28 February 2011

Re-Invent Second-hand Jewellery and Save on New Beads

The latest craze seems to be making your own jewellery. When buying beads, clips etc it can be very expensive from the bead shops. I now go to second hand clothing stores such as Lifeline, the Salvation Army etc and buy very cheap second hand jewellery. I then dismantle the items and reinvent my own fabulous necklaces, earnings bracelets etc.

Contributed by Robyn

Robyn's idea isn't just for jewellery. Beads make wonderful embellishments to embroidery and tapestries as you can see from the close-up above. Rather than just using embroidery wool to work the tapestry (which is Hannah's) I used stranded cottons, silks, flower thread, soft cotton and beads for the buds on the vine, adding depth and perspective to the work. Add them to t-shirts, along the front bands of cardigans, around the cuffs of jackets etc to create unique wardrobe pieces. Beads are not just for jewellery making, just use your imagination.

27 February 2011

Getting ready for winter

Autumn is the most important time of year in the vegetable garden.  The days are mild and pleasant for working in the garden so we have no excuse and the soil is still warm enough to start off those very important winter veggies. Get those seedlings started now so they will be ready to plant out in early to mid April. They need to be big enough to cope with the cooler soil and the cold days and nights of winter. Give your winter veggies a head start by preparing the soil now. Weed well, dig over and add lots and lots of compost. Check your garden plan so you aren't planting in the same spot as last year (crop rotation helps to prevent diseases and bugs in the soil and retain fertility).

26 February 2011

The Food Mile

In the grocery industry there is a term known as the 'food mile' which indicates how far food has to travel to end up in your local shops. It's simple: the shorter the food mile, the less expensive the product, both in financial and environmental terms. Buy items with the shortest food mile. You'll be saving money and the environment.

25 February 2011

Build a Meal Emergency Fund

Emergency funds are an integral part of our Cheapskates lifestyle. They help us cope when we have a financial emergency and stop us resorting to credit to get through. So for those MCBB (Mum can't be bothered) nights, have a stash of back up meals in the freezer to avoid the takeaway temptation.  I have a stash of basic pasta sauces (bolognaise is easy, freezes well and always popular) and homemade soups in meal and single serve portions that I keep in the freezer. They are easy to thaw in the microwave and all I have to do is cook some pasta and toss a salad or butter some bread and dinner is on the table.

24 February 2011

Save More - Track Your Food Costs!

We all know that tracking our spending helps us save money.  So have you ever considered tracking your food spending? Food is the next biggest expense for us, next to rent or mortgage payments! If your budget seems to just keep blowing out, record every cent you spend on food. Every day for  a month write down all the money you spend on food. Not just your weekly groceries, but that latte with the girls, the canteen money for the kids, the fish'n'chips on Friday night.  I'm not saying you can't have these things. Just be aware that they are food costs and do have a huge impact on your Spending Plan.  If you are trying to keep your food bill and your Spending Plan under control, you may decide that the $35 fish'n'chip takeaway each week just isn't worth it and can be a $15 homemade fish'n'chip dinner instead, saving $1,040 a year!

23 February 2011

Card Eating ATM Causes Epiphany

Approximate $ Savings: $5,000 per year
At our lowest point financially I recently ran up to a local ATM to get some money out only to realise I didn't have enough in our account. I then resorted to my credit card (thinking doesn't matter, I will fix it up later... I have done it plenty of times) only to put my pin number in wrong three times. The card was eaten by the ATM there and then! Panic set in. I had no cash! I rang the credit card company only to realise I had to fax this, that and the other, it could take up to ten working days etc. Once the panic had subsided I realised I was only two days away from pay day and blow it who cares if I can't use that card anyway! So I have not faxed anything, I have just realised I don't need it and now I have been transferring as little as $5 left over from my pay day each week onto the credit card. This card may take time to pay off but at least I know I can no longer to any damage with it financially. I am actually looking forward to paying this money sucker off!

Contributed by Jessica, Ringwood

22 February 2011

If it's got eight legs it's not welcome in my house!

Oh my how I hate creepy crawlies. They may well have their place on the planet but it's not in my home. Or my garage. Or my garden shed. Or my car. Or my rubbish bin. Or my greenhouse. Or my ..... Well I am sure you get the picture.

I swear insects, spiders and other tiny creatures that can move really, really fast see me as a target.

Picture it:  it's 2 am, a new mother sitting in the loungeroom with her ten-day-old babe happily feeding in her arms. The only light from the street light shining through the window, mainly so the new mum didn't fully wake up. She's blissfully watching baby suckle, enjoying his little snorts and gurgles, because this little man is a guts.

And then, from the corner of her eye, she sees a movement. For a moment she thought she was imagining it, she was so tired. And then it happened again. A very quick movement, down low, just this side of the front door.

That made her focus. Her eyes and her concentration, she was wide awake now.

Then, to her complete and utter horror the carpet started moving towards her. Hang on, carpet can't move. A quick, but gentle shake of her head (she didn't want to wake that sleeping baby) and she realised it wasn't the carpet moving.

It was the biggest, brownest, hairiest Wolf Spider she had ever seen in her entire life.

With dismay she realised she shouldn't have shaken her head, however gently. The baby was still asleep, but the movement was enough to catch the spider's attention. That thing was fully focussed on her.

She was trapped. In a lounge chair. With a sleeping baby attached to her.

The spider honed in on her, perhaps it could sense her terror, and it started to move towards her. Slowly at first. Then it started to run. Faster and faster until it was up on it's hind legs, charging towards the terrified young mother and baby.

It was the biggest spider she had ever seen, it had to be for her to be able to see it without her glasses on, in the middle of the night, on brown carpet, with just a street light shining in the window.

God is good. He graced this young mother with whopping great size 10 feet. Which means she wears whopping great size 10 shoes. Or slippers. In this case it was Ugg boots.

That spider didn't stand a chance. But only because I didn't want to wake the baby by screaming, shouting, jumping up and down and having hysterics. And because it's true, nothing comes between a mother and her baby, not even a huge wolf spider in the middle of the night.

