29 February 2012

How much are you saving per hour?

If you are just starting out living the Cheapskates way you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the hints, tips and ideas to save you money, time and energy. Pick one or two and work on them until you are doing them without even realizing. Don't forget to factor in the time spent versus the money saved. Sometimes it is easy to get so caught up in trying to save every cent possible that you lose sight of the goal and end up spending hours to save just a few cents.

I aim to save at least $25 an hour by implementing an idea, or it's not worth my time, which could be used elsewhere to save. For instance I make Cheapskates washing powder. A 3 month supply costs around $4 and takes less than 5 minutes to make. To buy a three month supply of washing powder costs around $36 - a saving of $31 for 5 minutes of my time. On the other hand I don't make wraps. Although they only cost $1.20 to make 8, they take about 30 minutes of my time. I can buy a packet of 8 wraps for $2.50.  There are other things I can do with my time that will save me more than $2.60 an hour. Of course, if you love breadmaking and have the time then saving isn't the reason you do it.

But if you are spending your time to save money, make sure the saving is worth your time.

28 February 2012

Crunchy Cashew Curry

Serving a meatless meal once a week helps to keep the grocery budget under control and it's something I've always done. It also adds variety and interest to meals.  If your family baulks at the 'V' word, don't use it. Leave "vegetarian" out of the name when they ask what's for dinner and let them enjoy the meal. In this case ignorance really is bliss for the diners and the cook.

250g whole cashews
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 tbsp coriander
Zest of one lemon
2 tbsp curry paste of choice
½ tsp turmeric
2 chilies, thinly sliced (or less if you like it less hot)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 400ml can coconut milk

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until golden. Add the coriander, curry leaves, lemon zest, turmeric, chilies, ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes, until mixture starts to thicken. Remove curry leaves and serve immediately over steamed rice and fresh naan.

Naan Bread

Naan is so easy to make, and so much cheaper than buying it. There's nothing quite like fresh naan with your curry.

½ cup warm water
½ cup natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups plain flour

Mix all ingredients into a dough and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel; allow to rise for about 20 minutes.

Knead again and divide into small balls (approximately the size of a golf ball). Roll into thin, flat circles. Cover with a damp tea towel until ready to cook. To bake in the oven (for a crisp naan) butter a baking tray and lay the naan out. They don't spread so you'll get quite a few on a baking tray. Bake in a 200 C degree oven for 10 - 12 minutes, until they are golden brown.

To cook in a frying pan (for a softer, more bread-like naan) heat the pan over medium heat. Melt some butter and brush one side of each naan. Place the naan butter side down in the pan. Brush the tops with melted butter. Cook for approximately two minutes, turn and cook the other side for two minutes. They should be slightly puffed and golden.

Garlic Naan:  Add 1 teaspoon garlic to melted butter before brushing
Sesame Naan: Sprinkle top with toasted sesame seeds before turning and cooking

27 February 2012

10 Tips to Help You Save on Petrol

This weekend petrol jumped 23c a litre in our vicinity! Actually it jumped 23c a litre in a matter of minutes on Saturday morning. Apart from that being an outrageous increase, it adds around $837 a year to the running costs of our family car.

Now I know it will come down, and I can fill-up on the cheaper day as I always do, but even so that is more than a week's wage gone on one fuel price rise.

While we are focussing on keeping power bills down, we need to remember, or be reminded, to keep our fuel bills down too.

Here are my top 10 ways to save petrol:

1. Fill up first thing in the morning when it's still cool. This is especially relevant during the hot summer months. The explanation I have for this is as petrol is gaseous it becomes denser when it's cool. As the petrol pumps measure volume you'll get better value for money buying when the fuel is at its most dense, such as early morning or late night. I've not been able to find any counter-claims on this one, so I figure it's worth a try.

2. Maintain the correct tyre pressure for your car. You'll find the information in the handbook if you need it. Under inflated tires reduce fuel efficiency by 2% for every pound they are under inflated. Under inflation also causes premature tyre wear giving your tyres a shorter life.

3. Drive smoothly - avoid unnecessary acceleration. Drive at a good distance from the car in front so you can anticipate and travel with the flow of traffic. This avoids unnecessary acceleration and frequent repetitive braking that ends up wasting fuel. It's also far safer.

4. Avoid using air conditioning whenever possible. Air conditioning reduces fuel economy by 10% to 20% when operating.. Use the air ventilation system instead. However at speeds of over 80 km/h, use of air conditioning is better for fuel consumption than an open window.

5. Don't drive with open windows when travelling at high speeds. Open windows on the highway can reduce fuel efficiency by 10%. It's much better to use the ventilation system or air conditioning.

6. Remove roof racks and other items which make your car less aerodynamic when they're not being used. Leaving them on only makes your car less fuel efficient and costs you money.

7. There is no need to let your car idle. Even on cold mornings, cars don't need to idle more than 30 seconds. Newer cars are designed to be driven almost immediately and letting your car idle longer is a waste of petrol. By having the engine switched off, even for a short period, you will save more fuel than is lost from the burst of fuel involved in restarting the engine. The increased wear and tear from doing this is negligible.

8. Remove all the excess weight from your car. Many people use their car boot as a storage space adding unneeded kilos to the car's weight. This unnecessary weight reduces the car's fuel efficiency by about 2% for every 50kg. So if you don’t need the pram, take it out. Make sure the kids take all their bits and bobs with them when they get out of the car and drop those bags off at the op shop straight away. Driving around with all these things in the boot is costing you a small fortune every year. How much weight is your car carrying?

9. Minimise use. Plan your trips so that you're doing a number of things in one go. You'll save time and fuel. If it's just a short trip think about walking or cycling. If its longer trip is public transport an alternative? Try to avoid the stop-start of peak hour if it's at all possible or try car pooling. Perhaps you can start earlier or later to avoid the traffic.

10. Service your car regularly. Keep your vehicle well tuned and reduce greenhouse gases by up to 5 per cent. Having your car well maintained will help it keep its resale value too.

24 February 2012

This has me raving!

This ratty thing is what I'm raving about - I love, love, love this scourer
I am so excited - I just posted a message on the Member forum I am so excited.

You'll probably laugh when you find out what has me so excited though.

A scourer.

But it's no ordinary scourer.

It's a Naturals All Purpose Scouring Sponge.

I'm raving about it because I've been using one for around 15 months and it hasn't given up the ghost yet. It looks a little worse for wear (and boy has it had some wear) but it still cleans just as well today as the day I opened the packet.

It was a freebie too - a sample dropped in the letterbox one day. I wasn't too fussed - I never used to like sponges of any kind, much prefer my knitted dishcloths and a scrub bud. But one day as I reached for a new scrub bud my hand felt the packet and I decided to give it a try.

I never in my wildest dreams imagined that 15 months later I'd still be using it. This thing is never going to die, and it gets used every day.

It cleans the sinks.
It scrubs the pots, the stovetop, the oven, the baking dishes, the glass lids to the saucepans.
It cleans non-stick pots and pans without even a hint of a scratch.
It does a brilliant job of the barbecue.
I even use it on the glass showerscreens.

For the last six months or so I've been looking for a replacement. I've searched Coles and Woolworths, Kmart, Big W, even Bunnings. I've looked in the Reject Shop and other $2 type shops to no avail. None of the stores I've looked in have stocked it.

Well this afternoon as I was using it to scrub a lid, I finally made a hole in the scourer part. That was the decider; I had to find out where I could get another one of these amazing little scourers.

