30 April 2014

Start with Something Simple


Saving money is easy in theory. You just stop spending and bank that money. But in practise it can be hard, especially if you are new to the concept of Spending Plans and saving.  Cheapskater Helen has come up with a way she can have something she loves and save money without feeling deprived or that it's too hard.

"I struggle to save money so I’ve started with something really basic. I only go to coffee shops who supply the daily newspapers and up-to-date magazines. I save $8.80 on newspapers alone and a lot on magazines. This together with a Coffee Club voucher system means I'm also saving about $4.50 a week on my coffees. Total saving just on these two things alone $13.30 a week! ($691.60 a year!)."
Contributed by Helen, Mosman


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29 April 2014

Easy Chicken & Parmesan Risotto

This recipe is from the Cheapskates $2 Dinners e-book.

Ingredients:
50g unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 chicken breast fillets, cut into small dice
2 cups  arborio rice
1.5L chicken stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
100g roasted capsicum, thickly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
Olive oil, to drizzle

Method:
Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius and place a 5-litre casserole dish in oven to heat.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes until it starts to colour, then add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add stock and bring to the boil, then pour everything into the preheated casserole dish. Cover tightly with a lid or foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and give everything a good stir, then cover again and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. By this time all liquid should have been absorbed. If it hasn't return to the oven, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and gently stir through the parmesan, capsicum and basil, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with extra parmesan and basil, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve on a bed of baby spinach if liked.



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28 April 2014

Off-cuts Grow into Beautiful Lawn and Save 90%!



Cheapskaters are not only thrifty, they are creative too. Jo N. saved herself $300 when she re-turfed her lawn with off-cuts and creatively placing them around the yard.

"I decided to do some major work to our back yard, pulling garden beds apart and cutting down several trees. After all this I was left with lots of dirt and not a great deal of grass. I wanted to turf, but enquiries came back with quotes of $200 to about $400. I finally found a place that was willing to sell me off-cuts, a trailer load - which I loaded myself - for $30. They were odd shapes and different sizes, but I puzzled them together and covered most of the area I needed to. For parts of the yard that were used less I put down the off-cuts but left spaces between them. Grass grows like yeast, so it didn't take long for them all to grow out and join each other and several months on we can no longer see the lines between the off-cuts and we have a beautifully grassed back yard. I'm quite happy to use other people's dregs for 10% of the full price!"

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25 April 2014

How to Save Loads of Money by Swapping Services

The swapping or exchange of services and/or goods in exchange for equal services and/or goods is the age-old system known as bartering. Bartering is the very earliest form of trade, carried on before money of any kind was ever invented. It's still as popular today, in 2014, as it was centuries ago.

Exchanging goods and services for equal and like goods and services is an excellent way to save money. You are probably already bartering and not even aware of it. Has someone given you jars to make jam and you've paid them in a jar or two of the finished product? Have you swapped silverbeet for tomatoes with a neighbour? Perhaps you have chickens and swap the excess eggs with a friend who bakes beautiful cakes? Or maybe you bake delicious bread and swap it with a friend in exchange for some small mending tasks? Wayne swaps small repair jobs in exchange for materials for his hobbies.

There is a bevy of ways that you can exchange goods and services without ever having to put your hand in your pockets.

1. Basic activities of daily life – Perhaps you have a colleague who doesn't have a car. You could offer to drive him or her to and from work each day. Aside from obviously splitting the cost of petrol,  in exchange for the added wear and tear on the car, you can exchange a service such as cooking or cleaning. This will offer you the benefit of more time and more time almost always equates to more money.

2. Free Rent – If you are renting, try to find a place to live where you can rent just a room or two. An elderly person living alone may be in need of services such as lawn mowing or gardening. If this is the case, you may rightfully ask for a steep discount on the rent in exchange for services rendered. If this person has to pay a gardener or cleaner, they can offset the cost by offering you a discount of the same and equal value off your monthly rent. Steph and her husband "rented" two rooms from an elderly family friend for three years in exchange for cleaning and lawn mowing while they saved every cent they could find for their home deposit. Over the three years they were able to save a 50% deposit, cutting their mortgage considerably and giving them instant equity in their new family home.

