29 July 2019

Happiness Homemade 26th April 2018

Last weekend Australian Butcher Store had regular mince for $3.99/kg. Now this is the cheapest it has been for years, so of course I thought about it, checked the slush fund and the meat fund and toodled off armed with cooler bags, Hannah and Thomas (they do the heavy lifting for me ). Twenty minutes and $109 later we left with beef ribs, mince and chicken filets (they were down to $5.99/kg), enough meat to make 58 meals. That brings them down to well under my $5 per meal meat price, averaging just $1.87 per meal.

Now, before you cringe and think we're not eating enough meat, you need to know what meals I made with what I had, and understand how the meat component was stretched for each meal. Protein comes from the meat (obviously) but also from the ingredients used as "stretchers".

I made pasta sauce, taco sauce, hamburgers, porcupines and meatballs from the mince.

I made pie filling, enchilada filling, chicken schnitzels, apricot chicken, satay chicken and curried chicken.

Adding extra veggies, baked beans, black beans, oats, rice or TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein - from health food stores), depending on what I made, stretched the recipes, giving extra meals.

The ribs were given a dry rub and put into the fridge overnight, then on Monday morning they went into the slow cooker with barbecue sauce and cooked on low for nine hours (it was meant to be eight hours, but I was busy!). They went under the grill for a few minutes to caramelise the sauce, then into the fridge to cool. I packed and sealed them on Tuesday morning, before putting them into the freezer.

Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting wrote earlier this year about using our "handmaidens" to their full potential. Well, on Sunday afternoon my handmaidens, or rather my pressure cooker, slow cooker, food processer, vacuum sealer and electric frying pan all had a good workout.

Everyone pitched in with peeling veggies, chopping chicken, making bags for the vacuum sealer and cleaning up, so all the cooking was done in just a couple of hours. Making use of the appliances in the kitchen, getting all these meals prepared was a breeze. Some of these appliances may not be used every week, but they are used regularly and turn big jobs into manageable tasks.

Cleaning up was a breeze; I make it a habit to clean as I go, so the sink is always full of hot soapy water for washing up, bread boards, knives and benches are cleaned between each step, rubbish is taken out as soon as the bin is full (rubbish to the bin, veggie peelings etc. to the compost). This means that as soon as the last bag goes into the freezer, the cooking session is over and I can relax, no messy kitchen to clean up.

Everything was portioned into meal sizes, including meals for just two and three for while we're away, and then neatly stacked in the freezers.

Bulk cooking is a fabulous way to fill the freezer with ready-made meals so you don't need to cook every night. You don’t need to have a marathon cooking session like I did on Sunday, simply double whatever you're cooking tonight and put half in the freezer for later. Do this every night this week and you have seven ready-to-eat dinners in the freezer. Do it for a month and you can skip a month of cooking!

All you need to prepare are the sides - veggies or salad, and these can be done while the meal is heating. Dinner can be done in under 30 minutes - who needs take-away when it's this easy to eat homemade?

25 July 2019

Be A Collector of Skills

"Be a collector of skills" was a phrase I read recently on a blog I follow (Frugal Measures) and it has stuck in my mind.

As a Cheapskate, my focus is often on saving money, and the many, many ways I can do that without compromising our lifestyle. After all, that's what started me on this journey: the need when disaster struck to stretch our dollars till they screeched so we could maintain our standard of living.

I had to learn to do so many things that were completely foreign to me. I had to develop hobbies I had into full-blown, usable, practical skills, then use those skills to feed us, clothe us, keep us dressed, give us presents and holidays and so much more.

Looking back, I became a collector of skills.

And I'm still collecting skills.

Some of the skills I've collected include:
Pattern making
How to sew on a button
How to take up hems
How to put in a zip
How to work buttonholes by hand
How to work buttonholes by machine
Using an overlocker
Making patterns from ready-made items
Paper making
Card making
Hair cutting
Seed Saving
Pruning fruit trees
Sharpening shears, knives and axes
Firewood collecting (yes, it's a skill - not all wood is good firewood!)
Jam making
Sauce making
Smoking meats
Bread making
Soup making
Making yoghurt
Vinegar making
Fruit growing
Car repairs
Tyre changing
Oil changing
Fuse changing
Soap making
Lotion making
Using essential oils and herbs to make medicines
Cooking over an open fire
Making washing powder
Making laundry soaker
Making window cleaner
Making all-purpose cleaner
Using a haybox cooker
Knowing how to use the chainsaw safely
Knowing how to winch safely
Knowing how to drive in low range in all types of country and weather

Some of the skills I'm working on include:
Making sourdough starter
Pressure canning
Making wicking beds for the garden
Knitting socks

Disaster struck, and at the time it was an absolute disaster.

