28 December 2008

I'm going on a shoe hunt....

Christmas is over, the food has been eaten, the drinks are all gone and the Christmas cake is slowly dwindling away. The kids have put their presents away and the recycle bin is full to overflowing with cardboard, wrapping paper, soft drink bottles and the like.

It's time to hit the Boxing Day sales. This year I am a little late, due to a family crisis, but I am ready and raring to go. I have looked over all the junk mail and pored over the websites to choose what I will buy and work out my plan of attack.

Tomorrow morning at 8:15am I will be leaving home, money tucked safely in my purse and water bottle at the bottom of my bag so I can go shoe shopping. I desperately need new black heels, new sandals and some smart but dressy courts. And perhaps some flats to wear this winter too. I am going to David Jones to do battle at the shoe sale and I intend to bring home everything on my list.

Hannah has her list made out too. She has her Christmas money divided up in her purse - some for clothes, some for stationery, a little put aside for new runners and enough for a couple of new CDs she has been waiting for.

Ok, if I am going to be up early and full of beans tomorrow I need to get to bed right now.

22 December 2008

After Christmas Sales – Shopping to Save

Being an avid bargain hunter the very best shopping day of the year is Boxing Day (or the day after Boxing Day, depending on which state you live) when the after Christmas sales begin and there are bargains galore to be had for the taking - or rather the buying.

Getting up early, eating a good breakfast, dressing in comfy clothes and shoes and packing bottles of chilled water and packets of munchies just adds to the excitement of the day. Checking my purse to make sure I have my Christmas money safely tucked inside is the last thing I do before I head out the door, ready to go straight to my shopping centre of choice (it varies from year to year, depending on what bargains I'm after) nice and early. I like to get an undercover carpark if I can ( this sale is during summer after all) and on the day the Boxing Day sales start I need to be early - really, really early.

It's all part of the fun of the bargain hunting. Hours have been spent poring over the junk mail and listening to the ads on TV. Lists have been made - things for the house, things for the children, gifts to be bought for during the year, even next year's Christmas gift list has been started.

Having a plan of attack (it really is like a bun fight sometimes) will help you get through the day in one piece and still sane. Use a list to know where you have to be first, you'll want to get the most important things on your list first so you don't miss out, then work through the other items you want to buy. If something is really important to you then don't hesitate, buy it straight away. Yes, it may be further reduced a few days later but you also run the risk of missing out. Can you live with that? Or would you rather buy it at the originally reduced price and run the risk of it being reduced again later on?

The after Christmas sales are the perfect time to buy Christmas specific things. Wrapping paper, ribbons, cards, fabrics, decorations, even food will be greatly reduced and could be worth buying. Remember, if you already have enough wrapping paper covered in reindeer and Santa and boxes of Christmas cards to last you the next 10 years I'd say you probably don't need any more. But if the wrapping paper comes in plain colours or less specific patterns it can be used for birthdays, weddings, new babies etc and buying it cheaply will save you money.

It's also a fantastic time to add to your collection of decorations, with items being up to 75% off the original retail price. Lights, lawn decorations, tinsels, wreaths, tree ornaments and craft items can be bought now and stored with your current decorations ready for next Christmas.

One mum I know buys each of her children a new tree ornament each year during the sales. She is putting them into a box, labelled with each of their names, so that when they leave home they'll have a set of decorations for their Christmas tree. I think this is a lovely idea and picking up the ornaments during the sales she is getting much nicer items at rock bottom prices.

Thinking outside the square can save you big bucks. Fairy lights can be used not just for Christmas but for birthdays, to light outdoor patios, to turn a little girl's bedroom into a fairy grotto, just use your imagination. After Christmas they can be reduced by up to 80%, a great saving.

The after Christmas sales can also impact your grocery budget. You'll find turkeys, hams, duck and chicken all reduced after Christmas. Chocolates, puddings, custards and lollies will be reduced as well and they can all be put away for birthdays, Easter and other celebrations through the year. Just check the best before and use by dates so they'll be in peak condition when you go to use them.

Hampers and gift packs are big business at Christmas time and after Christmas they are reduced by anything up to 90%, depending on what they are. I buy hampers, especially toiletries and cosmetics and break them up to use as teacher gifts and small thank-you gifts throughout the year.

It would be easy to go crazy during the after Christmas sales and buy everything that catches your eye. Be strong, don't go crazy and buy because it's there. Shop with a plan and a purpose and you'll be a happy shopper at the end of the day.

02 December 2008

The Six Worst Gift Ideas Ever

The busiest shopping time of the entire year has arrived. Australians are flocking to shopping centres, looking for just the right gift for Aunty Maud and little Johnny and everyone else on their gift list.

All of us have heard at one time or another the saying 'buyer (or seller) beware - but in this case, the saying now becomes 'gifter' beware. Many of us give with the best of intentions, but never realize that the gifts we are about to give are truly nightmares - or worse - in disguise. No one ever means to make such a mistake, but these do occur and we are here to help you avoid these mishaps. The following are the six worst gift ideas ever to cross our paths.

No. 1 The first and biggest of the six worst gift ideas ever to give is the item that tries to give a subtle hint for what you consider a needed change in this person's life. We think this is a polite way of doing it, but all in all we cause more pain and trouble than it is worth. Some examples of these types of gifts are things like books for losing weight, an audio book on helping someone with their memory, or even a book on finding the right guy or girl. For the recipient, all they experience is you calling them fat, stupid, and unable to meet good people for relationships. The gift causes pain and depression - the opposite of the intention you had for it.

No. 2 The second of the six worst gift ideas ever given is giving something that shows how little, if any, thought you put into your gift. This happens more often than people like to admit to, and this is why it is number two on our list. An example that springs to mind is the steel wool, wrapped roughly in used Christmas paper, and thrown under the tree, that a relative gave to my brother-in-law one year. It's hard to show thankfulness and gratitude for a gift like that. If you truly don't want to put your heart into giving gifts, then don't even bother - those you call friends will appreciate it.

No. 3 The third out of six worst gift ideas ever thought of would be the extremely large books often referred to as coffee table books. The typical thought when giving these books is that the large wrapped item will make the person so much more happy - but upon opening this tome of a book, almost always the person is anything but happy. Books can be a great gift, but remember that in this instance, regular sized or even pocket sized is better than extraordinarily huge, hard to handle and impossible to read curled up in a chair or bed, books!

No. 4 Fourth of the six worst gift ideas ever attempted is giving a gift that the person has no way to exchange or even be able to give away. We all want the recipient to love our gifts, but we can't get it right 100 percent of the time. So please, do not give a gift from a specialty shop that does not exist in the recipient's part of the country unless you know for sure they want this item in question. If you don't, the person has the potential to be disappointed in you and your gift and your money, time and energy will have been wasted.

No. 5 Of the six worst gift ideas ever to see the light of day, number five may appear harmless enough, but don't allow it to fool you. We all forget a holiday or special occasion and find ourselves desperate to come up with a gift. We know we don't have enough time to go out and purchase something, and making something is out of the question. So we look through what we own and give the special someone a gift we ourselves were given before, or even something we had bought for ourselves. The problem is the immense guilt you feel after the fact for doing so. Remember, even with items that at first appear free to give away - there is always a cost.

No. 6 Finally, the sixth worst gift idea ever is the one where you buy the item, actually wanting it for yourself, but you figure the recipient will not want it and will give it back to you to be returned or exchanged. Please know this: this type of plan will always backfire on you, and is horrible to attempt in the first place! If you want the item, buy it. Choose something you know the recipient wants, needs, likes and will enjoy and you will both be wearing smiles.

As you hit the shops with your gift list in hand, keep these six points in mind. It is easier to find the perfect gift than you think.

28 November 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

Mum gave me a huge bunch of silverbeet yesterday. Now in our family silverbeet isn't a favourite vegetable, but it's tolerated in small doses. I usually steam it with some garlic and then toss through a little cooked rice and about a teaspoon of butter and I find that the fuss pots will eat it. But this was a huge bunch so unless I planned on serving it for a week I had to think of something to do with it.

Friday is my clean out the fridge day and while I was digging around on the second shelf I found some feta that needed to be used up and a little grated cheese left from Tuesday night's pasta. In the freezer I had some filo sheets so spinach and feta rolls popped into my head. I don't have a recipe as such, I adapt the recipe off the back of the filo packet to suit so each time I make them they are a little different.

Here's the recipe from this afternoon's spinach and feta rolls.

Spinach and Feta Rolls

6 sheets filo pastry
Bunch silverbeet
200g feta
2 eggs
60g grated cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg
30g butter, melted

Steam silverbeet until wilted. Drain until dry. I tipped it into the colander and when it was cool enough used my hands to squeeze the liquid out of it. Beat the eggs with the nutmeg, add to the silverbeet along with the crumbled feta and grated cheese. Mix well. Take a sheet of filo and brush with the melted butter. Layer another sheet of pastry, brush with butter and then add a third sheet. Take half the silverbeet mixture and place in a row longways down the middle of the pastry. Fold the sides in as you do for sausage rolls. Repeat with the other three sheets of pastry. Place the rolls onto a greased baking tray. Bake in a hot oven, 200 degrees, for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is set. Remove from the oven trays and let cool. Cut into slices to serve.

They must have been good because the kids attacked them for afternoon tea. The leftovers are in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. They'll be good cold with salad.

I also made the first batch of fruit mince tarts for this year's Christmas season this afternoon. I love fruit mince tarts, they are my favourite Christmas food. Thank goodness they are a Christmas tradition because they are very rich and very high in fat (all the suet in the fruit mince). I cheated this afternoon and used bought shortcrust pastry sheets to save time. Four sheets of pastry and one jar of fruit mince made 26 pies - not a bad effort. Total cost $7 - $3.23 a dozen. Considering I saw them for $9 a dozen at the supermarket on Thursday I can live with that price. And they are very yummy with a cup of coffee.

