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The Fierce Girl's Guide to Finance

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Live cheaply

Three tips to impress your friends while secretly saving money

Since unveiling my new kitchen I’ve been on quite the entertaining streak.

I’m not afraid of a mid-week dinner party, because a) it’s cheaper than going out and b) I can control my protein/fat/carb intake.

So, I’ve had some requests from my dinner guests to share some tips for knocking up a midweek feast with maximum taste and minimal cost (to both your wallet and your hips). Even if the word ‘dinner party’ strikes fear into your heart, I promise you can nail these meals.

1) Everything is better roasted

When I say everything, I mean vegetables. Somehow, roasting takes them from humble to sublime in less than an hour.

My fave roasting subjects are:

  • Cauliflower – cut into florets and sprinkled with sumac (a fancy spice that you can buy at the supermarket)
  • Brussels sprouts – cut them in half first for extra crispiness
  • Zucchini and carrots – cut in quarters or eighths lengthways, depending on size
  • Broccoli – yep, roasted broccoli is a game changer. Just be careful as it usually cooks the fastest.
  • Beetroot – peeled and cut into segments. Take mental note that you’ve eaten them though, so you don’t pee the next day and think you’re dying cos there’s blood in your urine.
Roast ’em up baby

You can also roast the usual suspects like potato, kumara and pumpkin. Spray everything with olive oil, and salt it after its cooked.

I also use a silicone baking mat to make cleaning easier and avoid the waste of baking paper. The key is to give them a bit of space between each other so they crisp up – jamming them all up close means the air doesn’t circulate enough.

If you want to go one step fancier, put them all together on a platter, sprinkle crumbled feta, drizzle over some caramelised balsamic glaze, and call it a warm vegetable salad.

 

2) Fresh salsa makes everything fancier

What to serve with the veggies? I’m fond of salmon fillets with fresh pico de gallo salsa. But you can add the salsa to anything, like steak or chicken.

I get my salmon from Aldi because it’s close to home and I can buy it fresh. Comes out about $4 per person, which is pretty cheap really.

I either pan fry it for a few minutes each side, or wrap it in baking paper and do it in the oven (while our little veggie friends are cooking). Pan frying is easier if people have different preferences – I like mine fairly pink inside but others find that gross.

For the salsa, it’s basically:

  • Tomatoes – I prefer cherry or grape tomatoes because they are sweet and firm
  • Red onion
  • Coriander
  • Fresh jalapeno (optional)
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Olive oil

Dice them all up as finely as possible and throw them together in a bowl. Simples!

How much to use? Just guess. Probably half a punnet of tomatoes, quarter of a red onion, handful of coriander, one lime and a splash of oil. I deseed the jalapeno to take the heat out, but that’s also optional. Basically, it’s flexible depending on how many people and what’s in your fridge.

This salsa is also what they serve with corn chips at nice Mexican restaurants, so don’t be afraid to make a bunch of it and eat the leftovers.

If you have hungry guests with carb-a-licious expectations, you can also cook up some rice to have as a side dish. Although I would argue most people won’t notice the lack of carbs if you load up the veggies.

3) Pre-cook your way to dinner party triumph

One of my go-to, make-ahead dinners is a pasta-free lasagne. Ok, it’s more ‘inspired by lasagne’, but who cares about labels. You can make a vegetarian version or a meat one, depending on guest preferences.

Ingredients (they don’t have to be exact, you can just wing it)

  • 500g Mince or 2 x tins of lentils
  • 1 onion
  • Cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper
  • I jar passata or tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Half a butternut pumpkin
  • 2 x large zucchinis
  • 1 x eggplant
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 x tub ricotta
  • 1 x tub cottage cheese

Make the filling:

  • Chop and sauté and onion in a frypan. Add either 500g of beef mince, or a couple of cans of lentils, and any spices that take your fancy. (Try paprika, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper or some combo of those).
  • Add a jar of tomato passata, or just some tinned chopped tomatoes. You don’t want it too sloppy, so add about half the jar and see how it looks, then add a little more at a time. Add some salt and pepper.

You can also add some chopped frozen spinach if you’re thinking about your leafy green intake. Which I often am.

Make the layers:

Slice up  eggplant and zucchinis lengthways, as thinly as possible (about 0.5cm-1cm is fine). Peel and slice the butternut pumpkin into thin discs. You can always add some big pieces of capsicum if you have one.

Place them all on a baking tray and spray with olive oil. You want to roast them for about 15-20 mins or so, just to soften them. They will be the equivalent of your pasta sheets.

Make the sauce:

Take a tub of ricotta and a tub of cottage cheese and mix them up together. That’s all for this step!

Assemble the layers:

Grab a lasagne tray, casserole dish or whatever you have. Start with the vegetables – I find eggplant is a good base. Then simply alternate the layers between meat, cheese and veggies. It’s best to end with cheese on top.

It’s totally freeform. I made one this week with no eggplant and only a small tub of cottage cheese (bit of a grocery shopping fail). But I added a bunch of fresh spinach and it was all good in the hood.

