Frugal Foo

Foo Thinking Money"Money can't buy me love"... But everything else is in this blog.

Part 3 - The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out

The cost blow-out after breakfast is recovered.  Hot dinners and ice-cream close out the day and all money is depleted.

Normally, 2 halves are equal to the whole, but at Subway, things are different.  A 12 inch sub divided into two, is cheaper than two six inch subs.  Why?  I suppose it comes down to the labour involved in preparing two subs compared with preparing one sub and cutting it in half.  So if you’re prepared to agree on fillings with one other person, you can spend very little on lunch.  We drank only tap water which we brought with us and so was free.  Our lunch spending is below $5 per person and we are back on track for achieving the $30 limit per person for the day’s food.

It’s amazing how restrained the kids are about buying lollies when it’s their own money. We visited IGA supermarket where I bought some Kit Kats and the kids picked out a couple of packs of fruit tingles paying for them from their $30 budget.

Southgate food court provides a great place to sit down by the river side and watch the world go by against the striking backdrop of Melbourne’s city skyline.  For the price of a coffee, this is what I consider to be one of Melbourne’s great value pass-times.  Elsewhere in the world, you would pay a pretty Euro for the privilege as exclusive cafes and restaurants dominate the best vantage points.  It’s technically not OK to bring supermarket food into a food court but by buying a few coffees from Coffee Minded at the food court it justifies the use of the table.
City Circle Tram
Our cheap day out in Melbourne was inevitably going to be about more than just food.  Between meals there is time to kill and kids need to burn energy.  We made use of the free city circle tram to get around town.  In a separate page I have created a list of free things to do in Melbourne.

For an inexpensive dinner in Melbourne I had one particular strip of restaurants in mind.  Just short of the top end of Swantson St is where you’ll find a string of inexpensive Vietnamese, Japanese and almost any “nese” restaurant you care to mention.  They exist to serve students, city workers, tourists, shoppers and locals which means they are always busy.  Their constant high turn over of hungry diners means they can offer top value casual dining since fixed costs such as rent are spread across a greater number of customers.  These few city blocks along Swanston St  between Little Lonsdale St and Little Bourke St are the frugal place to eat.
Hokkein Mee

We settled on the Vietnamese Grill Bar and we weren’t disappointed.  Most main dishes are below $10 which leaves room in the budget for soft drinks and ice-cream deserts for the kids.  Staff are friendly and responsive.  Meals are delivered steaming hot.  The Fried Koay Teow lands at the table from the kitchen still sizzling.  I can’t fault my Beef and Mung Bean Noodle and the kids ate every bit of their noodle dishes.  An average of $15.30 each was spent at dinner bringing the total to just under the $30 per person limit for food for the day.
Fried Koay Teow
Beef & Mung Bean

Hooray we passed the challenge!  We spent only $30 per person for a whole day of eating a variety of food in Melbourne.  The boys each politely accepted the few meager coins remaining of the original $30 they had held in their hands not 12 hours ago. Hopefully their crazy cheapskate dad has not introduced a simmering childhood resentment which will cost me much, much more in therapy in years to come.  I prefer to believe the day has ended with better understanding of the value of money and appreciation for good food.

You've just read Part 3.  Have you also read:
Part 1 - The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out
Part 2 Breakfast - The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out
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Part 2 Breakfast – The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out

We attempt to order a Sunday breakfast for only $5 per head.  This was perhaps a little too ambitious.

The invention of sliced bread was surely a profound milestone of last century.  Breakfast had certainly been made a little easier.  No longer did we need to risk the use of a sharp knife first thing in the morning.  But the perils of the electric toaster remain.  All those buttons and nobs needing to be accurately adjusted so that each member of the household can have their special variant of packaged bread toasted to a golden brown perfection.  Surely there must be an easier way.  And boiling an egg?  Forget it!  Eating out for breakfast is the new best thing since…well... you know.

Hardware St on a Sunday Morning
With hunger in our bellies and cash in our pockets we arrived in the centre of Melbourne and headed to Hardware St.  Down this red brick paved lane, closed to traffic, there are several options for a low cost hearty breakfast, even on a weekend.  Here we found Trim cafĂ© where you can order eggs on toast with a coffee or tea for $6.  Substituting one coffee with hot chocolate unexpectedly, but quite rightly, added a little cost.  Our eldest boy was happy with simple baked beans on toast. With a 10% weekend surcharge slapped on the top, we are already starting to edge ourselves over the original $5 guideline for breakfast.  Still it’s early in the day yet and we’ll just have to make smarter choices for lunch and dinner.
Breakfast at Trim
$6 eggs and coffee at Trim

Tip:  Watch for the weekend surcharge of between 10% and 20% added to your bill at most cafes.

