29 June 2012

Guerrilla Shopping - Part 5: Making the Most of Grocery Wars

Grocery sales have been around as long as there have been grocers. But now supermarkets have upped the ante in the war to get you to spend your money in their store with extra discounts for loyal customers, special percentage off days and even allowing you, the customer to decide which products you’ll buy at the “special” prices.

It started with milk - down to $1 a litre (even less at Aldi), then bread, eggs and it is spreading. But who has the lowest prices on your grocery staples? And how do you find the lowest prices on your other grocery needs?

Well you can just wander out to your letterbox and pick up the junk mail! It's there for you to browse and use to your advantage. Or you can jump online and do the same thing, remembering to search for those super specials that are only available online.

To take advantage of the lower prices offered there are a few things you need to do:

Organize your shopping trips
Make a list and check your local flyers before leaving the house. Often times, we will just “run an errand” to our local supermarket and wind up spending $50.00 on very little. Be sure to check other local supermarkets also and do a compare and contrast. More and more we are seeing those flyers often hold a goldmine of in-store coupons and special offers. We all know that running out to pick something up equates to spending more than we should.

By taking a few minutes to compare local flyers, you can take advantage of special promotions and save money on things that you really need. Sometimes a store will offer you $5.00 off a purchase of $20.00 or more. Before you head out on Monday for milk and on Wednesday for shampoo, organize your shopping trips with flyers and your own shopping list in hand. You will save time and money.

Portable Flyers
Take your flyers along for a ride. Some retail chain stores and supermarkets will honour sale prices from another store. Inquire if they will honour those prices at the service desk. Do not be afraid to bring your flyers along when you venture out, you will need them to prove your claim for a lower price.  They are also a good back-up if you find the shelf price is different to the advertised price (and ask if your supermarket abides by the Supermarket Code of  Practice, it is voluntary, they are not required to).

This can mean the difference between saving or losing money once you are at the store.

Virtual Sales Flyers
Do not get stuck with the notion that flyers are only found in paper form. Special online only promotions, coupon codes, preferred customer incentives and even free shipping are all bonuses of shopping online. Since online retailers have a broader reach, they can offer steeper discounts, especially to first-time buyers.

When you shop somewhere once, the retailer will have your email address and the opportunity to help you save even more in the future.

Make sure that you are not buying something on sale just because it’s advertised as on sale. Sometimes buying something on sale that you really do not need will cost you more money down the road. By making lists and comparing online stores with local stores, you will be able to make the most out of your grocery flyers.

28 June 2012

The Eat Well, Save More Real Food Challenge Guidelines

This challenge is meant to save you money, time and energy so with that in mind, there are a few guidelines.

Firstly, don't rush out and spend a fortune buying groceries.  Instead go through your pantry, fridge and freezer and take a good look at the food you have on hand.

Then do what you normally do:

1. Make a meal plan using up as much of the food you already have as possible
2. Write up a shopping list, adding only the foods you need to round out your meal plan
3. Stick to it!

So what can you eat on this challenge:

1. Whole and real food, no tins, packets or boxes that have more than 5 ingredients listed and those 5 ingredients must be real food, not additives such as colours, flavours, added vitamins and mineral, thickeners etc.

2. Lots of fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables (frozen 100% veggies and fruit are allowed). Try to source organic produce if you can (Costco have reasonably priced organic produce for those on the East Coast and of course food you've grown yourself is always best).

3. Dairy products like milk, butter, pure cream, unsweetened natural yoghurt, eggs, and cheese (margarine does not count as a dairy product!).

4. 100% whole-grains, this includes rice and flour - substitute wholegrain for white in baking - see Whole Orange Cake, Sweet Potato Chocolate Cakes and Healthy Moist Coconut Cake for ideas on how to do this. If you don't make your own bread, find a bakery that does a 100% wholegrain loaf - Bakers Delight and Brumbys both do a nice loaf and both do "deals" or find a local bakery and support it.

5. Fresh seafood (look for locally harvested seafood to cut down food miles and ensure freshness and no tins!).

6. Fresh meat such as beef, lamb and pork and fresh poultry. Try to source organic meat (it's only expensive if you forget your portion size and over-eat) and poultry. Eat these foods in moderation; use them as the side dish or accompaniment to your vegetables.

7. Drinks are water, milk, all 100% natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee and tea, and organic wine and beer (if you absolutely must!). No commercial flavoured coffee or milk mixes please - try 100% pure cocoa in your milk for a delicious hot chocolate. Try to stick to plain water - at least 8 glasses a day please.

8. Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn and cakes, muffins, biscuits and slices (in moderation) that are made from real ingredients (MOOd or bought - see the 5 ingredient rule).

9. Only natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup (Aldi have a reasonably price pure maple syrup), Agave, Stevia drops and 100% fruit juice are acceptable in moderation.

What you can't eat on this challenge:

1. No refined grains such as white flour or white rice.

2. No refined sweeteners such as white or brown sugar (if you must use sugar, raw sugar is best), any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda.

3. Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle, jar or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label.

4. No “fast foods” (you can make your own versions of fast food using your real foods, just don't buy them).

Banish Water Marks

I love my furniture. For the most part it is beautiful wood, some of it very old.  Unfortunately not everyone cares for my furniture as I do and sometimes accidents happen. Like last weekend when  he who shall remain nameless took a glass of water to bed and left it on the bedside table overnight, completely missing the coaster put there to be used. In the morning there was a lovely white-ish ring on the top of my lovely beech bedside table!

