28 February 2013

The Four Most Common Ways to Dry Foods

Did you know that drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation? In warm climates, it has been practiced for centuries. No special equipment is required, and most dried foods do not require refrigeration. Drying also allows foods to retain more of their nutritional value than preservation methods that require cooking.

The way drying preserves food is quite simple. By removing moisture, it takes away one of the most important things that microbes need to survive and multiply. Without those microbes, the food will not spoil.

Here are some of the ways you can dry food at home.

Sun Drying
If you live in a warm, dry climate, sun drying is an option for fruits (you've had sun-dried tomatoes haven't you?). They can be sliced and placed on screens made of stainless steel, plastic or coated fiberglass. Prop them up with blocks in an area where air can circulate around them on days when the temperature reaches 30 to 33 degrees Celsius or higher. Most fruits will dry within 2 to 4 days. When drying is complete, the fruit should either be frozen for 2 to 4 days or heated to 80 degrees Celsius in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. This will destroy any insect eggs.
Air Drying
Not all foods can be effectively air dried, but this method works well for herbs and certain vegetables. Herbs should be tied together in bunches by their stems and hung upside down in a dry, breezy area. I hang bunches of herbs from our garden from hooks in the ceiling in the kitchen. They may also be placed in a single layer on screens or newspaper. Beans, chilli and mushrooms may be strung onto thread. In most cases, drying will be complete in 2 to 3 days.
Oven Drying
One of today’s most popular food drying methods, oven drying is easy and works well for most foods in small amounts. Cut fruits and vegetables into thin pieces (a mandolin is good for this), place them in a single layer on a biscuit sheet and heat them at 50 to 65 degrees Celsius. Leaving the oven door cracked open will allow air to circulate, reducing drying time (slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the gap to prop the door open). If the food is rotated frequently, drying should be complete in 4 to 6 hours. Meat should be cut into thin strips and dried at a temperature of 75 to 85 degrees Celsius to make jerky.
For those who frequently dry foods or want to dry them in larger quantities, a food dehydrator is a good investment. Dehydrators are designed to optimize heat distribution and air flow, so you can simply spread the food out on the trays and check it in a few hours. Price varies depending on the brand and the size. I use a simple three-layer dehydrator I bought at Aldi a few years ago. It has a thermostat which ensures the temperature is even for the drying period.

Dried foods offer the ultimate in convenience and portability. And when packaged and stored properly, they may be enjoyed for months to come. If you’re new to food preservation, drying is a great way to get started, no special equipment required!

27 February 2013

Uncomplicate Your Spending Plan

Finances have a knack for becoming complicated. You want so badly to have a workable Spending Plan, one that is accurate so you are confident that you will be able to live below your means. You add in every little expense you can find and spend hours fine-tuning your income and expenditure columns, adding and subtracting and balancing until the figures dance before your eyes and you have pages and pages of columns and graphs. And you give up in despair because it's just too hard to use.

Stop! You can have a workable and accurate Spending Plan. Making your Spending Plan as simple as possible will allow you to get a better handle on your finances so that you can focus on matters that are more important. Simplifying your Spending Plan can have positive effects on all aspects of your finances by helping you keep everything under control.

Stressing out over your finances is a waste of your time, so rein them in today with a simpler, easier to manage budget.

Follow these strategies to make your Spending Plan easy, workable, and effective:

1. Start with a simple spreadsheet 

Keeping things in a spreadsheet can simplify your budget significantly. Set it up however you like or download our Simple Spending Plan template, it's under "Tools and Guides" on the Printables page. It's easy, uncomplicated and yes, simple. Or you can search for a free template for Excel or Google Docs; just choose something that works for you.

2. Devote 60% to your expenses 

The 60% Solution is a budget strategy that entails fitting your expenses into 60% of your gross income so that you can dedicate the remaining 40% to debt repayment, short-term and long-term savings, giving and fun or entertainment expenses.