I was the mother. AJ was the baby. Wayne was fast asleep, he didn't even know we had been attacked by a monster spider as big as a dinner plate until I woke him up to tell him!

So now you know why I really, really hate creepy crawlies. Almost as much as I hate bug sprays. Which can be a bit of a dilemma. Bug sprays are very efficient at keeping bugs at bay. It's a shame they are so toxic, to us and the environment.

And I read in this week's Sunday Herald Sun about the invasion of spiders and other ikky bugs that is taking place at the moment. It seems with all the rain we've had recently the creepy crawlies have decided to move inside, where it is nice and dry. Oh, how I wish I would use bug sprays. I've been tempted a couple of times to grab a couple of cans of bug spray and go crazy with it. Thankfully No Spending month kept me from  giving in to temptation.

Instead I've opted for natural ways to repel (and yes, kill) any creepy crawlies that dared to cross our threshold.

It's commonsense of course, but keeping cobwebs at bay really does help. Every room in the house gets  swept from ceiling to floor once a week. I slip an old stocking over the kitchen broom and use it to "sweep" the cornices, walls and skirting boards. It only takes around 10 minutes to do the entire house, such a simple job but one that always seems to be put off.

Under the eaves and around the verandah and pergola get de-cobwebbed with a cobweb broom once a week or so. This seems enough to keep them under control and again, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk around the house dragging the brush.

To keep flies and other flying-type bugs away I moved a pot of rosemary onto the back verandah, next to the sliding door.  I made up a bug spray using just water and citronella oil in a spray bottle and sprayed liberally around the front and back doors and around the window frames.  Apparently insects don't like the taste of citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit etc). Add about 20ml of pure essential oil (the synthetics may be cheaper but they won't work) to a litre of water and give it a shake. Be liberal in your spraying and watch the spiders disappear.  Now essential oils can stain some fabrics so be careful around your curtains, carpets and furniture. And it can be irritating to animals, so keep your dog or cat away from the area while you are spraying, you don't want to burn them.

You can use this spray indoors and out. It's great in the garden shed and the garage and is perfect for bathrooms and laundries too.

The other thing we always do, and perhaps this is because we lived in Sydney, is always turn our outside shoes and boots upside down when we take them off. And we never, ever just slip a foot into a boot without first giving it a couple of good, solid shakes just in case a nasty or two have taken up residence.

Of course if you take away their new homes they'll move on. Don't stockpile paper and cardboard, keep rubbish cleared away from your house and keep bushes and trees close to your home trimmed and tidy. Keep rubbish in the rubbish bin and recycle bin, not in bags around the yard or garage.

If you are spending money on bug sprays, try de-cobwebbing and the lemon spray instead. If nothing else, your house will be cleaner and you'll have saved a few dollars.

 These four things keep our house spider and bug free, much to my relief.

Blasted Chicken and Rice

This is an unbelievably simple dish that tastes great and is economical too, espeically if you can buy chicken on sale. I can buy twin packs of No. 15 chickens for $8, making this meal just $5.10 for six serves!

1.5kg whole chicken (No. 15)
Salt and pepper
1 large onion
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven 230 degrees Celsius. It is important to pre-heat for this recipe, the oven needs to be at the right temperature when you put the chicken in. Remove giblets from cavity if they are there. Rinse the chicken well inside and out, then pat dry with a paper towel. Put 1 cup water in the bottom of a roasting pan and sit a rack on top. The water will stop the juices from the chicken from hitting a dry pan and smoking. Put the chicken on the rack, breast side up, making sure it isn't touching the water in the bottom of the pan. Do not tuck in the wings or tie it shut. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper all over, inside and outside and inside, too. Bake at 230 degrees Celsius (450 Fahrenheit) for 45 minutes. Do not open the oven during cooking. Remove and allow to rest for five minutes. Cut apart with a big kitchen shears or a sharp knife.

As soon as the chicken goes into the oven start the rice. Dice the onion into small pieces. Heat the oil in a frypan and sauté the onion on medium heat until soft. Add the rice. Continue sautéing until the rice begins to brown, stirring constantly (about 10 minutes). Be careful not to burn. Add the two cups of chicken stock all at once; reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

If you start the rice as soon as you put the chicken in the oven, both will be ready at the same time. Serve with a big green salad.

21 February 2011

Crunchy pickled onions

I just love pickled onions. Those crunchy white morsels that go so well with a good sharp cheese, not the big squishy blobs that sit on the counter at the local fish'n'chip shop, but lovely, crunchy mouthfuls of tart delight.

We often have a ploughman's lunch a la Cheapskates on a Sunday, with fresh bread, sliced cheese, cold meat and pickled onions, all washed down with homemade ginger beer.  With this feast spread on the table we can sit and nibble and talk for hours.  And always it's the pickled onions that disappear first.

They are so easy to make, and with MOO month just a week away and as I was peeling onions this morning, I thought I'd share how I make them and perhaps inspire you to give them a try or if you already MOO pickled onions, share your recipe and instructions. 

My recipe is somewhat garbled, I copied it straight from my mother's recipe book.

"Peel onions, pack in jar. Add seasonings, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, half teaspoon salt, half teaspoon castor sugar. Cover with brown malt vinegar. Keep 2 weeks in dark cupboard."

This is what I do:

Peel 2kg pickling onions. Pack whole onions into sterilized pasta sauce jars, about 500ml size. To each jar add 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice, 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns and half a teaspoon sugar.  Pour cold malt vinegar into jar to cover onions. Seal jars and store in cool, dark cupboard for at least two weeks before using. Once open keep them in the fridge.

These onions have a lovely spicy flavour and stay crisp and crunchy. They go very well with cheese and crackers and are a nice addition to a green salad, with a little of the flavoured vinegar as the dressing. They just give it a little extra crunch without being overpowering.

Pickling onions can be bought at any good greengrocer or from the market. Generally from the market they are in either a 10kg or 20kg bag. That's a lot of onions so you may want to pickle some and then slice and/or dice the rest and freeze them. Onions actually freeze really well.

If you are buying them from the supermarket, look for bags of small onions.