I tried good old Google first. Sadly Google let me down today. So I bit the bullet, picked up the phone and called the manufacturer direct.

I am so glad I did. Lovely, lovely lady I spoke to was so helpful. She directed me to IGA. Now why didn't I think of IGA? IGA supermarkets stock my scourer - woo hoo. And you know what - and this is the best thing about IGA - if my local store doesn't have it, they'll order it in for me!

I'm so happy. I posted on the forum that it would be the first thing I buy when our Spending Freeze ends next week.

But I'm not sure I can wait that long!

About the Naturals All Purpose Scouring Sponge:

It's made by Vileda and this detail is straight off the Vileda website:
• Made from renewable and recycled materials – corundum, cellulose, recycled bottle flakes and coconut shell abrasives.
• Super absorbent naturals cellulose sponge absorbs water leaving surfaces dry
• Recycled abrasives for powerful scrubbing to remove dirt.
• Available in a pack of 2.

Set a Shopping Day and Stick to It

To save money one your grocery bill, minimise the amount of trips you do to the supermarket.  Over 75% of people will buy at least 2 or 3 items they did not plan to buy with each trip to the supermarket. 

Making the switch to shopping once a week or fortnight or better still once a month can save you $50 per month immediately. That’s a massive $600 a year just for setting a shopping day and sticking to it!

23 February 2012

Free for all

That four letter word "free" is an ambush for anyone looking to live life debt free, cashed up and laughing.  As a Cheapskate you need to be able to differentiate between a true free item and a pseudo free item.

When you see "free" attached to any item, before you get excited, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I have to pay anything for this item?
2. What is the exact amount in dollars this item will cost me if I accept it?
3. Are there shipping and handling costs?
4. How much are the shipping and handling costs?
5. What is the total cost of the item when shipping and handling costs are added?
6. If I choose multiple items, what is the total cost when shipping and handling costs are added?
7. After adding the shipping and handling costs, is the item really worth this amount?
8. Is there a long-term, on-going commitment if I accept this "free" item?
9. How much will this long-term, on-going commitment really cost (factor in item cost, shipping and handling)? This is especially important for book, wine, CD type clubs.
10. Is it a reputable company?
11. What is the average cost per item on-going?
12. Is this cost reasonable or can you source the item cheaper yourself?
13. What will accepting this offer cost you in terms of time and energy?
14. Do you really need or want this item?
15. If you don't need or want it can you pass it on to someone who does?

22 February 2012

Keeping your cool over lettuce

You’re hungry and you know there's something you're craving; a nice cool, crisp salad is what you want. You run to the fridge, open the vegetable crisper only to find the lettuce you bought just two days ago is brown and mushy. Ever happen to you? It happens more often than not and is very discouraging. In fact it happens so often that I think most people believe that's just what happens to lettuce.

It's not. When lettuce is stored properly it will keep for weeks - truly. If it's a homegrown, freshly picked lettuce it will keep even longer. Actually if you have homegrown lettuce you won't (or shouldn't) pick the whole thing. Just pull off the leaves as you want them and leave the plant to continue growing. Doing this will give you an almost endless supply of lettuce through the summer months.

And do you know lettuce grows all year round, even here in Melbourne? Keep planting lettuce a few at a time every couple of weeks and you'll enjoy salads all winter long and into the next spring.

In the meantime, here are a few storage tips to make sure you have crisp, fresh lettuce when that craving strikes.

Lettuce is not cheap. When it's not stored correctly you find yourself tossing it in the compost more often then you care to admit. Lettuce can be purchased in a bag or by the head. Either way, if not stored properly lettuce can, and will, go bad in a very short time.

One way to preserve your lettuce until salad time is to buy a fresh head of lettuce. Lettuce that is in a sealed bag can turn brown faster and it costs around 15 times the price of a whole lettuce. It has already been handled, chopped or cut by a metal object (which will turn it brown) and then sealed in the bag. Often times when a bag of lettuce is purchased you can already see the edges beginning to brown before it’s even made it off the shelf.

Choose a head of lettuce with lots of big, leafy, dark green leaves around it. And don't throw them out or feed them to the chooks or toss them in the compost. Wash and dry them and use them on sandwiches or in your salads. The darker the leaves the better the vitamin and mineral content so don't waste all that nutrition.

Grocery stores mist their vegetables to keep them hydrated and have them sitting on beds of crushed ice. I wish they wouldn't!  Having fruits and vegetables sit covered with moisture speeds up the rotting process. They may look all nice and fresh under the fluorescent lights of the supermarket, but once you get the home they not only look different, they go off in just  a few days. When they sit on ice the freeze - and lettuce doesn't have to be very cold to freeze, I'm sure it's happened in your fridge from time to time. So, when it comes to lettuce especially, you are better off if it's stored dry. Always rinse lettuce before storing, but use a paper towel or salad spinner to dry the lettuce leaves before placing them in the proper container.

Store your lettuce in a dry, sealable, plastic bag (ziplock or one of the green gel vegetable bags) or a container designed especially for this job. Condensation will gather on the inside of the bag even though the lettuce has been dried so line the bag or container with paper towel or a clean face washer before adding the dry lettuce. Every time you take a few leaves, dry the inside of the container, swapping the paper towel or face washer as it gets damp. This will keep a head of lettuce fresh for about a week.

If your refrigerator has a crisper tray, keep your lettuce stored there. Keep the temperature of the refrigerator in the middle of your temperature scale and if you have a humidity setting you can adjust, keep it set on low. The more humidity inside your refrigerator, the better chance of the lettuce leaves acquiring moisture. If the temperature is too high you take a risk of freezing the moisture on the leaves causing them to become translucent and mushy and totally unappetising.

One more thing: I suggest that you always store your salads in separate containers. The moisture or juices from vegetables and dressings will cause lettuce leaves to wilt. There's nothing worse than craving a salad only to find your lettuce has turned brown and nasty when you open the container. Not only does it make the lettuce less appealing, but the veggies probably aren’t in that great a shape either thanks to the turning of the lettuce.  

By storing your salad greens properly you can have a fresh made salad anytime you wish. There's nothing like a good, healthy salad on a hot summer day. Go ahead and buy that head of lettuce today (if you don't have one in your garden) and feed your craving whenever the urge strikes, not whenever your lettuce feels up to it.

A lettuce might only cost  around $3 but if you buy one a week, every week for a year, that is $156 you've spent on lettuce. If you are throwing away even half that lettuce you are throwing $78 away. I know I would baulk at tossing $78 in the bin (or even the compost), how about you? Would you take a couple of minutes when you buy lettuce to ensure you get to use it all or would you rather throw money in the bin?

A mid-week money challenge just for you

What would you do if your survival depended on you making more money immediately? Would you get on with it, or would you crumple in a panicked heap and do nothing out of fear?

This week I am challenging you to a little goal: you need an extra $100 in cash this week.

Now list all the possible ways you can raise this extra cash. Write them down, as they come to you is fine.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

    1. Sell unused household items on eBay or Gumtree
    2. Do a letterbox drop in your neighbourhood and sell your services (ironing, IT, gardening etc)
    3. Have a garage sale
    4. Go through the house and collect all the small change hiding in sofa cushions, old handbags, pockets, jars, drawers, the laundry windowsill.
    5. Sell clothing you no longer wear - vintage and retro fashions are drawing big money these days.
    6. Use any gift cards you have to buy what you need and bank the cash you would have spent.
    7. Sell produce from your veggie garden, eggs from your chickens etc
You can add your own ideas to the list, but whatever you choose to do to make your $100 it must be legal and bring in instant cash.