Water rings don't need to be a disaster, there are some simple things you can try to remove them, or at least disguise them as I found out on Sunday morning.

Firstly you need to remove the old polish. This can be done with a cloth dipped in full strength white vinegar. Wipe over the area, from the outside to the centre, then dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Then apply either whole egg mayonnaise OR linseed oil to the stain with a soft cloth, again working from the outside in to the centre. Leave the mayo (or linseed oil) on the ring for two hours, then buff to a shine with a soft cloth.

The ring should be gone, or at least very much faded. If it was a very deep stain you may need to repeat the process, especially if it is on dark timber.

I used mayo and I'm happy to say he who shall remain nameless is saved (and so is my bedside table).

27 June 2012

The Eat Well, Save More, Real Food Challenge

Sunday is the start of  my Eat Well, Save More, Real Food Challenge.

It shouldn't be too hard. We eat real food most of the time. What I am aiming to do in this challenge though is to break the habit of resorting to processed, or rather commercially processed, foods.

So no white flour (I rarely use white flour anyway), no white sugar or processed sugar substitutes, (ditto), no tinned soups or packet sauces, no commercial pastas (I have a pasta attachment on my mixer and really it couldn't be any easier to make), no commercial pasta sauces, in fact nothing from a box or bottle or jar or can that has more than five ingredients listed!

The aim is for us to eat 100% real food.

What do I call real food?

Well for a start food that it not over-processed, with ridiculous amounts of added flavourings, salts, vitamins and minerals, sugars and fats (hence boxes and bottles with less than five ingredients).

Fresh veggies and fruit, in their raw state rather than frozen or tinned. Whole fruits rather than juices.  Fresh meat, poultry and seafood and fresh milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs.

Please join me in this challenge and get into the habit of eating real food for less.

26 June 2012

Moist Coconut Cake - Two Versions!

This cake is so moist and delicious, it's hard to resist. So, with that in mind I adapted the recipe slightly to a more healthful treat.

The original version (below) is high in sugar and fat. My modified version is lower in sugar and in fat, with the added goodness of spelt flour, and it is just as moist and delicious as the original.

The Original Moist Coconut Cake
2 cups self raising flour
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 450g can coconut cream
225g coconut

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Sift flour into bowl. Mix in caster sugar and eggs. Add coconut cream and coconut. Mix well until all combined. Pour batter into a greased and baking paper lined lamington tin. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Allow cake to cool in tin. Once cake is cool, dust with icing sugar.

Healthier Moist Coconut Cake
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup agave
2 eggs lightly beaten
450ml skinny evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp coconut essence
225g desiccated coconut

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the husks from the flour and whisk through. Whisk the eggs and the agave syrup until combined, add the evaporated milk, coconut essence and coconut and mix well. Make a well in the centre of the flour, pour in the egg mixture and stir to combine. Pour into a greased and baking paper lined lamington tin. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes. Allow cake to cool in the tin.

Alternatively place cupcake papers into a muffin tray. Pour 1/4 cup batter into cupcake papers. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cupcake comes out clean.

25 June 2012

Good food just can't get any fresher

Last night with our roast we had fresh baked potatoes, sweet potato and onion, cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce (the only way some members of this household will eat those two delicious vegetables) and peas.

Those veggies were just delicious.

And you know why?

Because apart from the sweet potato, they all came from our garden.

How cool is that!

They were all picked fresh from the garden just minutes before they were cooked.

I nipped out the back in my gumboots, bowl and knife in hand and cut a head of broccoli and a beautiful, perfectly formed, snowy  white cauliflower, then perused the garden beds to see what else I could find to round out our dinner.

The peas were looking plump and juicy, just ripe for picking so I plucked a couple of handfuls from the vines and dumped them in the bowl.

Then I checked out silverbeet and the cabbages and decided to leave them for another meal.

Inside the veggies were dumped into a sink of cold water with a splash of vinegar added and left for a few minutes to soak. I do this to give any buggies a chance to drown politely before I add them to the pot and to our meals :)

As I shelled the peas I had to stop myself from devouring the lot, they were so sweet and tender. Those peas only needed to be warmed a little, they were so fresh, cooking was not required.

When we sat down to dinner and I looked around the table, I felt a sense of contentment. My family were eating a home cooked meal, with truly fresh vegetables and loving it. Not a single pea was left, all plates were scraped clean and everyone left the table happily full, with appetites sated.

If ever I doubted the value of a veggie garden, or despaired of the physical labour involved in growing our own food, that one moment wiped those doubts and that despair away.

No, there is no doubt about it, my veggie garden is here to stay.

How to Create Pretty Storage Solutions with Items You Already Own

We’re all familiar with the problem of overflowing drawers, crammed wardrobes and the dilemma of storing belongings that we don’t want to get rid of but may not need very often. In a perfect and affluent world we could just buy more storage units, but that’s not always an option. The alternative is to use the containers and materials we already have in our homes to create attractive and practical storage solutions.

What sort of things do we need to store? There’ll be big things, medium things and little things. The easiest things to deal with are the little things, because recyclable containers to create attractive storage solutions are abundant in our homes. Among those, the humble glass jar is the answer for storing many small items.