Almost 25 years on, I can look back and see what a blessing it was (could've done without the "disaster" disguise), and how it has enabled me to care for my family and my home, and extended family, over the years on a sometimes almost miniscule budget, without compromising lifestyle.

The skills picked up over the years have saved us money, time and energy, and formed a collection I am proud to own.

15 July 2019

Make It Monday - Four Cards In 10 Minutes

Greeting cards - birthday, get well, sympathy, new baby, thank you and so on, are expensive.  Even from the $2 shops these days they are, well $2! It used to be you could get five cards for $2, then it was four for $2, then they were $1 each, and now you pay $2 for a very simple, very boring cheap card.

You don't need a lot of special equipment to make cards, and you don't need a lot of fancy papers and stickers and other embellishments.

And best of all, you don't need a lot of time.

In just ten minutes, you can make four beautiful cards, for less than the price of one from a $2 shop. Best of all you can make them to suit the recipient by personalising the greeting, the colour, the embellishment.

To make these four gorgeous cards in under 10 minutes you will need:

4 coloured card blanks
(4) 5-1/4" x 2-1/4"" black cardstock
(4) 5-1/4" x 2" white cardstock
3/4" Circle punch
Small hole punch
Sentiment stamp
Ink pad

Step 1. Take the black cardstock and using the 3/4" circle punch, punch out 7 circles, leaving a narrow border. Punch 5 small dots from the remaining black cardstock.

Step 2. Stick the white cardstock to the black cardstock, being sure to hide the holes.

Step 3. Stick the black and white cardstock to the card base, leaving a narrow border at the top and sides.

Step 4. Lay out the black dots. When you are happy with the pattern, stick them down using tape runner or liquid glue.

Step 5. Stamp your sentiment to the bottom left corner of the card.

Step 6. Stick the small dots to the bottom right of the sentiment.

Repeat for the remaining three cards.

15 January 2019

Knit a Quick and Pretty Basketweave Dishcloth

I have been knitting dish cloths to use as gifts and to include in the cleaning hampers and I used my usual diagonal pattern. I love this pattern because it's quick and easy to knit, and being basic garter stitch it has good scrubbing power without the scratchiness of a nylon scrubby.

But sometimes I get a little bored with the same old, same old. I know - who'd a thought I'd ever get bored! So occasionally I break with habit and try a new pattern. This week it was a simple basket weave and I have to say it looks very nice, especially in the blue and white variegated cotton I used. It will go beautifully with the kitchen chair covers.

It's really easy to knit, so easy even a beginner can do it, no special skill required (other than counting - you can count to five can't you?).

Basket Weave Dish Cloth

Cast on 50 stitches.

Knit 5 rows. This will form the lower border and start the side borders.

Row 1: Knit 5 *Knit 5, purl 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 2 Knit 5 *Purl 5, knit 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 3: As Row 1

Row 4: As Row 2

Row 5: As Row 1

Row 6: Knit 5, *Purl 5, knit 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 7: Knit 5, *Knit 5, purl 5. Repeat from * to last 5 stitches, knit 5.

Row 8: As Row 6

Row 9: As Row 7

Row 10: As Row 6

Repeat last 10 rows four more times, 50 rows in total.

Knit 5 rows. Cast off. Weave ends in.

At the moment I am using 10 ply cotton from Bendigo Woollen Mills and 4mm needles to knit my dishcloths. I buy it online, when the 200g balls are on sale and there is a free shipping offer. A ball makes 4 -5 dishcloths, bringing the price down to between $2 and $2.40.

This pattern knits in a garter stitch border around the dishcloth - it finishes it off nicely rather than just having the "weave" ends as the border.

02 January 2019

Just Do It!

A question that often pops into my inbox is how do I manage to get so much done.

It's no secret: I just do it.

I have a housekeeping schedule that everyone in the family now uses. When the kids were little I did the bulk of the work, but now they do it for me. Without fail, that schedule is followed week in, week out. It doesn't take long, about half an hour a day at the most, but it means that every room in our home is cleaned from top to bottom, including windows, every single week. I don't do spring cleaning - there's no need.

I also have a bill paying schedule that everyone now knows how to use. The kids have adapted it for their own financial responsibilities, and I know that if I'm not able to take care of the bills, then Wayne or one of the kids can do it for me. It takes less than 10 minutes a week. There is no excuse whatever for not staying on top of your bills. If you want to know my bill paying routine, let me know.

Something that helps with keeping on top of things is actually doing them.

Take emptying the dishwasher for instance. It's one of those jobs that seems to get put off until it's time to start loading it again. Seriously it takes less than two minutes for me to unload a FULL dishwasher and wipe over the seals, leaving it ready to re-load throughout the day. Two minutes! I know some folk who spend more time than that thinking about unloading the dishwasher or arguing with someone else to get them to do it. Just do it! Two minutes and it's done. That's a commercial break during your favourite reality TV program!