Once the onions are all gone you can use the vinegar as the base for salad dressings and marinades or you can strain it and re-use it for the next batch.

To re-use the vinegar strain it through a cheesecloth to separate the spices. Top the vinegar up with fresh malt vinegar and fresh spices when you add it to the jars.

By the time the onions were finished and the kitchen all tidied up again my hands were freezing. It's hard to believe that it's February, although it is Melbourne! The wind was blowing strong today, and we had lots of rain showers, making everything feel damp and cold.

Poor Thomas walked to the bus stop in the rain, refusing my offer to drive him up to the corner. He'd only just left and down it came! I spent the afternoon wondering and worrying about him being wet and cold. It was wasted wondering and worry, he came home dry as a bone and none the worse for his walk in the rain.

I wonder when a mother stops worrying about her children?

**** I'll post a photo or two in the next couple of days, the battery in my camera was flat this morning and I wasn't game enough to swap it myself - I'm still learning how to use this new wizz bang super dooper camera!****

20 February 2011

Laundry soap and Bicarb Soda

"Cath, I just wanted to know what bar of soap you used for the laundry powder recipe. I used velvet because it said it was suitable for use in the laundry but it does seem to be on the pricey side - $2.70 for 4 bars of soap. Could I use any no name soap?  Also, do you know where you can buy bi carb in bulk. I'm trying to get the cost down. "   Wendy

I've answered Wendy's questions on the website but thought I'd post the answers here too. Sometimes you miss things on the website.

When it comes down to it you can use any bar soap to make the Cheapskates Washing Powder. Laundry soap is the cheapest if you are going to buy soap especially for this, bathroom soap smells nicer if you like the scent.

Making your own laundry powder is a great way to use up the ends of bars of soap, you know the little slivers that no one will use in the bathroom. Save them in a dry jar until you have around 125g (the weight of a bar of soap) and use them up. They don't have to be the same - soap is soap when it comes to laundry powder. The last lot of laundry soap I bought was from Coles, Smart Buy brand, 4 cakes for $2.49. Aldi don't sell laundry soap, but they do have 8 cakes of bath soap for $2.29, just be aware they are only 100g cakes, rather than the 125g bars of laundry soap.

These days I use a combination of laundry and bath soap, we don't seem to have as many slivers of bathroom soap for laundry powder now that we make liquid hand soap with them.

Use the zester side of the grater to grate the soap into a nice fine powder. This will help it dissolve faster when you add it to the washing machine. Or you can do what I do and use your food processor. I break the bar of soap up with Wayne's hammer and add the pieces to the food processor. Then I process until the soap has been reduced to a fine powder. Occasionally I will use the grater accessory on the food processor to grate the soap, but it is faster to just whizz it with the steel blade.

I'm often asked if it is safe to use the food processor to grate soap, and I usually smile. I always wash mine in hot, soapy water after each use, what do you do?

Bulk bicarb is available from pool shops, but you will probably find it is a lot cheaper from a stock feed store (use Google or the Yellow Pages to find the closest to you). Just be aware that bulk is usually 25kg and that is a lot of bicarb soda. You might need to find someone to share it with. It needs to be kept dry so a large container with an air- and water- tight seal is essential.

Costco sell Arm and Hammer brand bi-carb in 5kg bags that work out to about half the price of buying the same weight from the supermarket. If you have a Costco membership (or know someone who does) it may be a cheaper and more manageable option.

Whatever soap you use, making your own laundry powder is still a cheaper option. For around 5 minutes of your time and perhaps $2.30 in materials you'll get a lot of laundry powder. Remember, Cheapskates Washing Powder is truly concentrated. You only need to use two level teaspoons for a front loading or small top loading washing machine and three level teaspoons for a large top loader.

Use my stain removing soap for stubborn spots and really dirty marks and you'll always have a clean wash for less.

Keeping garden tools organized

Hang a plastic over-the-door type of shoe organizer, found in $2 type shops, in the garden shed or garage and use it to store your garden tools, gloves, seed packets, plant ties, secateurs etc. They'll be neat and tidy and protected and you'll always be able to lay your hands on them when you need them.

18 February 2011

Can you hear that beep?

We all know we should watch the scanner at the supermarket, but do you listen to it too?  Each time an item is scanned the scanner beeps. But today's scanners are so sensitive that it only takes a simple wrist movement while scanning for you to be charged twice or even three times.  If you are buying multiples of items, listen, count and watch carefully. Mistakes are easy to make and quite common. And watch the cashier if he keys in the number of items or hits the button manually, it's easy to miscount.  And last, but not least, watch if he then lifts them over the scanner. Too low and you could be charged again!

17 February 2011

Utility Review

A Spending Freeze is the perfect time to review how much you are paying for utilities. Spend some time over the next few days to review your utility expenses. Gather electricity, water, gas and phone bills and then shop around for better deals. Loyalty should work both ways: if you are a loyal customer, paying accounts on time, then your service provider should in turn be loyal to you, giving you great service and a fantastic price.  These days it is common for a service provider to lock you into a contract with a penalty for leaving early. Unfortunately there is no benefit to you, the customer, in taking up this contract. It doesn't protect you from price increases or guarantee you any better service. It just traps you into doing business with the company for the duration of the contract (usually two years). That's no way to repay loyalty. If you find a better deal, consider the penalty for breaking the contract and if you are going to be better off either go ahead and switch companies or let your current provider know you have a better deal and give them the opportunity to beat it.

16 February 2011

Turning Dreams into Reality

Many of the dreams Australians have are related to money: owning their own home, paying cash for a new car or travelling overseas.  And yet not one of these dreams will be fulfilled if they don't set goals. Goals for building savings, goals for paying down debt so they can build savings, goals for when they want to fulfil their goals.

During this Spending Freeze, take some time to re-evaluate your dreams and goals. Make them concrete, write them down. Then review your Spending Plan to see how they fit with your finances.  Are there areas in the Spending Plan that could be tweaked to make those dreams a reality?   If so, tweak them.  If not, review the plan to see where tweaks could be made.

Remember, Spending Plans are not set in concrete. They are meant to be flexible, to be tweaked to suit your financial circumstances, dreams and goals.

15 February 2011

Filling in a Hole (or How to Darn a Sock)

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for The Cheapskates Journal. In light of the current trend to mend and recycle, and because my boys both finally cleaned under their beds, I have a huge pile of socks that need darning.

Socks are cheap these days so some may think I'm nuts to bother with darning. I darn holes in socks because it costs money to replace them, more than it costs in time and yarn to mend a hole.

Wayne's Granny taught me how to darn before we were married. I think she figured if I could cook his favourite foods and darn his socks I'd be able to look after him properly.

If you don't know how to darn it's actually very easy, Granny said to just think of it as weaving to cover a hole. It works - five year olds can weave lengths of yarn together, so you will be able to do so easily.

Here are the steps:
    1. Thread a needle with thread that matches the sock. Don't put a knot in the end; it leaves an uncomfortable lump in the sock (have you ever had a sock pill under foot?).
    2. Count down 5 threads or ribs and start weaving over and under towards the hole.
    3. Two threads or ribs from the hole turn and start weaving over and under the threads around the edge of the hole.
    4.  When you get back to where you started slip the needle under the thread closest to the hole and weaving over and under any threads left in the hole take the needle straight across to the other side.
    5. Pick up a stitch and weave over and under back to the other side.
    6. Continue in this fashion until you fill in the hole.
    7. Turn and work in the same manner in the other direction.
    8. To end off weave down 5 threads or ribs and snip the thread.


Try to match your thread with your sock i.e. cotton socks, use stranded cotton. You can buy stranded cotton (embroidery floss) on sale for 99c a skein for DMC and Anchor, even less if you buy from a $2 shop. If you are darning woollen socks use wool to darn. I've found that tapestry wool is great for darning. It's cheap too, on sale you can get it for around 89c a skein for DMC or Anchor, comes in a great range of colours and can be stranded to match the thickness of the yarn in the sock.

To make the weaving process easier use a darning egg. In the olden days darning eggs were wooden, worn smooth from use. These days a light bulb makes a great darning egg; just remember to treat it gently.

Darning takes practice; don't be worried if your first attempt creates a mountain. Wayne walked on mountains for a while when I first started mending his socks. Nowadays they are only little hills. Lucky for me he doesn't complain.

Curried Tuna Slice

1 sheet shortcrust pastry
425g tuna (drained and flaked)
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 tbsp butter, extra
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp curry powder
½ cup water
½ cup milk
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 tbsp grated cheddar cheese


125g grated cheddar cheese
1-2 tsp curry powder
½ tsp paprika

Combine ingredients, and sprinkle over base before cooking.

Pre-heat oven 200 degrees Celsius. Line the base of a greased, foil lined lamington tray with the pastry. Spread drained and flaked tuna evenly over pastry. In an small saucepan melt butter and sauté onion and celery for 1-2 minutes. Spread over tuna. Melt extra butter, add flour, and curry powder. Stir until combined together. Gradually add water, milk and eggs, stirring constantly and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and fold in 2 tablespoons grated cheese. Pour sauce over vegetables. Sprinkle topping over slice. Bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce to 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cooked. Filling will be set and top is golden brown. Serve hot or cold as a main meal or cut into 3cm squares to use as finger food.

14 February 2011

Mini Valentine's Cakes

Make mini Valentines cakes. Use a butter cake mix (generic is fine) and make them in muffin tins. Put a marble in the centre of each indentation, pour some cake mix into patty cases and pop on top of the marble. Bake in the usual way. When you turn the cakes out, carefully take the patty case off and when you turn them over you will mini heart shaped cakes. Ice with white icing and quickly dip in red jelly crystals before the icing sets.

13 February 2011

Living Life

I read a comment in the Member's forum this afternoon and it's been niggling at me ever since.  Cheapskater Julie suggested that schools should be teaching a class called "living life". She then went on to clarify her point by suggesting it cover budgeting, shopping, the consequences of debt and how to pick a con.

I wonder when these became someone else's responsibility and not Mum's and Dad's?

School is for the three R's (or the 21st century equivalent), and educating, not raising, children. Some may argue that life skills are a part of education, and they are. They're just not a school's responsibility. Parents ultimately are responsible for their children's education, be it formal which is why we send them to school, or the informal that comes from being a part of a family and from experiences, ethics and morals being shared and passed on from parent to child.

As a mother I have a responsibility to my three children. I am responsible for their health and safety, I am responsible for providing them with a clean and safe place to live, good, nutritious food to eat and suitable clothing. I have the added responsibility of ensuring they are adequately educated. No one would dispute those as a parent's responsibilities.

But my responsibilities don't end there. I am responsible for the adults they grow into. I can nurture happy, contented, kind, generous, hard-working, considerate human beings. Or I can nurture slothful, selfish, greedy human beings.

I'm hoping I've raised my three to be the first kind of adult. Over the years I've taught my three kids to wash, iron, fold, vacuum, do floors, clean bathrooms, cut the grass, wash windows. My mother used to say AJ was the only 6-week-old baby who knew how to wash dishes. They can cook veggies and grill meat, they know how to make a great pasta sauce, they can wrap presents and decorate the Christmas tree and they know how to make a bed properly, complete with hospital corners!

They have also been taught that you work for what you want, that the world does not owe them anything just because they were born, that if you don't contribute you can't take, if you want something you save up for it and to do unto others as they would like to be done to.

All three have had regular pocket money since they were 5 years old, when they would get 50c a week as payment for doing extra chores around the house. I'd give them two 20c and two 5c coins. Five cents went into the offering plate at church (that was their "give" 10%), five cents went into their money boxes (that was their "save" 10%) and the rest they could spend or save as they wished (that was their "living on" 80%).

 I know that not all parents are good money managers, but that's no excuse.  In this day and age, when information is easier to find and more abundant than at any time in the history of the world, there is no excuse for not learning all you can so that you can teach your children good money management skills. The best lessons are taught by example, and what better example than that of a parent for a child?

From the day they are born, they are learning and we are their first teachers. It is our responsibility to teach them about love, joy, peace, patience,  kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and money management.

If you're not good at managing your finances, it's not too late to change. You can learn along with your kids, and lead and teach by example. Here is just one place you'll learn how to manage your money. The Cheapskates Club is another. If you're not getting the weekly newsletters or Tip of the Day emails, you should be. You should also be logging in to the Member's Centre and reading the Journal at least once a month and visiting the forum every couple of days.

Little ones need to learn at their mother's and father's knee how to cook, clean, sew, garden, laugh, have fun, share, give and yes, budget. Learn all you can (and not just about finances) so you can raise your children to live the life you want for them. I think that's teaching our kids "living life" skills and what being a parent is all about.

Get Ready for Winter

Dig over garden beds that have been harvested and add compost.

Think about resting a bed, as was the old practise before the days of over -fertilizing, and planting a green manure crop such as oats for the winter. This can then be dug back into the soil to add nutrients and give new life to a worn-out veggie bed.

You'll find plenty of information on green manures online. It's one of those old, old habits that modern day gardeners are realizing actually does work. If you haven't tried it in your garden, do. The loss of one bed for a year is worth not having to over-use fertilizers and the improvement in soil and growth for years to come.  You'll find punnets and seeds for green manure crops at your local nursery or you can buy them online.

12 February 2011

The road less travelled

Sixteen years ago, when we chose this Cheapskates lifestyle, it was out of necessity.

Now it's from choice.

Today we choose what we spend our money on and deliberately live beneath our means. It is these choices that have given us the lifestyle we love.

Back then we were the odd couple amongst our friends and family.  I stayed at home and looked after the babies, kept house, baked, sewed, tended our garden and hunted out bargains. Wayne was the breadwinner.

We were a single income family, with a rather irregular income to boot, and yet our lifestyle hadn't changed. To all intents and purposes we lived exactly the same way we always had. And that confused people. They didn't see, and couldn't understand, that the changes we had made were hidden or disguised as something else.

In essence all we did was stop wasting our money on things that really weren't important to us: the takeaway dinners, cheap toys for the kids, even overseas holidays. We didn't miss any of these things but we did have more money to enjoy the things that were important to us.

We became smarter at handling our money. I discovered that it's really easy to shop for a month and stick to a budget when you have a plan.  Our love of anything old was well and truly pandered to when we discovered op shop and garage sale treasures.  We honed our creative skills and learned to make many of the things we needed and wanted. We actually learned the difference between a want and a need. Seeing how far we could stretch our money became an incredible game.

Still, there were those folk who didn't understand that just because the kids were dressed in hand-me-downs and garage sale specials we weren't poor.  They couldn't grasp the benefits of Penny Pinchin' Pan Pizza over Pizza Hut or Dominoes (aside from the health benefits, the financial were huge - about 220%!). They thought that because we stopped updating our car every three years that we were broke.

These poor spendthrifts just couldn't see past the material image and so they thought we were poor, broke, penniless, on the verge of bankruptcy, in hock up to our ears, stingy, mean, tight, miserly, cheap (I may be a Cheapskate but there is absolutely nothing cheap about me) - these are all the things I've been told we are over the years.

There have been times when I've wanted to bang my head against a brick wall. The day a young mother, who had spent the best part of 40 minutes telling me how much debt they had and how her husband had to work 7 days a week and they were still not able to pay the bills, then proceeded to tell me that her 5 year old daughter would never accept a second-hand Baby Born for her birthday so she had spent the $68 to buy a new one, springs to mind. Actually that day it was her head I wanted to bang, not mine.

Some people just don't get it.

We go without things in the short term so we can enjoy more in the long term. For a few years we didn't go on holidays to exotic places. We still don't, but in those lean years we visited with family and friends. And you know what? It was much more fun and did us all the world of good. Our children grew up with their cousins and aunts and uncles, so that today, even though we are spread all over the country, they keep in touch.  If we'd gone into debt and visited Dreamworld or wherever there's a better than fair to middling chance they wouldn't have that same relationship with their extended family and we would still be paying for it.

Choosing the Cheapskates way is often scary but living life debt free, cashed up and laughing puts those scary thoughts into perspective.

Mail ART

A huge contributor to the clutter and stress in our lives is a common, everyday item: mail. Whether it's delivered by the Post Office, comes home in school bags or ends up in our inboxes, mail creates clutter and stress.  An easy way to manage the first two types is to have one place where you deal with it. It may be a tray on the kitchen bench, or a basket on the hall table. I have a little (very little) box on my desk. As your kitchen sink is to dishes, your basket is to mail. When the mail comes in, open it and then deal with it straight away.

There are three simple steps to dealing with mail:

Action - anything that needs you to do something. Pay a bill, make a phone call, sign a permission slip. Do these things straight away. You'll probably find that a great deal of your mail related stress has disappeared.

Reference - things you need to keep but don't need to do anything with right now. Put them away immediately, in the right place. It will only take a moment if you do it now, if you leave it for a week or two (or longer) it will take hours.

Trash - it's amazing just how much junk comes in the mail. Ditch it straight away. Shred any mail that has personal information on it (names, addresses, account numbers etc) before dumping to prevent potential damage to your privacy, finances or reputation.

The same steps can be applied to dealing with email too. Sit down and open that inbox. Then use the ART method of mail sorting to tidy it up.

11 February 2011

The 10% Grocery Cut

Cut your grocery bill by 10% this week. If you normally spend $200 a week, next week you are only going to spend $180. Check what you have on hand before you go shopping (in the fridge, freezer and pantry) and only buy what you really need, rather than what you think you need. Then shop for those things within your new grocery budget. If you finish with a bigger saving, well done. Don't forget to pay some off debt and put the rest to your emergency account.

10 February 2011

Keep Caps Contained

Baseball caps are everywhere, and keeping them neat and tidy is difficult. You can buy cap racks, but they are usually expensive and take up a lot of space. An easy and space efficient way to keep caps neat and tidy is to use a lingerie hanger. Lingerie hangers can be bought at dollar stores or most department stores in the laundry aisle. They are round, like a little clothes hoist, have pegs attached and can be hung in a wardrobe, coat cupboard or from a ceiling hook. To hang a cap, simply fold the back into the front and clip on a peg. No more stray caps everywhere and no more bent visors!

