A business tax bill combined with credit cards and buying their car on hire purchase had left them $50k in debt.
‘We were just living it up, having fun and buying whatever we wanted. We were eating out all the time. My attitude to money was terrible. We were living week to week,’ she tells New Idea.
But the couple’s fun was cut short 15 years ago, after they crunched the numbers and saw that figure in black and white.
‘We were beside ourselves. We even considered bankruptcy because we didn’t know how to get out of that,’ Penina says. One of the first things that had to change was the couple’s love of dining out.
‘I was like: “We are in debt. We can’t go out to eat five times a week now. I’m going to have to rein it in a lot. I’m going to start cooking at home.”’
Realising they needed to remove themselves from temptation, the young couple sold all their belongings and left Melbourne for Kambalda, a remote mining town in WA.
‘We drove through Adelaide and got married on the way. I reckon Richard didn’t want a miner to steal me,’ Penina laughs.
Within days of arriving in Kambalda they both had jobs, and for the next year they threw themselves into repaying their debts.
‘I had an A3 folder and it was full of bills. I came home every night and paid a bill. It was the most boring year of my life,’ she says.
Gone were the dinners out. Instead, Penina experimented with budget-friendly recipes at home.
And rather than treating herself to a new pair of shoes or a beautiful dress, she simply made do with an ice-cream.
‘I would try and spend money but there was nothing to spend it on,’ she explains.
‘It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Just red earth, a supermarket, a pizza shop and a video shop. There were emus and kangaroos and that’s it.’
Penina embraced her new frugal lifestyle with gusto and within a year she and Richard were debt-free.
But when son Saxon, now 12, was born, Penina didn’t want to spend all her spare time slaving over a hot stove.
‘I just wanted a system to make it easy for me. I’m a lazy cook really,’ she says.
In an effort to free up some time, Penina set about compiling meal plans and shopping lists. As she’d always dreamt of being an author, she decided to kill two birds with one stone and turn her research into a book.
It wasn’t an easy task. Working full-time as well as raising a young family meant that Penina would often stay up until 3am writing.
Her book Table Tucker – incorporating 52 weeks of money and time-saving menu plans and shopping lists – was four years in the making. But when it was published in 2008, it flew off the shelves.
Realising she’d tapped into something huge, Penina – who is also mum to six-year-old Coco – then wrote $1.50 Dinners, which aims to save readers time and money by bulk buying and cooking five weeks ahead.
‘It costs around $227 at the supermarket for the five weeks.
‘Before we even go shopping we are using up leftovers in the house, so we are kind of shopping at home first. We make some sauces in bulk and we buy budget cuts of meat.’
For the full story, see this week's New Idea - Out now.
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