Another chore that is often put off is folding and putting away the laundry. Just do it! I fold as it comes off the line and I stack the clothes in people. Then I just deliver the stack to the relevant person and they put it away. It takes about 8 - 10 minutes to take the laundry off the line, fold it and deliver it. And then it's done! No more Mt. Fold Me in the family room. No more hunting through piles of crushed clothes for something to wear. Just do it. Ten minutes is less time than most people spend on Facebook of an evening!

Cleaning the kitchen is another job people put off. If you clean as you cook, then after dinner it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to get the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned and tidied again. There's nothing worse than getting up to a dirty kitchen that needs to be cleaned before you can start breakfast. Don't put it off, just do it.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic disease. Since then I've had other health issues, totally unrelated. It's meant that some days it takes all my energy to open my eyes, let alone climb out of bed and face the day.

It would be easy to ignore the things that need to be done, in the hope that I'd have the energy to do them later. But later, they'd be bigger chores and harder work, and I wouldn't be able to tackle them. Doing things as they need to be done, while they are small jobs that only take a few minutes means I get quite a lot done in a day, even with having to rest regularly and spending more time in bed than I ever thought I would.

Some of you work full time. Some of you study. Some work part-time. Some work at home. Some are retired. I know a few of you are also suffering from chronic illness. Some have babies. Some have small children or teenagers. Some live in cities. Some are country based. Some have big homes, small homes, new homes, old homes.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.

It's what we do with them, and how we use them that makes the difference.

Next time you see something that needs to be done, just do it.

And you'll find you get more done in a day than you realised too.

31 December 2018

2018 in Review

I can hardly believe that the end of the year is here. It feels like just a liitle while ago I was making plans for the year, and saying goodbye to 2017.

There have been ups and downs, more ups than downs, triumphs and failures, trips, laughter and tears.

I've made new friends and had fun with old friends.

I've spent more time in hospital than I want to remember, but I'm so grateful we have the health care system we do.

Wayne and I spent 5-1/2 weeks on Cape York in June and July and had a ball. We explored new places, revisited some old favourites and came home with money left over (and trust me, I tried to spend it all, I really did).

We learned that scammers are so convincing and believable that even the most level-headed of people can be conned; that they aren't always online and that the methods they use are so very sophisticated. We also learned a lot about how the AFP are workng to find them and stop them, no matter where they are in the world. And for the first time we learned what it was like to be fearful for our parents personal safety.

We waved goodbye to two of our kids, and welcomed one home. Yes, I was the crazy lady at the airport jumping up and down and shouting "Tom, Tom, over here, Tom, TOM OVER HERE" one day in April.

We moved a couple of steps closer to our retirement dream.

The third Saturday of the month I spent the day in the company of wonderful like-minded women, laughing, talking, sharing and learning as we made greeting cards together. I was able to personally donate 1,047 cards to charity this year, and had a ball making them with what I had on hand.

We were reminded that life is precious, and shouldn't be taken for granted, it can be taken at any time, without warning as we mourned the loss and celebrated the lives of two friends.

Most of all we remembered that family comes first, and when we work together we can face any challenges and get through them intact.

2018 flew by. Perhaps because days were filled to overflowing and I didn't ever have nothing to do. Or perhaps it's just I'm getting older and I've learned that time is precious and not to be wasted. Or perhaps it's that every day is a new adventure to be faced, exciting in its newness.

And now I'm just a few hours away from a brand new year, with new challenges and new adventures and it will all start again.

Happy New Year everyone, may it be a year of blessings and joy for us all.

28 December 2018

Goals for 2019

The end of the year is looming, and as I've looked back over my diary, there are lots of things I had planned that didn't get done, and plenty of things that weren't planned that did.

I guess that's life.

But with a new year, there is a new beginning, and for me, a new list of things I'd like to accomplish in 2019.

Some of them are simple, others will take more planning and effort. I'd love to get to the end of 2019 and have everything on my list crossed off - you'd hear me cheering on the other side of the world.

So here's my list. No particular order, just things that will make our lives easier and happier, that I should be able to accomplish without too much effort. I'll make a separate list of work goals for 2019  soon.

1. Master hot process soap. Cold process has been my go-to for years, but I've never tried hot process. 2019 is the year!

2. Learn to make sour dough starter and master sour dough bread and buns. Another thing I've always intended doing, with yeast becoming expensive (has anyone else noticed the price, or is it just me?), being able to make a sour dough starter and then bake bread will save us a little money. I've been reading up on Annabel's sour dough adventures, and researching starters and tips, so this may be the first challenge for 2019.

3. Grow more veggies through winter. This past winter we didn't have a veggie garden at all and boy did I miss it. 2019 will see us back to our regular veggie patch all year round - here'shoping the weather co-operates.

4. Get the sewing machine out and use up the fabric I have in the linen cupboard. I have fabric to make Wayne a new winter coat, and t-shirt fabric to make new tops for myself.

