31 December 2011

Are you the millionaire next door?

I first wrote this as a Cashed Up Habit (No. 15 in the cycle) and it was an email from a Cheapskates Club member, Melinda, that prompted me to use it as my New Years blog post.

Melinda wrote "Love this article Cath, One that needs to be published on the front page of all newspapers maybe as New Years Resolution for all families!  How happy we are on a simple shoestring budget and able to give where we feel the need is greatest."

Living the Cheapskates way is not about having a huge stash of cash while living in misery.  It's about choosing to give up the stuff that isn't important to you so you have the cash to enjoy the things that are, without the stress of debt.

I hope you enjoy Cashed Up Habit No. 15
One of the most popular books on wealth in recent times has been The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley.

In this book Stanley reveals that for the most part millionaires are a non-descript bunch, living simple lives in simple homes in your average middle class neighbourhood. In fact their neighbours don't even realise they are millionaires.

Stanley's research revealed that these people have reached millionaire status for the most part through hard work and a Cheapskates lifestyle. They eat meals cooked from scratch, made from ingredients that have been bought on sale or from markets or in bulk. They reuse, recycle and reduce on a daily basis.

They have developed the habit of paying for what they buy. They don't incur any new debt and have in the past paid debt off quickly. The millionaires next door have built an emergency fund and a sizeable savings account. They have invested for their retirement and will be able to self-fund a comfortable life.

Your neighbourhood millionaire lives a comfortable yet simple life and yet are generally more generous and more frugal than their neighbours. They don't try to keep up with the Joneses  or any of their other neighbours.

Could you develop the habits that will make you the millionaire next door?

If you would like to develop some Cashed Up habits, you can sign up here.

May you all have a very happy, safe and prosperous New Year and may 2012 be your best year yet.

30 December 2011

Top 10 tips for op shopping

Every dedicated Cheapskater knows the value of their local op shop, and they make sure they get their fair share of that value.  With that in mind, and knowing that after Christmas Spending Plans are usually very tight, here are my top 10 tips for getting the best from your favourite op shop.

1. Shopping is shopping - make a list and stick to it

2. Keep your eyes open for those unexpected finds - you know the 50c school shorts or the $2 brand name jeans, new with tags.

3. Only choose to purchase quality items. Look for brand names you recognise as quality and make sure the items you purchase are of a good and usable quality.

4. Always try things on. It may well be a brand name but if it doesn't fit then it doesn't fit and will be a waste of money if you buy it.

5. Leave the kids at home. Again, shopping is shopping and the same rules apply to op shopping as to grocery shopping. Try to do your shopping alone so you're not distracted or tempted to buy things that are not on your list.

6. Know your op shop's sale days. Ask when they have their 50% off days, which day is $2 a bag day etc and plan your shopping around them.

7. Keep an open mind. You may have candlesticks on your list but not see any in the store. Is there a small wine glass or a pretty plate you can re-purpose as a candle holder? Look around you and find ways to re-purpose things to fit your requirements. Master this one technique and you'll never have to pay retail for anything ever again.

8. Visit your op shop regularly. New stock comes in every day and goes out just as fast. If you are looking for something in particular let the staff know and ask them to give you a call if it comes in.

9. Shop with cash. If you only take cash you can't go over your allocated shopping amount and you won't be tempted to just spend that extra $2 because you simply don't have it.

10. Lastly, as your op shop supports you, you can support it. As you declutter sort the items into piles to toss, recycle or donate. Take the donations to your op shop immediately, if you let them sit around you'll change your mind.

29 December 2011

Some rules can be safely broken

Just because a cupboard is in the bathroom doesn't mean you must only store bathroom items in it. One of our bathroom shelves houses extra kitchen items and cloth napkins. Another of our bathroom cupboards is designated for extra paper products - plates, napkins, plastic ware, etc. The wardrobe in our bedroom is home to much more than clothes and shoes. If you look up on the top shelves you'll see the Christmas trees, boxes of ornaments and our less-used camping gear.  It also has all my scrapbooking paraphernalia (minus all my papers which I store flat in a chest of drawers), craft and sewing supplies, suitcases, special heirlooms, and more. Go through your home and determine where your extra space is and then designate items needing space to have their place there - no matter where it is.  Obviously, you can't just designate a spot, you also have to train yourself to put the item back in the spot after you use it, but designating a spot usually goes a long way towards actually putting it back!

28 December 2011

Get a grip on ironing

Ironing is not my favourite household chore. Even though it doesn’t take much electricity to iron, it does take some and it takes up time. If you’d like to save some time, and save some electricity, here’s a tip that works for some articles of clothing.

If you have some pants that should be ironed, but you don’t want to try this. Peg the pants by the waist from a coathanger, using clothes pegs and hang from the shower curtain rod or some other place where it can hang overnight without being bothered.

Take a handful of clothespegs and put pegs on the bottoms of each pants leg. About five or so are good. Do the pockets need ironing? Put five or so pegs on each pocket so that it hangs straight. After about twenty-four hours, your pants are wrinkle free and look like they’ve been ironed.

Then to keep them wrinkle-free, use a skirt hanger to hang them in your wardrobe.  Fold the trousers so the inside seams are together and match the outside seams. Fold in the waist band (zip open). Hang by the hem from the skirt hanger. The weight pulls the wrinkles out, keeping them in ready-to-wear condition.

27 December 2011

Mustard Potato Salad

After all the rich food and over-indulging of Christmas and Boxing Day, a fresh salad goes down well.  This potato salad is served warm or at room temperature and goes really well with leftover cold meats or a good steak right off the barbecue.
1.5kg red potatoes
1 cup French dressing
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 spring onions, sliced including tops
1 celery stalk, sliced
2 radishes, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Scrub potatoes and dice into bite size pieces.  Put potatoes in large pot of cold water and bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce  heat and simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender, but not too soft. Drain immediately, making sure they're dry, and put in large bowl.  Whisk together in a separate bowl the vinaigrette and mustard until smooth, then pour half the mixture over the still-warm potatoes and toss gently. Set potatoes aside for 30 minutes - do not refrigerate. Meanwhile, chop the onions, celery, and radishes.  When ready to serve, add the vegetables, then the remaining vinaigrette dressing and toss together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pack in containers for a picnic or serve immediately.

26 December 2011

How to Use Candy Canes after Christmas

I love candy canes - they are cheap and readily available from about October through to December. And in our climate, they are great for holiday decorating because they don't melt! They are also cheap, and nice to crunch on. But after Christmas, when the tree comes down, what do you do with the two or three dozen candy canes in a pile on the coffee table?

You can eat them of course, as is. Or you can let your creative chef streak loose and turn them into tasty treats.  It could be something as simple as crushed candy canes over ice cream. Or you can melt some chocolate, stir in crushed candy canes and drop teaspoonsful onto baking paper to set. Crush candy canes and add them to choc chip muffins or biscuits.

But for a real treat, try this Boxing Day Mousse from the Recipe File.

Boxing Day Mousse

1 pkt chocolate instant pudding
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups whipped cream
5 crushed peppermint candy canes

In a medium bowl, whisk pudding with milk and peppermint extract. Stir constantly with a wire whisk for 2 minutes. Refrigerate for 5 minutes. Add whipped cream and mix well. Spoon into serving dishes and top with a sprinkle of crushed candy cane.

22 December 2011

Stamp your style

With only three sleeps until Christmas the rustle of wrapping paper can be heard all over the country.  If you want to put your own individual touch on your gift wrap this year try stamping plain paper in your own designs.

Everyone has tried potato stamping as a child, and it's a great way to keep kids entertained in the lead up to Christmas. But it's also a really neat way to have unique wrapping papers.

You'll need:
Plain paper
Acrylic paints
Large potatoes, well washed and dried
Cookie cutters in Christmas designs

To make your potato stamps:

Step 1.
Cut the potatoes in half

Step 2.
Choose a cookie cutter and carefully and evenly press down about 2cm into the cut side of the potato.  Carefully remove the cookie cutter. Repeat for your different designs if you are doing more than one.

Step 3.
Using a sharp knife trim the potato until the design is revealed. You'll need to trim down about 2cm, the depth of the design. Be careful not to cut into the design left by the cookie cutter.

Step 4.
Put a little paint onto a saucer and dilute with water so the paint is the consistency of cream.  Acrylic poster or folk art paints are ideal for this and can be bought at $2 shops. They come in a huge range of colours so you can go wild with your colours.

