28 September 2012

How Being More Self-Sufficient Saves You Money

I saw a t-shirt at the market last week and it made me smile, so much so that I bought it as a Christmas gift for someone special. It said "It's not rocket surgery", a play on "it's not rocket science" and "it's not brain surgery".

Becoming more self-sufficient can help you save money in a wide variety of different ways, and that's not rocket surgery either.

Self-sufficiency doesn't mean you need to give up the conveniences of modern living, or live on mung beans and brown rice or spin your own yarn to knit into clothing.  It simply means you take on the things you can do for yourself that you may otherwise have outsourced and paid for.

Being self-sufficient includes growing your own vegetables and cooking from scratch. It also includes mowing the lawn or washing the car instead of paying a gardener or driving through the car wash, saving that money for other things.

The first most obvious way to increase your self-sufficiency is to grow your own food. If you don't already, grow your own fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. There are a so many different ways that you can grow your own food, including planting your own vegetable garden, growing non-hybrid vegetables and harvesting your own seeds, and using square foot gardening techniques in order to grow a lot of food in very small spaces.

Take the capabilities of your garden further by using organic mulch from local sources and using homemade compost or free manure in order to enrich the soil in your garden and you won't have to use commercial fertilizers, another dollar saving.

If you're just getting started, try growing potatoes. The humble spud is an easy crop to grow, albeit a little on the slow side. You can grow your own potatoes inexpensively (I grow our spuds in bags), then save the fingerling potatoes to plant next year. Nurseries keep seed potatoes, or you can order lovely heirloom varieties from the Diggers Club.

Another huge food expense for most of us is fruit. Consider creating your own small orchard and growing your own fruit, it's easier than you think. You can even get planter-pot-size varieties of many fruit trees. We have a mini orchard, of dwarf fruit trees, all in pots. We have lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, cumquat, lime, plum and orange trees, all growing happily in pots  in our backyard.  In the front yard we have a beautiful apple tree, that gives us enough apples to freeze and dry for the winter.

Australia has a wonderful growing season, but if you live in the south, winters are a little on the chilly side. Extend your growing season by building your own greenhouse. There are DIY options as well as kits that you can buy and assemble in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. You can even get small "disposable" greenhouses from garden centres for around $20, and guess what - you don't have to dispose of them, you can just keep on using them all year round.

Another way to increase your self-sufficiency is to utilize natural resources. There are a variety of ways that you can utilize renewable, natural resources in order to be more self-sufficient, saving money in the process.

For instance we cut and collect our own firewood rather than buying it. We make a day of it, taking a picnic lunch and the chainsaw and off we go.  Two or three trailer loads a year keep us in firewood for the winter for just the cost of petrol, saving us around $450 a year if we were to buy it.

This may seem like another no-brainer, but collect rainwater for use in watering your plants and other purposes instead of relying on mains water. Water tanks and barrels come in all shapes, sizes and colours so you're sure to find something to suit your needs. You can even recycle plastic bins to collect rainwater to use in the garden. Water is a precious resource, and one we often take for granted, until we get the bill. Then we whinge about how much it costs. Rain water you collect is free. Perhaps collecting rainwater really is a no-brainer after all.

One thing we are not short of in Australia is sunshine. Supplement the heating system in your home by installing solar heating panels. You can also supplement your home's water heating needs using the same panels. Install solar power and get paid (every little bit helps) to feed back into the grid. Perhaps you'll be able to generate enough power to completely do away with power bills.

I mentioned growing your own food earlier. Now I'm going to suggest you might be able to raise your own food. Depending on where you live and the amount of land you have, you can raise chickens, sheep, goats or even bees - not only to create your own food, but for other materials as well. You can raise chickens for eggs and meat, goats or cows for milk products, pigs and other animals for meat. Keeping more than chickens isn't possible in suburbia but if you live rural, a house cow or goat for milk and raising lambs or calves for meat is not only a way to save money, but to ensure you get good organic meat and milk.

On that note, goats and sheep can also provide you with materials for spinning, knitting and crochet. If you learn how to spin wool into yarn, you can make some of your own clothing, blankets, towels and other necessities.

