I’m a proud frugalista

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Say what? I don’t look cheap, and most days I wear designer labels to my public service office. I also travel frequently, am an avid skier and am often out and about at Canberra events. I love good food and catching up with friends. And last year I got married: my husband and I celebrated with 200 guests and were transported to the reception in a horse-drawn buggy.

Unless you get me talking about my favourite topic of money, you would probably assume that, like many people, I struggle with credit card bills and a mortgage.

What makes me different is that I am a woman with a financial plan.

I don’t live from one Thursday public service pay day to the next. Rather, we’re close to being fully financially independent. But we’re not waiting for retirement to enjoy our lives – we’re enjoying life right now.

Australians have the highest levels of household debt in the world, and while Canberrans on average earn more than others in Australia, we are big spenders. In fact, Canberrans are the second highest average weekly spenders per week in Australia, clocking up $1,670 on goods and services.

It’s not always easy being frugal. There are bills to pay, work lunches and the temptation of first-class Canberra coffee and (to my mind) the best wine and restaurants in Australia. (I don’t drink coffee, long story, and I save by only spending less than 6c on having a cup of tea at my desk. But my work café and its cakes is a huge source of temptation.)

The little bits add up. Every dollar counts and I am proud to share some tips about how to make your money stretch in Canberra:

ACT libraries are fabulous. Some even look and feel like a café. I always find the staff patient and helpful. Before you buy an eBook or magazine, check out what you can access online and don’t forget to look at CDs and DVDs (remember those?). ACT Library staff voluntarily stayed open late during our recent heatwave.

Cycle to work or to the shops. We live in a beautiful city, and I really see and appreciate that beauty more clearly on two wheels. I save $70 a week on parking, $20 in gym fees and $50 on petrol by cycling – that’s $140 a week or $2,690 a year! I now save more than double that after I took up cycling and ditched our second car altogether.

Read the Canberra Weekly and enter competitions. Over the last five years, I have won several things, including theatre tickets, hair brushes and cookbooks. (And yes, this tip is in the book.) But shh, don’t tell anyone.

Grow your own. Canberra is a great climate for growing things. We even manage tomatoes and herbs on our balcony! Share your bounty with friends and neighbours and grow the community spirit further. Some organisations such as 100kilos.org actively encourage veggie sharing.

Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed a million dollars through frugal living. Serina’s book, The Joyful Frugalista (Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99) is available now.

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