30 September 2011

Arrrrgh! Those Changing Aisles are Costing You Money!

One of my pet peeves with supermarkets is the constant re-arranging of the aisles.  Yes, they provide store maps at the service desk but that's no help when you "know" the layout and breeze in, ready to do your grocery dash, only to find you can't find a thing and need to spend time trawling the aisles to find the things on your list.

I'm not sure the supermarkets would admit it but they re-arrange their aisles for that exact reason: they want you to trawl the aisles.  The longer you are in the store the more you'll spend. And the more you have to search for items the more you'll impulse spend.

Well two can play at that game. I say let them re-arrange the aisles.  We'll just grab a store map and re-arrange our shopping list to suit. Then we can avoid the aisles we don't need to visit, not be tempted by all the goodies we see and still get in and out in under the crucial 30 minutes.....

I've noticed over the last couple of years that the order of the aisles doesn't quite make sense, well to me anyway.  I would think that all the baking supplies would be together, but that's not the case.  Yes, the flours are all together in the one aisle. But then I need to go into another aisle to find the coconut and dried fruit.  A nifty little organizing ploy to keep you wandering the store, seeing all those "too good a deal to pass up" goods in store.

To win the supermarket game you need to shop with a plan (and a store map).  It still pays to stick to the old "shop the perimeter". Around the outer edges of most supermarkets you'll find the real food. Fruits and vegetables are usually right at the front as you walk in, followed closely by the bakery and the deli. Then the meat cabinets are along the back wall, with the dairy cabinet up the far side. Close to the dairy cabinet you'll find the freezer cabinets.

The centre aisles are usually dedicated to the pretend food aisles. You'll find the processed foods: chips, lollies, biscuits, packaged meals, casserole bases etc. in these aisles.

Years ago, when I was just starting out on this frugal shopping lurk, I made myself a little guide (OK, a list in the front of my price book) to my supermarket so I could stick to the shopping list, which I wrote up in aisle order.  I only had $50 a week back then to buy all our groceries - food, cleaning products, toiletries and baby needs so I had to get the very best value for my money possible.

Buying fresh fruit and veg in season, on sale and in quantities we'd use before they went off all went a long way to keeping the grocery bill down.

Staying out of the cleaning aisle also had a huge impact.  Using ordinary soap, white vinegar and bicarb soda combined with a little elbow grease eliminated  the need to buy commercial cleaning products. This is when I started to play around with laundry detergent and decided the "gloop" recipe I was using was just too much work and came up with the powdered version. I'm still using it, 17 years on (and enjoying the savings).

Avoiding the deli and making our own lunch meats and nibblies has saved us a fortune over the years.  Cooking a piece of silverside and slicing it for sandwiches is easy and a fraction of the price of buying it.  Buying a whole or half ham on the bone and doing the same saves around 60% on deli prices for sliced or shaved ham and roasting a whole chicken and shredding the meat not only saves money, but gives me the carcass to use for stock - an even better deal.  There's no waste and the meat is always fresh, something else I like about beating the supermarkets at their own game.

These days shopping like this is habit and I can't imagine not making every grocery dollar stretch. Actually it's easier than ever because I can jump online and get the prices so I know exactly how much the grocery shopping is going to cost, no surprises at the checkout.

29 September 2011

Keeping the car clutter free

Have you seen the movie where car that is so full of rubbish and junk that there's no room for passengers?  Sorry but the name escapes me at the moment although I'm sure there is more than one.  Well I don't know why it is but our car is a clutter magnet too.  Driving in a dirty, cluttered car isn't my idea of fun so cleaning the car is on my list of Thursday jobs.

Like all chores, if it's done regularly it only takes a few minutes and is easy.  Let the clutter and rubbish build up and it becomes a horrible job that takes ages.  Over the years I've developed a simple routine to keep my car (it's really our car, but I drive it most and I clean it so it's "my" car) in tip top shape.....

We have tried all sorts of different ideas over the years to keep the car neat and clean inside.  Our car is a major purchase and while we'll not be selling it for a long time yet, when we do I want to get the very best price possible.  Regular maintenance will help me get that best price so ten  minutes or so once a week is well worth the effort.

When the kids were little there was a strict no eating or drinking in the car rule. Littlies can't help but drop crumbs or drip drinks and they are the things that stain car seats and get squashed into carpet. And getting those car and booster seat covers off to wash was just plain hard work.  It was easier to stop and have an impromptu picnic.

I also tried having a rubbish bag in the car all the time. It was more trouble than anything else. There's nowhere in the car to hang it or store it so it's easy to reach but not in the way. It's just easier to gather any rubbish at the end of each trip and put it straight into the bin.

Someone suggested keeping some wipes and a duster in the glovebox so they were always handy, then I could clean the interior  while I was waiting. Yeah, right. Like I'd pass up the chance to chat with other mums at pick-up time to clean the car.

One thing that does work for us is all bags and backpacks go into the boot for the journey, even if it's just the school run. That way there are only people in the car.  We did a lot of travelling when the kids were little, one of the joys of living 500km from family and they were allowed to have one book or toy at a time with them. They swapped them each time we stopped for a break.  It kept the stuff in the car down to a minimum and they didn't really have time to get bored either. 

Nowadays when we travel it's often just Wayne and I and perhaps Hannah but we still keep everything in the boot. It's become such a habit that I even keep my handbag in the boot. I had to show my license for ID at a gatehouse a couple of weeks ago and I had to get out of the car and get my bag out of the boot. The fellow on the gate was amused, the guy in the van behind me wasn't!

