29 April 2011

Too many bubbles?

We almost had a disaster in the kitchen the other day. I left a son (it's OK AJ, I won't name names) to stack and run the dishwasher. When I came back the dishwasher was spewing bubbles everywhere, the kitchen floor was more than half covered in lovely bubbles and the poor old dishwasher was literally groaning! He had inadvertently filled the detergent dispenser with homemade soap powder (I had the box sitting on the sink ready to make up another batch). Woops! It's a low sudsing detergent but not when so much is used in such a small space with such hot water!

When your handy helpers overload the dishwasher, washing machine or even the bath with too much soap, you can dissolve the bubbles quickly and easily with white vinegar. Just throw a cup of vinegar into the dishwasher or washing machine (or bath) and the bubbles will disappear.

27 April 2011

Can you feed a family on a budget with just a few ingredients? Yes you can!

That was the question asked me yesterday and part of my answer. Of course you can feed a family on a budget - even a small, tight budget - and you can feed them well! And they won't have to go without treats or give up variety and flavour either.

The old joke about "101 ways to serve mince" might be clichéd, but there are so many delicious ways to prepare and serve mince and chicken and lamb and other beef cuts and fish and yes, even vegetables that won't cost a fortune, far more than just a 101.

Over the years I've learned that the trick to eating well and keeping the cost down is to keep meals, or rather the ingredients for meals, simple. Using pantry basics you can create thousands of different recipes. Think about it, they're not called "basics" because you use them once then shove them to the back of the cupboard to go stale.

These foods are called basics because they form the basis of every recipe.

When you have a pantry stocked with the basics you can leave so many compound ingredients on the shelves.

Take powdered milk for instance. Of course you can use it to make milk. But when it's combined with basic butter and sugar it becomes condensed milk. So you can leave that on the shelf. When you add 1 cup of powdered milk to 3/4 cup water you have the equivalent of a can of evaporated milk. So that's another can you can leave off your grocery list. Powdered milk, when combined with basic sugar, cornflour, vanilla and water becomes custard. Leave that packet behind too.

Can you see how basics work? You use them on their own or in combination with other basic ingredients to create the ingredients you need for your recipe.

Most of us use taco seasoning. The packets of taco/enchilada/burrito seasonings are almost $2 a packet and each packet weighs around 30g. When you combine basic herbs and spices that most of us have in our pantry, you not only have truly fresh taco or enchilada or burrito seasoning, but you've saved a bundle. Old El Paso taco seasoning sells for $1.95 a 30g packet. That equates to $65 a kilo! You can make the same quantity of taco seasoning for around 60 cents, less than a third the price! You can bet your bottom dollar that Mexican cooks don't buy packet seasonings, they mix their own to taste and save a fortune while doing it.

Ordinary white flour makes cakes, scones, biscuits and breads. But did you know it also makes great gravy? And can be used as a thickener in casseroles and stews? It also thickens pickles and chutneys.

So what are the bare bones pantry basics?

The absolute minimum in my pantry would be:

Flours - plain, self-raising, wholemeal, gluten cornflour
Sugar - just white. You can make castor and brown sugar very easily.
Rolled oats
Rice - white. Basmati as it's a lower GI and slightly better than other rices
Pasta - easy as it is to make, it's just as cheap and easy to buy. Spaghetti, lasagne, twists or shells.
Dried fruits - mixed fruit and sultanas, glace cherries and ginger
Dried beans and lentils
Nuts - peanuts for peanut butter, almonds, walnuts
Spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, turmeric, paprika, coriander, cumin, mixed spice, vanilla beans, vanilla extract
Herbs - mixed herbs, basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, dried onion, garlic powder, sage, thyme,
Powdered milk - skim and full cream
Vinegar - white, brown, balsamic
Sauces - soy, oyster,
Oils - olive, safflower, sesame
Tinned tomatoes
Tinned pineapple
Baked beans
Cheese - tasty, parmesan

I do have other foods in the pantry, but those above are the bare basics. With those ingredients and a little beef, chicken, lamb or fish I can feed the family for months before repeating a recipe.

As you stock your pantry, try to choose foods that will do double, triple, even quadruple duty. Your grocery bill will go down, you'll be stunned at how much money you save, your pantry will suddenly seem bigger and you won't be wasting nearly as much food and money.

The lass that asked the question was amazed and then really interested and then excited about learning how to prepare yummy meals for minimal cost. It was so much fun talking with her and sharing little titbits of information. We only had 45 minutes together and most of that time was spent filming but by the time she left I'm sure she at least knew she didn't have to spend half her wage on food each week.

I know she was confident that she could have just a few basic ingredients on hand and still eat delicious meals.

So what do you consider a pantry basic? What ingredients are must haves in your cupboard?

Taco Seasoning Mix

2 tsp ground chilli powder (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together and store in a small, air tight jar. To use: 3 tablespoonfuls is the equivalent of 1 packet of commercial taco seasoning mix.

A simple saving game where everyone wins

So often people tell me they can't save, they don't have the money.  Well this saving game will reap a great prize for you, the winner, and make saving easy.  It really is simple - every time you get a $5 note save it.  Put it in a money box or a biscuit tin, anywhere out of your purse or wallet. How simple and easy is that?  You'll need to be strong and resist the temptation to spend them but as you see your "prize" growing in value the motivation to keep going will be strong.  Try it for a week and see how much you have saved, then try it for another week.  That prize money is growing so quickly, imagine how much you'll have by the end of the month!  Just as you never spend a 50c coin, make a promise to yourself to never again spend a $5 note.

26 April 2011

The World's Easiest and Yummiest Brownies

These brownies are so quick to mix and easy to make. They are moist and sweet and won't last long. I use margarine for this recipe rather than butter as butter makes a drier texture. I love the rich, moist result I get with margarine.  Cut them into squares and dust with icing sugar to serve.

4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup margarine, melted
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Spray a lamington pan with cooking spray. Line bottom with baking paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Sift dry ingredients into egg mixture. Stir mixture until well-combined.  Bake in prepared pan for 20 to 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.  Let cool in pan 5 minutes before turning out onto cake rack to cool completely.

25 April 2011

Patience pays off when it comes to bargain hunting

 Tom's "new" desk - my apologies for the quality of the photo - I just couldn't get it right!

A few weeks ago Thomas asked if he could have a new desk. It seems that with his studies this year his desk just wasn't big enough. He needs more space so he can spread out his books, computer and still do the drawings for his assignments. I've been thinking about his question for ages, looking at desks, checking freecycle and the local paper, I even logged onto the Ikea website to see what they had to offer. Everything was either too expensive, too small, too big or too flimsy.

Until yesterday. I took the car to pick Mum up from the bus stop and I am sure it wasn't there when I left, but 10 minutes later as we turned the corner to come home it was. A lovely solid timber computer desk. I was so excited I ran into the house to tell Tom about it. Of course he was not at all interested - he was busy, so I nagged suggested that Wayne go down and have a look at it. It was on the nature strip, only three doors down, it wouldn't take him long. Smart man that he is he thought my suggestion worthwhile and off he went.  He was gone so long I almost sent a search party out for him.

It's a great desk, in really good condition, so he knocked on the door and asked if we could have it. The people were grateful to see it go (it's still another week until hard rubbish collection) and they were hoping it would go quickly.