And that’s it kids. Just serve it up and let the conversation flow.

PS: Yes, that is my table in the pic. Those are the flowers I rescue when they get rid of them at work every week. The placemats are from Kmart. Fierce, I know.

Four steps to save money, cut waste and be hotter

Ok, maybe not hotter, but definitely healthier.

Yep, I’m here to talk meal prep.

‘Wow, that looks healthy’ is a standard refrain from people in the kitchen at work when I get out my food. They say it with a sense of envy or wistfulness (or maybe just relief that they don’t have to eat it). But overall, people act like making a daily tuna salad is some feat of adulting that’s beyond them.

I’m here to change your mind on that. If you really want to take control of your grocery bill and your diet, meal planning is the not-so-magic bullet.

Moreover,  if you buy lunch at work even a couple of times a week, that’s $1000 a year at least.

I thought everyone knew how to do this whole menu planning thing, but my friend Linda told me it’s a bit of a dark art to her.

So, here I give you the step-by-step guide to meal-prepping like a boss. A ladyboss, of course.

1. Gather your recipes, grab a coffee and write a list

Pick a recipe book, website or Pinterest board and have a browse. This might sound fancy – i.e. researching recipes – but it keeps you interested in meals and gives you new ideas.

You can still put your staples in the week’s meal plan (mince and veg sauce is a firm fixture on mine). But throw in a few new things, and you’ll feel like Nigella fucking Lawson.

Add in a Kikki K planner for maximum smugness

(Life pro tip: e-books on your iPad mean you can take a few recipe books to your favourite cafe. This one is Well-fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan, one of my fave paleo books. I also like Pete Evans’ Healthy Every Day, despite him being a massive tool).

Writing a list is where you start to make savings. By buying just what you need, instead of stuff that kinda looks useful or tasty as you wander the shops, you will avoid wasted food.

I split my list into three sections – fresh food, supermarket aisles, meat/chicken/fish – for easy nagivation.

 2. Buy the things on your list but be flexible

I shop at Harris Farm a lot, and they have an awesome section of cheap, marked-down meats that need to be cooked or frozen in the next day or two. This is ideal for meal-prep nerds, because I’m cooking most of it in one day. But of course, it depends on what’s available, so I will often change my meal plan to use those ingredients.

Similarly, if you make a plan that uses, say, avocado, and those bastards are $7 each (a real thing I saw yesterday), then good sense dictates that you ditch or amend that recipe.

3. Put your stuff away properly

I’ve sung the praises of Tupperware’s fridge range in a previous post. They are the key to avoiding the curse of  soggy celery and wrinkled capsicum. However, they don’t work if you leave them empty in the pantry.

I wash and dry the fresh things, then put them in my Tupperware. If you are a loser and don’t have any, buy some special stay-fresh bags or read these tips. (Or ask me to hook you up with my Tupperware lady). Food waste is a killer for the planet and your pocket, so making a bit of an effort makes a big difference.

Note my awesome vintage Tupperware lettuce keeper from an op-shop.

3. Set aside a food prep time and get cracking

I devote Sunday afternoon to food prep. I totally understand if you have lives and kids and obligations; not everyone can do it all the time. But creating a routine like this, even  including the kids in it, is the only way to make this work.

It’s a matter of investing time on Sunday to reap the rewards for the rest of the week.

As I said to a boy on Tinder who “didn’t have time” meet me after a couple of months’ chat, “I don’t believe in having time, I believe in having priorities”. (He was actually really surprised/upset. Next!).

Chicken curry on the go

It can take a while to get the hang of what order to cook things in, and it makes an unholy mess in the kitchen. But the end result is worth it.

If you’re  keen for some detailed guidance, check out the Meal Prep Sunday thread on Reddit or this post from its creator.

4. Cool and store all your cooking

Finding room in the fridge is the hardest part of this. I have an extensive Tupperware collection and end up playing Tetris with it (sorry, will stop mentioning the T-word). But if you don’t, that’s ok, the old snap-lock bags work a treat too (try and reuse them where you can).

If your fridge doesn’t look like this, who even are you?

I’ve been freezing more stuff lately, so I can rotate dishes through the week. One thing I struggle with sometimes is ‘Day 4 Syndrome’: when you can’t stomach one more of that chicken curry after four days in a row. So the freezer is helping with that.

And that’s basically it. Stop buying lunches, save money, avoid food waste, be healthy and maybe even get  skinnier (if that’s what you want, and if you don’t, that’s totally fine and good on you for your self-love).

Aldi tips, tricks and hacks from a legit expert

In the world of tight-arses, shopping at Aldi is an article of faith.

It’s not just advertising fluff – their prices are genuinely and significantly cheaper.

So, imagine my delight when I moved into my current apartment and found myself living across the road from Aldi. 

As an early adopter of the discount supermarket,  I have honed my Aldi skills over time.

I am always amazed by people who have  never been or don’t shop there regularly. Fools! Do you actually like wasting money?

