Aussie Firebug

Financial Independence Retire Early



Our guest today is Serina Huang or better know as, Ms Furgal Ears. Serina works as a public servant but is also a writer, blogger, and foodie. A self proclaimed frugalista, Serina lives with her two sons in Canberra and has appeared in such publications as the RIOT ACT and the Canberra Times. She is currently writing a book about becoming a frugal multi millionaire and one day hopes to be a billionaire!


This was a really touching episode because Serina was brave enough to talk about very personal issues including handling a divorce as a women and how important it is to have you finances under control.


No one wants to be in a position where you are relying on someone else to survive and can’t leave a relationship because you don’t know how to handle your money.


In this episode, we talk about:

  • Serina upbringing and working as an expat in Taiwan
  • Managing 10 investment properties during a downturn
  • The importance of having your finances sorted especially if you go through a divorce
  • Striking a balance between enjoying life and being frugal
  • Living off $50 a week for food, groceries, and toiletries


Show Notes



Aussie Firebug: Hi guys welcome to another episode of the Aussie Firebug podcast, the financial independence podcast for Australians where I interview clever people who have already reached or on their way to financial independence. Our guest today is Serena Hung or better known as Ms. Frugal Ears. Serena works as a public servant but, is also a writer, blogger and foodie. A self-proclaimed frugalista Serena lives with her two sons in Canberra and has appeared in such publications as the Riot Act and the Canberra Times. She is currently writing a book about becoming a frugal multi-millionaire and one day hopes to be a billionaire

Aussie Firebug: Welcome to the show Ms. frugal Ears

Ms Frugal Ears: Thank you it is a real pleasure to have an opportunity to speak with you.

Aussie Firebug: First question I have to ask. What is a Frugalista?

Ms Frugal Ears: Good question, some people probably heard about a fashionista. Fashionista is someone who has very good fashionable taste on a budget. Well, a frugalista is the same it is someone who wants to live an amazing life, doesn’t want to feel deprived but, still wants to leave quite simply and within their means. I think once you take that concept you can really learn to appreciate some amazing things without having to spend a lot of money.

Aussie Firebug: Did you come up with this term or did you read it somewhere?

Ms Frugal Ears: I don’t think I specifically coined it has been original but now that you think of it I haven’t really seen it used a lot. No

Aussie Firebug: I definitely haven’t seen it. When I had seen it on your site that was the first time I had seen it. It makes a lot of sense I thought it was something to do with been frugal and been Ms. Frugal Ears and fashionista but, very clever term well done for coining that if you did.

Aussie Firebug: Where in Australia are you from?

Ms Frugal Ears: I currently live in Canberra have been here since 2000 other than 3 and half years of posting in Taiwan. This is now my home.

Aussie Firebug: Fantastic. Have you always lived in Canberra?

Ms Frugal Ears: No I was born in Melbourne. I grew up in and I did most of my high schooling and university in Brisbane.

Aussie Firebug: Wow, that is a bit of traveling especially, I am outside of Melbourne but we are currently not in the middle of winter but, I know how miserable and cold how Melbourne can be so moving to NSW would have been a nice change of scenery I am sure.

Ms Frugal Ears: Yea it was, although I was always a little bit of a book worm. So I struggled not been close to a library when we lived there in the early 80’s. There was not a lot of infrastructure there so it was quite different. I do actually like the cold of Canberra mind you it was snowing a little bit today and sleeting .It will be good snow in the rangers

Aussie Firebug: It is a very good snow season

Ms Frugal Ears: It is a very good snow season and I took out cycling to work just as winter hit this year minus 4 degrees and I am still on my bike most days

Aussie Firebug: That is dedication. Have you always been frugal?

Ms Frugal Ears: Yes, in my own way.

Aussie Firebug: Where do you think that comes from?

Ms Frugal Ears: Good question, probably my upbringing. I think my parents were frugal on both sides but in different ways. My mum is a fashion designer and you would think with that it would go a huge propensity to spend money on luxury handbags and luxury designer brands we certainly always lived in very big houses you know the sort of houses that sometimes it was a bit embarrassing to bring left wing university friends over to visit you. I tended to kept a little bit quiet sometimes. And aloof cause they were always big impressive places. But actually beneath that the average weekly budget spent or the clothes spent were quite small. Mum had always an amazing sense of style she just knew how to coordinate her articles and the clothing that she wore. Often it was a simple black t-shirt but with an amazing scarf and accessories and the whole thing did not cost a lot of money. Our shopping trips we didn’t tend to spend a lot of money we went to budget supermarkets. There was always this I guess kind of living the high life or appearing to live the high life at least but actually not spending a lot underneath. My dad too, he was a public servant. My parents are divorced so they live very different lives but there is a strong history in his family for strong community service and strong values of valuing people and giving generously to certain things. But not necessarily living in an ostentatious way themselves. So I think on both sides there has been a history but in different ways.

