30 November 2011

Beautifully Wrapped Gifts with Amazing, Cheap Bows

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

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

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

Contributed by Shea

29 November 2011

Corn and Bacon Fritters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 November 2011

A Coathanger Christmas tree

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

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

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

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

To make your coathanger Christmas tree you will need:

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

Step 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 November 2011

Budget Friendly Gourmet Baking

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

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

24 November 2011

Yet another DIY dishwasher detergent

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

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

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

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

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

22 November 2011

Honey Baked Pumpkin

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

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

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

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

16 November 2011

Cleaning with Vinegar

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

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

Softest Washing on the Line

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


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

Sparkling Clean Tiles

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


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

Bathroom, Kitchen and Laundry Sinks

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

Shower Recess

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


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

Annoying Insects

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

Pots and Pans

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

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

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

15 November 2011

No Bake Chocolate Fudge Fruit Cake

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

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

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

14 November 2011

Get crafty with cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 November 2011

Place Your Catalogue Orders Early

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

10 November 2011

Every last drop of moisturiser

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

09 November 2011

Paying too Much to Clear Your Debt

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

08 November 2011

Easy Chocolate Fudge

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

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

07 November 2011

How to make a Quillow

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

Materials required:

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

To make the quilt:

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

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

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

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

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

To make the pocket:

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

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

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

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

To make the quillow:

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

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

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

To fold:

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

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

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

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

04 November 2011

It's Worthwhile to Haggle

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

02 November 2011

Old Fashioned Envelope Method Still Works

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

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

01 November 2011

Irish Soda Bread

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

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

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

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

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