Archive for August, 2009



August 28, 2009

Yesterday I picked up my shoes from the cobbler.

The shoes in question were Hush Puppies with lovely bouncy rubber soles, but the lovely bouncy soles had worn down over the years to the point where they let the water in. The uppers on the other hand have been lovingly polished so that in many ways they look better than when they were new.

I took them to the chap on Victoria St just down from the Post Office and Manners Mall. He charged me $85 and did what appears to be a pretty decent job. I now have new hard rubber soles which appear to be attached neatly and soundly. My feeling is that these shoes have way more life left in them than a new $85 pair, so: win.

I also learned that it would cost $45 to get protective rubber soles put on leather-soled shoes.

I’m happy, but shoe repair is not something I do that often, so I don’t know whether these rates are reasonable or not. Thoughts?

Bonus fun fact! Cobblers, as an expression meaning testicles or nonsense, is Cockney rhyming slang. “Cobblers’ awls” me old chinas.


Silverbeet and other vegetables

August 26, 2009

Picked some more silverbeet today. Cost for seedlings, $3. Labour input: minimal, and gratifying.

Silverbeet is hard to kill, easy to grow, free of most pests and diseases, and can be picked without killing the plant. I know vegetable gardening isn’t for everyone, and you need some basic kit which costs a bit, but certainly if you’re getting into it silverbeet must qualify as one of the best possible plants to grow.

As long as you like silverbeet. Which I do. Just don’t boil the crap out of it as we did in the 70s. Wash it and shred it, and sweat it in olive oil with a little garlic and salt and pepper until it’s well wilted but still green. Nom.

My Dad is a terrific fruit and vegetable gardener. He always reckons that he won’t grow things that he can buy really cheaply, unless the home-grown version is obviously superior. So Dad doesn’t do onions, but he does do tomatoes. That makes sense to me. There’s an economics of home vegetable gardening, and there’s no sense in investing a lot of effort and resources unless we know it’s worth it.

Soon I’m going to plant beans. Fresh beans are always expensive, the plants fix nitrogen in the soil for your next crop, and if you save a few pods the seeds are free. What a winner. I’d plan even more except that we’re probably moving soon…

Nominations for the frugal vege patch, anyone?


Quick link: the psychology of money and happiness

August 25, 2009

Read another interesting article today about the relationship between spending money and happiness.

“Just because money doesn’t buy happiness doesn’t mean money cannot buy happiness,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “People just might be using it wrong.”

Dunn and others are beginning to offer an intriguing explanation for the poor wealth-to-happiness exchange rate: The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

Yet again, the bullet point summary is:

  • spending on other people is more rewarding than spending on yourself
  • spending on experiences is more rewarding than spending on things
  • more money does bring more happiness, but only up to a point.

All of which things ring true in my experience. And it accords with the article I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.


A winter resolution, update 4

August 20, 2009

Earlier: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Winter is almost over — I hope. On today’s bike ride into work I climbed up from Hataitai and then sailed down the northern slopes of Mt Vic and tried not to be distracted by the beautiful sunlight glistening on the harbour.

For those of you who just joined us, a couple of months ago I decided that I was spending too much on buses and taxis. I realised that fear of getting wet and the amount of gear I hump around were barriers to using my bike every day. So I costed out panniers and a carrier and a rain jacket, and worked out they would pay for themselves in a few weeks — as long as I rode every day.

I toughed it out through June and July, and now in mid-August I’m definitely in the black. It is pleasant to think as you trundle home: I saved six dollars today.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Even in a rainy Wellington winter, your chances of riding in a good storm are pretty low. In three months, I’ve only got really wet maybe twice. So I feel vindicated in not spending a whole heap on full-on wet weather kit. Of course this assumes you have a little flexibility about picking when you leave…
  • Once you are used to cycling every day, you lose the the “oh cripes I have to saddle up” feeling. It’s just a normal way of getting around now, and it isn’t onerous.
  • The bicycle beats the bus most of the time.
  • Even if you get other exercise, adding 45 minutes of cycling to your day makes a really noticeable difference to your fitness.