So Tom and Wayne wandered down and carried it home. It has cleaned up beautifully. I bug sprayed it - just to be sure, I really don't like bugs, especially in my house, and washed it with soapy water. When it was dry I polished it with furniture wax and it has come up, not like new, but almost. There are a couple of scratches on the top and one of the drawer handles was missing. A desk mat has covered the scratches and Wayne found a large ring to use for the drawer handle. It will do fine until we find three matching handles.

Thomas is very happy with his new desk. And best of all, one thing came into the house and two things went out. He put his old desk and the matching shelves on the nature strip and just a few minutes ago a car pulled up, out jumped a woman and she picked up the desk. We thought she'd decided not to take the shelves - but no, she was back a few minutes later and picked them up too. Guess I thought she had more room in the back of her car than she really did.  I hope they've gone to a good home.

I am so glad we waited. We could have gone out and bought a new desk as soon as he asked for it. Or I could have bought any number of others that I've looked at, but they would not have been as ideal as this one.

It's big enough, solid enough and the price was just right - absolutely free!

Sometimes I think we are so used to instant everything that we don't wait. As soon as a want pops into our minds we have to have it. Waiting for a want has paid off big time, much to our delight.


We all know and love ANZAC biscuits, but if you don't have the time to make biscuits you can make this delicious slice instead. Based on the traditional ANZAC biscuit recipe, it doesn't have the bicarb soda in it, but it tastes just as good and will disappear just as quickly.

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup  plain flour
1/2 cup SR flour
125g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat oven to 180° Celsius. Line a slice tin with baking paper.  In a large bowl, combine oats, sugar, coconut and flours. Heat butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan on low heat for 1-2 minutes, until butter has melted and mixture is well combined. You can heat the butter and golden syrup in the microwave oven, in 30 second bursts, until butter is melted and combined with the syrup if you prefer.

Make a well in centre of dry ingredients. Add butter mixture and combine well. Press firmly into prepared pan using base of a glass. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden.  Allow to cool in tin before cutting into squares.

24 April 2011

Everlasting plant labels

Growing your own food and flowers is the frugal choice, but it's not always easy to remember what you've planted where. Plant labels are the obvious answer but are very expensive to buy. Instead of relying on your memory, make plant labels from margarine tubs. Simply cut rectangles around the tub and use a permanent marker to note the type of plant and the date you planted it on a rectangle. Then slip the label next to the plant or at the start of the row and you'll never mix up the broccoli and the cabbages again.

23 April 2011

The Frugal Habits of the World's Richest Man

photo courtesy Google images
I watched a fascinating documentary today about Warren Buffet, who takes turns at being the world's richest man with Bill Gates. It's called The World's Greatest Money Maker: Warren Buffet

Mr Buffet has a personal wealth that is estimated to be more than $37 billion. His company, Berkshire Hathaway is worth $150 billion, he owns a quarter outright.

So what makes this billionaire different to all the other wealthy people in the world?

His attitude to money. This man lives life frugally, he embraces the Cheapskates way of life and is proud to say so.

He lives with his wife in the house they have lived in for over 50 years. He and his wife raised their three children in this home, and they were by no means spoiled. Indeed his son Peter tells the story of asking his dad for $5 so he go out with his friends and buy McDonalds for their dinner. His father gave him the $5, but he told him to bring the change back (which we have always done with our kids).  He said it with a smile, but he meant it. He wanted the change.

His wife clips coupons and shops on a budget. She runs the household on a strict budget and lights are turned off when no one is in the room, food isn't wasted and nothing is thrown away unless there is absolutely no other use for it.

Bill Gates says of Warren Buffett "he has never ramped up his ability to consume". What a testimonial!  he lives as he did when he had no money and was a struggling young husband and father! A lesson to learn for all of us.  In this day and age of out of control consumerism, knowing the richest man in the world shuns it is an incredible example for anyone wanting to live the Cheapskates way and enjoy debt free, cashed up life.

But for me the thing that sets Warren Buffet apart from other wealthy people is that he doesn't judge what he does by the standards of other people.

Instead, he lives the way he does and works the way he does so he can enjoy the things in life that are important to him.

Just like we do.  I've always said we choose to not spend our money on things that aren't important to us so we have the money to spend on the things that are.

It's why we are Cheapskates and live the Cheapskates way, to live life debt free, cashed up and laughing.

What to do when there's nothing to do

There's nothing to do becomes a catchphrase during the holidays.

I asked friends what they do with their kids, read everything I can on the subject, searched the Internet, watched current affairs shows to get inspiration and came up with The List.

The List is just that a great, big list of things that just about anyone can do. There is always something to be found on The List.  It's not just for school holidays and it's not just for kids. There are over 200 different things to do on The List . We have it printed and stuck on the corkboard in the family room ready for the holidays. You may like to do the same thing. Then the kids can look at The List and choose an activity, or you may like to make it a family decision. Either way, it really does spell the end of the "I can't think of anything to dos"!