Step 5.
Dip your potato stamp into the pain and then stamp away on your plain paper. You can buy rolls of plain paper or you can recycle old wrapping paper by stamping on the plain side. Your butcher may even sell you some butcher paper sheets if you ask nicely.

Let each sheet of paper dry before wrapping your presents.

21 December 2011

Cake of the Month Club

If you need a gift quickly, that won't cost a bundle but has "WOW" factor, give a voucher to your very own Cake of the Month club along with the first month's cake.

I'm sure everyone has seen or heard of  wine of the month or fruit of the month or even cheese of the month clubs, where for a set amount each month you (or your gift recipient) receives a parcel containing the item of month. Well these clubs are expensive - very expensive - but they have a lot of that "WOW" about them.

Instead of signing your son, daughter, neighbour, brother etc. up to one of these clubs, why not give them a book of vouchers for their favourite cake each month?

It doesn't have to be a cake either. It could be biscuits, slices, pies, quiche, muffins, cup cakes - it's up to you. It could be jam or pickle of the month. It could even be a different treat each month.

It's a nice way to give a little homebaked goodness to loved ones without going to a lot of trouble or expense.

We have delicious cake and biscuit recipes in the Recipe File, as well as pies and slices too.

20 December 2011

The Perfect Roast Potato

We are huge roast potato fans. I come from a long line of roast potato fans and cooking experts. When I first moved away from home I craved my mother's roast potatoes, they were the food I asked for each time I went home. Finally Mum, out of desperation (or sheer meal-time boredom) taught me toprepare and cook the potatoes her way and I've done them this way ever since.

And as this coming Sunday is Christmas Day, and we have a fairly traditional Christmas dinner, I thought I'd share with you how to prepare and cook the perfect roast potato.

You will need:

6 large, washed potatoes (or one potato per person)

Olive oil
Sea salt

Step 1: Prepare the potatoes

I use washed potatoes for roasting and I don’t peel them.  Leaving the skin on is not only nutritionally better but it cooks to crisp perfections.  If you are using brushed potatoes, or you really prefer them peeled then by all means do so.  Cut each potato into quarters.

Step 2: Preheat Oven

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. I am often told that it's not necessary to pre-heat modern ovens. For this recipe please pre-heat your oven if you want them to be crisp and golden. Putting them into a cold oven they will be soggy and quite oily and definitely not perfect roast potatoes.

Step 3: Par-boil the Potatoes

Par-boiling simply means boiling the potatoes for a few minutes (in this case, 5 minutes) and then removing them from the heat. The key is to soften the potatoes slightly and to let the rest of the cooking to take place in the oven.

Place the potatoes in a large pot with a lid, filling the pot with water, just to cover the potatoes.

Place lid on the pot. Place on stove at high temperature, bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. 

Step 5: Score and season the potatoes

Using a fork, carefully score all over each potato. This helps them to crisp up on the outside. You can season the potatoes however you like. Personally I like to keep it simple and use just olive oil, salt and pepper. Olive oil gives the potatoes a lovely flavour, if you haven’t used it for roasting vegetables before do try it.

 For our recipe, drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.  Just drizzle a little oil over the quartered potatoes and gently toss to coat each piece.

Step 5: Bake the potatoes
Place potatoes in a baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes. The potatoes should be golden on the outside and fork tender.

That’s it, perfect roast potatoes.

19 December 2011

Last minute eco friendly Christmas gift ideas

When choosing a gift becomes almost impossible because "they have everything" choosing a no waste gift that will really be appreciated can be hard.

Who says that a Christmas gift has to fit into a package?  Instead of bringing the gift to them, bring them to the gift.  This Christmas, give gifts that won’t leave any waste behind.

Instead of buying a CD for a friend who likes music, treat them to a concert.  Wrap up two tickets to an upcoming concert or a night of jazz on the town.  Live music sounds better than recorded anyway.  This is an excuse to dress up in our best evening wear. 

Tickets for other shows are appropriately eco friendly as well.  Take the kids to the zoo, the aquarium, or a science show as a part of their Christmas present.  Younger kids seem to really appreciate this type of activity.  For older kids tickets to the latest release movie always prove to be popular.

You can buy tickets online and often you can print them immediately. If you can't, make up a voucher advising what the tickets are for (put all the details on: who, what, where, when) and a note telling the recipient to keep an eye on the letterbox for their tickets.

16 December 2011

Make a Loan

This year it is estimated that Australians will spend $24 billion just on Christmas.  That's a lot of money spent on food, drink, gifts and decorations. If you are looking for a way to lose the consumerism that Christmas has become famous for, and get back to a season of simple giving and simple pleasures, make a loan.

If you have never heard of Kiva.org, you need to check it out. The concept is extraordinary; you loan a small amount of money to a family in a third world country to help them become self-sufficient. The desired micro-loans are varied, from a family in Mali who need money to buy seeds and fertilizer to a widow in Peru who needs to buy more products to sell for a profit at the local market. It can be a meaningful gift to know that a loan of as little as $25 can be life-changing for someone else. And, the best part? When they pay the money back, you can loan it again.

15 December 2011

Why Staying Close To Home for Summer Holidays May Not Be as Budget Friendly as You’d Think

We are only a few days away from the official start of the Australian holiday season, when millions of Aussie families hit the road (or the airport) for four weeks of summer family fund and relaxation. This year, instead of heading off overseas or interstate, many families are choosing to stay close to home and enjoy a staycation.

When the economy started to slide down that slippery slope the advice from budget experts around the globe was to stay close to home when holidaying. Thus the term “staycation” was coined. In theory the advice makes great sense.

When you stay close to home for your vacation you may save money on travel expenses. To be sure, it is costly to buy airline tickets for a family of five. However, there are many surprising expenses that pop up when you plan a staycation.

The High Cost of Fuel

The first unexpected expense is often the cost of the fuel that it will take for you to get to your destination. If you’re traveling a few hundred miles from home by car every day of your staycation, at $1.35 or more per litre, that can add up quickly.

Pricey Hotels

Hotel costs are essentially the same wherever you go. And if you’re traveling to a touristy location in your state during peak travel times, the nightly rate may actually be more expensive than traveling to a far away destination.


Often, one of the reasons for staycationing is to become familiar with all of the wonderful sights and locations your state and community has to offer. However, you may spend more money on those sights and destinations than you would on a vacation in a distant location.


Finally, when people believe they’re saving money by staying close to home for their vacation, they may not be as detailed about tracking their expenses. It’s easy for a staycation to break the budget when you’re not paying close attention to what you’re spending. On the other hand, if you travel to an exotic destination you may be more likely to create a budget and to stick to it.

Affordable Options

There are actually many other options that may be much more affordable than a staycation. Here are just a few to compare and consider:

Holiday Packages

Discount travel sites offer exceptional deals. Find the right deal and you can take your family to Movie World, Uluru or even Disney Land for less than it can cost you to travel 500 kilometres from your home. Check out the travel sites and sign up for their announcements. If you’re a little open minded about where and when you holiday, you can save a bundle.

Holiday Rental Homes

You can find affordable vacation rentals in just about every travel destination. Their nightly rate is often much less expensive than staying at a hotel. And you save money by cooking your meals instead of going out.

Home Swap

Finally, if you live in a desirable location you can swap your home with someone who lives in a place you’d like to travel to. There are websites where you can find the best home swap match to meet your needs.

Holidaying doesn’t have to break the bank and it doesn’t have to be out of a Cheapskate’s reach. There are many ways to save money and make memories. While a staycation may be the best solution, it’s not a given that you’ll save money. Compare your options, create a budget, and have a great time!

14 December 2011

Automate, automate, automate!

Get as much of your finances as you possibly can automated.   Set up a savings account and a direct debit from your everyday account into it each payday (just because you're a parent doesn't mean you shouldn't pay yourself first).  Then set up direct debits or Bpay for the phone, gas, electricity, water, council rates, insurances, kinder fees, gym fees - as many of your bills as you possibly can - from your bill account.  Having your bill paying on the "set and forget" system takes away the worry when they come in - you can check, smile and file instead of cringe, whinge and worry.

13 December 2011

Almond Rocca

Almond Rocca is one of my very favourite sweets but the cost makes it a rare treat.  When I came across this recipe I was thrilled, now I can have almond rocca whenever get the craving (and I have the ingredients in the pantry).