Aussie Firebug: Yeah it’s usually from my experience talking to people about where they have learned the value of the dollar or investing or being frugal is usually in the home experience they have had good or bad from their upbringing that usually dictates that. You live a relatively middle to upper class lifestyle growing up with your parents, they had great jobs it sounds like but they still

Ms Frugal Ears: They were very successful entrepreneurs. She did very well. I went to a fairly exclusive private school in Brisbane but she had a very strong work ethic. She was very big, very big about not giving us money. So if we wanted money we had to work for it. She would say well if you want money than come into my factory and work and then you can earn some money. She didn’t really cut me any slack you know. I had to work if I wanted money so I would always have part time jobs either with her or later as a check out chick or clerk and doing other things. The work ethic that she got from that and she didn’t get handouts and she was also very determined that she’d seen a lot of what she termed I guess rich kids who would give handouts. And she didn’t want my sister and I to grow up like that. So that was a kind of a bit strange because growing up particularly at university, people assumed that we had a lot of handouts, that we had gold spoons, that we had a lot of money. But actually we didn’t we probably had less than most people would be given from their mother or father. And sometimes that was difficult to reconcile

Aussie Firebug: And did you ever-

Ms Frugal Ears: And-

Aussie Firebug: Sorry go on

Ms Frugal Ears: But, I think in the end of the day that kind of worked in terms of instilling a strong work ethic and a strong saving history so it was good.

Aussie Firebug: I was just about to ask that some people resent their parents in that position when they are young and they know their parents got money but they won’t give them money for a trip or for a new car or whatever it is but they learn later in life that actually the lessons they learned were far greater than the gifts they would have gotten at that time. Sounds to me that you fall into that category with your parents which is nice to hear. So let’s talk a little about Ms. Frugal is and how it came about.

Ms Frugal Ears: Lovely, the name of it is serendipitous actually, my first blogging attempt was actually when I lived in Taiwan and I used to blog about certain restaurants and places that I liked to go to. At the time as an expat Australian living in Taiwan it was actually fairly cheap to go out. And I would often go out with my work so it wasn’t necessarily a frugal kind of view; it was more of a cross-cultural view. But then when I came back to Australia in 2014 my financial situation changed quite a lot because I was no longer on the expats salary I was back in the suburbs of Canberra and my ex-husband and I at that time had 10 properties between us.

Aussie Firebug: Wow!

Ms Frugal Ears: Sounds fairly impressive but in 2014 also there was a massive reduction in the common wealth public service particularly which affected [00:08:30] so there was a severe downturn in rental incomes and in fact we had a 6 month gap rental gap a lot of them went down on rent so it was actually quite a difficult time coming back to Australia no longer been on the same salary and also taking a hit with the investment properties not really been able to sell them necessarily even if we wanted to because the market conditions weren’t right. Things were pretty tense and then six months later I separated from my husband and suddenly I had that kind of burden of paying for those plus child care fees which in Australia, the child care fees in Canberra are more expensive than anywhere else in Australia before rebates they’re 100 dollars a day and I had 2 children in child care. Things kind of got quite difficult quite quickly and I knew I was always frugal and I knew I could find a way through that. So I just kind of dove into my inner frugality for those first few months when things were pretty tight and I tried not to think about the future of what if I run out of money or what if I couldn’t pay the mortgage or what if there was a major medical problem. I was just kind of at that stage I just sort of decided to focus on the day to day so my philosophy was one day at a time one thing at a time and that was what I kind of focused on. And then probably as I was sort of getting out a bit I realized that I wanted to get my writing mojo back. And it no longer felt wrong for me writing about Taiwan, because my ex-husband is Taiwanese. Because that no longer really reflected what my identity was anymore and while I love Taiwanese culture and I always will, it didn’t feel authentic for me to write about it in the same way anymore. Then I thought about it a little bit more and thought about what are my values and what is authentic to me and what is my life. I realized I was always been frugal and I was especially frugal now. And I felt there was message in there about the importance that when you have financial empowerment you can make important choices to do the things that are important to you and in my case it was getting out of a bad relationship and feeling a lot more liberated and empowered by that. And it occurred to me that I was in a good situation because I had a good job, I had investments, I was good with money so I could do that. I was scared but I could do that, there are a lot of women who do not have those sorts of choices and society may or may not blame them for staying in bad relationships but really at the time they may not have that many choices. So that has always been a subliminal back story that I do not always necessarily bring to the front because it’s really more of a lesson message about living a very fulfilling and happy and positive life. I am definitely always conscious that sometimes not everyone has lots of money so they have to do without. And so how do you make that so it becomes a challenge and something that’s and something that’s rewarding rather than something that is all about deprivation and misery.

