30 December 2010

Three Ways to Make Food Last

Australians waste around $5.2 billion of food each year! No wonder our grocery bills are so high. Here are three simple ways to  keep common kitchen ingredients last  until you use them, saving you money, time and energy and stopping the waste.

Keeping garlic
To keep your fresh garlic for an extended period of time, peel and place the cloves into a glass jar. Pour olive oil over them and put the lid on top. Store it in refrigerator until you're ready to use it.  The oil can be used in salad dressings for a lovely, mild flavour and baked potatoes become something special if they are rolled in the flavoured oil before going into the oven.

Say goodbye to green cheese
Keep your cheese from growing mould by soaking a paper towel (or cheesecloth if you have one) in white vinegar. After opening, wrap the damp paper towel around the cheese before putting it in a plastic bag. This really extends the shelf life of your cheese.

Tasty crumbs
I save the crumbs at the bottom of cereal, cracker or chip bags and put them into a plastic  container. Later, I use these crumbs when making shake'n'bake, meatballs, hamburgers or meatloaf.

29 December 2010

The Dream Spending Plan

Everyone knows we need a Spending Plan for all essential items (bills, mortgage, insurance, minimum amount for clothes, groceries and a little bit for fun etc) so we can keep track of incomings and outgoings (and hopefully the incoming is less than the outgoing).  Once you have that up and running, create a "Dream" category in your Spending Plan for those things on your dream or wish list. You know, the things like that new lounge suite or the family trip to Disneyland you have always wanted.  Make sure you add to your Dream Spending Plan every pay day, even if it is just $5. We all have dreams, having a Dream Spending Plan helps us to stay focussed on our Spending Plan and our dreams.

28 December 2010

Rhubarb Delight

This is a lovely way to use rhubarb, especially in summer.

1 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
1 bunch rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm slices
1/2 cup orange juice
250g low fat ricotta cheese
1 cup natural non-fat yoghurt

Place orange juice and rhubarb in a medium saucepan and cook for 10-15 minutes, until rhubarb is soft.  Allow to cool. Beat ricotta cheese until smooth in a food processor or electric mixer. Add rhubarb and beat until thoroughly combined and mixture is an even pink in colour. Swirl yoghurt through rhubarb mixture and place in serving dishes.  Chill for several hours. Top with flaked toasted almonds just before serving.

27 December 2010

Recycled Card Coasters

Christmas is over, but don't feel guilty about throwing away all the lovely Christmas cards you've received. Get a little crafty and turn them into coasters to use for next year's Christmas parties or this summer's barbecues.

You will need:
Old Christmas cards (the coaster fronts)
Plain coloured paper (the coaster backs)
A drinking glass with a large base
A pencil
Glue stick or liquid glue
Laminator and laminating sheets or clear contact

What to do:
1. Place the drinking glass on top of the first Christmas card, and move it around until you like the image contained within the glass.
2. Then, trace around the glass with a pencil.
3. Cut out the circle, and set aside.
4. Repeat until you've created your desired number of coasters.
5. Use the glass to trace the required number of backing papers from the coloured paper. Cut out.
6. Place a picture onto a piece of coloured paper. Hold in place with a dab of glue.
7. Laminate or apply contact paper to each one.
8. Carefully trim around each coaster, leaving a 5mm edge between the coaster and the cutting line.
1. The verses and messages inside cards also make attractive coasters.
2. Use pinking shears or other fancy scissors to cut the picture out for a fancy edge.

24 December 2010

A Christmas morning treasure hunt

If your Christmas morning is a ten minute blur of frenzied wrapping paper ripping early in the morning, extend the fun and have a present treasure hunt instead. Let Santa hide the gifts and leave clues so the kids have to hunt for their gifts. The treasure hunt and the fun last the whole day by adding an extra task to each clue. For example the first clue leads to the first present and the second clue, part of which is having breakfast before looking for the next present and so on.

23 December 2010

Keep the Christmas Magic Alive

This cute idea is fun for your little ones on Christmas Eve. Let them put the reindeer food out just before bedtime.   All you need are some paper bags (brown paper lunch bags are ideal), some glitter (from a $2 shop), rolled oats and packing peanuts (if you have them, otherwise leave them out).  They are really quick to put together and cost just a few cents each to make and they keep the magic of Christmas alive for us all.

Reindeer Food
On a paper bag, write the poem and the instructions. Then mix some glitter with rolled oats to make the magic reindeer food and put it into the bag. Tie it off with a ribbon.

Tis' the night before Christmas
and since every year,
You feed Santa Claus,
now feed his reindeer!

1. Wait until Christmas Eve
2. Open bag and sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn.
3. Hop into bed!
4. Shhhhh!!! Listen for Santa!
5. Close your eyes tight!


Enough Reindeer food for eight tiny reindeer!

22 December 2010

Need a last minute Christmas gift?

Make a contribution to a charity in the name of your recipient. The organization will send out a gift card or email announcing your generosity. Any amount is appreciated however the exact amount of your donation is not typically disclosed. Try www.usefulgifts.org or worldvision.com.au if you are stuck for ideas.

21 December 2010

Cherry Ripe Truffles

200ml sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2tsp cherry flavouring
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
300g  shredded coconut
350g red glace cherries, diced finely
1/2 cup desiccated coconut for rolling
450g dark chocolate

Line a 23cm x 33cm (9 x13-inch) slice  pan with baking paper.  Combine condensed milk, cherry flavouring, vanilla extract, and salt in a bowl.  Add icing sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated.  Add shredded coconut and glace cherries and stir until combined.  Chill mixture in refrigerator for 1 hour. Take 1 teaspoon of mixture at a time and roll into balls, then roll in  desiccated coconut. Line a cookie tray with baking paper.  Melt the chocolate and dip the balls into the chocolate, covering completely, and place them on the prepared cookie tray. Refrigerate until set. Store finished balls in the refrigerator.

20 December 2010

Christmas greenery

If you love to decorate with fresh greenery at Christmastime, it can be expensive. Instead go to your local park and collect any fallen greenery or to anywhere they sell fresh Christmas trees and ask for the cuttings and branches that have fallen off the trees.  They may well give them to you, but if the trees are being sold for charity or as a fundraiser for Scouts etc there may be a small charge. And even if they give them to you, in the spirit of Christmas it would be nice to make a small donation. The greenery makes beautiful fresh wreaths and looks lovely tucked into flower arrangements. You could even tuck fresh branches in amongst the branches of your artificial tree to plump it out.

17 December 2010

Creative Gift Tags

Make your own gift tags out of leftover wrapping or scrapbooking papers or last year's Christmas cards. Ok, this is not a new idea, but try punching it up a bit. Add details by layering shapes over the base paper, use paper punches and scalloped scrapbooking scissors (99 cents from Riot Art and Craft) to add style, use a gold calligraphy pen to add names (pack of 3 for $1.98 from BG W). Or use the scalloped scissors to make old holiday cards into tags. Cut the tags into Christmas shapes by tracing around Christmas themed cookie cutters and cutting out. Add some sparkle by brushing the tags with PVA glue (PVA glue dries clear) and sprinkling with glitter. Do this over a sheet of paper so you can catch the excess glitter and pour it back into the jar, rather than spreading it all over the house.

16 December 2010

Load Up on the Loss Leaders

A loss leader is an item sold at a very low price to encourage you to buy, buy, buy. You'll usually find them in those lovely displays at the end of each aisle, facing the front of the store where you walk in. Retailers run loss leaders in the hope that you'll pick them up and be encouraged to buy the full priced items that complement the cheaper item to cover the "loss".  Be strong. If the loss leader is something you use and you have the money in your grocery budget or grocery slush fund to pay for it then go ahead. I'd even suggest you buy enough to last you six months or even a year if it has a long shelf life. Just remember, you are only buying the item on sale, ignore the others. They'll come on sale eventually and you'll be able to stock up on those at rock bottom prices too.

15 December 2010

Beautiful Gift Boxes

Cereal boxes make great gift boxes. Simply spray them with coloured paint (gold, silver, red or dark green for Christmas) and use them as gift boxes. You can also use cracker boxes, soap powder boxes etc. If you take a lot of medication, you can save the small boxes your tablets come in to use for small gifts such as jewellery.

14 December 2010


This recipes comes from one of Mum's friends, Henny. She always made these cookies at Christmas time and served them to us with a huge glass of icy cold milk when we would visit. They are one of my favourite childhood Christmas memories and worth the effort of making, as they are so much nicer than the bought speculaas.

2 cups SR flour
pinch salt
1 cup dark brown sugar (I just use brown sugar)
2 tsp Dutch cinnamon (or just cinnamon)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
125g unsalted butter
3 tbsp milk

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Combine flour, salt, sugar and spices in large bowl, Rub butter in with fingertips. Add milk slowly and mix to a soft dough. Knead well. Cover bowl with Gladwrap and let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. After resting time, roll dough into a rectangle about 5mm thick. Use cookie cutters to cut biscuits from dough. Place biscuits on a baking paper lined cookie sheet and bake 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let rest on tray 1 minute before moving to a wire rack to cool.

Saving Money is Easy! hits the shops

It's in store from today, my new book Saving Money is Easy!
You'll find it at ABC Shops and Centres and all good book stores around the country

12 December 2010

Orange skins and drink bottles

The wet, warm weather has brought slaters out in gardens all over the country and they are doing their best to eat every plant in sight. Here are two simple ideas that will help you control the slater invasion of your garden.

Orange Peel Bug Catchers
Citrus skins - put them upside down around the garden and catch slaters - then feed to chooks or throw out. 

Fix a Slater Problem
If you don't want to use insecticides in your garden, surround seedlings with either a milk carton or small plastic drink bottle that has had both the top and bottom removed to form a barrier between the slaters and seedlings until they are a little more advanced. This will also act as a wind barrier and frost protector during colder winter months.

11 December 2010

Fun things to do this Christmas

* Wait until dark and go for a walk around your neighbourhood to see all the Christmas lights.

* Attend the Carols by Candlelight at your local school, even if you don't have children there.

* Check with your local church for their holiday program. Many churches will have recitals and carols during the lead-up to Christmas and this is a lovely way to celebrate and be involved with your community.

* Go to midnight service on Christmas Eve, then come home and let everyone open one gift before going to bed.

* Have a Christmas movie marathon and watch one Christmas movie a night. Some favourites are Miracle on 34th Street (the original in black and white and the remake), It's a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn (White Christmas) and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (for a little off-beat humour).

* If you have little children, let them bake and decorate a special cookie or cup cake to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. And don't forget the carrot for Rudolph!

* Turn the TV off, gather the family around and read a different Christmas story every night, ending with the second chapter of Luke from the Bible, on Christmas Eve.

* Start a new tradition and only play Christmas music in the car during December. It's a great way to teach kids favourite Christmas carols and for you to learn some of the newer songs. Christmas CDs can be bought from dollar stores and come in a great variety.

10 December 2010

Can you guess what my week has been like?

Just take a look at the mess on my desk! On Monday morning it was as clear and tidy as it normally is.

Then life and work happened and it's been downhill for that poor desk ever since.  Thank goodness I use a laptop or it would be even worse.

So my job for the weekend is to get my desk back to normal because I just don't function properly in a mess. The books can go back onto the bookshelves. The filing can be done. All the pens can go back into the drawer. So can the stapler. The samples for upcoming Journals and How Tos can go into the sample cupboard where they belong. I can put my camera away. And that can of hairspray can go back into the bathroom (I can't even remember what I used it for now).

I know it won't take long to get everything back in order, 30 minutes at the most. And I know that once I start it will be a breeze. I also know that when I've finished and can sit at my desk to work again, I'll be motivated to get stuck in and get things done and I'll be very happy.

So why have I let it get to this stage? Yes, I've been very busy this past week. Radio interviews and a couple of newspaper interviews took some time. I've had three editorial meetings to nut out 2011 for the Cheapskates Club along with a couple of other business meetings. I've had articles to write and a brain-storming session for a series for 2011.

We have had school meetings, Hannah's awards night (did I tell you she won four awards - three distinctions and an award for effort), the usual school runs and other bits and bobs.

If I had just dealt with everything as it came in and put things away when I had finished with them then my desk would never have become an overwhelming mess.

Getting into the habit of putting things away, where they came from, is a good habit to develop. It's why my desk is usually tidy and "TV ready" as we say in our house. Most of you like your homes to be visitor ready, here I like it to be "TV ready" because I never know when I'm going to get a call for an interview.

Keeping the house TV ready isn't really that hard. We have a routine of sorts, of daily and weekly chores that need to be done to maintain our home to my standard.  It's a little like Super Shopping, a repetitive routine that keeps everything running smoothly.

My housekeeping schedule is broken down into daily, weekly and monthly tasks. I can rest easy knowing that the whole house is cleaned from top to bottom every week, so normally surprise visitors or TV crews or even overnight guests aren't a problem.

The house is usually visitor ready, not Home Beautiful ready, but I don't need to do a dash and stash when the doorbell rings.

And it's this way because of the routines and because things are usually put away, in the right spot, when we have finished using them.

So off to conquer my desk, I'll post an after picture too, so you can see the difference 30 minutes and actually doing something makes.

Freshen curtains and drapes without dry cleaning

My local dry cleaner charges $20 per drape for cleaning. When you add up how many drapes you have in your home that adds up to a lot of money each year for cleaning.  There is a simple and much more economical way to freshen your fabric curtains and drapes and remove dust and pet hair and you can do it yourself at home.  Take them down and put them into the clothes dryer for ten to fifteen minutes on the cool setting. Remove the curtains promptly and hang them back up immediately to prevent them from wrinkling. They will be fresh and clean and you'll have saved a bundle.  Don't forget to clean out any pet hair and fluff from the dryer lint trap.

09 December 2010

Finish the Christmas Table with Beautiful Serviettes

It's easy to make beautiful cloth serviettes for your Christmas table that don't cost a fortune, but look like you've spent a bundle on them.
  1. Choose a pillowslip in a colour to complement your Christmas table theme (you'll get eight dinner sized serviettes from one pillowslip).
  2. Cut the hem edge off the top of each side of the pillowslip.
  3. Turn the pillowslip inside out and carefully cut the seams off. This will leave you with one long length of fabric.
  4. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, press with a hot iron. Fold in half lengthways again and press. You should have four neat creases.
  5. Open the length of material out and fold in half widthways. Press.
  6. This will give you your eight serviettes. Carefully cut along the folds.
  7. Measure in 2.5cm from each edge and rule a straight line from corner to corner using tailors chalk or a very light lead pencil.
  8. With your sewing machine on the longest stitch length, and using a matching thread, stitch along each line, turning at each intersection.  If you don't have a sewing machine you can do this by hand, using a small running stitch.
  9. Now form a fringe by pulling the loose threads from each side of your fabric square.

This is the basic instruction to make a simple fabric serviette. You can be creative and use different fabrics or decorate them with fabric paint or embroidery. You can even stitch a folded hem rather than fringing if you wish.

Then to finish the serviettes off, tie each napkin with a length of raffia, ribbon or tinsel to match your table setting. Slip a sprig of evergreen from a Christmas pick into each serviette to add a pretty accent. You can use the little leftovers that have fallen off your Christmas picks over the years for this rather than buying new ones. (Christmas picks are the little bunches of imitation holly and poinsettia used in decorations).

08 December 2010

Stocking Stuffers

Our children aren't really children any more. In fact the boys are both legally adults now and Hannah is quite the grown-up young lady at fifteen.

And yet they still drag out their Christmas stockings on the first of December each year. I made each of the stockings for their first Christmases and they bring back lots and lots of memories. Of little boys and trains, of a tiny baby girl sitting in the arms of her Christmas teddy that was three times her size.

And of the things that went into those stockings. Opening the Christmas stockings on Christmas morning  was the highlight of the day for the kids. Santa filled those stockings with so many good things. There would be Batman undies and socks, Wiggles toothbrushes and toothpaste, lollies, chocolate coins, a brand-new face washer with a picture of their favourite thing at the time, new PJs, coloured pencils and colouring books and lots of other bits and bobs.

Now they are grown-up we skip the Batman socks and Barbie knickers, and they think the Wiggles are a little passé so toothpaste and toothbrushes don't make it into the Christmas stockings anymore.

These days there are chocolate coins (it wouldn't be Christmas without them), little boxes of their favourite cereals, itunes vouchers (bought on sale during the year) and lots of other little things I've collected through the year.

There might be sampler packs of different chocolate drinks or coffee or samples of the latest perfumes and aftershaves, the latest edition of their favourite magazine or even movie tickets.

None of these things costs very much, often, as in the case of the samples, they are free.

Stocking stuffers don't have to be big or expensive.  In fact they should be easy on the budget. There are too many potentially very expensive things marketed as "stocking stuffers" because they are small enough to go into the stockings.  Things like gift cards, ipods, jewellery, DVDs are not stocking stuffers. They are gifts in their own right.

Some ideas for stocking stuffers are:
  • Hair tidies and ribbons
  • The mini chocolate bars (the ones that come in multi packs)
  • Candy canes
  • Christmas tree ornament
  • Craft paints or watercolour set
  • Crayons
  • Coffee, tea or cocoa packets
  • Cookie cutters
  • Deck of playing cards
  • Fashion doll clothes
  • Gel pens
  • Golf balls
  • Small cars
  • Small Lego kits
  • Supa balls
  • Lipstick or lip gloss
  • Lotion
  • Mittens
  • Nail polish
  • Oranges
  • Play-Dough tubs
  • Socks
  • Travel-sized game
  • Wine charms

When you're stuffing the stockings, remember that too many large items and you won't fit everything in, too many small items and the stocking won't be "stuffed". Try to choose a variety of different sized items. Depending on the size of the stocking three or four larger items in plenty, with the gaps filled by the smaller things.

One thing I have always done, and will do again this year, is wrap each item that goes into the stockings. It's a good way to use the wrapping paper scraps and it helps build the excitement on Christmas morning. Even grown-up kids love ripping the wrapping off lots of pressies.

So do you do Christmas stockings? What do you put in them?

Create a Recipe Card Book

This is a great way to recycle printer paper and makes a lovely gift too. When you find a recipe you love, take a photo of the prepared dish. Then copy the recipe onto used printer paper that is printed on one side. Adjust the print settings to 4" x 6" (10 x 15cm). Then cut the recipe, method and credit (so you know where it comes from) out and glue onto a photo of the prepared dish. Slip each photo into a photo album from a discount dollar store. These make lovely gifts for family and friends. We have even made them for Hannah's Home Ec teacher, using the recipes she taught through the year.

07 December 2010

Homemade Raffaello Truffles

The Cheapskates Club forum has been buzzing with lots of talk about homemade Ferrero Rochers for Christmas, so I thought I'd share this recipe for homemade Raffaello truffles. They are just as good as the Ferrero Rocher clones and make a delightful gift too.

1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
250g white chocolate
1tsp  coconut essence
60g rice bubbles, lightly crushed
500g white chocolate, extra
1 cup desiccated coconut

Melt the white chocolate with the sweetened condensed milk over simmering water or in the  microwave. Add chopped almonds and stir until well combined. Freeze until the mixture has stiffened slightly to be rolled into balls. Mold 1 slightly heaped teaspoon of chocolate almond mixture into a ball then roll in the crushed rice bubbles. Freeze again until the balls are firm.  Melt the extra white chocolate and coat each ball, draining off excess chocolate, then roll in desiccated coconut.  Set in fridge, about 20 minutes. Makes 3 dozen truffles.

04 December 2010

Decorating the Christmas Tree

Paper clips (plastic covered) make perfect hangers for your Christmas tree decorations. Choose green to blend with the tree or colours to blend with your decorations. They are easy to clip onto the tops of the decorations and slip nicely onto the branches. They stay on the branches too, so that little fingers can't accidentally pull precious ornaments off the tree.

Contributed by Michelle, Donvale

03 December 2010

Some Days are Just Lovely, Even if They are Ordinary

Have you ever had a day, just an ordinary day, that when you get to the end of it makes you stop and wonder at just how ordinary and lovely it was?  Yester day was like that for me.

Thursday is the day I spend with my Mum. We do her shopping and banking and bill paying and get doctors, dentists and hospital appointments out of the way. AJ usually comes with us to carry Grandma's parcels and help her with the steps and supermarket trolleys and I really appreciate his help. It's always a busy day, with lots of travelling to here and there and getting bits and bobs and I am always exhausted by the time we get home.

But yesterday was a little different. For starters it has been hot and steamy and stormy here, and I wasn't looking forward to crowded roads, shops and carparks. And then of course everyone seems to have suddenly decided that December 24 is the very last day the shops are ever going to be open again and are madly buying anything and everything they can get their hands on.

So I was not looking forward to our Thursday shopping day.

There was very little traffic on the roads, the shopping centre air conditioning was working well and it was cool and comfortable indoors. The car was parked in the shade. We even had our choice of tables in the coffee shop when we stopped for a drink.

What I found was that becuase it was hot and steamy and very, very stormy most people stayed at home. We found a carpark right out the front of all the stores we had to go to, something that never happens. And none of the shops were crowded. Mum found everything on her list with very little looking. Even the checkouts were empty, we walked right through in four stores and only had to wait for 1 person in the supermarket. Again, that just never happens.

It didn't even start to rain again until after we had dropped Mum home.

And best of all I wasn't exhausted. It was such an ordinary day, with so many not-so-ordinary things about it, that it was just lovely. Stress free. Peaceful even. I don't know what it was that made yesterday different from every other ordinary day, but it would be lovely if everyday was like that. Just plain lovely.

Easy Wrapping with Oven Bags

Approximate $ Savings: $5-$7
I have discovered oven bags for gift wrapping. I recently gave mugs with Minties and chocolates to teachers for Christmas. To buy cellophane by the sheet is a dollar or more. A generic brand of oven bags costs under $3 for a pack of 10. For a much cheaper price I was able to wrap the mug filled with goodies and tie it with curling ribbon. It was easier to put together than juggling four corners of cellophane and looks great. This would work well for any combination pack gift you want to put together. What about a bag full of baking goodies with a recipe! A selection of toiletries or stationery, bagged up and tied with inexpensive ribbon. Once you start, the possibilities are endless.

Contributed by Julie, Mt Riverview

02 December 2010

Gifting Your Favourite Things

I absolutely love when Oprah does her "My Favourite Things" show where she gives the audience all her favourite things. It usually consists of anything from cupcakes to cars! Inspired, I suggested to my best friend that maybe we should do something similar for each other for Christmas, on a smaller scale of course! I went to the discount store and bought some small cosmetic travel jars and pots and filled each one with my favourite body wash, facial scrub, hand cream, lip gloss and so on. I made a CD of my favourite songs and printed out my favourite recipes. I also included my favourite DVD and book, and also a few of my favourite plant cuttings. She gave me a gift of her favourite things, and we both adored our gifts from each other! It only cost us about $20 each overall, and we even learnt some new thing about each other. It was the best Christmas gift ever!

Contributed by Anita, Bundaberg

Own Your Christmas Challenge

With just 23 days until Christmas, things may be getting hectic, but there is still plenty of time to plan to own your Christmas this year.  This Christmas may be financially challenging, so we are here to help. Visit the Own Your Christmas homepage for inspiration and great ideas to save you money, time, energy and new debt this year. It's totally free, you don't have to register or sign up to anything and you can visit any time. Keep checking in as we will be adding more tools and tips every day.

New additions to Own Your Christmas: 
Cheapskates$50 Christmas Dinner for 6 (this plan is famous, and has been featured on ACA and Today Tonight for the last four years), and

6 Tips for an Enjoyable Christmas Shopping Experience - great ideas to beat the heat and the crowds this December.

01 December 2010

Let Retailers Know It's a Gift

I mentioned in passing that a book I was buying was a gift for a friend and the shop assistant offered to gift wrap it for me. This saved me buying gift paper which was the next thing on my list of things to do. I will always add it to my conversation from now on, it saved me time and money.

Contributed by Cheryl Wright