Because I am scrupulously honest (except when I’m not) I confess I haven’t quite lived up to my initial resolution. One thing I haven’t managed to do yet is use the bike to get to the Sunday markets. The reason is that I have regular early afternoon commitments on Sunday, so it’s just proved to be a little logistically tight. But I’ll give it a crack soon, promise.

A final observation: as we noted earlier, Bruce Sterling suggests that we should only own:

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.

For me my Ortlieb panniers are in all three categories. Of all the purchases I have made in the last year, I think I’ve got most jollies out of them by a considerable margin.


Contrasting views on cheapness

August 16, 2009

We’ve maintained from the start that there is more to frugality than merely being cheap. Frugality is about deploying your resources wisely, to maximise your long-term happiness.

One thing that makes me happy is being satisfied about the ethical or moral consequences of my spending, so it’s worrying to read accounts of what happens behind the scenes to bring us truly cheap goods:

… in her lively and terrifying book “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture,” Ellen Ruppel Shell pulls back the shimmery, seductive curtain of low-priced goods to reveal their insidious hidden costs. Those all-you-can-eat Red Lobster shrimps may very well have come from massive shrimp-farming spreads in Thailand, where they’ve been plumped up with antibiotics and possibly tended by maltreated migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam. The made-in-China toy train you bought your kid a few Christmases ago may have been sprayed with lead paint — and the spraying itself may have been done by a child laborer, without the benefit of a protective mask.

from a review at Salon.

The book is also reviewed at Boingboing, with some really interesting debate in the comments.

Then there’s this view of so-called ethical consumption, in a review in spiked online of Neal Lawson’s All Consuming:

Ironically, even the most fashion-conscious teenager is less obsessed with consumption than today’s anti-consumerists. The learned professors, journalists and political lobbyists who study in detail the choices available to the public are a sorry sight.

Of course such self-appointed experts are not opposed to all forms of consumption. Although they despise the purchase of luxury items by the masses they are happy to indulge what they see as their own refined tastes. Indeed, the notion of ethical consumption is essentially a way of validating the shopping of the elite while deriding the masses at the same time.

From the elite’s perspective, consumption becomes what author James Heartfield calls ‘status affirmation’. The purchase of what are deemed to be ethically acceptable products is seen as marking individuals out from the rabble. So anyone who likes, say, ordinary chocolate biscuits is sneered at as a gullible consumer while those who eat overpriced organic Duchy Originals are viewed as cultured individuals.

from here. And there is something in that. It isn’t much of an advance to replace one sort of snobbery with another. But still, if one kind of snobbery is helpful to others while another isn’t, I’ll opt for the first over the second.

But what if we don’t buy new things at all? What if we only buy old things and reuse them, or recycle goods?

… salvage itself is a mechanism, both in practice and in thought, procedure and ideology, deeply ingrained in the circuits of late capitalism. And much further back than that.

From the total inanity of green “upcycled” goods (“ie. recycled/reclaimed into something special”, because “Ethical is Beautiful” and they insist on “only using laptops“) to wrenching fillings from your teeth to sell to Cash For Gold U.S.A. (for the oral hoarding days must come to an end in these lean times). From the total staggering obscenity of price mark-ups at trendy vintage clothing shops to desperate children rummaging through the stinking mountains of trash. These are apocalyptic times generally, but in particular, the figure and action of salvage looms perhaps largest.

from Putting the Punk back in Salvage, pointed out by Giovanni Tiso. Particular venom is reserved for vintage clothing, which hurts me.

Dear reader, you must decide what to do for yourself. If you have a coherent plan, please share.


Sneaky, sneaky b-tards

August 16, 2009

Here’s a word of warning if you’re shopping at New World.