So here are some tips, fave products and Aldi hacks for all you novices out there. No, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just like being cheap.

Make a cheese platter everyone will think is fancy: the Pickled Onion Club Cheddar is a fave of mine, but they also have a damn good version of the old Blue Castello. Throw on some of their semi-dried tomato and olives and you’re good to go. Pick up some bikkies as well – the rice crackers, water crackers and wafer thins are all great. As a side snack, their Sweet & Salty Popcorn (in the chips aisle) is deliciously addictive.

High-protein overnight oats solve your breakfast issues: There is a cracker of a yogurt, creatively called Hi-Protein Yogurt. Here’s my macro-friendly brekky hack:

  • In a Tupperware container (or jar) put about half a cup of oats (more or less depending on your carb needs)
  • Throw in a handful of frozen berries (reasonably priced, from the freezer section), a spoonful of shredded coconut and a dash of cinnamon. If you have a sweet tooth you can add a pinch of stevia
  • Add enough water or almond milk or juice (whatever you have/like) to just cover the oats
  • Add two-three big spoonfuls of yogurt. Mix it all up and whack it in the fridge for at least a few hours.
  • Note: you may need to play around with ratios to get the right consistency. But experiment and see what you think. You can also add other fruit (today I had mango cos it’s on spesh).

Aldi has ‘specials’ but not like the ones you’re used to. Most of its everyday range has the same low prices all the time. It does have ‘7 Day Deals’ in the fresh food section (hence the abovementioned mango). I like seeing what they have and making meals around that.

But the real killer is the ‘Weekly Specials’ section. Novices beware: this is how you make Aldi not really that cheap after all.

The stuff in the middle section is so random and so alluring. Like ‘wow, I didn’t know I needed a Moroccan-style side table’ or ‘I definitely need a set of embellished hand towels’ or ‘I probably could use 1 kilogram of olives’.

There are definitely amazing bargains to be had in this magical section – some people obsess over the snow gear sales.

But this is the line you have to say over and over in your head: IT’S NOT A BARGAIN IF YOU DON’T NEED IT.

Seriously, I say this every time I wander down that aisle, considering my ‘need’ for new placemats or bakeware.

And here is a hot tip: DON’T TAKE YOUR HUSBAND WHEN THE TOOL SPECIALS ARE ON. Seriously, why did I ever own an air compressor? Although I would say the pink ladies’ toolkit I picked up for $15 has been an absolute pearler for Ikea furniture, BBQ repairs and broken taps (ok, I had to get a muscular footballer to do that one).

Aldi wine is the real deal. Seriously, try their wine. The prices are great, and unlike cleanskins, you can take them to people’s houses and they won’t know it’s cheap.

Unless they also shop at Aldi too – in which case they will give you a sly nod as if to say ‘well-played, my friend’.

Their grassfed steak is great value. I often get a couple of Porterhouse steaks from the Highland Park range (aka the slightly fancier, grass fed range). Whack them on the Weber Q, steam some veggies and you have a delicious dinner. And tomorrow’s lunch.

Because nothing makes you feel fancy AF, as when you’re eating steak while other suckers are eating sandwiches.

I’ve yet to come across anything from Aldi that isn’t good quality. They have a really stringent process to become a supplier (because they only have one, house-branded version of every product). So 99% of the time it’s as good as, or better than, stuff from other supermarkets. There is even a section on the website listing things that shoppers have voted as being BETTER than other brands – click here.

You can’t always get everything you want – especially obscure things like cartons of egg white (yeah, it’s a weightlifting thing). So I usually top up at a big chain every few weeks.

And finally, the most important tip for the Aldi newbie…

TAKE YOUR OWN BAGS – I do this anyway because I am a greenie, but at Aldi, you have to pay for the plastic ones. They don’t pack your bags either, so always put your stuff on the conveyor belt the way you want to pack it (heaviest first). Or just chuck it all back into the basket/trolley if you can’t handle the pressure of packing at the checkout (it’s an acquired skill).

If you are really clever you can also find some empty boxes on the shelves or around the entrance and use them instead.

So, that’s it kids. Get in there and get saving!

Maybe your grandma was right (about money, as well as that boy you were dating)

My late step-grandma* had a saying about choosing a partner: ‘Never stoop to pick up nothing’.

This post is not about that – I just wanted to share it because it’s great, and to prove that Grandmas know their shit.

My Grandma used to have five empty Vegemite jars, which she’d put her stray pennies into. There were different jars for different purposes.

“And if you keep doing that, soon you have a shilling, and then you have 21 shillings, which means you have a guinea to spend”.

(OK, I had to Google how  many shillings in a pound, but I did know that guineas are more exciting than a boring old pound).

This old-fashioned idea actually underpins a fancy new concept: microsaving apps like Acorns. I’m a huge fan of this app, which scrapes small amounts off your bank account – called ’round-ups’ – and invests them for you.