5. Spend at least 4 hours a week crafting.

6. Read at least 52 books. That's just one a week, and I should be able to easily get through. Most will probably be on my Kindle, although the library card will get a workout, as will my bookshelves.

7. Try two new recipes a month. It doesn't hurt to mix up the food we eat, and having something new too cook stops me from getting bored.

8. Learn to make hard cheeses. I've never tried to make hard cheeses, so 2019 is the year hard cheese making is mastered. I can't wait, this may be moved to near the top of the list too.

9. Finish off my next two books. Both are 95% done, and I'm aiming for April release for Book 1, and June for Book 2. I'm excited about these projects, they have both been long-term projects that have been held up due to my health problems, and I can't wait to get them finished so I can show them off to you all.

10. Add more of my handmade items to our blog shop. I'm aiming for two new things a week, be it cards, or sewing, or needlework or knitting or crochet or scrapbooks. Hannah is joining me in this venture and it's been fun working with her to choose what we'd stock and then make the plans to get everything made, photographed and in the shop.

If that list is completed this time next year, I'll be so happy.

But it's not set in cement, and I'm sure it'll change during the year. We have some trips coming up, and a couple of big family celebrations in 2019, so it will be busy, busy, busy.

And to finish off, I'm taking some time off. Some of you are aware of the health problems I've had the last 5 years, and they've finally caught up and I need a short break to do nothing but, well nothing; just a couple of weeks to recouperate and get some strength back, and I'll be back and ready to tackle this list in early January.

What are your goals for 2019?

18 December 2018

Tidying Up the Medicine Chest

We don't have an actual medicine chest, but I'd love one. An old fashioned one, white metal, with hinges and a clip lock like my Grandad had would be wonderful.

Instead I have a huge old Tupperware box, bright yellow so it stands out, and a couple of toolboxes that we've converted into first aid kits, one for home and one in the Patrol. My sister-in-law says she could do brain surgery with the one in the Patrol, it's so well stocked!

As a part of my usual end-of-year tidy up and restocking, the medicine chest/box/shelf/cupboards get a tidy up, and a wipe out and then I do a quick inventory and check on use-by and best before dates, make a list of what needs to be replaced or replenished and add them to the shopping list.

Apart from the occasional pain relief for a headache and hayfever relief we don't go through a lot of over-the-counter medications.

Simple pain relief such as paracetamol, can be expemsive if you buy the brand names. I usually buy 100 paracetamol tablets for $2.99 from the chemist and that's more than enough to last us the year. Check the use-by date to make sure you have enough time to use them up. At that price, if there are any left at the end of the year, it's not a lot of money going in the bin.

Bandaids are another thing we don't use a lot of, but Ifind the "sticky" can go off over time. During the tidy-up I usually open one and just see if the sticky is sticking. If it's not, then it's time to re-stock with fresh bandaids. I shop around to find the cheapest brandname - we've tried generic and they're slightly smaller all over, with a smaller pad, and aren't quite as sticky. When you're plastering men who all do physical work, rather than desk work, bigger and stickier works best.

It doesn't take long, and thankfully we are pretty much a healthy family and not really accident prone (well I am but that's another story) so keeping the medicine chest under control is easy and simple, and a good thing to do on an annual basis.

04 December 2018

Teaching Children the Meaning of Christmas

I'll preface this with a warning: you may not agree with what I'm writing, and that's OK. This was how Wayne and I raised our children, I'm not suggesting for one second that anyone else should copy us.

We are a practising Christian family, and money was tight when our children were small. I was brought up in a conservative faith, and we have raised our children in that faith.

As a result, Christmas in our house was, and is, a little different to Christmas in other homes in Australia.

We have always celebrated Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the decorating and the baking and the gift making, shopping, wrapping, hiding and giving. I love the meals with family and friends. I love the wreath on the door and the trees throughout the house. I get joy from the lights strung around the verandah.

But in our home they are embellishments. They are not the purpose or the meaning of Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. We give gifts to each other and to our family and friends, and take great joy in doing so. And we receive gifts from family and friends and take great joy in doing so.

It's nice to receive a gift, however small, from those we love and care for. It brings us closer together and shows that we're not forgotten and keeps us close.

We recognise December 25th as the anniversary of Jesus' birth. No one knows for certain just when he was born in that manger to Mary and Joseph, and so we celebrate the occasion on December 25.

As a family we recognise that Jesus lived a life of serving and giving and helping others. And so, through the year but especially at Christmas (we are celebrating Christ after all), we try to focus on serving and giving and sharing and helping, rather than on trees and decorations and and the presents we might receive.

Part of this was helping our children to choose gifts to make or buy to put under the Kmart wishing tree. When they were small we'd do this as a family. As they grew older, and were able to decide for themselves, we'd guide and advise and make suggestions for ways they could serve and share during the Advent season.

