31 January 2013

Keep Up With Gift Giving

I like to give gifts, and not just for birthdays and Christmas, but often just because I can. Keeping track of what I give to who can be a little tricky. The solution is my handy-dandy little black book. Everyone I give gifts to has been assigned a page. When I see something I think they'll like I make a note of it (what, where, how much, when) and when I give them something I make a note of it (what, when, why).

It may seem a little OTT but life gets busy and memories are not always reliable, but my little black book is. It means I don't double up and don't spend hours wandering around looking for the perfect gift  that I just know I saw somewhere.

30 January 2013

Recycle and Re-use

Of course, there are the obvious things like water bottles and other plastic containers, which in some cases offer rebates when you return them. However, have you considered recycling household cleaning equipment, for example? Items like traditional brooms and mops are:

  • More efficient because of how sturdy they are in design
  • Much cheaper than the disposable alternatives
  • More convenient because they can be used time and time again


29 January 2013

Balinese Lamb Chops

8 lamb chops (have also made with turkey or pork chops too)
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup (130g) crunchy peanut butter
¼ cup (60ml) sweet chilli sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup (160ml) coconut milk
3/4 cup (180ml) water

Add onion to pan; cook stirring until browned. Add peanut butter, sauce, juice, and combined coconut milk and water, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly. Lamb chops can be fried or baked. If baking, pour sauce over and leave stand for an hour or so before cooking. Serve with rice. *This is a great satay recipe without being too spicy (I don't do spicy very well!) I also use this sauce when making satay beef stirfry.

Serving size: Serves 4

Contributed by Kate

Cupcake Pincushions

25 January 2013

Make Your Shopping List Work Harder for You

Allison Dennis wrote "Make your shopping list work harder for you. I write a shopping list every week before I do my groceries and I set a budget, however, I noticed that each shop the amount I spent could vary considerably. My husband's salary is changing from weekly to monthly which has prompted me to tighten up on my grocery shopping (amongst many other things). Now when I go shopping, I write down the price of each item as it goes into the trolley and I keep a running tally of how much I've spent so far at the bottom of my list. Not only does this give a greater insight into how much each item in the basket actually costs, but because I want to stick to a certain budget, it enables me to prioritise what goes into my basket - meat, fruit, vegetables, baby goods (nappies, etc.) and then the rest. So far, I have reduced my bill by at least $50 a week without having to give anything up...I think this helps show how many hidden extras end up in the trolley each week."

Allison has the beginnings of her price book right there on her shopping list. This is exactly how, all those years ago, I started my price book and tracking grocery prices. Instead of discarding the list once I had finished the shopping, I would transfer the actual prices onto the next month's grocery list, ready to compare prices in store. At a glance I could see if the price of an item had increased (or decreased) and make a choice about buying it.  When you know your grocery prices you really can control your grocery bill.

24 January 2013

Vinegar is Not for All Things

Vinegar is a great cleaner around the house, but there are some things that should not be cleaned with vinegar or any mixture containing vinegar. Do not use vinegar on anything made of stone, including marble, granite, travertine and terazzo. Vinegar is an acid and it could damage anything made of these materials, including benchtops, floors and shower bases.  Vinegar is a good, frugal cleaner, but use it on stone and it could end up costing you more than it saves.

23 January 2013

Easy Peasy No Fail Pavlova

Nothing says Australia Day like a homemade pavlova and this one is a really easy pav to make, quick to cook and yummy to eat. Even if you've never made a pavlova before you'll have success with this recipe. I just had to share the recipe with you.

We'll be enjoying this pav with friends and family on Saturday, as a part of our annual Australia Day barbecue and I know from past experience one won't be enough, I'll be making two and there won't be leftovers!

2 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp boiling water

Beat egg whites, vinegar, vanilla, cornflour and boiling water until stiff. Slowly add the sugar, beating until it is dissolved. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (this is important, the oven must be at temperature when you put the pav in so it starts to cook immediately). Prepare a pavlova plate or baking sheet by covering the base with baking paper. Spread the pavlova mixture onto the baking paper in either a circle or rectangle, it's up to you. Bake for 45 minutes until slightly browned. Turn the oven off and leave the pav in the oven, with the door closed, until it is cold.

To make a larger pav, double the recipe and extend baking time by 10 minutes.

Top the pav with whipped cream and Six Minute Lemon Butter (because it's a good way to use up those egg yolks) and enjoy.