1 cup almonds, finely chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup choc chips

Butter a 20cm square cake tin. Spread chopped nuts in pan. In a small saucepan bring sugar and butter to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat, stirring constantly for 7 minutes. Watch closely and keep stirring so it doesn't stick or burn. Immediately spread mixture evenly over nuts in the cake tin. Sprinkle chocolate pieces over the hot mixture; place a baking sheet
over pan so contained heat will melt chocolate. Spread the melted chocolate over the toffee. While hot, cut into 3cm squares. Chill until firm.

Almond Rocca makes a really nice gift too. With Christmas just over a week away, quick, easy and inexpensive gifts with WOW are called for.  This almond rocca makes a lovely gift, whether for a hostess, as a thank you or for Christmas. Wrap the pieces in coloured foil, twist the ends and present in a jar or lidded box.  You can get coloured foil squares at homewares stores or anywhere you can buy chocolate making supplies.

12 December 2011

Mini Rocky Road Chocolates

Not only is this rocky road delicious, it's another quick, easy and inexpensive gift idea.

375g dark chocolate
1 cup mixed fruit
1 pkt marshmallows (200g)
1 pkt raspberries (lollies)
½ cup mixed nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts,

Roughly chop marshmallows, nuts and raspberries. Add mixed fruit and stir thoroughly. Melt chocolate over low heat. Add to other ingredients and stir to mix through. Drop teaspoonfuls onto a tray lined with baking paper. Refrigerate until set. Wrap in cellophane bags and tie with Christmas ribbon. Add a gift tag.

I use whatever chocolate is on sale, this week Coles has 350g blocks of Cadbury chocolate for $4.00 so I'm using good old dairy milk. Any chocolate will do, but dark chocolate does make it extra special and is perfect if you are giving it to adults as a gift.

09 December 2011

Bananas are cheap so let's make banana bread

I've baked banana bread this afternoon, for the first time this year!

I popped into my local fruit shop this morning to pick up the things on my grocery list  and joy of joys  there was a crate of bananas marked down to 99c a kilo!  I did a double take - I haven't seen bananas that cheap in over a year.

I know many of you have been able to get them for $1.69, even $1.49, and have been enjoying a treat. Who would have thought back in January that we'd think of the humble banana as a rare and expensive treat?

At that price I bought up big. They were so cheap because the skins are starting to brown, making them almost ready to use in cooking.  I bought three big bags for a total of $9.33 - just over 9 kilos for under $10, what a bargain.

When I was unpacking them they felt quite firm, not at all soft or bruised so I just had to try one. Double bargain - the fruit is just right for eating.  Some found their way into the fruit bowl and the others, all bar six, have been put on oven trays and placed into the freezer.  I'll use those to make banana bread, banana cake, banana muffins and banana custard over the holidays.

If you've never frozen bananas before, it's so easy and a great way to keep them.  Just pop them in the freezer, no need to peel or mash. The skins go black, don't worry, the fruit inside is fine. When you defrost them the skin will go quite mushy but as it's only used in the garden who cares? The banana itself will be just right for using in your baking.

Oh, if you have frozen bananas, they make great ice blocks. Peel and eat - it's just like eating banana ice cream. Yum! When the kids were babies I used to mash frozen banana with a fork and feed it to them on hot days. They loved it although I'm sure if I suggested such a thing to them these days they'd shake their heads at me. For some reason anyone over the age of two thinks mashed banana is just gross. Doesn't matter that they almost inhaled it when they were babies. We humans are odd sometimes aren't we?

The six bananas I left out have been turned into two loaves of very yummy banana bread.  This is the recipe I use, complete with step-by-step instructions and pictures.

Banana Bread
6 bananas
3/4 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarb soda


Step 1:
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees F).

Step 2:
Grease two loaf tins with butter, oil or cooking spray – whatever your preference.  Personally I prefer to butter the tins as I use silicone bakeware these days. Cooking spray seems to stain silicone pans. If you don’t mind the staining cooking spray is fine.  If you are using silicone bakeware place the loaf pans on a baking sheet before you fill them with the batter. They'll be much easier to move into the oven this way and you won't end up with a lopsided cake because the batter was tipped to one side when it went into the oven.

Step 3:
In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until very pulpy.

Step 4:
Melt the unsalted butter or margarine in a small saucepan (you can do this in the microwave if you prefer - using a microwave safe bowl instead of the saucepan of course).

Step 5:
Add butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla to the bowl with the mashed bananas.

Mix until well combined.

Step 6:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients including flour, bicarb soda and salt. I use a whisk to "sift" the dry ingredients. It's faster and less messy than getting the sifter out.

Step 7:
Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.

Step 8:
Divide batter into the loaf pans and place in oven for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Check if the loaf is done after 50 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not continue baking a further 10 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.

Let rest in pans 5 minutes before turning onto a cake rack to cool. Allow to cool completely, slice and serve. If you don’t need 2 loaves, you can freeze one. Just wrap it tightly in clingwrap, place into an air-tight container and save it for when you need it.

Now you can eat it as is or you can spread it with butter or cream cheese. Or you can make a scrumptious cream cheese frosting and spread it over your banana bread. Personally I enjoy it with a thin scrape of cream cheese and a cuppa.

Shop less and eliminate stress

Shopping weekly may seem easier but it's not. It's not cheaper either!  Switch to fortnightly shopping and 25% or more on your grocery bill.  Make up a fortnightly shopping list – most of us buy the same groceries week in, week out.  Take the list with you, stick to it (if it’s not on the list you don’t buy it) and once you’ve shopped that’s it until the next fortnight. You'll save a fortune; no more wandering the aisles being tempted by those “sale” tags, and you’ll save a heap of time - it doesn't take any longer to shop for a fortnight than it does for a week and you're avoiding that stressful checkout queue. It has to be worth switching to get that 15 minutes back alone!

07 December 2011

Getting the best from online auction sites

This Christmas online shopping is booming, being more popular than ever. And auction sites such as eBay, quicksales.com.au, Grays Online  are more popular than ever.  They offer some great prices on fantastic products but there are a few basics you need to follow to make sure your online shopping experience is a positive one.

1.  Do your homework.  It may be online but it's still shopping. Check the reputation of the seller, read the fine print and understand all the terms and conditions of sale (they may vary considerably from seller to seller).

2.  Know your prices.  Comparison shop before you start bidding. Know what the RRP is on the items you are buying, check for sale prices and discount coupons for online and regular shopping.

3.  Set your maximum price. You knowhow much money you have in your gift budget, stick to it. It's easy to get carried away in the heat of last minute bidding and go over budget. Decide your maximum price and stop bidding at that price.

4.  Know your seller. Just as you know a store's reputation, you can check the reputation of the seller you are dealing with online. It's up to you of course but I'd only deal with sellers that have 99% or higher positive feedback over a decent number of sales.

5.  Understand the final price. The price you've won the item at may not necessarily be the total cost. You need to factor in the postage and handling fees and any insurances, express or registered post costs. You'll find these on the item listing and it pays to understand them before you start bidding.

Lastly, enjoy your auction site shopping and remember to actually put the money you save into your savings account - otherwise it's not saved, it's just not spent.

06 December 2011

Two Minute Chocolate Fudge

500g icing sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
1 cup nuts, chopped*

In a 2 litre casserole dish stir sugar, cocoa, milk and vanilla together until partially blended (it will be too stiff to blend thoroughly). Dot butter over top in centre of dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until smooth. If all the butter has not melted in cooking, it will as the mixture is stirred. Stir in the nuts. Pour into a lightly buttered lamington tray. Chill 1 hour in refrigerator or 20 to 30 minutes in freezer. Cut into squares. Makes about 36 squares.

*Note:  I use a mixture of nuts - whatever is in the pantry. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and peanuts all find their way into this fudge at some time. Use your favourite nuts or mix it up, either way it's just delicious.

05 December 2011

An old fashioned popcorn garland

Rather than cover your Christmas tree and home in tinsel this year, why not make an old fashioned popcorn garland? Popcorn garlands add a quaint charm to Christmas decorating and best of all they are completely used - after Christmas sprinkle the popcorn over the lawn and let the birds feast.

To make a popcorn garland you'll need three or four mixing bowls of popcorn. It's best to make it the day before you string it so it's soft and the needle will glide through easily.

Thread your needle with any type of cotton or polyester thread and knot both ends together.  To make a 2 metre garland you'll need four metres of thread.