Aussie Firebug: Absolutely, so much to unpack in that. You wrote a very moving piece called money and divorce which I can link to in the show notes. You talk about how important it is for women to have their finances sorted especially with yourself going through a divorce. Can you just touch on that a little bit more; you mentioned it a little bit before but how important is it for you I know you have two sons, but let’s imagine you have a daughter. The values that you would instill into her about having those finances sorted for all different reasons but especially I feel as though majority of society look to the man to handle those finances and you know the woman in the case of a divorce doesn’t know where to turn.

Ms Frugal Ears: That’s really interesting; I think things are changing a lot. The family court has this vision of the man as the bread winner and the woman is a stay at home mum. That is not always the case. In my case I was the main income earner and I actually had to give my ex quite a lot of money during the divorce settlement and that is just how it is. I guess that is just kind of one thing I would say. It is interesting that you picked this article because when I wrote it I didn’t think too much about it, it was kind of one of this things that I kind of went oh well you know it was my experience maybe there is something in there that would help other people. There was actually one friend who herself is also single who actually contacted me and said wow Serena you are so courageous and I went, for what? I just didn’t even kind of think about it. Now that she mentioned and you mentioned it, it seems like somehow still divorce is a taboo. People can sort of understand how people get divorced and they might somehow think that it is on some level their fault because they did not manage their relationship perfectly. But, the money side of it that goes with that is really talked about and that is really important because there is a lot of things that goes with that. For instance one of the first things that is really hard is that so many things are so intertwined. I mean when I broke up with my ex we had been together for 17 years, we had 10 investment properties together; we had other shares and other investments together. I mean nearly all been wound back now but that doesn’t happen overnight. You know it might be tempting to say you will never speak to this person again but, the reality is that you’ve got bills to pay and so you have got to have measures in place to do that. One of the first things I did was to put in place on our bank account was that we would always require joint signatories. Which is a fairly dramatic thing to do but also very important because especially in that initial divorce time when you’re separating there can often be some problem with the lack of trust and you do not want someone to go into your bank account and suddenly withdraw a 100,000 dollars and go off to Rio and you never see them again. And I am not saying that would have happened with my ex I am saying things are very flawed and you just want to make sure both sides will do the same thing

Aussie Firebug: Absolutely

Ms Frugal Ears: At the time and actually still I’m banking with I&B and they are one of the few banks who do that electronically so still when we pay for joint things with my ex and I they’ll send an authorization to my ex if I pay it first or pull it through the system first then send it to him so that both of us electronically agree to something before it goes through. So I guess that is one of the first things, the second thing is sometimes the initial focus is very much on custody of the children. Which don’t get me wrong is important, but the property settlement stuff can often lug and delay and often it can be almost 12 months or 2 years before you’ve got things sorted. I am three years out now and there is still two properties that we just resolving now. And so what that means is that you got this immediate need for money but your assets are tied up in this joint sort of situation and you sort of can’t get at them for a while. It is really important to still have those investments you do not want to sell them at a bargain basement price just to get rid of them. But by the same token you have immediate things you’ve got legal fees, childcare fees, groceries to pay for. You’ve got quite a lot of things that are happening. So that’s one thing that is quite difficult. The other thing is often unclear exactly at what point of time after you separate do finances become single or become joint. For instance I was quite scared of putting a lot of money into my bank account because you know I might have been saving and saving and saving and he might have been spending, spending and spending. You know you did not agree until 12 months after the divorce so everything is 50 -50 or 60-40 or whatever. So for a while I was keeping cash at home I know it sounds very weird. It sounds very like storing things. I was never really comfortable with that because it was a really bad investment strategy if you look at it on the scheme of things. But in those first couple of months when you are just not sure about things, sometimes that’s you know the only option you’ve got is just to keep physical cash on you because you know that is actually yours. So there is a lot of things in fact we could probably talk a whole podcast about you know managing finances after divorce but, I guess one of the key things is to reestablish that trust as quickly as possible because you can fight and you can fight and you can fight over what might be right but at 500 plus dollars an hour on legal fees you’ve got to ask yourself is it really worth it. You have to take a very pragmatic approach and to try wherever possible to come to an agreement that’s mutually workable. And then just to walk away from the rest and to trust that when you are in a happy place again that you channel abundance and have faith that will happen. It is very much a forward looking strategy rather than looking back about what I have lost, rather what you are gaining.

