loose ends to sort out (tax returns, change of address, bond refund etc) but luckily I had a very kind friend with a spare room and storage who has let me move in with her (and Monty the terrier) for a few months.

Monty see me in the kitchen and is sure I want to share...

Monty sees me in the kitchen and is sure I want to share…

Anyway, I know previously I’ve blogged mostly about my attempts to lose weight, get fit and manage my money with the occasional post related to Library IT (my previous job focus). From now on though, if I have time to post, I think there will be a wider range of topics. Like live music, art films, great cafes and the antics of my new canine housemate, Monty. And as the new job is not related to Library IT there probably won’t be any more rants about library search tools or websites. It seems only the whiskey remains a constant in my life :-)

Well laid plans

I was just reviewing my plans for the year and realised that at the halfway point I have either given up or not started quite a few of them. No wonder I am madam crankypants lately! I think it is time to do an mid-year review and either recommit to the plans or accept I have changed my mind and don’t want to do them anymore. So here goes:

1. Living on half my income and saving the rest. OK this has to go. It was probably only achievable if I didn’t want to have a life, help out my daughter, and take up lots of new activities. And anyway I spent most of my savings on a new car already and now I am pre-paying and saving madly for a three month holiday at the end of the year. Verdict – Ditch this plan.

2. Taking up a new activity every month. This one is going well! In January I started Yoga which I like and am still doing every week. February I tried Kayaking and am still going and plan to buy my own once I improve (and it is a bit warmer). March I tried Pilates and won’t be going back. April I tried Bridge and might go back if I can invest the time in learning properly. In May I tried a resistance circuit class at the QUT Health Clinic and love it so much I now go twice a week, then in June I started swimming again at the QUT pools and am enjoying it even though I clearly need some lessons. Not sure what to do this month, perhaps a language class? Or maybe a bushwalking club? Verdict – Stick with this plan.

3. Complete the Couch to 5K program. Completed! I didn’t do a fun run but did finish the program and ran a 5k each weekend for a few weeks but then I hurt my hip and gradually dropped off the running. I would really, really like to be fitter and lose more weight though so I recently started a training plan for a 10k run, planning to do the Bridge to Brisbane on 1 September, except I don’t think I can run up the Gateway Bridge, I may have to walk that bit and run the rest. Verdict – Add to this plan.

4. Stick to Weight Watchers. Well I gave up months ago. I still use the cookbooks to make most of my meals but have been doing lots of therapeutic baking and trying out all the local restaurants which has not helped me to lose weight. In fact I am the same weight now as I was at the beginning of the year. I think the real problem here has been a failure to track and a loss of willpower and motivation but this is still really important to me. I am going to re-read some of my motivational blogs and books and work out a plan this week to recommit to this goal, with slight modifications. If I can get back to tracking my calorie intake accurately that should help me work out if it is still possible to lose 10 to 20 kilos this year. Verdict – Adjust this goal and recommit.

5. Unsubscribe from junkmail lists and ditch rewards cards. Completed! And I have only realised by reviewing my goals that this one action has really helped me to control my email, reduce the time I waste on advertising and carry less rubbish. I even have a tiny wallet now which is a joy to use! Verdict – Celebrate success!

6. Minimise plastic in my life. This is going well too. I have still to work out if it is possible to get rid of the plastic containers I take my soup or leftovers to work in as this is the one area where I have not been able to make many inroads. Verdict – Stick with this plan.

7. Have a proper holiday. This is in planning right now. In fact I have arranged for a twelve week break at the end of this year by participating in the Reduced Working Scheme at my work. This is a scheme that lets you effectively take leave without pay for six weeks but instead of doing without money for that six week period, they average your salary over the year at six weeks less per annum than you normally get. I still get a pretty good pay packet every fortnight all year but I end up with ten weeks of paid leave. And boy do I have plans for it :-) Verdict – Stick with this plan!