Take a piece of popcorn and thread it onto the thread. Push it right to the end, next to the knot. Tie a knot in the yarn by bringing the end of the thread up and over the popcorn kernel, knotting the thread just above the popcorn.

Now start stringing your popcorn. It's easiest to do this by threading the needle through the thickest part of the popcorn.

Continue until you have about 5cm of thread remaining. Tie off by knotting over the last kernel in the same way you tied off the first.

Take care and carefully lay your garland on the boughs on your Christmas tree. Continue making garlands until you have as many as you want for your Christmas tree.

02 December 2011

How to Decorate the Christmas Tree

We want our homes to look the best they can over the holidays. Before the end of November we are pulling out the yuletide decorations. While we spruce up the inside and outside of our homes with bells and whistles, don’t forget about the Christmas tree.

I believe that decorating a Christmas tree is a family affair (and if it's not, it should be). Now, the husband and the kids may not want to go around the house hanging Christmas banners and Christmas cards with you. You may not enjoy climbing on the roof of the house to hang lights either. But every family member gets in the Christmas spirit with the Christmas tree decoration. Your tree says a lot about you as a family - your choice of ornaments, tree topping, and tree skirt - yes, tree skirt, and I'll talk more about these useful items later on.

First choose your tree. Many go for artificial trees because there are no dried pine needles to pierce the bottoms of tender feet or vacuum up, I do too. We've had our big Christmas tree for 20 years and it's still going strong. I consider it an investment in our marriage, but that's a story for another day.

What? You can't wait for "another day"? OK, here goes.

The first year Wayne and I were married, we spent Christmas here in Melbourne with my family, and didn't have a Christmas tree, although we did hang a wreath on the front door and display the cards.

The second year we were married was AJ's first Christmas and even though he was only 4 weeks old, we again came home to Melbourne for a family Christmas. I was so exhausted (it's a good thing no one tells you just how exhausting new babies are) that I didn't bother with a tree again.

But the third year we were married AJ was one year old and come hell or high water I was having a Christmas tree, and it was going to be a real tree. We were dirt poor, having just moved into our house and it was a very tight Christmas. I had been to town and viewed the Christmas trees on offer and decided ours would come from Legacy. It would be beautifully decorated and look exactly like the Christmas trees in the picture books (we all have to have dreams).

December rolled on and every night Wayne would come home treeless. I'd ask about the tree and he'd tell me he didn't have time to stop or came from the other direction - he always had an excuse for not bringing me home that Christmas tree.

Finally Christmas Eve arrived and I consoled myself with the thought that at least AJ was too young to understand the meaning of the Christmas tree, or really of Christmas for that matter.

Around 5pm Wayne pulled into the driveway and straight away I could see some greenery (if only I'd it THE ONLY GREEN on the tree) poking from the back of the van. He'd bought our very first Christmas tree!

Oh how very wrong I was.

Picture the scene if you will.

There's me at the front door, babe on hip, almost jumping with excitement.

My darling husband is slowly, slowly pulling on a tree trunk, dragging it out of the back of his work van.

As he pulls, I get more and more excited.

Then the excitement turns to confusion, then amazement and then complete and utter disappointment.

My very loving, very hard working, very frugal husband had waited at the Legacy tree stand until they were closing. He bought the last three - yes - three trees they had left, for the grand price of $5.  They should have paid him the $5 to take them off their hands!

He'd bought three rather large sticks. With a couple of twigs hanging off each one. They were the most miserable looking examples of Christmas trees I had, no have, ever seen. To this day I haven't seen anything quite like them.

I was so upset I started to cry. He was so thrilled with his bargain it took him  a few minutes to realize I wasn't crying with joy.

Those three sticks were stuck in a bucket of sand and my handmade tree skirt hung over it. Unfortunately there weren't enough twigs, let alone branches, for too many decorations, but they were a Christmas tree and I still remember the absolute wonder on one baby boy's face as he looked at all the sparkly baubles and the glittery tinsel.

I can tell you, if we hadn't had that baby to coo over that tree…..

We still talk, and nowadays laugh together, over the three for $5 Christmas tree.

And the next year I saved up, a little every week from the grocery money, and bought a lovely artificial tree in November!

And that's how we came to have an artificial tree.

But now, back to the main topic of conversation, decorating the Christmas tree.

Some artificial trees come pre-lit so that eliminates the need to buy strands and strands of lights. Artificial trees are available in many different colors, white, blue, black, pink, as well as green and are of varying heights and types. Coloured Christmas trees just don't seem like Christmas too me, I'm much more a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas, but whatever floats your boat, or rather decorates your tree.

For a real tree, some families get theirs a couple of weeks before Christmas. Tree farms and tree lots usually have a nice selection of Christmas trees with hearty branches. Be sure that you can’t see through the tree. If you can, then it will be too thin to hold heavy ornaments.  Also make sure to water real trees frequently once you’ve brought them home and placed them in their stand. This will prevent drying out of needles and possible fire hazards or a brown tree on Christmas morning. 

And this is why you need a tree skirt.  A tree skirt is just a circle of fabric that slips around the base of your tree. It's there to cover the stand but more importantly it's there to catch the pine needles that drop, and drop they will. No matter how much you water your tree it will drop needles. If they drop into the tree skirt then all you do is gather it up and take it outside to shake every couple of days. No more messy pine needles on the floor, getting into everything and clogging up the vacuum.

Here are some decorating suggestions no matter which type of tree you choose for your family this year.

1. Start with the lights. It’s going to be hard to put strings of lights on the tree after you’ve put all of the other goodies on the tree. For kids, it’s fun to put a strand or two of running lights so that they blink instead of staying on all the time. Depending on the size of your tree you may only need a couple strands of lights.
2. Add a touch of garland. There are many different kinds. Most people shy away from traditional icicles because they are a fire hazard especially on a live tree. The garland that has icicle like strands are just the same. Some opt for homemade popcorn garlands (fun for kids!), colored beaded garland, or snowflake garland made of plastic. Wrap the garland loosely so that it doesn’t strangle the tree. Let some of the length hang between the branches so it can be seen.
3. Now for the fun – the ornaments. Some families use a colour scheme of two or three colours for their ornaments. Others may purchase pre-packaged ornament sets with a certain theme. Kids can hang ornaments they created in school. You could end up with quite an eclectic looking creation. Space ornaments so they surround the tree and leave no bald spots.
4. The tree topper goes on last. There are angels, stars, and even bows. Some have a plug that fits into your string of lights. Just remove one light on the strand and plug in the tree topper. Others have their own plug that can be connected directly into the top strand of lights or the wall outlet. Some still don’t have a light at all. Our tree topper is an angel that Hannah made at after school kids' club when she was 5. It is a little worn and battered but it looks lovely on our tree.
So that's basically how you decorate a Christmas tree, family style. Everyone pitches in and hangs decorations, checks the lights to find the blown bulb and untangles the tinsel.

Stories are told of Christmases past, present and to come, of who gave which decorations to whoever and why, and memories are made.

01 December 2011

Seven Canny Christmas Decorating Tricks

When it comes to Christmas decorating, "budget" is a word that seems to fly out the window.  Decorating your home and tree for Christmas doesn't have to cost a fortune or involve lots of shopping trips. Instead be creative and utilise the decorations you already have and other household items that can be re-purposed as a unique Christmas decoration.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1.  Use broken garlands to drape over doorways or windows and create a grand Christmas entrance. Stick a huge fabric bow on either side of the drape and then position pots of poinsettia underneath the bows.

2.  Use broken or worn out garlands to make wreaths or stars. Make the shape you want from a wire hanger, then twist garland around it. Decorate or leave as is.

3.  Paper chains and cardboard stars can be dressed up with glitter and fancy (leftover) paints and keep the kids busy in the days leading up to Christmas. Use magazine pages, cut into strips, to make the paper chains for a colourful and frugal decorating idea. After Christmas just put the chains in the recycle bin.

4.  Put a newspaper under any project that uses glitter, and when you're through, use the crease as a funnel to return the unused glitter to it's container. Glitter is expensive, and this way you don't waste any. It also helps stop it from being spread around the house.

5.  Watch newspaper and advertisements for pictures you can cut out and use. Santa, reindeer and Christmas trees from the newspaper can decorate your refrigerator, windows and walls.