If you can assemble a bunch of identical jars you are halfway towards creating a good-looking storage system.  You can use glass jars to store all sorts of things, from stationery items to household odds and ends like nails and screws. If the contents aren’t themselves attractive, a simple, pretty label on the bottle will obscure the contents but still let you know exactly what’s where. Visual repetition – as in a shelf of identical jars – is one of the secrets of attractive design.

Of course, not everything will go in a jar. Don’t just chuck out those cardboard boxes that accumulate in most households. Keep those that are a handy size and of relatively good quality. You can cover them in pretty paper and even paint them with varnish to enhance them further. Cardboard boxes actually look great with just a couple of coats of clear varnish, and it helps to strengthen them too. With a selection of boxes of graduated sizes you can create stackable storage towers that don’t need to be hidden away. Old suitcases can also be jazzed up with a coat of paint, or decoupaged to create storage that isn’t an eyesore in the home.

If you have any old wooden boxes, or even a broken chest of drawers, then you have a versatile storage solution almost ready to go. Wooden boxes or drawers, tidied up with a coat of paint, are ideal for mounting on walls, as display and shelf units.  Find interesting fabric panels and glue them to wooden crates, then give the whole thing two or three coats of clear varnish inside and out for a quirky and unique storage unit.

Baskets of all descriptions are also perfect for storage. These too can be brought back to life with a wash in soapy water or a coat of paint or varnish, to serve as storage containers anywhere in the home.

Storage is all about keeping things out of the way. A row of round doorknobs mounted on a plank, that is in turn hung or mounted on a wall or the back of a door, will give you a place to hang all sorts of things. You can find interesting door knobs at your tip store or search garage sales and trash’n’treasure markets. To make the most of it, hang cloth drawstring bags from the knobs. Old pillowcases are easily converted into bags with ribbon or suitable string.

It’s all about thinking laterally and doing a bit of handiwork. Tune in to recyclable objects and all sorts of household items can be converted into useful storage solutions.

24 June 2012

Cloth v Disposable - That is the question

In the latest Bright Ideas newsletter Erica asked the question "cloth V disposable nappies" and the answers came flooding in!  I have to admit it's been a few years since I had to make this decision so I was interested in the answers. What surprised me most was the number of answers that said cloth were just as expensive as disposable and way too much work.

Back in my day (doesn't that make me sound old?) I had a choice of cloth or disposables. The disposables were expensive, very expensive. And the cloth were either towelling or flannelette squares.

I opted for the towelling, flannelette was just to thin to be absorbent enough for my satisfaction.  I also had just the one choice: use plastic pants (pilchers they used to be called) or Fluffies, made from micro fleece, for over-pants. I went with the micro fleece - they were soft on baby, extremely waterproof and flexible enough to fit around legs and waist for leaks and they washed and dried very quickly.

I remember after AJ was born Mum stayed for a week. It was lovely, I was able to look after my new baby and rest when he did. Then she went home, which was OK. The fridge and freezer were full, the house fairly sparkled and all the washing and ironing was up to date. I waved her off, confident that all would be well. She had left us in a very good place.

So the first morning after she'd gone I was sitting down, gazing tenderly at my beautiful, sleeping baby. And it hit me. Nappies! I would have to do the nappies! Since we'd come home from hospital Mum had been doing the nappies. I would take off the wet or dirty one and it would miraculously be replaced by a nice, soft, clean, fluffy, folded nappy. Oops!

I laugh about it now but at the time it was panic stations.

Actually I didn't mind doing nappies. They really weren't hard or expensive (I don't know why everyone thinks soaking cloth nappies is expensive, it really isn't).

I had a nappy bucket with a lid, which lived in the laundry sink (never, ever, ever leave a nappy bucket, even with a tight lid, full or empty, anywhere a baby or toddler can get into it or use it to climb on). Thankfully we had a bypass for the washing machine so I wasn't lifting it in and out all the time. 

Every morning I would empty the nappy bucket into the washing machine and run the nappies through the rinse cycle, with the water level set to full and on cold rinse.  There may only have been a dozen nappies but they needed the water to let them swish around and rinse properly, so full water it was.

While the nappies were rinsing and spinning I would rinse the bucket and refill it with hot water. Add in two level caps of nappy soaker and it was ready to go!

Now the direction on the soaker I used (which was the Jewel generic) was two capfuls to 15 litres of water and that would be enough to soak 6 nappies. Yeah right!

I soaked as many nappies as would fit in the bucket.

It went like this:

Wet nappies and liners were put straight into the bucket.

Dirty nappies had the liner emptied into the toilet and then into the bin. If the nappy was stained I would rub it with laundry soap, give it a scrub with a nail brush, rinse and drop into the bucket.

In summer the nappies were line dried, in winter the house looked like a Chinese laundry - clotheshorses and nappies all over the place.

They would dry overnight and next morning I'd fold them and put them back on the change table, ready to be used again.

It only took a few minutes a day to have soft, clean, white nappies and it only cost around 70c a week for the soaker. The only hot water used was to fill the nappy bucket each morning and even doing the high water level rinse the water bill didn't go up noticeably.

For me, cloth nappies were by far the cheaper alternative.

I did use disposable liners. I cut them in half, they were way too big, and they were soaked and washed and re-used until the fell apart. One box of 100 liners ($1.99) lasted me almost two years - that's a lot of nappy changes.

