30 July 2007

Weekend roundup

Hello Cheapskaters it's a new week and it's going to be fantastic, I have already had some great money, time and energy savings (and after last week I needed them too).

It was Hannah's birthday on Friday so of course we had to produce the traditional birthday cake, large enough for the class and all the staff. With all the running around I was doing already and facing the funeral on Friday afternoon I simply couldn't face baking a birthday cake, even one as simple as our Favourite Chocolate Cake . I knew that buying one would be expensive but Hannah looked so sad when I suggested icy poles instead. Then I remembered a discount cake outlet – Factory Direct Cakes. They are one the way to my mother's and I was driving past on Thursday anyway so I called in.

I am so glad I did. They had the perfect birthday cake all ready for me to buy and it was only $18. Now I know that if had ordered this cake from Michels or another bakehouse it would have cost me at least $48 (I've priced them before when I've been feeling a tad lazy). I was so thrilled. I also picked up 12 cheesecakes for $20. They are seconds but with my hungry hoard they won't notice that the piped cream is crooked. That equates to just $1.66 each – even cheaper than generic from the supermarket! Into the freezer they have gone for easy desserts and take-a-plates.

Saturday night the house was filled with sleeping bags, mattresses and lots of giggling girls in PJs. Did you know that 12 year old girls can eat more pizza than 16 year old boys? Luckily homemade pizza is cheap and quick to make. After tea they settled down, snug in their sleeping bags to watch Annie and Annie II on DVD. We only had to roar at them a dozen times before they went to sleep (ok they weren't that bad and everyone was asleep by midnight, including me).

We had hotcakes for breakfast and I think they were all impressed that they were just like the McDonald's hotcakes, only in a seemingly endless supply. If you haven't tried the hotcake recipe yet, give it a whirl. It's really easy and really yummy. While you're in the kitchen try the pancake syrup too. It is better than McD's and way cheaper than any bought syrup.

Sunday afternoon we went rollerskating. It was so much fun and the girls had a ball. If you are looking for a birthday party idea this one is the easiest and best value for money I have ever found. You can book a party for just $11/head for 2 ½ hours of skating, skate or blade hire, food and a stack of vouchers for free admission and lessons for each child and the birthday child receives a gift. Best of all was I had to do nothing but take lots of photos and leave the mess behind.

Made up another batch of washing powder this morning. It cleans the clothes so well, I can even use it on Wayne's work clothes and know they are clean. And without added fragrance it doesn't upset my asthma or make the kids itchy, always a bonus.

Petrol was down to $1.15/litre this afternoon and it's only Monday. Hopefully when I fill up tomorrow it will be even cheaper. Every little bit helps. I'll add the change to the money tin. It's getting heavier everyday. I can't wait until it's time to open it.

Dinner tonight was mock Continental Pasta & Sauce. There was some chicken left over from dinner last night and I was a little pushed for time. I was tempted to call Wayne (on the mobile cha ching cha ching) and suggest he bring home fish and chips (cha ching, cha ching, cha ching) but after I found the chicken and had a little think it was just as easy to whip up curried chicken and noodles and much, much cheaper as all the ingredients were in the house. I had put a loaf of bread in the breadmaker earlier so we had lovely fresh bread with our dinner. It was just delicious and there is enough leftover for my lunch tomorrow :).

We didn't get a chance over the weekend to have our chat about funeral plans. We were too busy, well that's what Wayne told me anyway. I fully intend to have this chat with him. I'll just have to pick another time.

27 July 2007

Making money on a funeral

We have had a long and very sad week here. Early on Sunday morning we lost an old and very dear family friend and while he had been ill for a very long time and we knew that the end was close it has still been a shock and incredibly sad for us, although as it has turned out it has also been a funny and happy week too.

Derek was a very caring and loving husband and father and he made sure that his wife would be well provided for. Just last week he was at his solicitor's office making sure that everything was in order and that Barbara wouldn't have to worry about a thing, even to the point where his funeral was planned down to the hymns and flowers. And it was also paid for.