6.  Borrow a book of origami from the library and make simple doves and such to hang in your windows.

7.  Use salt instead of glitter for snow scenes. It's much cheaper!

30 November 2011

Beautifully Wrapped Gifts with Amazing, Cheap Bows

I love Christmas, and I love have beautifully wrapped Christmas presents; I have always bought ribbon to wrap my Christmas gifts in a traditional style, visiting numerous $2 shops etc to stock up on ribbon and every year I have a different theme. Last year however, I noticed that number of metres of ribbon per roll had dropped significantly, with rolls of only 1-2 metres costing a minimum of $2 each- that length would have only done one, maybe two gifts and with a very large extended family, it was fast adding up- what was I going to do?

Then it came to me, crepe paper streamers. You can buy these in all different colours, I bought purple as we were having a purple and silver theme that year, and with four streamers, each 25m long, in a packet for $2 (from my local $2 shop) I only need 1 packet! I added in a roll of silver curling ribbon (90m at $2) to help tie it all together.

I put the streamer around each gift in a cross fashion and fixed with sticky tape, and then cut 6 10cm strips of crepe paper, laid them on top of each other and tied them in the middle with curling ribbon, fanned out the crepe paper and hey presto - a bow. I fixed this to the gift with a little for curling ribbon and the gift was done. The purple colour really jumped out, and all the family commented on how great the gifts looked. I managed to keep up my Christmas traditions, and saved a fortune.

Contributed by Shea

29 November 2011

Corn and Bacon Fritters

These fritters are quick, easy, tasty and cheap.  They can be served with veggies or salad for a meal, and they are delicious and always popular this way. But at this time of year, when we seem to do more than usual entertaining, I like to make them as tiny fritters and serve them topped with a little sour cream and finely sliced chives for hors douvres.

However you serve them, I'm sure they'll become a family favourite.
2 tbsp olive oil
125g bacon rashers, rind removed, coarsely chopped
1/2 a green capsicum, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 x 420g can corn kernels, drained
3/4 cup plain flour
3 eggs, lightly whisked
1 tbsp milk
1/2  tsp mixed herbs

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon for 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add capsicum and cook for 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the corn, flour, egg, milk and herbs.  Mix well to combine. Season with salt and pepper.  Heat remaining oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup portions of the mixture. Flatten slightly. Cook for 2 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Repeat until all mixture is used. 

Use grated zucchini instead of capsicum
Add diced, drained tomato instead of corn kernels
Swap the onion for finely sliced spring onion

You can also cook these fritters on the barbecue or on a griddle over a campfire too, and they feature on our camping menu regularly.

To make them when you are camping, measure the dry ingredients into a large ziplock bag. When you are ready to make them add the wet ingredients to the bag, zip it shut and use your hands to combine everything. Then snip a corner off the bag and "pipe" the mixture onto your barbecue plate or griddle.

The beauty of using the ziplock bags for mixing is that you don't need to carry mixing bowls. Space (and often weight) is at a premium when camping so using ziplock bags to mix in is very handy.  I will remind you however to use foodsafe ziplock bags and I don't recommend actually cooking in them unless they are marked as foodsafe and boilable.

28 November 2011

A Coathanger Christmas tree

If you haven't realised yet, I love Christmas. I love the busyness of Christmas visiting, I love the gift wrapping and card writing, I love the cooking and the eating of once-a-year treats and I love the decorating.

One of my favourite decorations is the Christmas tree, or rather Christmas trees. We have more than one. At last count there was the large tree in the loungeroom, the smaller tree near the front door, the small tree in the familyrooom and the dozens of table-top trees scattered around on, well table tops and shelves and coffee tables and the tops of dressers and cabinets.

Some of them are bought, some of them are made. I love the handmade trees. They are all different shapes and sizes. There are some made from fabric, some made from old magazines (there is a How to... for these trees) and there is this tree, which sits on our coffee table in the loungeroom, made from recycled wire coathangers, tinsel and tiny fairy lights.

I made our coathanger Christmas tree in 2008, after finding the instructions on a blog, Sunnisan, that no longer exists. I'm so glad I made it as soon as I found it, and am very grateful to Sunnisan for putting up the instructions.

To make your coathanger Christmas tree you will need:

6 wire coathangers
4 metres tinsel
1 small string of LED fairy or Christmas lights (about 50 lights)
Twist ties - you've finally found a way to use them all up!

Step 1:

Group the hangers into three pairs. Secure one corner of each pair with a twist tie, a sticky tape (i.e. duct tape) or piece of string. See Figure 1.

Step 2:
Working in your lap, take hanger pair A and place them on your left thigh with the hooks pointing toward your right leg and the tied corner toward your knee. Take hanger pair B and place them on your right thigh with the hooks pointing toward your left leg and the tied corner toward your knee. See Figure 2. Using twist ties, tie the corners toward your knees together. Arrange the hooks neck to neck and so both sets of hooks are on top of the wires. Take a twist tie and secure the two hanger pairs together just above the hooks as shown in Figure 2.

Step 3:
Pick up hanger pair C and, holding them with the hooks pointing toward the floor, place the tied corner with the tied corners of hanger pairs A and B. Make sure the hooks on hanger pair C pass below the other two sets of hooks and stick out on the floor side of the hangers. See Figure 3. Using the existing twist ties tie the three corners together. Again using the existing twist tie in the center down by the hooks, secure hanger pair C to the other two. At this point you should have three "legs" - one on your left thigh, one on your right thigh and one up the middle of your torso. 

Step 4:
Spread the hanger pairs out until they look like a tripod and place them on the floor in front of your feet (or on a table in front of you). See Figure 4 for an overhead view. Pick up a twist tie and, starting with the pair of hooks facing you, spread them apart. Using the twist tie secure the hook on your left to the wire of the hanger to the left of the hook. Pick up another twist tie/string and secure the hook on your right to the wire of the hanger to the right of the hook. Turn your tripod so another pair of hooks is facing you. Repeat the process for this pair and the next pair. Securing all six hooks to all six wires ensures the stability of the tree, prevents any wobbly legs and allows for some pretty rough handling.

Step 5:
Pick up the string of lights. Place the first bulb up from the plug at the top of the wire frame (where the star would go on a real tree), letting the cord dangle down along the middle of the frame. Secure the bulb in place with a twist tie. Then secure the dangling string to the base of the middle (near the hooks) so the plug will always come out from the centre bottom of the tree. String the lights around each hanger and/or wrap in a circular fashion, whichever works best for you. Secure here and there as needed with twist ties/string to keep the light string in place. See Figure 5.

Step 6:
Pick up a garland and dangle about 7 - 12cm of it down the centre of the tree frame. Secure it at the very top with a twist tie. Secure the dangling end if you like things tidy. Wrap the tree by going round and round until you've reached the bottom. See Figure 6. Keep the garland wrapped tightly so you get no gaps and it will stay nice and full. Don't worry about the lights not showing through just yet - we'll come back to that. If you run out of garland before you get to the bottom, secure the end to the nearest wire and pick up the next one. Secure its end in the same location where you left off with the last one and then continue wrapping. Repeat this until you have the entire frame wrapped down to the tips of the hangers. Secure here and there with twist ties/string as you see fit. If you have excess garland secure it to the frame where you judge it should end, and - for now - let the excess dangle free. Now tip the tree over on its side and poke any light bulbs you see through the garlands to the outside. When you've done that, stuff the excess garland up the middle and secure it with twist ties/string so it doesn't fall out.

Place your tree upright and decorate it. Plug it in and enjoy it! 

NOTE: The lights do get warm, but not hot enough to be a hazard. Just follow normal safety and unplug the tree when nobody's there!

25 November 2011

Budget Friendly Gourmet Baking

Baking is a frugal way to experience new flavours within a limited budget. In general, baking ingredients are similar for many cuisines and a good stash of baking essentials will last a long time. Most baking ingredients can be found to be fairly inexpensive as a whole, so you can afford to stock up on a variety of grains and flours to bake up gourmet treats any time without spending a fortune.

With a couple turns of the rolling pin or twist of the wrist, a warm wonderful aroma will be wafting from your oven, and you can enjoy gourmet pastries and breads for only a few dollars each. Take time to master the art of garlic naan, or rich cream-filled pastries from Italy. With just a little practice and the right ingredients, you can produce gourmet baked goods at budget prices.

24 November 2011

Yet another DIY dishwasher detergent

I was trawling through the scraps of paper on my desk earlier this week and came across an envelope with the words "yet another dishwasher detergent" scrawled on it, along with the ingredients.  As I'm just about to tackle my huge end-of-year grocery shop, dishwasher powder is short in supply so I decided to give it a go.