3. Devote 10% to giving

Put 10% of your gross income toward your favourite charity, church, school - you decide, but give. If you've never given before it will be hard at first. I am often asked why this is important, especially if you have debt or don't have an Emergency Fund.  Refrain from touching this money for any purpose unless the circumstances are dire.

4. Devote 10% to debt repayment

Use the Payment Push if you have more than one debt to get your debts paid down quickly. This money is for debt repayment, so make sure it is gone as soon as it hits your bank account and you won't be tempted to spend it, or accidentally use it for something else. You can set up a direct debit to your debt accounts easily to make sure your debt money goes to debt.

5. Devote 10% to building your savings

This money is for building your Emergency Fund. Aim for $1,000 to start, then keep on saving until you have at least six months living expenses. When you have that six months of living expenses saved, you can stop saving and add that money to your debt repayment. But once all your debt is cleared, start saving again and aim for at least twelve months of living expenses saved in an easy to access account. Spend this money when you need it, because that is precisely what you're saving it for.

6. Devote 10% to your "fun money" 

Everyone in the family needs to be able to enjoy a treat now and then, or buy something they want that isn't a part of the regular household spending. You can spend this money in any manner that pleases you. This is guilt-free money that you can spend on movies, entertainment, eating out, comic books, junk food or anything else that you wish.

7. Reduce the number of categories you use

This is a biggie, and the thing that over-complicates and over-whelms so many new Cheapskaters. Many budget software programs instruct you to use a million different categories or subcategories. If you want to simplify your budget, use as few as you can. Rather than having a category for every entry, combine some expenses into a larger category to keep it simple. Download our Simple Monthly Spending Plan and use it - it is simple, easy to use and it works!

8. Pay your bills online

Automate your bill payments as much as possible so that you don't have to remember to pay your bills every month. Consider automatic bank withdrawals and pay bills online through automatic debit whenever you can.

9. Automate your savings

Every time your pay is deposited into your account, have a transaction scheduled that will transfer a specific amount into your savings from your checking. Aim to find a high-yield savings account for this purpose.

10. Keep your fun money in cash form

Take out your 10%, keep it in cash, and use it as you see fit. Watching the cash disappear from your wallet can actually teach you a lot about where the money goes.

If you investigate, you'll find plenty of ways to simplify your budget. Do what works well for you and your family. Avoid struggling with a new budget plan because you think it must be better. If it isn't actually helping you budget, then it's not the "better" option for your needs. Sometimes simpler is more effective.

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 2

Strategy No. 2 - Measure
Clothes detergents and liquid fabric softeners have become quite expensive, as have dishwasher powders. Cordials and cereals are expensive too. Do you find you simply pour them in quickly and don’t worry about measuring the proper amounts? Measuring these “liquid gold” products will make them last as long as possible, ensure you get the right amount of washes or serves from them. In the case of foods and drinks having the right sized portion also helps keep you trim and healthy.

26 February 2013

Irish Butter Shortbread

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for work surface

Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Prepare your baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Set these aside until needed.

If you have an electric mixer with paddle attachments, this would work best. However, you can also use a large bowl and hand mixer to cream the butter and sugar tofether. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the flour in small amounts. Continue to add the flour and mix the dough until it forms a ball.

Lightly flour the work surface and move the dough to it. Roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. If the dough begins to stick to the rolling pin, dust it with flour. Cut shortbread out using a 5cm round scalloped or fluted cookie cutter. Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet placed at least 3cm apart. Be careful to avoid overworking the dough, but you will want to gather the scraps and repeat until all of the dough is used.

Bake the shortbread for about 30 minutes or until they just begin to turn golden brown. Move the cookies to wire cooling racks and allow them to cool completely. If the shortbread isn’t eaten right away, you may store it in an airtight container for up to three days.