Do You Use Coupons?

Coupons are becoming more and more popular in Australia, and if you're wise you'll make good use of them. Instead of paying full price for things you buy at the supermarket, department or online stores, you can easily see some good savings by using coupons for some of your regularly used products. While saving 50 cents or a dollar might not readily seem like anything significant to you, you'd be surprised how quickly those savings add up at the end of each month!

You'll find coupons in your letterbox, and online. Search for them in your local area for the best deals.

22 January 2013

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

This is another one of those sneaky treats that increases your family's vegetable consumption without them knowing. It's also a great way to use up those excess zucchini that seem to be in every garden at this time of year.

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt 
2 1/2 cups plain flour
3 cups grated zucchini (about 2 large zucchini)
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp bicarb soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup choc chips

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 25 cm square cake tin. Beat softened butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, yoghurt and 1/2 cup of the flour, then mix in grated zucchini. Sift in remaining flour, cocoa, bicarb and cinnamon. Stir gently, then pour into the pan. Sprinkle with choc chips. Bake for 45 minutes, or until centre feels firm and a skewer comes out clean.

21 January 2013

Make Your Own Pompons

Pompoms are used in lots of crafts and they put the finishing touch to beanies and bonnets and they are so easy to make. 

Step 1.  Cut two small cardboard circles with a hole in the middle (about 5cm diameter outside and 1cm on the inside).

Step 2.  Wrap yarn around the circles until very full.

Step 3.  Then cut around the edge of the circle, where the two cardboard circles meet.

Step 4.  Tie a piece of yarn tightly between the two circles, slip the cards off and fluff your pompoms.

18 January 2013

Make Your Own Grow Bags

Growing vegetables in bags is becoming very popular, if for no other reason than it is very convenient, especially if you don't have room for a garden or the time to look after it.

You can buy them at any nursery and most hardware stores, even some of the larger department stores and supermarkets have them. The downside is they are rather expensive to buy and you are limited to growing what comes with the bag.

Save yourself some money and make your own. It will take you all of 15 minutes (at the most) to get your grow bag garden up and running, and you can do just about anything for 15 minutes can't you?

Go to your local nursery and buy a bag or two (or more) of good quality compost. The key words there are "good quality".  It will cost you more than the cheaper potting mixes but it will be worth it.

Choose a punnet of healthy seedlings (lettuce, parsley, spring onions, silverbeet, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers - whatever you like).

When you get home choose a nice sunny spot for your grow bag. Remember, most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day for healthy growth. Make sure your garden hose reaches that spot - they will need regular watering too.

Lay the bag flat on the ground. Use a screwdriver or a weeding fork to punch holes in the bag - these will be the drainage holes, so make sure there are enough of them - one hole every 10cm works well.

Turn the bag over. Use a Stanley knife (or similar) to cut eight evenly spaced crosses across the bag, in two rows (four on the top row, four on the bottom row).

Plant your seedlings into the compost, one per cross.

Water in.  That's is, except for the daily watering (and if it's been very hot they'll need watering morning and night).

Once the plants are finished and you've harvested all your delicious veggies, tip the compost onto your garden and dig it in.  Start with fresh compost next season.

17 January 2013

Chef's Tip Jar

When you eat out, you may sometimes leave a tip for your waitress - apparently the going rate is 20% of your bill. Why not apply the same logic to eating at home? When you cook an especially nice or complex meal, treat yourself to a tip. Keep a tip jar on the bench and estimate the amount you would have paid for a similar meal at a restaurant, then bank 20% of that amount in your "chef's tip jar."

  • Let's say for a meal of pasta for four, you pay $45 at a restaurant. Save money by cooking the meal at home, and tip yourself $9 rather than the waitress.
  • If you don't have cash on you, write yourself an I.O.U. and actually call it in next time you go to the bank. Alternatively, you can simply transfer the amount of your "tip" to your savings account.
Just tipping yourself $9 once a week will give you $468 at the end of the year - now that's a nice little tip for doing what you'd do anyway.