I am impressed - the results are very good, as good as the powder I normally use, if not a little better. As it is made from things I always have in the house it's a good alternative to commercial powder when stocks are running low.

Here it is:
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup washing soda
Juice of 1 lemon

Mix together. I used two tablespoons of the mixture, more than I normally would, and the dishes sparkled and the dishwasher was gleaming and spotless inside.

Cost:  Approximately 80 cents (if you don't have to buy a lemon), around $1.20 if you do.

22 November 2011

Honey Baked Pumpkin

This is a delicious and delightful way to serve pumpkin, just ideal for those who don't appreciate the delicate flavour and texture of this vegetable.

2kg pumpkin
1 piece (5cm) ginger , peeled
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter , melted
1/2 teaspoon cooking salt

Preheat oven to 230 degrees Celsius.  Line a lamington tray with baking paper (this makes clean-up so much easier). Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and flesh from inside. Then cut each half in half again and transfer cut side up to the prepared pan (don't peel the pumpkin).  Slice ginger into thin matchsticks. In a small saucepan, mix together honey, butter, ginger and water. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.  Brush generously over pumpkin and drizzle any remaining mixture on top. Sprinkle with salt.  Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning and basting pumpkin every 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown and tender. Add a few tablespoons of water to pan if pumpkin seems to be burning.

Note:  You don't need to stick to the one variety of pumpkin for this recipe - mix them up. A piece of butternut and a piece of Jap add variety and a subtle twist on the flavours and keep the dish interesting.

16 November 2011

Cleaning with Vinegar

A bottle of ordinary white vinegar can clean and disinfect, deodorize, deter pests, remove mould and kill germs! And it’s only $2.19 for two litres! This most versatile of liquids can take the place of almost all your household cleaners - saving you hundreds of dollars a year!

Imagine the ease of only having one cleaning item in your cupboards - how much space would that free up? No more confusion over which product cleans what item - you only have one cleaning product to use!

Softest Washing on the Line

Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into the washing machine with the final rinse – your washing will be soft and odour-free and your washing machine’s ‘internal organs’ will stay clean and healthy too – no more build up of detergents in the hoses etc.


1 cup of white vinegar in a bucket of hot water will hygienically clean your hard floors in one go. No need to rinse, just mop and let the floors air dry.

Sparkling Clean Tiles

Dampen a cloth with straight white vinegar and use to wipe over kitchen and bathroom tiles to leave them sparkling clean and streak free.


For a sparkling clean toilet, flush and then pour undiluted white vinegar around the bowl and rim. Leave for 10 minutes or so, brush and flush!

Bathroom, Kitchen and Laundry Sinks

For stainless steel sinks wipe over with a cloth soaked with un-diluted white vinegar, rinse with warm water and dry. For porcelain sinks and basins, wipe over with a cloth soaked in un-diluted white vinegar and then rinse.

Shower Recess

Clean those tiles and that grout with undiluted white vinegar in a spray bottle. Just spray onto the tiles, scrub with a scrub bud or nail brush, rinse and dry. Keep them sparkling by wiping over with a cloth dampened with white vinegar. Vinegar will get rid of that pesky mould and act as an inhibitor too.


Rinse with hot water first, and then put the plug in (it helps to have a string tied to the plug for this exercise). Fill the sink with hot water (boiling if you can) and add 1 cup vinegar and ½ cup washing soda (Lectric Soda, in the cleaning aisle of your supermarket). Once the washing soda has dissolved, pull the plug and let it flush out your drains. No more odours, you’ll help to prevent build-ups that cause blockages and no nasty, stale odours either.

Annoying Insects

Wipe over benchtops, sinks, tiles, cupboard doors and shelves with undiluted white vinegar to deter ants, cockroaches and other annoying pests. Spray directly onto cockroaches to kill them - a nuclear explosion may not kill them but a good squirt of vinegar will!

Pots and Pans

Clean the copper bottoms of pots and pans by sprinkling with salt and then gently rubbing with a cloth soaked in white vinegar. Rinse well and dry with a soft cloth.

These are just nine ways vinegar can be used around the house. It can be used in the garden too (it's a great weed killer) in so many ways.  It really is a versatile and very cheap household cleaning product.

On that note - do you know you can get twice as much bang for your buck from your vinegar?  Simply decant half the bottle into another clean container (label it please) and top them up with water. Let it sit for two weeks and you'll have four litres of good cleaning vinegar! Try it, it works and it saves you money.

15 November 2011

No Bake Chocolate Fudge Fruit Cake

We Aussies are blessed with beautiful weather (most of the time), but especially over the Christmas/New Year holidays. Unfortunately our peak entertaining season also coincides with our hottest weather.  Not to worry, having a few "no bake" recipes on hand keeps the cake tin full, the kitchen cool and your guests thinking you are an absolute marvel when you serve up this delicious cake.

2 pkts chocolate cream biscuits
125g cream cheese
1 egg
1 cup mixed fruit
125g milk chocolate
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon water

Split 1 packet of biscuits in half. Crush the other packet in a food processor or with a rolling pin. In a large bowl mix crushed biscuits, cream cheese, egg, mixed fruit and and half the chocolate that has been melted. Line a 20cm square cake tin with half the split biscuits. Spread the chocolate fruit mixture over the biscuits. Place the remaining split biscuits on top of the fruit mixture. Melt remaining chocolate with butter and water, mixing well. Drizzle over the top and in between the biscuits. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours until set.  Slice into fingers to serve.

14 November 2011

Get crafty with cards

Around this time of year the Post Office becomes very busy - it's card sending season.  Of course we send cards all year round, but from the beginning of November through to the end of December Christmas cards are in the mail.

I love sending cards each year, but I like to send unique cards. I want the cards I send to be different to the run of the mill Christmas cards available in the shops.

There are lots of things you can do to personalize and create unique Christmas cards and they don't have to break the budget.

One easy way to do this is to make them.  Now card making can be time consuming so to create beautiful, one-of-a kind cards I buy kits. These lovely cards were made using kits that cost just $2 per pack of 10 cards (and all the embellishments I could ever want) from a $2 shop.  That's just 20 cents a card, as opposed to the $5 - $8 a card from the newsagent.

If you don't feel that crafty, buy a packet of Christmas cards and embellish them. Use gold and silver gel pens to outline the main feature on the card. Have a card with a Santa on it? Add a little gold or silver pom pom to the end of his cap and glue a little cotton ball onto his beard.  Add a tiny, red metallic pom pom to Rudolph's nose.  Brush some clear glue over the stars and sprinkle them with glitter (do this over a sheet of paper so you can collect the glitter that doesn't stick and re-use it).

Tackle a few cards each night and it won't be long before you have your Christmas card list finished and ready to post on the 30th November.

11 November 2011

Place Your Catalogue Orders Early

If you are doing your Christmas shopping from a catalogue this year, place the order early. The most popular items sell out first, so get your order placed and on its way as soon as possible. Don’t wait for a catalogue to arrive in the mail, log on to the Internet. Many catalogue companies are online with product photos, descriptions, size charts and special ‘Internet only’ sale prices.

10 November 2011

Every last drop of moisturiser

You think a litre of petrol is expensive? At $24 per 30ml, my moisturiser is over $800 a litre! Thankfully it does a good job. Once the pump has stopped working, I tip the bottle upside down and give it a couple of good shakes before I use it. This gives a few extra portions. When that stops working I carefully prise the cover off and use a cotton bud to get the last of the moisturiser out of the tube.

09 November 2011

Paying too Much to Clear Your Debt

Watch daytime TV for an hour and you are bound to seen an ad promising to clear your debts and make your life easy. What the ads don't tell you is that you could end up paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars more in interest.  That's because, while  you are only making one  monthly repayment and it may be smaller than all your repayments at the moment combined, you may be paying the debts back over a longer period of time. You'll pay more interest because you're taking longer to repay the debts.  Consolidating debt through a third party company (remember, they promise to do all the hard work of dealing with your creditors for you) may seem like a good option, but the hidden fees and the extra interest can actually make your financial situation worse.  Before choosing any type of debt consolidation, look long and hard at it and read all the fine print. Ask lots of questions and make sure you understand completely just what your obligations are before you agree to or sign anything.