3. Share your talents and abilities – If you are handy with tools or happen to be an expert cook, you will be amazed at the many opportunities to exchange your services for services that you may need. There is never a shortage of the need for a handyman’s skills. People would rather offer a friend, neighbour or relative a swap in exchange for some minor repairs than to call a handyman or serviceman who will charge them two or three times as much. Jan is a hairdresser and a stay-at-home mum with two little girls who she loves to dress stylishly. She cuts and styles a friend's hair in exchange for dressmaking for the girls. James is an electrician who swaps car services with a mechanic friend - a win-win for them both. James gets a qualified mechanic to work on his car and his friend gets a qualified electrician to fix small electrical jobs on the house he is renovating.

These are only a few ways to use bartering to save loads of money by exchanging services. Think about your skills and talents and what you need. Then think about the skills and talents your friends and family have, and if they would suit your needs. Do they perhaps need your skills? If so then you have the perfect opportunity to set up a barter and keep your cash in the bank.

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23 April 2014

Grow Your Own



There's no shame in wanting to save money on your monthly expenses. And, because of the current state of the economy, flashing your frugality is actually considered to be cool - something we Cheapskaters have known for a long, long time! Plus, the more money you save on necessities, the more money you can spend on what you really want!

Everyone is aware of the obvious money-saving ideas, such as taking lunch to work or school and walking or riding your bike instead of driving, but you could save much more by taking an unconventional approach on your expenses.

Groceries are getting very expensive. And, while shopping the specials  may save you money, basic fruits and vegetables rarely go on sale. If you make the effort to grow these items yourself, you stand to save thousands of dollars each year on groceries without having to wait for a special.

If you haven't already, start a vegetable and herb garden in your backyard. Alternatively, you could grow them just as well in decorative pots on your patio. There are also miniature varieties of fruit trees, which can provide you mounds of fresh fruit in a small space.

Even if you choose to grow just one vegetable, such as lettuce or onions or silverbeet, it's one less $3 purchase at the greengrocer week. In fact, if you save $3 a week on just one vegetable, you can save $156 per year. Growing a variety can save you at least $10 per week, or $520 per year, on fresh produce.

That's an extra $520 in your bank account at the end of the year. And who couldn't use an extra $520!

Not sure where to start? Log in to the Member's Centre and check out these stories:

Zucchinis and Zinnias

Growing Your Own Greens in a Home Garden

Veggies Galore!


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21 April 2014

MOO Coconut Shampoo


I've been asked a few times for a MOO shampoo, one that really works. One that not only cleans but leaves hair soft, shiny and manageable. Well this MOO shampoo does all that. Hannah has long hair, below her shoulders, while I keep mine short, and we are both really happy with the results.

I had to laugh when I asked the boys what they thought of it though - as far as they're concerned shampoo is shampoo - as long as it "doesn't make our hair fall out" they're happy!

You will need:
¼ cup coconut milk
1/3 cup of liquid castile soap
1 tablespoon of vitamin E, olive or almond oil
10 – 20 drops of your favourite pure essential oil

Step 1. Combine all ingredients in a shampoo bottle or jar and shake well to mix.

To use wet your hair thoroughly. Pour about 5ml (1 teaspoon) of the shampoo into your hand and massage through your hair. Rinse thoroughly with warm water. You can use a cider vinegar rinse to condition of you wish to. Dry and style as you normally would.

This mixture will last up to one month; just remember to shake it well before you use it.

Notes: I use Dr. Bronner's castile soap. It's available at health food shops and some chemists.



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18 April 2014

Common Grocery Budget Blunders


In the olden days, back before the days of supermarkets, it was common to visit the grocer, butcher and greengrocer three, four or even five times a week to pick up what was needed for just that day and maybe the next. Those were the days when more backyards than not had substantial veggie gardens, convenience foods were not even thought of and every meal was cooked from scratch, using basic ingredients.

Then supermarkets took over and we started dashing in four or five times a week to pick up just a few things. It was time consuming, but we didn't notice as we were used to shopping that way. We also  didn't notice just how much damage it was doing to our budgets, the plan to make us part with more and more of our hard earned cash was insidious.

These days, there are better options than trusting our grocery budget to supermarkets. And with food prices rising every week, even the smallest increase or mistake at the checkout can show up in big red figures on our budgets.

There are some simple things you can do to avoid being caught by the grocery budget blunders, and you'll notice the savings almost immediately.

Blunder No. 1: BRAND LOYALTY. 

Switching from name brands to generic brands can cut your grocery bill by 40% - 60% without sacrificing quality. In many cases the generic brands contained the name-brand product but with a different label and a lower price. Remember the name brands have to work the high cost of marketing and advertising into the cost of the item.  It doesn't hurt to try the generic equivalent of your favourite brand name and if you don't like it you can always switch back. But it does pay to switch for the things you do like, try it and see.