16 January 2013

Lots of Little Ways to Conserve Electricity

Electricity is obviously a key expense that we just cannot avoid. However, have you ever thought about switching out your bulbs to energy-saving alternatives and turning off everything electrical when not in use? Most of us have, but there are other things you can do to cut down on your electricity consumption.
  • Electronic equipment, like computers, use electricity even when switched off. To really save money, unplug them when you're not actively using them.
  • You may think that it won't make much difference because things like light bulbs don't use up much electricity anyway, but you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much savings you'll see on your energy bill.
  • Keep the food processor in the cupboard and dice, chop and grate your vegetables the old fashioned way - with a sharp knife and a grater!
  • Do you really need to blow-dry your hair every time you wash it? Try towelling it dry, then combing into your style and letting it dry naturally (or you could make a cuppa and take it and a book and sit in the sun for 20 minutes). It won't take long to dry and once it is, just comb or brush it through.
  • Switch to washing every second day, or even just twice a week. Yes, you'll have more loads to do, but there is a much better chance of them being full loads.
  • If you have a large chest or upright freezer, only open it once a week. Treat it as a shopping trip and take out everything you'll need for the coming week: meat, bread, vegetables, desserts, pastry etc. Transfer the food to your fridge or the fridge freezer compartment. Each time you open your freezer, it costs you money to bring it back down to the set temperature. Eliminate frequent opening and save some money.
None of these things will save you a fortune on their own. But collectively, over a year, they will make a big difference to your power consumption and the overall bill. Why not give some of these ideas a try and see how much of  a difference they make to your power bill?

15 January 2013

Garden Veggie And Ginger Beef Stir Fry

1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
250g lean beef, sliced thin
1 large carrot, cut into thin strips
1 green capsicum, sliced into thin strips
1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
2 cups broccoli, cut into small florettes
250g fresh mushrooms, sliced
Cooked brown rice, optional

In a small bowl, put the soy sauce, garlic powder, ground ginger and water and mix together; set aside. Heat half the oil in wok or large frying pan, when hot add beef and stir, cooking quickly; remove beef. Put the remaining oil in the wok and add the carrots, cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the remaining vegetables and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften slightly. Pour in the soy sauce mixture and stir; reduce heat and cook for another minute until hot and bubbly. Remove from heat, add beef back into the mixture and stir. Serve over cooked brown rice if desired.  Serves 4.

14 January 2013

Australia Day Recyclable Lanterns

We celebrate Australia day with a barbecue, sometimes in the backyard at home, sometimes in the bush, sometimes at the park. However we celebrate we start at lunchtime and enjoy the day as it slowly progresses into evening.

A really nice way to enjoy summer evenings is by lantern light, it's a great "mood" lighting.

You can buy lanterns of course. Or you can be a Cheapskate and make them. I like these old fashioned tin lanterns, made from recycled tuna and fruit cans (well washed of course).

Basically you take an empty tin can and hammer a festive pattern of holes on the can using a small nail. That's it in a nutshell.

If you need a few more detailed instructions and a couple of tips to make it easier, keep reading.

Step 1. Choose your can, and make sure the top edge is smooth and safe. My can opener does this, you may need to carefully fold the edge over if it's sharp. Wash it well in soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Fill the can with water and freeze it. This will make punching the design so much easier as the nail will punch into the ice and the can will keep it's shape.

Step 2. While the can is freezing, choose your design. Look online, use the kids' colouring books for simple line drawings you can copy or if you're very clever you can draw your design freehand. For example you could have stars as the design, or boomerangs or kangaroos, or perhaps wattle or a gum tree - whatever takes your fancy. Use a fine Sharpie marker (or similar) to transfer your design to your can using evenly spaced dots (one for each nail hole).

Step 3. Place the tin  on a folded tea towel or a cutting board, so it doesn't move around when you are punching the design. This is so you have a base to nail into. It just makes it easier than trying to not punch the nail right through the can.

Step 4. Using the nail and the hammer, carefully dot out the design, turning the can as needed to complete the design.

Step 5. Insert a tea light candle and you have a beautiful Australia Day lantern.

You can paint the can if you want to. White or cream looks nice, or you could go green and gold for Australia day, but I like the natural metal look of the cans as they weather.

11 January 2013

It's Only a Bargain If You Need It

Buy when you find something on sale that you need, not just because it's on sale, or at the Op Shop, or at a factory outlet. Too often you fall into thinking that because it's on sale or at a factory outlet you are automatically going to get the best price and you must buy right then and there. This is not always true. When you find yourself shopping and see an item on sale, or you're shopping at an outlet store, make sure you are making a purchase based on an item you really need or like, will add value to your home (or wardrobe, depending on what you're buying) and truly is a good deal. 