08 November 2011

Easy Chocolate Fudge

250g plain biscuits
125g sugar
125g butter
1/2 cup mixed fruit
1 egg
2 tbsp cocoa

Crush biscuits to a fine crumb.  Beat egg.  Place sugar, butter, egg and fruit into a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.  Stir in biscuit crumbs and cocoa. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Press into the base of a greased 20cm x 10cm loaf tin when cool. Press down to flatten the top.  Set in refrigerator. Cut into small squares to serve.

07 November 2011

How to make a Quillow

These quilts that fold into pillows are very handy and very easy to make - you only need basic sewing skills.

Materials required:

Two pieces of fabric measuring 150cm by 115cm for the quilt
Two pieces of fabric measuring 45cm by 45cm for the pocket
One piece of wadding measuring 150cm by 115cm for the quilt
One piece of wadding measuring 45cm by 45cm for the pocket

To make the quilt:

Step 1.  With right sides together pin quilt fabric together, making sure edges are even.

Step 2. Pin the wadding to the wrong side of one piece of quilt fabric.

Step 3.  Measure 40cm from one corner. Pin to mark. This will be for turning the quilt right side out.

Step 4. Starting at the pin marking the turning, and  using 1.5cm seams, stitch all three layers together, finishing at the corner above the turning.

Step 5. Trim corners and turn right side out. Slip stitch the turning opening closed.

To make the pocket:

Step 1. Place fabrics right sides together, making sure edges are even.

Step 2. Pin the wadding to the wrong side of one piece of fabric.

Step 3. Stitch as for quilt, leaving a 20cm opening for turning.

Step 4.  Turn right side out, slip stitch the opening closed.

To make the quillow:

Step 1. Centre the pocket on one short side of the quilt, with the opening facing the centre of the quilt.

Step 2. Stitch around three sides of the pocket, leaving the top (facing the centre of the quilt) open.  Overstitch the corners to reinforce.

Step 3. To hold all layers together stitch from the top of the pocket to the top of the quilt, in line with pocket stitching.

To fold:

Step 1. Place quilt pocket side down on a flat surface.

Step 2. fold long sides towards centre to make three layers.

Step 3. Turn the pocket from the front to the back.

Step 4. Fold the short edge of the quilt to the top of the pocket and then again with a final fold into the pocket.

04 November 2011

It's Worthwhile to Haggle

When I go out for a "coffee" I usually just order a plain hot soy milk and then I add a sachet or granules of something I like ( I have stomach issues, so I find this suits me). This saves me lots because I usually only get charged $2.00 for a cup of hot soy milk. Today in town, at a cafe, I was horrified at being charged $3.50 for a plain cup of the same so I haggled until they at least cut off the .50c, reducing it to $3.00 - moral - it's worth our while to haggle, even in places we've never thought of doing it before.
Contributed by Josie

02 November 2011

Old Fashioned Envelope Method Still Works

It may be old fashioned and require you to actually count your cash, but the envelope budgeting system still works in 2011.

We Are Saving Money Using Envelopes
We find using the 'envelope' approach helps us save so much money. We live on one wage so have to watch our budget. Now when we get paid we have money transferred straight in to specific bill accounts to cover weekly and fortnightly payments like rent etc, as well as money transferred in to a savings account, so we don't actually see this money and payments are covered. Then I take out a small amount to cover food, petrol and weekly spending money for my husband and I. This cash I withdraw goes straight into labelled envelopes or labelled plastic zip seal money bags, and means I only ever pay for things in cash from my envelopes. I am not tempted to spend money because I don't use my cards, and I really think about what I want to use my cash on. When you use your card you don't realise that $10 here and $15 there all adds up and before you know it you have spent $100 on unplanned items that you could probably live without. I also only pay cash for my groceries and will only spend my budget limit and am very good at sticking to this and anything over goes back on the shelf, and I fill my car up on $50 petrol per fortnight and that's it. Now when I have money left over at the end of the week I put it aside in another envelope and this then gets used when something unplanned comes up and we need it, or we spend it on the family as a treat, put it in a Christmas fund envelope or in an envelope for something we are saving for. It is so nice to see the money start to build up in the account because we aren't making any other withdrawals apart from the one-off withdrawal for our envelopes each pay day.
Contributed by Amanda Woodwood

01 November 2011

Irish Soda Bread

This Irish soda bread is just perfect for a hearty morning tea or an after-school snack for hungry kids. It is best eaten fresh, but leftovers (if you have any) are delicious thinly sliced, lightly toasted and topped with honey.

4 cups plain flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp bicarb soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
500ml sour cream
2 tbsp buttermilk*
1 cup currants
1 tsp caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease two 20cm x 10cm loaf tins and line the bases with baking paper.  Mix the flour, sugar, bicarb soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, currants and caraway seeds. Mix until just combined. This will be a very thick, very lumpy batter. Distribute batter evenly between the two pans. Bake loaves for 1 hour or until nicely browned. Do not over bake. Best served immediately with butter.

I have some tweaks for this recipe, use them if you want to, stick to the recipe if you prefer.  The first one is the buttermilk. Don't buy buttermilk just for this recipe, it's far too expensive and hard to get, not all supermarkets keep it.  Instead I add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to 2 tablespoons of milk and stir. The I let it sit for five minutes to curdle, then measure out the 2 tablespoons I need for the recipe.

I use currants in this recipe but if you don't like currants or don't have them you can use sultanas or raisins. If you use raisins I suggest you chop them to about currant size before adding them to the dry ingredients.

31 October 2011

Add pizzazz with piping

Cushions and pillows add warmth and charm, as well as comfort to a home. You can give your cushions a quick facelift by making new slip covers.  Give them a professional look by adding contrasting or matching piping.  You can buy piping cord but if you want the fabrics to match you will need to make your own, it's surprisingly easy to do.  Piping cord can be bought in the curtain department of your local fabric store.

To make the piping:

Step 1.  Cut strips of fabric 2.5cm wide on the bias (on the diagonal, across the grain of the fabric).

Step 2.  Measure around the edge of the pillow and add 2.5cm. Sew the strips together to make the necessary length.

Step 3.  Pin the strips around piping cord. Stitch as close to the cord as possible.

There you have it, custom made piping. Use it to trim your new slip covers and add a little pizzazz to your decor.

28 October 2011

Bugs be gone!

Spring weather brings out the bugs and creepy crawlies. That's all well and good when they are outdoors, but not so good when they invade our homes.  An easy and cost effective way to rid your home of these unwanted pests is with common borax. 

To get rid of cockroaches, silverfish, moths and spiders  place small amounts of borax in shallow containers (jam jar lids are ideal) and distribute them around your home anywhere the cockroaches roam. Slip one under the fridge, another under the stove if you have an upright model, under the lounge, behind wall units, in fact anywhere that makes a good dark hidey hole.

Then put some borax in an empty dishwashing detergent bottle and puff it into inaccessible areas such as the piping under your sinks and in any other gaps you may have, especially in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry.

Be sure to place it out of the way of pets, crawling babies and curious toddlers as while it is a very effective  "natural" treatment, it is toxic and not meant to be eaten by anything other than the creepy crawlies.

27 October 2011

Lemon Power

I love lemons and firmly believe there should be a lemon tree in every backyard because they are such a useful fruit. As well as making lovely cordial and teas, they can be used in salad dressings, sauces, baking, marmalades, they can be preserved and used as an ingredient in cooking and thousands of other  recipes. 

Lemons can be frozen very effectively so that you always have this very handy fruit on hand.  The zest of un-waxed lemons can be grated and frozen in small containers, and the juice can be frozen separately in ice cube trays.  Un-waxed lemons can be sliced and frozen for use in cold drinks.  I slice the lemons medium thick, then cut the slices in half and flash freeze on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Once they are frozen you can place in a freezer bag or container and store them in the freezer.  Pop them frozen in a glass and you have instant “ice and a slice” garnish for your lemonade or ice tea!

Lemons really are incredibly versatile in the kitchen, but they are  not just for cooking and eating.  A leftover half lemon placed in the cutlery tray of your dishwasher during the load freshens and makes your dishes sparkle.   If you have been chopping something smelly like garlic, rub some lemon over your hands before washing them in warm, soapy water for hands without any lingering traces of odour.  They are also good for softening and whitening elbows. It's very old fashioned but effective - just sit each elbow in a leftover lemon half, then wash and pat dry.  Your elbows will be soft, smooth and white.  Of course, don’t do this if you have any hangnails or broken skin – ouch!  Lemon can also be used to freshen chopping boards before washing in warm, soapy water too.  And if you are washing dishes by hand, a few slices of lemon in the washing water really helps cut grease and make the dishes sparkle.  Sprinkle salt over rust stains and saturate with lemon juice then leave in the sun to dry, the rust stain will disappear (test the item for colourfastness before you do this or you may remove the rust stain and the colour from the fabric).