We have made it a habit to take everything that doesn’t belong in the car inside after every trip. It really helps keep the car looking clean. If you have children, have them take their items inside. Make it a rule and it will be easier to follow. Make it fun and the children will enjoy cleaning out their belongings from the car.

Because we do a lot of travelling we have quite a collection of maps. The glovebox isn't big enough to store them and there are too many to store in the pockets on the back of the seats. Instead we keep the map we are using in the door pocket and the rest of them are in the boot. I made a simple organizer that runs along the back of the boot. It has five pockets in it and the maps and anything else we want to have in the car slip in there.

It was easy to make, two simple rectangles stitched around three sides and then in equally spaced sections to make the pockets. I stitched a length of elastic to each of the top corners and it ties around the  points in the boot to keep it in place. You can buy the same thing but they are around $30. I made ours out of old jeans and recycled elastic for nothing.

Lastly, a good tip is to clean out the car weekly.  Then give it a quick wipe over with a duster, shake the mats and if you have time vacuum the carpets.  Wipe over the windows with a microfibre cloth and the job is done. As I said, do it regularly and it's not a chore and your car interior will always look it's best.

28 September 2011

Another Way to Combat the Rising Cost of Groceries

The news on grocery prices is grim. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data showing a 120% increase in the cost of food in the last decade. I'm sure anyone who buys food will be surprised that it's only 120%! We can't do anything about the price increases, they'll keep on happening. What we can do is make sure the money we spend on food isn't wasted. We'll stretch those grocery dollars until they scream.

One of the biggest costs associated with food actually isn't the price - it's the waste. Stop food waste and watch your grocery bill shrink. We Aussies are a wasteful people, then we cry and complain about how much it costs to feed our families.

How do these statistics make you feel (I found them on the Hungry Beast site):

*Australians throw out 4.45 million tonnes of food every year (source: What A Waste! Australia Institute Report)

*Approximately 936 kilograms of food is discarded by each Australian household (source: National Waste Report 2010 Fact Sheet)

* The value of the food Australians discard each year is estimated to be around $5.2 billion (source: What A Waste! Australia Institute Report)

* 7% of meat in supermarkets will go unsold and discarded. 30% of the meat bought by consumers will go uneaten. (source: Food Expenditure Tables, Economic Research Service, 2008)

* It has been estimated that 20 to 40% of all fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets due to cosmetic and superficial reasons (source: Ozharvest Canberra)

* In Queensland 100,000 tonnes of bananas, about a third of the annual crop, are thrown out each year. (source: Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin)

* 54% of Australian mangoes get thrown away (source: Dr. Ridoutt, CSIRO 2010)

* The annual food waste in Australia is enough to fill over 720,000 garbage trucks. (source: National Waste Report, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2010)

* Just one quarter of the food wasted in the developed world would be enough to feed the 1 billion people starving in the developing nations across the globe (source: Food and Ethics Council, Tristram Stuart, 2009)

I can tell you they make me feel ill, especially the last point.

I learned long ago to not waste food. There was a time when every single food item on our shopping list was accounted for and used because we couldn't afford to waste it. We didn't have the money to buy more celery if I let it go limp and soggy or to buy meat to replace any that was freezer burned.

To avoid waste (and thus a heftier grocery bill) I had to get a little canny about how I managed the family grocery shopping, meals, fridge, freezer and pantry.

I always went through the pantry, fridge and freezer before shopping day to see what was left.

Then I made up a meal plan, incorporating the food we had. This formed the basis of the shopping list and is the single most important step in reducing or even eliminating food waste. I simply didn't buy what we didn't need.

The shopping list only had things we needed, in the size and/or quantity we needed on it. And I stuck to that list like glue. My price book ensured I knew to the dollar just how much the groceries for the month were going to cost and that's all the money I took to the shops with me. I couldn't afford to over-spend, I didn't have the money to pay for it.

In our house leftovers have always been planned. There are five of us and most recipes serve either four or six, meaning for a four serve recipe I increase the quantities by 50% and we always have an extra serve over. Now if we don't have any extra mouths around the table that leftover serve is packaged up for a lunch the next day or put into the freezer for a mufti dinner during the month.

Reading the stats I am sure we don't have anywhere near 936 kilograms of wasted food a year. We do compost everything we can - peelings, meat and fat, even bones - in the bokashi bucket which goes a long way to slashing that figure.

I rarely put any whole fruit or veggies in the compost. Any vegetables that are looking sad or limp go into soup or casseroles or are used to make stock. Soft or wrinkled fruit is stewed, added to muffins, cakes or biscuits or made into pies. Sometimes I dehydrate it and add it to trail mix for nibbling and lunchboxes.

When it comes to bottles and jars of sauces and spreads my trust skinny spatula gets a good workout. Did you know you can get enough peanut butter for at least two more sandwiches if you use a spatula to scrape out the "empty" jar?

And there's enough Vegemite left in an empty jar to flavour a gravy, soup or casserole. Or swish it with some cool water, pour into a mug and top up with boiling water for a delicious, warming savoury drink. Jam jars can be swished with milk for milk shakes, or pour the flavoured milk into icy pole moulds to make DIY paddle pops.

Bread crusts can be toasted for croutons or whizzed to make breadcrumbs. Cereal crumbs can be crushed and added to muffin mix or to a basic slice base. Or crush them and use them in Shake'n'Bake or to crumb fish fillets, rissoles or sausages.