22 February 2013

Save Money on Homewares by Shopping Smartly at Op Shops

How Much Can You Save? $10 to $50 on individual homewares and appliances

Have you ever considered becoming a regular at your local op shop? There are some great advantages of dropping into your local op shop every couple of weeks or so.

When you do, you’ll develop a relationship with the volunteers. You can share with them what you’re looking for and they can keep an eye out so that the next time  you drop in, they can direct you to items of interest.

When you arrive in the store, look around in all the nooks and crannies of the store. Get really familiar with the homewares section. This section can be a real gold mine, depending on where you live.

Particularly in up-and-coming areas, op shops often have some of the latest homeware items at better than bargain-basement pricing.

Don’t be surprised if some of the items are in their original packaging and look like new.
Special tip: Before you buy anything electrical at the op shop, test the item by plugging it in at the store to ensure it works. The clerks are usually very helpful if you want to check an item to see if it’s in working order. Also, verify your op shop’s return policy before buying any housewares.

Check out the homewares for sale at your local op shop. You’ll be pleased by the selections as well as the pricing. Save big bucks by shopping for homewares at your neighborhood op shop!

21 February 2013

Using Dried Foods on a Regular Basis

Dried foods are quite popular among survivalists apparently.  I’ve never thought of myself as a survivalist, more a planner. I like dried foods because they require no refrigeration or cooking, and they’re compact and lightweight enough to carry along in a backpack. But is drying food worth the effort for those who do not spend a lot of time in the great outdoors?

Yes, it is. Dried foods are much more versatile than most people realize. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy your dried foods.

Eat them right out of the package

Many dried foods make wonderful snacks just the way they are. Simple though it is, sultanas are one of the most popular dried food snacks, and it’s loaded with protein (who hasn’t packed sultanas in their children’s lunches?). Dried nuts and seeds are also delicious and nutritious.

Make trail mix

Most of the trail mixes you buy at the grocery store are simply a mixture of dried fruits and nuts. Add some chocolate chips, pretzels, cereal pieces or small jubes to fruits and nuts you’ve dried at home to create your own unique recipe.

Add dried fruit pieces to cereal

On mornings when you’re in a rush, a bowl of whole grain cereal with dried fruit and skim milk is the perfect quick and nutritious breakfast. MOO muesli by adding dried fruits, nuts and coconut to rolled oats – eat it as is, or toast it for a few minutes in a moderate oven for toasted muesli.

Make fruit leathers

Again, who hasn’t packed a fruit leather (known as roll-ups in Australia) in a lunchbox?  When you’re stewing or drying fruit, set some aside nice, ripe pieces to cook up and puree. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit before blending. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, spread the puree out evenly and dry in the oven at 80 degrees Celsius until it is easily peeled off of the pan (usually 4 to 10 hours). Cut into pieces and store in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. This makes a great healthy snack for kids – the kilojoules are concentrated but so is the goodness and no added sugar!

Make soup

Dried vegetables cook up nicely in sauces, soups and stews. To make a quick soup use one part dried vegetables to four parts stock (or four parts water and four stock cubes if you don’t have your own stock) and season to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes for a hearty vegetable soup.

Rehydrate them

Dried food items can be used in the same ways as their fresh counterparts if they are rehydrated. Most fruits and vegetables can be soaked in 1 to 3 cups of water for 30 minutes to an hour. Vegetables should be rehydrated in boiling water, while fruits should be placed in water at room temperature. If using in a recipe, keep in mind that rehydrated foods cook more quickly than those that are fresh. I use dried vegetables (peas, corn, carrots, onion) like this when we are camping – they are light to pack and take up very little room, making them ideal for hiking, caravanning and camping.

Add them to your disaster supplies

Cyclones, flood, fire and even earthquakes can leave us without electricity for days with no refrigeration or means of cooking. Having some dried foods on hand is one thing you can do to be prepared.

As you can see, dried foods are quite versatile. They make a great addition to any pantry. If you dry your own homegrown fruits and vegetables the cost is just the electricity to run the dehydrator. Even buying  in bulk and drying will save you a lot of money.