It has been spitting rain all day so the washing has been on the clotheshorse under the verandah to dry. Apart from the seams on the jeans it's all dry and ready to be put away. Unfortunately this is the part of doing laundry that is the hardest part. It's just one of those things that I tend to procrastinate on. I have no idea why, it's easy enough to do and the sight of the empty washing basket really makes me smile. OK, off to put the washing away and start dinner.

Today I am thankful for:
The constant drizzle to water the veggies
A verandah to keep the washing dry
Mothers who share the fruits of their labours (and their veggie patch)

26 November 2008

Is there such a thing as too much cleanliness?

Carol McIntosh says "I have a theory about all the eczema, allergies etc around today - too much cleanliness! Soap and water is cheap and effective. I always remember an old lady telling me that she always wanted a lovely bathroom but never had enough money to change her it. When her children grew up they could not remember the bathroom but remembered the days at the river in summer etc. Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Relax a little, just chill out with your children and see what happens to the eczema."

Before my first baby was born my doctor told me a similar thing. Actually what he said was I'd have to lower my standards once there was a baby in the house. I was stunned. You have to understand my mother's nickname is Mrs Sparkle and I have inherited some of her cleaning genes so being told to lower my standards was unbelievable.

He then went on to tell me that soap, hot water and elbow grease were more than adequate for cleaning most household surfaces. Another suggestion was to keep the disinfectants, bleaches and stinky chemicals for when they were really needed, such as during outbreaks of contagious illness.

Dr. Max wasn't telling me to leave our home dirty. He was telling me to keep it clean, not sterile. So, clean it has always been and I can tell you that cleaning with soap and hot water and elbow grease works. I will confess right now that I tend to use mostly water and micro fibre cloths, with soap for the baths basins, sinks and outside of the toilets. Even the windows are washed with cold water and dried with a micro fibre cloth.

In the cleaning cupboard at the moment is a basket of rags for cleaning and polishing cloths, a box of laundry soap, some scrub buds, white vinegar, a half box of bi-carb, borax and washing soda and about a dozen assorted micro fibre cloths. I love those micro fibre cloths, they do a great job on everything.

Those few simple items, along with a soft broom, the vacuum and the steam mop keep the entire house clean.

I haven't added up how much money we have saved over the years by not getting brainwashed into believing clean wouldn’t happen without a dozen different products but I'm pretty sure it's a lot. According to the grocery tracker we have spent a grand total of $8.72 since January on cleaning supplies. That was for some soap, 2 litres vinegar and some scrub buds. I'm thinking that's not too shabby, how does it compare to your spending?

24 November 2008

Graduation day

Today is graduation day for my firstborn. I can hardly believe that my baby is 18 already and at 9.30pm tonight will officially finish his formal education. Any schooling that comes after this may still be formal but it will be because he wants to continue his learning, not because Mum and Dad have said "it's a school day so you go to school".

I just know that I'll have a tear in my eye as I watch my strapping 6 foot tall son with his mop of unruly blond hair step on stage to collect his certificate and say goodbye to school. I wish I could say he has enjoyed school but the truth is for the most part he found school boring. This boy finds learning easy and if the challenge is to easy or not even there then he wanders off to find something else to focus his mind on, something not all his teacher appreciated or really understood, but still they supported him and encouraged him to the very best of their ability. And now that stage of his life is about to end.

What the future holds I don't know. He's hoping to get into uni and we are hoping that he gets his wish. Whatever happens I have to know that I have done my best to raise a young man who is kind and caring, who doesn't have a selfish or greedy bone in his body and who takes responsibility very seriously.

Which is why his father and I have an appointment with our family solicitor to update our wills. Now that we have a legal adult as a child it changes a number of things for our family and we need to make sure that those changes are properly documented and recorded. It is so important to make sure that our dreams and plans for our family will be carried out if something unforseen happens to us.

If you haven't updated your will recently (and I believe it should be reviewed at least every two years) or God forbid, you don't have a will (and even if you are single with no assets and no living relatives you should have a will, if only to leave instructions for your burial) then take the hour to see a solicitor and get one drawn up. It is worth getting a will drawn up by a solicitor the first time, at least so you can gain some understanding of what is required. After that you can use DIY kit if you are confident that you know what you are doing. But whatever method you choose, write a will. Without it you are leaving a whole lot of worry and distress and I'm pretty sure that you don't want to add to your family's grief in any way.

Enough of the morbid talk. We are moving into the time of year that is supposed to be the happiest. I love Christmas and the summer holidays. I can't wait for school to be finished for Thomas and Hannah because I love having the kids home (but mainly so I don't have to rush so much in the mornings). We are gearing up for the big decorating day which if the kids get their way will be this coming Friday because they have a pupil free day. I've tried to tell them Monday is the first of December so we should wait until Sunday but their selective deafness kicks in and they just don't hear me.

Hannah has printed off the Advent calendars. I did wonder if they weren't too old for them but they all assure me that they'll never be too old and if I breathe a word to any of their friends they'll tell them I've flipped my lid and must be dreaming. They are quite cute, Christmas trees ready to decorate with coloured balls. There are 24 balls on the tree, one to colour for each day and the kids have decided to have a competition to see who has the most colourful calendar by Christmas Eve. I put the link to the calendar in this weeks newsletter but in case you missed it you can print one off here.

20 November 2008

The silly season has arrived

Yes, it's that crazy time of year again. It comes earlier and earlier each year and I'll confess to being a fan of Christmas. I love the craziness of it all, decorating, baking, wrapping, eating, drinking and laughing with friends, family and neighbours.

I adore choosing gifts to make or buy and deciding how to wrap them. I'm like a kid in a candy store while the Christmas trees are going up (yes, we really do have more than one), I love going through the boxes of decorations, deciding where to put them all. Choosing stickers to put on the Christmas card envelopes takes me hours - they have to be just right. Writing the cards takes a few evenings, it's important to get the message in each one just right and I just love getting settled down with pen and card (and address book) and writing those messages.

But my very favourite part of Christmas is putting the gifts under the Wishing Tree. As a family we have put gifts under the Kmart Wishing Tree since Allan was three weeks old. These days the kids choose their own gifts and who it is to be for and on the first Sunday after school finishes we go through the present box to choose something suitable or the materials to make something, then we deliver the gifts to the tree and stop off for a 50 cent ice cream from Maccas on the way home.

There are only two weeks of school left for Hannah and Thomas and talk on the way home today was what to put under the Wishing Tree and when to go through the present box. It seems this is a favourite part of their Christmas too.

Today I am thankful for:
a son who has successfully completed Year 12
three gorgeous kids who willingly share and are generous to those less fortunate without being nagged
the beautiful rain that is finally falling here
the SES and other volunteers who put others before themselves in the Queensland storms this week

04 November 2008

Happy Melbourne Cup Day

Are you as amazed as I am that a horse race can be considered so important that it warrants a public holiday? I'm not complaining, I love Cup Day. It's traditionally our family picnic day, has been since I was a little girl. We are breaking with tradition this year and barbecuing at home so Allan can keep reviewing for his exams without missing all the fun (and it's raining YAY!). It's also Wayne's birthday today so I'll be busy making a cake for afternoon tea.

We used to go to the beach and it was made extra special because we would stop off at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mum would go in and get a box of chicken for us to have with our picnic. Oh my goodness we loved Cup Day. It was the only day we ever had anything as special as bought chicken! My Mum was good at stretching her dollars and I am pretty sure she stretched a few meals to be able to buy that KFC for us once a year. And I'm pretty sure if she could have figured out how to make it herself she would have to save that money.

Thank goodness this website and Cheapskates Club members are here to help with hints, tips and ideas because there is a recipe for homemade KFC in the Recipe File and it's pretty darn good. And very, very cheap, about 34 cents per drumstick as opposed to the $2 per piece KFC charges!

A birthday tradition in our family is that the birthday boy/girl/mum/dad gets to choose dinner and tonight we are having homemade hamburgers - Wayne's favourite mock takeaway. Making burgers at home is so much easier than buying them from the fish and chip shop and only a fraction of the price. Instead of costing $7.50 each they cost under $2, depending on how generous I am with the salad. To get the burgers just like bought ones I use my Tupperware burger press. It's one of those gadgets that can be pushed to the back of the cupboard and forgotten but is actually quite handy. If you have one lurking in your kitchen dig it out, it will save you money and everyone will think you are a burger maker extraordinaire.

We like wedges with our burgers and they are so easy to make I don't know why anyone would bother buying them. I use one potato per person and scrub it clean. Then I cut them into quarters and then cut each quarter in to three or four pieces, depending on how big the potato is. Toss the pieces in a bowl with a little olive oil and some paprika (1/2 - 1 teaspoon depending on your taste). Bake them on a flat oven tray in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, turning after 10. They may need a few minutes longer, test with a fork to see if they are cooked through. Again, the savings are big: 1 kilo of potatoes cost around $1.00, add approximately 50 cents for the oil and paprika and the saving is at least $2 on the bought product.

I also make a secret 'burger sauce' that everyone loves. It's a secret because it's so easy to make I'm almost embarrassed to tell you how I make it. Well not really. It's super simple, very cheap and makes burgers extra special. I add two tablespoons Kraft Coleslaw dressing to 1/2 cup tomato sauce, stir to combine and spread it on the buns. It's that easy.

Well if I am going to make a birthday cake and burgers and wedges as well as send the newsletter and help Allan with some revision I need to get moving.