09 February 2011

Save time shopping

People often tell me they don't have time to shop around like I do "just to save money".  They tell me that they are too busy  working (what do I do all day I ask you?) or they have a life (again, what do I have?).  I tell them they have the same 24 hours in a day that I do and that they just have to get organized! If you are organized when you go shopping you can shop for a month in the same amount of time it takes to do a weekly shop.  When making up your shopping list divide the paper into sections, one for each store. Then list all the items you are buying from that store in the relevant section. If you can get a store map, it's even more time efficient to list them by aisle.  Then plan your shopping trip so that it is the most time and travel effective. Most shopping centres have the major supermarkets close by, with independent grocers, butchers, greengrocers around them.  Shop with a plan and you'll save plenty of time, money and energy.

Remember, the less time you spend shopping, the more money you save!

08 February 2011

No-bake Malteser Slice

This is one of my mother's favourite slice recipes. Maltesers are her very favourite chocolate treat, and this slice gives her a Malteser fix and a great, easy to make no-bake slice, perfect for summer.

100g unsalted butter   
225g scotch finger biscuits, crumbed       
200g milk chocolate
3 tbsp golden syrup       
225g Maltesers

Melt together the butter, chocolate and golden syrup. Add crushed biscuits and Maltesers. Mix together quickly and pour into a baking paper lined slice tin or Tupperware container. Chill until set. Cut into fingers to serve.

06 February 2011

Give Your Houseplants a Boost

Hot weather affects everything, including houseplants. Give them a boost by watering them with eggshell tea.  Next time you boil eggs, keep the water. When you peel the eggs drop the shells back into the water and let it steep for 24 hours. Strain and use the water to give your indoor plants a drink and a boost.

05 February 2011

Have you ever tried dried figs?

Tomorrow, weather permitting, is fig picking day.

My mum has the best fig tree in Melbourne. It's not huge, it doesn't seem to have grown any in the last 15 years, but it is the best fruiter. Every summer, regardless of the climatic conditions, it produces bucket loads of ripe, juicy figs.

Everyone in the family loves figs so we all line up for our bucketful of lovely fresh figs. Picking day is  a family get-together with all the aunties, uncles and cousins coming to pick their figs and we always end the day with a barbecue. The family is so big now and so spread out that for some of us this is the only day of the year we actually get together, so it's extra special.

As soon as the barbecue is over it's a race to get home and get the figs cooked. We love fig jam so most of them go into the jam pot but I love dried figs to nibble on and they are lovely in fruit cake too so some fruit is kept aside for drying.

I like to serve dried figs spread with a little homemade ricotta or labna and sprinkled with chopped nuts for dessert.  They're also rather nice chopped into smallish pieces and added to porridge or muesli for breakfast.

Figs dry very nicely. First, though, you must let them ripen fully to develop their flavour. You'll know they are ripe and ready when they start dropping from the tree. Harvest them quickly, wash and dry them, and cut them in half.

I don't have a dehydrator (it's on my wish list though) so I use the oven and my instructions are for oven drying. Melbourne's weather is usually hot enough, but too humid and unpredictable to successfully dry them in the sun, especially this summer. 

If you plan to dry them in the sun, you need hot days with little humidity. A warm, dry breeze circulating around the figs for two days is ideal. Bring your trays in before the evening dew. To discourage bugs, you can prop a layer of cheesecloth up across the trays.

I dry the figs (and tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum) in the oven. It's simple and I didn't have to buy any special equipment although as I said a dehydrator is on my wish list. You want a temperature no higher than 60°C (140°F). And 45° to 50° (115°F to 120°F) is actually best for fruit. Many ovens cannot be set that low, however, so you may need to find some absolutely safe way to prop the oven door open a little to allow the excess heat to vent.

My oven (fan forced electric) only goes as low as 100°C so I leave the door open a crack. It actually props open by itself, yours may too, so I don't need to use anything to keep it open. A long handled wooden spoon between the oven side and the door will keep it open and it should be just enough to keep the temperature even.

Some instructions let you go as high as 70°C (160°F), but at that temperature the fruit may actually begin to cook, which is not what you want. Or the surface will dry out before the inside, trapping moisture inside, and leading to the development of mould which will just mean you've wasted your energy, time and money because you'll have to throw the lot out.

At a temperature around 50°, the figs will take between 8 and 12 hours to dry. Test them after 8 hours to see how they are. They should be drying, but not leathery at this stage. You can stop the drying now if you want them to be more like a glace fruit consistency.

If you want them to be really dry, cook them for another two hours and check them again. By now they'll be as dry as sultanas. I usually stop the cooking at this stage because we like to eat them with cheese and crackers and I add them to fruit cakes.

For a very dry, fruit leather let them cook the full twelve hours.

After the figs are dry and leathery, you need pasteurize them to kill any insects that may be lurking in the cracks and crevices. You can either heat them in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 80°C (175°F) or put them in freezer bags and freeze them for at least four days. The freezer method is a little less destructive to vitamins, minerals and texture and is what I use (I treat all dry goods that come into the house like this, to destroy any bugs that may be lurking in the packets).

If you keep them in and air tight container in the refrigerator, they’ll last for 18 to 24 months. In the freezer, they’ll last for 5 to 8 years, or so I'm told. They never last more than a few months in our house so I've never had the opportunity to test the use-by time.

Drying the figs is an easy household job, and one I enjoy doing. Seeing the containers full of dried fruit stacked in the freezer gives me a great sense of accomplishment and always puts a smile on my face. We would never be able to enjoy them as we do if I had to buy them from the supermarket or deli, the cost would be way too much for my grocery money.

For the grand cost of a day of fun with family and half an hour of prep time we get to have something we love all year round. We would have spent the day doing something fun anyway, and on fig picking day we get a double benefit.

I hear over and over from non-Cheapskaters that they don't have time to dry fruit or make laundry powder or cook from scratch. And then they become Cheapskates and I hear over and over of all the wonderful-good things they are making for their families, and how much money the are saving.