I'll talk about methods of drying next Thursday.

20 February 2013

How to Remove a Splinter

I was talking with a friend the other day, he works with timber, and he was saying how painful splinters are and how hard they can be to remove.

Wayne gets splinters all the time, sometime wood, most of the time from metal shards. They tend to go in deep and require digging out (and that is painful), unless he tells me and I can get a poultice on it.

That's a lovely old fashioned word isn't it? Poultice. It's not used too much these days, although my mother would make up a poultice for all sorts of things. Sometimes they'd be bread, other times they'd be herbal, and sometimes I have no idea what they'd be made of. But they worked.

Splinters would pop out, boils would come to a head and the pain would go away.

So when Simon mentioned splinters, I was glad I could offer a painless and frugal way to get them out.

Firstly, gently clean around the area the splinter is with soap and water. Don't scrub, just wash the area, then pat it dry with a soft towel.

Next take a teaspoon of bicarb soda (yes, the same stuff you use in cooking and cleaning) and make it into a stiff paste with a little water.

Smear the paste over the splinter and cover it with a bandaid.

The bicarb soda will cause the skin around the splinter to soften and plump up and push the splinter out.

Replace the poultice every couple of hours for a day and the splinter should be sticking out of the skin, ready to be gently removed with a pair of tweezers.

Don't be tempted to squeeze unless the splinter is sticking out. Squeezing often forces splinter further in, making them harder to remove.

If your splinter isn't ready to come out, make up another bicarb poultice and leave it another 24 hours.

If you have an invisible splinter (from cactus plants, fibreglass and so on),  use a strip of sticky tape to pull it out. Just press the tape (sticky side down of course) over the area the splinter is in and then pull it off, in the opposite direction to the way it went in.

Now, a word of warning. If you haven't been able to remove the splinter within 48 hours, or the area becomes red and inflamed, go to your doctor. A splinter may seem a trivial complaint, but infection isn't trivial, and left in situ splinters can move deeper and deeper into the flesh and can cause serious problems.

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money

This is the first in  a series of little ways you can stretch those dollars till they scream, and get more bang for your buck!

Strategy No. 1. 
Reduce your pocket money every other month. Let’s say you keep $200 a month as your “mad money.” Why not reduce it every other month to $175 and place that extra $25 into your savings? The small amounts you save add up and over a year you'll add an additional $150 to your savings.

19 February 2013

Beetroot and Orange Chutney

Oh my is this chutney good! It goes very well with roast meats or a nice strong tasty cheese, and adds a little pizzazz to boring sandwiches. But I love it most of all because it is a really delicious way to use up the beetroot we grow.

1½kg raw beetroot, trimmed, peeled and small diced (wear gloves, beetroot juice stains!)
3 onions, finely chopped
3 eating apples, peeled and grated
Zest and juice 3 oranges
2 tbsp white or yellow mustard seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
700ml red wine vinegar
700g raw sugar


Grind your whole spices, either with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder (coffee grinders do a good job of grinding spices if you have one) or the food processor and combine with the cinnamon.

In a very large saucepan (I use my pasta pot) mix all the ingredients and stir really well to make sure they are thoroughly combined. Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then cook for about one and a half hours, stirring occasionally, until the chutney is thick and the beetroot is fork tender.

While the chutney is cooking, sterilise your jars.

Once the chutney is ready, let it settle for 10 minutes, then carefully spoon into the jars and seal while still hot.

This recipe makes approximately six 500g jars of chutney that will keep for up to six months. It is ready to eat immediately, but gets better with age. Once you open a jar, keep it in the fridge and eat it within two months of opening.

I don't bother with cutting and chopping by hand, I put the beetroot, apple and onion in the food processor and whizz until they look about the size I want.

I also use the food processor (because it's out) to grind the spices. It does a great job and saves a little time.

