Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The $21 Challenge
By Fiona Lippey & Jackie Gower
paperback, 288 pages
We spend about $300 a week on groceries and the figure seems to be growing along with the kids. So $21 looks like a steep challenge. Just one week’s success though, will have a $280 value. Do it once a month, and the annual savings would be $3,300. That’s no small amount, especially when the book retails for around $17. But the short term savings are only a small part of the picture of this clever book. The bigger benefit is the way The $21 Challenge will change your perspective and habits in a way that can be far more rewarding than three grand in the pocket each year. Because the real key to this book is the way it will show you how much you already have, whether that be food, clothing, toys, gadgets, and how to use, and how to use planning and stock takes to guide purchasing (rather than being guided by hunger, advertisements, desire). The end result could be life-changing.
The premise of the book is simple. Commit to taking the challenge – just once to begin with. Then follow through by starting with a stocktake. This is a real eye-opener, as most people, and my family is no exception, have significant amounts of food already in the cupboards, fridge and freezer, much of it forgotten (and some of it going out of date before it gets used). Then use this food as a guide to menu planning. If you’ve never done a menu plan before, then this is another dramatic benefit of the book. Lippey and Gower provide menu planners and lots of examples on the best way of doing this. They even provide free templates on the website. The final step is a very targeted shopping list that takes your meal plan and allows you to spend $21 picking the few key items you need to make it through the week. It’s that easy. Well, it’s easy once you get used to it anyway.
In addition to a guide to the system, and lots of templates (including Fiona’s amazing life planner – if this doesn’t get you organised, nothing will), the book provides a lot of anecdotes, tips, and above all, superb and very economical recipes for family friendly and healthy eating. That’s the thing I like best about this book – that it has been written in a simple, entertaining and easy to follow manner by parents. Lippey and Gower not only already know what’s in your pantry (they got mine perfectly – right down to the unused couscous and tahini jar) but they know what your children will eat and all about family dynamics and about how busy you are and how much spare time you have (none…).
It’s worth the price of the book for the incredible recipes alone. Some of the recipes that I’ve added to my repertoire almost immediately include “Grandma’s marvellous muffins”, “Homemade sausage rolls”, “gourmet pies” (these freeze really nicely for lunchboxes), “Impossible Pie”. “Naomi’s Tuna Pie” (having this for the second time tonight by request, and it’s not a $21 week!), McMummy’s (brilliant!), and “Budget ‘bix slice”. Chapter 6 is devoted to tell you how to use all those nice ingredients you’d forgotten you had and weren’t sure how to use, from that lovely jar of marinated artichokes, to the bag of desiccated coconut that has been on the top of your cupboard for a year. Even if you never take on the $21 challenge, this book will minimise the amount of food that you end up throwing out, and that has to be good. The final chapter provides ingredient substitutions, so you can still cook your favourite meals without having to run out to the shops.
All in all, The $21 Challenge is a wonderful, fun, and inspiring book that, like the simplesavings.com.au website, will help you make the most of what you’ve already got. In the financially stretched, emotionally stressed world of the 21st Century, what could be be more topical or worthwhile. Ultimately, at its most basic level, this is a book that can, and if you apply it, most certainly will, save you money, it’s more than that. It’s a simplified and hands-on primer on taking control of your life and deciding how you’ll spend your money and time, rather than allowing yourself to be manipulated by those who stand to benefit from consumerism. It isn’t so much about making do with less, as about how best to use what you’ve got and driving your spending by a well thought through process of planned expenditure. Don’t expect any new age claptrap here though. Instead, Lippey and Gower have created a very practical, fun, cartoon rich book that will appeal to just about anyone and will add value to any household whether it’s used as an occasional tool to save up for something or as the start to a major life-change. Either way, it’s $17 very well spent.
More on the book can be found at http://www.21dollarchallenge.com
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Repulsion Thrust, Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks