According to the ATO classification, we should be considered a low-income family. Hence, we need to live frugally and one of the first things we do after moving to Altona is to source cheaper shopping options for goods and services. I am now going to share what we have discovered. It may not be for everyone but it serves our needs.
Never save on food!
I believe that good nutrition is vital to our health so never compromise your well-being by saving on what you eat. However, I think the nutritional value of a food item is not directly correlated to its price. In many cases, you are paying the premium for the brand, without getting any extra nutritional benefits compared to a lower-priced but less renowned brand.
Groceries & Food
We do a lot of shopping at Aldi as we foofind what it sells are really good value for money. In particular, we buy our bread, milk, eggs, flour, pasta, toilet papers and other consumables at Aldi. We find the quality of these products to be no inferior than those at Coles or Safeway. There is a weekly specials section where you can buy quality fruits and vegetables at a very good price. There is also a section stocked with goods Aldi is clearing and discounted at multiple times. However, be careful with the electrical products. We had bought two sets of electric toothbrushes which failed after one to two months of usage but we did get a full refund. The nearest Aldi is at Point Cook Shopping Centre but will be at Spotswood when a new shopping hub is built there. I am actually hoping that Aldi will set up a store in Altona, maybe in Pier Street North. Altona may have scope to accommodate another supermarket besides Coles as many people from neighbouring suburbs such as Altona Meadows and Altona North visit Altona Beach and there will be more high-density residential developments around Pier Street in the future.
One disadvantage with Aldi is the narrow range of groceries and lack of variety. Hence, we need to complement our shopping at the local Coles supermarket, which can offer bargains during promotional sales. I do not know whether others notice the same thing as I do. Safeway tends to set up stores in populated, established areas and has less interest in the western suburbs, which are dominated by Coles supermarkets.
Meat, Frozen Seafood & Nuts
We shop for our chicken drumsticks, prawns, squids, mussels, cashew nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts at Tasman Meats located in Brooklyn. The drumsticks are often priced at $2.99 per kg and the frozen prawns at $19.99 per kg, deshelled and with the heads and intestines removed so I just need to defrost them before cooking, which saves me much time and effort.
Fruits, Fresh Seafood & Asian Food
We shop for our fruits, fresh seafood, Asian vegetables and groceries at Footscray Market opposite the Footscray Train Station. It takes about 20 minutes to drive from our home in Western Altona to Footscray. But it is worth the journey as we are unable to replenish our Asian food anywhere else. I would not consider the Vietnamese shop at Pier Street South or the shop in Harrington Square as selling Asian groceries. There was one time I was in need of glutinuous rice and was not willing to travel to Footscray so I went to an Asian grocery at Point Cook Shopping Centre instead. Coles, Safeway and Aldi nowadays stock increasing varieties of Asian food to cater to the rising Asian population in Melbourne.
The best time to shop for seafood at Footscray Market is 2.30-3 pm on Saturday, when the hawkers start discounting. You can get one plate of seafood for $5 or even 3 plates at $10. After getting your seafood, you can start buying your meat (pork, beef and lamb). Get into the Footscray Market before 4 pm for the security guards will shut the entrances and prevent you from entering. The vegetable and fruit stalls will start heavy discounting towards 4 pm. There will be many people, the place will be congested and the environment can be very chaotic and noisy. This is not for the faint-hearted or for people who prefer a more relaxed, orderly shopping environment. Boxes of fruits such as apples, pears and oranges will be pushed out for $2 each. The quantity is enough to last a fortnight for a couple. But do not expect quality. The fruits will have defects so you should be prepared to throw away some and to cut away the damaged portions. I usually go for the Golden Delicious apples as they tend to be of quite good quality.
Medicine and Baby Goods
We get our medicines, fish oil, vitamins, milk powder and sometimes nappies from Chemist Warehouse located at Millers Road in Altona North. The same drug can be purchased at half the price of what you will pay at other pharmacies. You can get good deals on nappies if you watch out for discounts from Coles or Safeway.
Like most other Aussies, we frequented the Bunnings (at Millers Rd) for tools, hardwares and our gardening needs. Bunnings is the undisputed leader in this category of retail business and visiting Bunnings has become a favourite pastime for many Aussie blokes.