21 February 2012

It's Pancake Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent for many Christians around the world. Traditionally on Shrove Tuesday pancakes are made, to use up all the rich food in the house before the Lenten fasting begins.

The easiest way to use up these rich foods (sugar, eggs, butter, milk, meat, butter) was to make pancakes, hence the day became known as Pancake Tuesday. Well that's the history of Pancake Tuesday in a nutshell, or a few sentences as the case may be.

I love pancakes and they often feature on the lunch menu during school holidays, and are a regular weekend breakfast in our home. I even make my own "pancake shake" mix to take camping. Such a frugal treat and yet so yummy.

They're quick and easy to make in a single batch or in bulk and they freeze really well. Small pancakes are ideal to snack on, larger pancakes are perfect for a weekend brunch or to use instead of bread for an extra special sandwich.

Pancake mixes have been around just about forever (or at least 50 years anyway). First there was the mix in a box, then the shake and pour type of mix hit the supermarket shelves.

So what's really special about a pancake mix? The truth is nothing. You can whip up a batch of pancakes with basic pantry items for cents.  If you've never made pancakes from scratch (and I posted a step-by-step how-to here a few weeks ago) you just have to give them a try. They are so easy and just as quick as any shaker mix.

This is a very simple, basic pancake recipe, that costs around 80 cents a batch - much cheaper than a bought mix.

2 cups SR flour
2 tablespoons sugar (omit for savoury pancakes)
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Beat the egg and oil into the milk. Mix the sugar into the flour and make a well in the centre. Pour the milk mixture in and mix quickly and lightly. I use a large balloon whisk to do this, it helps to get the lumps out. When the batter is smooth set it aside for a few minutes. In the meantime, heat a pan or griddle and melt a small amount of butter. Pour about ¼ cup of batter onto the hot pan. The pan I use is large enough to do four at once. Don't forget to allow room for spreading. When the top is covered with bubbles and starting dry out flip the pancake. Cook until brown on the bottom. Serve them with lemon and sugar, honey, jam, butter, maple syrup or homemade pancake syrup.

Occasionally I like to get a little fancy and give the family a surprise treat.

Fruit and Nuts Flapjacks
2 cups SR flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk*
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups grated apple
1/2 cup chopped nuts of your choice (pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts)

Combine the four, sugar and spices in a large mixing bowl. Break the two eggs into a separate bowl. Pour the buttermilk and oil into the eggs and whisk until completely combined. Whisk into the dry ingredients. Fold in the apples and pecans to combine. Grease a frypan and place over medium heat. Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour the batter into the hot frypan. Cook 4 minutes or until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Flip and continue cooking an additional 4 minutes or until golden brown. 

These pancakes are not only sweet but filled with spices and they make breakfast a special event. Serve them with apple sauce instead of pancake syrup for something a little special.  Leftovers can be frozen for up to 2 months.

*Buttermilk - you can buy buttermilk, if your supermarket stocks it and you can afford it or you can simply MOO it.  To make 1 cup of buttermilk add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice (whatever you have to hand) to a cup of milk, stir and let it sit on the bench for 15 minutes.  That's it, easy, quick and cheap.

Plum Baked Pancake
This pancake is similar to a Dutch Baby, only tastier. It's also a fantastic way to use up those plums that are wilting in the fruit bowl.

1 large plum, thinly slice
3 tbsp brown sugar, divided
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup SR flour
2 tbsp butter

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the plum slices into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the plums with 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar, the cinnamon and lemon juice and toss to coat well. Place the remaining brown sugar, milk, eggs and flour into a separate bowl. Whisk until all the ingredients are blended together well. Place the butter into an ovenproof frypan and place in the oven. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven and spread the batter evenly into the skillet. Top the batter evenly with the plum mixture. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. Makes 4 servings

I hope you get to make and enjoy pancakes today, I'm off to make some for lunch right now :)

20 February 2012

Envelope Budgeting That Will Make You Smile

I know this isn't really a craft, and Monday is craft day, but I love pretty things and I am fairly certain you do too, so why shouldn't your budgeting system be pretty?

If you are using the envelope system to manage your Spending Plan (it's very simple, read about it here) there is absolutely no reason why you can't have pretty envelopes. You can cover them easily by using some of those papers or cardstock from your stash, or even wrapping papers or scrapbooking papers and they'll put a smile on your face every time you use them. Oh, and they'll be just that little bit stronger too being reinforced with an additional layer of paper.

To cover your envelopes you will need:

  • Envelopes
  • Pretty papers
  • A glue stick or glue dot roller
  • Scissors
  • Labels
I chose pretty a pretty gingham print paper from my stash to cover the envelopes
Step 1.

Take your envelope and lay it on the paper. Measure the width and then the depth with the flap open.

Draw a template onto the wrong side of the paper, including fold lines for the bottom and top of the envelope.

Step 2.

Carefully cut along the long line (don't cut along the fold lines).  Fold along each of the two fold lines using a bone marker or a ruler to make the crease sharp.

I find it easier to fold on the wrong side first, then re-fold on the right side, using a ruler to create a sharp fold
Step 3.

Place the envelope on the paper with the bottom at the first fold. Run around the outside of the envelope with the glue dots and carefully stick the paper in place. Turn over and repeat for the other side of the envelope.

The glue dots are hard to see but I just ran the dispenser around the edge of the enevelope
Step 4.

Fold the envelope flap down and run the glue dots around the three sides. Flip the flap up and press it onto the paper. Fold the flap down and press the crease with your bone tool or ruler.
I fold the tip of the envelope flap over so that the edge of the covered envelope is flat - you can cut it to shape if you'd rather
Label your pretty envelopes and smile every time you allocate your Spending Plan funds.

The labels are by Cath Kidston and just gorgeous - I love pretty labels
We used the envelope method for handling our cash for years and it worked really well. When Disaster Struck and we were left with almost nothing to live on, being able to allocate money to each envelope was a sanity saver.

I knew that when the gas bill came in there would be money in the Gas envelope to pay it. When it was grocery shopping day (in those days I only shopped every fourth Thursday) I knew that once the money in the envelope was gone, that was it until the next shopping day. 

Once a fortnight I would to the bank and withdraw the money we needed for the fortnight. I had a list of denominations I needed and I'd get the exact amounts. For instance if the kinder fees were $3.75 and the petrol money was $30 I'd withdraw a $20, a $20, a $2, a $1, 50c, a 20c and a 5c and put the exact amount in the envelope.

Our budget was tight, just $387 a month to cover all our expenses except our mortgage and the rates, so having envelopes with the cash to pay the bills at hand was very reassuring. It also took away the stress of worrying about the bills, and at that time one less stress was a blessing.

It may be old fashioned, but envelope budgeting still works. If you are having trouble sticking to your household budget try it.

18 February 2012

How to Freeze Eggs and Other Handy Hints

Pamela posted a question in the Member forum about using frozen eggs, the whole eggs in her fridge had frozen solid.

Eggs freeze quite well, especially if you can get them to freeze in their shells, although it's not the tried and true method (the shells usually burst). 

Freezing eggs is a great way of storing them for future use, especially if you find them marked down and stock up. They keep well in the fridge for a very long time, but for safety and organization freezing them is the way to go.