  • ride bikes
  • roller blade
  • basketball
  • play board games
  • make a tent out of blankets
  • squirt with hoses - but don't waste water
  • run through the sprinkler
  • have a skip-a-thon
  • start researching your family tree
  • start documenting your family tree
  • organise and plan a family reunion
  • hold a family reunion
  • read books - visit your local library and try some you haven't read before
  • blow bubbles
  • colour
  • play with play dough
  • try our great play dough recipe
  • press flowers
  • do crafts with pressed flowers - make a start on your Christmas cards
  • write a letter to a relative, friend or pen pal
  • clean bedroom (one of my favourites)
  • vacuum living room
  • clean bathroom
  • make a craft - try something new
  • draw
  • make homemade play dough
  • paint
  • pull weeds
  • give your favourite person a surprise party
  • watch a movie
  • write stories
  • use binoculars - look for as many different things as you can
  • use magnifying glass
  • use microscope
  • bird watching - how many different breeds can you find in your backyard?
  • write a play
  • act out a play
  • invent circus acts
  • perform a circus
  • play card games (snap, old maid, go fish)
  • make art on the footpath with chalk
  • play catch
  • play baseball
  • collect rocks
  • collect leaves
  • collect feathers
  • play Frisbee
  • make Frisbee's out of old plastic lids, decorate with markers
  • dust the house
  • brush the pet
  • write letters to the editor of your local newspaper about articles you are interested in
  • plant a garden or a pot
  • collect seeds
  • hunt for four-leaf clovers
  • learn magic tricks
  • put on a magic show
  • plant a container garden
  • sprout seeds or beans
  • make sock puppets
  • put on a puppet show
  • make Christmas presents
  • make homemade wrapping paper
  • make homemade gift cards
  • make picture frames from twigs glued onto sturdy cardboard
  • crochet or knit
  • make doll clothes
  • sew buttons in designs on old shirts
  • run relay races
  • make bookmarks
  • take a quiet rest time
  • take a shower or bath
  • bath a pet
  • feed the birds
  • watch the clouds
  • organise a dresser drawer
  • clean under the bed
  • empty dishwasher
  • vacuum under the couch cushions and keep any change found
  • write these ideas on pieces of paper and pick out one or two to do
  • whittle
  • whittle bars of soap
  • practice musical instruments
  • perform a family concert
  • teach yourself to play musical instrument (recorder, harmonica, guitar)
  • fold clean washing
  • sweep kitchen or bathroom floors
  • sweep front paths
  • sweep back verandah
  • sweep driveway
  • wash car - on the grass, of course!
  • vacuum car
  • vacuum or dust window blinds
  • clean bathroom mirrors
  • clean sliding glass doors
  • clean inside of car windows
  • wash bicycles
  • clean garage
  • play in the sandpit
  • build a sandcastle
  • work with clay
  • copy your favorite book illustration
  • design your own game
  • build with blocks or Legos
  • create a design box (copper wire, string, odds-and-ends of things destined for the garbage, pom-poms, thread, yarn, etc.)
  • plan a neighbourhood or family Olympics
  • have a marble tournament
  • paint a picture with lemon juice on white paper and hang it in a sunny window and see what happens in a few days
  • finger paint with instant pudding
  • make dessert
  • make dinner
  • have a sleepover
  • make popcorn and watch an old movie
  • make toffee with Mum
  • give your pet a party
  • start a nature diary
  • have a read-a-thon with a friend or sibling
  • have a neighbourhood bike wash
  • play Kick the Can
  • check out a science book and try some experiments
  • make up a story
  • catch butterflies and then let them go
  • arrange photo albums
  • find bugs and start a collection
  • do some stargazing
  • decorate bikes or scooters and have a neighbourhood parade
  • play hide-and-seek
  • create a symphony with bottles and pans and rubber bands
  • listen to the birds sing
  • try to imitate bird calls
  • read a story to a younger child
  • find shapes in the clouds
  • string dry noodles or O-shaped cereals into a necklace
  • put together a family newsletter
  • write reviews of movies, plays, TV shows or concerts you see during the summer
  • bake a cake
  • bake a batch of biscuits
  • decorate a shoe box to hold your treasures
  • create family scrapbooks with old photos
  • glue noodles into a design on paper
  • play hopscotch
  • play jacks
  • make up a song
  • make a teepee out of blankets
  • write in your diary
  • find an ant colony and spill some food and watch what happens
  • play charades
  • make up a story by drawing pictures
  • draw a cartoon strip
  • make a map of your bedroom, house or neighborhood
  • call a friend
  • cut pictures from old magazines and write a story
  • make a collage using pictures cut from old magazines
  • do a secret service for a neighbour
  • plan a treasure hunt
  • make a treasure map
  • make up a "Bored List" of things to do
  • plan a special activity for your family
  • search your house for items made in other countries and then learn about those countries from the encyclopedia or online
  • plan an imaginary trip to the moon
  • plan an imaginary trip around the world, where would you want to go
  • write a science-fiction story
  • find a new pen pal
  • make up a play using old clothes as costumes
  • make up a game for practicing math facts
  • have a Spelling Bee
  • make up a game for practicing spelling
  • surprise an elderly neighbour or relative by weeding his/her garden
  • fingerpaint with shaving cream
  • collect sticks and mud and build a bird's nest
  • write newspaper articles for a pretend newspaper
  • make a hideout or clubhouse
  • make paper airplanes
  • have paper airplane races
  • learn origami
  • make an obstacle course in your backyard

22 April 2011

Know Your Store

We all know that having a shopping list saves us money. Knowing the store layout saves you time and money. The biggest pet peeve and risk to your grocery budget has to do with the need to shop every aisle to find the things on your list. Choose a supermarket that has all of the food and qualities you like in a supermarket then visit the customer service desk and ask for a store plan. On your grocery list, put the number of the aisle next to the item. Now, you won’t skip over the bread on aisle two while looking for the bicarb soda which is on aisle four. You'll probably find that most of the things on your list will be around the perimeter of the store (fruit and veg, bakery, deli, dairy and freezer items) or in the first two or three aisles (baking goods, cleaning goods). The middle aisles are usually devoted to soft drinks, sweets, biscuits and convenience products. If you want to save money you'll skip these aisles.

21 April 2011

Four simple steps to de-cluttering

Getting organized and de-cluttering can seem overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of clutter to clear. Breaking each job down into these four simple steps will help you de-clutter your home and your life, saving you money, time and energy.

1. Pick a room, area, or desk drawer to declutter. Pick a single, specific area. The linen cupboard, your bedroom, under the laundry tub or even the top of your desk or the kitchen junk drawer. Be specific with the de-cluttering zone.
2. Remove everything out of the space. Empty the drawer onto a bench or the floor, take everything off your desktop.
3. Go through the pile item-by-item.  Ask yourself  "Do I really need it?". If yes, move it back into the room, putting it away where it should be.  Remember, a place for everything and everything in it's place.
4. If no, put it into one of three piles.  Have sell, donate and recycle piles. Put the things you don't want, use or love into one of these piles. When you have finished sorting, pack each pile. Put the donate pile into the car to drop at the op shop next time you're out. Put the sell pile into the garage ready for your garage sale or to go on eBay. Put the recycle pile into the recycle bin or take it straight to the recycling depot at your local tip.

20 April 2011

Teriyaki Sauce

1 C sugar
1/2 C soy sauce
1 C water
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch ground black pepper
2 tsp corn flour
2 tbsp cold water

Mix cornflour to a paste with the cold water. Add all ingredients, including cornflour mixture, to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking until mixture thickens, about 5 - 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Don't substitute white or brown vinegar for the cider vinegar, it won't taste the same.

To make teriyaki chicken I dice 2 or 3 chicken fillets and brown them in a non-stick pan. Then I pour over the sauce and simmer over a low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 - 15 minutes depending on the size of the diced chicken chunks.  This goes really well with fried rice, but is also good as skewers. Just thread the chicken chunks on to skewers, pour over the sauce and marinate two hours. Barbecue, turning each skewer every few minutes until the chicken is cooked.

Losing track of the days

I can't believe it's Wednesday already and the school holidays are half over for us. And to add to my surprise another two days is Good Friday and the Easter long weekend, which is longer than normal with Anzac Day tacked onto the end.

I lose track of the days during holidays, pity help me when I don't have school terms to guide me! And I imagine I'll be worse when Wayne retires and we really slow down! I can hardly wait. We've slowed down a lot, especially since AJ's accident. It will be 10 years in November since I stopped wearing  a watch and clock watching.  It's amazing how stressful the "tick, tick, tick" of a clock can be. I absolutely do not miss it at all and I can honestly say that I've only been late for set appointments a handful of times since then.

Don't get me wrong, we still have appointments to keep and important dates to remember, but we use the calendar and a diary for dates. And clocks - look around you. How many clocks do you have in your home? At work? In the car? We are surrounded by them. The only place I go with any regularity that doesn't seem to have a visible clock is my local Coles supermarket! And if I need to know the time when I'm there I can check it on my phone.

So without clock watching and not seeing TV too much this week, I have lost track of the days.  And here we are, and I have so much to share.

It's been a fairly frugal week for all of us. AJ has been at Uni and Wayne of course has been working, so Tom, Hannah and I have been left to our own devices. Tom hasn't been out, he's enjoying staying home for his holidays. He did order a game online, using his own money of course, and saved $30 by pre-ordering so he's very happy.

Hannah met a school friend this morning and they had morning tea and did some window shopping. Neither girl had money to spend apart from a couple of dollars for their milkshakes but they had a ball. I now have a list of clothes my girl thinks she needs and she's sure I can make them for her! 

She told me all this in the car. It was raining so I picked her up when she was finished and we came home via the op shop.

Get Organized month has seen us bless our local op shop with a few things and today we dropped off a box of suspension files (the filing is finally organized and manageable), a CD tower that was gathering dust, a bag of magazines and a bag of old blankets for the "dog blanket" box. 