It's never nice to think about our own mortality but we are mortal and we are going to die sometime and in all fairness I think that we should prepare as much as possible ahead of time to make such a sad time a little easier for our loved ones. This could just be the control freak coming out in me, but I think not.

I'm not being morbid and I'm not saying we should all run out and select a casket and a plot. Just that a few minutes spent in checking insurances, updating wills (you do have a will don't you?) and putting any particular requests in writing won't hurt you.

The events of this week have had me thinking. Wayne's Granny had the right idea. After his Grandad died, Granny sold the farm and bought her unit. She also arranged her funeral. She chose a casket, arranged the plot, chose the hymns and the church and requested no flowers. She was a very frugal lady and couldn't bare the thought of spending money on flowers only to have them sit outside with no-one to enjoy them. Granny also paid for her funeral and the money was put into a trust fund to cover any price increases.

Granny Armstrong came from strong, sturdy stock and lived for 31 years after she made these arrangements. When Dad and his two brothers where settling her affairs after the funeral they were absolutely gobsmacked to receive a cheque from the funeral director – for the balance of the funeral trust fund. Granny's money had been in trust so long that it had not only covered the cost of her funeral but made a profit for her estate! She would have loved knowing that she made money on her own funeral.

With the cost of a bare bones, no frills funeral being around $4,000 putting a little aside each week to cover costs may sound morbid but when you think about it could your family find that much money in just a couple of days? Especially when they are grieving?

Wayne and I are going to sit down this weekend and at least have a talk about this. He won't like it one little bit but I know we'll both feel happier for at least having the talk

20 July 2007

What a week

It has been a very muddled week here in the Armstrong household. I had a very busy week planned with lots of work to be done and appointments to be kept on top of the usual things that go on around here. I didn't need a visit from my old friend Murphy but he called in anyway.

I woke up on Sunday night with a shocker of a toothache and ended up having some major dental work done at 6.15pm on Tuesday night. That threw a spanner in the works let me tell you. I was booked on 9am with David & Kim on Wednesday morning so all I can say is thank goodness for excellent dentists, strong painkillers and incredibly talented hair and make-up artists at Channel 10. Mum assures me that no one could tell that my face was lopsided, with the right side twice it's normal size :).

It's great to be able to get the Cheapskates message out. Living the Cheapskates way is something to be proud of and wherever I go I love to hear the stories of how ordinary Australians have turned their life around with the Bill Paying System or the monthly menu plans or any of the tips and ideas in the Tip Store. They really do make a difference.

I did manage to get Thomas some new long pants. He has grown about 10cm in the last couple of months and all his pants are now stunning Capri length. Which would be fine for me but he's a 14 year old boy and he just refuses to believe me when I tell him he could be setting a new teenage trend. For $13 he's now the much happier owner of a pair of black jeans and navy blue cargo pants and yes, they are long enough.

Coles have been advertising Arnotts Shapes for 99 cents a box this week so I called in this afternoon and picked up half a dozen boxes and promptly hid them in the Christmas hamper. Between now and Christmas we have four birthdays and of course Christmas and they will be very handy to have on hand for snacks. Hiding them in the hamper means that the food fairies won't find them until I bring them out of hiding and I'll still have my bargain snacks to serve when I want them.

It's time to start adding to the hamper each week now so that come December I won't need to shop for groceries. I love avoiding the supermarket during December and January and by adding one or two of my regular staples to the hamper each week the cost is absorbed by that week's grocery money. When December finally arrives I won't need to go grocery shopping and so I will have the whole month's grocery money to put towards savings. Yay! I could do this with the meat budget too and have that money left to add to the savings stash if I try. All I will need to buy will be fruit, vegetables and dairy products.

I may be calling this a hamper but it's nothing flash. Just a large cardboard box in the bottom of my wardrobe. Out of sight, out of mind, especially with hollow legged teenagers in the house.

15 July 2007

Sunday savings

Stayed in bed for an extra half hour this morning. Saved on gas (didn't turn the heater on) and electricity (no lights on either). When I woke up I decided it was too cold and miserable to get up so I snuggled back down under the doona.