Before I explain how to freeze eggs, do you know how to tell if an egg is fresh? Other than cracking it and getting a whiff of "off" egg that is?

To test the freshness of an egg simply place it in a deep bowl of cold water. If the egg stays at the bottom of the bowl, it is fresh. If it stands on end or floats, it is an older egg and care must be taken when using it (crack it into a separate dish to check for freshness before adding it to a cake mix etc, there's no point in ruining a whole recipe for the sake of a simple 20 second test).

Fresh eggs stay at the bottom of the bowl because they don't have a lot of air in them. Egg shells are porous and so as the egg ages it absorbs more air. As air is absorbed into the shell the  air at the bigger end of the egg expands, allowing the egg to stand or even float in the water. Fresh eggs have less air and more moisture and so don't float.

Keep your eggs in the carton in the fridge for optimal storage conditions and time.

Now to freeze eggs. It's a simple process. You will need small, airtight containers or large ice cube trays and a supply of ziplock bags.

To freeze whole eggs:

Crack into a small container, prick the yolk with a clean toothpick. This stops the yolk exploding as it freezes. Seal and freeze.

To freeze whole eggs in ice cube trays, crack each egg into one cube (this is why you need the larger ice cube trays). Freeze. Once the eggs are frozen, remove them from the ice cube trays and seal in ziplock bags.

To freeze whole, beaten eggs:

Crack two eggs into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour into a sealable, airtight container, label as holding two eggs and freeze.

Whole eggs can be frozen like this for up to six months.

Sometimes after baking you will have either yolks or whites left over. You can store egg yolks in a glass, covered with water for up to a week in the fridge. They are great for making sauces or to add to a custard and of course can be used to make lemon butter or a lemon pudding.

To freeze egg yolks:

To freeze egg yolks they must be beaten and have some salt and sugar added. This is because egg yolks on their own don't freeze very well and turn to a jelly-like mush once they are thawed.

Again beat two or four eggs together with a pinch of salt and either 1 (for two eggs) or 2 (for four eggs) teaspoons of sugar.  Pour into an airtight container or a ziplock bag. Label with the contents and the date and freeze for up to six months. To thaw simply remove from the freezer and let the yolks thaw in the fridge. These yolks are best used in baking. 

To freeze egg whites:

To freeze egg whites simply beat them with a pinch of salt and pour into airtight containers or ice cube trays. Once they are frozen, take them out of the ice cube trays and store them in ziplock bags (labelled of course).

I find the most efficient number of eggs to freeze is two. Most recipes call for two eggs (or multiples of two) so I know how many containers or bags I need to thaw when I'm baking. 

Frozen eggs are also great for scrambled eggs or omelettes to, just pull out the number you need (I use two per person), let them thaw and cook them the way you prefer.

I will say though that I don't like eggs fried or poached after they've been frozen, I find they tend to be a little rubbery. But then again it could just be my cooking :)

And there you have it - easy ways to freeze eggs.  I hope you find lots of eggs marked down very soon, or that your chickens have a laying frenzy, so you'll have lots of very versatile eggs in your freezer stockpile.

I know the title says "and Other Handy Hints" but I think this post is long enough. I'll save the other handy hints for another time.

17 February 2012

MOO Peppermints

We love those little tiny mints, you know the kind that come in those small, flip top tins. I usually pick up a couple of tins when I do the Aldi shopping, but at $1.99 a tin, and being in the middle of a Spending Freeze, I left them at the store this week.

I keep a tin in my handbag and one in the car, Wayne has them at his desk and in the van, and we both unconsciously nibble them almost constantly. Apart from the damage this is doing to our Spending Plan, they really are not at all healthful, even if they are sugar free.

So you can imagine my surprise and joy when I found a recipe and the instructions for making them, in a book I'm reading at the moment, Making It by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.

Today being Hannah's work experience day, she has made the mints, with a few changes to the original recipe, and I am thrilled to post this, her very first blog post, complete with her photos.

MOO Peppermints

2 cups white sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (this makes the fondant smoother, I used a 1ml measuring spoon)
½  cup water
½ teaspoon peppermint extract (I used a 2ml measuring spoon)
4-5 drops (or more) peppermint essential oil (optional, we didn't have this so I left it out)
Icing sugar

MOO Mints ingredients
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water and cream of tartar. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring the sugar water to a simmer over a medium heat. Do not stir. Heat syrup to 115C. If you’re unable to tell the temperature you can do the cold water test. The cold water test: every minute or so get a spoon and a little bit of the syrup. Put the syrup in to a bowl of cold water, with that see if it has dissolved. If it has not dissolved put your fingers in and see if you can roll it around with your finger tips and make a soft ball, but won’t hold its shape. Once it has reached the soft ball stage take the pan off the stove. All up this takes about 15-20 minutes.

Stir the syrup until the sugar dissolves, then let it simmer until it reaches the soft ball stage
With your mixer and the paddle attachment, pour the hot syrup into the bowl and put onto a low speed. The syrup will turn cream then white then break into crumby bits – this is the fondant. This takes about 10 minutes. During the mixing scrape down the sides so it evenly gets mixed. When it reaches the crumb stage turn off the mixer and let the crumbs cool off for about 10-15 minutes before you knead them. Knead the crumbs until they all come together in a smooth ball of fondant.

Beat the fondant on low speed until it turns white and starts to crumble
Knead the fondant until it forms a smooth ball
You need to let the fondant rest over night. Put it in a covered container with icing sugar on the bottom (stops it from sticking) and leave if for 12-24 hours. The fondant will last a couple of days at room temperature, for long term, store it in the fridge. This takes about 5 minutes.  We let the fondant sit on the kitchen bench overnight to set.

Adding Flavour
The next day or whenever you get to it sprinkle icing sugar on a cutting board. Knead the fondant till it has a nice smooth texture. Wet your hands, this will help moisten the dough if it seems dry. Once smooth flatten it out to a pancake shape and add the flavouring on top by sprinkling evenly over the fondant.  This can be any flavour you want it to be, we like mints so we used peppermint. Orange, lemon, strawberry or even cinnamon would be nice. Fold over the dough and knead it, this distributes the flavouring evenly. Taste it, you can add more flavouring if you want.  This stage takes about 5-10 minutes.

You’re able to shape the mints anyway you like. But the easy way is to roll the dough into snakes. Then use a sharp knife to cut the dough to make small oval shaped slices. Dust a tray or plate with icing sugar and place the mints on it. It will take a few days for the mints to get hard, may even be a week, depending on the weather. Leave them covered on the bench, if it’s humid place them in front of a fan. We cut the fondant into little stars using the nozzle off a piping bag so they are a similar size to the mints we used to buy. This stage takes about 10-15 minutes.

These mints are very easy to make and really don't take very long as most of the time is spent with the fondant taking care of itself.

MOOing them saves a fortune. Blitz Mints from Aldi cost $55.30 per kilo. MOO Mints cost just $1.60 per kilo.  That's a saving of $53.40 for about an hour of your time, not a bad pay rate!

16 February 2012

Speed Up a Sluggish Drain

I've just seen a drain degreaser and deodoriser advertised for $5.99! Ouch!  If you have sluggish or smelly drains, or to keep them from becoming sluggish and smelly you don't need to spend $6. Pour half a cup of bicarb soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of white vinegar. Put the plug in and let it sit for 15 minutes. The bicarb soda and the vinegar will fizz and bubble away, cleaning up odours and slowly eating blockages. After the 15 minutes, fill the sink with boiling water. Pull the plug and let it the boiling water flush the drain clean. Do this on a monthly basis and your drains will always be clear and fresh for around 20 cents, a saving of $5.79!