Leftover rice or pasta can be used to make a salad. You only need small quantities of veggies and a drizzle of dressing and you have a quick lunch or side dish for another meal.

Before you juice an orange or a lemon grate the zest. It freezes beautifully and can be used for flavouring cooking or as a decoration or garnish.

One last thing to remember in the battle to reduce food waste and thereby your grocery bill: it won't happen if you don't make it happen. Start small. This week do a quick inventory, make up a meal plan and then a shopping list. Add only what you need to buy and stick to it. See how little you spend on food and it will encourage you to use up what you have before it gets wasted.

I'd love to know how you handle food waste in your home. Please take a couple of seconds to take the poll on the left of the page

27 September 2011

Step-by-step Lemon Butter

This is yet another grocery item that is bought more often than made at home, when really it is so easy to make, and so much nicer than the bought product that even if it weren't cheaper I would still make it.  I posted the recipe over the weekend but since then have had some queries on the method so here is the recipe again, with step-by-step instructions because it really is easy and an absolutely delicious way to use up lemons.

Traditional lemon butter (or curd as it is sometimes known) was made with egg yolks and cooked in a double boiler on the stove.  My version uses whole eggs and is made in the microwave and takes just 6 minutes to cook. No more slaving over a hot stove for a delicious lemon spread.......

It is so easy to make, just seven easy steps and around ten minutes of your time.

Six Minute Lemon Butter

125g butter (real butter please, not margarine in this recipe)
1 cup castor sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice

Step 1.
Using an electric mixer beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy. If you don't have an electric mixer you can use a stick blender or a large balloon whisk.

Step 2.
Add the sugar to the eggs in two parts and continue beating until the sugar has dissolved.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and fluffy.

Step 3
Stir in the lemon juice.

Step 4.
Melt the butter.  Pour the butter into the egg mixture and beat in.

Carefully pour the melted butter into the egg mixture and whisk well.

Step 5.
Pour mixture into a microwave safe jug or bowl. Cook on high for two minutes. Beat well. Cook another two minutes. By now the mixture will be starting to thicken. Make sure you beat it well to make it smooth. Cook a further two minutes. Beat well, breaking up any lumps. The mixture should be thick, a similar texture to a pouring custard.

Whisk well between cooking spurts. The mixture will change colour and texture as it cooks.

Step 7.
Pour your lovely, hot lemon butter into hot, sterilised jars.  Seal immediately. Once cool place in fridge. The lemon butter will set as it cools.

The finished product - golden in colour with a rich, buttery lemon flavour

Keep refrigerated. This lemon butter will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.

Use as a sandwich spread, between cake layers, in jam tarts, for pies or spread on  a basic biscuit slice and dust with icing sugar just before serving.  It's also a treat on toasted raisin bread for breakfast.

26 September 2011

Add Wow with a Handmade Bow

The time of year when most of us are wrapping presents and trying to pretty them up is fast approaching. In fact I'm sure many of you, like me, have already started the Christmas shopping and wrapping.

One thing I've noticed over the years is no matter how much I spend on a gift, the wrapping can cost almost as much if I don't watch it carefully.  I love to give gifts that have that "wow" factor to them and the wrapping can make or break the "wow".  There are lots of ways to end up with beautifully gift-wrapped presents, but one way to add extra "wow" to your gifts is by paying extra attention to detail when it comes to wrapping and presentation. An easy way to do this is to finish your parcels with bows. There are some lovely bows available, in beautiful ribbons and colours but at upwards of $2 each they are rather expensive.

You can still add "bow wow" to your gifts, for a fraction of the price, if you make them yourself and they are surprisingly easy.

To make the traditional "loopy" bow you'll need about 3 metres of ribbon to make one bow. You can use cloth ribbon, paper ribbon, wired ribbon or even make your own from lengths of wrapping paper. Use whatever ribbon you have on hand that blends or co-ordinates with the gift wrap.

Step 1:
To make the ribbon take your length and starting about 20cm from one end pinch firmly between your thumb and index finger.

Step 2:
Make about a 12cm loop (this will be half the size of the finished bow) and pinch it tightly. If your ribbon is one-sided twist the length around to the right side.

Step 3:
Repeat this process, making nine loops in total.

Step 4:
Make a centre knot by forming a small loop over your thumb, then pinch and wire all the loops together with florist wire, a pipe cleaner or a wire bread bag tie. Trim the excess binding.

Step 5:
Cut tails of ribbon about 35cm long and attach to the back of the bow if desired.

And there you have it - a beautiful bow that cost virtually nothing if you used ribbons you already had, custom made to suit the gift.

You can make two or more bows and wire them together to make bigger, puffier bows for bigger parcels.

These bows also make great cake toppers if you use wired ribbon and look fantastic in classic gold, white or silver ribbons.

To make a fluffy flower bow all you need is one large and one small loopy gift bow, either a bought or that you have made.

Starting from the outside of the large bow carefully cut through each loop at a slight angle until you get to the last row of loops, which is the centre of the bow.

Carefully spread the cut loops out. Stick the small loopy bow into the centre of the large bow, this forms the centre of your "flower". 

Now cut the loops of the small bow, again on a slight angle, and gently fluff them out.

You now have a lovely "fluffy flower" bow to top your present.

I've used two distinct ribbon designs to show you how the two bows fit together. Of course when you make your bows you'll choose patterns and colours that go together and suit the wrapping on your present.