I've been joking with the kids about the de-cluttering that's going on. I've told them that if they see me coming towards them with a garbage bag to get moving - if they stand still they'll be in the bag and gone before they realise!

Over the weekend Miss Hannah wandered out and asked if she could knit a scarf. Hmm. Over the years she has tried knitting various things - scarves, squares, dishcloths. She gets bored with the repetition and ends up getting frustrated before she finishes. And finish she must, in our home if you start something you must finish it. It may not always be finished the way it was originally meant to be, but it is always finished. We've created some of our best  things by finishing a project differently.

Anyway I ended up knitting her a scarf. We had some lovely black 12 ply wool so it knitted up really fast. I used a pattern I found online, courtesy of a link sent to me by Cheapskater Carol Ryan and it looks so nice I've started one for myself, using up some yarn left from a jumper.

While Hannah finds knitting boring and repetitious, I love it. I find the repetition relaxing and it gives me a chance to think and ponder about what's happening and where we're headed and other stuff. It's like mowing the lawn, mindless repetition that creates the perfect condition for just thinking.

I've also knitted up some Easter eggs. My niece isn't allowed chocolate, so I did some hunting around and found this very cute Jean Greenhowe pattern for  knitted Easter eggs. They only take about 30 minutes each to knit, and look so cute. You only need scraps of yarn so they are perfect for using up project leftovers. I've made her a family - Mum, Dad, daughter and Grandma to represent her immediate family. I know she'll love them and spend hours playing with them.  Boo has the best imagination, something that keeps her amused for hours.

We were supposed to have Shepherds pie for tea tonight but I pulled the wrong package of meat from the freezer. I told you I had my days mixed up, I took chicken out, thinking today was Thursday. So we had chicken tonight instead. Chicken Teriyaki and fried rice actually. I had chicken casserole on the menu but that didn't appeal at all. I've had hay fever for a week or so and my taste is quite odd so stronger flavours are what I need. I used to buy Teriyaki sauce and it was nice. Then I found a recipe and with a few tweaks it has passed the family taste test and my budget test and it's all I use now.

When we have teriyaki chicken there are never leftovers, this sauce is so good. If you've always used the bottled sauce, try this recipe, I am sure you'll love it.

For afternoon tea today I made the Buttermilk Bannock, from the Cheapskates Forum. It is very nice warm with honey and even nicer toasted with butter. Thanks Jacksoncamp, it's passed the family taste test so I'll be making it again.

So there you have it. It's Wednesday night, I know, I've checked. I've been busy knitting and working on the book and Cheapskates.  I've done some cooking and some cleaning and had some lovely conversations with the kids and kept our home.  And all while I didn't know what day it was.  A blissful, simple, frugal few days.

19 April 2011

Homemade tortillas and a school holiday treat

Once you've made your own tortillas you won't bother with buying them. Not only are they cheaper to make at home, but so much nicer freshly made. Made a double batch and turn some into Elephant Ears for a fun and tasty dessert or quick afternoon tea.

Quick Processor Tortillas

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt*
3 tbsp oil
 3/4 cup warm water

Combine the dry ingredients in food processor, add the oil and then gradually add enough of the warm water to form a soft dough. Knead on a floured board for about 5 mins then allow the dough to rest  for at least 10 minutes, this makes it much easier to roll out.  Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and roll each to about 20cm across.  Cook them quickly in a very hot, lightly oiled frying pan for 30-60 seconds until they bubble and start to brown. Turn and cook other side. Wrap them in a damp tea towel to keep them soft until ready to use.  To warm the tortillas wrap them in foil and heat them in the oven.  These can be frozen, separate with freezer plastic between each tortilla to make them easy to separate. Re-heat in a hot, lightly oiled fry pan for a few seconds on each side.

*Note: Use 1 teaspoon of salt in this recipe, it really is needed. Normally I would omit salt in recipes but the salt in this recipe is needed to give the tortillas flavour.

Elephant Ears

8 - 10 flour tortillas
Cinnamon sugar
Oil for frying

Heat about 1cm oil in fry pan. Put 1 tortilla into the oil for 10 seconds. Turn with tongs and do the other side. After it is turned the tortilla will "puff" up. Remove from pan with tongs and put in a container with the cinnamon sugar, toss to coat the elephant's ear with the mixture.

Cinnamon Sugar

1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Mix well. Store in an airtight container.

18 April 2011

Easily thread needles with this recycling tip

If you find that the eye of your sewing needle is getting smaller and smaller, a needle threader is the way to go. Before you run out and buy one, or try to find the one that came with the packet of needles, look in your kitchen. The wire ties that come with bags of bread make great needle threaders. Just slip off the paper or plastic and bend the wire in half and you have a strong, easy to use and free needle threader.

How to Sew on a Button

Picture of button jar
I'm forever sewing buttons back on shirts and trousers for the boys and Wayne. This one simple mending task has saved us so much money over the years, especially on school shirts with three kids all wearing white business shirts five days a week. You have no idea how many buttons I've had to sew back on. Add to that Wayne's work shirts - he loses at least two buttons a week just doing his job. He gets caught on car doors or bits of metal regularly. Most of the time he finds the button and brings it home, but often I have to resort to the button jar.

I'm not sure what I'd do without a button jar.

The button jar in the picture is mine, all mine, and full of buttons to be used up. Some of them are special, cut off favourite garments when they've been reduced to rags. Others are cut off school shirts or work shirts before they go to the rag bag, and used to replace lost buttons. Others are tiny, for baby clothes and still others are the spare buttons that come with new clothes when you buy them.

I am a bit of a button hoarder. Nothing goes to the rag bag unless the buttons have been cut off and put into the button jar. If you've had to buy buttons lately you'll understand why I do this. Buttons are hideously expensive, especially pretty ones. Four or five buttons can cost just as much as the fabric or wool for a garment if you don't watch what you buy, I know, I've almost been caught a few times.

I don't know how often I've heard people say "but I don't even know how to sew on a button" as an excuse for buying a new shirt or throwing a perfectly good shirt in the rag bag and honestly it nearly drives me mad. Sewing on a button is simple and easy, if I can do it anyone can. In fact it's so easy I'm going to share my step-by-step instructions for sewing on a button, just as I was taught to do way back in high school. I still sew buttons on the same way.

You'll need:
The button - make sure it matches the others on the garment
A sewing needle
Matching thread - choose thread to match the colour of the button
Two matches

How to sew on a button without a shank
These are generally the flat two or four hole buttons used on shirts, cardigans etc

Step 1. Mark the position of the button with two matches.
Step 2 . Place the button on the matches.
Step 3. Thread the needle with a double length of thread.
Step 4. From the wrong side, bring the needle through the button and down again into the fabric until 8 strands are sewn in this way.
Step 5. For the final time take the needle down through the button only, do not go right through to the wrong side of the fabric.
Step 6. Remove the matches.
Step 7. Wind the thread tightly around the strands between the button and the garment to form a shank.
Step 8. Take the needle through to the wrong side of the fabric and fasten off securely with two small backstitches.

How to sew on a button with a shank
This is almost the same method as for a shirt button.

Step 1. Mark the position of the button with tailors chalk.
Step 2 . Place the button shank on the mark.
Step 3. Thread the needle with a double length of thread.
Step 4. From the wrong side of the garment, bring the needle up and pass it through the shank and down again into the fabric. Repeat until 8 strands are sewn in this way.
Step 5.Take the needle through to the wrong side of the fabric and fasten off securely with two small backstitches

Now you have no excuse - you know how to sew on a button!