Part of being self-sufficient is not relying on supermarkets so you need to store what you grow and raise. Consider learning how to bottle, freeze and dehydrate foods so you can preserve some of the food you grow and some of what you cook, like soups, and enjoy food all year long based on what you grow from season to season. Preserving isn't the time consuming chore it used to be, there are so many modern appliances around it's a simple task, often done in just a few minutes.

Use and reuse. Reduce, reuse, and recycle may be an overused adage, but when you use and reuse whatever you can as much as possible, you reduce waste and find new and creative ways to become more self-sufficient and save money in the process. The more you can reuse, the less you have to buy, the more money you have to spend on other things. Now that really isn't rocket science, it's just commonsense.

There are so many ways that you can become more self-sufficient without giving up your lifestyle. Be conscious of alternative techniques to improve your health and well being, your impact on the environment, and your wallet, and you may find other ways to increase your self-reliance as well.

What you do in order to increase your self-sufficiency should be a personal choice, and it can take time to properly discipline yourself to meet these goals, so be patient as you adopt this new way to save money.

27 September 2012

There Has Never Been a Better Time to Get Organized

Organization is a four-letter word for many people, right up there with budget and saving. It’s viewed as a restrictive life or an unrealistic approach. Yet when you’re organized it actually provides freedom. Organization can give you more time, money, and peace of mind. The organized life is a simplified life. It allows you to spend more time and energy doing what you love.

There is a perception of an organized life being regimented and controlled, and boringly routine. Not so! Being organized allows you to do the things you need to within a reasonable timeframe, leaving you free to enjoy the rest of your time doing the things you like to do.

What Do You Organize?

There are many areas of your life that can be organized. They include but aren’t limited to your:

* Health goals
* Financial goals
* Daily routine
* Household tasks and goals
* Career goals
* Schedule
* Children’s schedule
* Time
* Hobbies and passions
* Personal documents
* Your space

How Do You Organize?

There are different types of organization for various parts of your life. For example, you’ll organize your wardrobe differently than the way you’ll organize your personal financial documents or the pantry. However, most people, believe it or not, have an organization personality. Take some time to determine how you like to organize things. Do you prefer labels?  I like to use labels and defined areas. To accomplish this I have a labeler (bought during the Officeworks January sale) and use baskets and drawer inserts to keep things sorted and in order. Are you visual, preferring colour codes and photographs? Start thinking about how you like to organize before you create a comprehensive system.

Make a Commitment

Make a list of the areas of your life that you want or need to organize. Prioritize those areas so that the most important area is listed first. Make a commitment now to start checking items off of that list. Create a date that you want to have an area organized by and a plan to achieve it. For example, maybe you have organize your personal documents listed first. Decide when you’re going to have that organization accomplished and what you need to do to make it happen. Then just do it!

Follow Through

Organizing something is only the first step. The next, and most important step, is to follow through on your organization system and to sustain it. For example, if you spend an entire weekend organizing your wardrobe but then you just throw your clothes into the cupboard any which way, you’ve wasted a weekend. Commit to following through on your organization system. Hang things up as soon as you take them off, put clean laundry away as soon as it comes off the line, make sure washing is put in the laundry basket every day. If you are unable to follow through, figure out why. Chances are the organization system you created doesn’t fit your needs or personality, so change it.

Use Organization Tools

One of the best ways to create an organization system is to use handy organization tools. Mind maps and checklists are easy to use and quite effective. You can use mind mapping to brainstorm and plan your organization systems. Checklists can be created to make sure you don’t miss a step. In fact, there are lots of useful organization checklists that you can download on the Cheapskates Club website. Checklists that help you take charge of organizing your finances, managing your time, even cleaning your wardrobe.

26 September 2012

The Top Seven Money-Saving Mistakes - Part 3

Is it possible to make mistakes in saving money? Unfortunately yes, it is. The good news is we can learn from the mistakes of others and apply them to our own situations. This is Part Three in the Finance Tip of the Day series covering the seven money saving mistakes.

Money Saving Mistake No. 3: Jumping on the Investment Bandwagon

There are two important points to keep in mind regarding investment opportunities:
1. If you don't understand it, avoid it;
2. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

As for No. 1, many investment fraudsters will be unclear in their explanation of the deal, causing confusion and sounding so technical that you figure they must know best. True investments are easy to understand; saving money should be simple.

As for No. 2, don't fall for the notion of "risk-free" investments with "guaranteed returns." Baloney - there is always risk and positive returns cannot be guaranteed!

25 September 2012

Braised Brussels Sprouts In Dijon Butter Sauce

Brussels sprouts have a bad rap. They are the much maligned member of the vegetable world, which is a real shame. Brussels sprouts are very tasty, if they are young, fresh and properly prepared.

Try this way of serving them and watch your family suddenly become fans of the humble Brussels sprout.

Braised Brussels Sprouts in Dijon Butter Sauce

500g fresh Brussels sprouts
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper

Rinse and remove any discolored leaves, trim a small piece from the bottom, then cut a small 'x' in the bottom with a small, sharp knife.

Put salt, water, and Brussels sprouts in a large saucepan over medium-heat and bring to a boil, lower heat, cover tightly, and simmer, shaking pan a couple times during this cooking time - do NOT remove cover to stir, just shake the pot.

Simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are tender.

Take the cover off just long enough to poke a Brussels sprout with the tip of a knife to see if they are tender.

When they are tender, drain well through a strainer or colander.

After you dump the Brussels sprouts into the strainer, put the saucepan back on the stove over medium heat, add the butter and melt it, then whisk in the mustard until it is smooth.

Immediately add the drained Brussels sprouts to the saucepan and stir to coat well with the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

24 September 2012

Make a Menu Board

Having a written meal plan saves you time and money.  Lots of Cheapskaters are using our What's for Dinner meal plans, created each week by Anne and included in our newsletter, for inspiration or even as their weekly meal plan. To make your meal planning easier, we have made a printable you can download and print, as often as you like.

Or you can download and print it just once, and make this really simple but very attractive and useful perpetual menu board and save on the paper and printing.

To make a menu board you will need:
An A4 size photo frame with a glass front
Spray paint (if you want to change the colour)
1 copy of the What's for Dinner meal planner 
Spray glue or a good, strong glue stick
Magnet tape or photo wire and hooks

Step 1.  Print the What's for Dinner meal planner.

Step 2.  Remove the back from the photo frame. Wipe the frame down and paint it if that's what you're going to do. I used a photo frame I already had and left it white, as it matches the appliances in my kitchen.

Step 3.  Spray the backing board with glue. Place the printed meal planner on the backing, centering it.  Use a cloth or sponge to carefully smooth out any wrinkles and make sure the paper is firmly stuck to the backing.

Step 4.  Place the glass into the frame, then  put the backing into the frame. Close the little clips, making sure they are tight.

Step 5.  If you are going to hang the board on your fridge, attach double-sided sticky magnet tape to the top and bottom. If you are going to hang it from a hook, attach wire or string.

Use a whiteboard marker to write your meal plan on the glass each week. It will wipe off with a dry cloth so you can use it over and over and over.

21 September 2012

Your Local Farmer's Market

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone with a busy lifestyle and a tight budget is how to put healthy, nutritious meals on the table for your family. You know that, in order to cook a delicious meal, you need fresh, quality ingredients. The challenge, though, is finding the time to shop for those fresh ingredients in a cost-effective fashion.

Thankfully, almost every community has a solution to your dilemma nearby. At the local Farmer's market, you can find fruits and vegetables that are grown in your hometown. The Farmer's market also often features hard-to-find items that never show up in your supermarket produce department.

I love visiting Farmer's markets, if just to see the variety of produce available. My local market has wonderful cheeses and superb chutneys and relishes, much nicer than anything I can buy at the supermarket.

I also like the fact that everything is fresh, prepared and picked no earlier than the day before, often that morning, and brought straight to the market.  If you're not sure where to find a Farmer's market near you, click on the link at the bottom of the page, then click on "Find a market".

If you're new to Farmer's markets, try these tips to enjoy fresh food and fresh savings at your local farmers market:

1. Arrive early. To ensure you have the best selection of homegrown, fresh food available, plan to arrive at the Farmer's market when it opens. Smart shoppers know that the best produce is sold fast - it can go in the blink of an eye. Arriving even a half-hour or an hour after the market opens could mean that much less of the good stuff is available to you. 

2. Dress appropriately. Most Farmer's markets are held outdoors. Plan to stay a while, and dress comfortably. If you're in a hot climate attending a Farmer's market in the summer, wear a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. If it's cold, wear layers to stay warm for as long as you wish to stay and shop.

3. Buy what you like when you see it. If you see something you want, buy it straight away. Don't go for a look-see and expect it to be there when you come back around, because it won't be. Farmers work hard for their money, and they'll seldom hold produce for you if a buyer walks up and is ready to pay for it. You miss out on some excellent deals unless you jump on them right away.

4. Prepare for variety. Depending on your location, its climate, and the time of year you visit the Farmer's market, the selection can vary widely from week to week. If you see something you like, jump on it. It may not be available next week.

5. Bring an open mind. Many who are new to Farmer's markets make the mistake of only purchasing items they're used to cooking with. The Farmer's market is your opportunity to experiment with flavours that are foreign to you. You'll find palate pleasing fruits, vegetables, cheeses, condiments and baked goods that add variety to your home's menu.

6. Be willing to leave your comfort zone. Even produce you've never heard of before can add zing to your food. While you may not know how you're going to use each ingredient you purchase while you're at the market, it's easy to find recipes that use each ingredient online.

* Remember that the farmers selling their goods are experts in the produce they're selling. If you ask them for examples of how to use unfamiliar produce in your cooking, they'll often be more than happy to give you an idea or two. Ask lots of questions.

7. Bring cash. In most Farmer's markets, the only way to pay is with cash. Stop by the ATM on your way to the market to ensure you're able to enjoy the unique, homegrown produce that you find there. And try to have smaller denominations, change can be hard to come by at very busy markets.

8. Give yourself time to look around. By doing so, you may save money by finding a different vendor with the same produce at lower prices. Or, you'll find items other than fruits and vegetables that may suit your fancy.

* Often, some of the best breads and organic jams and preserves can be found at your local Farmer's market at prices lower than the stores. In addition, nonfood items like homemade soaps and crafts can be found at the Farmer's market at bargain prices.

By visiting your local Farmer's market and using these tips, you can enjoy fresh food and fresh savings. In addition, you'll be supporting your local community while cooking with and eating healthy, mostly organic ingredients and helping the environment by buying locally grown and produced food. Your local Farmer's market offers affordable prices, a unique selection, and a chance to try new foods that'll make you smile.

And if nothing else, it's a lovely morning out.

Find your local Farmer's Market:
Australian Farmer's Markets Association:  http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au/

20 September 2012

How to Have More Fun This Weekend, the Cheapskates Way

It's spring. The weather is slowly improving and spring weekends are meant for fun. However, it’s easy to fall into a weekend rut. This is especially the case if you work all week and use the weekends to catch up on household chores and errands. And if your budget is tight then weekend fun may seem impossible. Here are a few tips, ideas, and strategies to have more fun this weekend without having to spend a fortune.

1. Get Outside

Getting out into the fresh air almost automatically puts a smile on everyone’s face. And guess what - nature is free. Walk to the park and play a game of Frisbee, football, or cricket. Head to the beach or pool and splash around. Take a nature hike or explore a new outdoor area in your community. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

2. Make a List

Make a list of the things that you want to do and can do on the weekends. This way, when you’re stumped for ideas you can simply turn to your list and make a choice.

3. Put It on the Calendar

Many museums, zoos, and other community facilities offer discount days, free days, and special events. Make a list of these and put them on your calendar. Then when you’re trying to decide what to do this weekend you can see all of the possibilities and take advantage of local events.

4. Fairs, Fetes and Festivals

Most fairs, fetes and festivals are free to attend and they can be a lot of fun. Add them to your calendar and choose one or two to attend. Set a budget in advance and pack your lunch so you stay on budget. It’s easy to spend a fortune on food and snacks. Find the best of the fairs, fetes and festivals by asking the people you know. They will be able to recommend the best school fete and the best retirement village or church fair and the very best music and historic festivals for you to enjoy.

5. Take Advantage of Short-Term Travel Packages

One of the best ways to see the world on a budget is to have an open schedule and open-minded approach to where you go. If you want to get away for a long weekend, visit the discount travel broker websites and review the last-minute packages or tune in to the TV travel shows. You can often save more than 50% on a trip and the spontaneity is fun. You don't even have to leave town. Be a tourist in your own town and see the sights like a visitor, going to the tourist information office and finding out all the free sights and places to visit, then go and enjoy them.

6. Imaginative Projects

What do your children love to do? Do they enjoy building things? Do they like putting on shows? Let their imaginations run free and spend a weekend with a creative project. Put on a play in the back yard and film it. Build a playhouse and paint it. If your children love volcanoes then have a science fair. If they love to cook then stage your very own Cupcake Wars in your kitchen.

7. Try Something New

Have each family member make a list of something they want to learn or do this summer. Give them a few examples so they don’t write down things like “Go to Paris” or “Ride a camel.” Children can get carried away. Take a look at their list and then create a plan to address one item on each person’s list. You may find that you’re rock climbing one weekend and shopping for vintage clothing the next.  Check your local paper.

Cheapskater Lee found a "help wanted" ad in her local paper that was fun, educational and helping the local wildlife. She took her partner and children and they put together and painted little houses for an endangered possum native to their area. Then they went to the park and helped put them into the trees.

All work and no play makes weekends dull and the work week even harder. Teach your children to take time away from the television and computer, and the shopping centre, to have relax and just have fun. And enjoy your family time together – it’s precious.

19 September 2012

The Top Seven Money-Saving Mistakes - Part 2

Is it possible to make mistakes in saving money? Unfortunately yes, it is. The good news is we can learn from the mistakes of others and apply them to our own situations. This is Part Two in the Finance Tip of the Day series covering the seven money saving mistakes.

Money Saving Mistake No. 2: Restricted Accessibility

Savings accounts vary in their accessibility, but having one where you are heavily penalized for early withdrawal may be a mistake. If you do have money wrapped up in something of this nature, experts agree that it's a good idea to start another savings account that's liquid - that is, an account you can get at if you need it without penalty.  That isn't to say you can just dip into it whenever you go over your allocated spending though. An online account where you need to transfer money to your regular account is a good idea, especially for your Emergency Fund. After all, in an emergency you need to be able to access funds quickly.

18 September 2012

Ginger Maple Corn and Tomatoes

This is a really delicious, if unusual, side dish. It's really quick to make, you can get it ready while your steak or chicken breast cooks. The instructions are for a frypan but it can be done on the barbecue plate too. The barbecue gives it a slightly smoky flavour that goes very well with summer meals.

This dish is also nice in a tortilla with cooked chicken or steak and served with a salad.

2 tbsp corn oil
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
4 cups frozen corn kernels

In a large frypan, over medium heat, add the oil, cumin, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, onions and salt and cook slowly (turn heat down if it boils) for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid has cooked away.

Add the maple syrup and corn, stir and simmer over low heat for 7 or 8 minutes, or until corn is heated and flavours combine.

Serve hot alongside pork, beef, or chicken.

17 September 2012

How to Make a Willow Wreath

Willow wreaths are so easy to make and they look lovely, either as they are or decorated. I use small willow wreaths to decorate our Christmas tree. If you want to use them for the same thing, you need to make them now so they have time to dry.

To make a small willow wreath, approximately 5cm in diameter you need one long or two short willow strands.

Step 1. Strip the leaves from the strands.

Step 2. Take one strand and twist it into a small circle. Weave one end around the circle to secure.

Step 3. Take the other end and weave it in and out of the circle until you reach the end.

Step 4. Tuck the end into the weaving to secure.

Step 5. Lay the wreaths on several thicknesses of newspaper and place them in a warm, dry spot (in front of a sunny window is ideal). Turn the wreaths every day or so. Leave them for a month until they have dried.

To decorate use craft paints to spray them gold, silver or red. Use a hot glue gun to stick berries, flowers, bows or other embellishments. Cut a 10cm length of narrow ribbon. Fold in half and glue raw edges to the back of the wreath. Let the glue dry then hang by the ribbon.

Where to find willow:  Weeping willows grow all over the place. They were once very common but have fallen out of favour due to their creeping and invasive roots. You'll still find them in parks and along creeks and waterways, or even along the side of a country road. If the willow is on private property ask permission before taking just the number of strands you need to make your wreath.

14 September 2012

How to Add Colour to Your Work Wardrobe

Corporate black - for many of us, the workplace dress code always meant black, black, and more black. Basic black is fine, but it does get boring pretty quickly. Today, though, it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some simple, inexpensive ways to add a touch of colour to your work wardrobe.

Solid Tops

Colorful knit tops or a jewel-tone silk blouse can add a splash of colour to a blazer or suit. It's considered a good idea to go with solid colours here; jazzy patterns may not work too well.

Say It with Shoes

I love shoes, and I could very easily be in shoe heaven with the beautiful colours and styles for the coming summer.  There are so many options for colourful shoes these days, and when you're talking colour, the cheap ones are not necessarily more or less colourful than the expensive ones. Go for a pair of colourful pumps or jazzy flats, or even dress sandals (wear colourful toenail polish!). Unlike boots, pumps, flats, and sandals can be colourful without being distracting.

Necklaces and Jewelry

Put some sparkling colour around your neck with necklaces. There are so many possibilities here, from polished glass beads to rhinestones on colourful cords. Stay away from tacky or heavy necklaces, but choosing something with a nice pop of colour can dress up even a drab outfit.  Bracelets and earrings can be worn for the same reasons, adding a splash of colour to business attire.


Next to shoes, handbags are my vice. I was brought up to always have matching shoes and handbag, and of course they had to co-ordinate with each outfit. Handbags are where you can bring a bit of whimsy and jazz into the workplace without catching a lot of flak. Patterns and colours can spice up a plain suit and show a bit of your personality. If you like, start small - carry a little handbag with pretty colours. Then, depending on your workplace atmosphere, maybe you can work up to a large, patterned handbag.


Scarves were a workplace stand-by not too long ago, but you can bring them back in all kinds of ways. Folded scarves can work as a headband for your hair, or you can find various ways to tie them around your neck. You can also use them as a creative alternative to a belt. Solid colours might be a good place to start, or choose subtle patterns that match your work outfit.


Tucked-in shirts and elaborate belt buckles were popular in the 80s, but you can still dress up an outfit with a solid band of colour around your waist. Belts can add colour to pants or skirt outfits, and you can add a matching handbag for colour coordination.

Coloured Suits

If you want to really go for it, wear a solid-coloured suit. To create the least controversy (if you have that kind of workplace), choose one where the style is fairly conservative and traditional, just colourful.

Adding a little colour to your work wardrobe is easy when you know how, and it's a really frugal way to revamp a tired wardrobe. Have a look in your wardrobe and see what you have that will give your workday clothes a little pizazz.

13 September 2012

A Home and Garden Safety Checklist

As you are spring cleaning and getting ready for summer, look around your home and garden. What dangers are lurking? Look as though you are a potential buyer, you'll see things you've never noticed before.

There are hazards in your home and garden that you might overlook. It's good to take a fresh look at the home and garden and see what might or might not pose a danger, and how to keep your home and garden safe. Here is a checklist to help you have the safest home and garden possible.

Cleaning Products
Poison control centres receive thousands of calls every year from frightened parents whose children have swallowed cleaners. Make sure all cleaners are kept out of children's reach.

Decks are a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors - but only if they are safe.

* Fences and gates - Make sure that access to your deck, if it is raised, is restricted by appropriate gates and fencing. The edge of a deck should have a railing or fence that is strong and solid enough to prevent small children from falling off or through.

* Pressure washers - Many people use these powerful machines to clean their decks. But beware - they are very powerful, and you should exercise caution when using them. Make sure you don’t aim the pressure washer at windows, siding, pets or people. You could also injure yourself if you are not careful - pressure washers can take skin off!

Inflatable Pools
Inflatable pools pose a danger to small children - more so than hard plastic wading pools, although they can be dangerous too. The reason is that inflatable pools tend to be larger and therefore hold more water, and their slick, soft, rounded sides make them easier to fall into and harder to climb from.  They are cheap and can be a lot of fun, but you must always supervise and always empty them as soon as the play is over.

Smoke Detectors
It's a good idea to make sure you have smoke detectors in your home, and that they are working properly with fresh batteries. They are cheap and easy to install, there is no excuse to not have them in your home.

Fire Extinguishers
Make sure that all family members know how to use the fire extinguisher, and that it's small enough for everyone to handle. Very small children, of course, will not be able to use one and the extinguisher should be out of their reach.  Make sure you have the right type of extinguisher and keep one in your kitchen. A fire blanket is also a good idea to keep on hand. You may never need to use them, but if you do you will really appreciate them.

Yard Equipment
Sharp tools should have their own storage place out of children's reach. Lawnmowers and riding mowers should be used only when no children under 12 are present. Keep axes, rakes, shovels, hoes and garden forks up out of reach of small children.

12 September 2012

The Top Seven Money-Saving Mistakes - Part 1

Is it possible to make mistakes in saving money? Unfortunately yes, it is. The good news is we can learn from the mistakes of others and apply them to our own situations. Over the next few weeks the Finance Tip of the Day will cover one of the seven money saving mistakes.

Money Saving Mistake No. 1:  Not Budgeting for Savings

Too many people make the mistake of saving if the opportunity presents itself, or if money is just sort of left over. Big hint: money rarely just presents itself! Saving money needs to be a deliberate, thoughtful process and including a certain amount in your Spending Plan to save each month is a wise approach. Include it as a category and saving will become a habit.

10 September 2012

The Grass is Growing

It's grass growing season. The winter hiatus is over, and lawn mowers are being dragged out of sheds all over the country.  The Sunday morning growl of the motor echoes around suburbs all over the country.

Lawn mowers are such common sight and sound during the spring and summer months that you may forget that they can be dangerous. The fast-spinning blades of petrol-powered and electric mowers pose a greater safety risk than hand-pushed mowers, so if you can get away with the rotating, cylindrical blades of a hand mower, it may be a safer choice. It is certainly better exercise.

It should be commonsense to think safety first when it comes to mowing the lawn, but of course, we take so much for granted that often safety is taken for granted too. 

Here are some helpful, commonsense safety tips as a reminder to take care when mowing the lawn.

An Empty Lawn
Pets, children and toys should all be inside (or at least well away from the lawn) before you mow. Check the lawn for sticks, stones, clothes pegs, garden tools and other objects before mowing.

According to experts, children under the age of 12 should not operate a petrol powered lawn mower. And children should be 16 years old before they are allowed to operate a ride-on mower. Lawn mowing is a popular money-earning chore for kids in the summer, but the under-12 group is the most likely to sustain an injury.  It's commonsense, but experts also warn that young children should never ride on a ride-on mower in an adult's lap or in front of/behind the adult operator.

When operating any mower, don't wear loose clothing that could get caught in the mower. Long hair should be put up in a bun or similar style, not tied back in a braid or ponytail. Safety glasses are important to avoid rocks and other debris that might get flung out of the mower's spinning blades. Footwear should be sturdy and thick - no sandals, thongs or light sneakers. And definitely no bare feet! Sunblock and a hat are good ideas too. Finally, ear protection in the form of earplugs is another good idea.

Riding Mowers on a Hill or Slant
When using a ride-on mower on sloped ground, sources say you should drive vertically, or up and down the slope, not across it. If you ride across it, you run the risk of toppling over sideways, down the hill. 

Because of its flammable nature, you should use a lot of caution when handling it. Never smoke while filling a mower (actually don't smoke at all), and be very careful to avoid spills. Always turn the mower off before filling it, and store petrol away from heat sources (such as a hot water service or the running mower itself).

Wet Grass
Don't mow wet grass - it can jam the blades and/or the grass deflector/chute. Wet grass can also cause you to slip and fall.  And it's just not good for the lawn - it doesn't get cut neatly and looks ragged and horrible. Wait a day or so until it dries out, the mowing will be easier then too.

Push, Don't Pull
Pulling a mower toward you can be very dangerous. If you slip, the mower could go over your foot.  Commonsense really, but we all need a gentle reminder sometimes.

Keeping the lawn neat and tidy doesn't have to be hard or dangerous work. Remember the safety tips and get mowing!

Caramelized Onion Topped Oven Baked Flatbread

Need a tasty lunch idea? This is it. This bread is great on it's own, or serve it with a crisp green salad and slivered cheese or a yummy beetroot dip for something special. It's a delicious and satisfying weekend brunch with a bowl of vegetable soup too.

1 large fresh sweet onion, sliced
3 tbsp olive oil,
500g Penny Pinching Pan Pizza dough (or any good yeast pizza dough)
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

Step 1.  Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Step 2.  In a large fry pan, cook onion in 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until onions are soft and golden brown.

Step 3.  Get out a 25cm x 35cm swiss roll pan and lightly oil the bottom. Press the dough into the pan, pressing out until the dough is about 6mm thick.

Step 4.  Make indentations in the dough about every 2cm with a finger or a wooden spoon handle.