Say you spend $3.50 on a coffee, it garnishes the 50 cents (to round up to $4), and pops it into a portfolio of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) – click here if you want to know more about them.

I like this because it’s painless saving. Of course I have other savings. But my Acorns is a bonus stash that I actually forget about most of the time.

Words from the wise

My friend Cara has an Irish Granny who tells her to ‘save your pennies and the pounds look after themselves’. So true! Even if we don’t actually have pennies or pounds.

On one hand, little bits of good work all add up, in those real or virtual Vegemite jars.

On the other hand, it’s all the small purchases here and there that drain your finances.

In fact, I just went through an exercise proving this. My work is about to launch a budgeting tool which links to your bank accounts and categorises all the transactions (from the last 6 months!) into ‘essentials’ and ‘discretionary’.

But it can only do about 70% of them automatically, meaning I had to go through and label a bunch of transactions myself. Soooo many transactions in the ‘Bars, Cafes and Restaurants’. Soooo many in ‘Clothes and Accessories’.

Sobering but not too surprising. After all, my mindful spending manifesto says I can spend money on going out to brunch, dinner or drinks with friends. It says very little about buying clothes though, so I am going a bit too far with that.

Even though I’m still within my ‘spend and splurge’ limit, the process showed me that I should probably shave that allocation down a little.

Considering I just bought an apartment this week, after three years of post-divorce renting, I think that’s a useful and timely lesson.

So my hot tip is this: track what you spend. Even if it’s just for a month, you’ll quickly see where your money goes, and whether it’s in line with your goals or priorities.

I like the trackmyspend app from MoneySmart, but there are others in the app store. Or go old school with a notebook.

Other great tips from my Grandma and her generation:

A stitch in time saves nine – Looking after things properly means they last much longer. I notice this the most with shoes. If you spend the time and effort wearing in a  great pair of shoes, get them resoled and reheeled before they fall apart. I have some beautiful boots cracking the ten year mark now, thanks to some love and care from Mr Minit in Martin Place.

A penny saved is a penny earned – This is really, really important. Earning money is hard and annoying most of the time.

Every time you don’t spend money on something, you can not only keep it, but put it to good use.

My Acorns account is a good demonstration this. I’ve received an 8% return on my funds in the last year.  That means every dollar I put in is now worth $1.08 – for doing nothing!

Sure, I’m not going to spend that 8 cents all at once. But when you add this up over time, it’s powerful. Over the next year, I’ll be earning 8% (or whatever it turns out to be) on $1.08 – not just the original dollar.

And this, my friends, is the magic of compound interest. 

The graph below is from the MoneySmart compound interest calculator (which I freaking love). The pink columns show what happens if I keep my $1000, continue earning 8% every year, but do nothing else for 10 years.

It’s nice. You get $1220 of free money, and come out with $2220. Good outcome, but no reason to crack out the champagne.

However, if you add just $100 a month, look what happens. That is literally the cost of buying a takeaway coffee every day. If you allocate that to an investment fund for 10 years, you could walk away with over $20,000!

Those light blue columns are the ‘free’ money – the interest earned over that time.

Source: moneysmart.gov.au

There are lots of assumptions in this example, including getting 8% returns (not guaranteed with shares). But you get the general picture.

Every dollar you don’t spend is good. Every dollar you don’t spend, and invest in something more productive, is even better. 

That ‘productive’ thing may just be paying down your mortgage. Don’t get me started on how much you can save by doing that – I have a whole post in the works about it.

But you get it, right?

And finally, here is a tip from Grandma White, which has served me well over time:

If something has green mould, cut it off and it’s fine to eat the rest. If it’s pink mould, throw it out. 

I take no responsibility for public health outcomes on that one.

*Side note about my step-grandma Gwen: in her later years she told her daughters “If I die, don’t throw out my wardrobe without getting the $17,000 out of the back.” Over the years, she’d saved whatever was left over from the housekeeping money and stashed it there. Perfect.

Assumptions in calculator:
Scenario 1: $1000 deposit,  no additional payments, 8% interest each year.

Scenario 2: $1000 deposit, $1000 monthly payment, 8% interest each year.
Past performance of an investment isn’t a reliable indicator of future performance.

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin Change via photopin (license)

Tight-arse, tree-hugger tips to save money and the planet

I mentioned to a friend how infrequently I use my air conditioning in summer and she asked, “Is that because you’re a tree-hugger?” (Said in a loving way).

I realised that was a big reason, but also, I am a cheapskate and hate paying power companies. So when I thought about it, I figured the tight-arse and tree-hugger elements were 50-50. Things I do to reduce my environmental footprint also save me money, and vice versa.

So,  I’m sharing some of my all-time favourite products here. Like Gwyneth Paltrow on The Goop, but cheaper and less vaginal steaming (although… read on).

Tupperware Ventsmart

Absolute number one in the war on waste is a set of Tupperware ventsmarts. You can pop your celery in here and it stays crisp for three weeks. Legit! Mushrooms don’t go slimy or wrinkly, but instead keep for a couple of weeks. Salad mix takes at least 10 days to descend into that weird slimy state that happens in two days in its bag.