17 April 2011

Neat weeding

Weeds are going crazy in the garden with the warm, damp Autumn weather of the last few weeks. Keep them under control by pulling them regularly, it's easy when the soil is soft from the rain. And to save your knees, back and legs, carry an old bucket or grocery bag to put them in as you weed. This way you'll save double handling and only have to make one trip to the bin (don't put the grocery bag into the bin, save it to use another day).

16 April 2011

Divide and conquer

When it comes to saving money, being organized is a key feature. If you can't find what you need when you need it you'll end up spending money to buy more. When you already have the ingredients or item that's pure waste.  A simple and easy way to keep your belongings organized is the divide and conquer method. For example in the kitchen put your plastic utensils in one holder and your steel in another. Keep drawers organized with simple dividers (you can make them out of cut down cereal boxes).  Use non-skid liner in the bottom of drawers to keep dividers and loose utensils in place (you can get it in rolls from a $2 type shop).  Recipe books should be in the kitchen, children's books in the family room and reference books in the office or study. Create zones for your belongings, keeping like items together.  If you don't have room for separate zones, keep like items together and create mini zones within that space. Then when you have finished using something make sure it always goes back to it's correct place and you'll never waste money buying  something you know you have but just can't find.

15 April 2011

Stock Up On Common Staples

Since you plan your meals every week (you do don't you?), you know which grocery items are needed most. When shopping, it’s okay to buy those items in bulk if the price is right, so that it cuts down on weekly shopping bills. For instance, if peanut butter is a lunch menu item most of the time, buy a lot when the peanut butter is on sale to save money. If rice is on sale, stocking up will save you money in the long run. When cereals are on sale, buying a few extra packets and putting them away will ease the grocery bill too. Just remember to only stock up on things that you actually use regularly, will use in a timely fashion and that will store safely.

***If you haven't tried Cheapskates Washing Powder yet, or want to know if it's really as easy to make as I say, have a look at this short Cheapskates Club video.***

14 April 2011

School Holidays and De-cluttering

School holidays started here on Monday and Hannah and I had great plans. We were going to sort through all the Christmas decorations and tidy them up, donating what we don't need any more and putting any we thought could be recycled aside to work on over the next few days.

Well it's true, the best laid plans of mice and men just seem to go by the wayside. It was cold, our first really cool day of the year so neither of us wanted to get up. I had to, AJ still had Uni and had to be dropped at the bus stop, but Hannah stuck her nose from under the covers and promptly buried it back down again. She stayed in bed until after 11am - a very long lie in for her.

Which meant that we didn't get the early start on the decorations that we had planned.  And by lunchtime I was already busy with other things, including trying to work out why the forum was running slow and working on my book. 

The Christmas decorations were put aside for another day, perhaps over the weekend.  Instead we chose a smaller de-cluttering and organizing job - the craft cabinet. In our hallway stands a large, cedar tall boy. It's very old, over 150 years, and while it doesn't quite go with the rest of the furniture in the house I love it.  We inherited it from Wayne's Great Uncle just after we were married and over the years it's had many uses. It was in our bedroom for a while, but it's really too big. Then it was in the dining room and I used it to store the table linens, placemats, cutlery and so on. Now it's the craft cabinet and it is perfect for this job.

Unfortunately it was in a bit of a mess. We've done a lot of crafting lately and not everything was put away properly. And there were lots of little bits of paper, ribbon, odd stickers, felt and so on all over the place. We took each drawer out and emptied it onto the floor, sorted the rubbish, stuff to donate and things to keep into piles, then vacuumed the drawers. Then, to freshen the cedar, I gave the inside of each drawer a light rub over with some fine sandpaper and of course vacuumed them again.  Now they smell fresh and the bugs and creepy crawlies should be put off.

After sorting through everything we had a small bag of recycling, a rather large bag for a school teacher friend to use in his classroom.  He spends a fortune on craft materials for his class, out of his own pocket, as most teachers tend to, so every little bit helps and I'm more than happy to think that he'll be able to use the paper, ribbon and stickers in the bag. Everything else was sorted and put neatly back into the drawers.

Now the craft cabinet is tidy, I think I'll tackle the wrapping box. But not today, it's time for a cup of tea and some knitting before bed.

*It's too dark in the hall right now for a photo of the drawers, I'll take one tomorrow.

Collecting Free Firelighters

A sudden cold, wet snap had me lighting the fire yesterday. Getting a roaring fire going takes patience and a good firelighter and today's tip really works!

Collecting Free Firelighters  
If you live somewhere cold enough to have a fireplace, there are probably some nice big pine trees around. I stop with the kids and we collect pine cones. They are great for starting the fire! There are always carry bags in my boot so this is easy to do. One carry bag takes me a few minutes to fill - some of the kids are faster (you can make it a race to fill a bag).
Contributed by Judy, Canberra

13 April 2011

Cheapskate's tips for debt reduction

The news on debt in Australia is not good. According to the Australian Debt Study from Veda, 21% of Australians are finding it difficult to repay debt. Two percent of those people don't know if they be able to make their next debt re-payment!

To reduce your debt:
Create a Spending Plan - allocate every cent of income to a spending category (and Emergency Funds and Peace of Mind Accounts are spending categories)

Track your spending - if you don't know where it's going you can't cut back on spending

Cut up your credit cards
- apply for a debit card if you feel the need.

Use Cheapskates Payment Push plan for debt repayment (and stick to it!)

Build your Emergency Fund
- when it is fully funded then you can add that money to your Payment Push but you need a decent Emergency Fund to avoid having to resort to credit during emergencies. Aim for one month's total living expenses, then build to three months, then ideally have six months living expenses in reserve.

12 April 2011

Spinach and Ricotta Baked Pasta

This  pasta bake is delicious served with a green salad and crusty bread rolls.  If you grow your own spinach and make the ricotta it costs approximately  $4.50, making it a very affordable meal. Even with buying the spinach and ricotta it still comes in at under $10, costing  just $1.25 per serve.

500g pasta spirals
2 bunches (750g) English spinach, stems removed
750g fresh ricotta
300ml sour cream
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
2 tablespoon chopped dill  (1 tsp dried)
cracked black pepper and salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly boiling water until al dente. Drain. Place the pasta in a well-greased 4 litre capacity baking dish. Blanch the spinach in a saucepan of boiling water, drain and squeeze to remove excess liquid. Roughly chop the spinach and place in a bowl. Add the ricotta, sour cream, eggs, cheeses, dill, pepper and salt and mix to combine. Spoon the mixture over the pasta. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Stand for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serves 8.

Note: You can also use 375g frozen spinach, thawed and drained to remove excess water. You should have around 150g cooked spinach.

11 April 2011

Crazy Patch Recycled Throw

This is a great idea for a winter craft project was sent in by Vicki Judd.  Being made from polar fleece there is no fraying to worry about as you stitch. Use tailors chalk to mark even lines around the edge of each square so your blanket stitching is even and your rugs will look fantastic.  A good size to start with is 6 squares across by 7 squares deep, a total of 42 squares.