Something that’s happened to use a few times in the past week (at both downtown New Worlds) is that items have big signs on them stating 2-for-$XX!! This is usually a good deal, so we buy them, only to get to the cashier and discover that it is some other brand entirely that is on sale.

When I wandered back to check it the label did indeed say “Molenburg”, but the bread under the sign was Freyas. So technically the supermarket isn’t actually doing anything wrong. The sign and the bread are different, therefore I am not paying enough attention, and it is my fault that I end up with more bread than I need, at a higher cost.

But another way to look at it is: these sneaky, sneaky b-tards are fooling me into buying more, in the expectation that I will not kick up a fuss, and socially embarass myself, at the cashier.

However, no amount of grumpy people in line, or sending cashiers off to sort this out, will deter this curmudgeon from getting his $3.50 saving…


Quick link — taxi fare comparison

August 13, 2009

NZ Taxi Blog shows fare comparisons between Wellington taxi firms. The top three rankings agree with my perceptions as reported last year: Capital, Green and Combined are the cheapest cabs still.

I haven’t been following NZ Taxi Blog, but there’s a lot of interesting if recherche stuff on there for the dedicated urbanist.

(hat tip to Stephen Clover of the Wellingtonista for this one)


Footwear feats

August 11, 2009

Feat the first: it appears that near-new shoes trade at a steep discount on Trademe. And so I acquired a pair of barely-worn Loake loafers for $70 instead of three or four hundred. I was careful to measure up some well-fitting shoes I already own and check them with the seller, since shoes sizes are a confusing mess in New Zealand. My intuition is that these were some old dude’s shoes from the back of the wardrobe: the style is vintage, even though the soles were barely scratched. Some people might be a bit squeamish about dead men’s shoes, but I would hate for my best shoes to go out to the tip and I’d like someone who appreciates them to have them.

Feat the second: my favourite black shoes are being resoled. I had thought they were past saving, because they’re rubber-soled and the soles have worn through at the ball, but the cobbler said he can do it for $85. Since the uppers are in beautiful nick, I regard this as a saving, because replacing the shoes with their new equivalent would cost more than twice that.

I’m also stoked to have found a good shoe repairer. (At least I hope he’s good. I’ll report back in a week when I pick them up.) This means that if I spot a good shoe at the op shop, and it needs some love, I’ll have someone I can take it to.

I think I’ve mentioned Vimes’ Theory of Economic Injustice before, but it seems apposite to repeat here:

Vimes reflects that he can only afford ten-dollar boots with thin soles which don’t keep out the damp and wear out in a season or two. A pair of good boots, which cost fifty dollars, would last for years and years – which means that over the long run, the man with cheap boots has spent much more money and still has wet feet.


The cost of breakfast

August 8, 2009

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. So having agonised about expensive shoes, let me tell you just how minutely I have costed breakfast.

I pretty much always have porridge for breakfast. I like it, it’s quick and easy, healthy by all accounts, and I never feel full with the alleged serving size of more processed breakfast cereals.

One kilogram of whole-grain rolled oats costs $3.58, as of this morning at the Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save. One bowl of porridge requires half a cup. Half a cup weighs 55 grams. Two litres of Budget Slim milk costs $3.05, and I put about 100 ml on my porridge, so it follows that:

  • one bag of oats provides 18 breakfasts;
  • each breakfast requires 20 cents’ worth of oats;
  • each breakfast requires 15 cents’ worth milk, therefore…
  • … porridge for breakfast costs 35 cents

This doesn’t account for the pinch of salt or the electricity used to cook the porridge, but trust me, they’re about a cent.

Occasionally, I like Weetbix, just for a change.