I hope you all enjoy Melbourne Cup Day, wherever you are.

01 November 2008

I've been on a shopping spree

Just after we were married my sister-in-law told me that I would need to replace all the linen every five years. Her theory was that sheets, towels, tea towels, tableclothes only lasted five years and then they had to be replaced. So, if the linen you were using was all wedding presents, then around your fifth anniversary you'd be up for replacing your entire linen cupboard and that could be expensive.

Well we've been married almost 20 years - how time flies - and I am just now coming to the stage where I need to replace sheets, towels and tea towels. With this in mind Mum and I went on a little shopping spree to refill my linen cupboard yesterday.

Towels were the most important thing on my list. I had made bathmats and hand towels from some of the older ones so the supply of towels for the bathroom was sadly depleted. We went to The Towel Shop, a fantastic outlet in Bayswater and I had so much fun choosing colours (colour schemes have changed somewhat in 20 years!) and sizes.

I bought four new bath sheets for just $5 each (RRP $19.95 each) and another four bath towels for $5 each (RRP $14.95 each) along with 4 new bathmats for just $3 each (RRP $11.95 each) and 20 face washers for just 50 cents each. Face washers make great cleaning clothes so I now have five burgundy for the bathrooms and five navy blue for spills and floors. The other ten are for us to use. All up I spent just $60 with a saving of at least $135.40 (I have no idea what the RRP of the face washers is). Now the linen cupboard is full again, everyone is happy with nice new towels to dry off with and I am pretty sure I won't need to buy new towels again for a good few years.

Oops, nearly forgot to tell you where this great outlet is. You'll find The Towel Shop at Factory 12, 52 Corporate Boulevard, Bayswater. Corporate Boulevard runs off Dorset Rd, just down from the Mountain Highway intersection. It's a fairly new estate so it may not be in your street directory.

28 October 2008

Success at last

If you heard rumbling this morning it wasn't thunder or an earthquake, it was me doing a happy dance around the house! I finally managed to get the newsletter to do what it is supposed to do (or at least what I want it to do) and get it sent out. I really miss sending the newsletter, it has become a part of my weekly routine. It's amazing how something so simple as getting an email to actually go can change your whole outlook.

It's amazing just how satisfying getting what you want can be. I can tell you I have not been happy these last few days while we were trying to fix the newsletter. I don't mind having to do something a couple of times to get it right but over and over and over becomes tedious and frustrating. And then, out of the blue, everything just falls into place and all's right with the world.

It's a bit like saving. Getting that first thousand dollars tucked away seems to take forever, the deposits are slow to add up, you are tempted to give up it's taking so long and then one day you've reached your first thousand. The trick is to keep plugging on. Don't give up. Everyone experiences set backs now and then. The winners pick themselves up and keep on going because I can tell you from experience that before you really know it you'll have two, three, four even five thousand dollars safely saved. And that is satisfying.

17 October 2008

The week that was...

Today is usually newsletter day for me. For whatever reason the wretched thing just won't do what I want it to at the moment and I am beyond frustrated! To paraphrase: when technology is good it is very, very good, but when it's bad it's rotten! Of course not being a techy type person I just expect that what I want is as simple as striking a few keys and Julie tells me that it's not quite the way things work. Ho hum, but I want it too so badly.

Perhaps being up extra early two days in a row could have something to do with it. Hannah left for her first ever high school camp this morning and she made sure she wasn't going to be late for the bus. The alarm went off 45 minutes earlier than it needed to! But she was on time. I was a little teary which is strange because she is always off somewhere or other for sleepovers or on camps with youth club so I totally did not expect to be sad waving her off this morning. Not that I was allowed to stay and wave her off. The only thing I was allowed to do was help her carry her things to the bus and then leave! I was told in no uncertain terms to go, she could manage just fine. So go I did - straight home to a 99.9% fat free hot chocolate. Doesn't quite have the same oomph as my coffee but I am being good and trying to cut right down to just one cup a day.

I'm getting there slowly but it's hard to find a hot drink replacement that I like. And I really like my hot drinks. So far I've tried tea. Not a huge success, I'm just not a tea fancier. I've tried hot lemon drinks and while I love the lemon zing they remind me so much of head colds and winter flu that I don't think they will be the replacement I need. So far the 99.9% fat free hot chocolate is winning but another few weeks and my head will be telling me it's way too warm for hot chocolates. If you have any suggestions for a replacement let me know. I'm getting desperate.

A busy day. Of course. The day I have planned to play catch up turns into a busier than ever day. Ran the boys to school and while I was over that way zipped up to my Auntie's to try and get their car started. They've been away for six months and get back tomorrow night and I thought it would be nice to have the car at least running for them. No luck. Jolly thing was as dead as a dodo so I rang Wayne. Upshot is we went back over on Wednesday night with the battery charger and ended up calling the RACV. The lovely RACV man was able to get it started and Wayne put it on the charger overnight.

Raced home and put the washing out, it was a lovely windy day and I wanted to get it in before I had to head out again. Managed to get some office work done, not much as I was sidetracked by emails, but the basics were covered at least.

Left again for a meeting at noon, had to turn around and race back home because I had left a folder on the desk. Finally managed to get there on time but only because I found a parking spot right outside the door. What a blessing that was. It was just a parking spot, but it was where I needed to be and available right when I wanted and needed it. It made me think about all the single, little things that happen that are blessings just as much as the big things. In fact when I thought about it I realised just how blessed I was each day. So many things just "go right" that I have been taking them for granted and I shouldn't. It's time to start a thankful list I think. A reminder of just how blessed we are.

So today I am thankful for:
Wayne and the kids
Our home
Safe travelling to and from school and meetings
An oven that works so I can prepare food for my family
A fully automatic washing machine for saving me time and energy
A lovely warm, windy day for drying washing
The Internet so I can work from home
Incredible teachers who are prepared to give up their time to go on camp with 40 odd 12 and 13 year olds
My bed - it's a running family joke that if I could just get a fridge and microwave in the bedroom I'd never leave it. I love my bed, it is so comfortable and cosy.

I've given up on trying to get the newsletter to do what I want. It will be a very boring looking newsletter this week, but it will still have all the news. Just not look as nice as I want it to. Working on getting it back to normal next week. Actually working flat out on getting it back to normal next week.

I picked my first sugar snap pea this morning. It was very nice and I felt a little tingle of excitement as I pulled it off the trellis. The crunch as I bit into it was so loud, that one little pea was the nicest I've ever had I think.

There are so many flowers on the tomato bushes and if all the baby zucchini actually mature then we'll have zucchini coming out our ears. I can foresee lots of quiche and zucchini pies and hopefully enough for more pickles. We are almost out of the lot I made last summer. The cabbages and cauliflowers have set and little tiny heads are developing. And I have started to pull the leaves off the lettuce and add them to our salads too. With plain old iceberg lettuce being $2.96 each this week that alone will save us about $10 a week!

I sprayed them with dish detergent and water this morning. I noticed something has been eating the eggplant and the capsicum so I gave them a squirt in the hope that whatever it is will disappear and leave my garden alone.

While I was outside I made a mistake. I saw a weed and pulled it out. Then I noticed another one and pulled it. And then there were more. Before I knew it there were so many I had to go and get the garden bin. And then sweep the pavers and the path. That's when I noticed that the bushes in the end garden were getting a little out of control and so I quickly grabbed the secateurs and trimmed them back. It did make it easier to sweep the path. With all the dust whipped up by the sweeping the table and chairs had to be wiped over. And before I knew it I had been outside for an hour and all I really intended was five quick minutes to look at the veggies. But the pergola is looking very nice and tidy and the garden is in tip top shape.

Today I am thankful for:
The RACV being able to get the car started last night
Mum being allowed to go back to swimming, it means her health has improved
Sons who are happy to help out at home without being asked, especially when they know I am feeling swamped
A nice clean car, it's amazing what 15 minutes, a vacuum and a duster can do
Good freeways so I can get from home to the airport easily and relatively quickly
The Internet so I could look up flight information and know that the plane was half an hour early
Meals in the freezer so everyone can help themselves for dinner tonight

NQR has opened a new shop at Forest Hill so I called in on my way home from the morning school run. It's a lovely shop, a much better lay out than the one I normally go to. And lots of lovely bargains to be had. Valencia fruit juices (2 litre bottles) for $1.89 each, cheese slices $2.79/500g (this equates to $5.68/kg, not a bad price for sliced cheese) and frozen stir fry veggies $1.99/kg, again a good price and they are good to keep in the freezer for quick dinners.

As I was already in the area, actually in the same street, I popped into the Lions Den, one of my favourite op shops. I splurged on a 50c tea cup for a craft project I want to try out. I was tempted by a very cute cut glass savoury dish but bravely put it back. What I did buy was another curtain to make some more veggie bags. Mum wants some made so I've been looking for a cheap curtain. This one was only $3.50 and I'll think I'll be able to get at least 15 bags from it. The girls at the fruit shop just smile at me now when I hand them my "green" veggie bags but they were a little bemused for the first few times. It would be so nice if they caught on. Imagine how many plastic bags wouldn't end up in landfill if everyone used fabric veggie bags?

Hannah is back today and I can't wait. I have missed her so much this week. I've only had to answer one question all week. The boys just don't seem to say "Mum, can I ask you a question?" the way she does. One thing I did notice, apart from the quiet (it's amazing how much extra noise one child can make, you don't miss it until it's not there), is that the house stayed so much tidier. It's amazing just how much stuff one girl thinks she needs to be using at the same time. All week the family room has been tidy, nothing on the floor, no piles of paper or books or craft on the table or stacked on a chair. The boys are planning on giving her a good teasing about it. They emphatically announced that it is Hannah and only Hannah that makes the mess. That's not quite true, they do help, they just don't have as many things on the go at once as she does.

Well it's 2.45 and I don't want to be late for pick-up today. I want to be on time to get my girl and see how much she's grown and changed in four days at camp.

Today I am thankful for:
Discount grocers to help me stay on grocery budget
My girl getting home safe and sound and very, very tired, but full of exciting news
Teachers who cared enough to make sure she put the ointment in her eye each night before bed
Op shops so I can use our money wisely on things we need and on things we just want
Friends who make me laugh and smile with their tales and antics
Daylight saving so Wayne can see what he's cooking on the bbq without using the lights

13 October 2008

This morning I had to be in the city, at Docklands, by 7.45am for this mornings Sunrise segment. This meant an extra early start for me and the kids, who very kindly woke and dressed without a grumble so we could leave home by 6.30am. Yes, it takes at least an hour, oftentimes longer, to get from home to Docklands in the morning peak hour , and me being me, I like to have a little spare time up my sleeve in case of hold-ups. We had such a good run in this morning I was signing in at Channel 7 by 7.25am. I was grateful, the few extra minutes gave me time to catch my breath before the segment started.

Another reason I wanted to leave a little earlier is that AJ was driving. He's only a few weeks off getting his licence and it suddenly hit me that he has had lots of driving on residential streets and main roads and plenty of highway driving time but he had never actually driven in the city during peak hour. I apologise to anyone who was behind us this morning but he did a great job and wasn't at all concerned about the huge amount of traffic around him or all the stop/start driving, even the trams didn't seem to bother him. He also managed a couple of square turns without blinking an eye too, I am very proud of him.

We have been drumming into him the 'drive to conserve fuel' routine - you know the smooth take offs and braking, keeping the revs under2,000, watching the traffic ahead and anticipating, driving at a consistent speed because I noticed the petrol bill creeping up once he started driving. It seems to have made a difference. He drives to and from school and trains and anywhere else he can and I haven't increased the petrol money and we haven't run out so I'm hoping the habits will stick once he's in his own car (and paying for his own fuel will help with that I'm sure).

There are a couple of apples going wrinkly in the fruit bowl that need using up. Because the kids had to get up so early I am going to make them apple fritters for afternoon tea, as a thank you for being so tolerant of their mother and her work and just because they are great kids and I really love them to bits and like to spoil them. They are really easy to make but if you want to have the best apple fritters you need to make the batter a couple of hours beforehand to give it time to rest.

~Apple Fritters~

2 cups self rising flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups tart apples, chopped (I use whatever apples are in the fruit bowl but Granny Smiths are the best if you are a purist)

Whisk flour and sugar together. Beat eggs and milk together until light and fluffy, gradually add to the dry ingredients, mixing well to avoid lumps. Refrigerate batter for about 2 hours. Stir in the apples. Drop tablespoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Roll in icing sugar or a sugar/cinnamon combination. Yum!

It's an odd day here today. Quite warm but looking out the window it could be the middle of winter. It's so grey, not a patch of blue sky to be seen and no sunshine at all. It's also very window, I had to go through the house and close the windows when I came home, the blinds and curtains were blowing all over. I've put the washing out, Hannah decided last night that she wanted to take the jeans she was wearing on her camp tomorrow so I put the washing through last night and hung it out early this morning. Now I am just watching the weather, they'll be dry soon and I don't want it to rain on them, although the rain would be a blessing.

12 October 2008

Sunday happenings

This morning was such a lovely sunny Sunday morning I couldn't stay inside. I crept out of bed at 6.30 and with coffee in hand slipped out the back. It was so warm, the warmest morning we've had in ages. Sunday is our day to water so I gave the ferns a good drink and sprinkled the veggies and pots while I had the hose out. Now the weather is warming up the ferns are going to need more regular drinks or I fear I'll lose them and I would hate that. The ferns and the veggies are really the only things in the garden that I look after. Thank goodness natives are used to drought conditions and can look after themselves but I look out the kitchen window straight into a tropical forest of tree ferns and even on the hottest of days it looks so cool and green that I feel better straight away so I will have to make sure I'm up and out watering by 6am on Wednesdays and Sundays for the rest of the summer.

While I had some quiet time this morning I was able to update the Tip Sheet for the week and it kind of made me feel a little guilty. Getting Fit on a Budget is something I really need to pay more attention too. Actually getting fit at all. I ride my bike almost everyday and I enjoy it so now daylight saving has started I should push myself to go a little bit farther each day and get a little more exercise. It's free after all and I really do feel great when I get back home so I'll think on it and see what I decide.

I managed to get the school uniforms washed on Friday afternoon, but I didn't do the boy's shirts. When I first realised their uniform shirts were white I almost had a fit but really they are much easier to look after than the blue ones they wore in primary school. I can soak white shirts in a little nappy soak or give any marks a rub with a bar of soap and they come up beautifully white and clean. This morning I filled the laundry tub with hot water and soaked the shirts and a few pairs of white sports socks that looked a little dingy for an hour before I put them into the wash. They are on the line right now and boy are they white! I'll be able to get them in and ironed in a little while too, the wind is blowing nicely so they will be dry in no time.

I've swapped the menu around today. I found a leg of lamb languishing at the bottom of the freezer so it can go on the bbq for dinner tonight and then lunches for the week. I've already pushed cloves of garlic into the skin and sprinkled it with rosemary. Before it goes onto the rotisserie I'll pour lemon juice over it and then it can cook slowly until it's done. I must remind Wayne to keep basting it with the lemon juice too, it gives it such lovely subtle tang. The chicken we were going to have can do for another night.

The coming week is going to be a busy one. Already everyday has something out of the ordinary booked in. Tomorrow morning I am on Sunrise at 8.15am so that means an extra early start to be in at Docklands by 7.45, then back out to get the kids to school by 9:00am. They'll come with me into the city so it will be an early start for them too. I must remember to get the breakfast things out tonight so they can just get up and eat in the morning. There are a couple of bananas in the freezer so I'll make them some banana pancakes to have instead of toast and that should save a little time too.

Tuesday Hannah is off on school camp, so another early start. Then Wednesday the car is going in to get some work done (thank goodness for a mechanic we can trust). Thursday is a trip out to the airport to pick up my aunty and uncle who are returning from visiting family in the US. I can't wait to catch up with what everyone is up to, I miss my cousins and their families terribly. Thank goodness for email, Picassa and Skype. We chat via one or the other almost everyday and share photos back and forth regularly so it's almost as good as being face to face, although I'm just getting up when they are going to bed. Friday is shopping day and my girl will be home from camp too. And that's the coming week. Throw in the usual chores and it will be busy, busy, busy.

11 October 2008

Reading on a sunny spring Saturday

Why is it that on the mornings I don't need to be up and at 'em at first light I can't sleep and yet on the mornings I do I can't wake up? Murphy must have permanent residence at our house I think. I could have slept until 7.30 this morning and still have plenty of time to get up and organized for the day but would you believe I was awake, wide awake at 5.45am? By 6 o'clock I couldn't stay still so out of bed I climbed.

I'm so glad I did. It was a beautiful dawn, the light was just magical. And as a bonus I looked out the lounge room window and the apple tree that has been bare for so long has come into blossom and it is so pretty. I'm sure it didn't have blossom on it yesterday but it certainly has today. Oh, and the tomatoes have loads of flowers on them and the sugar snap peas are starting to flower too and I can hardly wait to start picking. There's something so satisfying about picking and eating food you've grown yourself and it always tastes better too.

I lashed out a couple of weeks ago and bought a mushroom kit from Aldi. We love mushrooms and I use them a lot in salads and quiche but at around $9/kg they can be an expensive addition to the grocery bill so I am going to try my hand at growing them again. I think that under the back verandah will be the ideal spot for the box. It's dark, cool and damp and I can get to it easily enough. Here's hoping it will give me at least two kilos of fungi, then I will have recouped the initial cost. Any over that and I'll be in front and very happy.

We had a simple lunch today - homemade pies with chicken casserole from the freezer as the filling. I changed the pastry this time and it was a big hit with everyone. I cut the bases from shortcrust and used puff for the tops - yum! Hannah made some little jam popovers from the scraps and they were a treat with cream for dessert. No waste from this meal at all.

Hannah has gone off to youth group early today. They are doing their community service badge and collecting for charity for a couple of hours this afternoon and then they'll have their usual get together this evening so it will only be four for dinner tonight. We are having tacos and I'm planning on the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. If I add an extra can of beans to the mix there will be plenty left for nachos tomorrow and they'll taste even better after being in the fridge overnight.

Well I have a new book I am itching to get into so I think I'll go get it and settle down for an hour (or two) or peaceful reading. I can't think of anything I'd rather do on this gorgeous spring afternoon.

10 October 2008

Friday is my at home day. It's the one day of the week where I deliberately don't make plans to go out, meet anyone, do any interviews or make any other appointments. Friday is cleaning day. It was cleaning day when I was growing up and I'm not sure what would happen if I changed it but I sure as heck am not going to risk it.

Every Friday I clean our home from top to bottom and it positively sparkles by lunchtime, in my eyes anyway. Today was an especially nice day for cleaning, bright sunshine, stunning blue sky and just a light breeze to dry the washing. The gorgeous day prompted me to start washing the winter blankets off our beds ready to put away until next April. Two down, two to go. They may get done on Sunday.

I'll let you in on a secret: cleaning has become easier for me as I've eliminated products. Nowadays I have white vinegar, bi-carb, laundry soap and lots and lots of microfibre cloths. Put those together with a bucket of cool water and there isn't much that can't be cleaned, and cleaned quickly. There's not a lot of residue to clean off anything when you use simple cleaning solutions. There are some recipes for simple but really effective homemade cleaning solutions in the October Journal if you are not sure what to use to clean things.

I've even changed the way I polish the furniture. Mum found some gorgeous orange scented beeswax furniture polish when she was a way and bought a tin for me. It is so nice to use and gives the furniture a lovely glow - patina I think the antique dealers call it. It's the glow built up over time by repeated polishing. Whatever it's called the timber has never looked lovelier.

One thing I noticed as I was cleaning out the fridge is that there weren't any leftovers lurking anywhere this week. I usually find at least a couple of odd things hiding at the back and use them to make a mufti soup or stew or pie or something but not this week. It was a little off-putting until I realised that I have been extra careful with portions and recipes to try and keep the grocery bill down. Don't get me wrong, no one has been hungry and there is still plenty to eat if they are, but I have been making sure that absolutely nothing is being wasted. Hopefully it will show when I go shopping next.

Another thing I've gone back to doing faithfully is tracking our spending. The kids have even been telling me what they've been spending their money on so it's been going into the notebook too. So far this week we have had three days with no spending by any of us, so that was neat.

I picked up a jar of Tandoori powder at the greengrocer last week, it was only $2.25, must less than the jar of paste I usually buy (I haven't tried making my own yet). By my estimate it is the equivalent of 20 jars of the paste so that's a considerable saving. If you're interested it is GFresh Tandoori Seasoning, Spicy. The company is SA Spice, 64 Wood Ave, Ridleyton. Ph. 08 8346 0688.

There were some bbq lamb chops languishing in the freezer so I mixed 1/2 teaspoon with 1/2 cup plain yoghurt (homemade of course) and it was just lovely. I brushed them with the tandoori and put them in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then Wayne cooked them on the bbq while I made a salad like the one we get at our favourite Indian restaurant. It's a simple salad - torn lettuce, diced cucumber, diced tomato and thinly sliced onion tossed together and seasoned with sea salt and ground black pepper. Hannah made some naan and we had a really nice "Indian" dinner and for about a quarter the price of eating out.

Our kids have had lots of questions this week about money and banking and how a bank in another country can cause such trouble all over the world. Hopefully we have been able to reassure them that as a family we will be fine. They understand that we don't have any debt, I think I've told them often enough that credit cards are not for spending so they know we don't have any cc debt and they know we bank regularly into a savings account that is just for saving. They also know that when the gas bill came in this week I was a little unhappy, it was slightly over what I had budgeted for this bill and I wasn't happy until I worked out that the price has actually gone up, we haven't used more than usual, so we are all working on ways to cut back on using gas. We are trying to get the next bill down to the minimum charge.

07 October 2008

If it is to be it is up to me

Well what a week the past seven days have been. If you have been watching the news, reading papers or listening to the radio you'll know that our world is in an absolute financial mess and that mess is going to have a huge negative impact on each of us if we are not aware of what is going on and take action to protect ourselves and our families.

The events of the past few weeks have been enough to have a lot of Cheapskaters asking "what does this mean for me?" Now that I have stopped stomping and grumbling and getting upset and muttering about greed and stupidity and incompetence and over inflated egos I can tell you that as Cheapskates we are in a great position.

There are ten little words that will make you strong: if it is to be it is up to me.

I believe that there are four things we can all be doing that will cement our financial future regardless of what happens. Firstly we need to keep on building our savings. Pay yourself first isn't just something I talk about, it is something I do and I want you to do it too. I know it might seem wrong to be building savings when you have debt (and I'll get to that in a minute) but it's not. You need to build an emergency savings account of at least three months (preferably six, even better twelve) total living expenses. To do this you need to be saving regularly. Even a small amount banked regularly and left will grow quickly and considerably. Remember in Mary Poppins when they were at the bank? Compounding interest really is magical.

Secondly, as Cheapskates we know how to live below our means and we know how to pay down debt, and pay it down quickly. My advice to you is that right now, if you have any debt at all, you should be paying it off as fast as you can. Now is not the time to be paying minimums on anything. Get your Payment Push going and put every spare cent you have onto paying down your debt. You'll be saving yourself a heap of interest and you'll be gaining security that can't be taken away from you. If you owe no one you can't lose.

Thirdly, think before you spend. Stop spending if you can. This is where the $100/24 Hour Rule can be applied. Think long and hard before you buy things that aren't strictly necessary. And look at cheaper alternatives to the things that are necessary. Now is a good time to be cutting expenses.

And lastly, get rid of those awful credit cards. Take a pair of scissors and cut them in half. And don't try to tell me you might need it in an emergency. That's what your emergency fund is for. You do not want to have your credit cards paid off and no money saved, only to have to resort to using them again if the car breaks down or the washing machine stops spinning. If you have built up an emergency fund then you will have the cash to cover the emergency and you won't be paying it off forever.

01 October 2008

Kids in the kitchen

Here's a fun recipe the kids can try during the holidays (or you can just make it for yourself). It was sent to me by Jeanette Tomlinson, and I can tell you that even the boys had a go at making it.

Three Minute Chocolate Cake

1 large coffee mug
4 tbsp plain flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cooking cocoa
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp oil
Small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mu, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix again. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed! Allow to cool 2 minutes and then eat or gently run a knife around the edge, tip out onto a plate to eat if desired. You can get two serves from the one cake if you cut it in half vertically. Put it onto a plate, add a scoop of ice-cream and enjoy.

18 September 2008

Someone let the cat out of the bag

Today has been so exciting for me. I have literally been bouncing around I am so excited. This morning I had the privilege of speaking with Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon program for 30 minutes. I was going to just talk with Kathryn and if any of our New Zealander members heard me and let us know I would have been thrilled. Instead, unbeknowns to me, Julie let you all know. She even posted a message in the Member's Forum!

Oh my goodness! Since 9.50 this morning we have been absolutely flat out welcoming new members from New Zealand and of course Australia. I was so excited to be spreading the Cheapskating message in New Zealand that I hardly stopped talking to draw breath. Kathryn was very patient with me and let me go on and on and on about how great living the Cheapskates way is and really how easy it is to get started. Kathryn is so good at her job she even had me confessing just what a terrible cook I was in the beginning and how I had to learn how to sew on a button. The family has survived so perhaps I've improved over the years :)

I really just want to welcome all our new members and I hope you have as much fun living the Cheapskates way as we do.

16 September 2008

Tumble dryers: for drying clothes or extra storage?

I mentioned in today's newsletter that I use the clothes dryer for storage (at the moment it's full of pasta). Heather Hanneman sent me this message:

"Hi Cath. Just a quick message to you. Really enjoying the quick recipes. It's not good for your dryer to sit idle for too long as (so I've been told) the belt which drives it goes hard and stiff and develops a kink where it bends. Best to use it on warm about once a month."

I have a confession to make: I can't remember the last time I used the dryer. I may have used it since we've been in this house but I am not sure so it is probably too late for those belts. There is a four strand clothesline under the back verandah and unless it's really damp cold the clothes go out there. If the weather isn't the best I have 6 clothes horses, one for each of us and one for the towels and sheets etc. Each of the kids have a clothes horse over the central heating vent in their bedrooms. Wet clothes go on in the morning and they can take the dry clothes off and put them away the next morning. We do the same thing and it works a treat, well as long as I keep the washing up to date anyway. I usually put jeans and heavy things on the big racks and stand it over a vent or in front of the wood heater and they are dry in no time.

It was really kind of Heather to take the time to warn me so I thought I would pass it on for those of you who have a dryer and only use it occasionally.

01 September 2008

My little girl looks like a pirate

My gorgeous girl has a patch over her right eye! She was hit in the eye at tennis last Thursday and by yesterday morning it was so swollen she looked like she had a golf ball under her eyelid. We live in a great country with a fantastic health system really. I was able to ring our doctor's surgery and get the after hours number, make an appointment and have her eye checked out and it was all bulk billed! I was amazed, I thought for sure a Sunday morning emergency visit would cost something, but it didn't. And the doctor was so good with her, she was very upset and in a lot of pain. As it turns out the ball that hit her eye actually tore the inside of it and it had turned into an abscess. I felt so bad until the doctor told me that even if I had taken her to get it checked out of Thursday that he wouldn't have done anything different to me. But I still feel bad, you know that awful feeling that comes with motherhood when one of your babies is hurt. She's off school for the week, with ointments, drops and antibiotics for the infection and a patch because the light hurts it. When I rang the school to tell them she would be away (and arrange some work for her hehe) they reminded me to keep any receipts for treatment and medicines as this accident is covered by her school insurance. Yay! Depending on how much it all ends up costing I may be able to get 70% of our out of pocket expenses back.

Spending the afternoon at the doctors meant that I didn't get the roast on yesterday so dinner was baked vegetables and left-overs. Went down a treat and it was a good way to use up the odd bits and pieces from the last few days. I guess gravy can make anything taste good after all.

Our neighbour on the left has two huge and very fruit laden orange trees in his backyard and he doesn't eat oranges so we have come to an arrangement. I'll pick the fruit and make marmalade and orange slices in syrup and some orange poppy seed cakes and share some of them with him for sharing the fruit with me. I'm so pleased because oranges have been rather expensive lately and these two trees have enough fruit on them to keep me in the kitchen for a few days. There are so many oranges I will even be happy to juice some of them and put it in the freezer for summer drinks and jellies.

On that note, with the warmer days on their way, I have started a new ginger beer plant and have made some lemonade and put it away to bubble up. If I get enthused I'll make some orange and lemon cordial with some of the lovely free fruit and bottle it for summer too. Which reminds me to let friends know to save their bottles for me.

It's been quite a frugal few days here, no spending other than the ointment and medicines for Hannah, so I think I will move what's left of this week's budget over to our holiday fund and give it a boost. Holidays will be here before we know it and it will be nice to have a little extra money to splurge on a surprise treat or two for everyone.

28 August 2008

It must be spring, the garden is growing and I'm cleaning!

My little veggie garden is thriving and I have really enjoyed getting out and digging around in the soil this week. It's still quite cold and we've had a little rain so the plants are looking nice and healthy. I've been faithfully putting the plastic over them each night in case of frosts and trotting out first thing each morning to take it off. I read somewhere (and I can't remember where) that watering from a jug using a cup or your hand and warm water helps the soil to warm up and plants just love it so I have been tipping the dregs from the kettle into a bucket and topping it off with cold water each morning. If it was sunny I could just sit the bucket in the sun for a while before watering. The neighbours must think I'm a fully certified nut, out there in dressing gown and fluffy slippers, saying good morning to those dear little plants. I'm planning on bumper crops this summer, of everything, so I'm prepared to do whatever it takes, even warming the water and chatting to the plants. Next door will just have to put up with their nutty neighbour.

This time of year always puts me in a cleaning mood, it must be the longer days and blue skies, so slowly, slowly I have been working my way through the house doing a thorough spring clean, following much the same as my usual daily routines, just a little more thoroughly. I like knowing that our home is clean, sometimes it gets a little untidy, but it is clean, something I am really grateful for these days when I can get a phone call and 45 minutes later have a TV crew in the loungeroom! I read a great tip this week and it was a real DOH! moment for me. Everyone knows that I just love microfibre cloths, use them to clean everything from the bathroom tiles to the windows, even spots on the carpet. Well they can be expensive and some of the mits are quite bulky and awkward to use. There's a tip in the Tip Store, Slip on Dusters, for using microfibre socks! Now you can understand the doh! can't you? Socks have been a mainstay for dusters and rags in our house since forever! I can tell you that wiping over skirting boards and window sills is so easy when you have microfibre sock on your hand. If you have the cleaning bug and some old microfibre socks try it

25 August 2008

The Olympics may be over, but Cheapskaters just keep on championing on

The 2008 Olympic Games are over and with them the 2008 Cheapskating Olympics are over too. It's sad in a way, I've had a lovely time watching the competitors as they competed in their events, they are all so proud of their accomplishments and rightly so.

We had 135 competitors and 5 events. Some Cheapskaters entered every single event! They must be thrilled with their efforts, I am so proud of each and every one of them.

The games may be over, but that doesn't mean that you have to stop challenging yourself. Four years will fly by, so keep up the training and imagine the records you'll be breaking at the 2012 Olympics! And if you weren't able to enter these games, start training now for the next lot, it's never to early to start living the Cheapskates way.

All the competitors are champions and all are gold medal winners (we only have gold medals in these games).

Congratulations to you all and if you didn't quite finish your event, don't give up. Keep going; remember it's not who wins the race but how you run it, and you are going to run right to gold.

24 August 2008

Christmas is coming! I can tell because the toy sales have been on and Aldi has started to put out little bits and pieces, ready for the holiday rush. I have been buying gifts all year and have finished the extended family and friend presents. Some of them are even wrapped and ready to post or deliver or give to someone else to carry which is a huge weight off my mind. I'm feeling pretty good because I have even done the birthday presents for extended family for next year. And the parcels to go to America are ready to send too. The one thing I haven't done this year is collect any stocking stuffers so I will be looking for those between now and the end of school for the kids.

Hannah has asked for a sewing machine for Christmas, something I am thrilled about. When I was 13 the last thing on my mind was a sewing machine! I am hoping that between Mrs. Allan (her Home Ec teacher) and I we can keep her enthusiasm going and teach her to sew properly. Its one thing I really wish I had paid more attention to when I was at school. It took the Disaster to really get me sewing and quite a long time after to get me to really enjoy it. These days I wish I had more time to sit at the machines. I love being able to make a garment that fits me properly. Clothes that fit well look great and they are worn more often, making them a really good investment for a Cheapskate like myself . Anyway I digress. I am now shopping for a good basic model that is easy to use and not too expensive and I am having a ball. Going into sewing shops and looking at everything, planning what I would do if I had this machine or that machine is a fun way to waste an hour or two.

Of course if she gets a sewing machine she will need her own sewing box, full of nick nacks and neat tools for her craft so I am picking up odds and ends when I see them on sale to stock the box. And the box won't really be a box. It will be a tackle box, with cantilever divided trays, so she has plenty of room for everything. They are sure to come on sale before Christmas so I will be keeping an eye open for one.

It has been so jolly cold here the last couple of days the heater has had a workout and a half. Wayne has been getting up in the middle night and putting more wood on the fire so the house would be warm for me when I climbed out of bed and I have really appreciated it. A bonus is that I can sit a pan of water on top of the heater in the morning and by lunchtime it is simmering away nicely, just right for a cup of soup or a hot drink. By tea time it's warm enough to wash the pots with, using less hot water from the tank and having enough for showers without someone (usually me) waiting.

Last winter Wayne put hooks in the ceiling, about 45cm from the heater flue, and they are great for hanging shirts and jumpers on to dry (I do put them on hangers first). We all know hot air rises and the washing dries in no time on hangers hung on hooks. Boy that's hard to say fast! That part of the family room may look like a laundry but at least the washing is drying and it's not taking any extra energy to do it.

Wayne and AJ have been at a train exhibition all weekend, leaving home at 7am and getting back around 9pm, full of anecdotes about layouts and models and who's done the best weathering and who has the best photos and so on, it's really quite cute. Can you tell I don't have much interest in model trains? I overheard one conversation about hot drinks and costing $2.80 each! Yikes, with such cold, wet weather and long, long days they are bound to have had at least two each! Lucky this exhibition is a once a year thing. They did tell me that they weren't paying for parking, the street parking at Caulfield Racecourse is free on weekends so that's a saving of around $20, perhaps it can balance out the cost of the hot drinks.

Hannah has been after a checked shirt ever since I delegated her original one to the rag bag. That shirt was a present for her 8th birthday, was so faded that it was hard to tell it had ever been checked and she could barely get her arms into the sleeves let alone do it up so it really did have to go. I saved the pearly buttons off it for her just in case. We have been looking at the checked shirts in the shops for a few weeks but they have been so expensive, anything from $29.95 up to on we saw in Myer for $59.99! Well on Thursday I found some pink, checked cotton, almost identical to the original fabric, for $4.99/metre. A shirt only takes 1.2 metres for her so I bought it for her. We went through the pattern box this morning and she picked a pattern she likes so I'll get it cut out tonight and hopefully sewn up tomorrow, just in time for her to wear it to a birthday dinner. She is one happy little girl at the moment and I'm a happy mum, this shirt has cost just $5.98 to make! I had thread and interfacing in the sewing cupboard and we will use the buttons off her original shirt so no cost there either.

With spring only a week away, my thoughts have turned to summer and veggie gardens and lots of lovely, fresh salad vegetables. If the weather is dry this week (and I'm praying for dry days and rainy nights) then my plan is to get out in the garden and get started for spring planting. There is a lovely collection of pots in the garage, waiting to be cleaned and filled and planted and I found some scraps of timber that will be ideal for a square foot garden bed. I can't wait to get my hands back into the soil and plant out the seedlings I've been nursing along. There are cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes, snow peas, eggplant, cauliflowers, squash, lettuces, cucumbers and capsicums. I also want some strawberry plants to put in the bed nearest the fence too so I just might have to sacrifice some time on Tuesday and visit the nursery. The hardest part of that sacrifice will be not spending up big on all those lovely seeds and seedlings.

13 August 2008

The carbon tracking is going quite well. Everyone is enthusiastically recording everything, including the amount of rubbish we are generating. That is one area we can definitely improve in, starting with the packaging we get on just about everything. I'm thinking I'll have to make a stack more veggie bags and I think I'll make a couple of fold-up shopping bags to keep in my handbag. The green bags are great but they don't exactly fold down small enough to keep on me all the time.

I helped Hannah with her science homework last night and it was great fun. She had to make an edible model of a cell. We used biscuits and icing and some lollies left over from her party and if I do say so it turned out quite well. She has to present it to the class and then they get to eat it so it was a little tricky making sure it was going to be big enough for 22 kids and a teacher to share! Thank goodness Tupperware make such big cake containers because we covered the entire base of the giant square one with our cell. This teacher sounds like a lot of fun, she is giving each child a different topic to be made into an edible model - no wonder the whole school loves her.

No. 2 son has to find somewhere to do his work experience assignment, which means lots of phone calls and dropping off of forms and permission slips. If only he had any idea of what he might like to do when he finishes school. I did offer to let him work in the office with me but he muttered something about slave labour and child abuse and possibly getting paid if he works somewhere else and ran away. I thought three square meals, a warm bed and a happy, smiling mother would have been more than enough pay for him.

Early Monday morning I could hear a strange grunting coming from our bedroom and I was almost too scared to take a look. Turns out it was Wayne, sitting on the end of the bed, putting his socks and work boots on. When I asked him if he was Ok he grumbled that he was having trouble getting his hands to reach his feet. Ooops! Winter has obviously been to much comfort food and not enough exercise so on that note we are on a written out healthy eating plan. I wrote it out, just like my usual menu plan, so everyone will know what they can eat and drink. Now that means that this month's menu plan has gone out the window so to speak but with Spring only a few weeks away and summer clothes already in the shops, I need a little push to trim down a little too.