We've always encouraged them to give 10%, save 10% and use the remaining 80% of whatever money they have to live on. This meant that even as youngsters they had their own money to use for presents; they didn't hold out their hands for us to pay.

The other thing we did was actively discourage the belief in Santa Claus bringing any and all toys and books and games that they asked for. We also made sure that our children never told other children the truth about Santa Clause. We explained that some families had different beliefs to ours wehn it came to Santa Clause, and that was OK, but it wasn't our place to change that belief.

This came about mainly because we couldn't afford the latest and greatests toys or games, no matter how often the TV said Santa Clause would leave them under the Christmas tree.

Our children knew the money in my purse was limited and for milk or petrol or Playgroup fees. They understood that I didn't have money in my purse to pay for a new toy or book or ice-cream and accepted that and were OK with it.

So, when AJ asked for a toy - it was a Thunderbirds toy spaceship - and I showed him my purse and what the money was for, his trusting little 3 year old self told me that Santa Clause would bring it for him.

I'll be honest and say it broke my heart. We had already bought the Christmas presents and there was no more money, not even the $7 for that Thunderbirds toy. I knew he'd remember and be disappointed on Christmas morning when he didn't get it.

I prayed for wisdom to answer him without destroying his childhood.

Right there in the Kmart toy aisle I knelt down next to my little boy and explained that Santa Claus wouldn't be bringing that toy, because mummy and daddy didn't have the money to pay for it. I explained that after Christmas, mummys and daddys would get a bill for the presents under the Christmas tree, and that they had to pay it.

I told him that there would be presents under the tree, that we were able to pay for.

I was terrified that he wouldn't understand, that I'd shatter his childlike faith and illusions and ruin Christmas for him forever.

Instead he was OK with what I told him. No questions. No tantrums. No tears. No ruined Christmas.

He already understood that we had to have money to pay for what we wanted, and that if we didn't have the money then we had to save up for it. He also understood the concept of paying bills for what we had, and that if we couldn't pay the bill, we couldn't have whatever.

Come Christmas morning, the smiles and laughter were plentiful, and joyous. The presents were unwrapped and oohhed and ahhed over, and played with and shared and thoroughly enjoyed. Our little boys were thrilled with their ride-on tractor and trailer, and there wasn't a hint of disapointment.

That was 25 years ago (doesn't seem that long!) and Christmas is still joyful and fun, but the focus is more on the people and the reason, rather than the worldly trappings, now everyone is grown up.

This year we'll be celebrating at home, as usual. We'll have our tree, with presents under it. We'll have family and friends to share meals with. And all the while, we'll be remembering the reason we celebrate the way we do.

01 December 2018

24 Movies for Christmas

We've made it a family tradition to watch a Christmas movie every day (or evening) during December since we had littlies in the house.

This is the list for this year, in no order. The choice is random, the movie that comes out of the box on the night is the movie we watch. Sometimes we all sit down to watch, sometimes it's just Wayne and me.

Over the years the theme of the movies has changed to reflect how the kids have grown up. Now we're all adults, most of the movies are more suited to adults, but some of our favourites will always be suitable for even young children. I guess Christmas brings out the child in all of us, even if it's just for a movie.

Here's a list of the movies in the box for this year (if we don't have the DVD, I've made a card with the movie name on it and where to find it on Netflix). They're not all necessarily actual  Christmas movies, but they are favourites that we enjoy watching at this time of year.

1. Miracle on 34th Street - remake
2. Christmas with the Kranks
3. The Santa Clause
4. The Santa Clause 2
5. The Santa Clause 3
6. Dear Santa
7. Holiday Inn - watched
8. How Sarah got Her Wings
9. Love Actually - watched
10. The Holiday
11. Angels in the Snow - watched
12. Miracle on 34th Street - 1947 version, and a favourite of mine
13. Home Alone
14. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
15. Elf
16. Christmas in Connecticut -1945 version with Barbara Stanwyk, another Christmas favourite of mine
17. A Christmas Prince (the Royal Wedding) - this is a new addition for 2018
18. One Magic Christmas
19. High Society - not srictly a Christmas movie, just a favourite
20. Bridget Jones Diary - watched
21. Little Women - it's not Christmas if we don't watch Little Women
22. 7 Brides for 7 Brothers - this is one of my mother's favourite movies, it's a sentimental inclusion
23. A Holiday Engagement
24. It's a Wonderful Life - this is always reserved for Christmas Eve, before we watch the Carols by Candlelight

29 November 2018

How to Make Melt and Pour Soaps

As a follow-on from this afternoon's blog post, Corinna asked if I could share exactly what I used, and what you would need and where to get whatever, to make these soaps.

I'm no expert, but I have made soap since the children were little, and made lots and lots of melt and pour soaps when they were at primary school for stalls and fetes, so here goes. 