I saved disposable nappies for when we went to Sydney. Wayne's mum wasn't set up for cloth nappies so I'd buy a bulk pack of disposables and cringe at the price. I hated the way they'd fill the rubbish bin and sit, stagnating and fermenting, until the rubbish was collected. Disposables meant having to buy nappy sacks (or finding other bags to put them in) and that grated a little too, what a waste to pay for a bag just to throw it out, almost as much as it grated to spend money we couldn't really afford just to throw out a nappy.

And even back then, nappies in landfill were a problem.

My babies never had nappy rash in cloth and the nappies were always white. The secret wasto never let them sit in a dirty or wet nappy and the rinsing - always on high water level. They needed a goodly amount of water to rinse thoroughly.  Properly rinsed they would dry white and soft, and with no residues from soaker or soap there was nothing to irritate baby's bottom.

I loved my cloth nappies and they were used for tiny bottoms and as over-the shoulder protection for me, I used them as liners in the pram and to wipe up dribbles and burps. 

I started with three dozen and added a dozen when Tom was born and another dozen when Hannah was born.

I still have a dozen stashed in the linen cupboard. I use them as dusters and polishing cloths and to wipe up spills.

The other four dozen were in such good condition when I had finished with them that the went to the local volunteer fire brigade to use as kerchiefs.  The fire fighters would wet them then fold them into a triangle and tie them around their nose and mouth when they were working in thick smoke.

Now Mums have the choice of traditional cloth, disposables or MCNs .

How convenient are the MCNs. An all-in-one solution to one of a new mother's biggest problems.

Yes if I were to do it all over again, I would still go cloth, MCN cloth, without a doubt. But cloth all the way.

I received so many replies to Erica's question, and the have all been uploaded to the Nappies and Toilet Training page in the Tip Store.

22 June 2012

Guerrilla Shopping - Part 4: Resist Impulse Shopping

Guerrilla Shoppers are strong, they resist impulse shopping. Australians waste thousands of dollars a year on spontaneous, impulsive, un-planned purchases. The sad thing is if you were to ask them if they were impulse shoppers they would deny it. Yes, they are in a state of shopping denial.

Here are some tips that will help you resist impulse buying and keep more of your money in your bank account.

1.  Just say no. It's usually the first real work babies learn, so if a baby can say it so can you! Marketing experts depend on our inability to say no. They place the most expensive items at eye level in the most eye-catching displays. The real bargains are on the top and bottom shelves. Say no to expensive eye-level buys and look high, look low for the real bargains.

2.  Take time to smell the roses, just don't buy them.  As soon as you walk in the door of the supermarket you are surrounded by the fresh flower display, with the scent of freshly baked bread wafting across, tormenting you and tempting you to wander over to see what is good. You have to cross these sections to get into the supermarket, but you don't need to stop. If you stop you're sunk. By all means sniff as you push your trolley through these money traps.

3.  Don't shop hungry. It is an oldie, but it's true. If you are hungry when you shop are far more likely to end up with around $35 worth of foodstuffs you don't really want in your trolley. Have a sandwich and a cuppa before you leave home and keep your $35.

4.  Become a lone shopper. I know it's difficult, I once had three kids under 4, but if you possibly can leave the little ones at home when you shop. For a start you'll be so much faster. And more relaxed. You won't be distracted by lots of questions and making sure little fingers aren't tossing things into the trolley to "help" you. Oh, and you get to miss out on the deliberately placed kid sized temptations at the checkout.

5.  Make a list, check it twice and then stick to it. It is just commonsense - you've made your shopping list, you've checked it and it has everything on it that you need so stick to it! Do not deviate from that list.  Research shows that shoppers who use a written shopping list consistently spend less. Who would have thought a sheet of paper could have such an influence?

6.  New Improved? Really? The product or the packaging? Signs like "new and improved" and pretty new packaging are deliberate attempts to weaken your defenses.  Before you buy, check the labels. Often times not much, if anything has changed in terms of the product, it's just the packaging and price that have had the facelift. Evaluate every item to determine whether or not it is a good buy and ignore the marketing hype.

7.  Shopping is not a hobby. I like shopping but it's not my hobby and it shouldn’t be yours. Shopping centres are not entertainment precincts regardless of how they advertise themselves. Shopping is a chore to be done. Make it a habit to go to the shops no more than once a week. Over-exposure to supermarkets makes you much more vulnerable to the marketing ploys designed to get you to part with your cash.

  Don't fight the crowds. Work out the least busy time at your supermarket and do your shopping then. It's more relaxing for a start. And you won't be battling trolleys coming the other way down the aisle. The checkout queue should be a breeze and you'll be done and dusted, home enjoying a  cuppa before you know it.

9.  Cash only. Leave your credit and debit cards at home. Take your grocery money in cash. There's nothing quite like the fear of not having enough money to help you stick to your shopping list. There is nothing as embarrassing as finding yourself at the checkout with too many groceries and not enough cash!

10.  Shop the loss leaders. And only the loss leaders. Loss leaders are designed to draw you into the store to get the low, low price and then you are tempted by the regular priced accessory items surrounding it. Go and buy just the loss leaders (if they are on your list and you will use them) and leave. Do not buy another thing! Just the loss leaders. Sure the stores will be losing money, but that's the risk they take. You are stronger and smarter than that - you are a Guerrilla Shopper and you want to save BIG!

21 June 2012

Designer Paintings for Peanuts

With all due respect to Mondrian and Pollack, painting abstract art isn't that difficult. Go to your local discount store and purchase 3 matching canvasses of a size to suit the space you want to fill (I got mine for 9.95 each at GoLo), buy some acrylic paint (acrylic is more forgiving than oil) and brushes, sketch out your design in pencil right on the canvas (an easy one is squares of different sizes, but you can do swirls, or other abstract shapes), making sure that the design flows naturally from one canvas to another and then fill in the blocks or spaces with the paint. Mine looks like we spent a fortune at the local gallery (or at least that is what my friends tell me!) and cost me under $35.00!
Contributed by Maggie

20 June 2012

Sell Off Your Wardrobe

Take clothes that may be too snug or that you no longer wear and that are in excellent condition, to a consignment store rather than donating to the op shop. If the items are in great condition and still stylish they can be sold, making you some money. A helpful tip is to make sure each garment is properly laundered and pressed at the end of each season ready to store until the store starts taking items for the next season. Check the store policy - some like garments presented on coat hangers, other prefer garments to be neatly folded. Spend a little time to make sure buttons are secure, spots and stains are gone and hems are secure and you will ensure top dollar for your garments.

19 June 2012

Whole Orange Cake

Oranges are cheap at the moment, and the quality is excellent. Don't forget to check the label to make sure you are buying Australian oranges to ensure they are top quality and of course to support Australian farmers.
This cake uses a whole orange and just four other basic pantry items, making it quick and easy. 

Whole Orange Cake

1 whole orange
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups oil
2 cups SR flour

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Place the whole orange, sugar, eggs and oil in a food processor and blend well. Add sifted flour. Whizz until flour is mixed into orange mixture. Bake in a greased and lined loaf tin for 45 minutes until cooked.

Note: Olive oil gives a very moist cake but can leave a “taste”. I like to use half vegetable oil, half olive oil. The result is a lovely moist cake without the taste of the olive oil.

This is the original recipe as given to me. I have tweaked it somewhat to suit our eating habits, and the result is a delicious, moist cake, that is more nutritious. After all eating a healthy diet doesn't have to mean eating a dull diet.

The recipe I now make swaps wholemeal spelt flour for the self-raising flour and unsweetened apple sauce for the oil. I also cut the amount of sugar in the recipe and replace one of the eggs with flax seed and water (a great egg substitute).

The result is a very moist cake, almost a mud cake texture.

I also bake it in cupcake papers just to make it go further. I get 24 large cupcakes from the recipe and they take approximately 18 minutes to cook, depending on your oven. I'd start checking them after 15 minutes. The cakes are done when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Healthier Whole Orange Cake

1 whole orange, washed thoroughly
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp flax seed
1 tbsp water
1 1/4 cups unsweetened apple sauce
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Place cupcake papers into pan. Place the whole orange, sugar, eggs, flax seed, water and apple sauce in a food processor and blend well. Use a balloon whisk to aerate flour. Add flour to food processor and whizz until flour is mixed into orange mixture. Pour 1/4 cup mixture into each patty pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool on cake rack before frosting.

These cakes don't need an icing or frosting but they are very nice topped with a dollop of mascarpone icing.

To make the icing I mix mascarpone with icing sugar, add a squeeze of orange juice and mix. I'm sorry I don’t have quantities, I eyeball it. The mixture has to be firm enough to pipe or spread onto a cup cake without it running off. 

If you are going to use this frosting, you will need to keep the cakes in the fridge (mascarpone must be kept refrigerated).

I usually is make up the frosting and ice the cakes as I need them. The frosting will keep in a covered dish in the fridge for up to 5 days, the cakes will disappear long before that.

18 June 2012

Instant Hot House from Recycled Packaging

I know just about everyone keeps the packaging from doonas and blankets if for no other reason than that it's too good to throw out.  It's almost time to start getting spring and summer seeds planted so the seedlings are ready to plant out when the weather warms up so Penny's idea of recycling doona packaging into a mini hot house is a wonderful way to use it and get it out of the linen cupboard, where it is just taking up space.  It also ensures the seeds get a nice warm start and that the seedlings will be ready to transplant into the garden come spring.

Instant Hot House from Recycled Packaging
I had to buy new doonas this year, and they came in thick plastic packages with zippers around them. I was going to get my dear husband to build small seed raising trays, then I thought the covers would work a treat instead.  I just put my seed trays (I use old meat trays) inside the covers and zipped up to create an instant hothouse. It is brilliant, and it really works. I've saved money on wood and glass to make a hot house and I am saving money by growing from seeds as seedlings are very expensive. And when I'm finished save money on veggies.
Contributed by Penny, Wynnum

15 June 2012

Guerrilla Shopping - Part 3: Go Generics!

Be brave, don't be afraid to try new brands, even if they are generic!

I will confess to being a bit of a brand snob - for the things that matter to me.

And I struggled a little when Aldi first opened, then again with Costco, because I didn't recognise the brands.  But when you are shopping on a tight budget you can't afford to not try something to find out if it is going to meet up to your standards and save you some money.

Let's face it: sugar is sugar, flour is flour. For these basics I haven't noticed a difference in anything but the price. Try it, if you don't like the product you don't have to keep on buying it. But if generic white vinegar is $1.09 for 2 litres and the brand name is $1.89 for 2 litres you'd be nuts to be paying the extra 80 cents just for a fancier name on the bottle.

Yes, brand matters - sometimes. I have a brand of coffee that I will not budge on. I have tried others and I don't like them and frankly life is just too short to drink lousy coffee and be miserable. I stock up when it's on sale (coffee has a few sheets in my pricebook) so I never pay full price for it. And every morning as I take that first sip, I smile, knowing I have my favourite brew at a budget price.

It is totally OK to have a couple of favourite brands that you stick with. Savvy Cheapskaters know how to get them at rock bottom prices. But for everything else, don't be brand loyal.

Keep an open mind when it comes to brands and you'll save money.

14 June 2012

Floating Candles

Floating candles are very pretty and decorative, especially on a dinner table.

To make floating candles pour hot was into a muffin tin, filling each muffin cup about a third full. Let it cool until there is a skin on the top. Insert a piece of wick into the centre of each candle. You can use a toothpick to help poke a hole if necessary. Allow the candles to finish hardening then pop them out of the tin. Trim the wick to about  6mm.

Making floating candles is a great way to use up candle stubs and old wax crayons.

12 June 2012

Small Adjustments Combine for Large Gain

Sometimes it's hard to see how the little savings add up, even for experienced Cheapskaters. Laura's list shows just how lots of regular, little savings add up to a lot of dollars in the bank at the end of the year.

Small Adjustments Combine for Large Gain
Becoming a seasoned Cheapskate has taught me to always be on the lookout for ways to save $$$. At first glance, many things may not seem to be worth the effort, however the results, when combined and calculated over a years time, are significant.

For example, a call to the phone company saved me $5, a change in cable service -$13, called the refuse company to discuss rates -$3, closed our Safety Deposit box -$2.10, switched from disposable to reusable (dish rags, napkins, plates, etc.) -$6, eliminated most all junk food purchases -$33 (and 5kg :), one additional week between hair appointments -$10, cancelled daily newspaper delivery $8.33, on-line bill payments -$3.33, reduced electric -$15.50, natural gas -$8.33, water-$2.50, practice ESSENTIAL spending -$86, use Cheapskates washing powder -$12.50. Combined, these small monthly changes save us (at least) $2,500 annually.

Happily, we can add to that another $300, as we are now able to avoid the late penalty on our rates!

After getting started, it's become a bit of a game, and the savings just keep coming!

Contributed by Laura Toy

The Nicest Beef Stew Ever

500g diced beef
2  onions
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tbsp of minced garlic
4 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of soy sauce
2 beef stock cubes
2 cups water or enough to cover the ingredients

Spray crockpot liberally with cooking spray.  Combine diced beef, onion, potato, carrot and cauliflower and add to crock.  Combine garlic, honey, soy sauce, stock cubes and water. Pour over meat and vegetables. You may need to add a little more water to cover the ingredients. Cook on low 8 hours. Serve with mash and steamed greens.

11 June 2012

Keep a Grown-Up Busy Box

When our children were small they loved Play School. Actually they still occasionally watch it with their young cousins and enjoy the nostalgic memories that come flooding back.  While they were watching a Play School video (yes, VHS - we dragged them out of storage) last week the subject of a busy box came up.

We always had a busy box, tucked under the coffee table. The kids new it had lots of interesting and exciting goodies in it, just waiting to be turned into cubby houses and puppets and farm animals and robots and doll clothes and kites and the list goes on. Busy Box creations were limited only by their imaginations.

I still have a busy box, only my version is a grown up one.

It's the place I store art and craft materials, ready to be made into a get well card or a hand towel for a gift or pot markers for the garden or a thousand other projects. It's not really a box either, it's huge chest of drawers that sit in our entrance hall.

In my grown-up busy box you'll find embroidery threads, aida cloth and even weave linen, embroidery hoops, fat quarters, glitter glue, stickers, pom poms, pipe cleaners, cardstock, fancy scissors, sequins and glitter, feathers, fine wire, silk flowers, reels of ribbon in different widths, curling ribbons, stamps and stamp pads, glass beads, glue guns and glue sticks, rulers, pretty brads and a folder full of patterns and instruction sheets I've collected over the years.

When I get the urge to be a little creative I go to the drawers for inspiration and the materials I need. Keeping a supply of materials on hand, all bought on sale, from clearance racks or garage sales, means I can spend time crafting without it costing a fortune.

If you love crafting you probably all ready have your own version of a busy box. But do you cull it regularly?

At the beginning of each school year I go through my busy box. Anything that hasn't been opened and that I don't have a definite project in mind for, is packed up and taken to a friend who teaches art and craft at a local primary school. Her budget is tight and she often supplements the supplies from her own pocket, so all donations are gratefully received.

09 June 2012

Please, please, please don't let marketing dumb you down!

I was horrified, although I don't know why, I shouldn't have been surprised, earlier this week to see an ad on TV for herbs. McCormicks brand, these herbs are in tiny little packs, just enough for one recipe. And they are supposed to make you an amazing cook.

The ad on the website says "Cook like a TV chef with pre-measured pots of herbs and spices."

According to the ad, just using the combination of herbs and spices in these packs turns you into a TV chef!


It is no wonder home cooking is an almost lost skill. What they do is dumb down intelligent people. They destroy self-confidence and intimate that we are too stupid to be able to successfully follow a recipe and measure the herbs and spices ourselves, resulting in a disastrous meal. These silly little pots do not make you cook like a TV chef!

Do not for one minute believe that you need to buy your herbs and spices in tiny little pre-measured pots - you don't. In fact that is the most expensive way to buy them.

You don’t even need to buy them in little glass jars; there are cheaper ways to buy your herbs and spices, even in the supermarket. You can buy them from Asian and Indian grocers, greengrocers and wholefood stores. Supermarkets sell a range in cellophane bags, Hoyts brand, that are much better value than those in glass jars. 

The little pre-measured packs cost $2.48 - a hefty addition to the cost of your recipe - and each pack contains between 7g and 12g of herbs and spices. That's the equivalent of between $20.70 and $35.40 per 100g packet or a hefty $207 and $354 a kilo!

Either way you look at it, it's very expensive way to season a recipe.

Or give bought herbs the flick completely and grow your own. Herbs are very easy to grow in the garden, in pots, even on a windowsill.

Do not for one minute believe that you cannot measure the ingredients for a recipe yourself. You can!

All you need is a set of measuring spoons, available at any discount store, homewares store or supermarket for just a couple of dollars, and you can measure the herbs and spices needed for recipes yourself. You don't need to spend an extra $2.48 to season your meals.

Don't allow the marketing geniuses to dumb you down. These little packs aren't convenient, they are nothing but expensive, designed to undermine your confidence in your ability to read, shop, measure accurately and follow directions. They cost a small fortune and the packaging just helps to fill your recycle bin.

It's not just herbs and spices that have been dumbed-down. What about cake mixes? Packaged salads? Marinated meat? These are all very simple things you can do yourself, that are pushed at us as being more convenient and easier.

It is this very dumbing-down of perfectly simple homemaking tasks, under the guise of convenience, that has made modern homemaking so expensive.

Please, please, please don't allow them to do it to you.

Say no to the expense, say no to the supposed convenience and say no to the dumbing down of Australian homemakers.

08 June 2012

Guerrilla Shopping Part 2: The Price Book

A very important tool in a Guerrilla Shopper's arsenal is their price book.  This little book contains the prices of every item they buy.  I say "prices" because there will be multiple prices for each item.  There will be the regular price for store A, and the sale price at Store B, the really good sale price at Store C, then perhaps the regular sale price (yes there is a regular sale price) for Store A and so on.

Your price book determines when and where you buy your groceries. As you make up your shopping list you'll be checking with your price book to see where it is cheapest at the moment. If it's not on sale and you can do without it, don't put it on your list. If you need it right now, then just buy the exact number you need.

The idea of a price book is to give you the power:  the power to choose when to buy, the power to choose how much to pay. With your price book you will be able to track sale cycles and know when something is at it's lowest price. And that's when you stock up, buying enough to last you until the next sale cycle.

Start building your price book today. Use your grocery dockets, the junk mail, get online and check the prices of your grocery items.

Your price book will help you to never pay full price for your groceries again.

07 June 2012

Freshen Up That Stale Winter Odour

Winter seems to have well and truly arrived, and with it the closure of windows and doors. The fresh scent of spring and summer has gone, leaving the closed, stale scent of a warm winter home.

You can buy fresh air scents in a can or you can make your own herbal air fresheners, for just a few cents, and change them with your mood.

To make your own herbal air fresheners you will need:

1 spray bottle
250ml of water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate
5 - 7 drops of your favourite essential oil (or a combination of your favourites)

Fill the bottle with the water, add the oil and shake well to combine. Spray throughout your home to lightly scent and freshen the air, floorcoverings and furnishings.

You can use any type of spray bottle, but plastic is safest if you have small children or boisterous pets in your home. Coloured glass bottle look very pretty sitting on a kitchen window sill or a coffee table if you are going to have your air freshener on display and can be bought from $2 shops, discount department stores and even some garden centres quite cheaply. Even plant misters will do the job nicely.

Here are some suggestions for blends you might like to try:

Country Spice (a warming and homey scent): cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and bay
Spring Fresh (ideal for sunny winter days): lavender, rose, geranium, rosemary and sweet orange
Calming (soothing and relaxing, perfect for stressful days): bergamot, geranium, clary sage, chamomile and yarrow
Gardener's Delight (light, fresh and invigorating): lemon, orange, basil, thyme

When choosing essential oils look for the pure oils. They will cost a little more but you will get more scent for your money. Remember to use only 5 -7 drops in total or the scent will be over-powering and unpleasant (the result of using pure essential oils).

06 June 2012

25 Ways to Save Cents

 It seems that there is a mind-set that saving a few cents here and a few cents there isn't worth the effort.

Wrong! Saving cents is how you save dollars. And I can tell you it is much, much easier to save a few cents on a lot of things, than it is to save a lot of dollars on one thing.

Why is that so (to borrow a familiar question)?

It is so because we have many, many more opportunities to save cents than we do to save dollars.

Here is a list of 25 ways to save just a few cents. This list was in a Bright Ideas to Save You Money newsletter way back in 2003, but it is just as relevant, perhaps more so, today.

1.  Recycle items for different uses.
2.  Use small grocery bags for rubbish bags or pedal bin liners.
3.  Organize your house.
4.  Buy energy efficient light bulbs.
5.  Only run the dishwasher when it is full.
6.  Use less laundry detergent than called for.
7.  Use Cheapskates Washing Powder.
8.  Wash clothes in cold water.
9.  Don't overuse hot water.
10. Fix dripping taps.
11. Fix a constantly running toilet.
12. Consider fans instead of air conditioners.
13. Set your thermostat 3 degrees lower than usual and put on a jumper.
14. Use coupons - the petrol dockets that save up to 4c (or more) a litre are great.
15. Consider buying clothing at op shops or factory outlets.
16. Only shop once a month.
17. Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry.
18. Do not shop at convenience stores.
19. Buy store brands.
20. Stock up on items when they are on sale.
21. Buy items in bulk (if you can save money).
22. Buy used furniture.
23. Strip or recover furniture you already own.
24. Quit smoking.

and the most effective and important way to save cents:

25. ~Be happy with what you have.~

05 June 2012

Mexican Chicken Casserole

1 chicken breast fillet, cooked and shredded with a fork
1 cup grated cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 packet taco seasoning (or more- to taste)
1 pkt corn chips, crushed

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Grease a greased lasagne dish.  Combine chicken, 1/2 cup grated cheese, soup, milk, yoghurt, tomatoes and taco seasoning. Put a layer of crushed corn chips (about 2 cups) into the bottom of the lasagne dish, then a layer of the chicken mixture. Repeat once more, ending with a layer of chicken mixture. Top with remaining grated cheese, cover, and bake for 30-35 minutes, till bubbling hot.

Serves: 6

04 June 2012

Grow a Pizza Garden

Pizza is just about everyone's favourite food. It's easy to make (try our Penny Pinching Pan Pizza), tasty and these days it can be healthy too.

When you MOO pizza, using fresh herbs turns an what could be a tasty pizza into a gourmet delight. And what better way to have fresh herbs for your pizza than to grow a "pizza garden" by growing some of the herbs that are commonly used on pizza.

A typical pizza garden will contain basil and oregano, and perhaps thyme and parsley.  You could also grow some of the other things that often go into pizza sauce, like garlic and roma tomatoes.  If you want to make the garden larger, you can also add some common pizza toppings like capsicums and onions.

A pizza garden is ideal for container gardening and is a wonderful introduction to gardening for children. Since children really love pizza, they should be able to relate to this type of garden very well.  They’ll also have fun knowing what goes into one of their favourite foods.

01 June 2012

Today is the Day - Eat Well, Save More is officially published!

Yes, today is the day! After a wonderful preview on A Current Affair last night, Eat Well, Save More is officially released today!

I really am very excited about this book.

In today's economy saving money is top priority for millions of Australians. But they still need to eat and feed their families and that can be tough when money is tight.  I know just how tough it can be, I've been there and there were weeks when I didn't have grocery money, I just couldn't shop.  On the weeks when we did have money for groceries it was $50 max.

We survived, our children thrived, no one was ill or malnourished. Our home was clean, our clothes were - well I was going to say spotless but really the kids were small, Wayne worked outdoors - well our clothes were clean too. Oh, and we were clean as well.

I can tell you when I upped the grocery budget to $80 a week in 2002 I felt so rich. I had money to spare. That was the beginnings of a very healthy slush fund, which I still use today.

If you are struggling with debt and find your Spending Plan just isn't working, stop. Take a good look at your grocery spending.

Groceries are the one area of the Spending Plan we have complete and utter total control over, so they are a great place to start when you want to get back to your Spending Plan.

You may not be confident of feeding your family for $80 a week (you can, and it's not all mince and beans), but you can very easily trim your grocery budget.

For starters, take ten percent off it. Anne, the lovely new Cheapskater who volunteered to try shopping on just $80, usually spends $300 a week on groceries for her family of four so she would take $30 out of her purse and shop with the remaining $270, and you can do exactly the same thing with your grocery money. Take ten percent out of your purse, leave your cards at home (so  you don't crumble and spend it anyway) and do your shopping.

If nothing else comes of it, you've learned that you really can feed your family on less.

Over the next few weeks I'll touch more on how you can keep your grocery bill down and still eat good, tasty, fresh and cheap food because it really is the first step to controlling your spending and living life debt free, cashed up and laughing.

If you'd like a signed copy of Eat Well, Save More I would be very happy to do so for you. You'll need to order it from here, and don't forget to add the details so I know who to sign the books for. 

Now, for those of you in Sydney, I will be chatting with George and Paul the hosts of Sydney's 2UE Weekend program at 9.45am on Sunday morning. It's just the right time to sit back with a cuppa and listen to the radio so I hope those of you who can listen in.

Guerrilla Grocery Shopping - Part 1

I discovered years ago that have routines makes life easier. The Army was on to something - sticking to a routine does keep things ship shape and it's no different when it comes to your groceries, after all the family likes to be routinely fed.

When it comes to grocery shopping I have a very strict routine and it very rarely varies.

    1. Pantry, fridge and freezer inventory.
    2. Meal plan
    3. Shopping list:
        a. Use inventories and meal plan to work out what's needed
        b. Use my Price Book and catalogues to find the best prices
        c. Write up a list in order of the stores to go to
        d. Don't be afraid to try generic or cheaper brands and swap-out things on my list
    4. Hit the shops!
All up it takes maybe 15 minutes to cover steps 1 through 3. Step 4 - well that's up to you.

You can be a guerrilla shopper and zoom in and zoom out or you can take your time.

A word of warning though: for every 5 minutes over half an hour you spend in the supermarket, you'll spend an extra $10 on average. Yes, $2 a minute!

My advice is get in and get out.