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My electricity bill is what?!?

1 Sep

Excuse me but may I ask when electricity became a bloody luxury item?

My electricity bill for winter is $1025! What the hell?

This is just ridiculous. Not too long ago a big bill would have been in the four-hundreds. And now that electricity is privatised it has become a luxury item.

So my clever strategy of getting up and down constantly night after night turning heaters on and off to save money obviously didn’t work. And we live in a small house. We don’t even have a dishwasher. It doesn’t make sense. How can we afford a bill like this? And electricity is meant to become even more expensive? How? Why? It doesn’t make sense.

I have three children and we have had the worst winter when it comes to illness. We started off well. I turned the heaters on for a hour to warm up their bedrooms and then I turned them off and gave them all extra blankets. They all got sick. Giovanni was first. He has the family weak chest. He got a terrible cold and I turned his heater on every night until he was better. My healthy kids stuck to one hour at bedtime to warm up the room and on particularly chilly nights I set my alarm for 2am and 3am, turning them on and off for another hour.

My husband and I did without. We froze. We shivered dressed like we were going skiing.

Then my husband became really ill. He developed a terrible flu and spent a few days dragging himself to work. As soon as he’d arrive home he’d fall into bed and I turned his heater on until he was better.

It’s was just a nightmare.

Then we all got gastric flu a couple of times each. The charming strain of gastric flu this year was so severe it involved twelve hours of vomiting, twelve hours of the runs, fever and lethargy. Our rooms had to be heated!

You’d think that privatising electricity would inspire competition. Perhaps not yet. My hope is that just like the price of flying, electricity prices are forced down by increased competition. I mean, it’s not like it’s become more expensive to provide electricity. If anything we should be better at it.

I know we should all be using less electricity to help the environment but as with everything that is ideal, my primary concern is my health and the health of my children and there is no way we can cope with another bill like this.

My friends have started texting me their bills and it seems I got off lightly.

Let’s get real. Electricity shouldn’t be a luxury.

If I can’t pay this bill, will they turn my electricity off? Should I delay paying the school fees that are already late and pay the electricity bill instead? Is it worth fighting it? Does the electricity ombudsman do any good?

Average families can’t afford bills like this. We are all working as much as we can, juggling bills, trying to keep our children happy and healthy and we’re just getting slammed at every turn.

Healthy food – expensive. Electricty – expensive. Petrol – expensive. No wonder many Australian families are living in poverty, forced to get food from charitable organisations.

I’ll be able to pay the bill but it’ll hurt and I will have to delay paying my son’s school fees. I’ll have to do a very small grocery shop that week (if at all) and now that Spring is here I can always pray for warmer weather (although on the first day of Spring we woke up to cars covered in ice).

Mortgage your house and see a movie

19 Jul

When did movies become so expensive?

I love going to the movies but to take my family of five it costs as much as a small car. And if we want to eat while we watch the movie…it costs as much as a much larger car.

I love going to the movies. I even love kids movies. My favourites so far are Toy Story, Alvin and Ice Age. I love that children’s movies are made for the parents as well.

But it’s just so expensive.

For us to see a movie it costs around $80. And that’s if we don’t select the 3D option. I don’t even wear my 3D glasses in those movies. They hurt the bridge of my nose.

In fact, heaps of family activities that I always dreamed of doing with my children are expensive. Have you gone bowling lately. It cost over $100 for two games. Are the pins made of gold? And those over-priced hot chips. Are they truffle-oil infused?

Perhaps the bowling arcade I chose was too nice. When I was younger bowling was a cheap activity and everything was a little worn and slightly old (including the chips) but we had a blast. Now I am covered in cold sweat, wondering how I’ll trim my grocery budget to make up the money I have spend on this family event.

I actually have to save up money ahead of school holidays, just so we don’t get stuck at home every day. When I was little we lived on five acres and our backyard was the best adventure playground you could imagine. Our backyard now is just big enough to fit a clothes line, a trampoline and a storage shed.