Blunder No. 2: UNIT PRICE BLINDNESS. 

Most supermarkets and some budget department stores  post labels on the shelf that show the item's price and the price per unit—per 100g, per serving, per portion and so forth. Don't assume the larger size is automatically the better deal. Often it's not, but you won't know that if you don't watch the price per unit. Carry your Pricebook and a small calculator with you and you won't get caught out.

Blunder No. 3: GIVING IN TO TEMPTATION. 

There's a reason that everyday staples like milk and bread are at the back side of the supermarket. It makes picking up just a bottle of milk and a loaf bread a challenge because you will pass by so many opportunities to pick up other stuff on the way to the milk: the bakery (and doesn't it smell great), the deli with its delectable displays, and aisles full of yummy snacks, biscuits and drinks, etc. All of these temptations are placed deliberately so you are bombarded with them on the way to the milk cabinet. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself picking up all kinds of things you hadn't planned to buy. Everything about a supermarket is designed to facilitate impulse buying. Give yourself a head start by not picking up a basket - if you're only buying a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread you don't need a basket. No basket means nowhere to put those impulse buys and more money in your purse.

Blunder No. 4: LACK OF A PLAN. 

Grocery shopping without a list is risky. Your memory isn't as good as you might think. Without a plan you'll buy things because you "might need them" or "because we'll use it anyway" and undoubtedly you'll find yourself coming back for what you forgot—and that starts the mistakes all over again.  Write up a shopping list before you leave home and then stick to it as you shop. And no aisle cruising either - if the aisle doesn't hold an item on your list you can skip it.

Blunder No. 5: CHECKOUT DAZE. 

If you want to save money, keep a close eye on the scanner at the checkout. If the store you shop at adheres to the Supermarket Scanner Code of Practise then watching for errors could put money back into your pocket if your items scan at more than the advertised price.  You also need to watch that each item is scanned only once and that any special deal prices (i.e. buy two get one free etc) are applied to your bill. It pays to check your receipt before you leave the store and get any errors corrected straight away.

Blunder No. 6: SHOPPING WITH THE KIDS.  

Grocery shopping requires concentration: you need to look for the items on your shopping list, compare prices of similar products to get the best price, look for any extra unadvertised specials, then compare unit prices and then to top it off you have to be extra vigilant at the checkout. If you have your children with you this is almost impossible. I know it's hard to shop without them, but try. It will be faster, cheaper and a lot more pleasant if you don't have to keep one eye on the kids and the other on your grocery list.




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16 April 2014

Cut Heating Costs by up to 25% by Blocking Drafts


We have enjoyed a long summer, but the nights are getting cool and it won't belong before winter is here complete with cold winds. Did you know that heating your home accounts for around 40% of your heating bills? And that drafts are responsible for more than half that cost - up to 25% of your total heating bill? You could be throwing your money to the wind.

Before winter arrives, take some time to walk around your home to find any drafts.
First, walk through your home evaluating obvious places where drafts can let in cold and let out energy. When your home is draft-free, you can rest easy knowing you are doing your best to keep your family warm while saving money at the same time.

Check for drafty areas by looking at the space between the skirting board and the edge of the floor. Take a look at your fireplace  if you have one to see how much energy is escaping through improperly sealed spaces. Look at ducted heating and cooling vents - are they leaking air? Some of the more common areas to check are:
  • window frames
  • weather stripping around doors and windows
  • attic hatches
  • patio doors
  • air conditioners that have been installed in windows or walls. 
Pipes, tubing, electrical outlets, seals around your foundation and even a doggy door can allow unwanted cold air in while letting heat escape. Caulking and weather stripping need to be replaced in order to be effective in saving energy.

Since windows and doors are the biggest culprits for air leaks, you may want to install low-cost foam tape found at your local hardware store over the windows. You can also buy draft blocks for the bottom of your external doors or use a door sausage just like Grandma did.

Keep the cold air out and the warm air in and watch your power bill shrink.



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15 April 2014

It’s not Delivery, It’s Homemade


How many times have we opted for fast food for lunch or dinner instead of cooking? There’s no telling how much money we’ve spent on that one meal that easily becomes a few (or more) meals a week. Instead of picking up that telephone and calling for delivery pizza, get the family together and make one at home.