How to Make Your Throw
Rather than throw out or give away all the polar fleece jumpers, dressing gowns and other garments that the kids have grown out of or that are in need of being replaced make them into a warm and cosy knee rug or quilt. Cut out 25 centimetre squares from them and using scraps of 8 ply wool, blanket stitch around each square. Once you have enough in different colours and patterns, sew them together into a throw rug or blankets for beds, they great for when it's cold and you don't want to run the heating. They can be either stitched by hand using an overcast stitch very small so it won't be noticed or maybe using a large zig zag stitch on a machine.

09 April 2011


A way to survive when money is non-existent is through bartering, which is the trade or exchange of goods and services you can provide, for those you need.

For instance, if you can cut hair, you can trade your hair cutting skills for car repair, garden services, household items, or even food. Or, if you have furniture you no longer need, you can trade it for something you need. You may have excess tomatoes you can trade for something or be handy with a needle and thread and barter mending services for what it is you need.

When bartering, just be sure to consider all costs involved and look for the best deal. While no cash is actually exchanging hands, the value of the goods and services traded should be comparable for the best deal all around. Also, be careful to keep records and check with the tax responsibilities for bartering services.

08 April 2011

The View from My Kitchen Window

This is the view from my kitchen window, taken this morning as I was filling the sink to do some washing up. I'd just tossed the bucket of water from the shower over the window and scrubbed it with the broom. You can see the trestle in the background - that's where Wayne has been painting his trains. The lawnmower is parked under it, ready for the boys to cut the grass. To the left is the barbcue and the smokehouse, with the clothesline just beyond.

I love my kitchen. It's not very big, it's compact size makes working in it easy. Most of all I love it for the view. Looking out the window, through the ferns onto the bush on the other side of the back fence I can almost forget we live in the middle of suburbia.

It's not our dream to live in the city, but at the moment it's where we are. We'll get back to country life soon enough. In the meantime the view from my kitchen window keeps me smiling.

Membership has its benefits

Are you the member of an automobile club? Have you ever checked out the benefits of membership (aside from the obvious)?  You'll be amazed at the variety of  offers and discounts available to you as an automobile club member. They range from discounts on car hire and travel, movie tickets, even pharmacy items. I save 10% on chemist purchases at Pulse Pharmacies and a further 5% off at the SPC outlet just by showing my RACV membership card. And that's just two of the discounts available to me, just for showing my membership card. How easy is that!  For more information look up your automobile club website today and then start using those discounts to save money.

07 April 2011

A Rotating Cleaning Schedule

To keep organised, but also to prevent being overwhelmed, I've scheduled a room to organise each month; I also alternate easier rooms with more difficult rooms. I also have a checklist set up for each room. For example, one month I'll do the lounge room, washing the walls, cleaning the floor, light fittings, clean storage out, nourish any leather and wood, do any repairs. Lastly, we do an inventory for insurance and wish list so when we do buy things it is only what we need first. So far this approach has proved manageable, and we are getting much more organised and living with what we have a lot better. 

Contributed by Jodie Beitzel

06 April 2011

A Set of Good Spatulas

There are lots of kitchen tools and gadgets around, most of them pretty gimmicky or only good for one particular function.  Things like tea bag squeezers may seem useful and cute in the shop, but get them home and you really do wonder why you bothered.

One set of kitchen tools I couldn't be without however are my spatulas. I have 5, all different sizes and shapes and made from different materials.

There's the Tupperware pot spatula, just perfect for beating a batter due to the cut-out in the centre.  I'm not sure if they're still available, this one is about 20 years old (Tupperware just keeps on going doesn't it?).  Then there's the soft plastic spatula that fits the curve of my favourite mixing bowls. It does a great job of scraping every last drop of cake batter into the tin.

But my very favourites are relatively new. I have three silicone spatulas, all different sizes and shapes. They were a spontaneous buy, I hadn't planned on them at all. I was in Big W with Mum, looking for cookies sheets and we were checking out the silicone bakeware.

The smallest is just perfect for scraping out cream bottles and jam jars. The medium size cleans a mixing bowl perfectly. The largest is spoon-shaped and ideal for spooning pancake batter into a hot pan and cleaning out large mixing bowls. And they are three of my favourite kitchen money-savers.

It's amazing just how much cream is left in the bottle after pouring it out. I use the smallest spatula to get every last drop of cream out of the bottle, sometimes as much as 1/4 cup - that's around 35c that would have gone into the bin if I didn't scrape.  We use one bottle of cream a week, so over the course of a year that's $18.20 I am not throwing away.  With that one use alone the spatula has paid for itself many times over!

I scrape out all jars - pasta sauce, peanut butter, jam etc. And when I open a tin of baked beans or tomato soup it's always scraped out too. Australians waste billions of dollars worth of food each year, and a lot of it is the food left in jars, bottles and cans. A spatula can help reduce that waste!

Vegemite jars are never recycled until they have been scraped and then swished with warm water (not hot, it will explode) and used to make gravy.  Peanut butter jars are scraped out for sandwiches and then swished with a little warm water that I add to a curry, stir-fry or satay dish for extra flavouring.  Scraping the mixing bowl can get two extra cupcakes from a batter, that's around 40c that's not going in the bin.  I even use a spatula to scrape the pot when I've made mash - with two hungry boys - sorry young men - to feed there's never enough mash!

These little scrapes are all small, quite insignificant on their own. But add them up and it's hundreds of dollars a year that isn't going into the bin or into the supermarket's profits.  I'm always asked how I keep the grocery bill so low, this is one of the main ways.  I make sure we use every last drop of everything and don't throw good food out - that really is just money in the bin.

My spatulas make it easy to save money.

Printing Receipts

When paying a bill online, a receipt usually needs to be printed. Often the back page of the bill that has been sent in the mail is blank, so to save paper put that page into the printer to print the receipt. Then you have not only saved paper but your receipt can't get separated from the bill.
Contributed by Katherine Burleigh

05 April 2011

Going, Going, Going Green

There's been a lot of debate in the news lately about the introduction of a carbon tax and an emission trading scheme. The arguments for and against have all been compelling but I'm not sure that either side has actually put forward a completely convincing case and I expect the discussion will become a lot more heated before a firm decision is finally made.

When we first started living like Cheapskates the intention was to maintain our standard of living on a greatly reduced income.  At the time living an environmentally friendly lifestyle was the last thing on our minds and I had never heard of carbon emissions.

Thanks to disaster, we now live a very green lifestyle.

These days I make Cheapskates Washing Powder and line dry all the washing unless it's raining, then it goes over the clothes horses.  We haven't used commercial cleaning products in the house in 15 years. Instead we use white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, laundry soap, borax, washing soda and microfibre or pure cotton cloths.

I changed the way we do the grocery shopping, from a weekly (at least) trip to the supermarket to a once a month trip. And I use green bags for the groceries and veggie bags for the fruit and veg. I even take a calico bread bag to the bakery when I buy bread.  Tracking our footprint has become a challenge for us all.

We have almost eliminated plastic bags from our home entirely. I still use the odd grocery bag for rubbish or to protect something going into storage, but otherwise we are a plastic bag free zone.  I even have a supply of string bags I use when I go shopping so I can say "no" to store bags. Hannah carries one in her school bag for after-school shopping expeditions.

We time showers and use low flow showerheads, watch the electricity and gas use, re-direct grey water onto the lawn.  I cook from scratch, buy in bulk, recycle as much as possible and compost to reduce the amount we send to landfill. Our challenge is to put the bin out once a fortnight.