Local parks? Yes they’re okay but activities like this are weather-dependent and the past few months haven’t been the best when it comes to playing outdoors. Gumboots anyone?

So this Sunday we are spending half of our weekly grocery budget on a movie, snacks and lunch and I’ll do my best do enjoy it. If I’m going to spend the money I may as well enjoy it. And I’ll be bringing all our leftovers home. We’ll be needing them!

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

Crying at the shops

17 May


I cried at the shops today, twice. I’m mortified.

I know why I cried at the shops today. I don’t cry often. The more I tried to stop myself the louder the sobs. The first time was just outside of Target and then Gloria Jeans was witness to my pathetic tears.

I cried at the shops today because today, my husband came out of bankruptcy. Life can return to normal (or as normal as it can be being married to an extreme-entrepreneur!).

We lost everything when property values fell at the start of the Global Financial Crisis. Since then we have been living a sort of half-life. We’ve been doing okay. We both have jobs. The kids are unaware of our financial struggles. We rent, pay our bills, pay a huge percentage of our earnings to a trustee and hope the three years of punishment for being stupid enough to try to achieve our dreams is enough of a penance.

President Obama said it best – he wants to live in an America where hard work leads people to achieve their dreams. I want the same but in Australia. I want to work hard and build a dream life. I want to achieve everything.

It’s just that hard work isn’t all that is involved in reaching for the stars. It’s about nurturing relationships, looking out for dramatic market swings, saving for a rainy day and taking measured risks.

We saw the crisis coming. Many did. What we didn’t see was the extent of the damage and while we knew we’d suffer a bit we didn’t expect it to hit so hard. It was difficult to watch businesses being bailed out by government when smaller businesses like ours that had taken investor funds and employed people were left to fail.

It’s over now. As of today it is behind us. The black and white letter confirming our discharge date didn’t do justice to the relief we feel.

My husband is horrified that I am crying today when he is practically skipping. But I didn’t cry when we lost our home, I didn’t cry when they repossessed a car from our driveway, I didn’t cry when our working capital was confiscated by the bank we owed money to and I didn’t cry when we had to put the birth of my second-born on a credit card.

So I’m crying today and according to my friends my emails and text messages have been a little on the emotional side. One replied asking if I was terminally ill. No, not ill, just relieved to have emerged from financial ruin relatively unscathed!

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

When did heating become a luxury?

1 May


There’s a dance I do each night. I call it the “Switching On and Off of Heaters” dance.

Each night my sleep is broken into increments as I wake every hour or two and either switch a heater on or off in my children’s bedrooms. Forget turning it on in my room…three heavy blankets and three layers of clothing is all I get.

When did heating become a luxury? We now live in a country where adequate heating is a luxury of the reasonably affluent. Us low and middle income families are left to push towels against the bottom of our doorways and use heating sparingly all to avoid the increasingly astronomical electricity bills we’ve been receiving for the past couple of years.

Just after electricity prices increased and before we all started turning lights on and off with the desperation of people whose finances could be ruined by one bill, I won our family competition to see who would get the highest electricity bill. It was $1600.

We are renting an old house. It’s full of drafts, there’s no insulation and its boiling hot during summer and freezing cold during winter. The year I received that ridiculous bill was the year I was home with two little babies. We rarely left the house due to the sleeping and breastfeeding that newborns require every couple of hours and it was a very cold winter that year.

The previous year I’d been hesitant to turn my heaters on because I was so worried about a house fire. There seemed to be quite a few that year and I found I couldn’t sleep if the heater in the babies room was on, so I left it off. My seven-month-old little boy developed a lung infection in a matter of days.

It was the scariest time in my life, to watch my robust, beautiful little boy grow quiet. We were at the doctor for something minor and after listening to his chest the doctor grew quiet himself and then told me my son was seriously ill. It took two courses of antibiotics, frequent trips to the doctor and lots of rest in a warm room to get him better. It only cost me $1600 to get my little boy’s health back..

I have three children but it’s my middle child who has the family ‘weak chest’. Without fail he is the first one to get sick each year and he’ll always get sicker than the others and it takes him longer to get over it. Ironic seeing as he is big for his age where as the other two are small.

We had our first cold night a few days ago. I dressed them in layers and added extra blankets to their beds. I was reluctant to turn their heaters on just yet because we’ve been trying so hard to keep our electricity bill down, which is a challenge in this house. The next morning he woke up with a cold and he’s been coughing at night ever since.

I’ve been turning his heater on each cold night and I keep it on low. His health is improving. I get up and down to turn my eldest son’s heater on and off – he has a sniffle but nothing major.

In an ideal world we’d all have insulation, we’d all live in houses built to maintain reasonable temperatures in our homes and we’d all develop better habits when it comes to saving electricity. As a family we have improved and it was necessary for as all to start being more aware of how much we use. Everything in our house is turned off at the power point now, lights are turned off as soon as we leave the room. We use our heaters sparingly (except in the kids rooms) and we save each week for our upcoming electricity bills which are now more than half the amount of our highest bill, but still a burden and hundreds of dollars more than they used to be.

So heating is now a luxury. For those of us living with little children and the elderly, winter can be a stressful time. I didn’t think people died or became seriously ill from the cold in Australia. It’s a new world…and we’d better get used to it.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

On sale for a reason

28 Apr


My new face cream smells really bad. It’s smells like bleach with a splash of foot odour. But it works really well. It’s the best face cream I’ve used in quite a while. And it cost $8 (down from about $50) on a discount website.

I’m always trying to think of ways to shop smart. I shop at Aldi, I order fruit, veg, milk, meat and bread from a farming company and now I look for great buys on bargain websites. The best savings for me are on makeup, cosmetics, batteries and cleaning products. But there’s often something slightly off about them.

I suspect they have ended up on a bargain website because they stuffed up the smell, colour or package design. As a result most of my face cleansers and creams smell a little off at the moment. I bought a brilliant eye cream for $6 (down from about $30) but it was hard to get it out of the container. My face cream smells horrible. My face wash smells great but is way too strong. I am using shower gel at the moment that is a little too masculine for a woman (and probably why it failed to sell well). All the cleaning products, toilet tissue and such are excellent. We won’t run out of batteries this year.

I miss my nice smells. Nice smells make me feel pretty (although the mirror would argue with that most days!). But the savings are INCREDIBLE. It’s a dilemma.

I don’t buy any of the snack foods on these sites any more. They have seemingly brilliant offers for 50 chocolate bars for $10, for example, but when they arrive you find they expire in a week. Even I can’t eat that many chocolate bars in such a short space of time. I would never let my kids eat that many either. They’re lucky to get one a month, if at all. My husband could have done it. I could have filmed it and posted it on YouTube and called it “Middle-aged man attempts suicide by chocolate”. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Discount websites have a place. Go for it when it comes to batteries, household cleaning products and books (LOVE cheap books), but try and find out the expiration dates of the food products and get ready for some effective-yet-terrible-smelling cosmetics. It’s the price we pay!

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

My eight-year-old wants to buy me a house!

21 Apr


My son just celebrated his eighth birthday. He’s my first born, my gorgeous little boy. He’s very sensitive and thoughtful. He often worries about the world and about why people are sad. I feel badly for him. I think he’ll always feel too much. He isn’t easy going. Which is why my heart broke when he told me he wants to buy me a house.

My parents gave him $100 to use too open his first bank account. He was so excited. He asked me to take him the very next day and open his account. He asked if he’d get a bank book. He asked if he’d have to sign anything. He was so proud that he’d have an account. He felt like a big boy.

We all went to the bank together and sat down to open his account. He was so interested in the process. He kept counting his money and asking questions. The bank teller told him that he could save for anything he wanted with this account and that he could buy himself a car in ten years time.

My son said he didn’t want to buy a car. He told her, “I’m saving to buy my mum a house”.

She and I looked at each other in shared delight and sadness. I hugged him and told him that we’d buy a house again one day and that I wanted him to save for whatever he wanted. I didn’t realise he’d picked up on our financial hardship but he’s a wise one and I shouldn’t have been surprised.

