Christmas plate with Joy written on it

Day 41 – #joyfulgiving366 – #frugalFebrury fail (sort of)

Day 41 wasn’t the best for #joyfulgifting. But I got there in the end.

Feeling a bit anxious

So, I’ve had a week of highs and lows. On the surface, there have been glamorous things like TV and radio interviews. And a few other potentially exciting things that are in the wings. But something happened on Wednesday that caused me to break my favourite glass Pyrex measuring jug.

I suffer from anxiety. There is a family history of anxiety, and if I’m honest, I’ve always been a bit highly strung. But having survived domestic violence, I’m more sensitive than most. Certain things that remind me of that time, such as conflict, can set me off. PTSD after escaping DV is common. If you’ve been there, you will hear me. It is hard, however, to explain to other people as they think you are just being overly sensitive.

In my previous work, I often had to deal with situations where there were high levels of conflict. Like chairing a meeting where people were shouting at me because they wanted an outcome (there wasn’t consensus, so both sides were upset with me – but being a peacemaker, I found a way through). Or difficult VIPs who liked to throw their weight around and could act like a bully if they didn’t get their way. (One rang me demanding something that was inappropriate and would fail and auditing test, then threatened to call the Minister, his friend, to get me fired if I didn’t comply.) Another time, a boss screeched at me and told me I was ‘fxxking useless’ (the same man considered himself a mentor, believe it or not). And I had a boss who delighted in having hour-long feedback sessions to provide confusing and negative feedback on my written work – it felt like nothing I did was ever right.

It was hard, really hard, to explain to people that this type of conflict triggered anxiety. The general response was “you’ve just got to have thick skin,” or “it’s not a big deal”. I am resilient but my experience tells me that it can take a day – sometimes two or three – or sustained focus on certain rituals and practices to get me right again.

I don’t really want to talk about what happened on Wednesday because it involves my son, but let’s just say that co-parenting after DV is complex. In this case, I was strong at the time. Then on Thursday, I was a bit frazzled. But by Friday, I wasn’t OK. Plus, I had a bit of PMS that made it a bit harder.

Despite going to tai chi class on Thursday night, I didn’t sleep well and work up lethargic and had trouble focusing. My mind was racing, and I felt overwhelmed with everything on my to-do list. (Like I’ve resigned my job to lean into my passion for writing and podcasting so really, what pressure, right?) And I was doubting myself and full of negative self-talk. When I’m like this, I rush around doing a lot of things quickly but not necessarily anything well. I can’t really make good judgment calls and I can’t really think clearly.

I knew, *logically*, that this was anxiety talking, but anyone who has had a panic attack or experiences anxiety knows it takes a while to calm down. Thankfully, I’m now with a wonderful husband who understands, and I’ve also developed coping strategies. Like swimming.

[Comment: as I was writing this, I read an article in The Canberra times about how Commonwealth Public Servants are experiencing high rates of anxiety and exhaustion. This is in part due to the crazy weather over summer, but also due to the extensive funding cuts. I certainly struggled in my last year at work. Every day I would have several urgent deadlines – often on subjects I knew little about but which were politically sensitive, complex and required extensive consultation (which was difficult with the tight time frame). Rant over.)


One of my priorities after leaving work was self-healing. And the number one thing I wanted to do was make time for daily meditation, tai chi and to go swimming once or twice a week.

After much teeth-gnashing, and frugalista inner searching, I finally found a pool I liked. It is a brand new pool, with a lovely relaxed vibe with big windows looking out into trees at the Australian National University, a 10-minute cycle distance from home. I almost signed up for the $15 a week membership, but in the end, I opted for buying 20 tickets for a 10% discount. This means that each visit costs $9 – but I have to use them up within a certain time. (Oh, and I found a fabulous new swimsuit for $6 from Vinnies Belconnen.)