The soaps I made are all what is known as melt and pour soaps and are perfect for beginners and those who would like to make their own soap but are nervous about using lye and don't want to wait six weeks to use it.
They are made from a glycerine soap base. Glycerine is very gentle, and moisturising - perfect for dry skin, and as an anti-ageing ingredient in soap.

Melt and pour soap bases come in a number of different varieties, the most common being clear. This is the base I used to make the rose soaps. I tinted it pink and added fragrance oil to scent it.

The snowflake soaps were made from a goats milk and glycerine base, and tinted pink.

And the Christmas trees were made from a coconut oil and glycerine base and I tinted them green.

To make any of the soaps I made you will need:
Melt and pour soap base - I used 700g clear base, 500g Goats milk base, 500g coconut base
Double boiler OR a large saucepan and a heatproof dish that fits in the top
Skewer for stirring
Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alchohol)
Soap colour - optional
Soap fragrance - optional

Step 1.  Prepare your moulds. You can use whatever you like, I use silicone cake moulds because they're cheap, readily available in a lot of different shapes and most importantly, the finished soap is easy to pop out. If you are using silicone moulds, put them on a baking sheet to keep them stable.  Spritz the inside of the moulds with the isopropyl alcohol.

Step 2. Cut the soap base into 2cm squares. This ensures it melts evenly and quickly, and doesn't turn into a giant, unmanageable glob.

Step 3. Bring the double boiler to the boil. Put the soap base into the double boiler, turn the heat down so the pot is simmering and stir. Keep stirring until all the base has completely melted. Depending on how much base you have in the double boiler it can take a few minutes. Watch the temperature of the base, and keep it under 50 degrees F. If it goes over 50 degrees, it will still be good to use, but the finished soap won't be glossy and bright.

I use a skewer to stir so it gets between all the little cubes and keeps them moving.

Step 4. Once the base has completely melted, you can add the colour if you are using it. Remember, less is more. It is easier to add a drop to increase the intensity of the colour rather than over-colour and end up with something you don't like. Add the colour by the drop, and make sure to stir it in completely. Again, this can take a minute or two to get an even colour distribution. Just keep the double boiler or bowl over the hot water.

Step 5. Add the scent, again remembering that less is more and you can always increase the intensity of the fragrance. Stir well.

Step 6. I use a clean, dry soup ladle to fill the moulds. As soon as they are full, spritz with the rubbing alcohol. This eliminates the little bubbles that are sitting on top of the soap, giving it a nice, flat surface when it dries.  Set the baking sheet aside until the soap is set. This won't take too long - about 2 hours, but you can leave it up to 24 hours if necessary.

Step 7. Once the soap has hardened or set, turn it out of the moulds. Trim off any excess drips with a sharp paring knife. Wrap the soap immediately. This prevents the "sweating" that is a common feature of glycerine based soaps. They can be used straight away, there is no need to wait to use these soaps.

Seven steps sound a lot and complicated, but they are all very quick and simple. It takes about half an hour from start to final spritz.

Cost: Depending on the cost of your base, making 1kg of melt and pour soap can cost as little as $15. Adding colour and fragrance will increase the cost by about $1.50 per kilo. Other bases are a $1 - $2 per kilo more expensive. How many soaps you'll get will depend on the size of your moulds. The snowflakes are large, I get 12 from 1kg if I fill them to the top. The roses are smaller and I get about 15 if I watch how I fill them. The Christmas trees make 12 bars from 1kg of soap base.


Bases come in either .500g or 1kg blocks. They do come in bigger blocks, up to 20kg, but 1kg is a good size to manage at home for soap making.

Cut the base into 1cm squares, but no larger than 2cm. This is a manageable size to stir and melt before it gets too hot.

Use only soap colours. Don't be tempted to use food colour - it stains! It stains you, the bath, the shower base, the face washer - it's meant for icing, not soap. I use liquid soap colours. About 5ml per kilo of soap base gives a nice colour density, but you can use more or less to get the density you want.

When it comes to fragrance, you can use essential oils, as long as they are skin-safe (not all are suitable, check the bottle label). Essential oils don't last long, that's fine if you don't want the fragrance to last. And you will need to use more. Fragrance oils work very well in soaps. They last longer due to the formulation and you don’t need to use as much.

A thermometer that clips to the side of your dish is ideal. It keeps it out of the way, and you can easily keep an eye on the temperature of the base as it melts.

I have bought most of my moulds from op shops for $1 or $2 each. The most I've paid for a mould was $3 for the Christmas tree mould. Look at stores like The Reject Shop too, they often have cute shapes in silicone cake moulds for just a couple of dollars.  But you can use anything as long as you can get the hardened soap out. For the Gardener's Soap bars I use an old aluminium bar cake tin, lined with clingwrap. Cardboard cartons, paper boxes, acetate shapes can all be used as moulds for your melt and pour soaps.