Altona is served by three Zone 1 train stations. Commute by train, save on petrol costs and avoid the traffic jams in Westgate Bridge during peak hours. It takes about 25-30 minutes by train into the city. I work at the University of Melbourne. I board the train at Westona Train Station, alight at North Melbourne and take a shuttle bus to the University of Melbourne. It takes about 35 minutes for me to reach my office if the train is punctual. I can often get a seat on the train. If there is an express train from Laverton to Newport and a normal train running through the Altona Loop, passengers at Laverton will prefer to board the express train even if this arrives slightly later than the normal train. This means that the Altona-bound train will be less packed.
Occasionally, I drive to the University of Melbourne during the weekend. Instead of using the Westgate Bridge, I find it faster and easier to go via Millers St, Princes Highway, Somerville Rd, Whitehall St, Dynon Rd, Lloyd St under the train bridge to Arden St in North Melbourne, then all the way to Grattan St in Parkville.
I had installed a 7000-litres rainwater tank, connected to my toilet and laundry. I am very puzzled why this does not help to reduce my water bills, although I am quite certain we are conscientious in using water. City West Water is the sole water retailer to Melbourne’s western suburbs so you do not have a choice and it appears that the three Melbourne water retailers (the other two being Yarra Valley Water and South East Water) set their water rates differently.
To reduce our electricity bills, we had recently installed a 1.5 KW solar photovoltaic system but decided to forego the feed-in-tariff scheme, in which excess electricity generated is sold to the retailer, for reasons which I will elaborate in a separate post.
I had regretted changing from an electricity-driven hot water system to a gas-powered one instead of a solar-boosted one, for our gas expenses comprise a huge chunk of our utilities bills, especially during winter.
Get a good mortgage broker, who can get the best loan package for your circumstance, which is not necessarily the cheapest one. Do not borrow beyond your means and you should always have a reserve to tide you over during a change in circumstances such as loss of employment. Have a 100% offset account where you credit your salary and additional money into to reduce the interests you need to pay. Have the mortgage broker reviewed your mortgage regularly or after 4 years to take advantage of more competitive interest rates offered by other financial institutions.
House, car and income protection insurances are very important to protect you against unexpected incidences. Do not save on these expenses for you will pay dearly to recover what you have if your house and cars are damaged or you become retrenched or unemployable due to sickness or accidents.
I did not buy private health insurance. I migrated to Australia in 2003 so I do not have prior health cover in Australia. Due to my age, I will need to pay a huge premium to cover my whole family and the system does not consider prior health insurance bought overseas. Due to my low family income, I do not need to pay the 1% medicare levy surcharge.
My wife had both her labour at Werribee Mercy Hospital as a public patient. We are very pleased with the services. My wife had a single room to her own, which is also the birthing room. I was able to sleep overnight on the double bed. However, we still need to find a private obstetrician. But our out-of-pocket medical expenses were minimized due to the family safety net protection.
However, I am still worried as I have often read from the newspapers about the long waiting list for elective procedures in public hospitals. Hopefully, our federal and state governments will improve the public hospital services, efficiencies and fundings so that poorer citizens will not be denied the same access to quality services as enjoyed by more wealthy people who can afford private health insurance and hence, are able to jump the queue.
Sometimes, you can get real bargains from fliers posted in your letter box. A few years ago, I received a letter from Citibank advertising a lifetime no annual fee credit card. I took immediate advantage of this promotion. I insist on using just only one credit card so that I can concentrate all my purchases on this card to accumulate reward points for redeeming cash rewards. I always pay the full amount by the due date as I do not wish to pay interests. Do not pay just the minimum amount each month as this is a very fast way of getting yourself heavily in debts.
Recently, I received another similiar promotion from HSBC Bank in my letter box. I always keep my ears open to salespersons as I am not afraid of being tempted by them. I treat such encounters as learning experience so that I am more in touch with what are currently going around in the market.
Phone and Internet Bills
I do not yet know of a good way of reducing these bills. I will greatly appreciate if anyone can give me good suggestions.
- CHOICE – a consumers’ review site
- WOMOW (Word Of Mouth On the Web) – a user-reviews site
- Cheapskates – a forum discussing money-saving ideas
- The White Hat Guide to Money Saving Tips in Melbourne
- Cheaper groceries just as healthy as branded products, says Choice study published by the Courier Mail on 8 Sep 2010
- Applying the ALDI test published by the Australian on 23 Apr 2008
- We need Aldi published by Tasmanian Times on 6 Jun 2008
- Saving sense helps the dollars go round published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 17 Aug 2010
- Spotswood wakes published by the Hobsons Bay Leader on 28 Jul 2009