NZ Woman's Weekly
Dollars and sense: ‘I survive on $35 a week’

Dollars and sense: ‘I survive on $35 a week’

No toothpaste, no toilet cleaner and no tampons – it may sound like an impossible existence. But for Kaitaia sharemilker Lyn Webster, going without isn’t just achievable – it’s easy.

Since almost losing her home and business during the height of the recession, Lyn has saved more than $100,000 by cutting her weekly shopping bill down from $200 to just $35. She says without the drastic measures, she would have lost everything.

“I’d be on the DPB right now, I think,” she says from her Northland farm. “I was really in the poo in 2009. I spent money without thinking about it and I had no nest egg, so when I ran out of money and the farm was struggling, the banks wouldn’t help me.”

The 46-year-old realised the only way to keep her business was if she got her grocery bill down to $100 a week. Four years on, the weekly shop now only takes one trip from the car to the house – and Lyn hasn’t just stopped at food.

Lyn and daughter Stevie

Lyn’s youngest daughter Stevie – once resistant to the budget – has developed a real skill for making innovative lunches and snacks in the kitchen from nothing at all.

Living mostly out of her garden – collecting milk and eggs from her livestock and only purchasing staple items such as flour, sugar and legumes – Lyn also refuses to buy any cleaning products and cosmetics, replacing the majority with baking soda.

“There are so many uses for baking soda,” she says. “We use it for everything – shampoo, soap, deodorant.

“A 25kg bag lasts us an entire year. The first time I washed my hair with baking soda, I thought I’d lost my mind, but my hair has never looked or felt better. I’m never buying shampoo again!”

Even tampons are replaced with the much cheaper and environmentally friendly Diva Cup (a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup), and anything with plastic packaging is automatically a no-no.

It’s easy now for the family to get by on the smell of an oily rag, but it took Lyn’s two daughters, Danni (19) and Stevie (15), a while to adjust to the new budget – especially when she told them there would be no more toothpaste.

“They hated brushing their teeth with baking soda,” she says, “but I knew they just had to get used to it. “They got over it within a week and now they hate the taste of normal toothpaste.”

Amazingly, the entire family doesn’t miss any food item from their “previous life” – the only thing Stevie misses is dishwashing liquid.

Lyn holding a basket of fruit

Not only does growing their own fruit and vegetables mean cheaper grocery bills, but it gives the Webster family the opportunity to pitch in together – from weeding and watering, to picking the produce for meal time.

“It’s so easy once you get in the swing of things,” Lyn says. “At the beginning, we were hungry sometimes. I know middle-class New Zealanders shouldn’t feel hungry, but we did go hungry for a little bit.

“We soon got used to portion control and the different foods we were eating. If anything, we’re healthier now we’re not eating anything processed.”

Lyn can’t even walk down the laundry powder aisle in the supermarket any more, as she can no longer handle the smell.

While Lyn says others might find her frugal life “a bit weird”, it has now evolved into more than just saving money – she’s also been able to take back control of her life.

“It’s not like I’m a hippy or anything,” she smiles. “But when I made the first batch of laundry powder, I felt the most amazing sense of achievement, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Along with a weekly column she’s been writing for the local paper about her experiences, Lyn has just released her first book, Pig Tits & Parsley Sauce, which tells readers exactly how to save money and live more sustainably.

Lyn watering her garden

“When I was in the editor’s office pitching the column, he asked me what the name of it was and I blurted out Pig Tits & Parsley Sauce,” she laughs.

“It was a saying my mum used to use when I asked her what was for dinner and I thought it fit. If I’d blown all the grocery money before the week was up, that’s what would have been on the table.”

It hasn’t reached that level yet, but they have had sheep’s tongue – something Lyn says was “actually quite nice and cheap, of course”.

LYN’S TOP TIPS (OR TIT BITS)

Baking soda and white vinegar. I’m kicking myself at how long it took me to discover the joys. Between them, they will replace most cleaning products and cosmetics.

  • Don’t go shopping hungry.
  • Take cash to the supermarket, then you can’t overspend.
  • Buy cheese and butter on special and freeze.
  • Don’t turn things down. If someone is offering you something for free, take it and try it.
  • Don’t give up – it takes 21 days to change a habit.
  • Pig Tits & Parsely Sauce (Penguin, $25) is available now from bookstores

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