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How to live frugally in Bermuda

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Verde Brown and her daughter Aida watering their garden(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Verde Brown was heartbroken when she was turned down for a mortgage.

It was four years ago and she and her husband were trying to buy their dream home in Southampton.

“We knew we were going to have either a house or a baby,” said the 39-year-old accountant.

“After the bank turned us down, we thought maybe it was God telling us to have a baby.”

Two weeks later, she found out she was pregnant.

“Then a week later, the bank called and said they’d reconsidered,” said Mrs Brown.

She was both thrilled and terrified. Now they’d be paying for a new baby and a mortgage, all at once.

“My husband is always Mr Cool; he’s a Customs Officer.

“So while I was freaking out, he said it would be fine.”

But she knew it was time to tighten their budget. She looked to her mother for inspiration.

“My mother is frugal to the extreme,” said Mrs Brown, who moved here from Alberta, Canada 12 years ago. “Growing up, we almost never went out. We stayed at home. We never had cable.

“I can remember my younger brother crying in a restaurant. He was 11 and he wanted a Pepsi, which was a dollar. She refused to buy it. She felt eating out was the treat, not the Pepsi.”

Mrs Brown decided to be a little more relaxed in her approach.

“It’s more about being conscious of what you spend,” she said. “If you spend a dollar here, you need to think about how you can save a dollar somewhere else.”

A vegetable garden was her first order of business for her new home.

“A friend of mine suggested square foot gardening,” she said.

Her husband built her a box; at $30 for two square feet, the soil was the most expensive part.

“My husband said, just like any hobby, it costs you money,” said Mrs Brown. “At least mine is giving me dividends in terms of lunch.”

She didn’t have the start she’d hoped for. Their first crop yielded two tomatoes.

“One was delicious and the worms got the other,” laughed Mrs Brown. But the next year she harvested 20lbs of tomatoes and a similar amount of beans.

“We had so many tomatoes we couldn’t eat them all and ended up leaving them to rot on the ground,” she said. “This year I’ve planted winter vegetables like cauliflower and kale.

“They’re really easy. In the winter it rains a lot so you don’t even need to water them. You just stick the seeds in the ground and let them go.”

On the day we spoke, she was lunching on a kale salad harvested from her garden.

“I’ve easily saved hundreds on veggies,” she said. “And I don’t mind the time spent in the garden. I watched so little television as a child, I’m happy doing something outside.”

A year ago, she was working in her garden, when she had an idea. Why not share her tips on Facebook?

Frugal Living Bermuda was born. It now has 313 followers.

“I just wanted to share what I’ve learnt with others,” she said. “I wanted to encourage others to try this lifestyle.

“I started it at Easter. My first post was about making homemade raisin bread with a bread maker. The second was about fish cakes. You could get six for $25 at the store, but I made two dozen for the same price.”

She realises it won’t appeal to everyone.

“It’s not very glamorous,” said Mrs Brown. “People want to see you on Instagram with a new handbag or doing some wonderful experience.

“No one wants to see you eating leftovers again, to save $10.”

Her most controversial post was about using a fake Christmas tree.

“I’ve never bought a live Christmas tree in my life,” she said. “I have a plastic one.”

She said skipping a live tree helped save thousands over the long haul, but some of her readers weren’t impressed.

“Some people said a live tree was a necessity,” she said. “They said it wouldn’t be Christmas without the smell of the tree wafting through the house. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never had one. But it’s about making a choice. We all have a finite amount of cash. Where we spend it is up to us but we have to make a conscious, smart decision.”

She admitted penny-pinching hasn’t always been easy for her.

When she was pregnant, she couldn’t resist buying new baby clothes and furniture. Then she found that Aiva grew out of most clothes within weeks.

“I paid $600 for a crib and changing table,” she said. “Half the things I bought I didn’t need, things like a diary and a timer.”

When her daughter was six months old, Mrs Brown discovered Freecycling Bermuda on Facebook. The page allows people to exchange unwanted items, for free.

“Since then, I’ve gotten clothes, toys and books off Freecycle,” she said. “The best thing I probably got was a kid’s sofa from Pottery Barn. The lady posted it at 12pm and it was in my car by 12.30pm.”

She also likes the Bermuda Mom and Pop Facebook site which allows people to sell and swap unwanted items for a low price. Mrs Brown also looks out for free events.

“Believe it or not, there are lots in Bermuda,” she said. “Last September, I went to a free Huggies Family Fun Day event. There was one vendor there and they gave away free diapers. It was great.

“At Easter there were tons of free events for the children.

“The trick is not to get free entry and then spend all your money on vendors. Take your own water and snacks for the children.”

What does her mom, back in Canada, think of her frugal living?

“She doesn’t think I am frugal at all,” Mrs Brown laughed. “But everyone has their own way.”

Simple pleasures: Verde Brown and daughter Aida watering their garden