For the last couple of months we've had MOO Pizza on the menu every Thursday night. My family loves pizza, but to buy it costs almost half my weekly grocery budget, even buying from the local "budget" pizzeria. It's so easy to make pizza at home, and it's fast too - you can have a couple of delicious MOO pizzas ready to serve in less time than it takes to get them delivered, especially on a Thursday night.

Making pizza has become a great new family tradition for us.  We chose Thursday because it's a busy day for everyone in the household and a simple, easy and cheap dinner is always welcome.

For your MOO pizza meal, choose a day of the week when everyone can get together and enjoy the experience. You can even pretend that you are in a real Italian eatery and go all out by decorating the dining room table to resemble a pizzeria.

The best thing about homemade pizza is picking the toppings. Since it is your personal pizza, you can have as many different toppings as your heart desires. It’s a chance to raid the cabinets and the fridge to find good stuff to top your creation.

How will you prepare the crust? Now, this step can be easy or an adventure. If you wimp out and go easy, you can use an already prepared crust from the supermarket, they cost about $2.20 each, or you can buy frozen pizza bases ready to use.

But if you want to treat the family to a high time of flour and dough, whip up a batch (or two or three) of Penny Pinching pizza crust (and you'll get three for the price of one). With your own, the size of the pizza can be customized for each person in the family.

When the dough is ready, shape it into a circle of appropriate size. A handy tip is to create a rim on the dough so that the sauce won’t bubble over onto the oven rack. Now comes the fun part.  The dough is ready to be dressed to the hilt.

For the sauce, we’ll let you slide and use the store bought kind if you wish. Spread the sauce over the dough and be sure to cover it to the rim. Next, top the pizza sauce with your favourite toppings, then a sprinkling of cheese. It’s more economical to purchase a block of cheese and use a grater to slice it for pizza toppings. Those already shredded bags have only two or three cups in each which is not going to go the distance for an entire family. Besides, fresh cheese melts better.

Our favourite toppings are salami, shredded ham, shredded cooked chicken, diced onion, capsicum, olives, jalapenos, mushrooms and pineapple, oregano, baby spinach, MOO ricotta and occasionally egg. Everyone has their favourites and as they make their own they can make them just the way they like them.

We have pizza stones that bake the perfect pizza crust. They'll go in the oven and the barbecue. To keep the pizzas from sticking to the stones I sprinkle them with a little polenta, about two teaspoons. We also use baking trays, and they are lined with baking paper (that I wipe over and re-use if it's not too messy).

If you have at least two baking stones or pizza trays, you can make more than one at a time. Everyone can help to clean up while you wait for dinner to be ready. When the timer goes off, Bon ApetÍt!

And if there are leftovers, enjoy them tomorrow morning for breakfast!

Penny Pinching Pan Pizza

Ingredients:
2 cups plain flour – 30c
2 tbsp olive oil – 30c
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp dry yeast – 5c
1 tsp sugar – 1c

Method:
Dissolve the sugar in ¼ cup of the warm water and then add the yeast. Put aside to ferment – about 5 minutes.

Process the flour and oil for a few seconds until it becomes crumbly. Add the yeast mixture and process. Slowly pour in the remaining ¾ cup water. Process until a dough ball forms. Continue processing for 30 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board, cover with a damp tea towel and let it sit for 10 minutes.

At this point you can freeze the dough in a ball to use later on or cover with a damp tea towel and let it sit for 10 minutes before pressing into a Swiss roll tin, using the palm of your hand. Try not to roll it with a rolling pin (or Marmite jar) as it toughens the dough.

Top with your favourite pizza toppings (we love tomato sauce, oregano and grated cheese and tomato sauce, slice mushrooms, pineapple pieces, sliced onion and olives topped with grated cheese). Bake in a hot oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the base is browned and the topping is bubbling nicely.

Some suggested toppings:
Tomato sauce, oregano and grated cheese – 25c, 1c, 90c
Tomato sauce, sliced mushrooms, sliced capsicum, pineapple pieces, sliced onions, slice olives and grated cheese
Tomato sauce, shredded chicken, pineapple and cheese
Tomato sauce, shredded ham and beaten egg


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14 April 2014

An Easter Treat in a Cone


Here is an idea to vamp up Easter and give a new look treat to friends and family that you are able to put your own twist on!

You will need:
Ice cream cones or waffle cones
Chocolate Easter ornaments
Lollies of your choosing
Mini chocolate eggs
Cellophane
Curling ribbon


Step 1. Fill your cone ¾ of the way full with your lollies.