18 February 2013

Quick Quilted Pot Holder

You can never have too many pot holders and hot pads in a kitchen, especially if you cook and bake and preserve. They are so useful for so many things, not just taking hot pans from the oven. I use a large pot holder when I'm making jam. Jam spits, and it spits boiling sugar and that hurts, so I wrap a pot holder over the top of the spoon and it protects my hands from burns. I sit hot trays on them and hide them under tablecloths to protect the table from hot casserole dishes. Pot holders are very handy things.

Sadly though, if they are used a lot they get shabby very quickly and I really like nice things in our home. We may be Cheapskates but that doesn't mean we can't have lovely things. Thankfully these little pot holders are really quick to make and use scraps - really they do - of fabric and batting, making them free! And they can be made in about half an hour!

That means when they get too shabby they can be recycled to the garden or garage and new ones can take their place.

The instructions are for a 15cm round pot holder or hot pad. Simply enlarge the pattern to make bigger pot holders or hot pads.

You will need:
4 pieces of fabric 18cm x 18cm
2 pieces of batting 18cm x 18cm (I use old bath towels or woollen blankets)
Extra wide bias binding, about 50cm
The pattern pieces (enlarge them to required size)

Step 1.  Print and cut out your pattern pieces (enlarge them if you want a bigger pot holder, don't forget to increase your fabric accordingly).

Step 2. Cut one piece of pattern A (the centre), two of pattern B (the sides) and one of pattern c (the backing) from your fabric. Cut 2 of pattern C from your batting.

Step 3. Piece the batting and front.  Lay the two layers of batting together. Place the centre (A) fabric in the centre of the batting, right side up.

Step 4. Press the straight edge of the side pieces (B) under 6mm. Place one side piece on each side of the centre piece, right sides up.  Align the outer edge with the circle of batting on both sides. The straight edges of the side pieces will overlap the centre piece slightly. Pin the pieces in place. Edge stitch close to the pressed edges on the straight sides of both side pieces, through all layers. This forms the pot holder top.

Step 5. Sew pot holder. Lay the backing piece (C) on table wrong side up. On top of the place the hot pad top evenly, with the batting side down. Baste around the circle close to the edge, sewing all of the layers together. Trim the edges of the circle being careful not to get too close to your stitching.

Step 6. Attach bias binding. Lay the pot holder on the table front side up. Open the bias binding out and lay the open binding on top of the front side of the pot holder, matching the raw edge of the bias binding with the raw edge of the circle. Stitch the tape in place with a 6mm seam. Continue around the entire circle, turning the binding as needed in order to follow the cuvre of the pot holder edge. When you get to the starting point, continue to place the binding around the edge overlapping the existing binding by 12mm to complete the circle and encase the binding. Cut the remaining bias tape off.

Step 7. Finish the pot holder.  Fold the bias binding and its folded edge over the edge of the pot holder to the back of the pot holder. Press if necessary to smooth out the pot holder. Pin the binding in place. Attach the binding by hand sewing it to the back layer. Stitch completely around the circle with a slip stitch.

16 February 2013

5 Easy Crafts that Use Scrap Paper!

Have you ever looked at a craft project and thought you'd like to try it, only to discover you need a zillion special supplies (I know I have, and I've often given in and gone and bought them!)? It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and challenge of a new craft, the finished product always looks so pretty or useful or cute or just plain attractive. And trips to the craft store can be fun, I love nothing better than browsing in Spotlight or Lincraft or Theo's (our local crafters heaven) but they can also be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you decide after you've spent all that money on supplied that you really don't like that craft at all!

The best crafts are the ones that don't cost a fortune (obviously!), the ones where you use materials and tools you already have, just like these scrap paper crafts. Every home has scrap paper. It can't be avoided - it comes in the letterbox, it comes in the mail, it comes home from school - for a paperless society we sure do generate a lot of scrap paper.

Using those scraps for crafting is one way of making sure it is properly used up before going to landfill.