25 September 2011

Two of my favourite lemon recipes

I've been inundated with lemons this week, thank you, thank you, thank you, and not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth the kitchen has been full of jars of lemon butter, bottles of lemon syrup (just divine on a summer evening over ice and topped with slushy soda water) and lots of lemon halves in zippy bags to go into the freezer (for zesting and then resting my dainty and delicate lady-like elbows in).

Lemons are so versatile. They are a delicious food.  I use them in cordials, marmalades, sauces, icing, cakes, slices and biscuits and of course Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pie, named by my darling husband because he thinks it is heavenly to have homemade pie. If there are any left after all that cooking they get used for cleaning!

Anyway, here's my recipe for Wayne's favourite dessert:

Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pie

1 prepared 20cm pie shell*
1 1/2 cups lemon butter*
2 egg whites
2 tbsp castor sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.  Pour the lemon curd into the pie shell. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add one tablespoon of sugar and continue beating until sugar is dissolved. Add second spoonful of sugar and beat until sugar is dissolved.  Carefully spread meringue mixture over the lemon curd, being sure to take it right to the edges to seal the pie. This stops the meringue from "bleeding". Place into oven and bake 10 - 15 minutes until meringue is golden and set.  Serve hot with ice cream or cold with thick cream.

*The pie shell - you can use a bought shortcrust pie shell or make your own. Elaine's Easy Pastry gives a nice crisp pie crust.  If you are making your own, pre-bake it before you add the filling and meringue.

*Either homemade or bought lemon curd is fine. Homemade is generally nicer of course but if all else fails a jar of lemon butter will do in a pinch.

I MOO lemon butter and you won't believe how easy it is. It takes all of 10 minutes and that is prep, cooking and clean-up time, truly.  The secret is the microwave oven. Just like microwave marmalade, lemon curd in the microwave is simple, quick and absolutely delicious.

Here's my recipe, it makes 2 cups.

Six Minute Lemon Butter

3/4 cup castor sugar*
125g butter (real butter please, not margarine)
3 whole eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice

In a deep microwave safe jug beat the eggs and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. An electric beater or stick blender makes this easy, but you can use a whisk, it just takes a little longer. Melt the butter and stir into the egg mixture. Blend in the lemon juice. Place the jug into the microwave and cook for two minutes on high. Stir well.  Cook a further two minutes and stir again. Cook two more minutes, remove from microwave and stir well. The mixture should be thick but still pourable. Pour into sterilised jars, seal and place in the fridge to cool. Once the mixture cools completely it will set into a nice spread. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks (if it lasts that long).

This lemon butter is delicious on toast or spread on scones or pancakes. It also makes a lovely filling for a sponge or a lemon tart or meringue.

*Note:  You can use up to 1 cup of caster sugar, depending on the acidity of the lemons. I like lemony lemon butter so 3/4 cup is more than enough sweetener for my taste but if you like a sweet spread add a little more sugar.

Because it only takes a few minutes to make it's very easy to whip a batch any time you have a couple of spare lemons. Save your pretty jars and make a batch or two to give as edible gifts, I guarantee they'll be well received and as each batch costs under $2 to make (less if you have free lemons and eggs) it's a gift that won't break the budget.

Just another example of a grocery staple that we 21st century homemakers seem to think we have to buy because it's too hard and time consuming to MOO.  If you love lemon butter give it a try. It's much nicer than the bought stuff (for starters it tastes like lemon) and so much cheaper.

 And like I always tell you, if you don't like it you can always go back to your regular brand.

24 September 2011

Going Green with Your Clothing

Are you looking for ways to maintain the wardrobe you have in order to save money? Are you concerned that throwing clothes in the landfill is a colossal waste of resources plus an environmental disaster? Repair what you have, buy what you need at resale shops, and wash your clothing carefully. If you do these things, you will help extend the life of your wardrobe, save money, and help the environment all at the same time.

Each season I go through our wardrobes and cull clothes that are too small or that aren't worn any more. It gives me a chance to see what clothes everyone needs for the coming summer or winter and plenty of time to shop around for those items.  Time to shop around saves my family hundreds of dollars a year on clothing.

The kids have been doing their own shopping since they were 15, before their fifteenth birthday we did it together. They have their clothing allowance and the list of what they need. The firm rule is if I've put it on the list they must buy it before they buy anything else.  That at least assures they have the basics covered and won't blow all their allowance on one windcheater or a single pair of jeans and have nothing else to wear.

I encourage them to look in our local op shops and the market before they look in the shops and often they'll get everything they need (except for underwear) and have plenty of money left over for the end of season sales.  They have become really good at shopping for their clothes and have become very much "green" shoppers.

How you deal with your clothing can make the difference between being green and not being green.

The obvious solution is to donate your unwanted or un-needed clothing but many people don't take the time to donate their unwanted clothing. Instead, when they decide to clean out their wardrobes, they throw the clothing away. And we are not talking about clothing that has been worn down to the threads but items that still have years more life left in them. These clothes end up in the landfill when they could be put to use by a family.

One way that we can give back to the community is through donations. Charities like the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and others collect gently used clothing (and other items) from their donation bins or op shops and sell it for a fraction of the cost. People who need items but can’t afford to pay full price or who recognise the value of a bargain can find great deals in their stores and your unwanted clothing doesn’t end up at the tip, the charities raise much needed cash to keep their benevolence available to whoever needs it.