Step 2. Put your chocolate on top of the lollies (you can put more lollies around it to help stabilize it).


Step 3. Next you take your mini eggs and fill the cone the rest of the way.


Step 4. Wrap your cones in cellophane and tie with curling ribbon so they look like a “carrot”.

Note: You may need help with making these so you can use an ice cream cone holder or another person to hold them for you.

All of this will cost you around $1.10 - $1.20 per cone.

11 April 2014

Storage Areas in Really Small Spaces


Everyone is all too familiar with bulky plastic containers that we continue to move from one place to another. First we put them in the garage and then they wind up in the laundry only to end up in a bedroom or the hallway or some other space that isn't really convenient.

The truth of the matter is that these bulky storage containers are good for certain things, but for the most part not for our every day lives. A really good storage system is necessary for every room of the house – not just to overstuff and trip over later, but to control the clutter and keep our lives organized.

One of the hardest places for storage is in the bedroom. Typically, you will find only one wardrobe with a “his” and “hers” side. And we all know that is never enough.

Placing small dividers in top drawers is a great way to store more for your space. Having these dividers forces you to fold your personals in a smaller way and fit more.

Under the bed is another great way to store things like winter jumpers or out-of-season items. You can fit a variety of shapes or sizes and even one long under the bed storage container.

An often forgotten space ideal for storage is the top of a dressing table or chest of drawers. By having individual compartmentalized containers on top of your dressing table, you'll alleviate tons of clutter and have everything you need from makeup to jewellry at your fingertips.

The headboard to your bed can also be a really cool place for storage, even if it is just for your books, magazines, or papers. You can build or create a headboard that can hide all that messy paperwork. Those headboards with built-in bookshelves and reading lamps that were so popular in the 1950s are making an updated and very stylish comeback, and for good reason - they work!

If you have stairs leading up to your bedrooms you have storage space just waiting to be put to use. Get the advice of a professional carpenter. This particular craftsman may direct you to toward incorporating storage underneath the stairs where none existed before or even underneath each individual stair. While this may seem like an expense at first, it will never need revisiting and will last forever. It is an investment well worth investigating. The space under the stairs makes an excellent larder or linen press, or even a small library, depending on how you utilise it.

When we think storage in the garage, we think shelving, or cubby space. Looking up to the ceiling is one of the best storage spaces for really small spaces. Most people overlook how much room they have for storage up in their garages. By creating storage space in the ceiling of the garage, you can store those seasonal items such as your Christmas tree easily and effectively.

In our garage Wayne has rigged up a pulley system and a couple of platforms. We store our camping gear on one and things we don't use regularly but want to keep on the other one. They're easy to pull up and down when we need to and they make great use of otherwise wasted space.

With a little ingenuity, you will find storage spaces for really small spaces. Using every centimetre of space will help you keep your home clutter-free.


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10 April 2014

Making Your Home Green for a New Baby


Many women go through what is known as the “nesting stage” just before baby is born, I did, going into a cleaning frenzy before each baby. The best way to travel through this phase of cleaning and preparing for baby is to do it the all-natural way.

There are so many homemade cleaning products that you can use on your home, that going green for a healthy baby is a wise choice indeed. Not only is it good for your newborn it is also great for you and your unborn baby to clean with all-natural ingredients.

You can use many ingredients in your home for cleaning.

· Vinegar
· Lemon Juice
· Bicarbonate Soda
· Borax
· Microfibre cloths instead of paper towels
· Laundry soap
· Washing Soda

I've left essential oils off that list because not all essential oils are safe for pregnant women or newborns. Check with your doctor before you use any essential oils, for cleaning or any other purpose while pregnant.

Before AJ was born our family doctor told me I'd have to lower my standards and let the house get a little dusty and the baby crawl on the floor and play in the dirt or he'd never build up immunity to common germs.  He suggested I start by ditching the bleaches and disinfectants I used in cleaning.

One of the best ways to green your home is to use good old-fashioned common sense. Hot water and soap does wonders for hand washing, cleaning dishes, benches, baths, tables, highchairs and even floors. It is not necessary to sterilize your hands with antibacterial soaps and liquids. Some of these contain many unnecessary ingredients that you do not want to handle your baby with after using.

Laundry detergents that contain many fragrances do smell nice, but can have added chemicals that are not good for baby. Making your own is a great way to get clothes clean and keep baby safe while going green.

Make sure to stay away from chemical-laden cleaners. You may think you are doing the right thing, but more chemicals are not better. Buy all natural if you don't want to make your own.