Even if you've never tried to dry fruit  or make jam or cook a pie from scratch, or you've never made your own washing powder or spray cleaner, give it a go. Try. It's easy. There's a ton of information available in the Member's Centre, or look online, you'll be overwhelmed with ideas and advice.

Saving money is easy. You just have to want to do it, and a great place to start is in the kitchen.

Age is No Limit to Cheap Holiday Accommodation

After my husband died I still wanted to travel but of course money was a problem so I had to do it as cheaply as possible. I decided to rejoin the YHA association and to my delight found that they had improved enormously since I had last used them many moons before. Recently, during school holidays, I found that all that was available was a dorm room. I took this and found it to be a terrific experience. I met the most inspiring young women. As it was in Tasmania, some of these women were going to walk the Overland track on their own. They were wonderful, alive and a real inspiration to me. It only cost $25 a night and I would stay in a dorm room again (I usually opt for a room on my own). It's a good reminder to see that not all young people are inconsiderate or drinkers. All the girls were in bed before me. 

Contributed by Janine

03 February 2011

Protect polished floors

Polished timber floors are practical and easy to maintain, but are very susceptible to scratches. Apply a thick layer of wax furniture polish to the feet of your timber furniture, especially chairs.  The wax allows the furniture to move on the floorboards without scratching.  Use a good quality furniture wax and apply it with a soft cloth and re-apply regularly as needed (how often will depend on how much the furniture is moved). Spray-on furniture waxes and polishes will not work as they don't give a thick enough protection.

02 February 2011

Healthy eating

At last those potatoes are ready to dig. It feels like ages since they were planted. They have been well looked after, with plenty of water and lots and lots of mulch so I expected to get a decent crop. I think my expectations have been exceeded.

I planted 8 potatoes, so 32 quarters went into the dirt. We've dug up one row of 4 plants and as you can see by the photo, there were a lot of spuds! I weighed the bag and it's just on 5 kilos - 4995 grams to be exact.  That's not a bad result from 4 little quarters.

They are mostly nice, big potatoes. I much prefer big potatoes, mainly because I'm lazy when it comes to peeling. Bigger spuds are much easier to peel. Or scrub. They're nice and clean too, so a scrub will be all they need before they are cooked. Mulching with straw helps to keep them nice and clean. It also adds to the soil for the next planting. One of the boys will dig it in for me over the weekend and then those beds can rest for a while, ready to be planted out next spring.  Well that's the plan anyway.

Did you know that new potatoes are good for boiling or steaming and mashing, while older potatoes are best for roasting, chips and wedges?  The new potatoes hold their shape and are less inclined to be mushy, while older potatoes (they show signs of age just like us, they tend to wrinkle as they get older) are softer and less dense so they bake and fry quickly and evenly.

How do you like your new potatoes? I love them steamed with a little herb butter. Or steamed, then sliced and very lightly fried in a little garlic oil. Yum.

These days when I roast potatoes I like to peel them, then score them all over with a fork. Then just before they go into the oven I drizzle a very little olive oil over them, roll them around to make sure they are covered and then bake them on a baking paper lined cookie sheet. They come out crisp on the outside and nice and fluffy on the inside, just the way we like them.

I don't bother with par-boiling, that's just more work and cleaning up to do. For health's sake I like to "dry" roast them too. In the olden days they would have been dropped into a baking dish of hot fat and cooked. Then in the '70s that became unfashionable and cooking them in vegetable oil was the go. A good inch of oil in the baking dish, add the potatoes and bake, turning often so they browned all over.  That's just extra work and too much fat.

I can skite that my way is also dietician approved.  I went with Wayne last week to his dietician appointment because I had lots of questions about our diet and how to adapt it for Wayne. I floated out of there, with a huge smile on my face and a great weight off my mind.  Ever since his heart attack I have been going over and over the what, when and how much we eat.

Turns out we eat well and healthfully. We cook from scratch, avoid packet mixes and pre-prepared meals, watch portions and get plenty of fruit and vegetables, and a good mix of them to boot. I printed off a couple of meal plans and took them with me and we went through each meal and how it was prepared, what ingredients were used etc. David (the dietician) was very happy. In fact he said I scored 150% for healthful cooking!

So here are the things I do that earned me that 150% score:

1. Dry fry. I have cast iron and non-stick pans. To sauté I heat the pan, add the onion, celery, capsicum or whatever, stir for a minute then add 1 tsp of water. The water evaporates almost immediately but it also browns the veggies.

2. Dry fry rissoles. Again I heat the pan. If the rissoles are covered in crumbs I use olive oil spray in the pan to brown them. If they are covered in shake-n-bake then they are just fried as there is oil in the shake-n-bake.  For speed I use the fry pan. If they aren't coated then they are just fried in a hot non-stick pan.
Baked vegetables - toss with 1tbsp olive oiland into the pan to bake

3. Dry roasting. Anything coated with shake-n-bake is cooked on a baking paper lined tray. Veggies I do the same as the potatoes above.

4. Only non-fat milk is used in cooking. I make it up from non-fat milk powder and use it to make all cream sauces, custards, cakes etc

5. To mash potato I use some of the water it was steamed or boiled in.  It makes the fluffiest mashed potato ever, try it. And there's no added fat!

6. Everyday we eat at least 5 serves of vegetables. For most veggies a serve is a half cup, so it's not really a lot of vegetables. Spread over three meals and a couple of snacks it's very easy to do.  We also eat at least 2 serves of fruit, usually more. Fruit is easy to eat, it's great to snack on and compared to other snacks it's great value. It's not always fresh fruit, that includes dried and tinned fruit.

7. Watch the portions, especially for meat and poultry. We eat way to much meat in our diets. A good size is a piece of chicken or steak about the size of the palm of your hand. Enough said.