Breakfast cost us on average $6.25 each leaving $23.75 per person for all our remaining meals for the day.  Not a great start since I know we will want a decent meal come dinner time.

Also read:
Part 1 – The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out
Part 3 – The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out

Would our parents and grandparents have gone out for breakfast?  Is it the ultimate in laziness?  Are there better inventions than sliced bread?  And speaking of such things what ever happened to drawstring tea bags?  Please comment.
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Part 1 - The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out

We set out to prove that you can dine out eating interesting meals, not junk food, for the entire day costing only $30 per person.

The family are quite used to not being taken out for meals by their frugal dad.  They know that unless someone is turning 21, announcing an engagement or being invited into Cambridge University on a scholarship, indulging in restaurant meals as a family is an unlikely event. 

It must have caught the family off guard when I announced this eating out challenge one Sunday morning.  The opportunity of not cooking or washing dishes or cleaning exploding meals from the microwave for a whole day didn’t quite cause the enthusiastic stampede toward the front door I expected.

The rules of the challenge are:
  1. $30 per person handed out to each man, women and child at start of day.  They keep what ever is left over at the end of the day.
  2. No junk meals.  Burger and chips is not a meal.
  3. Spend the money however they choose at the places I take them to based on my experience from writing this blog.
  4. No other money will be spent on sustenance for the day.

The initial reaction was one of disbelief and bewilderment.  Eventually jaws did drop when I placed $30 each into the hands of two boys aged 5 and 8, who had never seen such a large sum emerge from dad’s wallet and be handed directly to them to spend how they saw fit.  However the cash, which they caressed lovingly, had strings attached.  I knew hunger would prevail and the money would be all but spent by sunset.
"...the less it costs to eat out, the more often I can do it..."
I do enjoy dining out and the less it costs to eat out, the more often I can do it.  Oh sure there’s something to be said for rolling up the sleeves and creating a satisfying dish at home in the kitchen.  But you need time and energy to do it justice.  Dining out is my moment to sit down, give the orders, eat well and have others clean up after my messy kids.  “It’s good to be the king”.

Quite on purpose I chose a Sunday for this challenge.  Sunday is the hardest day of the week to find low cost food in town since the business end of town is all but closed.  If we can meet the $30 per person challenge on a Sunday then spending less than $30 each on food any other day of the week should be easy.

Read Part 2 - The Kids Learn How to Budget While Having a Fun Day Out in a forthcoming post.

Do you think you could dine out well in your home town for $30 per day?  Please comment below.
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That Much Cheaper Hotels at WOTIF – WTF!

Last minute accommodation online booking websites are still useful despite hotel price guarantees.

The Stock Exchange symbol for is WTF. It is also a three letter acronym perfectly describing how I felt recently when I discovered how much money I could have saved by booking my weekend accommodation with WOTIF, rather than directly with the hotel.

My recent stay at Crown Metropol in Melbourne costing $500 including valet and breakfast, could have been almost half the price by booking a $275 package on or But 6 weeks before our stay at Crown Metropol, I chose to book directly with Crown online at I did so thinking it was too early for those last minute websites to have any worthwhile deals, and I was saving 15% under an “Advanced purchase discount” directly from Crown. I now know I could have saved almost 50% with a package from which included the valet parking and breakfast for two but a slightly different room not on a corner. The point is, this great value package didn’t present itself when booking directly with Crown online.

So last minute discount websites are still a great way to find stunning bargains, even several weeks before your holiday is due to begin. But that is not the end of the lesson.

Many big hotel chains other than Crown, have a price guarantee for bookings made directly with the hotel. They promise you won’t find the same room, with the same restrictions, for the same date, at a better price elsewhere.

'Potentially, however, there are more weasel words in these hotel price guarantees than a ferret convention.'
By and large the big hotel chains such as Hilton and Accor, are holding true to the spirit of these lowest price promises, with equal or lower prices to be found on their websites. Potentially, however, there are more weasel words in these hotel price guarantees than a ferret convention.

There is still scope for the wotifs of the world to offer a better deal. And they often do. Last minute discount websites may offer competitive packages, adding food and extras, while tightening cancellation restrictions. Over all, the package could be a better deal than what the hotel offer directly. I suspect that if you tackled the hotel on their rate guarantee, sighting a better value for a package on a discount website, there would be enough wriggle room for the hotel to weasel out of the guarantee since the package is not directly comparable given the special inclusions and restrictions.

Frugal tips for the best last minute accommodation deals
  1. Websites such as WOTIF are handy for planning the holiday. All available options are displayed.  Find a room you like, then check elsewhere to confirm you have the absolute best deal.
  2. The best rate is often a phone call away, especially for small family run accommodation businesses.
  3. When booking online, check both the last minute website and the hotels own website.  The best deal could be on either.
  4. Last minute websites charge booking fees, usually between $3 and $6.