Aussie Firebug: Absolutely. I think this is such valuable information for anyone going through something like this in their life especially after a break up or a divorce you know and to know what to do next time and to have perspective of someone that’s through it like yourself and I think it is great like you said, 500 dollars an hour for legal fees and you do not want to sell at a loss. I think that is an important thing to note. I always tell people if the cash flow is strong especially I invest in property. I have three properties myself and I also invest in the share market. But with the property I always tell people the lifeblood is the cash flow of the property because if you’ve got great cash flow you know, they keep talking about this bubble in Australia and every newspaper you read is predicting when the bubble is going to burst. And even if it does burst, unless my rent drops by 2/3 my strong cash flow position will keep me through until the recovery phase and eventually hopefully it goes back up in price. So why would I sell in burst, why would I sell at a loss unless I am forced to. Now I understand that there are some people who maybe max on their borrowing capacity and few percent interest rate rises could ruin them and that is a bit different situation. I think it is really cool that you and you ex-husband were smart enough to know that okay we have finished our relationship together but it doesn’t mean that we have financially ruin ourselves or sell at a loss and lose tens of thousands you know, heaps of money and you can work it out and slowly sell off when the time is right and everything like that so kudos to you for going as adults.

Ms Frugal Ears: It is not an easy one. I am sort of in a slightly different phase to most people because I am in a consolidation phase. I did sort of think earlier on it would be best just to keep those properties because in a sense it does make sense. But I guess both of us had the desire that we just wanted to separate things out and go our separate with that as much as possible. You know even though you’ve got a property manager you still have to communicate over those properties and you’ve got to make joint decisions about them. And when you are not in a happy place it gets harder to do that. For instance one of our properties we bought with the intention of developing them, actually two of them we did but one in particular we were half way through a subdivision and you know for a while I thought maybe we just hold on to that together and we continue with the subdivision and maybe we develop it. But then I was kind of like oh hang on that is pretty stressful you are going through a divorce with someone and then you will be building a property with them! Like you know a normal person building a property is quite stressful. I think the pragmatic thing there was that he wanted to buy me out on that one and I went look ok even though perhaps I make more money in the long run it is probably not worth my negative energy so I think we have been very blessed that we’ve been able to talk together about how this, you know it’s not perfect but, nothing is perfect. But we certainly have not made crazy decisions because we have decided to fling mud at each and hate each other.

Aussie Firebug: I think that is the most important thing you need to strike a fine balance I tend to agree it will be pretty hard to go through that with someone that you have just been through a divorce with. But at least you guys you know were on the talking terms and you could settle it without too many losses with slinging the mud. It could have been worse I guess. Now this is the financial independence podcast. Was financial independence a goal of yours and your ex-husbands when you started? We’re you investing before you met him or did you sort of go on that path together?

Ms Frugal Ears: Well we met when we were at university and neither of us had much money, so he had just immigrated to Australia from Taiwan and I was finishing up my studies and had pretty much depleting my savings. Just because I was at the end of that, so no. But when you talk about financial independence do you mean like you know retire by the age of 40 kind of financial independence?

Aussie Firebug: We’ll just say it’s having enough money to choose what you want to be able to do in life not necessarily retiring to just play ball and read books all day but just having that financial security, let us call that, for your investments to generate that passive income. Was that, did you start investing with that goal in mind?

Ms Frugal Ears: Yes and no, I know the issues in our marriage was that we disagreed with this. My philosophy had always been that I wanted to own my own home. And I wanted too own my own home outright and I eventually did with my last property which I just sold and now moved into the city so I now have a mortgage again but it is giving me a different lifestyle. But that was always very important to me to have that sense of home ownership for various reasons; I think it’s just a security thing. And also because I mean I work in government and you would think that would be an incredibly secure job, I guess to the outside public service is always is. But you are very much on the whim of public policy and I’ve seen people suddenly find that there is a new government come it, there is a new government policy. It might be something that they are very strongly opposed to on a moral ground for instance like on the immigration issue or defense issue, but because they have so many debts or they’ve got you know expensive private schools for the kids, they’ve got a big mortgage; they stay in these jobs that they really hate that they feel morally opposed to because they have no choice. Now I have always wanted to be in a position that I don’t have to do a job that goes against my values because of the money, so I want to set myself up, so that if that if something do happen, if there was you know a crazy I don’t know Trump style government in Australia, touch wood, touch wood if something happens around the world right now, they came in and said right now we want you to go and build a wall somewhere. Kick the New Zealanders out or whatever and I thought that was wrong, then I could you know

Aussie Firebug: We are lucky we because we don’t border any country east directly so I think if something you know a Palin style prime minister

Ms Frugal Ears: But anyway something that I was morally opposed I mean this random example then I could say check here is my resignation and it could be fine.