Honestly, these things are your saviour when you have the best of intentions, but accidentally get Grill’d for dinner instead of making stirfry.

Image result for tupperware vent smarts

Now before you tell me these sets are expensive, let’s talk about investments. You drop $100 on a set of these and they last a lifetime. Literally, they have a lifetime warranty. And you will have made that money back in the first year, just on the amount of dead veggies you haven’t chucked out. Fruit and veg take a lot of energy to grow and transport, and then they take a fair bit of cash to buy.

So if you want to avoid wasting both, pick yourself up a set (or three, which I have. And I live alone).

If you can’t stand the thought of having a Tupperware party (your loss, cos they are the best fun ever), I can totally hook you up with an awesome Tupperware lady who will send some to you. I’d also pick up a silicone baking sheet while you’re there, and you’ll hardly ever need baking paper again.

Norwex Make-up Removal Cloths

I have railed against the use of disposable makeup wipes for a long time. So wasteful! Except if you’re really drunk, maaaybe. As an alternative I used the little baby face washers you buy in the baby section of K Mart or big W. They come in a pack of 9 so you just use it once or twice then wash it with your towels. Simples!

But I could never get around using cotton pads for all my eye makeup, which is pretty full-on most days. Until this little cloth changed my life! One cloth takes off your foundation and eye makeup with nothing but water. You don’t even need to buy cleanser.

Norwex is a company that makes a bunch of chemical free cleaning products, and they are da bomb, I promise. They have parties, in the vein of Tupperware, but you can also order directly from a consultant. You won’t be surprised to hear I have a Norwex lady, so I can hook you up there too.

I subsequently found out that Enjo has a similar makeup product that won some award – I have used it and it’s also very nice but I already have my Norwex, sorry Enjo.

Olive oil spray bottle

I am obsessed with roasting every veggie ever. If you haven’t roasted Brussels sprouts you haven’t lived. They are best done with olive oil spray, but those spray cans you buy at the supermarket last about three seconds before you have to bin them. Plus I am very suss about the quality of the oil in them.

So my dad bought me one of these from the fancy kitchen shop in Leura and it changed my life! (Don’t know the brand but it is similar to this one).

Image result for olive oil spray bottle

You pump it to build the pressure then spray it on. Not only can you use the good oil, you can infuse garlic or herbs or chili. Get yourself one of these and you’ll never be ripped off by those cans again.

Moon cups and Thinx underwear

One of my feminist principles is that women shouldn’t be shamed about our bodies and their natural functions. Which means I talk about periods. I actually take some small pleasure in annoying men about it, but that’s incidental.

Anyway, I wanted to get tampons and pads out of my lady garden. Not only are they hugely wasteful, they are full of chemicals. I now use a combo of a JuJu cup and these amazing period underwear that honestly look like normal undies.

Some women can use a cup on its own but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seal 100% for me. I won’t go into the detail of how it all works, because others have done this for you, but I will say this: you can stop paying for feminine hygiene products. Never again grudgingly hand over your hard earned money for the pain of having a period.

And if you’re squeamish about seeing or touching your own blood, I say get over it. We can never truly own our feminist power if we think that what our bodies make is shameful. Like, maybe you don’t have to sing the flow song, but you get the drift.



Make your own stock

Ok, this is less about saving money and more about not wasting stuff. But have you ever made your own stock? It’s the best! And now it’s actually trendy because it’s called bone broth and Sarah Wilson champions it. But it was cool when my grandma was around, so Mary White is actually the original hipster.

Next time you have a whole roast chicken (if you don’t, you’re missing out), save the carcass. Maybe freeze it and wait til you have two, depending on how much you want to make. Save veggie scraps or just throw an onion and a dying carrot or two in there (if you even have any after purchasing your Tupperware !). Add quite a lot of salt – at least a teaspoon – and herbs, even just the mangy old herb stalks.

If you want beef stock you can ask the butcher for soup bones – a marrow bone cut up smaller is good. I take a strange pleasure in watching the butcher cut them up on a band saw. Is that weird? Anyway if you get charged more than five bucks for them the butcher is ripping you off.

The process is the same as for chicken stock, although you may want to skim the fat off after it cools – it solidifies, so that’s easy. I chuck mine in a slow cooker but you can just simmer on the stove too, for a good few hours.

The worst bit is pulling the bones out at the end and straining it all (I always manage to spill some). It’s easier to strain it all into one bowl then divide into smaller containers for the freezer. Or even zip lock bags if you can deal with the plastic guilt.

The stock is great in soups and curries and also for generally feeling smug about life. Like, when people say they use stock cubes you can look at them with disdain, then talk about gut-healing bone broth.

So these are my hot tips. Shout out in the comments if you have any more!

photo credit: PeterThoeny Follow the stairs into spring via photopin (license)

Top 3 tight-arse meals for the week before payday

As a tight-arse from way back, I hate spending money on work lunches.