It was so cold and dark when I woke up this morning that I just snuggled back down under the doona for another half hour. Bliss. The savings were in gas (not turning the heater on) and electricity (ditto for lights, it really was dark).

Once I did leave my cosy bed I put a load of washing on. I am sure it breeds in the basket there is always so much of it. Once the cycle had finished it went over the clotheshorse next to the fire. By this time Wayne was up and had a roaring fire going so I could turn the central heating off.

The fire was beautiful and warmed the whole house in no time. The washing dried quick smart too, even the jeans were dry in just three hours! A trick I learned a long time ago to speed the drying process is to put a sheet or towel or other largish item over the top of the clotheshorse. It acts like a tent, trapping the hot air inside and drying the washing in super quick time.

With the school holidays coming to an end and after 16 days of not really caring what went on (I didn't care about anything except paracetamol, lemon juice and honey) it was time to take control again. Wayne and the kids did a great job managing while I was sick and didn't even go over budget which was a fantastic effort being school hols and having a houseful of extra kids.

Supplies of baked goods were definitely low and eggs, cheese and fresh milk all needed to be topped up so it was off to Aldi for Hannah and I. Milk at Aldi is still only $2.99 for 3 litres and I can get it all the time. Coles sells milk for the same price but unless you are there as it's unpacked you miss out. I am so proud of myself – we walked out of Aldi with a dozen eggs, a block of cheese and two bottles of milk, absolutely nothing else. We thought about Melting Moments but decided we can make them at home and end up with a lot more biscuits for much less money so we passed on them.

Just as we were leaving I remembered that Coles had 1.25kg tins of Milo for $7.99 – a real bargain. We haven't had Milo for so long so we stopped off at Coles for two tins of Milo. I put half of one tin into a canister in the pantry and put the other half a tin in the store cupboard in the laundry and one tin has gone straight into the Christmas hamper. The kids will make the Milo last longer if they don't have a lot to use. Sneaky aren't I?

It's birthday time with Hannah starting the round of family celebrations in a couple of weeks. We looked at invitations in the $2 shop, and we looked at invitations at The Warehouse and didn't see any she liked or that I would pay for so home we came. We spent a couple of hours playing around with the scrapbooking papers, stickers, letters and embellishments and made our own. Total cost: nothing. Everything we used was left over from scrapbook layouts. See, hoarding can pay off.

I put a roast in the oven for dinner, along with some muffins and a log cake. We all like our Sunday roast and I know Wayne looks forward to it each week. With Thomas still away there were plenty of leftovers for lunches. I forgot Thomas wouldn't be home for dinner so there were extra roast vegies too. I love cold roast potato and pumpkin. They went onto a plate for my lunch tomorrow. Yum.

We have had a very peaceful and quiet two weeks owing to my dose of flu but it's back to normal on Tuesday when school goes back. I will miss having the kids home but at least I will be able to get some work done :).

13 July 2007

I have a stalker!

In case you’ve missed it I’ve been in bed, ill, with the flu for over a week. Hmm. While I’ve been lying, quietly and meekly suffering on my own, the kids have been home from school on holidays.

School holidays at our house always includes extra kids, and that’s ok. They are all fantastic kids and can look after themselves reasonably well so they haven’t been any trouble. They even managed to leave some food in the pantry and freezer.

Anyway, it’s been over a week since I’ve been to the bank or the post office so I thought it time to get moving and do something useful. I gave mum a call and picked her up on the way past so I had someone to share the joys of the queues with (and maybe a two-for-one coffee after we’d finished).

As it turned out, Mum needed a few things from Aldi so we popped in on our way to the café. As we tootled around, me pushing the trolley and Mum picking up her bits and bobs I kept noticing a lovely, blonde lady walking past us. And every time she walked past she would look closely at us, smile and keep on walking.

Well seeing as I’m such a spring chicken and never forget a face I thought she had to be an acquaintance of Mum’s and that Mum hadn’t recognised her. She kept walking past and I kept on smiling and nodding as we tootled by.