Aussie Firebug: Sure

Ms Frugal Ears: That said I do have some reservations about the whole financial independent retire early moment in a sense because I guess I felt in my marriage that we were so focused, so focused on building up a big portfolio that we went actually living in the now and that just meant we didn’t really sort of went on holidays. We never really went out to restaurants; we never really kind of did a lot of – even go to shows. We’ve been to a few but not a lot because we were really so overstretched, that was always a bit of a struggle. Now it’s okay for 5 years, like 5 years I didn’t mind doing it because I could see that we were growing properly. But after 5 years I sort of asked well why we are doing this. So what, like are we going to wait till we are 80 and then we retire and then you know, you travel the world? You know like, you not, you not fit enough to do much at that stage, in fact last year I took up skiing again which I hadn’t gathered 25 years in doing and there is no way I could have done previously, because you know it is a fairly expensive sport, not wait when I’m 74 years and I’m dead and my kids I just wished the most amazing exhilarating time and you know, I guess right I would say that my goal is one of balance. So I’m still a very aggressive saver and I’m still a very aggressive investor but I don’t want to wait until I am you know too old to enjoy my life before I enjoy my life. I want to have balance, you know I guess the richest man in Babylon which is you know one of the big savings bibles, [00:26:50] dozens are talking about the importance of enjoying your life, because it is a bit like going on a diet where you sit and say you are only going to eat breakfast and water for the rest of your life, I mean what are you going to do, you are going to pig out on chocolate cake. Like you sort of a little imbalanced with that, so I guess my view has changed a little bit, I don’t want to be so much on a fire course and I am waiting for that one day, that magical one day where I’m going to enjoy my life, where I sit on a bench and finally have freedom, I want to be creating that in the now all the time

Aussie Firebug: Yeah great answer and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think when I first, when I first realized financial independence was even a thing I remember reading about it. I thought that I don’t know anyone that does that can’t be a real thing and I started going to some investing forums, some property investment forums and I was meeting people that were you know 45, 50 that were leaving off their property and their income from their property on them. So when I realized there was an actual thing I dedicated so much of my time and energy into that and at the very start you can burn yourself out because I was missing a lot of things, every dollar mattered. Every dollar I spent felt like I was like you know, every 50$ I didn’t put into investing was another day hard to work, was a day that I didn’t get financial independence. And I did that for a couple of years and then me and my partner we joined finances last year and she sort of balances me out because she is pretty frugal for a normal person but I’m on the absolute extreme side of things. We balance each other and I think we strike a fine balance that we are enjoying our life at the moment and like as opposed to how much we spent in the past year. I think it was just over 50,000$ for the whole year which included everything, living costs, eating cost and we went on two holidays. Like it was excessive in my eyes but for her it was quite a lean year but I think half the fun is the challenge of getting there. Are you going to enjoy yourself getting there because I read a lot of its mainly US based bloggers but they say that if you are not enjoying your life, one dollar extra in your bank account to make you fund it like technically make financially independent is not going to improve your life, you need to be happy and then keep investing, keep saving and then one day you will be financially independent. But that won’t change I mean you are not going to wake up with a revelation one day being financially independent. You need to sort of build your life based on frugality but live a happy and meaningful life and enjoy the journey so when you get there you are already in that state of mind and then you have just have the choice okay maybe I like this job, maybe I don’t like it so much anymore I am going to try my hand on something else now and I don’t have to stress and worry about paying off my mortgage or paying grocery bills for my family and stuff like that.

Ms Frugal Ears: Yeah I agree with you, there is the underline issue here about what is money and what is value and if you are not using your money to live a life that is intentional for you and is meaningful for you, it’s just numbers in a bank. It doesn’t mean anything, I mean if you are just living a sort of heathenistic I don’t care about tomorrow or I’m not thinking in a mindful way just spending money left, right and center. That is also not living an intentional life, that’s not respecting yourself, not respecting your money. You’re not thinking critically about what you are hoping to achieve or to live with but you know I think sometimes I had felt that in the frugal sphere there was and it’s probably a little controversial but there tends to be a lot of stay-at-home mums who are frugal and you know I have nothing about peoples life choices. Of deciding whether they work or whether they don’t work but I do wonder sometimes with the controlling relationships whether they have full power over their own money. Whether they have this self-worth and the self-understanding to demand for power of their own money and it sort of almost this subjective depravation of you know rather than thinking with abundance about what can that can attract in my life, it’s like oh I save 5c today.

Aussie Firebug: I am hearing what you are saying and someone posted a thread the other day about you know you almost feel like you’re better than, if you someone spending a lot of money on a new car like for example when you said someone bought you a new car, at one stage of my life I fell into this category myself. You almost feel superior, like that is wasting so much money, they could have invested in it, there are idiots sort of thing but like people they spend their money how they want to spend their money and it is all about balance and you know you do have to live your life. I think there is something to be said about, you know the sacrifices now that you are willing to make so that you do enjoy a better life in the future you know that is definitely true but it is all about balance with a lot of things in life. You know with most things is all about the balance.

Ms Frugal Ears: I hear you; I read a blog post I think in January this year or December. So I had this amazing meal last December, I had this some 7 course seafood devastation with matching jeans and local wines. An amazing meal, unfortunately our restaurant is now closed in Canberra but it was just something to say, it was just one of these memorable meals and I felt almost guilty at this stage like how dare I do this because I am a frugalista, frugalists don’t go and have 7 course sea food crustaceans you know. We are you know, a miserable batch, we make due on foraged wheat which I do often eat. Then I thought about this season, a true story of my life and in this case I was actually invited to that restaurant because I was invited to do a food review. So it was like actually I wasn’t paying a seat at all, I mean in a sense it was to be a bit crass free food. It was actually quite frugal but that is not why I was doing it. I was doing it because I wanted to find out about this restaurant and actually tell a story about it and I’m quite passionate particularly about promoting Canberra as a food destination. But you know then I thought a bit more about it and I thought if I am a frugal person why can’t I enjoy my life? Why can’t I save for that skiing holiday I always wanted to, why can’t I do the things that I always dreamed of, like why should I always have to feel guilty about all these things I mean it’s a valid judgment.

Aussie Firebug: Yeah absolutely and I think some people as well from the outside they don’t quite know you know what the fire crowd is about and the frugal people for that matter. They sometimes think that these people are living of breast sticks and they don’t turn the heater on ever and they are saving every single dollar and they are going to be retired when they are 40 but they haven’t lived a good life. And not about that, it shouldn’t be about that in my eyes. It’s like you just live a sensible life and there is just so much bullshit that you can cut out that cost of a whole bunch of money that doesn’t improve your life whatsoever. A whole bunch of commercialized crap in the world. It is easy to cut it out and you can pay half your bill straight away, and then there is the stuff that’s really important to you that does cost money and that is okay if you have a budget and you’re sticking to it or you are being good in other areas. Splurge, buy that new dress or go to that fancy restaurant, do whatever it is that makes you happy but just, it is all about balance and make sure you’re not being excessive and you know you putting the money where it is being financially responsible.

Ms Frugal Ears: There is so much clutter, there is so much clutter, I think people have these houses that are much bigger than they need filled with stuff that they don’t need and they don’t speak to their kids, don’t speak to their parents. It’s all just clutter.

Aussie Firebug: Do you know when I see those big houses these days; we’ve only been living together, me and my partner for a year, over a year now. But I only moved out of home 2 and half years ago. And before that I was like yeah big house, it is going to be awesome, have like 10 cars whatever like you know dreaming. And now what I think about when I see these huge mansions is how long will it take them to vacuum that house? I am like they better have a maid or something because I am like I could not. I spent a Sunday vacuuming that house and it takes long enough, it is a two bedroom units, it is tiny, it’s like I don’t think I ever want to own a big house. I want to own a nice house that is very, like it has a lot of very good technology in it because I am in IT and I’m also in a government by the way which is just a funny tidbit but you know I would like to have a lot of nice things and you know all up to date with the tech but the size of the house doesn’t bother me. I see these big houses and see people mowing their lawn for the whole Sunday, some people like that I guess it is just not for me.

Ms Frugal Ears: You know I am just going to put it out there maybe that’s just a limited belief. I know I have had a limited belief for a long time too about not being worthy of a big house or not wanting a big house and that perhaps reflects my childhood too where there was a lot of emphasis placed on those sorts of things. And I just acknowledged that’s there and sometimes I need to tell the universe that I’m worthy and should I choose to have a big house it’s okay. Then I downsize to a three bedroom apartment in Canberra where I can now cycle to work and I can now walk to local cafes and restaurants and walk to my kids schools and I’ve drastically slashed my energy bills and you know I am very happy, I spend a lot of time on house work and a lot more time on riding and it’s a very meaningful change to me.

Aussie Firebug: That’s great, now you were speaking about restaurants, you know going out to eat and stuff, do you want to chat to us a little bit about the 50$ a week challenge that you have going

Ms Frugal Ears: Thank you, well this week I actually celebrate one year of living on 50$ a week which is for food and groceries and toiletries. So this is for myself, my two children aged 5 and 7 who are with me probably about 80-90% of the time and then you know I am feeding other people who come and visit and that type of thing. That probably sounds very restrictive but you know I started it a year ago because we were going to move houses at some point, I didn’t know the exact date but you know I sort of had this vague plan of selling and moving. And I knew I had too much in my cupboards and fridge and I sort of went look lets us just stop buying stuff and lets us just try use up some of these. The weird thing is that a year later I probably got just as much food in my fridge and in my freezer and in my cupboards, dramatically I managed to cut down what I throw out. But certainly none of this is starving and it’s really been quite an eye opener because I think sometimes when we shop we buy things out of habit. We have these big trolleys and so then you think you’ve got to fill them up with stuff. And so on average Australians throw one in five shopping bags full of food and this isn’t like bad food. It’s things that just never get opened. And you know the ritual for most Australian families is every weekend you go through your fridge and you throw out stuff.