And as a weightlifter, meal prep and Tupperware containers are 80% of my life. So I can teach you a thing or two about high-protein, low-cost meals.

First of all, let me just recap the numbers on work lunches. Say you buy lunch twice a week and it costs you $12 each time. You work 48 weeks a year, so that’s $1152 a year on burritos and sushi. If you cut that down to once a week, not only does buying lunch become a fun treat, it will save you nearly SIX HUNDRED BUCKS! You could spend that on shoes or investments or savings – whatever.

But I know, you don’t have time to prep lunches because you have kids/drinking sessions/work events/Netflix commitments.

So here are my foolproof ways not to end up in the food court, being fleeced for a bento box … especially if you have too much month at the end of your money.

The Ultimate Pantry-Freezer Lunch: Tuna Special

I thought everyone knew about this, but apparently not. And not everyone knows about the special secret ingredient either. It’s pretty simple:

  • A tin of tuna (I use the 180g ones, because gainz)
  • Mixed frozen vegetables (Aldi – $1.79)
  • Rice (you can use the microwave packets but I think they are wasteful and exy, so I cook a couple of cups of brown, black and red rice on the weekend – lasts a week in the fridge)
  • Secret ingredients: sesame oil and soy sauce

You chuck a handful of the veg in a container (to defrost during the morning) then add your rice, a tiny splash of sesame oil (seriously, go easy on this stuff, it’s really strong – no more than 1/2 teaspoon), and a small slurp of soy sauce.

At lunch, heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes, add the tuna, heat another minute or so. This will cost you about $2 AND make you feel super healthy and virtuous!

Looks way special, huh?

The Ultimate Make-ahead Freezer Lunch: Mince & Veg Extravaganza

I eat this for breakfast every day, but some people think that’s weird. (Those people haven’t been doing squats before work, obvs.) But it’s a great lunchtime option especially if you want a hot meal. It’s based on:

  • Beef mince (I use 1kg but you could use 500g if you’re a pussy)
  • 1 Onion

Chop the onion and cook it on medium heat. Turn heat up to full and brown the mince. Now add a bunch of spices. I don’t measure anything, but if I did I guess I’d use about 1/2 teaspoon of each:

  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Sweet paprika
  • Smoked paprika

And whatever else I feel like. Cook them up with the mince for about 1 minute. Then throw in (for 1kg mince):

  • 1 tin whole tomatoes
  • 1 tin crushed/diced tomatoes
  • Quarter or half a jar of passata

Again, you can play with these quantities. Just depends on how thick or saucy you like it. You can also skip the passata and just add more tomatoes. It’s all very fluid.

Then you add in all the vegetables (especially old, dying ones) in your fridge.You can throw them in a food processor or chop them by hand. I like some combo of:

  • eggplant (diced)
  • carrots
  • zucchini
  • broccoli (srsly – just chop it into small pieces)
  • kale or spinach (I often use frozen portions – $1 a pack!)
  • brussel sprouts (sliced or pulsed in the food processor)
  • mushroom
  • capsicum
  • choko (if you have an aunty or nanna who grows it)

Throw in a good pinch of salt and pepper then simmer for at least half an hour – til everything is soft (the eggplant seems to take the longest). Cool it down a bit (don’t leave it out too long if you don’t like salmonella), put it in little containers and pop in the freezer.

I use the dedicated Tupperware freezer range, but the cheap stuff or even snap lock bags do the trick. Then when you tell yourself you have no food for lunch, grab these little lifesavers and let them defrost all morning. Simples!

Also good for late-night, I’ve-been-at-the-pub dinners.

The Ultimate Lazy Girl’s Low-Carb Frittata

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about this one, it’s so easy and cheap. It’s our old friend the Frozen Mixed Vegetables and a packet of frozen spinach.

  • Defrost the veg (in the microwave if you have one, on the bench for an hour if you have allocated the microwave nook to protein powder, like me)
  • Whisk up some eggs. It depends how big your oven dish is. I have a loaf tin that takes 8 eggs to fill. Just play with what you have. If it’s not non-stick, try lining it with baking paper to avoid egg mess.
  • Now I add some egg whites from a carton. You buy them from the fridge at the supermarket but they are always in hard-to-find places, and I end up asking.
  • Add a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you like them, into the eggs.
  • Lay the veggies out nicely in the dish and pour over the eggs.
  • Baking time depends on how deep the dish is and how many eggs. My loaf tin takes an hour. A flan or pie dish would be about half that.

 

cheap meals Before…netflix … And after

 

This version gives me enough for a 4 days of eating. Just depends how hungry you are. Have a side salad with it and it feels more satisfying (I’m talking some baby spinach and cherry tomatoes – nothing fancy or hard).

And that’s it my friends! No more excuses for not taking your lunch to work. Also, you will be healthy and feel virtuous – and who can put a price on feeling smug?

photo credit: gborin Hang on little tomato via photopin (license)

7 money resolutions you can keep in 2017

Let’s all enter the secret circle of realtalk. New year’s resolutions are BS. We are hungover from eating, drinking and spending too much; resolutions are a handy way to purge our guilt. I get that.  