Anyway, long story short we were standing in the queue (how come they put in extra long conveyor belts to speed up the checkout process but it still takes ages?). Sorry, I digress. Back to the story.

We were in the queue, waiting to unload and I commented to Mum on how according to my price book, the Ricies had gone up yet again and they were in a different box, when this lovely lady let out a shriek and nearly gave me a heart attack!

“It is you, it is you. I knew it was you. How are you?” She was almost jumping up and down on the spot she was so excited. I on the other hand was almost terrified out of my wits, my heart is still racing!

As it turns out Fran is a Cheapskates Club member and she recognised me from the old website and some TV segments. She just didn’t know how to approach me, so she kept walking past, trying to pluck up the courage to say hello.

I am SO glad she did. I love to meet fellow Cheapskates, even in Aldi on a cold, wet Friday morning. The three of us had a lovely chat in the queue once I realised she wasn’t going to attack me. :)

If you ever see me out and about please, please say hello. You don’t need to be shy, be proud that you’re a Cheapskate and remember you’re not alone.
Oh, and I am really, really glad that I washed my hair and put some make-up on before I went out, at least I looked a little better than I have lately.

I had to pick up some dry cleaning on the way home. I get the kids' blazers drycleaned twice a year, the rest of the time I sponge them and then steam them in the bathroom to freshen them up. Works a treat and saves me $11.90 twice a year.

While I was out I popped into Coles to pick up a few things I can't get at Aldi and there just happened to be a "throw out trolley" opposite the milk cabinet. I can't resist a throw out trolley so I had a lovely trawl through Ambi Pur thingos down to $5 (why waste your money? Spray some of your favourite essential oil onto cotton balls and hide them behind photo frames, in curtains etc to scent your home. Much cheaper.), Shrek toys (who needs them?), fancy jams, some hair colours and some little sandals.

Well the little sandals were very cute, pink with lilac flowers and blue with pink flowers so I gave in to temptation and bought them. They will be perfect for Lea-Anne's little girl next summer and best of all they were just 60 cents a pair! I couldn't go past that bargain, especially at a saving of $5.39 a pair. I bought three pairs of them in three different sizes and they'll be perfect for the sandpit and the beach.

All in all it's been a lovely afternoon. Coffee with Mum, I've met a "new" old friend and picked up a fantastic bargain to boot!

Now I'm off to make hamburgers for dinner. This week's menu plan has gone out the window but at least I'll have the ingredients on hand for another week.

11 July 2007

School holiday savings

So far these holidays have been very, very frugal for us. Everything we have done (and we have done plenty) has been free or very low cost.

I put away (as part of our budget) $5 a week for school holiday treats so that extra food or videos or movies don’t eat up our entire entertainment budget and it works quite well.

So far we are half way through our two weeks and until today we hadn’t touched the treat money. I have been fighting the flu for about 10 days so the kids have had to keep themselves amused. And they have done well.

Hannah has had girlfriends over to play and have afternoon tea. They decorated some straw hats and filled them with pot pourri from the craft cupboard accompanied by lots and lots of giggles.

Then they helped to make the scones for afternoon tea (lemonade scones, 3 ingredients and really, really easy). With jam and cream and hot chocolate (made with powdered milk) they were a hit with the girls and the boys who came out of hiding as soon as the scones were out of the oven.

Of course Thomas had his sleepover with the boys and they almost ate me out of house and home but I didn’t have to do a grocery run, we made it through with food to spare. J

Today we splurged and went to the movies. We have a cinema about 10 minutes from us but tickets for the four of us there would cost $60, plus nibbles and a drink.

A quick look online and the movie we wanted to see was also showing at a cheaper cinema about 15 minutes from us. This cinema sells adult tickets for just $8.50 and children are children’s price until they are 15, so $7.50. I was able to get four tickets for $32, almost half price.

This worked out really well. I was able to buy my petrol from the independent discount service station (saved $2.80). We took drinks and popcorn to eat from home, avoiding the outrageous prices at the Candy Bar – saving about another $40.