Aussie Firebug: Such a waste isn’t it?

Ms Frugal Ears: So once you sort of accept that you are not going to starve, I mean I’m overweight. I think most people I know in Australia are overweight, probably not many of us are going to starve you take that as a basic premise and then sort of think how you can use what you’ve got creatively and you accept free food from other people and you know I forage from time to time because I like to do that. I like to eat local and I like to forage. And you think of low cost ways to make things. It’s actually; it’s not as un-achievable as you might think. That said, the provider here is almost 5 foot tall woman who perhaps doesn’t exercise as much as she should be even take up cycling, actually probably don’t need to eat a lot. And I go out a lot whether I am invited to food reviews or work events, social events or someone’s house, you know I think it just happens and I feel a lot of people in Australia are same, probably out once or twice a week and that is not probably factored in your food budget either. But I have young children who are picky eaters, particularly my oldest they don’t eat large amounts of food. If I had say 4 teenage children I would probably need a slightly different budget but definitely it’s achievable and probably my, I mean 50$ is actually, there is a fair bit of slack there. I could probably do it on maybe 40$ if I really tried,

Aussie Firebug: That is unbelievable, 50$!

Ms Frugal Ears: It is quite achievable and I think the big thing too is cleaning products because we spend a fortune on cleaning products and it is one thing that we probably don’t need anyway and that is a big part of it too

Aussie Firebug: That’s absolutely incredible, I know for me and my partner food, the grocery bill is the second most expensive thing that we spent on last financial year it was, so it’s rent, always rent as number one and groceries is second and this kind of worked roughly in my head per week we would roughly spend 150 bucks for two people, 150$ each week and you are absolutely right with the amount of waste the Australian, not that I know about the rest of the world but we chuck out so much stuff in Australia definitely and I used to work for Coles, I worked for Coles for 6 years when I was working part time. And things would come in and it would be like a tiny bit dented or damaged or whatever like perfectly good food and I will be chucking it out and I will be like can I just eat it? And they say no we can’t let you eat, if something happens and you get sick or something you know Coles we would rather chuck something out than or go through a legal battle if something was to happen to you. Which sort of makes sense but like really there is like so much good food that gets chucked into the bin every single night in like probably all around the world and you think about the stage that it took especially meat and poultry stuff like that. You know they raise it, they feed it, water and everything else that goes into making that product for it only to be chucked down the drain is incredible, isn’t it?

Ms Frugal Ears: It is, I’m, I’m not a good vegetarian, I was for 10 years some time ago but I must say I still get upset whenever meat is wasted I mean an animal has given up its life for us, for our nutrition, I just, it’s sad when I have to throw out meat, I actually feel sad about that

Aussie Firebug: Yeah, actually my sister did a mini documentary I guess you’d call it. I think there’s no special name, it was about dumpster divers in Australia and people it was really interesting. It was people who yeah would go to dumpsters and they were like, they would have jobs and stuff they weren’t homeless. They were people that had money and everything but some of them did it out of principle. That is pretty extreme but just to show you can live a perfectly healthy life without actually buying food. Now I am sure not what most of us would do but I feel like it was interesting, it was a pretty good like miniseries about the dumpster divers in Melbourne and stuff like that and I think that was pretty cool

Ms Frugal Ears: Now I have a friend who is a dumpster diver, she might have not been inspired by that documentary, I am not sure it they had a lot of comment in frugal cycles, it is in my blog about that phenomenon, I mean I have been aware of that too because there had been some talk I think any decision from the Tyword gazette which is a US publication which is a bit older now. She’s talked about dumpster diving as well so there has been a move for that in the states. Maybe just because I may be time pressed and I don’t have much time away from my kids, I wouldn’t take my children dumpster diving just because I think for young children it’s probably not really that safe.

Aussie Firebug: I wouldn’t do it myself, it is just interesting.