So that title is misleading. It should be: Some vague intentions and principles you might consider adopting to improve your finances this year, which aren’t really very hard or onerous.

1. Write your mindful spending manifesto. This isn’t hard. You can do it with a glass of (moderately priced) wine in hand one quiet night. (Read more about mindful spending here)

Take a moment to consider what you want to spend your hard-earned cash on in 2017. It can be a list or a mission statement. Write it on a note on the fridge or put it in your phone.

Here, I’ll start. I want to allocate money to travel, delicious breakfasts, quality fresh food and ethical protein sources, investing for my future, charities, powerlifting and fitness.

I want to avoid spending money on: coffee I can make myself; fancy wine; overpriced drinks in bars; clothes I don’t need; nail salons that may or may not be supporting human trafficking; things I need to find storage for; any more bloody shoes.

This will be a balancing act. I cannot guarantee to avoid Wittner for an entire calendar year. However, I will try my best. And I will NEVER pay full price there. Speaking of…

2. Stop paying full price for things. You only need to walk around the sales right now to know that Aussie retailers are addicted to discounting. Consumers want to spend less (because wage growth has stalled and we are highly indebted). But shops want us to spend more, so they keep making it more enticing.

You can take advantage of this by being organised. Not like spreadsheet organised – just using a bit of forethought. Think about what you know you need to buy, in advance, and then wait til it’s cheaper.

For instance, you already know how many weddings you’ll attend this year – if you want a new dress for each one, start looking now and buy on sale. (Alternatively, don’t be such a princess and wear an old one).

If you get to the beginning of a new season and feel a deep need to update your wardrobe, do it now – at the end of summer – and save it for next summer. This week I pulled out a fresh new Victoria’s Secret bikini I bought in the US, in June. It cost me thirty bucks then, and I feel like a million dollars now.

In the supermarket, my step-mum says to buy things you need when they are on spesh, not when they run out. This is good advice, and it’s why she always has two of every expensive cleaning product (whereas I just shop at Aldi and buy the cheap stuff).

3. Learn something about money and investing. Obviously you’re already reading Fierce Girl. Go you!!! But you can do more. Read the Money section of the newspaper. Buy a book about investing. Read some blogs or websites (check out my Resources page).

Basically, put your big girl boots on and take and interest, so that you can control your financial future. Don’t tell me it’s boring or hard or not your thing. We all have to do hard and boring things – but not all of them give you the chance to do something cool at the end, like go on holiday in Paris – AMIRIGHT?

4. Sort our your super. It’s easy and fast and will make a big difference to your future. Start with these:

  1. Roll multiple accounts into one.
  2. Pick the right investment option for your age (it may not be the default one).
  3. Set up salary sacrifices to make extra payments.

All of those things will make a decent difference to your retirement 30-40 years from now.

Super compounds and grows over a loooong time, so the things you do early on make a difference later. Small pain now, big gain later. There is a whole post I wrote on this, but if that’s too hard to read you could just call your super fund and get things moving.

5. Break a bad money habit. Go on, pick one. The one I finally nailed in 2016 was to stop buying coffee every day. I literally spent years battling the siren song of frothy, milky, delicious flat whites. But for my health, wallet and size of my arse, I replaced it with black coffee in a plunger. And here’s what I can tell you: you get used to anything, and then, in the end, quite like it.

I know you have a bad habit. Maybe it’s online shopping in front of the TV. Maybe it’s buying clothes when you’re upset and stressed. Maybe it’s just buying far too much takeaway. Pick one thing, work out what the underlying driver is behind it, and devise a strategy to short-circuit it. I’m not a guru on behavioural change, but here’s a guy who is, and whom I love: James Clear – check him out and read his e-book.

6. Make friends with your bank. I just opened a new account with St George. I already have three, but this was a new one called ‘Spending’ (you can name them). It’s where I allocate day-to-day, guilt-free spending money to. It’s great! It just helps me to mentally compartmentalise money. And nothing goes in there till the boring stuff has been done (bills, rent, savings – ugh).

St George has also upgraded the mobile app so it does a whole bunch of new stuff that makes life easier, like splitting bills. You should look at your own bank and what it offers to help you track and manage spending – and save more. Remember, it’s in your bank’s interest that you save money with them (so they can lend it to others). Make the the most of it and play around with the mobile app.

7. Sort out your head. Ok, I just snuck this one in as a bonus. What I mean is that lots of negative behaviours with money are related to our mental health and happiness. Some people buy expensive things to prop up their self-esteem. Others avoid taking control of their money because it makes them feel dumb. Other people are just distracting themselves from the tedium or terror of the human condition. 

You know what I mean. Think about what might be holding you back mentally or emotionally. I have been reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. It’s gloriously full of expletives, but it’s also full of realtalk that makes you think hard about your life choices. I highly recommend it as a starting point.