Where I buy melt and pour base:

Little Green Workshops

This is a local (almost!) to me company. They are Victorian based, and a family owned and run business.

Little Green Workshops has a large range of all soap making supplies but they also have an excellent range of kits, aimed at the beginner to the more experienced soap maker. The kits are ideal, coming with everything you need to make your soap, including the moulds, colours and fragrances and a detailed instruction booklet and a wonderful chart showing how to mix the primary colours to create secondary and tertiary colours.

Aussie Soap Supplies

Based in Western Australia, this company also sells the melt and pour base, and a limited range of kits. The kits are aimed more at the experienced melt and pour soap maker. They also come with detailed instructions on how to create the soaps.

Isopropyl alcohol
Most chemists/pharmacies stock it. It's not expensive and a bottle will last for ages, but I found Chemist Warehouse was the cheapest stockist near me. It can also be used in the laundry as a stain lifter and for cleaning and sanitising around the house.

You may have an outlet near you that sells soap making supplies. If you search on "soap making" and your area, I'm sure you'll find plenty. Do your research and compare prices, not just on the base and other ingredients, but on the delivery fee too.

If you have any questions, just ask them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them for you.

(Finally) Making the Christmas Soaps

I've been a tad busy lately, and so the Christmas soaps have just been made, but not from my usual recipe, that takes six weeks to cure.

On Tuesday I had a couple of hours almost free and Thomas was home to help, so we brought out the pans and bowls, and the Christmas moulds, and made a couple of batches of melt-n-pour soap. They look so cute and smell so nice. Best of all they're ready to use immediately, no need to wait for curing time.

Along with the Christmas soaps, we made another double batch of Gardener's Soap, and a batch of Stain Removing Soap.

I was down to the last bar of Stain Removing Soap, and it is brilliant on the sports clothes and Wayne's work clothes (better than Sard, as good as Exit Soap). I also use it to clean the tea towels and dishcloths. I just wet them, give them a general rub over with the Stain Removing Soap and put them in the wash. They come out stain free and clean, and then only need to be soaked once a month or so.

The Gardener's Soap is on my yearly to-do list. I just love it because it's so gentle on my hands after gardening. I don't know about you, but even with gloves, and running my nails over a cake of soap before I put the gloves on, I still get my hands filthy! The Gardener's Soap is so gentle and soft to use, but it really gets the dirt off - and quickly too. Of course being coffee scented helps, you all know how much I love my coffee.

For years I've made fancy soaps just for Christmas. When the children were small, I'd put out Christmas soaps when we decorated the house, and then they'd each get a special Christmas soap, just for them, in their stocking. I don't do the soap in the stockings anymore, but I still love to put out fancy Christmas themed soaps in the bathroom.

A couple of years ago, when the card ladies did a soap making lesson with me, some of them made Christmas tree shapes, and that's what I've made for our Christmas soaps this year. I picked the mould up from an op shop for just a couple of dollars. It's a silicone cake mould, and works perfectly for individual soaps. Don't they look pretty?

Christmas tree soaps for our bathrooms
This batch is made from a coconut and glycerine base and I tinted it green by mixing blue and yellow soap colouring (don't be tempted to use food colours - they stain! you and the basin and the face washer and the hand towel) to give the green colour. Then I added some peppermint essential oil to scent it. Essential oils don't last long in soap, the fragrance evaporates quite quickly, but because these just have to last until 12th night, it will be fine.

And while the soap making was happening, I made a batch of goats milk and glycerine soap, coloured it pink and use my rose and snowflake moulds to make gift soaps. These are scented with crab apple rose fragrance and smell divine. There was a little base left, and I had a new mould to use, so it didn't go to waste.

Pink rose scented glycerine rose soaps

Goats milk pink, crab apple rose scented snowflake soaps
Lastly, these pretty little unicorns are gorgeous. I've packed them into sets of four as they are for gifts. 

The mould came from Kmart, grand cost of $1.50 and I just couldn't resist!

Where I buy my soap bases:

Little Green Workshops

Aussie Soap Supplies

*I have no affiliation with either of these companies, other than being a very happy customer. 

22 November 2018

Family Business

We have a saying in our family, "Family business".

In our family, family business covers the why of the choices we make (not necessarily the actual choices) and the things we do. It covers our family life and how we live it. It covers our personal finances and how we use our money.

When something is classed as family business, we don't share it. We don't discuss it outside of the family. And I don't blog about it, or use it  in newsletters or on the Cheapskates Club website. Family business stays in the family.

Family business is personal and private. It doesn't concern anyone but our family of five.

So, when I get emails asking me to share family business, I don't, because the answer doesn't just concern me. It concerns my husband and our three children (even though they are all now adults). And they don't want or need to share their lives with strangers.