8. Buy no new books or DVDs until I have tackled the backlog. Ooops. You all knew I couldn’t do it and not one of you said a thing, did you? No, you just sat there which a knowing smirk thinking “that’s not even going to last a month”! Well, I lasted almost two months, so there! Verdict – that was a stupid plan and real friends wouldn’t have even let me try.

9. Save $50 a week for new clothes when I have lost another 12 kilos. Well, this isn’t going well and neither is the weight loss. I think I had better actually set this money aside in a separate savings account and make a payment into it each pay as I really need some motivation to lose weight. Verdict – Recommit and make up the backlog.

10. Save a home deposit. Although I would like to do this I think my three month road trip might put paid to any actual savings, especially as I have taken a pay cut until next April to buy the leave time. Also I’m doing the road trip in a brand new car I am stil paying off, even after using my savings for the deposit. Surely I could do just $50 a pay though? I think I will open an account next pay and just start off with $50 a pay until after my holiday. At least I will be getting started, even if I don’t make any headway until next year. Verdict – Adjust and recommit.

Well there we are. Halfway through the year and I have completed two plans, with one being expanded to make a new plan. I will stick with the three that are going well and adjust and recommit to the three that I haven’t done so well on. That leaves two I am going to ditch as completely unworkable. Not bad going really, especially considering the big changes I have made in the meantime!


Its been a month of abandonment. I thought I might chronicle it here:

1. Google Reader – I haven’t tried to export my feeds and I know it shuts down today. Meh. I will see how Google Plus goes and if it doesn’t work I may look for an alternative. Or I may just adopt the attitude that ignorance is bliss. I certainly won’t be reverting to newspapers though.

2. Blog June – I only managed eight posts of the thirty I intended to write. Sorry world, you will have to read something more interesting. Like almost any post on, especially the horoscopes.

3. Le Tour – I didn’t even bother to watch the first stage, for the first time since 1992. But then today I realised I was missing Gabriel Gate’s Taste le tour so now I’ve abandoned my earlier decision and will watch every night, at least until I see if Gabriel has a recipe I have some hope of making myself. And then if I have nothing better to do I may hang around a bit and watch some lycra racing.

4. Globe trotting children – Youth today, I don’t know. Abandoning their aged and decrepit parents in favour of lengthy holidays in Europe. And then posting photos of all their relaxing with cocktails, pizza eating and Pantheon visiting online. And she even tried to convince me that it was quite accidental that she would be in Paris for the last stage of Le Tour. hmph.


I’m in a mood and it is not a good one. If any of my poor staff turn up to work tomorrow wearing full firemen outfits or those nuclear protection suits you see in the Simpsons I will not be surprised. I missed posting yesterday for #blogjune because I was too cranky to write something that would not result in retrenchment, retribution or reproach. I’m not much better today but have decided to try to write a post about how to get over being cranky in the hope that it will work.

Normally when something or someone makes me angry I walk away. Occasionally when really, really annoyed I have stomped off in a huff, often moving interstate and changing my phone number into the bargain. Unfortunately in the current situation I am not able to stomp off and have no way of avoiding the thing that is making me mad. Since I can’t remove it or myself I am left with trying to work out how to live with it or ignore it. I’ve tried making a plan for avoidance but I’m a creature of habit so this has had limited success. Likewise my attempts to count to 10, breathe and mentally distance myself have only worked once or twice and then my feeble powers of patience and tolerance were overcome. I’ve tried considering the issue from different perspectives but they all ended in a rant at the stupidity of it all. I’ve even tried a systematic analysis in an attempt to determine if the root cause was malice or incompetence but the answer simply enraged me even more.

Hanlon’s razorNever attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

As I have eaten all the available chocolate and cake I am now going to attempt to meditate and if that also fails to work I am totally resolved on throwing myself on the floor and having a massive tantrum. And then I’m eating that entire litre of ice cream. So there.