Thrift has come a long way in the past 12 years, Simple Savings' Jackie Norman tells Rob Stock.
When it launched, Simple Savings, which facilitates a network of people in New Zealand and Australia seeking to cut their cost of living, was a bit of a curiosity.
It almost seemed a little cult-like, as Simple Savers vied to come up with frugality tips to save their household expenses.
But spokesman Jackie Norman, who writes content for the website and edits all tips coming in, says more than a decade on it is no longer thought of as quirky or odd to live a more frugal, less wasteful lifestyle by choice. Actually, she says: "It's more of a case of ‘you're daft if you don't!' "
What inspired you to go thrifty?
Before discovering Simple Savings my then-husband and I were farmers for almost 15 years. During that time we had no rent or mortgage. We had free meat, free petrol and all sorts of other perks which came with the job. Almost all our income was disposable and it was a good income.
Then the farm was sold, we bought our first home and spent the first year telling ourselves we had to be sensible. We weren't. After years of living in farm accommodation, I wanted to fill my own home with beautiful things and I did! I was also working from home for a UK company and bored out of my mind, so I filled my days with shopping and cafes.
After a year of juggling both a mortgage and an excessive lifestyle, we were struggling to make ends meet and I was lying awake at night worrying how we were going to pay for our home.
Just as I was getting really desperate I was reading a magazine and came across a story about a young couple who had started a website called Simple Savings. It showed me an example of some of the things they used to save money and I thought, ‘Ooh, I get this! I can do this!' I joined up and never looked back.
How did the family take to thrift?
When I made the change my two sons were seven and five years old. They were used to having everything, whether they wanted it or not! Other kids called our house Wonderland when they came to play. But my kids didn't appreciate what they had. My idea of a family day out was taking them to the Warehouse on Saturdays and spending $300 on stuff.
Initially the change in routine was hard for them - no more mindless shopping, no more McDonald's, but it didn't last long, it really didn't. Contrary to popular opinion, a thrifty lifestyle is not about going without; it's about finding the smartest way to get what you want. The boys are now 15 and 17 and are typical teenagers. However these days they appreciate everything they have and work hard to get what they want.
What does the word consumer mean to you?
The word consumer makes me think of greed. It never used to, it was always just a posh word for shopper before, but having paid greater attention to society and our increasing spending habits over the past years, it now has far more negative connotations. We consume and consume and consume because we are constantly targeted by advertisers and brainwashed into thinking we need it, that our lives won't be happy or complete without it, that we will not be socially acceptable otherwise.
Happiness and money: How do you think the two are connected?
I used to believe that if I was having a good day I went shopping to make it even better. If I was having a bad day I would go shopping to make it better. If I was having a fat day or a thin day or a bad hair day I would go shopping to make me feel better. But having been through a marriage breakup and some pretty tough stuff over the past couple of years, I have learned that happiness really has to come from within.
How did your upbringing shape your views on money?
I was raised to believe that money was for spending. I grew up in England, my parents both worked hard and my mum took care of all the finances. We were comfortable, we had what we wanted. Then when I was a teenager my dad, who was a builder, was made redundant during a huge recession in the late 80s/early 90s. Apart from bits and pieces, he was basically out of work for two years. I had no idea how much of a struggle it was for mum to hold everything together but I know dad and I got a real shock one night when we all went to the supermarket and dad and I weren't allowed to buy our favourite peanuts and chocolate.
What's the best bit of financial advice ever given to you?
Before you spend anything, stop and think. It's that simple.
Simple Savings has gathered thousands of savings tips. Do you have a favourite?
I always remember a woman who single-handedly paid off $30,000 worth of debt in a year and on a very modest wage by making a few simple changes and I think of her often and still aspire to be like that. What I love about Simple Savings is the inspiration. It's full of stories of people who have used the site and the thousands of tips to achieve their goals, retire early, pay off the mortgage faster than they ever dreamed.
- Sunday Star Times