We took advantage of the light bulb swap and switched all the lights and lamps in the house to compact fluorescents. We turn appliances off at the wall (all except the fridge and freezer) when they are not being used.

Walking or using public transport are our choices before getting in the car and driving. I love going into the city on the tram. Yes, it takes longer but it's so relaxing (if I time it out of peak hour) and I can read or knit in peace and enjoy the ride.  Walking to the local shops is not only good exercise, it ensures I don't buy anything other than what I went for because I would have to carry it home.  Relying on public transport has taught the kids to be independent too.

And now we are growing as much of our food as we possibly can. The rest I try to buy locally before I go to the supermarket.

I'm sure there's more we do that would be considered green, but right now I can't think of them. These are all easy things that anyone can do, they take a little effort and a big shift in thinking but they are low-cost and when combined have a large impact on greening our environment.

There are other things we could do to be more green, but they all take a big financial commitment, even with government rebates. Switching to solar power and hot water for instance or installing more water tanks would certainly be environmentally friendly. Unfortunately they wouldn't be Spending Plan friendly for us at this stage.

So I need to be content with our green-ish lifestyle and continue to work towards becoming self-sufficient and lessening our impact on the world we live in.

I'll keep on looking for ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle the Cheapskates way and keep on saving for those solar panels and water tanks.  Saving money, time and energy is after all the Cheapskates motto.

An organizing challenge and a tasty recipe

Today I challenge you to tidy those kitchen drawers.

My nice clean and tidy cutlery drawer - no more crumbs
And an organized utensil drawer

Take 15 minutes today to go through your kitchen drawers and tidy them. Set the oven timer and then one by one, take them out of the cabinet and empty them. Tip any rubbish into the bin (crumbs especially seem to be attracted to top drawers) and wipe over the inside. Then go through what came out of it - only put back the things you use. Everything else can go into two piles - donate and toss. As each drawer is cleaned and tidied slide it back into place.  When the timer dings, put the drawer you are working on back, pick up the rubbish and take it to the bin and put the donate pile in the car to drop off next time you go out.

Penne Pasta Bake
This dish is perfect to make ahead and reheat. It also freezes and reheats beautifully.

500g penne pasta
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g minced beef
1 onion, diced
1/2 capsicum, diced
1 jar pasta sauce (or 2 cups homemade)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Cook pasta until just barely tender; drain thoroughly, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat, and brown the mince; drain off most of the fat. Add the olive oil and heat, then add the onion and capsicum and sauté until the vegetables soften.  Stir in pasta sauce. Add the cooked pasta, mixing well. Pour into a well greased lasagne dish. Flatten the top with the back of spoon. Mix the mozzarella and the Parmesan and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook a further 5 minutes until the cheeses are golden.

04 April 2011

Keep craft papers organized

If you are into scrapbooking, card making, quilling or any other paper based craft you will know the importance of keeping your papers organized. Most papers need to be stored flat to avoid curving so look at using office in-out trays. They are usually stackable and can be labelled for colour, size, quality etc Another option is sets of stackable A4 size drawers. Label the drawer with colour and size. The advantage of both these storage options is that they can be displayed on your craft table or you can hide them in a cupboard. Either way your papers will be sorted, safe and ready to use when you want them. For larger papers keep an eye out for a set of plan drawers, the type used by architects to store their plans, they are large enough for the biggest sheets of craft paper. Keeping your papers sorted will stop the need to constantly buy new paper simply because you can't find the colour or pattern you want.

A Cute Tea Cosy for Beginner Knitters

If you read my blog post on Saturday you'll know I'm re-introducing an official afternoon tea time in our house. Part of the ritual will involve making a pot of tea. No, I haven't lost my love of coffee, I have developed a taste for tea, much to my mother's delight.  I brought my teapot from the back of the cupboard and it's just the right size for two, but the tea gets cold quite quickly so a tea cosy was needed to keep it warm.

There are thousands of patterns for tea cosies available online, but they were all quite complicated. I adapted this one from three different patterns, making it quick and easy. If I can knit it up then anyone can.

You'll need:
100g 8 ply wool
1 pair 5mm knitting needles

To make:
Cast on 40 stitches.
First row: K2, P2.
Repeat first row 37 times (38 rows total).
Next row: K2 together, P1. Repeat to end.
Next row: K2 together, P1. Repeat to end. (20 stitches)
Cast off knitways.

Repeat to make second side.  With right sides together, stitch the sides of the cosy, leaving gaps for the spout on one side and the handle on the other side.

Make a pom pom or a crochet flower and stitch in place on centre top.

If you'd like more tea cosy patterns, visit www.knittingpatterncentral.com/directory/cozies.php

03 April 2011

No Junk Mail

For years we lived with a 'no junk mail' sticker on the letterbox. And then we moved house. I can still see the sheer joy on Hannah's little 7-year-old face as she came racing in, shouting with glee that "we have junk mail Mum!"  Those few catalogues made her day. She loved them and she still has a deep love of junk mail.

Every Wednesday night she waits by the loungeroom window, watching for the junk mail and local paper to be delivered. Then she's out the door in a flash, getting her beloved catalogues out of the letterbox and carefully carrying them inside.

There is a certain ritual to reading the junk mail. The kitchen bench has to be cleared off and the catalogues are neatly stacked. She goes through each one, putting aside any that have something she thinks we may need or be interested in. Once she's read them she comes and sits next to me and carefully explains about the bargains she's found.

Over the years she has become quite the bargain shopper. Mind you she's had lots of practice, we've been doing this Cheapskates thing since she was a tiny baby. I don't think we've paid RRP for anything other than food in her lifetime.

But enough is enough. The supermarket catalogues don't have real food on special. There are plenty of biscuits and chips and soft drinks, and lots of expensive, sugary cereals. Each week there will usually be one or two of the more expensive shampoos on sale.  There may be one or two meat items, and a couple of fruits and perhaps some veggies, but not much else that we buy.

You see the problem is we don't buy very many processed foods.  We don't buy pre-prepared foods. We skip the junk food and soft drink aisles completely. We don't buy expensive toiletries (at least not from the supermarkets) and we don't buy packaged cleaning products.

Instead I look for the raw ingredients: flour, sugar, oil, eggs, milk, cheese, herbs and spices, rolled oats, fresh meat and produce for our meals.  I only pick up three things in the cleaning aisle: borax, laundry soap and washing soda.  I ignore the laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Our toiletries are many and varied and come from Avon, the local chemist, discount department stores, factory outlets, warehouse sales, just about anywhere other than the supermarket.

These brochures are filled with specials - for things that are mostly  wants, not needs. It's no wonder Australians spend so much on groceries when so many non-grocery items are marketed to us as groceries. After all if they're available at the supermarket then they must be groceries right?

I watched a mother (I knew she was a mother because the two boys with her called her Mum) go through the checkout in front of me last night. Her bill came to $212.37 and she didn't even blink. But I'll lay odds she'll be back before next weekend because the trolley was full of big packets of chips, 6 packets of biscuits, 2 bottles of cordial, I don't know how many bottles of soft drink and 2 boxes of cereal. There were only a couple of packages of meat, 2 bottles of milk and some veggies, no fruit at all. The rest of the trolley was washing powder and bottles of cleaning products.

I wanted to tap her on the shoulder and help her throw back the rubbish. She was wasting her money and not doing her family any good while doing it. I wondered if she had heard of Cheapskates or the $300 a month grocery challenge. I wondered if she even thought about how much she was spending or ever thought about how she could halve that bill and feed her family good food.

