Have Your Avo, and Keep Your Savings Too

 In Around the Home, Budgeting, Goal setting, On the Home Front

If you haven’t caught up with the ‘Smashed Avo’ debate that’s raging around Australia at the moment, it goes like this:

Younger people are finding it really hard to get into the property market. They’re struggling to save up the money for the deposit. Some lay the blame on lifestyle issues rather than house price growth being out of step with wage growth. Those more inflammatory social commentators suggest that if people weren’t going out to cafes every morning and eating smashed avocado on toast for $20 and $30 plate, they would have enough for a deposit for a house.

Now, it’s a fairly contentious issue, and there is probably truth on both sides. I think it’s important to recognize that house prices truly are high, and it would be naive to think that wasn’t having a huge impact on people’s ability to afford buying their own first house. Similarly though, I think it’s also important to recognize that the choices that we make on a day-to-day basis affect our cash flow, and will affect the ability to reach our other goals like owning a home.

Let’s put the smashed avocado debate in its box, and consider what has become a common conundrum: “We want to live a really nice lifestyle and save money. So what can we do?” To show how my family has adapted to reach a kind of equilibrium on this issue, I am going to share with you our story.

Our Story

Ten years ago, it was a fairly common occurrence on a weekend for my husband and I to wander down our local high street, pick a café or restaurant, and have a nice leisurely breakfast. Pancakes, maybe a full cooked breakfast, corn fritters, bacon and mushrooms and the like. Back then, it was a world of pre-quinoa, pre-kale, and probably pre-  smashed avo.

Somehow between then and now, we had three kids, and as is common, new circumstances meant that we had to think long and hard about how to cut costs. It was pretty clear that regular café breakfasts had to go. Don’t get me wrong I still love the café experience, but necessity is the mother of invention, and we found a solution that isn’t only cheaper, but a lot nicer for the whole family too.  We call it the Sun Room Café.

The ‘Sun-Room’ Café

The concept is fairly simple. Once a week or once a fortnight, depending on how busy we are, we enjoy a special breakfast as a family. We pretend that we are sitting at a local café: the kids play waiters, taking orders, setting the table (sometimes the girls will grab a bunch of dandelions and stick it in the centre of the table), and the adults cook the food. A favourite is the full cooked breakfast with bacon, sausage, egg, tomato, and  we might bring in a couple of specials like baked beans or avocado. Sometimes it’s pancake day, and sometimes it’s croissant or bagels day with the some fresh fruit on the side. We rotate the menu to keep it interesting. To complete the experience, we write up the menu on our kitchen whiteboard, and the costs are paid in kisses and hugs. Don’t mistake me, it is not a full role-playing experience nor is it a full a la carte menu. There is a large amount of ‘take what you get’. Everyone pitches in, everybody eats together and it’s a bit more special than a rushed piece of toast or cornflakes which is our usual morning routine. Let’s be honest, it’s not an exact replacement for a café breakfast, but with a bit of cooperation, practice and sense of fun it’s a pretty good substitute.

The initial driver for us was cost because we needed to replace the habit of a regular café breakfast with something more financially manageable. Our three kids, despite their young age, have hollow legs and will easily polish off an adults’ breakfast. If we bought one breakfast each and kept it within $20 per person including coffee and juice (a pretty hard ask at the cafes near us), it still means we spend $100 on breakfast. Even if we only do it once a fortnight, that’s still nearly $2,500 dollars a year. Just on breakfast!

The Saving – estimated at $2,000 per year.

Now when we do our Sun Room Café, 9 times out of 10 it costs us no more than about $25 in total, which means we are saving nearly $2000 a year! Yes, there is a bit of prep work and yes, there is cleaning up, but we manage some of the work by making sure we plan ahead and think about what extra provisions we might need to stock up on, when we are doing the weekly shopping. We have found it has a couple of other benefits on top of the savings we make. Managing rowdy kids in our own house is often easier than out at a cramped café. They can play with their toys while we linger over coffee and chat for a little bit longer, and it doesn’t matter so much if they make a bit of noise. They think it’s fun to make-believe with us. They pretend to be grown-ups with real jobs and we enjoy the time spent bonding with them. It also makes the real café breakfast experience that we do once or twice a year really special: it feels like a treat rather than just ‘the everyday’, so we get a lot more enjoyment out of the hundred dollar breakfasts when we do have them, compared to when we had them more regularly.

What about friends?

A lot of people think of the Weekend Breakfast as a time to meet up with their friends, in which case, you could get even more creative. If the smashed avocado debate was a topic of conversation last time you met up with your friends, maybe you could raise the idea of a sunroom café. Take turns hosting at different peoples’ houses, or agree to meet for breakfast in the park: croissants and fruit on a picnic blanket, or pancakes and bacon cooked on the free barbecue. It might take a little bit more organization, but it will probably be a quarter of the price of heading down to your ‘local’; it’ll be just as nice; and you’ll make memories that are far more special than just your average run-of-the-mill café experience.

Tips for getting started

So that’s how we made it work in our family. Yours will be different. You might want to make breakfast in bed, you might want to take it outside, or you might try the idea of a rotating café at your friends’ houses. Maybe you don’t have a special location, but you can still make it feel special by getting out the good plates or whipping out a tablecloth.

Whatever you think you might like to try, here are a few hints to help make it work for you.

–       Try and get prepared in advance by putting in a few extra provisions into your weekly shopping.

–       Make the food tasty, and chose dishes that are fairly easy-ish to prepare.

–       Change the menu occasionally for a bit of variety.

–       Find a couple of small and easy ways to make it just that little bit special.

–       Make it fun.

If you have any other tips or ideas you’ve tried in your own home café, we’d love you to share with us!

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