Out came my favourite cookbooks - the Symply Too Good To Be True cookbooks. I have all five of them and most of the recipes have become firm family favourites. They are so good because they are real food for real people, good looking and tasty meals that don't cost a fortune to make and that don't require exotic and expensive ingredients. And they are perfect for time poor mums and anyone else who is busy.

My fondness for these books (and Annette, their delightful author and her husband Bill) started way back in 2001 when books 1 and 2 were part of a prize package when I won the MBN Victorian Homebased Business of the Year award. Since then I think I've cooked something out of at least one of the books every week. I was so inspired that I called Annette for a chat and she has very graciously offered to supply a fantastic recipe for the September Journal so that's very exciting, I'm sure you must be getting tired of my recipes - or concoctions as the boys politely refer to them.

Today has been cold, no rain sadly, but absolutely freezing and blowing a gale. August is supposed to be our windy month so I can't expect anything less. And windy days are good blanket drying days. Oooh, and they are great for drying jeans too.

It's almost time to start dinner. Tonight we are having Swiss Pitti Panna, from Symply Too Good To Be True book 5. Yum, a warm, delicious and low fat comfort food, perfect for a cold, windy night.

11 August 2008

Finding it hard to breath

After watching the preliminaries to the Beijing Olympics this week I am more determined than ever to do everything possible to reduce our carbon footprints. My heart just aches for the people who have to live, day after day, in that incredibly dank looking smog.

I started thinking about the long term ramifications breathing in that poisonous air will have for the citizens of Beijing (and any other city that is even remotely that polluted). They will not only have immediate health issues such as asthma, skin and eye irritations and so on, but the long term effects on this and future generations could be devastating for this country.

I already use mostly plain water and microfibre cloths for cleaning, with vinegar and bi-carb for an extra boost if needed. The washing powder is pure soap, washing soda and borax. We have switched all the light globes over to compact fluorescents and turn things off at the wall when they aren't being used. Showers are limited to 5 minutes and no longer; I have the routine down now, when the water has been running for two minutes I start knocking on the door. Just before the five minutes is up I actually open the bathroom door. Works like a charm, before the door is even a quarter open the water is off and the kids are howling at me to go away. I'm such a mean mother :)

For the next week we (I have deputised the kids for this job) are going to track our carbon footprint and then work on reducing it. I don't ever want to live in such a rank atmosphere as that in Beijing and I certainly don't want to inflict such an environment on my children or any future grandchildren that might be coming my way.

I found a carbon calculator that is really quite easy to use online. You just need to have your electricity and gas bills handy and know some basic info about your car, just to let you know, because it's much easier to have them handy before you sit down to play with this carbon calculator. One area we can improve in is the amount of travelling we do. I drive 68kms a day just getting the kids to and from school without any other trips so if I can combine trips and do errands at the same time that will help. And I can keep on lobbying for real public transport in our area instead of the bus route to nowhere that we have.

Ok. I'm off to find a notebook to use for tracking, I think there's a small one in one of the desk drawers.

06 August 2008

Going cherry picking

I am really torn with the grocery price debate that is raging at the moment. I am excited that finally something official is being done about the cost of food in this country, but I am not convinced that the website that has been set up, grocerychoice.gov.au, will actually save me any money. It's great to see which supermarket was cheapest in the survey, but I can't see exactly what was included in the various baskets or how much each item cost so I have no idea if I would save money shopping there and the prices are a month old anyway; very frustrating for a nosey parker like me. The data is a little airy fairy for my taste too, I much prefer the information in my grocery spreadsheet and my trusty pricebook. I know the information in these two priceless documents is accurate for my needs.

These days, thanks to shopping the Cheapskates way, I buy fresh milk and the rest of the trolley is for cherry picking. Isn't that a gorgeous name for shopping? I have no idea who came up with it but I love it. Cherry picking is when your grocery stockpile is at the stage where you only need to top up, which you do when things are on sale. Saying "I'm just going cherry picking" sounds much more fun than "I'm going to do the groceries". Last week I cherry picked 24 cans of tomato soup for 89 cents each, enough for our needs for at least 6 months.

I get some strange looks when I go through the checkout. Who in their right mind would by 24 cans tomato soup, 12 bottles of orange juice, another 12 of apple juice, four kilos of cocktail franks (they were really cheap, they freeze beautifully and they are a favourite snack with the boys and their friends), and 12 litres of milk? The days I get a good deal on toilet paper are better, if I can get it for under 45 cents a roll I stock up, and I mean stock up. I'll buy enough to last us for at least three months, more if I can fit it in the trolley. I'm sure people must think I have 15 kids with the quantities I buy. At least I know we won't run out and I have spent less too. It's a nice feeling to win against the supermarkets :)

I had a chat with Susannah Wilson from Fox News about this earlier today and you can hear the interview on Fox news this evening. I think that lots of people are going to be lulled into thinking that they will save money if they shop at the cheapest supermarket for their area on this Grocery Choice. I hope they are not to disappointed when they realise they may not be.

01 August 2008

I'm such a jar snob

I spent yesterday with Mum making cumquat marmalade. It's so easy and quick to make with this recipe, it has to be my favourite marmalade recipe. There are now nine lovely jars in the cupboard just waiting to be spread on hot toast or muffins. Or used in a bread and butter pudding. Or a dollop dropped into muffin batter for a surprise in the middle. So many ways to use marmalade but my favourite is on toast. With tea. Just like in the song.

We were remembering while we were cooking and I can't quite remember where I found these instructions. From the way they are written in my recipe book I think they may have come from a CWA meeting years ago. I didn't put down who gave them to me, but the recipe looks like one passed from cook to cook, no great detail, a little vague but always reliable.
I put the recipe for Quick Citrus Marmalade in the Recipe File in case you're interested.

I also discovered that I have become a jar snob! Who would have thought that you could become class conscious over jam jars. While we were sorting out the jars and lids, ready to wash and sterilise them, I decided I only want to use the 'pretty' jars, not the plain pasta sauce type jars. Two boxes of jars and lids later I had found enough that looked pretty enough to use. If you like pretty jars the nicest ones I have are Woolworths Select stir-fry sauce and You'll Love Coles jam jars. They both have lovely shapes to them and the labels were really easy to get off. My reasoning is that if the jam is already in a pretty jar I won't need to put it in a jam dish to serve at the table. See, I'm saving on water with less washing up. Well that's my story anyway.

Other nice jars I've seen have been Aldi and BiLo jam jars. If you're making jam or preserves for a gift hamper putting them in a nice jar and making a fabric or paper cover for the lid creates an illusion of luxury.

I was so excited when I finally made it to Coles today. I really wanted to get some of the tomato soup that was advertised as an in store special for 89c a can but I couldn’t get to the store earlier in the week and I was sure it would all be gone. I only use tomato and cream of chicken canned soups and in winter especially I seem to go through at least a can a week. I was able to buy 24 cans of tomato soup at 89 cents a can, the cheapest for a brand name in this current pricebook, so in at least twelve months. Now I have a nice supply on the shelf I can cross it off next month's shopping list.

It's time to tally up last month's spending too and see how we are travelling. Grocery wise I *think* I've done well this month. We had Hannah's birthday and a couple of extra unplanned parties and Thomas has a 16th birthday party to go to on Sunday, Pirates or Ninjas. He's opted for the pirate outfit, I had a quick look at the Pirate Party page for some ideas and found some really easy costume ideas to use that won't cost a cent. Gotta love free party costumes.

29 July 2008

Tail over turkey in an instant

Well here I am, sitting with my feet up, typing away. I'm not being lazy, I have a good reason for having my feet up in the middle of the day. I had a little trip last night, went tail over turkey and now my left foot hurts. I'm hoping it's just a sprain and not a break because while I enjoy putting my feet up when I want to, I don't enjoy it when it's forced on me.

I wish I had been a fly on the wall when it happened. After I had taken a moment to quietly assess the damage (read: bellow in agony and roll around on the floor LOL) I suggested politely that someone might like to remember RICE. I must have asked really politely because the three kids were falling over themselves to get up and in less than 20 seconds I had the rice canister politely handed to me. Honestly if I hadn't been in so much pain I would have laughed out loud at them. Way back when, or at least when I did my first aid training RICE was rest, ice, compression, elevation not the staple food of Asia.

Our youth club runs first aid courses for the kids so the next one I'll book my three in for the day. It's not cheap, around $105 for a one day St. John course, but the skills they will learn are skills that we all should learn. And $300 isn't much if it means they are able to help in an emergency.

One good thing that has come out of this little accident is I haven't been driving nearly as much and so I've used hardly any petrol this week, only about a quarter of what I would normally use. I'm just going to move the petrol money straight to our savings account and make what's in the car last until next week.

Hopefully the swelling will be down tomorrow and I'll be back on my feet. Then I'll probably want to sit and put my feet up!

13 July 2008

I'm just an old fashioned kind of girl

I'm just an old fashioned kind of girl, really I am. I may spend my days dallying with delight on my beloved laptop but at heart I prefer the simple life. As long as it comes with hot and cold running water, electricity, a washing machine, dishwasher and good vacuum cleaner. And of course, the Internet. I could possibly live with out a dishwasher or even at a pinch electricity but definitely, positively not without the Internet.

Why if it wasn't for the Internet Cheapskates wouldn't exist and I wouldn't have come to meet and know so many wonderful friends. It's the sharing part of Cheapskates that I especially love, the way someone can ask a question and within a very short time they'll have caring and wise answers from others who know exactly what they need. I love it.