I’m mentioning all of this because, despite the fact that $9 per visit for a public pool is not much money in the scheme of things, as a frugalista, I pondered about it for several months before committing. I wondered if people would think I was frivolous and not true to my frugal nature. Or maybe, I’m just not that good at spending money on myself. I don’t know.

But I do know that I’ve discovered, somewhat coincidentally, that for me swimming is one of the best forms of therapy. I’m a slow swimmer, and I’m not quite a Sports Illustrated model, but I like the gentle rhythm of swimming. Swimming forces me to breathe deeply, and to concentrate on one stroke at a time. As my friend Trish once said, “there is nothing but you and the black line”. I see it as a form of mindfulness or meditation.

That said, I felt like lead when I got in the pool. I was making so many excuses not to go, and I didn’t head off until early afternoon. So much negative self-talk. “You should be working – you’ve got deadlines. You won’t get everything done. Other people will think you’re lazy. You’ve run out of time anyway.” On and on and on. But somehow, I still went.

But a few hours later, I started to feel better. And 24 hours later, I was almost okay. Almost.

Op shopping and retail therapy

I still wasn’t 100% when I returned, so when Neil came home from work I asked him to go op shopping with me. (Yes, he’s a keeper). Vinnies Dickson is now open until 9pm on Fridays (yeah). We decided to pick up the boys first and go together as a family. This was a bad move at first, as my youngest threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to go.

He did NOT want to go AT ALL. But he got a bit better once he saw a few things he liked – such as a pair of oversized knitting needles (he loves craft) and a blingy necklace he insisted I buy. This boy loves bling.

I went op shopping to look for a new glass measuring jug, but in the end I found:

  • A pearl and diamond necklace;
  • A gold necklace (my son’s pick);
  • A gold Chinese-style dressing gown;
  • A satchel with a bird design (as new with tags);
  • A Christmas plate with the word ‘Joy’ on it and a picture of a bird (seriously – Joy and Bird on the same design?)

Total cost: $35
Modelling some of my op shop finds

[I should add that I did donate one dress. It was leftover from the clothes swap. I’d worn it a few times on super hot days, but it didn’t really fit me. It was time to pass it on with love.

Retail therapy has now become a favourite way for many people – especially women – to make themselves feel better after experiencing bad emotions. Broken up with your boyfriend? Bad day at work? Missed out on a promotion? Go shopping.

It works – and it doesn’t.

When I was going through court and legal processes in 2015, I would go op-shopping every time after I had had to face my ex-husband over something. I did a challenge of not buying any new clothes in 2014, but to be honest I still had a lot of clothes in 2015. What I craved were new clothes that didn’t carry memories of the past. I wanted to feel sexy, happy and fabulous in a way that I never did in my marriage. And op-shops delivered.

Retail therapy is effective in getting you out of the house and among people and bright lights, which can be useful if you are moping over emotional distress (positive action). It’s also positive if you’re there with a good friend (community and emotional support). It’s less fab, though, when it becomes habitual – especially when it leads to debt. More and more stuff is going to create more problems than it solves.

It wasn’t until we got home that my eldest son said to me, “but I thought you were on #FrugalFebruary?”

Doh. He was right. Yes, I did fail on #FrugalFebruary. I didn’t set a good example. But I did have fun, and I did get things I wanted (note: not needed). It got me through a bad day. And I have a separate allowance I set aside for these purchases – instead of things like takeaway coffees, I choose op shops.

But yes, I wasn’t consistent. Sorry about that:)

More #FrugalFebruary fail

We we failed more at #FrugalFebruary that night. But no, I’m not complaining, either.

We booked to go on a Comedy cruise, as a family, with P&O later this year.

Neil and I went on a three-day Comedy cruise last year for our anniversary. We had so much fun, and he really wanted to go again. Neil’s going to be away for much of this year, and my boys (who bond strongly with him) are struggling with a few things, including missing him. So a family holiday could be good.