And lastly, look at the heating and cooling system in your home. It is always a good idea to have your vents and ducts cleaned, but it is even more important to have them done before baby is born. Dirty vents and ducts can allow toxins into the air.

Making sure that your heating system is up and running and that your flue is cleaned out and working properly are essential to keeping your heating system running effectively, saving energy, but possibly also saving lives.

By switching a few chemical based cleaners for safer, green cleaners you can ensure that you have a green home for your new little baby.


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09 April 2014

Control Your Day to Day Finances and Get Out of Debt


Every day I'm told that there's no wriggle room in the budget, there's just nothing else to be trimmed for saving or debt repayment or even paying regular bills.

If you really want to save money, and time, and energy then you need to take control of your day to day finances - all of them, not just the big bills but all the little expenses you let slip by.

1.  Quit playing the lottery. You may think buying a $7.20 lotto ticket each is a treat you can afford, but that $7.20 a week adds up to $374.40 a year - more than a month's groceries if you're a part of the $300 a month Food Challenge!

2.  Pay off those credit cards to get away from the interest payments. Go back and look at the Payment Push outline, then start pushing those payments towards your debt. Don't dawdle over debt repayment, it is costing you big time.

3.  Put yourself on an allowance.  Everyone needs a little pin or mad money that they can spend any way they choose. Even $5 a week will buy a magazine or a coffee or can be saved up for something you really want. It's yours, you don't need to answer to anyone when you spend it.

4.  Keep a spending record. Jot down every cent you spend in a small notebook you can carry on you. I can't stress this enough. Track your spending. You need an accurate record of where your money is going and the only way to get that record is to write down every cent you spend along with the what, when and how (cash, eftpos, credit card).

5.  Do not carry emergency cash around with you. In theory it sounds good but it's too big a temptation.

6.  Pick a minimum amount to have in your savings account and make that the "zero" line. This gives you a buffer to use for emergencies until you get a fully funded emergency fund.

7.  Forget using ATMs if you are charged a fee. Most banks have reciprocal agreements with other banks, check to see which ATMs you can use fee free.

8.  If you still use a cheque account, make sure you keep a sufficient amount in it to avoid fees - even better switch to a fee free account. Go to your bank and speak to a customer service officer, they'll be able to help you and get it set up in just a few minutes.

9. Look for bank accounts that pay interest on your money and then use them.

10. Have your pay direct deposited so you can automatically have part of it put into your savings account.

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08 April 2014

Fudgy Date Brownies (Gluten-Free)


Sometimes you want a sweet treat that is actually good for you, and these brownies are just the thing.

Using dates and honey instead of sugar and almond meal instead of flour they are dense and moist and so delicious it will be hard to believe they are actually a healthy treat.

Fudgy Date Brownies

Ingredients: 
1 cup pitted Medjool dates
3/4 cup hot water
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt

Method: 
Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.  Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Pour the hot water over the dates in a bowl and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Drain the water from the dates and place the dates in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Process the dates until they are smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the almond flour, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla and sea salt to the food processor or blender. Process again until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes, and allow to cool before cutting.  Cut brownies into 16 square pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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07 April 2014

Chocolate Easter Egg Nests


Easter is not too far off, although with all the chocolate, Easter eggs and other paraphernalia in the shops you'd think it was right now.

It doesn't hurt to be a little organized (although I still think hot cross buns on Boxing Day is way over the top) and plan any treats you intend to indulge in early. Each year Hannah makes these little Easter egg nests for our family dinner on Easter Saturday, and each year everyone enjoys them.

They are really quick and simple to make, and don't cost a fortune, especially if you buy the chocolate on sale (and it's on sale regularly in the lead-up to Easter).

To jazz things up a bit she sometimes uses fruit and nut or hazel nut chocolate instead of the plain milk chocolate, it really depends on what chocolate is on sale when we do the shopping.

Chocolate Easter Egg Nests

Ingredients:
200g milk chocolate
200g dark chocolate
100g shredded coconut
40 mini chocolate Easter eggs - solid chocolate or filled or candy eggs, whatever you like

Method:
Break up all the chocolate and place it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool slightly. Add the coconut and stir to combine.


On a large sheet of baking paper drop spoonsful of the mixture about 7cm in diameter. Use the back of a metal spoon to make a small dent in the centre of each nest, where the eggs will sit. Cool completely, then refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Just before serving, fill the nests with eggs.

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