One kilogram of Weetbix is on special at the moment, for $3.78. I need three Weetbix to feel as though I’ve eaten enough, and that weighs 45 grams. I have more milk with Weetbix, about 200ml, so it follows that:

  • one box of Weetbix provides 22 breakfasts;
  • each breakfast requires 17 cents’ worth of Weetbix;
  • each breakfast requires 30 cents worth of milk, therefore…
  • … Weetbix for breakfast costs 47 cents

It’s worth 12 cents for a little variety.

In conclusion, a rigorous cereal regime should cost less than $165 per person annually. In fact, if you ate some fruit for vitamins, you could probably live quite well on an extremely frugal porridge-based diet. Look out for my new book The Diet Secrets of the Scots — How I Lost 20 Pounds And Saved Thousands Of Dollars With Porridge.

I guess this is my long-winded way of telling you that Pak’N’Save has really cheap Weetbix right now, best before July next year so you have plenty of time to eat your massive stockpile, but that nothing beats porridge.

PS: I am experimenting with bold text. Some say this is a crucial part of effective writing for the web. I cannot help but feel it makes a post read like a really schlocky direct mail sales pitch.


Greening the Nation’s bottoms

August 3, 2009

One thing most parents seem to share is dread at the cost of nappies. These things are seriously expensive, and if you chose the wrong option, then you’re talking several thousand dollars over the duration. One friend commented specifically that their grocery bill plummetted after their 2nd child graduated.

To address this dreadful expense my partner and I talked over our options before the wee tacker was born, and settled on re-useable nappies. And he being 8 months old tomorrow I thought I’d give a progress report.

In short: Not so bad.

We thought that things might become… different… when he moved to solid food, but we’ve been lucky and the reusables options has worked out well. The principle of the nappy is that it has a waterproof cover, an absorbent cloth, and a disposable liner. The liner is supposed to act as a “catch-all” that allows you to easily dispose of any offending solids. And that’s pretty much exactly what it does. You just gather up the liner and flush it. Since there are no solids heading in the wash cycle the need for a rigorous soaking/washing sterilisation process is less, and a decent warm wash followed by sunlight by kill any bacteria.

And that’s the next issue. Hot washes. We’re still tracking the power bill compared to last year, but it’s being complicated by bad billing in 2008 (a topic for another day), and this winter being so much more cold. But initial figures suggest it’s not too bad, and it includes the additional washing needed to keep on top of grubby baby clothes (feeding is messy!). Total power bill for 2008 was $1021, and this year to date is $633 (6 months). Mind you, we are only using warm washes, but it seems to do the trick, and every few months we spend a week doing spanking hot washes, just in case.

Meanwhile, costs for cleaning are not substantial. Our entire detergent bill last year was $58 (seriously…), and cost to date (January to July), is $50. That includes concentrate, baking soda (bleach), and white vinegar (disinfectant), the latter two bought from Moore Wilsons, the former from the Warehouse in 5kg bags.

Pretty good right?

But! I hear you say. But the initial cost of he nappies!! It’s a killer!!

Well, total cost of nappies including disposables (used at night or when/if we travel), is [drum roll maestro]… $602.

Compared to the cost of buying disposable nappies that is a fairly big saving. We figure the boy will run through a minimum of 6 nappies a day (not skimping and making him wear them for longer), but at least 8. A 20-nappy pack costs a minimum of $10 on special, but more usually $12. Wolfram Alpha tells me that we have 243 days between 4 December and 4 August. This gives us a potential consumption of 1944 nappies, costing us a minimum of $972. Of course this is in reality likely to be higher.

And, we can change the boy as many times in a day as we want. The most water we ever need use is the minimum setting on the washing machine, so 8 nappies or 15 nappies makes no difference. Plus, the disposable liners are actually good for a couple of washes if they have only been peed on! Another saving!

We’re thinking that we won’t have to make the outlay for the next size up nappy for several months (his growth has evened out at around 11.5kg), so the next $180-odd so a little way of, meaning that from here till then the only cost is cleaning and purchasing additional liners ($10 for 100, cost to date included in the $602).

The final word? Well worth it.