I’ve noticed that one reason clothing may be discarded is because it has faded. You’d think that in the 21st century dyes would be fade-proof, if not fade resistant. You’ve probably seen that commercial for a particular brand of laundry detergent where the clothing comes out looking new after 40 or 50 washes because they used a formula for bright colors. You don’t need a special powder, at an exorbitant price to keep your clothing looking great (Cheapskates washing powder does that for a fraction of the price). All it takes is simply reading the clothing label to learn how to care for your clothes and keep them looking new for years to come.

Here are a couple simple tips to extend the life of your clothes:
* Wash clothing in cold water. Cold water conserves energy. It's a misconception that warm or hot water will clean clothes better and kill germs. In order for hot water to kill germs it has to reach the boiling point. Your hot water may be hot but it's not that hot. And your washing machine will not heat water that hot, believe me. Cold water and detergent clean clothes and kill germs. Cold water cleans your clothes while preventing colours from bleeding. Warm or hot water will fade your clothes faster, bleed colors and cause the fabric to shrink and deteriorate.

* Dry your washing on the clothesline. Yes, it’s probably a “doh” idea but do you always use the clothesline? It works to save energy as well as your clothing. The sun and wind is free so you save money. Plus, tumbling your clothes in the dryer, in the heat, with dryer sheets for softness (another waste of money) all adds up to a rough ride for your clothing. And there isn’t a fabric softener around that smells as good as clothes and linens dried in the sunshine.

* Hang clothing inside out to prevent fading and for faster drying.  Seams, hems and pockets will be thoroughly dry when it's time to bring in off the clothesline.

* If you must dry heavy items like jeans, towels or blankets in the clothes dryer, use a clean tennis ball or two to speed up the drying. The tennis balls will fluff the items, keeping larger items like blankets from knotting up into a ball, and will cause the items to dry faster. They'll also act as a softener so you won't need dryer sheets.

* Fix clothing that has rips or torn buttons before it goes into the washing machine. Instead of chucking that nearly new shirt because it got a rip at the seam, fix it. All you need is a needle and thread to patch it up in a jiffy. Most shirts come with extra buttons for the express purpose of replacing one should you lose it. Iron on patches are handy for quick mending jobs and if you're not all that handy with needle and thread then iron-on hemming tape does a very good job. Mending goes a long way to increasing the life of your clothing and reducing the wardrobe bill.
It's easy to think you need more clothes or new clothes, especially when you have washing and ironing backed up.  Before you buy a single new garment, make sure the washing is up to date, all the ironing is done and everything is put away. Then, if you really need something you know you won't be wasting your money.

And if you want to be really green, you'll check out your local op shops for what you need and bag a bargain.

23 September 2011

Get the Facts and Don't Overbuy

Before going shopping for a new piece of technical equipment or big ticket household items (computer, mobile phone, DVD recorder, vacuum cleaner, washing machine or even a coffee maker), make a list of what you MUST have. Gather the junk mail for a couple of weeks, check prices online and use good old fashioned foot slogging to get all your information together. Then find the price point where you can get what you need but not overbuy.  As you shop collect business cards with the name of the sales assistant you spoke to and the price you were quoted, they will help you haggle a deal when you are ready to buy.

22 September 2011

Spring Clean Your Bathroom Supplies

Once every few months, go through all the items on the shelves and in the cabinets. Do you have things you aren’t using that you thought you would be? Do you have old bottles of shampoo and conditioner that are half empty? To create more space, take these items and either pour them into one bottle (shake to combine), use them for cleaning or throw them away. Shampoo is a great all-purpose cleaner for sinks, baths and showers, floors and walls. Conditioner can be used to wash woolens and diluted as used as fabric softener in the laundry. Soap shards can be dissolved to make liquid handwash or grated and added to your laundry powder.

20 September 2011

Quickie fruit cake

1kg  mixed fruit
600ml chocolate milk
2 1/2 cups SR flour

Soak fruit in chocolate milk overnight. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. Stir self raising flour into fruit and milk. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Pour cake batter into prepared tin. Pat top of tin with wet hands, this helps the cake to rise evenly and without cracks. Place into oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.

19 September 2011

Braided Rugs

You can make colourful and unique braided rugs from scraps of fabrics, just as our great-grandmothers did. Braided rugs could be found next to beds, in front of fires, under the kitchen sink and even by the back door for boot wiping.  They are easy to make and can be a very frugal craft if you use scrap fabrics you have around the house.  Old bed sheets, shirts, dresses, even jeans can be used to make rag rugs. Try to match the weight of your fabrics i.e. don't use a sheet with denim.

Basically you just cut a lot of fabric scraps into 8cm wide strips and hand-sew or machine stitch the strips together at the narrow end to make long lengths of fabric ribbon. Alternatively, tie the strips together using granny knots. Make several of these strips and braid them loosely together. Don't pull the braid tight or your rug will curl up at the edges when you stitch it together. Continue sewing or tying fabric strips to the ends and braiding them. Once you have a very long continuous braid, place it flat on a table and create a coil to make the round rug. Then hand-stitch the coils together with quilting cotton to secure the rug.

You don't have to make rugs. You can use the same processs to make placemats, table runners, doyleys - even seat covers. And your rug doesn't have to be round - you can coil your length of braid into an oval shape if you prefer it.

Braided rag rugs aren't the fastest craft you can do but they are beautiful, practical and cost virtually nothing but your time - the ideal craft for a Cheapskater!

17 September 2011

Simple Steps to Protect Your Identity

Sadly identity theft is becoming more and more common and this age of technology is making it easier and easier for criminals to access personal information that doesn't belong to them.  You don't need to live in fear of someone stealing your identity but you do need to be vigilant.

Carefully review papers you throw out. Shred anything with your name, account
numbers, phone numbers or other information.

Shred or tear up junk mail with pre-approved applications. Criminals can send in the
application with an alternative address and you won't even realize it until it is too late.  Don't have a shredder? Tear your junk mail up and then wrap it in newspaper with the veggie peelings.

Watch for people trying to see or overhear information at banks or ATMs.

Always take your receipt at the ATM and guard your PIN number - never, ever have it written down. Never use obvious dates as your PIN. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries and phone numbers are easy to remember, but how many people really have access to that information about you?

Carry the least amount of personal information in your wallet or purse.

Check your credit report often for suspicious activity.

Review monthly statements and compare receipts. Keep track of credits, also.

Protect your identification information.

16 September 2011

The value of coupons

Coupons are not something we Aussies are not used to, but they are becoming more common and can make a real difference to the total of your grocery (and sometimes other) shopping.  The same rules apply when shopping with coupons as without.

1.Shop with a list and stick to it.
2.Only buy the items/products if you would normally - buying something just because it's cheap with a coupon is a waste of money.
3.Don't be afraid to try other brands - the worst thing that will happen is you don't like the product and will switch back to your regular brand.
4.A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't like it, wouldn't normally buy it or can't use it all in a timely fashion.
5.Just because you have a coupon that will save you money is no reason to overspend - that's not a saving.

15 September 2011

Almost effortless window washing

Spring has brought the sunshine and boy does that show up dirty windows! Winter has certainly made a mess of the windows in our house, indoors and outside. It's time to bite the bullet and get them clean and sparkling again so I've been trawling through the Tip Store looking for an easy way to clean them.  Jeanette Sainsbury's window wash recipe fits the bill perfectly and made window washing quick, easy and cheap.

Jeanette wrote "Just put 2 litres of warm water in a bucket, add 2 drops of eucalyptus oil and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Dunk a chamois into the bucket and squeeze off some of the excess water and wash the window/mirror. Take 2 sheets of newspaper and scrunch them up and wipe the window dry. The vinegar cuts the dirt/grime off the windows and the eucalyptus oil puts a lovely shine on them...crystal clear. No chemicals are used and it's MUCH cheaper than store bought cleaners. You can also fill a spray bottle with some of the mix before using the chamois for spot cleaning; then you simply use it like any other window cleaner and wipe dry with the newspaper. Your windows will sparkle like never before!"

I used a broom on the outside of the windows rather than a chamois because I don't like standing on the ladder and I'm too short to easily reach the top of the windows.  And instead of newspaper I used microfibre cloths to polish them dry.  The windows are positively sparkling and the house looks so much better with all the winter grime gone.

14 September 2011

Stress Free Cooking

I'm sure it's not just me, that everyone longs for stress free cooking, whether it's cooking for the family, yourself or large crowds. For me getting lunches and dinners are the hardest part of my job as a homemaker. We often have extra mouths around the table, so choosing meals that stretch is often my first priority, even before making it look reasonably appetizing or slightly nutritious.

Just those two things can make cooking extremely stressful, and that's when the takeaway temptation is strongest. We all know the damage takeaway can do to a family Spending Plan so here are 10 simple tips to keep your cooking stress free and the takeaway temptation at bay.

1.    Plan ahead

It is important to have a plan ahead of time, whether you are cooking for your family or a large group. Planning ahead keeps you from having to make split-second decisions when you are supposed to be cooking. A simple meal plan on the fridge keeps you focused on the meals you need to prepare and is amazingly de-stressing.

2.    Prep ahead 

Once you have your plan, it is important to begin to prep as soon as possible. Do this as you bring the groceries home. Wash and dry salad greens and bag them up, they’ll be good for at least a week. Grate cheese and flash freeze before bagging and freezing. Chop broccoli and cauliflower into meal sized portions and bag. Wash and dry celery and wrap in newspaper to keep it crisp. Then take all the trimmings and make a veggie stock with them.  Pack meat and poultry in meal sized portions. It may seem like a lot of work but you have to put the groceries away so doing as much as possible now really does save time and energy later on.  When you have busy days and an even busier lifestyle, prior prep work makes for a smooth cooking session.

3.    Don't be overly ambitious 

Just because you think you can pull off a full five course professional meal with one oven and a dog that eats crumbs off the floor, doesn't mean you need to show off your skills every night. Keep your meals simple but tasty and not only will your stress levels be down, but so will the stomach growling of your family.

4.    Time plan 

One of the hardest things to accomplish is getting everything ready on time so it comes out hot, all at once. This is a simple thing to figure out, but many people don’t take the time to think about this ahead of time. Take a look at what you need to cook, how you are going to cook it, (i.e. stove, oven, crock pot) and how long it takes to cook. Once you have those figures, just walk back from the time you are supposed to have dinner on the table in order to figure out when you need to put stuff on or take it off.

5.    Use simple recipes 

Using one pot, or simple recipes that do not call for a mess, can keep your life simple as apple sponge (which also uses one pan). The fewer pans you use, the better off you will be. There will be less to clean up and less you need to worry about finishing at the same time.

6.    Clean as you go 

Not every recipe calls for single pan usage, so if you have to dirty more than one pan, cleaning as you go will reduce stress big time. Keeping your area clean is a major stress reducer, especially once the food is cooked and ready.