15 February 2012

Money Myth

Myth: Buying things on sale is a great way to save money.
Truth: Buying things on sale is a way to spend less money, but it has absolutely nothing to do with saving money.

So often people tell me they have saved X amount of dollars on a purchase. How wrong they are! All they have done is spent less.  Money is only saved when it is safely in the bank, in either your Emergency Fund, Peace of Mind account or a specific savings account (for a particular goal, superannuation etc), until then it is just not spent.

When you pay less than you expect for a purchase, bank the difference and you really will have saved money!

14 February 2012

Happy Ordinary Tuesday!

Firstly how are you faring in No Spend month?  Of course Valentine's Day falls this month and no, it's not a cop out on my part, we just don't do a "commercial" Valentine's Day.  Actually we don't "do" Valentine's at all really. We wish each other a happy Valentine, and that's about it.

A few years ago someone suggested that we just didn't understand romance, but that's not true. OK, maybe I don't get romance, but I can assure you my darling husband does. He's a real romantic, which means not one day a year but every day.

It might be something as simple as waking me with a kiss and a cup of freshly made coffee when I'm least expecting it. Or a bunch of flowers. One day not long ago he surprised me with a set of tyre deflators and yes, I was so happy (we use tyre deflators to air down when we go 4WDing and they were on my wish list).

I pack little notes in his lunchbox or slip a packet of his favourite biscuits under his pillow. Sometimes I make him toasted fruit loaf for supper and present it with a kiss.

Never a day goes by that we don't tell each other, and our children, we love them.

Romance isn't red roses and chocolates (although they do help) and it's not just one day of the year. I think true romance is all the everyday things done with love, without expectation of anything in return, just because.

Housekeeping on a Tuesday

Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. A place where you can go and relax so that sleep comes easily and is peaceful and restful.  When your bedroom is full of clutter, with piles of clothes and books and stuff everywhere, when the bed is rumpled and the sheets and pillowslips stale it is not a sanctuary.

Just like I have for cleaning the kitchen and loungeroom, I have a routine for keeping our bedroom somewhere I like to be, my sanctuary. It's the place I go to when I need time out from the hustle and bustle that is our home.

A restful bedroom is an essential. If you are having trouble sleeping, tossing and turning, struggling to get to sleep, perhaps it's because your bedroom isn't your sanctuary. 

Bedrooms tend to be dumping grounds for other peoples stuff or those household items that don't really have a home. If you want to keep your bedroom as your sanctuary then put a stop to the dumping!

Today you are working on your bedroom so gather everything that shouldn't be there and remove it. Dump it in the familyroom or the kitchen - it will be disposed of pretty quickly if it's in sight all the time.

If your bedroom is messy and a little on the dusty side it will take you more than 20 minutes to get it to "sanctuary" status. That's OK, Rome wasn't built in a day and a bedroom sanctuary doesn't have to be created in  20 minutes. The trick is to keep at it until all of a sudden you'll find that perhaps you can get your bedroom cleaned, from ceiling to floor, in 15 minutes!

Here's my routine, in two parts, daily and weekly.

Daily (5 Minutes in the morning)

Let your bed air while you are showering and dressing.

1. Before you leave the bathroom do a 30 second swish'n'swipe of the basin and loo. Hang up towels and bath mats and make sure the window is open just a little. Spritz the shower with vinegar spray to keep it clean.
2. As soon as you are dressed, make the bed. If you're not sure how to make a bed properly, I've put some instructions here.
3. Open the curtains and windows.
4. Straighten the bedside tables. Put books in a neat pile, arrange the lamp and clock.
5. Gather any dirty laundry into a bundle.
6. Collect any glasses, plates from midnight snacks etc
7. Take the laundry to the laundry and the dishes to the kitchen.
Unless you move very slowly this will take no more than five minutes, at the very most.  Make it a habit to put clean washing away immediately. No matter how late it is or how tired you are it is much easier to put things away immediately. When you take your clothes off after work or before bed hang up those things that can be worn again. Put shoes and handbags away. Don't drop them on the floor. It's messy, time consuming and creates more work for you in the long run.
Weekly (20 minutes on a Tuesday)

1.  After you are showered and dressed strip the bed linens and gather any dirty towels, bathmats and facewashers. Take them straight to the laundry, put them in the washing machine, add 3 teaspoons Cheapskates Washing Powder and turn the machine on.
2.  Dust the cornices, skirting boards and window sills with the cobweb broom.
3.  Wipe over the windows with a microfibre window cloth.
4.  Dust and polish the timber furniture.
5.  Dust the pictures on the walls.
6.  Collect any dirty washing and take it to the laundry.
7.  Remake the bed with fresh linens. See here for my way of making a comfy bed.
8.  Clean the ensuite if you have one. If you've been following the daily routine it will take five minutes.
9.  Take your cobweb broom and dust the cornices and skirting boards.
10. Spritz the shower, toilet, basin and vanity tops. Wipe over with a damp microfibre cloth, follow with a clean towel to dry.
11. Empty the wastepaper basket.
12. Put out fresh towels, bathmats and facewashers.
13. Sweep the floor.
14. Mop the floor with hot water and white vinegar. Our bathroom is so small I sweep it and then spritz it with vinegar and just use a microfibre cloth to wipe over the floor, backing out as I go so as not to have to walk over a damp floor.
15. Vacuum the bedroom floor.
Your bedroom is clean, from ceiling to floor, your bed is freshly made and everything is spic'n'span.

Now you can relax in your sanctuary, enjoying a restful sleep every night.

Impossible Lasagne Pie

I love impossible pies. My Great-aunty Jean was the first to share an impossible pie recipe with me, just before I was married. It became a firm favourite and still features as a dessert regularly.

This impossible pie is so easy and so tasty it's hard to not go back for seconds.  This recipe makes freezes and re-heats very well so while you are making one, make two for a quick dinner later on.

This is a make ahead dinner too. Prepare the pie and put it in the fridge until dinnertime. Then while it is re-heating (and I prefer to use the oven rather than the microwave, but that's up to you), toss a big green salad with lots of fresh veggies and coat in a fresh Italian dressing. And dinner is done! Add some garlic bread or bruchetta if you want to bulk it out or stretch it further.

If you are watching fat use low fat cheeses and milk and swap the butter for margarine. Just be aware that low fat cheeses do not melt well and can burn very quickly so keep an eye on the pie during last few minutes of cooking.

1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup pasta sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (can use grated tasty cheese if preferred)
500g mince
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup cottage cheese  (can use ricotta if preferred)
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup milk

Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease a 22cm pie dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese into the greased pie plate.  Brown the mince in a frying pan.  Drain and return to the frying pan. Add 1/2 cup mozzarella, the pasta sauce and the cottage cheese.  Spread over the Parmesan in the pie dish.  Beat eggs, butter, milk and flour until combined and then pour into the pie plate.  Bake for 30 - 35 minutes until the pie is set. Check by inserting a knife into the centre of the pie. If the knife comes out clean the pie is cooked.  Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and return to the oven for  3 -5 minutes until cheese melts.  Serves 8.

13 February 2012

Make a Pretty Charm Bracelet for Just $10!