You'll beat the supermarkets at their own game if you make your meal plan and shopping list and stick to it. You can use the junk mail to see if anything on your list is on sale, if it is make a note to buy it from that supermarket. Ignore the rest, if it's not on your list you are not going to buy it.

Go on, I dare you.

Try ignoring the junk mail this week and see how you feel. Note the difference in your shopping bill. See how easy it is to stick to your meal plan and shopping list when you ignore the junk mail.

It's really easy to do and the results are amazing.  Come back and let me know how you go, you can leave your comments below. I'll be waiting to hear from you.

Everlasting Onions

When you buy your next bunch of spring onions, don't throw out those healthy roots, plant them in old milk bottles made into pots, or any other pots you may already have.  Using the milk bottles you can use another one as a saucer and because it is as big as the other the mosquitoes cannot get to the water to breed.
Contributed by Narelle, Berserker

If you just snip the tops off as you need them the onions will keep growing. This works for chives too, just use a pair of scissors to snip what you need and leave the rest. It saves you buying a new bunch each week, they don't keep well and if frozen are only good as an ingredient in a casserole.

02 April 2011

Bring Back the Ritual of Afternoon Tea

I think it's a shame that we've become so busy that we don't stop for afternoon tea anymore. Life is much easier today than it was even 50 years ago, but at the same time it's more complicated and far busier and more stressful.

Wayne's Granny always stopped at 3pm for afternoon tea. Too bad if you were doing something, it was time for tea and that was it. On the farm we always stopped at 3pm for 15 minutes and had a cuppa and a slice of cake or a biscuit too. It was a part of the rhythm of the day, an ingrained routine that no one ever questioned.

That 15 minutes was refreshing. Something to eat and a drink revitalised us so we could finish off the day's work, it gave us an opportunity to take stock of what we'd been doing and what still had to be done. Afternoon tea may sound like a quaint, gentrified ritual but really it was a vital part of the running of the farm and our home.

I'll blame my generation for the demise of afternoon tea. We are the go getters of the world, we work longer hours and have more "responsible" jobs than our parents. We live a busier life, rushing from home to work to after-school activities to home each day, fitting in living around those chores. We don't have time for such old-fashioned past times as afternoon tea.

Which is a shame. I love afternoon tea. Sometimes we'll go out for afternoon tea. We might drive into the hills and choose a tea shop to stop at. Or we will find a little coffee shop somewhere and enjoy a treat. For a real treat we'll go into the city and have high tea at the Sofitel. But most days it's just me and my cuppa. Weekends Wayne is home and the kids may be. We'll sit and natter over a cuppa and a scone or a biscuit or a slice of cake. And then we get up and get on with whatever we were doing.

Why do we think we can't spare 15 minutes to sit and relax with a cup of tea? Will the world stop? Is what we are doing so absolutely life-threatening that we can't put it off for just 15 minutes? Perhaps if everyone took just 15 minutes for afternoon tea there'd be less war, less violence, less anger in the world.

Occasionally Hannah and I will have a tea party. We had lots of tea parties when she was a little girl. These days we'll invite friends for afternoon tea. We love an excuse to use the good tea set and set the table with a pretty tea cloth. Then we all sit around the table and chat and laugh and share. And everyone goes home refreshed.

Taking time for tea may not seem like it will save you any money. You may not see how it fits with the Cheapskates lifestyle, but it does. It's a part of a simpler, more gentle time, when people worked harder but enjoyed what they had more. They lived without huge amounts of debt and yet still enjoyed their families and their homes. They were content with their lot and it showed in their lifestyle, right down to the ritual of afternoon tea.

I guess most people use tea bags these days. My Uncle John however, just never accepted that a cup of tea could be made properly with a tea bag. It was always a pot of tea, made with real tea leaves and complete with tea cosy. He made the best tea I've ever had.

Tea bags have made life a little easier for some, but they have led to the loss of yet another homemaking skill - the art of brewing a pot of tea.

Here's how to brew a pot of tea, Uncle John style:

*Fill your tea pot with hot tap water to warm it up prior to adding tea leaves and boiling water.
*Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water and bring to the boil.
*Just before the kettle begins to boil, pour the water from the tea pot into a container to save it for later on, you can use it to wash vegetables or water indoor plants etc.  Add one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup to pot, plus an additional teaspoon for the pot.
*As soon as the kettle boils, pour the boiling water over the tea leaves. Only add enough boiling water for the number of cups of tea you are making i.e. tea for two, then two cups of water. You don't need to be exact and measure it, you can guestimate.
*This is the important step. Let the tea brew for 3 - 7 minutes depending on desired strength. In our instant society, tea bags are handy but we don't let the tea brew. No wonder some folk can go all day using one teabag.
*Add cold, whole milk to tea cups depending on preference of guests.
*Pour tea into cups using a strainer to catch loose leaves.
Any tea you don't drink can be used to make iced tea or to make Fruity Tea Cake. It can be frozen until you are ready to use it. If you don't want to use it for cooking, water your ferns or indoor plants with it. They'll love it.

Tea Brewing Tips

*Use a ceramic tea pot rather than metal. Metal can affect the taste of the tea and will cool the water more quickly. A tea cosy may look odd but it will keep the tea piping hot for a long, long time.
*Keep boiling water available for second cups and to dilute tea that becomes strong while sitting in tea pot. Rinse out the tea kettle and start with fresh, cold tap water. Never boil anything but water in your tea kettle.
*Bring the water to its first rolling boil. Never over boil. Over boiling takes the oxygen out of the water, which in turn creates a flat beverage. Modern electric kettles switch themselves off at the right point, if you use a stovetop kettle you'll need to keep an eye on it.
*Purists take the teapot to the tea kettle and rinse out the pot with the boiling water from the kettle. Never take the kettle to the teapot, as you lose one degree of heat per second. Water for tea should be 100 degrees.
*Use one teabag or teaspoon of loose tea per cup. Leaves enter the warm teapot and the infusion begins when the leaf opens.
*Allow the tea to brew for three to seven minutes, according to the blend of tea and how strong you like it.
*Never, ever wash your teapot with anything other than hot water. It may become stained inside from the tannin in the tea, but that's OK. Washing with detergents will leave a taste that will ruin any tea made in the pot ever after.
It's almost 3pm and time for tea. I'm off to put the kettle on and see what's in the cake tin.

Freezing kills pests

You all know to freeze any dry goods you bring into your home for at least 72 hours to kill off any bugs, but did you know that you can freeze other things that may be contaminated with creepy crawlies too? For a chemical free bug treatment when you bring clothing and other textiles, books etc home, put the items in a ziplock bag and freeze them. This is especially important for second hand items. They often harbour silverfish, cockroach or moth eggs, which you can't easily see and freezing will kill them. Then you can wash the clothing and dust the books and know you won't be bringing any pests into your home.

01 April 2011

Create a grocery list from your meal plan

Meal planning saves money at the supermarket, it is just common sense. Because you start with a list that encompasses everything you will need for all meals that week you'll only pick up those items. With a list, you can target what you want and get out of the store fast. You then have everything you need to prepare your meals for the next week. Stick a copy of the meal plan on the fridge or pantry door so everyone in the family knows what's for dinner and the temptation to resort to takeaway or eating out will disappear. Just knowing you have a meal planned takes the stress out of dinner preparation.