These are just  a few ideas for using lemons, I'm sure you'll find many more uses for this wonderfully versatile fruit.

26 October 2011

Banking the leftovers

Put the leftovers from your weekly petrol budget into your interest earning Emergency Fund savings account at the end of each week. With fluctuating petrol prices the difference between your budgeted amount and the actual cost can be anywhere between $5 - $20 a week, especially if you use a discount docket. You could add up to $130 and $520 plus interest to your Emergency Fund in just six months and it's completely painless!

25 October 2011

The 69 Cent MOO Drumstick

Over the weekend I thought I'd give everyone a treat and buy us all and ice cream.  My ice cream of choice was a Drumstick, after all it's an Aussie icon, and this was a treat. Until I saw the price! $3.40 each - so $17.00 for the five of us to enjoy an ice cream. That put paid to that treat, $17 on ice creams is just too much for our entertainment budget. I was explaining this to Hannah as we drove home via Hungry Jacks for a 50c ice cream - a much more budget friendly treat.

Last night Hannah announced that she was making dessert for us all. Now we very rarely have dessert and when we do it's usually fruit based - an apple sponge or strudel or fruit salad or a pie of some kind so everyone was very excited, waiting to see what she would make.

She made us drumsticks! And much bigger and nicer drumsticks than the Streets ones I didn't buy (sorry Streets, you just don't make the grade anymore).  They were delicious, better than a bought ice cream and a fraction of the price. If you like an ice cream treat every now and then, try these MOO drumsticks, they really are good.

MOO Drumsticks
4 waffle cones
4 large scoops vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup milk chocolate buttons
1/4 cup crushed nuts

Melt the chocolate. Take a teaspoon of the melted chocolate and pour into the tip of each waffle cone. Swirl around to coat the inside of the cone.  Put a scoop (or two) of ice cream into each cone. Drizzle the ice cream with melted chocolate, sprinkle with chopped nuts. Put them into the freezer for  a few minutes to set.  Makes 4 ice creams. Enjoy!

The costings are:
1 packet waffle cones - $4.06 [packet of 12, $0.34 each
2 litres vanilla ice cream - $2.19, $0.20 per ice cream
Chocolate buttons - $2.88 a 375g packet, $0.10 per ice cream
Crushed nuts - $1.22 a 200g packet - $0.05 per ice cream

The waffle cones, choc buttons and nuts came from Coles, the ice cream is from Aldi.

These homemade drumsticks are more than twice the size of the official version for less than a quarter of the price. 
I think they're nicer too, the cones were delightfully crispy, not soft and soggy.  Why wouldn't you MOO them?

24 October 2011

7 Simple ideas to plan children’s birthday parties on a budget

We are moving into birthday season in our family. 

And, shock horror, I'm about to become the mother of a 21 year old!  He can't possibly be turning 21 already. It doesn't feel as though he's been my baby for 21 years but that's what the calendar says.  Goodness I'm getting teary just thinking about it, he was such a tiny baby, relying totally on me for everything, not that long ago. Now he towers over me and is completely and utterly independent. Yikes!

Before the end of the year we have nine family birthdays, including AJ's 21st!  Thankfully most of them are adults, so the parties and celebrations are a little easier. But there are four children in that birthday bunch and they all love their birthday parties.

To a child there’s nothing better than a birthday party. They have high expectations for the day and to be fair many parents do too. However, those high expectations can cost a bundle. With a little planning and a smart strategy you can throw memorable birthday parties on a budget.

When AJ, Tom and Hannah were younger we had a set birthday party routine. It kept costs down, but it also kept my stress levels down.  It involved what we still call "the birthday box".  In this box I kept all our party supplies: dishes, banners, balloons, loot bags, invitations, party hats, streamers, blowers, candles - if it was used for one of our birthday parties it was kept in the box.  This made getting organized really easy.

We also had and still have, a set menu:
  • Dip with carrot sticks
  • Sausage rolls
  • Party pies
  • Mini quiches
  • Mini pizzas
  • Meatballs
  • Fairy bread
  • Fruit plate - watermelon, rock melon, apple, orange, strawberries, kiwi fruit
  • Chocolate crackles
  • Birthday cake - acts as dessert
  • Party punch
It's pretty basic and all homemade and it's easy to adapt for special diet needs i.e. Gluten free, vegetarian etc.  It's also very cheap, doesn't require any special ingredients or extra things on the shopping list either.

Here are my top 7 tips for a beautiful budget birthday party:

1. Establish your budget first. Decide how much you have to spend before you even mention the word “Birthday Party” to your child. If you’re unsure how much you have to spend look at how much you’ve spent in the past. What were the financial results? Also take a look at your expenses and income for the upcoming month or two. You don’t want a birthday party to set you back.  It is really easy to spend hundreds of dollars on a birthday part. It is just as easy to spend under $100 and have a party that will be remembered (for good things) for years to come.

2. Start planning early. The more time you have to plan the easier it will be to stick to your budget. It’ll provide you plenty of time for a little strategy and bargain hunting. How early should you start planning? It's not as though you don't know the birthday is coming up, it happens at the same time every year. Two to three months is a nice amount of time. Plenty of time to research, save money, and pull everything together.

If you are stuck for ideas login to the Member's Centre and go to Birthday Parties.  There are loads of great party themes, tips and recipes in the Journals for you to use too.  Over the years we've had our run of fairy and princess parties, pirate and treasure hunt parties, pool parties, sleepovers,  13th birthdays, 18th birthdays and in a few weeks we'll be having our very first of the 21st birthday celebrations and I've used and will continue to use the ideas in these articles. They work, they save me money, time and energy - my type of birthday party.

3. Timing matters. The shorter your party, the less entertainment and food you’ll have to provide.
If you are on a very tight budget consider setting the party time for between meals. Then all you have to provide is a beverage and cake.

Of course you don’t want your party to be too short. Also consider keeping the party under three hours.  For young children, up to about 12 years of age, two hours is plenty of time for a party.  Over 12 two and a half to three hours is ample as long as you have plenty of activities for them or a good movie or game to keep them busy and entertained.  Two hours may be the perfect amount of time for both party goers and hosts.

Once your children reach 16 or so parties become more casual (don't think this means less work or expense, it doesn't) and they tend to also be a little louder and longer.  It's all part of growing up , I remember the excitement of parties that went to midnight.  These days of course my ideal party finishes around 9pm!

On that note:  always, always issue real invitations.  I understand the kids love to put the details out on Facebook or use the bush telegraph to send their invitations but you have no control over who is invited.  Take the time to make invitations, keep a list of who they've been given to and get an RSVP. It may be old fashioned, but it's good manners and good sense to know just who will be coming through your front door.

My kids have all been told the first hint on any social network of their parties and the consequences will be swift and severe.....

4. Utilize general themes. Skip the brand name parties and choose a more general theme. For example, Pirates are a cheaper theme to work with than Disney Cars and a princess theme is easier to work with than a Cinderella themed party.

5. DIY. Obviously time is money. However, if you can make a cake and create your own invitations you’re going to save a bundle. Consider buying some party decorations at a bulk or discount party store and making the rest. Get creative with the decorations too.

6. Make the craft the prize. Children expect to receive goody bags when they attend a party. Combine the craft (which keeps the children busy) with the goodie bag. For example, children could make pirate hats, tiaras or microphones to take home with them.  If you are very brave let them decorate the party food. Make some large cookies and then provide the icings, sprinkles, jelly beans, smarties etc and let each child make his or her own snack.

7. Plan simple games and activities. Games are inexpensive and they keep children occupied and laughing. For example, a great game of kick the can or swimming in a pool keeps everyone happy and is inexpensive too.  Pass the parcel, musical chairs, egg and spoon races, three legged races and balloon races are all good fun, cheap to run and keep everyone very busy.

I have found that it is important to plan your party out in detail and carefully itemize the cost of each item. Make sure you also leave a bit of room in the budget and timeline for surprises – they always happen. Make what you can at home and keep the party short and simple. It’s the best way for everyone to have fun and to stay on budget.       

Now I've just shared my tips, I'm about to sit down and start working on the shopping list and final invitation list for that 21st. It's only a month away - time to get a wriggle on.