A couple of years ago Wayne and the kids gave me a Pandora bracelet with one gorgeous bead on it for Christmas. Since then, they have added to the bracelet with a new charm for each special occasion - birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, our wedding anniversary, when my second book was published and it was almost full.

Then on New Years Eve I had a fall and landed on the bracelet and it broke. Looking back it was rather funny - there I am, lying face down on the verandah, winded, bruised, fast developing an egg on my forehead and all I can see is Wayne and my dear friend Debbie scrabbling around trying to catch the beads and charms before they fell through the decking! They know me so well - I'll mend but those beads cost a fortune - catch them quick!

They found them all and I have almost mended, my broken toe (it was a really good fall) still isn't fully healed, but I haven't yet replaced the bracelet and it has been bothering me. I don't wear a lot of jewellery, but I love my bracelet if for no other reason than that the people I love most in the world have given it to me.  I'll replace the bracelet, or see if my jeweller can repair it, soon.

All this has absolutely nothing to do with today's craft except that it's about charm bracelets.

Before Christmas Hannah was looking for gift ideas for her friends and she decided on charm bracelets. We looked around and there were some pretty bracelets in the shops but they were rather expensive. Disappointed she was going to choose another gift when she wondered if she couldn’t buy the bits and bobs to make them.

We already had quite a selection of beads and crystals and spacers in the craft cabinet. What we needed were some glass beads and of course the actual bracelets.  It was a case of eBay to the rescue. There are so many different sellers on eBay, and a lot of different prices. We chose sellers who offered free postage, with excellent feedback.

We bought:

50 Sterling Silver Murano glass beads for $11.99
3 lots of 5 sterling silver murano glass beads @ $3 each (these were themed beads)
5 sterling silver starter chain bracelets @ $5.95

Total cost $50.74!

The bracelet Hannah made to (temporarily) replace the one I broke - Cost $10!
Each bracelet had 13 charms or beads on it, making it full enough to be pretty with room to add more beads or charms later on.

These aren't genuine Pandora bracelets, and they're not meant to be. These bracelets are costume jewellery to be worn for a little while and then recycled or passed on.  Hannah made them all individual, to suit each girl's personality and they were a huge hit. Since Christmas she's made a few more for gifts and sold some that were "special requests".

They make pretty and inexpensive gifts, and only take a little while to create. Pop each bracelet into an organza bag or a pretty gift box for spectacular presentation.

10 February 2012

Four Easy Steps to Breaking the Emotional Spending Habit

One of the most common reasons for spending, especially over-spending is emotional buying.

Emotional buying and spending do not necessarily involve large sums of money. It's more about why you spend money than how much you spend. Emotional buying means you spend money to feel better or feel good in some way, and you don't really think of the consequences. Emotional buyers often use credit cards for their purchases, because it takes the "sting" out of shelling out cash. It seems like you're not really spending money, and enhances the "feel good" factor.

But emotional buying habits are not healthy, either financially or emotionally. Here are some tips on stopping the destructive behaviour known as emotional buying.

1. Identify the Need

Sources point out that emotional buying is indicative of some sort of unmet need. Maybe you felt deprived as a child, or perhaps you are trying to cope with emotional stress. Of course, this is just a superficial fix. The underlying problem is still there.

Take the time to really think about your spending habits. It might help to identify what emotional needs or issues are at the root of your spending problem. If you can deal with the emotion that's driving the behaviour, you're more likely to be able to stop the spending.

2. Let It Go

It can be tempting to spend because you don't feel adequate. Maybe you're trying to keep up with those Joneses we all seem to have in our lives. Or maybe you are buying inordinate amounts of things for your child(ren) or other family members. Some emotional spenders will rationalise their spending if it's for someone they love. Try to let it go - you're not competing with other families to see how much stuff you can show off.

Remember why you are a Cheapskate. You want to live a debt-free life. Living the Cheapskates way means ditching the things that aren't important to you so you can have and truly enjoy the things that are. That means ignore the Joneses - they are more than likely trying to keep up with the Smiths who are probably in more debt than you are!

3. Turn It Off

Advertising can be a real trap for the emotional buyer. After all, ads are aimed at your emotions and perceived needs. Emotional buyers are especially vulnerable to these tactics. So turn off your television and other sources of ads, and don't browse magazines with lots of ads. It's also a good idea to turn off any shopping networks and not browse through paper catalogues. Unsubscribe from the shopping websites and stop the daily temptation bombardment. Take some time out from the ads that make you want things you don't need!

4. Find Another Outlet

As you are working on the underlying emotional issues that fuel your buying, find other things you can "indulge" in that can act as an emotional pick-me-up or reward. (It's probably not a good idea to make that indulgent item food, however.) Treat yourself to a walk in a nearby park or a workout at the gym, or take in a chapter of a book you've been wanting to read. Just try to avoid any sort of money spending as you think of ways to give yourself an emotional boost.

Give it a go, stop spending. Take part in our annual No Spend month this February, it's not to late to start not spending and change those shopping habits for the better.

09 February 2012

Soaking the Stains Away

Great-grandma had it right: throw away all those stain removing products in your laundry, you don't need them.  A simple overnight soak in a bucket of hot water with 3 teaspoons of Cheapskates Washing Powder and 1/4 cup borax will shift just about any stain. For those stubborn stains a rub with Cheapskates Stain Removing Soap after soaking should fix the problem.

08 February 2012

Corral those passwords

It's just a modern world we live in and one of the things we all have in common in this modern world are passwords. We have passwords for our email accounts, bank accounts, memberships, our computers, credit cards and dozens of other everyday things in this modern world.

Keeping track of all those passwords is difficult and can be very time consuming and frustrating if you find one day you can't remember a password or PIN. Using the same password for all your accounts may seem easy, but it's not really secure. You should change your passwords routinely (once a year is usually often enough).

So how do you keep track of all these passwords (and other login information). One simple way is to keep them on index cards, one for each account. Another simple way is to use a blank address book with tabbed alphabetical sections and record them in their. You can create a file on your computer and keep them on spreadsheet. There are even electronic password keepers (do a Google search, there are lots) that will keep everything safe for a monthly fee.

Whatever way you choose to store your passwords and PINs remember to keep it secure in a safe place.

07 February 2012

Homemade Fish Fingers

Fish fingers were a regular meal when I was growing up and I loved them. They were one of the only convenience foods my mother ever used, although she always served them with veggies. They are the type of food that appeals to children, young and old, but in this enlightened age when we are conscious of the preservatives and other additives in our foods, fish fingers have lost favour.

There's not need to go without them though. They are so easy to make and only take a few minutes in the oven to cook. Prepare them to the cooking stage in the morning, or even the night before they are needed, and keep them in the fridge until it's time to put them in the oven.

500g white fish fillets
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp dried parsley
1 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 230 degrees Celsius.

In a shallow dish, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, paprika and dried parsley. Cut the fish fillets into fingers about 7cm long x 1cm wide.

Place the beaten egg in a shallow dish (a soup bowl is good for this step). Coat each fish finger in egg, then in the bread crumb mixture. Repeat the process. Put the crumbed fish fingers into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. This helps the crumb coating to stick during cooking, rather than fall off.

Place each fish finger on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush with the melted butter and bake in the oven for about 7 – 10 minutes or until the fish flakes easily and the crumbs are golden and crisp.  Turn after 4 minutes so they cook evenly.

Serve with homemade potato wedges and coleslaw.