Last minute discount accommodation websites still offer the best deal for some hotels, but not always. However it’s rare that you would be much worse off booking via a discount web site. The best last minute deals can be found by a good old fashioned telephone call to the hotel directly.

How did you discover your best accommodation deals?  Please comment.

Tags:  Melbourne, wotif, holiday, hotel, Hilton
Also of interest: A Free Hotel Room in Melbourne, Cheap Hotels in Brisbane, Budget Travel Tips for Those Who Plan, Melbourne Is More Than Fun, It’s Free, Hoteliers - Prices tumble, so live it up!
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DFO South Wharf, Melbourne

DFO in Melbourne city is now harder to find, and bargains even harder.

A DFO (Direct Factory Outlet) conveniently located right in the middle of Melbourne CBD above a major rail and bus terminal was just too good to be true. Late last year DFO in Melbourne CBD moved away from the very central Spencer St address, to a previously unheard of location (unheard of to me) called "South Wharf".

Where is DFO South Wharf
Open 7 Days 10am-6pm and until 9pm Fridays

View DFO South Wharf in a larger map
TramCatch either the 70, 71 or 35 free city circle tram to the Docklands Park stop. Then walk 10 mins south across the Yarra and follow signs.
Car Park$4 per hour up to $28 daily. 50% parking discount if you buy from DFO and validate ticket. Frankly there are cheaper options in town if parking on a weekend.
Still within a 20 minute walk from Southern Cross Railway Station, I'm quite sure that fellow die hard bargain hunters will continue to make the extra effort and flock to the South Wharf DFO, just as we do now, travelling epic distances to either of the other two Melbourne DFO's situated in far flung locations around the suburbs.

DFO’s are generally a little more difficult to find compared to major shopping malls. They are the shy cousin of the retailer clan. At family gatherings, the shy cousin can be spotted at a measured distance away from the raucous centre of all the action, serving some useful self-appointed purpose, such as official photographer or plunger coffee operator. Likewise, DFO's around Australia are often found away from the main shopping and town centres, dressed down architecturally, and a little tricky to find.
DFO South Wharf
DFO South Wharf is no exception. It’s not as convenient to a railway station compared to its previous location, and driving will cost you in petrol, tolls and parking. So there is sunk cost before we even begin raking in the savings from factory outlet bargains. Being able bodied, and having an understanding of the city circle tram network, I chose to walk from the nearest free tram stop north of the Yarra River across Webb Bridge. From there it’s 10 minute walk across the river and following the signs to DFO. See the map at the end of this post.

Upon arrival I’m ready to shop. And having completed the epic journey to find the place, I expect some kind of worthwhile pay-off. I'm ready to buy something. Anything. Even if it's an irregular end of season man-purse, sporting a glitzy fashion logo and made by sewing together left over eye-patches from last years Pirate show-bag. DFO’s obscure location seems to be actually working in its favour judging from my must-buy-something frame of mind.

Perhaps it was naive of me to expect that the shelves would be lined with “reduced stock made up of discontinued lines, previous season’s stock, current end-of-season lines and special purchases” as described in DFO literature. Boy those silly clothing labels sure are making a lot of mistakes oversupplying their retail stores at start of season with such regular predictability that an expanding DFO industry can thrive season after season on surplus goods which could not be sold at retail prices mid season. Oh but there are those “special purchases”. I wonder what they are? Could it be that some lines are produced expressly for the purpose of stocking factory outlet shelves?

At this DFO, the shops look just like regular shops. Some of them reassuringly have the word “Outlet” somewhere in their signage above the door, but not all. The stock looks remarkably like that which I would find in any normal shop and the prices didn't seem cheap to me. And I do wonder what would be considered “last season” in camping gear, jewelery or home kitchen shops. Not wanting to expose my fallible credentials as a male here, but does jewelery have seasons?
Inside shot Factory Outlet
Still we press on hunting for bargains believing that somehow smiling approval will shine upon us from Livinia Nixon, the face of DFO, who does not seem to have aged one day since first appearing on our screens eating Maltesers 15 years ago. Perhaps I too can halt the aging process by shopping at DFO.

Myth: The amount of money we save is the amount discounted from the original full price.

Truth: Ignore discounts. A bargain means paying the lowest price compared to the price of similar alternatives available in other shops at that time.

At DFO I found a mix of both regular and discontinued lines. Signage at DFO shops boasted massive discounts when compared to a full retail price. I trust that the full comparison prices were once the actual asking price in shops for these items. But was the full price a fair price or wildly over optimistic to begin with? I choose to ignore amazing discount prices and consider only the current price compared with the prices for similar products available at other shops I can easily buy from that day. Disregard history. Prices for fashion items generally head downwards and stay down. If it’s cheaper than the other shops right now, then that’s a bargain.