8. Lots of vegetarian meals. Loads of legumes and pulses, whole grains and vegetables.

9. Dairy - we eat quite a lot of cheese so I try to opt for the lowest fat and salt cheeses I can find. We've tried some of them and they are just horrible. Others aren't too bad.  I like to use butter in cooking, but for sandwiches and other things we use olive oil spread. Thankfully none of us is very fond of a thick layer of marg or butter on our bread so sandwiches are often dry or just a smear of mayo. In fact that was the one area I fell down. I had been buying Logicol for Wayne to use, in a vain attempt to lower his already quite low cholesterol. Turns out you need to use at least 25g of the stuff a day for it to work.  When we measured how much he was getting it was barely 9g a day! Oops! He eats so little spread on his bread it's not worth the expense so he's back to olive oil spread like the rest of us when this tub runs out.

10. Salt. In the 22 years we've been married I've bought one small container of salt. I don't like salt so I don't use it in cooking and it's never on the table. If I'm buying tinned foods I go for the no-salt options whenever possible. While it has its good points, its not-so-good points outweigh them.

Well that's quite a list, most of them things you probably already do. It was nice though to have my efforts applauded. And to know that my cooking, shocking though it can be, isn't hurting my family.

Cheap, Strong Book Covers

To cover books cheaply use a roll of freezer go-between. It is stronger than paper or plastic, much easier to use than contact and lasts the whole year. One roll usually does all the books for one child. Decorate with stickers (from the $2 shop) or pictures cut from magazines. Add a name label and the job’s done without any stress.

To learn how to cover books quickly and easily download How to....Cover Books from the Printables page. It's a step-by-step guide to the perfect book cover.

01 February 2011

A really refreshing beverage

It's going to be very hot here today and an absolute scorcher tomorrow, with temperatures expected to be 40+ degrees so keeping cool is going to be a priority.

The awnings are down and all the windows, blinds and drapes shut tight.  The ceiling fans are on and at the moment it's actually quite cool in the house (it won't be for long though).  Everyone is inside until the sun goes down this afternoon, those doors won't be opened unless it's a life and death emergency (or we get unexpected visitors).  This house has to stay cool.

On a very hot day an icy cold drink is just the thing to cool you down. So icy cold that you can feel it travelling down your throat, through your oesophagus until it actually hits your stomach.  Making soft drinks from scratch is almost a lost skill. Years ago every housewife knew how to make a ginger beer, real lemonade and delicious cordials using the fruit from her own fruit trees.

Nowadays not that many back yards have fruit trees in them and even fewer people would know how to make cordial or lemonade. There may be a few more who know how to make ginger beer; it's icy tang and fizz is just the thing on a boiling hot summer's day.

There is always a ginger beer plant on the go on my kitchen bench, we love the stuff and during summer it's hard to keep up with demand we all love it so much.  I came across this recipe for Ginger Ale before Christmas and tried it because it's ready to drink in 24 hours, much better than the 4 weeks for ginger beer. It's a very simple recipe, easy to make and bottle and it's surprisingly good too.

It may be simple, but it is also very good, especially icy cold on a really, really hot day (like today). And because it is so simple and easy to make, and can be drunk almost immediately, it's a great stand-by to have while the ginger beer is maturing.

There is a saucepan with ginger, lemon juice, sugar and water simmering on the stove at the moment, I wish you could smell it, the fragrance is so good.  Another 15 minutes or so and I'll take it off to cool and make up. Then, because it's so hot, we'll need to keep and eye on the bottles. I definitely do not want any explosions to clean up.

Remember to use spotlessly clean, sterilised bottles (you don't want to get sick, or worse, make anyone else sick) and equipment when preparing the drink and the freshest ginger possible for the very best result.
Ginger Ale

90g piece of fresh ginger root
1/4 cup lemon juice
3⁄4 cup of sugar
3 litres water
1/8 tsp dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water

1.Peel the ginger. The easiest way to do this is to use a spoon and scrape it over the piece of ginger.
2.Grate the ginger and add to a medium saucepan with the lemon juice, sugar and  1 1/2 litres of water.  3.Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 - 45 minutes. The longer it simmers the stronger the ginger ale will be.
 4.Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer or a cheesecloth.
5.Add remaining 1 1/2 litres water. Allow to cool.
5. Let it all cool till it’s lukewarm.
7. Combine 1/8 teaspoon of yeast with 1⁄4 cut warm water and allow to sit for 15 minutes until frothy.
8. Add the yeast solution to your lukewarm ginger brew.
9. Let the brew sit for 10 minutes.
10. Bottle in sterilized plastic screw top bottles.
11.Let the bottles sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Squeeze the bottles to see how the ginger ale is brewing. Once they are hard  to squeeze they are ready to drink. Put them into the refrigerator to chill.

*Use raw sugar for a nice twist.

*Watch the bottles carefully for maturing, especially on very hot days like today. This is a very fizzy drink and it can be inclined to explode if it gets too hot. If you can't fit them all in the fridge after 24 hours, move the bottles to a cool spot until you are ready to refrigerate. I have had bottles go off with a bang, and believe me they make a big mess!

*Make sure your bottles are scrupulously clean. Wash the bottles and tops in hot, soapy water then rinse in hot, clean water and allow to air dry before using them.

*I use 600ml homebrew bottles. You can buy them from Big W or Kmart or homebrew shops and they are re-usable. You can also re-use 1.25 litre or 2 litre soft drink bottles and caps. Just be sure the caps are screwed down really tightly.

Refrigerator Fruit Cake

This hot spell has put a stop to baking in our house. Unfortunately it hasn't put a stop to the desire for something sweet to enjoy with a morning cuppa.  No bake recipes are perfect for hot weather. They are quick, easy and don't heat up the house.  Try this Refrigerator Fruit Cake, it is delicious. Cut it into very thin slices as it is quite rich.

1 1/2 cups finely crushed Weet-bix
1 cup mixed fruit
1 cup raisins
1 cup dates
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup orange juice
1 cup coconut
1 cup toasted wheatgerm

Chop dates and raisins. Put  into a heat-proof bowl and cover fruit with boiling water. Cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Drain. Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Press into a slice tin lined with baking paper.  Cover with a sheet of baking paper. Place a weight on top (I use dry rice) and set in the fridge for 24 hours. Use a sharp knife to cut into thin slices.