06 February 2012

A Circle of Clacking Needles

I had my knitting needles out over the weekend, knitting some new dishcloths. The ones I made last year are ready to be moved from the kitchen to the bathroom. When they're finished in the bathroom they'll move to the laundry, then finally to the garage or garden shed - does anyone else rotate through their dish cloths like this?

Anyhow, as I was happily knitting away I was thinking about knitting and how it's become trendy again - or at least trendy, I think in the past knitting has been a way of having the jumpers, scarves and blankets we needed to be comfortable, and was a necessity rather than a trend.

It occurred to me that knitting is the hot new trend that is not really new. Men and women have been knitting for centuries, creating household items and clothing for their families, often getting together with a group to knit and chat, much the way the Amish have quilting bees or modern day women gather over a cup of coffee. Getting together in a "circle" and creating something is a centuries-old tradition. There's a new twist to any trend that comes back around, though, because a new generation is discovering it and giving it a unique character.

Knitting in the 21st century is a good example of this old-meets-new cycle. Starting a contemporary knitting circle looks different than it did a century ago, or even a quarter century ago. These days knitting for most people is a hobby, something they do for pleasure. And of course with many homemakers working outside the home, spare time is scarce. If you'd like to start one up, here are some hints on how to start and run a knitting circle so that everyone has a good time and enjoys their knitting "time-out".

With the trend growing, finding others who are interested in knitting should be fairly easy. Ask around at your workplace, church, school or even the Cheapskates forum ;). The Internet is a great place to connect with other knitters and for finding others who share your interest. Here are some other ideas for finding fellow knitters:

* At your local sewing or wool store, where knitters are likely to go to buy yarn, post a notice that you are starting a knitting circle and would like to know who's interested. For safety's sake, leave minimal contact information, such as a mobile phone number or an email address. You can also leave the contact information of the venue where you plan to meet.

* Send out a group email to others you know to see if there is interest. If you're a parent, you can check with other parents at your child's school or homeschool group. If you're single, this could be a great way to connect with other singles who might be interested in a low-key, relaxed social activity.

*Ask the members of your social clubs (Rotary, Probus, bowling, tennis etc etc etc), chances are there are secret and not-so-secret knitters amongst the members. These knitters offer a vast knowledge and skill, over all levels of experience.

* Post your interest in knitting on your favourite social networking site and see how many responses you get.

Deciding where and when to hold your circle is important; it will affect the dynamics of the group. There will probably not be a time and day when everyone in the group can all attend, but you should be able to agree on a time and date where at least some of the group will be able to attend each time. Here are some ideas for finding a venue:

* Members of the circle can rotate host/hostess duties. Each circle will meet at a different member's house each time. This works well for small groups, where everyone is known to each other and is especially convenient for groups whose members have small children.

* Your local library would be a good place to meet. It's free, and the library is generally accessible to everyone and you have access to a vast array of knitting books to use while you are there. Libraries are generally very open to community events.

* A church hall is another good place that often costs nothing (or a nominal fee) but can accommodate a larger group. Most churches are also very supportive of fellowship and community activities.

* A conference room at your workplace could be ideal, especially if it's a lunch-hour group of your co-workers.

*Your local community house, pre-school, school hall, scout hall - all of these venues may be willing to let you use a room for a small charge.

Make sure the expectations of the group are clear. Decisions need to be made about the following questions:

* Are drinks, snacks and refreshments to be provided? if so, by whom?

* Should everyone bring his or her own supplies?

* Can beginners join, and will there be instruction given?

* Whom should members call if they can't attend a circle?

* Are children welcome, or do members need to find childcare when they attend meetings? Will childcare be provided?

To start keep your knitting circle small and informal - you could start with just yourself and a couple of friends - and the rules simple. The idea is to get together and knit, with some informal skill, knowledge and experience sharing and have fun too.

05 February 2012

Does gardening save you money?

 We have grown part of our food from the very beginning of our marriage. Mind you we started off with only two plants: garlic chives and parsley in pots, a gift from Wayne's Aunty Elaine. Those two humble plants were the start of my veggie growing odyssey.

When we moved into our house we added a couple of tomato plants in pots. Boy did we feel clever with our homegrown veggies. Looking back I can't believe that I thought we were really growing our food.

Then disaster struck. We literally did not have any money to spare, even for food. The groceries were the absolute bare minimum to keep the four of us going. When we made the move back to Melbourne I took a good long look at my mother's vegetable garden and I was sold.

I had already figured out that buying fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch was a much cheaper, healthier and greener way to shop and feed my family.  Growing our own food would slash our already very low grocery bill even more and I used Mum's garden as the inspiration for mine.

Having a food garden saves us money, that's a given. What it also does is give us much more variety in the foods we eat. For example we grow potatoes - five different varieties - and harvest around 160kg a year. If I had to buy potatoes I would only be buying the cheapest available and paying around $1.50 a kilo.  The seed potatoes I use cost around $30 initially, an immediate saving of $210. I always keep some spuds back to use to grow the next crop, making each successive crop of potatoes absolutely free.

When lettuces are $2.48 each at the greengrocer, ours cost around 4 cents - yes, that's right. A packet of seeds cost $2.95 and has around 80 seeds in it. I grow tomatoes from seed with great success. Each tomato plant costs around 30 cents to grow - even if I only get 1 kilo of tomatoes off it it's still saving me a fortune. Ditto beetroot, zucchini, cucumbers, capsicums, radishes, beans, sugar snap peas, cabbages, cauliflowers, pumpkins, rhubarb, melons, carrots, squash, broccoli, broccolini, celery, garlic, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, onions, parsley, chives,  and everything else we grow.

Yes, growing your own food will save you money, but the benefits far outweigh any saving you make.

By growing our own food we eat a lot better, for a lot less money. Eating from our garden frees up money in the grocery budget for other things such as better quality meat, poultry and seafood and organic dairy products. 

The vegetables we eat are fresh - really fresh. You can't get much fresher than picked 20 minutes before they hit the plate, which is often what happens. A quick trot out to the veggie plot and I pick what I want for the meal I am preparing. It really is straight from the garden to the plate.

The price and the freshness are huge factors, but so is the fact that what we grow is grown organically, or as organically as it can be in a suburban backyard in a capital city. I don’t use chemical fertilizers on our garden. The soil is enriched before each growing season with my own homemade compost. The plants are fed with my own homemade bokashi tea and compost tea.

Family and friends benefit from our garden too. I love being able to share the bounty we have grown. Dropping off tomatoes, lettuces and cucumbers to a friend whose father loves salads, or giving a jar of homemade jam or pickles to neighbours as a thank you for the produce they have shared.

Growing our own food is one small way we contribute to lessening our impact on our environment. Our small backyard veggie garden eases our carbon footprint when we don't have to travel to the market or the greengrocer as often, reducing our reliance on the fossil fuels and chemicals used to grow, transport and pack food.

Yes, growing our own food definitely saves us money. But more than that it gives me great satisfaction knowing that the food I am feeding my family is good - good for our health, good for our bank account and good for the environment.

Is it hard work? No, not really. It is regular work though - a few minutes every day to pull weeds, water, harvest crops and re-plant for a continuous supply. Is it really worth it then? Oh, yes.

Would I still grow our own food even if it didn't save us money?  Oh, yes. The benefits to all of us far outweigh any savings we make.

So do you grow your own food? Does it save you money? Is it as satisfying for you as it is for me?