Before I ever share any of our family business, such as our spending plan or the stockpile or our retirement plans and goals with you, I always run it by Wayne, and if it involves the kids, I run it past them too.

So I can share our spending plan but I don't share the details of our income.

I share our plans for the future, and how we are planning and aiming for early retirement (we're aiming for three years from now for Wayne) without sharing the fine details.

I share some of our homelife and how we live, but not all of it.

It's not that I have anything to hide. It's just that some things just aren't for public consumption. I very carefully guard what I share because I'm a naturally private person and quite frankly putting about a lot of personal and private information isn't wise or safe.

And so when I say I do this or that, I do, I just don't share details if it's family business.

To the curious, it may seem selfish; it's not. It's keeping my family happy and safe; keeping our home happy and safe so family and friends we do share it with, know that it is a safe place for them. That what is said within its walls is private and personal and not shared by me here, on the website or *shuddering* Facebook.

Don't let this stop you being curious. Don't let it stop you asking questions. I'll share what I can, when I can. I'll answer questions truthfully when it is appropriate.

I'll never stop encouraging you to aim for a debt free lifestyle. I'll never stop encouraging you to aim for a cashed up lifestyle.

I want you to know the joy of living debt free, cashed up and laughing, like I do.

Gorgeous Gift Bags and Tags

My Christmas gift shopping is done!

Everything I had on my list to buy, has been bought - and all within my gift budget too. It took a bit of researching and shopping around, and a teeny, tiny bit of haggling for a couple of them, but they have all been paid for and are now happily waiting in the present box in my wardrobe.

As soon as I have the house to myself for an hour, I'll finish off the wrapping and labelling, and they'll be ready to put under the tree when it goes up at the weekend.

Last year in the Boxing Day sales, Hannah bought the loveliest wrapping papers, but some of the gifts need bags. The lovely Maureen brought lots of gift bags to card day a couple of months ago, and we all had our pick.

Why am I telling you this? Because they're gorgeous bags, they just need a little prettying up to make them usable.

Here is just one of the bags I've done already, just using papers and ribbons and lace I had in my stash. I'm thrilled with the way they've turned out, and even happier with the saving. Pretty gift bags are quite pricey, so revamping and reusing them just makes sense, financially and ecologically.

 Brown paper gift bag, redecorated using crepe paper, scrapbooking paper, 
stickers and a cut out sentiment

If you don't have any gift bags to redecorate, you can turn any paper bag into a fabulous designer gift bag in just a few minutes and with just a few embellishments, most of which you will probably already have on hand.

Idea No. 1.

Turn the top of your paper bag over 5cm. With a ruler and sharp pencil evenly mark 1cm lines 1cm apart along the middle of the flap. Using a Stanley Knife or similar and the ruler cut along the pencil lines through all the thicknesses of the paper bag.

Take a length of narrow ribbon and thread through the slits. Tie a large knot in each end to stop it from pulling out.

Idea No. 2

Measure your paper bag from the top edge of one side, down, across the bottom and up the other side. Add 15cm to this measurement and double it. Cut a length of ribbon to the final measurement and then cut that in half to give you two lengths of ribbon. Measure in 5cm from the side of the bag and leaving a 7.5cm tail, carefully glue the ribbon down the bag, across the bottom and up the other side again leaving a 7.5cm tag. Repeat the process with the other length of ribbon. Tie each length into a granny knot at the top of the bag to secure.

Idea No. 3

Turn the top of your bag down 5cm. Measure in 3cm from each side and cut a 1cm slit through all thicknesses of the bag. Take a stem of holly and push through the slits, folding the stem out at the back to secure.

And to go on all those gifts,w rapped or in bags, you need gift tags. There are some lovely tags in the shops, but you can make your own so they co-ordinate with your wrapping, and you'll have a lovely matching set, for just a few cents.

Gift Tag No. 1

Using a cookie cutter, trace around the outside edge onto coloured card and cut out. Then trace around the inside of the cutter so you have the same design, only smaller, onto a contrasting colour and cut out. Centre the smaller shape on the large shape and glue in place. Punch a hole at the top and thread with a piece of raffia to tie to your parcel or glue onto your gift. This looks great as gingerbread men and Christmas trees. If you have plain round cookie cutters they make lovely bauble style gift tags.

Gift Tag No. 2

Dress up some bought gift tags. Use a glitter pen to outline features on the tag. Once it is dry thread some thin red or green ribbon through the hole and tie into a large bow. Use a glue stick or sticky tape to attach the tag to the parcel. Lightly coat a plain, bought tag with pva glue and sprinkle with glitter and let it dry. You can never have too much bling and glitter, especially at Christmastime.

Gift Tag No. 3.

Find some large gum leaves. Using a texta pen write your message on the gum leaf. Laminate between two layers of clear contact. Cut around the outline of the leaf leaving a small border. Punch a hole to thread raffia through.