7.    Music 

Listening to music is another great way to take the stress out of the kitchen. Studies have shown that music actually helps to calm the system and remove stress. I crank the stereo up when I’m cooking (I apologize to my neighbours) and get stuck into the chopping and mixing and yes, cleaning and the time just flies.

8.    Reduce movements 

While music might take the mental stress out of the picture, reducing your movements will help to take the physical stress off. Grab two bowls, one for rubbish and one for compost, to put on your sink and throw everything in there so you are not walking back and forth to the rubbish or compost bins. Organize your kitchen to help you find things quickly and lower the stress level every time you don’t move.

9.    Delegate 

Stress usually happens because you have too much stuff to do and not enough time to do it. If you have any children, now would be a good time to delegate and distress. Having some people to help you out can reduce stress quickly and efficiently. Even pre-schoolers can grate carrots and stir cake mixes.

10.    Clean out your fridge ahead of time 

Nothing is more stressful than ending a fantastic meal, only to find out there is no room in your fridge for the leftovers. Having a clean fridge will help reduce the after meal stress. A clean fridge means less work for you and less chaos trying to keep the food from spoiling.

By following some, or all, of these simple tricks, you can de-stress your cooking. Grab your knife and cutting board; flip on some tunes and start whipping up a storm of grocery budget friendly culinary treats for your family.

13 September 2011

Truer words have never been spoken......

I came across this quote today. With the world facing yet another GFC, Greece about to be expelled from the EU because of poor money management, France facing bankruptcy and the rest of the world in complete turmoil, I don't think truer words have ever been written.

Add to Me Muffin Mix

This is just a basic muffin recipe. You can add anything you like to make these your own special muffins. Try fresh or frozen berries (try raspberry and white choc chip for a decadent treat), choc chips, nuts or even finely chopped vegetables for delicious savoury morsels. All muffins will be mixed together the same way, just add your additions once the batter is completely mixed. Use a wooden spoon and only mix until the ingredients are just combined and moistened, don't over beat. Bake as directed in this recipe.

2 cups SR flour*
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 egg whites
1 cup skim milk

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Place the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl blend the oil, egg whites and milk with a balloon whisk until blended completely together. Pour into the dry mixture. Mix with that wooden spoon until everything is just moistened. Add any berries, nuts, choc chips etc now, just barely mixing through the batter. Prepare a muffin tin with a non stick cooking spray OR place a muffin paper in each cup. Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a couple of muffins comes out clean.

* You can use half white, half wholemeal SR flour if you wish to.

These muffins are the best morning tea snack and they really keep the after school hungries at bay until dinner time too. You can make them low fat by substituting unsweetened applesauce (homemade or canned) for the oil, just use the same quantity. You won't notice any difference in texture, flavour or moistness I promise.

08 September 2011

Smells as Sweet as it Sounds

Today I am challenging you to a task. Today you are going to clean your phone/s. Sure you may swipe them with a duster occasionally, but they get so grimy and grungy.  Take a cotton bud and dip it in some white vinegar. Then use it to clean all the crevices and cracks on the phone.  Don't forget to wipe around the buttons.  Next take a soft cloth and pour a few drops of your favourite essential oil onto it. I love the scent of orange oil, but you may prefer lavender or lemon or any other. Wipe over the phone with the cloth, using it to polish as you wipe. Next time you use the phone it will not only be delightfully clean but it will smell divine.

06 September 2011

Did you hear? Cath's had a makeover!

Ha! That caught your attention didn't it?

Sorry to disillusion you but no, I've not had a makeover. Ever.

Apparently I looked extra good on ACA last week. I know this because I've had emails telling me I looked extra good. And my dear mother was asked at bowling if I'd had a makeover because I looked "very nice".  Even my father-in-law commented (thanks Grandad!).

But no, it was just little old me, same as always.  Which begs the question: just how do I usually look?

Perhaps the crew used super dooper extra flattering to cranky older ladies type filters and lights. That's the only thing I can think of. It was a spur of the moment interview too, so I didn't have time to even re-do my makeup. What you saw was my get-everybody-out-the-door-and-to-school-on-time weekday morning face and hair.

I am just me. Not frilly at all, rather plain and conservative. I don't often wear bright colours (although today I am wearing a fushia pink t-shirt). I tend to stick to black, white and beige. Throw in the denim blue from my jeans and that's my colourful wardrobe.

I try to take care of my hair and skin, but I certainly don't spend a fortune on potions and lotions. In fact right now I'm using a day cream and a night cream from Aldi, Covergirl foundation, Avon mascara and Elizabeth Arden lipstick (and it was given to me by my friend Kate who bought it and didn't like the colour).  Sorbolene cream is my favoured cleanser. It's reasonably gentle, gets gunk off, and is cheap.  A two litre bottle is around $8 and lasts for about 10 months!

My hair gets cut every four weeks or so, sometimes it stretches out to six weeks because the best hairdresser in the country, Tracie, only works on Mondays. And some Mondays I just don't have time to get to the salon to get my hair cut.  I buy the cheapest shampoo I can find and use white vinegar as a rinse. The old adage "squeaky clean" certainly is true when vinegar is your conditioner.

Every now and then I treat myself to a homemade face mask.  I mix a little mashed avocado with a teaspoon each of  honey, natural yoghurt and lemon juice.  It's just lovely (and a great way to use up avocado) and leaves your skin soft and moisturised. If you try it leave it on for about 10 minutes and then rinse off with cool water. 