Oh hey, before you go…

2017: Fiercer and more financey than ever

This year is going to be big for The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance. I’ll be making the site prettier and easier to navigate. I’ll be holding some in-person workshops. Maybe there will even be an e-book.

So can I ask you a favour? Please share the love. I’m trying to build a community – a movement even – of ladies who are getting their shit together with money. But it needs your support. Get your friends to subscribe and/or like the Facebook page. Share the posts you like on social media. Comment if you have questions or things to say or requests for topics. Feedback is good and it’s what builds a community.

So, let’s make this year fierce and fantastic and a little bit financey.

No go ahead and Slay Bitches!

8 easy ways to spend less, save more and be a total Fierce Girl

You know what makes me happy? Among my friends, being thrifty has become synonymous with being a ‘Fierce Girl’.

Bought that top half price? Fierce Girl.

Only bought drinks in happy hour? Fierce Girl.

Bought your Christmas earrings for $2 in the new year sales last year? Yep, me – being a Fierce Girl.

It’s fair to say I can be a massive tight-arse. I buy marked-down veggies that only have a few days left in them. I shop at Aldi and buy cleanskin wine from Dan Murphy. I buy my underwear from Best & Less – and only when the Bonds range is on sale.

(Although I am happy to spend on things that I believe are worthwhile  –  things I have considered, weighed up and decided I want to allocate my funds to).

This is all part of mindful spending (which you should totes check out here if you missed it). Because the fact is, every dollar you don’t spend, is a dollar you don’t have to earn.

Amazing right? That concept blew my mind when I heard it. Instead of busting your arse for a payrise, you could just stop donating hundreds of dollars to the baristas and bartenders of the city.

Anyway, it has become apparent to me that not everyone is good at being a tight-arse. So, with a little help from my friend Gigi (who is an accountant and tight-arse from way back), I give you a random selection of ways to be a Fierce Girl spender.

  1. Consider the total cost, not just the purchase price. Here’s an example: you see flights for a hundred bucks and decide it’s a bargain way to have a mini-break in another city. But have you added the cost of cabs to and from the airport? All the breakfasts and lunches and dinners? The accommodation? I’m not saying don’t go ahead, but don’t forget to factor in the whole cost when you make a plan.
  2. Make your sober self be frugal, so that drunk you can party. As Gigi says, ‘there is the primary cost of alcohol, and the secondary cost of all the shit you buy when you’re drunk’. So, start well. Catch public transport on the way to a night out, eat dinner at home, make yourself a starter cocktail at home (my fave is a martini because it only needs three ingredients, including the garnish!). My point is, you don’t need to have a total budget blow-out when you party – you can halve the damage with some planning.
  3. Plan your meals and only buy what you need. I know, this sounds dull and housewifey. But I promise, it will improve your life. You literally need half an hour to sit down and list your meals for the week, and the ingredients you need. Not only does this make you feel like a bad-arse grown-up in control of your life, it also means you try new things as you go through recipe booksfor ideas. Plus it makes you eat better, duh. Rich AND skinny, bitches!
  4. Go out for breakfast, not dinner. Dinners are a nice treat once in a while, but they charge you for wine, sides, breathing –  pretty much everything. Go out for brunch instead. Not only will you avoid $50 bottles of wine, you can get the most expensive thing on the menu and struggle to spend more than twenty bucks. If you really do love dinner out, create a mental list of BYO venues, because there is no shame in taking your own cleanskin!
  5. Think ahead with gifts. Buy stuff when you see it on sale and think ‘mum would like that’. Even if it’s months ahead – have a present box where you put things aside. Just don’t buy it and forget you bought it and then your niece grows out of it and you have to save it for her little sister. (Not that I have done that).
  6. Avoid boredom/emotion/reward shopping. I know, I might as well tell you to not eat carbs after midday. But you at least need to try this. Gigi and I were discussing this post on WhatsApp, and I just found a line from me: “boredom shopping is the last resort of the unhappily married”. I should know. But any emotional state can lead to buying shit you don’t need. And if you do buy it, keep the receipt and see if you still want it three days later. I guarantee you do not.
  7. It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it. God, I wish I could take back all the ridiculous coloured high-heels, all the crop tops for the nightclubbing I never do, all the homewares I have no room for… anyway, sales are a particular trap for the tight-arses among us. But time has taught me that if I didn’t already have it on a mental list, I don’t need it.
  8. Read catalogues. Seriously. Reated to the point above, if there is stuff you know you need, hunt around for it on sale. There are websites like Lasoo which have every sale catalogue online. And if you aren’t in a hurry for it, make a note of it and buy it when you come across it somewhere. And as with the example above, anyone who pays full price for Bonds is a sucker.

I could go on for a while but I feel like I have already come across like some weird spinster aunt who buys day-old bread (I had those aunts in real life. They died quite wealthy).

All I want to say here is you can do this. You can stop pissing money away and do better things with it. You can be a Fierce Girl.

Got any hot money-saving tips? Leave them in the comments.

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