"Disregard history. Prices for fashion items generally head downwards and stay down. If it’s cheaper than the other shops right now, then that’s a bargain."

But I wanted to be sure I would walk out with a genuine factory outlet bargain. Something I couldn’t get from a regular retail shop to make the extra effort of DFO worthwhile. I picked 3 shops to be the subjects of a little closer scrutiny – Wallace Bishop Jewellers, Colorado and Levis. At each I asked the sales assistant what factory outlet bargains were to be had.

All 3 outlet shops had some stock which was also available at regular shops. Colorado and Levis also showed me discontinued lines which are what I came to DFO to find. If not for asking, it was not possible for me to easily determine which stock was that which would be found at a regular shop, and that which was factory outlet discontinued or outgoing seasons stock. But they are upfront about it when asked.

Wallace Bishop at DFO explained that their range of watches were the same as the retail Wallace Bishop, but at lower prices just because it was a factory outlet. I’m sure the retailers would not be happy to be undercut by the factory outlet channel. To be fair, my inquiries at this jewellery shop were limited to my sphere of knowledge in such a shop, which is watches. There may well have been a discontinued diamond ring or last seasons gold-plated clock under glass dome somewhere in the shop, but I didn’t see any glaring “discontinued” signage or labeling in this shop.

Colorado showed me a range of end-of-season men’s slip-on shoes no longer available in regular shops. Of course the price tags were a patchwork of markdowns on top of markdowns, but discounted comparison prices are to be firmly ignored.

The Levis at DFO seemed to be the most genuine factory outlet of the 3 shops in this experiment. It sold clearly labeled samples and seconds at cheap prices.

After my weekend visit to DFO, I followed up with a little tour to the retail counterparts in central Melbourne. At Wallace Bishop retail shop, I found their range of Seiko watches to have the same 40% discount as the outlet. At the retail Colorado, I did not find the slip on shoes I was shown in the outlet, so direct comparison is not possible. I felt that the prices were in the same ball park for similar lines seen in the outlet, plus the retail store offered 50% off a second pair of shoes.

In the end I thought the bargains were few and far between at DFO in South Wharf. Sure, eternal youth might be possible if you eat enough Maltesers at a young age, but at this DFO I found bargains to be unlikely. I remain unconvinced that DFO shopping centres are all that much different from regular shops. Bargains can be found if you know the going price of an item, just as they can at any shop.

What’s your experience with factory outlets? Please comment.

View DFO South Wharf in a larger map

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Where’s the Brazilian Bean been?

Brazilian Bean $5 BreakfastAn entire journey around the Earth ends at my table in a coffee cup at The Brazilian Bean cafe in Collins St. Those who are the best at their craft have had a hand in making my coffee where ever they are in the world. Beginning in Brazil where the coffee beans are grown, the green beans are then roasted in Italy, before being imported into Australia, ground and brewed by the proficient barrister here at this cafe in Melbourne.

A small coffee at The Brazilian Bean is $3. Initially I'm drawn in from the footpath by the blackboard special of fruit toast and coffee for $5. However once at the counter the egg, bacon and spinach rolls ($5) seem to call out my name from under the glass. Since my frugal breakfast budget is $5 which must buy the food and the compulsory morning coffee I go with the original plan and order the fruit toast and coffee special for $5. My coffee loyalty card is stamped which sets a cunning frugal plan in motion. If I keep coming back to The Brazilian Bean for breakfast I will achieve the free coffee and order the egg, bacon and spinach roll while remaining within the $5 budget. Dare to dream people!

And I will keep coming back. The fruit toast is the kind I always seek, packed with figs, dates, apricots, seeds and so on. The Italian coffee goes down smooth against the crunchy seeded fruit toast. Looking straight down Market St from the dining room at The Brazilian Bean I can count the number of illegal turns made by drivers in and out of Collins St. Otherwise there are newspapers to read if counting cars some how does not excite you.

Cooked breakfasts at The Brazilian Bean such as eggs Benedict start at $9.50.

Criticism: Its possible that the landlord is more of a miser than even Foo. On winter mornings at 7:30am when I eat breaky, The Brazilian Bean cafe is intolerably cold. For this reason I favour this cafe in the warmer months only. There are cosier budget cafes nearby in winter such as Moat, Hydra and the Bee Hive.

The Brazilian Bean
440 Collins St, Melbourne.
Open Mon-Fri Breakfast and Lunch

The Brazilian Bean on Urbanspoon

View The Brazilian Bean in a larger map
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