I'm telling you this because I had a birthday last January, a rather significant one, in that I turned 50. Which is supposed to be the new 30. Except that I don't want to be 30 again - I've lived the last 20 years with it's ups and downs and round-abouts and once was enough. I like being 50. It doesn't feel any older than 49 did last December.

So why am I so perturbed? Well on top of the lovely comments I had an editor wanting me to take my glasses off (doesn't she realise I'll be blinder than the proverbial bat without them?) and wear something a little more  "youthful and glamorous" than my usual shirt and jacket for a photo shoot.  She suggested I also wear something colourful, to look more successful.

Before she'd finished the first sentence I started to feel old and frumpy, and not worthy of having my photo taken. And then I realised this shoot is to show the world how I live (and look) the Cheapskates way. Now I don't think I look too bad for my age (is this a case of 'vanity, thy name is Cath?'), there are a few wrinkles and more than a few grey hairs but it's all genuine, one-of-a-kind material. It may not be her version of youthful and glamorous (or colourful) but it's the way I look.  And if the compliments from the last few days are anything to go by, I'm looking better than ever.

It's fun and laughter and love and hard work and some not so hard work and non-stop  living. It's who I am and what I am: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, Cheapskate. My hair, my clothes and my glasses are all a part of me.  Sometimes my eyes are bright, that could be good health or it could be tears. And sometimes my hair is messed up, that could be that it hasn't been "done" or that I've been busy working on the website, running my fingers through it. And sometimes my clothes are daggy and  old. That's usually because I've been working in the garden or cleaning the house or washing the car.

Don't be misled, I love clothes and shoes and handbags. Attractive jewellery always catches my eye. I'm even fond of hats. And I love labels, and have more than a few in my wardrobe; a wardrobe that is full to overflowing with my clothes, shoes, handbags and hats.

But I'm realistic enough to know that I only need one or two good suits at the most.  And the one formal dress I own (which is a designer label, bought on sale direct from the designer) is a classic style and colour. It was elegant and stylish ten years ago when I bought it and it will still look elegant in ten years time (and hopefully I'll still fit into it!).

My suits are black, grey and navy blue. Why? I know they're boring colours but they are a great base for other colours, they don't show the dirt (OK, I'm clutching at straws with this one), they are slimming (now I'm clutching frantically), they don't date and always look smart.

I like tailored dresses, trousers and jackets for work and jeans for around the house and yard. I prefer natural fibres and love to wear linen, even with the creases.

I buy good quality, brand name shoes when they are on sale (I love David Jones' Boxing Day sale for shoes) or direct from the factory. And I look after them. They are cleaned regularly and stored carefully in their boxes. My boots are stuffed with pool noodles to keep them in shape. Again I tend to go for classic styles and colours and I can wear them for years.

The perception that a Cheapskate gets around in daggy, dirty, old tracky dacks, with unkempt hair, grungy fingernails and worn shoes is just plain wrong.

I've met hundreds of Cheapskates since August 1995 and I can tell you that each and every one of them was beautifully groomed and attired,  and proud of their Cheapskates style wardrobes.

So I have made a decision. I am not going to change who or what I am just for a photo or a compliment  (although I'll always accept them gracefully). It wouldn't be me and it wouldn't be real.

I don't want or need a makeover.

I am just me, I am happy and I am real .  Don't believe me?  Well if you pinch me I bet I yell!

PS:  I cancelled the interview and the photo shoot. I don't need a fake story with fake pictures to show the world just how great the Cheapskates way is.

Shirley's Six Layer Casserole

My friend Shirl is a fabulous budget cook. Meals at her home are always mouth-watering and delicious, she very rarely has leftovers!  This is one of her favourite  "bring a plate" dishes and it's always one of the first to go at get togethers. It's so simple, but the flavours go together perfectly. Try it, you'll understand why after the first mouthful.

500g mince beef
4 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups celery, sliced
2 large onions, diced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 green capsicum, diced
2 tins diced tomatoes

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease a large casserole dish.  Place potatoes in the bottom of the casserole. Add the layer of celery. Add the layer of mince. Add the layer of onions. Add the capsicum. Pour the tomatoes over the mixture.  Sprinkle with ground black pepper. Place into oven and bake 2 hours. Check after 1 1/2 hours and if top is browning, cover with foil and continue cooking for 30 minutes.

05 September 2011

Cheapskates Anti-static Spray

There is nothing more annoying than clothing that clings and sticks (usually in all the wrong places) when it's not supposed to.  You can buy anti-static sprays to relieve the problem, or you can make your own. It's simple, cheap and takes around 30 seconds to mix and costs approximately 50 cents a batch. I make a batch and pour it into two small spray bottles I recycled. I keep one in my handbag and one in the bathroom, ready to use when needed.

Anti-Static Spray
1/4 cup liquid fabric softener (ready to use, not the concentrate)
1/4 cup ammonia (clear, not cloudy)
2 cups cool water

Mix well and store in a spray bottle.  To use, lightly spritz clothing with the spray.

01 September 2011

Mindless relaxation pays off

While you're sitting of an evening, watching TV, use the time to tackle some of those annoying little chores you don't have time to do during the day. Sew on missing buttons, take up the hem that's come down, write the envelopes for cards and bills, clean out your purse.  These chores are perfect for doing of an evening because they are almost automatic, letting you relax while you are doing them. And getting them done in front of the TV saves a lot of frustration and angst in the morning as well as money. When you do these things yourself you don't need to pay someone else to do them for you. Leave that for the things you really can't do!