10 January 2013

Brew Your Own Coffee

My mother knows how much I love my coffee and so for Christmas she gave me an Expressi coffee machine. This coffee maker runs on pods, and at first glance they seem rather expensive (around $6 a box of 16), but they work out to 37c per capsule, or per mug of very nice coffee.

But, and this is a secret, don't tell Aldi - I get two cups of coffee from the one capsule, bringing the price down to a very affordable 18.5c per mug!

By brewing your own coffee each morning rather than making a daily run to your favorite premium coffee and latte store, you'll save a considerable amount of money over the course of one year. As an added bonus, you may even lose a little weight by opting for a cup of simple, homebrewed espresso rather than a frothy cappuccino  with all the bells and whistles.

    · Assuming that your daily premium coffee order is priced between $3.75 and $4.50, you can save between $1,200 and $1,500 each year!

09 January 2013

Eliminate Waste

Let's face it: human nature will prompt us to purchase more things than we actually need when we realize we have more money to spend. However, by only purchasing what you need, when you need it, you eliminate wasting your money. Many times, in stocking up on groceries and other products, plenty ends up being wasted.
    · Avoid waste at home by purchasing just what you need each time.
    · Use just enough of what you've bought so it lasts twice as long - you don't always need to use the amount suggested on the packaging.
This may seem the opposite of what I usually say about building up a stockpile and buying in bulk, but if you are just starting out living the Cheapskates way, take your time and think about each and every purchase. Then you will know what you use, how much you use and how often you use it.

Those tins of smoked oysters might be on sale for a rock bottom price, but if you only use one tin a year, buying a box, no matter how cheap they are, is a waste - of your money, your space and eventually the smoked oysters because after a couple of years you know you'll throw them out.

When you do stock up, only buy what you can use in a reasonable timeframe - think of those smoked oysters - and you'll save money, time and energy and eliminate waste.

08 January 2013

Crunchy Veggie Tuna Pasta Salad

This is a lovely salad served chilled on a bed of lettuce and garnished with cherry tomatoes. It packs well for lunches and picnics too.

2 cups small pasta shells, uncooked
1/4 to 1/2 cup your favourite creamy salad dressing
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced onion 
2 x 185g cans tuna in water, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to directions, drain well. In a large bowl, put the drained pasta, add the dressing, and toss until well blended. Add the veggies and mix again. Lastly add the tuna and toss gently, making sure you don't break the tuna up too much.  You still want some chunks, not totally shredded. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Cover and put in refrigerator to chill until ready to serve. Makes 2 good size servings or 4 small servings.

07 January 2013

1940's Style Tea Towel Peg Bag

Just recently I had to buy more clothes pegs and there were too many for the bucket I keep them in. I don't leave the pegs on the line, I bring them in each night so I like to have a container to keep them in, one that is portable and light. Going through my old scrapbooks I came across some notes and a diagram I'd drawn for a peg bag made with a coathanger and an old tea towel a la 1940's style.

Twenty minutes later I had a lovely new peg bag, and best of all it cost nothing and used materials I already had. Win-win!

It was so quick to stitch up and so cheap it had me thinking -  these would make lovely gifts for housewarmings and would sell well at fetes and craft stalls too.

You will need:
1 coat hanger - plastic or wooden, it needs to be strong (I prefer plastic, just in case it rains)
1 tea towel
Thread to match tea towel
Tailors chalk
Sewing machine

Step 1. Lay the tea towel on the table, right side up.


Step 2. Fold the top down 10cm, right sides together. This will form the top pocket of your peg bag. 

Step 3. Place the coat hanger on the pocket, with the hook part of the hanger in the centre of the tea towel.

Step 4. Take the tailor's chalk and trace across the top of the hanger, marking the spot for the hook. Your tea towel will be a little wider than the coat hanger (this will be taken up in the seam allowance) so continue the chalk line to the edge (I used a Sharpie marker in the picture above so you could see what I've done).

Step 5.  Sew along the chalk line (keeping the tea towel folded with right sides together), stopping 3mm from the mark for the hook. Leave a 6mm gap and resume sewing down along the other chalk line.  Trim excess fabric along sewing line, leaving a 6mm edge. Zig zag or overlock the raw edges together on each side, remembering to leave the gap for the hook.

Step 6.  Fold up the bottom edge of the tea towel, right sides together, so it overlaps the top pocket by 6mm. This makes the bottom pocket. Stitch along both sides using a 6mm seam, then zig zag or overlock the raw edges.