Step 5.  Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil evenly over the dough and sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and then spoon the caramelized onions evenly over the top.

Step 6.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Step 7.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then cut into serving size pieces and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

07 September 2012

Eat Less Meat

I'm not suggesting you suddenly become a vegetarian or vegan, but eating less meat is a good thing. It's healthier for you, your budget and the environment. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that livestock creates more greenhouse gasses than all the motor vehicles in the world combined! Beef production creates thirteen times more gasses than poultry and fifty-seven (yes, fifty-seven) times more greenhouse gasses than potatoes!

Try one or two meatless meals a week (there are lots of meatless recipes in the Recipe File for you to try) and watch your grocery bill come down, and be confident that you are also doing a little extra to safeguard our environment.

06 September 2012

Classic White

Coloured linens and towels look lovely but they are hard to launder and we all know sets just don't wear evenly. How many odd sheets or towels do you have in your linen cupboard?  Have you ever wondered why hotels always have white linens and towels? It's simple: white is classic.

White flat sheets will go with any white fitted sheet. Pillowcases will always match the bed linen. There are no laundry issues, all the linens go into the one wash. And stains - no problem, soaker won't fade the colour.  Best of all everything matches - no more looking for just the right shade of plum for the bathroom or green for the bed.

05 September 2012

Building on Bonus Pays

If you are paid fortnightly you are most likely used to living on that amount each pay period. You probably have your Spending Plan set up to run on fortnightly pays too.  But when you get paid fortnightly you actually receive three pays twice a year. What do you do with that money? If you are wise you will plan to use these two "bonus" pays to pay down debt or build up your Emergency Fund.

04 September 2012

Chicken in Pastry Bags

This is not only a tasty and appetising chicken recipe, it's truly frugal. You can use leftover roast chicken, or cook just one - yes  one - chicken breast fillet to feed the family and have leftovers for lunches.  These little morsels are delicious hot with baked veggies and mustard sauce or cold the next day for lunch (if they last that long).

1 cooked chicken breast (or the equivalent in left-over roast chicken)
3 sheets of puff pastry
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup prepared mustard sauce
100g grated cheddar cheese
1 onion, finely diced

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Dice the chicken into 1 cm squares and combine with the herbs, onion, grated cheese and mustard sauce.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.  This stops the pastries from sticking to the tray as the cheese melts and is worth the effort. Cut each sheet of pastry into three, then in half (to give you 6 small strips).  Place 1 heaped tablespoon of mixture into the centre of each pastry strip. Fold the edges of the pastry over to form a small envelope, leaving the top edge open. Pick up the pastry and place it on the baking tray, open end up. It will look like a little parcel. Using the palm of your hand, gently squash the top of the pastry down to form an open top "bag" of pastry. Bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until golden and oozing cheese. Let cool on tray 5 minutes before serving. These little pastry bags can be eaten as finger food or serve two or three with a tossed salad and a baked potato for a meal. Makes 18.

Note:   You can buy fresh dill in the veggie department of most large supermarkets or at good greengrocers.

03 September 2012

Tea Cup Pincushion

This is an idea from the Forum and I asked Anne F. if I could use it for this article and she very kindly agreed. I did some hunting around and saw this idea on eBay and they were selling for $20! I found a gorgeous cup and saucer at the op shop for $1.50 and used a scrap of fabric out of my quilting stash to make one for Hannah's Home Ec teacher who just loved it. This is a gorgeous gift for anyone who sews or who loves vintage things.

You will need:

1 old tea cup (and saucer if you have it)
a piece of fabric about 3 times the size of the top of the tea cup
wadding or other stuffing
a glue gun or sticky glue
ribbon, lace, tape measure etc. for trim - can use whatever sewing theme items you have i.e. buttons, cotton reels etc.

Step 1.  Measure the fabric and cut into a circle roughly 3 times the size of the top of the cup and cut it out. Sew a line of running stitch around the edge of the material about 1.5cm in.

Step 2.  Put a pile of wadding in the centre of the fabric and pull the running stitch up tight to make a ball. Run a line of hot glue around the inside edge of the cup and stick the fabric ball into it to make the pincushion.

Step 3.  If you have a saucer glue the cup to the saucer. Now let your imagination run riot with the ribbon, lace etc.