On the way home I asked him why he wanted to buy me a house. He said it’s because I always say I wish we had a bigger house and because whenever he and his brother ask for a dog I say we will get one as soon as we own a house again.

I think it’s okay that he is money-aware but I did make sure he knew that we were more than okay and quite lucky compared to some. I told him I was happy he thought about money and that he should focus on appreciating everything we did have and to never worry because we’d always make sure we were okay.

He’s the cutest little boy on the face of the earth (subjective!).

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

Buy Australian?

21 Apr

I love Aldi. I have shopped at Aldi since it first opened. I first found Aldi when I was searching for authentic Italian nogart ahead of Christmas. Someone told me that Aldi is German-owned and stocks heaps of European brands. I was amazed at the brands they had and went crazy stocking up for family and friends.

I became a monthly Aldi shopper. Everything was so affordable. I’d stock up on cleaning products, passata, nappies and wipes and there was always brilliant specials. It wasn’t pretty. Service took a while and you had to pack the groceries in bags yourself but I didn’t care. I could fill up a trolley and struggle to reach $200. Do the same at any other supermarket and you might pay double or triple the price.

Aldi has its critics. It isn’t Australian. The money you spend there is going overseas. But I don’t care. They employ Australians, they rent from Australian landlords, Australian trucks transport their products. There’s plenty of reasons to feel happy to shop there. In fact after the Global Financial Crisis resulted in my husband losing his business I had no choice but to shop there. If it weren’t for Aldi I don’t think I could have afforded to feed my family of five so well. They never noticed anything was amiss. Like all kids, as long as there is plenty of food in the cupboards they’re happy.

If two German brothers come up with an affordable way for me to feed my family they can have my money. I’ll transfer it to Germany myself. Every week grocery shopping is a stressful event. I shop at Aldi fortnightly now and I still go to other supermarkets for products were are attached to like Butter Soft and Sole Mare tuna. But the bulk comes from Aldi now and I can relax and know I’ll get plenty of bang for my buck.

I also use Aussie Farmers. It’s a delivery service straight from farmers to your door. Twice a week I get bread and milk and once a week I get a seasonal box of fruit and vegetables. It’s the perfect balance.

It’s so hard to balance the family budget. My friends and I joke about how much we spend on groceries and how we blow our budgets on Tim Tams and chicken breast but really, it’s so sad that we are all working so many hours and still having to watch our grocery budget so carefully. But that’s the reality of our country. Everything is expensive.

My friends are I try and grow some fruit and veg in our backyards to supplement our weekly spend. I managed to grow tomatoes this year and I have a basil plant and a parsley plant. But fruit is hard. It requires constant care. I have to make more time to grow more food. Apparently zucchini’s are easy, and cucumbers.

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about what we serve for dinner when we run out of groceries. I do bruschetta and she sometimes does beans on toast. We have financial goals we are trying to reach (she is saving for a holiday and I am saving for a house). Every dollar counts and sticking to our budget makes a huge difference each month.

I had a meltdown a few months ago. I’d run out of tuna (I eat it every day), I was almost out of olive oil and there was no fresh fruit. I waited until my husband and children went to bed and I drove to my local supermarket (Aldi was sadly closed) and spent $500 on everything I wanted…tuna, olive oil, fruit and veg, fancy biscuits…I went crazy. I sneaked them into the house and loaded up the freezer, fridge and cupboards. It looked so great and I felt calm and secure, and then panicked at how badly I had blown our budget. I sat down and worked out that I would spend a little less each week until I made up the money but then I picked up an extra shift at work and paid it back in. Our budget was in balance again.

We are a middle income household but to achieve any financial goals we have to be careful. Takeaway is a spurge (last time we ordered Chinese for five it cost $70). But it’s all good. There’s always bruschetta and we can always invite ourselves over to my mum’s for dinner (it hasn’t been that bad yet). And I hardly have to resort to fast food. Well done.

La Dolce Vita – Jo Abi

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