Ms Frugal Ears: Yeah I know I totally do agree that there must be that principle of avoiding food wastes. So if I was single and had lots of time it’s probably something that I would do. What I do, do however is that I am a member of the buy nothing project which is a Facebook group. There is a number of groups out of Australia and people would regularly be moving house and they would just have things in their cupboards that they don’t want and I always would put up my hand for those things. So in fact last week I picked a half container of grape seed oil and two thirds a bottle of lime juice cordial that I make limes and bitters from. And I had certainly no issues whatsoever from accepting free food or used food from people. I’d rather do that than it goes to waste and most of my friends know that too and so people going on holiday and they’ve got leftovers they give it to me and you know I’d like to think generosity comes from the heart. You know often I’ll cook something and take it to church or have a blogging friend right up the road doing things quite tough, she has a sickness and she doesn’t have a lot of money so sometimes if I’ve got leftover food I drop her off some soup or something. So I think the generosity does come around and it makes people, I accept with gratitude, I don’t accept from a place of neediness, I accept with gratitude and I pass it on.

Aussie Firebug: Sure, so this the 50$ a week challenge, is that something that readers can sign up to or how does it work? You are running a challenge aren’t you on your side?

Ms Frugal Ears: Yes I am running a challenge in September to encourage people to do it and the feedback has been fantastic. I am really excited about it, so people can join by checking it out on my blog which is Miss Frugal Ears on

Aussie Firebug: I will put a link on my notes

Ms Frugal Ears: Thank you, or else they can join my, the Facebook group which is frugal dare to millionaire and participate in the conversation about how people are going with that

Aussie Firebug: Very wise also I’ll put that in, great now if you could give one bit of advice to someone who wants to become a little bit more frugal, what is your number one go to advice for someone growing that’s not very frugal or even if they are pretty frugal?

Ms Frugal Ears: This is a good question because people often think like you have a magic talisman. Oh, I need you to fix my life!

Aussie Firebug: I get that a bit as well.

Ms Frugal Ears: Yeah I can imagine I think the number one piece of advice is to record you’re spending. I mean there’s lots of apps you can use on the phone these days and even just having a really old fashioned diary in your handbag or just keep it with you. And every time you spend money on a cup of coffee or you spend money on lunch or you spend money on something you write it down and after a month you look at the amount you’ve spent and you know pretty clear where the money is going and then without having to have a big discussion about what is a want or a need, it really does, if you know you’ve got to write it and track it will make you regulate whether something is important or not.

Aussie Firebug: Do you know that is the exact advice I give to people, that is my go to advice that I give to people as well. I say you record your spending because even if you don’t do anything about it I promise you, you will see something in there record it and you will be like, what the, how do I spend that much money on that like are you serious? It’s, that is the best one, that is my number one go to as well. What do you use to track your spending just out of curiosity?

Ms Frugal Ears: Yeah good question, I used to for a number of years use my diary that I kept in my handbag and I was very happy with a particular credit union that I was with at that time they gave it to me for free every year and I used to hang up for that because it used to cost 2$ to buy an equivalent but I now use an app called good budget. It’s like a proper book envelope kind of app and it is not sophisticated, I think there has been a number of having more bells and whistles. But it is just easy I can do it and I can do it straight away and I don’t have to worry about it. At some point I need to upgrade to a more fancy one but look that just works. I try to use cash wherever possible to and that really helps too because there is something like physical cash that can just pay waving it onto your card and that just really reinforces the fact that you are spending money.

Aussie Firebug: Yeah, I am, I use Pocket-book, well pocket book is the app, the website is and I like it. It’s funny you say you use cash, I actually always use card. And the only reason I do that is because Pocket book links into your bank account, can link into your bank and read all the transactions. So I tried to do everything on the card so that it can read it whereas if I do it with cash I have to like figure out where I withdrew the cash or if it was safe way or come up with the groceries it automatically categorizes the transactions which is a little bit of a smart in the software and I sort of a re-categorizes to say whatever I spent that cash on, whatever works for you right, like whatever works for you just stick with that.

Ms Frugal Ears: Yeah, exactly, exactly but sometimes the harder you make it to spend money, the less likely you will actually spend it.

Aussie Firebug: Absolutely! Absolutely

Ms Frugal Ears: The easier it is, the faster it goes.

Aussie Firebug: Alright we have reached the end of the podcast; here time has flown, where people are listening and want to get in contact with you, what is like the best place to reach you?

Ms Frugal Ears: The best place to reach me is via my blog Miss Frugal Ears or they can also find me on Facebook also as miss frugal ears or on Instagram as Miss Frugal Ears

Aussie Firebug: And all those we will be in the show notes for the audience convenience, so you’ve enjoyed this podcast and want me to make more make sure you drop me a comment and ratings on iTunes, search Aussie firebug and you will find me, I’m also on, sure of for this episode and a transcript will be found on my website, um thank you so much Miss Frugal ears and it has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you enjoyed as much as I did

Ms Frugal Ears: Thank you, most definitely I do feel like someone who is in a more similar page.

Aussie Firebug: Alright, thanks a lot.

Ms Frugal Ears: Thank you! Bye


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