03 February 2012

The Start of the Annual No Spend Challenge

This February marks the 11th year of the Cheapskates "No Spend" Month.  The very first no spend month was way back in February 2002 and it has become bigger and bigger with every passing year.

Why have a no spend challenge, especially for a whole month is a question I am asked over and over every February.

February is a great month for a spending freeze, if for no other reason than it only has 28, oops, 29 days in it!  Another reason is to get finances back on track after the Christmas/summer holiday/back-to-school expenses that we all have.

Embracing a spending freeze challenge is very freeing. Some participants breeze through by simply staying away from the shops! Others move to a cash budget (I'll write more about that later, cash is king in the budgeting world) and once the cash is gone, it's gone. Others only spend one day a week or fortnight.  There are so many ways to not spend.

Of course it's not entirely possible to go a whole 29 days without spending for most people. There are bills to be paid, emergencies come up, food to be bought and so on. And I don't expect you to freeze spending on essentials, just on the things that aren't essential.

Those are the things that eat into your money: the coffee, the newspaper, the Tim Tams in the grocery trolley (you can make much nicer biscuits yourself for far less), the new dress that you just love but will never wear, the toy car for the baby, well you get the idea. None of these things is essential to life (not even the Tim Tams); they are all wants rather than needs and therefore can be ditched for 4 weeks.

Essential spending is on the things that are just that: essential to life.  Things such as your mortgage or rent, bills that fall due during the month, fuel for the car, food (but only if it's on your list) and medications.  There may also be some other "essential" spending you need to do, especially if you have children in school. The start of the school year seems to require money for excursions and other unexpected items; don't let your children miss out because you are doing the no spend challenge (unless of course you would normally not bother), just make a note so that next year you will be prepared.

Not spending money is great fun. You learn to be creative, finding things you already have to replace the items you want to buy, taking advantage of your local library for books, DVDs, CDs, even your favourite magazines.

You might even learn to sew and do simple clothing repairs yourself (here's a step-by-step How to… for sewing on buttons) instead of paying someone else to do it or worse still buying a new garment.

And cooking! No Spend month is the ideal time to try out some new recipes. Remember the Tim Tams? Well these delicious lemon biscuits may not be Tim Tams but they are just delicious and really easy to make. 

Lemon Biscuits

¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vinegar
125g butter
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 ¾ cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

Pre-heat your oven to180 degrees Celsius. 
Mix the milk and vinegar in cup and put aside to turn sour.
Beat the butter, sugar, egg and lemon rind until smooth.
Sift in the flour and baking powder.
Add the soured milk.  Mix everything together to form a soft dough.
Put teaspoonfuls 5cm apart on a baking paper lined oven tray and flatten lightly with a fork.
Bake 12 minutes or until golden.
Remove from the tray immediately and onto cake cooler.
Spread glaze over hot biscuits. Leave to cool on the rack. 
Makes about 48.

Mix ½ cup icing sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice until smooth.
Spread on hot biscuits.  Leave until cold.

You can make these bikkies without spending a cent by using ingredients found in every (well just about every) pantry. And they cost less than $2 a batch to make, around 4 cents each!

They go well with a cuppa and a book, and I don't think there is a nicer way to enjoy start your spending freeze.

Something to ponder......

Smile - it lets your friends know your life is good 
and makes your enemies wonder what is going on.


How to Haggle Like an Expert

You wouldn't buy a new house or a new car without haggling over the price so why would you buy other things without haggling?  If the thought of haggling makes you squirm, think of it as negotiating a better price or deal. Does that sound more appealing?

When you haggle you are negotiating, asking a simple question. That's it, plain and simple. Here are some simple tips to help you haggle as though you've been doing it for years.

1. Do your research and know what you want.
2. Ask the question "Is this your best price?"
3. Be prepared to haggle, keep asking questions i.e. "How much for cash?"
4. Value add, bundle items and ask for a better price, free delivery etc
5. As you shop around always get the price written on the back of a business card as it helps if you can pull out a written price when you are haggling in another store and it helps with price matching too.
You owe it to yourself and your family to be a savvy shopper, after all you work hard for your money and you need to get the best possible value for every dollar you spend.

02 February 2012

The Pantyhose Scrubby

Clean those stains off your nonstick cookware by making a do-it-yourself scrubby pad. Take a pair of clean, old pantyhose and fold them up into a small pad.  Then just moisten the pad with some water, add a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent and scrub away.  The pantyhose are very gentle and won't scratch the surface of your pots and pans, but are also remarkably effective at lifting stubborn stains. You can also make terrific scrubbys for the shower - as well as walls and other nonporous surfaces - by cutting off the foot or toe section, fitting it over a sponge, and knotting the end.

01 February 2012

Quick and Healthy Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Unfortunately, many of us neglect breakfast.  And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that your body and mind will suffer unless you have a healthy breakfast each morning. 

If you are the type to skip breakfast, here is a solution to starting the day with a good breakfast which will help you keep hunger in check as well as give you the natural energy boost to start your day.

1. Porridge  

This food makes a good hot meal that contains lots of filling fibre to keep you from getting hungry later on in the morning.  Depending on your taste, you can take five minutes to fix it on the stove or use the microwave for instant porridge.  Kids tend to like the variety of flavours that come with instant porridge.  The night before, put together a container of add-ins like dates or sultanas, strawberries and bananas that can be tossed on top for a bit of antioxidant power.

2. Fruit smoothies 

These are good any morning but particularly on a hot day.  You’ll have to blend the ingredients together in the morning, but the prep work can be done at night.  Cube your fruit and place it into a container.  Instead of frozen yogurt in the morning, use a cup of plain yogurt.  Add ice cubes, a little water and blend.

3. Egg sandwich 

The eggs can be cooked the night before and placed in a sealed container if you think you won't have when you get up although I prefer to get up 10 minutes earlier so they can be freshly cooked.  In the morning, warm up the eggs in the microwave.  If you want, scramble the eggs and add some chopped veggies or shredded cheese.  Serve on toasted wholegrain bread.  The night before, place loaf of bread next to the toaster.  Then everyone can toast their bread as they get up, warm their egg and enjoy their breakfast.

4. Yoghurt with muesli and fruit 

Yoghurt is a healthy option for breakfast, but by itself won’t keep you from being hungry.  Add some muesli and a few blueberries to the mix.  This makes a great breakfast idea for those mornings when you are running late.  Keep small bags of muesli and blueberries in the fridge next to the yoghurt so you can grab them and run.

5. Pancakes with fruit 

Pancakes are easy to make and keep in the fridge for a few days and can be frozen for up to two months. They are quickly warmed in the microwave and can be topped with fruit and a dollop of yoghurt for a delicious breakfast.  They are also good topped with creamed corn or baked beans and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

6. English muffins 

A toasted wholemeal English muffin can be made into a sandwich (perhaps add your egg to it) or topped with tomato and cheese, cheese and Vegemite, peanut butter, baked beans, creamed corn, spaghetti, leftover stew or casserole - whatever  you like. While the muffins are toasting you can have your topping warming and breakfast ready to eat in under 5 minutes.

7. French toast 

Not really French at all but good, quick and easy all the same.  A great way to use stale bread, French toast takes under 5 minutes to put together and cook and can be eaten as is or with baked beans, grilled sausages or bacon and eggs for something more substantial.

If you are not in the habit of eating breakfast, start today. Set the alarm just 10 minutes earlier and you will start your day the right way.