Step 7. Turn both pockets right side out. Slip the coat hanger into the top pocket, poking the hook through the space left for it (you may need to nip a small hole for the hook to go through.

And voila - your peg bag is done!

(It was far too hot today to run outside to take a photo of it on the clothesline, I'll get one tomorrow when it cools down)

If your tea towel is plain, you could add ric rac or lace or applique before sewing up the pockets. My notes had a seam stitched down the middle of the bottom pocket, to make two smaller pockets. You could do this if you want to, but my hands are too big and I'm usually in too much of a hurry to be fiddling around in little pockets for the pegs, so I left it out.

They'd also be nice for hankies if they were made from a pretty print and perhaps trimmed with lace or some embroidery and they'd go well in kids' rooms for socks too.

I have a few retro tea towels, from Wayne's Grandmother and some rather bright linen tea towels from my mother, that will look just lovely hanging on the clothesline. Add in a packet of pegs and they'll be a nice addition to the present box this year.

04 January 2013

A Different Pantry Challenge

Clean out the kitchen pantry, fridge and freezer but make it fun by putting together all those newly discovered foods hiding on the back shelves for unusual but delightful dishes.  Have a contest with each family member creating an original recipe.  Have a small prize for the best recipe - perhaps the winner's favourite dessert or meal the next night. Your pantry will be clean and tidy and you won't be throwing away good money by wasting food. A side benefit is that it will get everyone interested in cooking from scratch - a real money saver and a good skill to have.

Then continue the theme by cleaning out a wardrobe, garage or garden shed and designate items for a yard sale.  Earmark the money earned for a family getaway and you’ll get more cooperation.

03 January 2013

Coin Operated Laundry

With a family of five, I seem to have a never ending supply of washing to keep up with - at least 10 loads a week, more if we have houseguests, and most households would have a similar laundry load each week. Doing laundry costs money, even if you own the washing machine and use Cheapskates Washing Powder. 

Think of your laundry as a way to save money. A simple way to do this is to pay yourself to do the washing. Keep a jar in your laundry and pay yourself $3 every time you do laundry. One dollar to wash, one dollar to dry and one dollar to fold. And, if you're feeling generous, leave yourself a tip!

  • Assuming that you do laundry three times per week, you can save $156 per year!

02 January 2013

Car Pool

One of the most talked about - yet infrequently used - ways of cutting living expenses on a day to day basis is car pooling. Car pooling to get to work will save you money, cut down on traffic on the roads and pollution. But my favourite way to car pool is getting kids to school.  By car pooling with another parent or parents you save money and petrol, but you also free up a considerable amount of time each day.

 If there are other parents in your community who take their kids to school, why not:
  • Make an arrangement for both families to car pool every day?
  • Save a few bucks by cutting down on your daily petrol consumption?
  • Put those petrol savings to even better use?
There's still time before school goes back to arrange a car pool with some local families - so as the saying goes "just do it"!

01 January 2013

Easiest Ever Chicken Cordon Bleu

My family love this recipe, it's one of their favourites. I like it because, unlike the traditional Cordon Bleu you buy, it isn't crumbed and it's baked, not fried in oil. It's also a great "do ahead" recipe, prepare in the morning and put it in the fridge until you're ready to bake and eat. 

The original recipe called for Bleu cheese - well that's out of my price range and the kids don't like it. I use whatever cheese happens to be in the fridge, tasty, mozzarella, colby - but if you're a fan of Bleu cheese use it.

Using chicken thigh fillets reduces the cost by a couple of dollars while increasing the flavour - thigh fillets have a stronger flavour than breast fillets and they also stand up to the pounding, stuffing and rolling better too.

4 chicken thigh fillets, pounded thin
4 thin ham slices
125g grated low fat cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* spinach salad, optional

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Oil a shallow baking dish. Lay chicken cutlets out on work surface, lay one piece of ham on each fillet, then place even amounts of the cheese on top of each slice of ham. Roll the fillets up and secure with a toothpick. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the olive oil and egg. In a shallow bowl, put the Parmesan cheese. Take each fillet roll and first dip in egg mixture, then roll in Parmesan cheese and place in prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  (Cooking time will depend on how thin the cutlets are.)  Remove and allow to cool slightly at room temperature before serving.

* Serve on a plate alongside a simple spinach salad, lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.