I know I am old fashioned. I must be because I just love old fashioned food, actually it's the only kind I can cook. One thing I do really well is a Sunday Roast (it always has capital letters, it's a Family Tradition). Tonight we are having roast chicken with baked vegetables (potato, pumpkin and onion) and cauliflower with cheese sauce and peas for dinner. With gravy made from the pan juices. Yum.

And for dessert - old fashioned Bread and Butter Pudding. My old fashioned sweetheart will be in heaven, he just loves bread and butter custard for dessert. This one is especially nice because I used cumquat marmalade (thanks Keren, I am really enjoying this marmalade) on the bread instead of jam. It's given the dish a lovely tang (well I had to sample it to be sure it was OK to serve). I highly recommend using marmalade instead of jam in bread and butter custard.

If you prefer a modern twist on this old fashioned dessert, swap the bread and butter for croissants. Split the croissants, toast the insides, spread with apricot jam (or marmalade) and then follow your usual directions. Croissant bread and butter pudding is very morish so be warned, you won't be able to stop at one serve. Just thought I had better let you know.

Well I am off to make the gravy and dish up. Then little ole old fashioned me will be doing the dishes the modern way - in the dishwasher. I may be old fashioned but I do like my modern conveniences :)

12 July 2008

It has been so cold this week that I've had the fire and the central heating going to warm the house up. This cold spell was so unexpected, we've had the warmest June in 20 odd years here and the weather really has been mild. We haven't even had a frost yet but I expect they will come, probably just in time for the kids to go back to school! There's nothing quite like frozen fingers and toes in the mornings. I guess it's time to dig out the gloves and scarves and make sure everyone has what they need. Our school brought in a new uniform policy last year and I'm pretty sure that Hannah won't be able to wear her cosy scarf I knitted in Feathers wool, even though it is blue. I think it needs to be a plain navy, better check that today and get knitting if I need to. I have some 12 ply in navy that should do the job. I found a 500g ball of it at the op shop a couple of weeks ago for $2 and picked up intending to knit me some slippers. Oh well, at least it will get used.

Having the fire going means I've been able to get all the washing dry in just a few hours too. I so love my big clothes horses - nice wide arms and lots of rails to hang things on. Now I just have the two of them. Up until this year we had one each and I kept them in the bedrooms over the heater vents in winter. It was handy having everyone's clothes in their rooms. The kids were good at pulling the dry things off and putting them away or in the boys' case putting them straight back on! And it did help to keep the washing and drying under control. Another thing I'm using this winter is the hooks in the ceiling. When we moved into this house there were hooks in the ceiling next to the heater flue and as they don't stick out at all and blend in with the timber we left them. I've been hanging the shirts and trousers on their hangers in the hooks and letting them dry up high. They not only dry really fast but because they are on hangers they just go straight into the wardrobes, no ironing necessary. I can even dry Hannah's pleated school skirt like this and not need to iron the pleats down. I love those hooks!

Wayne did have to clean the glass in the heater door for me this week. He used some scrunched up newspaper, dampened a little and dipped in the ash from the fire. Scrubbed over the glass and wiped off with another piece damp newspaper and the door was shiny clean and just radiating heat beautifully. Those old tips from years ago really are worth remembering.

The three kids had a surprise on Tuesday when the postman came. Their Granny had sent them some money each, just in time for the boys to go to the movies! They had planned to meet their mates at the local cinema to see a movie and I was going to pay for their tickets. Granny saved me having to do that, they paid for their own tickets and bought some nibblies too, although they did meet the boys early and pop across to the supermarket for their drinks and corn chips rather than pay the snack bar prices. They were going to walk home and save me some petrol and some time but it was absolutely pouring (yahoo!) when they came out so AJ called and asked if I'd pick them up. Kudos to him, he remembered to ring on the mobile (free calls between us).

Hannah is hanging on to her money. She wants to go to Big W and buy an itunes voucher with her money. They are on sale, $50 voucher for $30, during the toy sale. That's a 40% saving for her and she's so excited. She has been saving up for a real itunes voucher and her gift from Granny has given her enough to buy two. She's one very happy little girl at the moment. We'll be off to Big W tomorrow so she can do her shopping.

I've been kept busy this week too, talking to Kelli Brett on ABC radio Southwest WA and sharing some of my favourite ways to save money over all. Kelli asked for a recipe too so I gave her my favourite Quick Curried Sausage recipe, which we had for tea on Wednesday night. I love curries at any time but especially in winter. This one is really quick, really easy and really, really cheap.

Quick Curried Sausages

1 sausage per person
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 piece pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 cup peas
2 tbsp curry powder - adjust to suit your taste
1 tbsp butter
440ml can coconut cream

Brown the sausages and remove from pan, set aside to cool. Melt butter, add onion and curry powder and cook until the onion is transparent. Add the other vegetables to the pan and cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Turn heat down to low. Add coconut cream and stir through. Slice the sausages into 1cm thick slices and add to pan. Stir to cover with sauce. Simmer over a very low heat 10 minutes or until vegetables are cooked and sauce has thickened slightly. Serve over steamed rice with pappadums or naan bread.

To make this a low fat recipe, boil the sausages for 5 minutes to remove fat, drain and cool. Use a non stick pan and use 1tbsp water instead of the butter to cook the onion. Substitute a can of low fat evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon coconut essence for the coconut cream.

Thomas had the gang over yesterday for a movie marathon. They are such a nice lot of boys and no trouble at all. Just keep up the supply of food and drinks and they are happy. Typical 15 year olds. The popcorn maker had a good workout, I think I made four lots in all during the day. I'm pretty sure they were just inhaling it like it was oxygen it disappeared so fast. I had some party pies in the freezer but no sausage rolls made up. Party pies, sausage rolls and pizza are standard fare at these gatherings so I didn't dare alter the menu. With my last order of mountain bread (did you know you can order it online and save over $1 a packet, and delivery is free?) I also ordered the recipe book and it has a fabulous recipe for sausage rolls in it, using mountain bread. The sausage rolls were so easy to make with the mountain bread and they cooked beautifully. I'm not sure I'll ever use pastry for them again, especially as the mountain bread is much cheaper than pastry. And slightly healthier too.

A journalist with Womans Day rang at lunchtime for a chat and she was a little startled by the noise in the background. Once I explained it was the sound of 6 teenage boys grazing she understood and we went on to have a really interesting talk about the changing profile of the average grocery trolley in recent times. We had a giggle at the perception some people have that buying generic brands or shopping at Aldi or NQR or other grocery clearances is what "poor people" do. If only those grocery snobs knew what we Cheapskates know about getting more bang for our buck!

06 July 2008

Sunday happenings

We ditched the menu plan last night. Hannah was sleeping over at my mother's with my niece and it was our turn to collect the bread for our church so there were only four for dinner and it was going to be late.

When I was pregnant with AJ, all those years ago, I developed a craving that didn't go away. You need to realise that at the time we were living in a country town, where the only thing open after 7pm were the pubs, and no, I didn't develop a craving for beer. What I did crave was a doner kebab with the works - lamb, salad, garlic sauce and tabouli. I craved them for months until finally, just before No. 1 Son was born a kebab van opened in the car park of the pub on the highway out of town. It was the other side of town to where we lived and it didn't open until 11.30pm but my darling would sit up on a Friday night and at 11.25 he would rug up (it was winter after all) and drive to the pub to get me a doner kebab.

I've been hooked ever since, I love them. Unfortunately they are rather expensive and since moving to Melbourne they've been hard to find. Until now. A new kebab van has opened, not too far from home and they are the best kebabs I have ever had. Wayne and I had one each for dinner last week while the kids were out and oh my they were nice. The meat was so tender, and the sauce was just garlicky enough. They were wrapped in the softest and freshest bread. Are you getting the picture yet? They were perfect.

So, last night, after dropping off the bread we decided on the spur of the moment to have kebabs for dinner. I decided we the takeaway budget had enough in it to cover the $28 required and we pulled in. And you know what? It only cost us $18. We bought a large container of lamb, a large container of salad and a small container of sauce and brought it home. I had Lebanese bread in the freezer so while the meat was re-heating and the sandwich toaster was heating up the bread thawed in the microwave. Ten minutes and we all had delicious, hot kebabs. We saved $10 - ok we saved $9, because the bread was originally 99 cents by putting the kebabs together ourselves. Best part was there was enough meat leftover to make another three kebabs today for lunch. I'm so excited to know that I can have kebabs as a treat every now and then and they won't break the budget. I highly recommend Ali's Kebabs, situated in the service station on Mitcham Road, opposite Coles supermarket in Mitcham if you ever have kebab craving.

Thomas received an unexpected invitation to go to a spur of the moment 16th birthday party today. He didn't get the invitation until yesterday afternoon and straight away went through the present box. He came up with a battery charger and a set of re-chargeable batteries and was really excited about it. I was too because if he hadn't found anything it would have meant money in a card or racing to the shops and both would have cost more than the battery charger and batteries - they were bought with a bonus Coles gift card I was sent so they didn't cost me a real cent. Gotta be happy with that.

We didn't have far to go to the party but we used the new Eastlink freeway anyhow. We only have three more weeks to use it, then we'll be back to our usual routes around town. There is no way known I can justify spending 99 cents each way to get to my local shopping centre or the post office, even if it will only take me three minutes. Taking 12 minutes and saving $1.98 a trip seems a much better option to me.

Sunday night is always roast night in our house and would you believe that I forgot to get the roast out of the freezer last night! I had a scrounge around and found some tandoori flavoured chicken pieces so we had those and baked vegetables. Very yummy and as the chicken was marked down to $6 it was a relatively inexpensive meal too.

I can here the rain on the roof as I'm typing, it sounds lovely. The forecast is for a few days of rain so here's hoping the bureau's got it right, we sure could use it.