Cruises aren’t cheap (compared with, say, camping or staying at home), but so long as you don’t gamble or drink too much, they can be exceptional value. By way of comparison, last year we paid $649 per person for a three-night cruise – which included meals, accommodation and some amazing comedy shows and acts. With this deal, we managed to secure $996 for FOUR PEOPLE, which includes kids club, meals and shows.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you need a big cruise – or a Disneyland holiday – to bond as a family. Family happiness often consists of the day to day little moments: the shared in-jokes, playing board games and watching TV or Netflix (or Amazon Prime). I once met a guy on a plane, who was returning to the UK after a short term trip to Australia. “I was on great allowances,” he said. “But I promised my wife and kids I’d take them on a big holiday to make up for being away – and that’s where all the allowance money goes.”

Car troubles solved

On day 40 we had been worried – really worried – that we had a major problem with our car. A transmission fault alarm and the gearbox would only drive in second gear. We are a one car family, and although I do have a Go Get a membership, we’ve survived pretty well with the one car, one motorbike and bicycles – plus light rail and Uber/Ola. Until now.

Thankfully our car was fixed it turned out to be the Redarc Break Controller interfering with the break sensor, this was disconnected and the car had it’s 60K service – for only $352. They even updated the GPS for us! (Phew!!!)

Neil bought our car a year ago at Pickles Auctions in Melbourne. It is a Ford Territory SZII 4.0l RWD.

It was just over 3 years old and only had 38,000Km on it. He purchased it for $17,000, and the insurable value is $23,000. That said, we also had to pay for it to be transported to Canberra, registered, we also had a heavy-duty tow bar installed later and Neil fitted the roof racks bought through Repco on special, so the real cost was probably closer to $20,000. We own it outright – no overpriced car loan for us.

Previously I had a 17-year-old Toyota RAV 4 and Neil had an Isuzu D-Max Ute. We decided to go down to one car. As soon as I mentioned to my dad that I planned to sell my Toyota, he indicated he wanted it. It was kind of funny as he’d been on my case for years to upgrade. He and his wife (my step mum) still drives it, and like it because it is simple. “It’s like a toy car,” me dad often says. “It’s so easy to drive and park, and so reliable.” We calculate it saves us around $5,000 a year not having a second car.

Neil’s D-Max was a great car – except I couldn’t drive it. It’s like a mini truck! My feet didn’t reach the pedals, and I struggled with manual gears. Plus it is tricky to park in our tight car park at home. We knew Neil would be away a lot with work, so having a car I couldn’t drive wasn’t fabulous. His son-in-law (to be) now drives it. Win win.

When we were looking at cars, we didn’t think about colours or styles or what was cool. We didn’t want to impress people by buying a luxury brand to impress. Instead, we sat down and worked out our needs, which were quite specific:

  • Easy to drive (for me, very important);
  • Easy to park in our basement carpark (the ute wasn’t);
  • Sturdy enough for limited off road (for when visiting my inlaws on their property);
  • Powerful enough to tow a 16ft caravan;
  • Reliable performance with good reviews; and
  • Good after service care.

Neil did a lot of research about different cars and models. He especially likes the advice provided by John Cadogan at [Note: John really knows his stuff. He calls it as he sees it and has a no BS approach. He makes a lot of sense. But he is NOT at all politically correct. Some of his YouTube episodes have bits in it that I, as a woman, find downright offensive. Neil doesn’t mind. Fast forward the bits you don’t like, or write to John and tell him (he seems to delight in getting hate mail). But DO listen to his advice on cars – not on bikini models – because he’s very good.]

So far, our Ford Territory has been a winner. You never really know how a vehicle will perform long term, but what we DO know is that the level of service we received was above and beyond. Also, although this car is no longer manufactured in Australia, most of the parts are easy to obtain. [My Dad has horror stories about having to replace the air suspension and air pump on his Mercedes GL Class- and let’s not talk about needing new lights! Bought second hand for $40K disposed of for $4K (lesson learnt)]

Have you ever engaged in retail therapy? Was it successful? Why? Why not?

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