While we were there I was able to run into Safeway and pick up two tins of Nescafe for just $12 a 500g tin, an excellent saving of $7 a tin. Wayne drinks instant coffee but he’ll only drink Nescafe and it can be expensive.

When the movie ended I was tempted to stop off in the food court and buy lunch. It was crowded and the selection didn’t really appeal to us so the kids decided mini pizzas at home would be just as good. Potential savings there about $30 and I was so proud of my three kids.

I have really enjoyed the holidays so far, in spite of the flu. And I have really enjoyed the fact that they have been very low cost.

10 July 2007

Hotcakes for breakfast

Oh boy am I a fantastic mother. Well according to our 4 overnight guests I am. I snuck out of bed early this morning (and it was very cold) and made a batch of

Thomas had asked if I would make pancakes for brekky as a special treat so I obliged. I set the table with plates, cutlery and an assortment of jams, honey, pancake syrup, whipped butter and put a platter of warm, fresh pancakes in the middle.

As James said “Mrs. A it looks just like in a restaurant”.

They didn’t last long; six hungry kids can sure devour pancakes.

If you’d like to try them, here’s the recipe:

1 cup SR flour
3/4cup water
2 heaped tablespoons milk powder
2 eggs, separated

Beat the flour, water, milk powder and egg yolks together. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff. Using a metal spoon fold the egg whites into the batter.

Heat fry pan or griddle until hot. Using a ½ cup measure pour batter onto lightly buttered pan or griddle. Cook until bubbles form and start to pop on the top of each pancake then turn. Cook for further minute. Place a clean tea towel on a cake rack and sit pancakes on tea towel until ready to eat.

This recipe makes about 8 medium pancakes.

For breakfast this morning I tripled the recipe and it made 25 medium sized pancakes.

Sadly there were no leftovers for the freezer.

09 July 2007

School holidays

Boy they come around fast! We are into week two of the holidays already and with the weather being so miserable, cold and wet (not complaining, very grateful for the wet so just commenting) we are all stuck inside.

Hannah has been well entertained and amused with trips to visit Grandma, movie outings with friends and visits from her girlfriends so I haven't heard and “I'm so bored” cries from her.

The boys on the other hand have had it very quiet so far with no outings or treats (AJ has been getting in plenty of study and Thomas is supposed to be studying).
So being the kind mother that I am I suggested they get some of their friends over.

I now have a houseful of teenage boys, all equipped with sleeping bags and laptops (boy kids have it good these days) all set to have a gaming marathon. The family room has mattresses on the floor and each mattress has a boy and a computer parked on it and they are playing away to their hearts content.

My challenge for the next couple of days is to feed an extra half dozen mouths without having to do a grocery run.

Lunch was easy. I pulled bread rolls out of the freezer and put them on the table along with butter (whipped it goes much further), jam, peanut butter and Marmite. I sliced a tomato, shaved some cheese (again it goes much further if it's shaved) and sliced up some of the leftover lamb from last night and put it all on a platter. I made up a batch of Magic Cordial (from Sue Dengate's recipe) and added a bottle of mineral water to it, some ice cubes and lemon slices to jazz it up. Under a $1 for 2 litres of fizzy drink.

Afternoon tea is my next challenge and I think it will be popcorn, mini muffins (from the freezer) and milk. I'll mix half and half fresh milk and powdered and the boys can make milkshakes if they want to as there are plenty of flavourings in the pantry.

Dinner will be vegetable pasta bake and garlic bread. I suggested salad to Thomas but he just looked horrified so I guess it will only be Wayne and I having salad.

The boys did ask I could please make hotcakes for breakfast and so I'll get the batter ready before I go to bed and then it will be quick and easy in the morning. I'll have to make up some more pancake syrup tonight so it will be ready to pour on the hotcakes in the morning.

Ok now I am organised and inspired I think I will go and make up a dip and some pita chips now and then I think meals and snacks will be covered.

If I can get them into bed as easily as I've worked out what to feed them I will be one happy mum.