Here are five craft ideas using scrap paper and tools you'll have in the house, you won't need to buy a thing. They are all simple enough for little kids to do, yet sophisticated enough for you too. They can be simple and sweet or amazing enough to use as gifts. That's the beauty of crafting - the end result is up to you.


Sometimes called paper filigree, you can achieve an amazing and detailed look with scrap paper. The principle is simple: wind thin strips of paper (1/16 to 1/8-inch wide strips) tightly around a thin tool or toothpick. Remove and shape with the fingers into flowers, hearts, vines, etc.

I first heard about quilling at CWA over 20 years ago (thanks Anne) and I've loved it ever since. It is so easy, even if you're not crafty you can quill. I love that it uses tiny amounts of paper, it's perfect for using up those scrapbooking leftovers. Just cut your strips into different widths and lengths, wind and pinch. You can buy a quilling tool for just a couple of dollars, or make one if you're clever. You can also buy quilling strips, but they get pricey. Start with making your own, if you decide you love it and you're going to quill for years then you can move on to the more expensive paper strips.

I use quilling mostly on greeting cards (birthday, Christmas, new baby etc.) but it also adds a little "wow" to gift cards too.

Papier Mache

Who hasn't covered a balloon in wet newspaper dipped in flour and water paste to make a papier mache ball? I think it's standard craft fare in most primary schools. But you don't need to stop there (although it does make wonderful pinatas - there's a fun example in the April 2009 Journal).

Dip newspapers torn into strips into a thin flour and water paste (mix 1 cup plain flour with 1/2 cup water and 1/8th teaspoon of salt - the salt stops the glue going mouldy once it's dry). Layer them over a mould (a balloon or an upside down ice-cream container or take-away container etc.) and allow to dry. Then sand smooth (if you like), paint, and decorate!

Paper Chains

Colourful magazines and even junk mail make great "links" for a paper chain. Cut into strips, link as rings, and make the chain as long as you like.

Pre-schoolers love to make paper chains and the cutting, glueing and folding are good for their dexterity.

Go with a theme for a special party - just newspaper chains for a black and white party, or use just the red pages from magazines for a red theme, or use that saved Christmas wrapping to make next year's decorations, ditto birthday paper. If you are going to use wrapping papers you may as well make sure they are well used.

We use paper chains to decorate for birthday parties and Christmas, barbecues and well just about any celebration at all and they always look amazing. They may be a little on the old fashioned side when it comes to 21st century party décor but add in some colourful balloons and they just shout "celebration" without the cost of that 21st century party décor - true Cheapskates style decorating.


My mother-in-law Pat created some beautiful decoupage. All her grandchildren have a footstool that she made and personalized for them, with photos and images starting with the day they were born up until she gave them their stools. AJ, Tom and Hannah love their stools and all three of them still have them in their rooms. They also have bag tags she made for their school bags when they started in Prep, with their name and a picture of their favourite thing at the time on it. And they have (or will when the time comes) beautiful little wooden chests, decorated just for them, for their 21st birthdays.

Decoupage is basically just cutting out pictures and layering and glueing them into a design, then covering the whole lot with varnish. Traditionally there would be up to 20 layers of varnish, all sanded before the next layer was applied, to create a glass-like finish.

These days it is much easier, only one or two layers of the finish are applied and no sanding! It makes finishing the item much faster and the end result is just as beautiful.

Cut out pictures and designs from magazines, pamphlets, or even wrapping paper. Then turn the cut-out over, scrape the edges thin from underneath (you can use a craft knife for this) and coat the back of the picture with decoupage medium. Carefully glue the design to the object (lamps, boxes, picture frames, table tops, etc.). Use a paintbrush to smooth and cover with more decoupage medium.

Paper Beads

To make paper beads, follow the method for quilling - except coat the paper strip with decoupage medium before you wrap it (leaving about 1/4 inch decoupage-free at the beginning so you can slip it off the toothpick when finished) and wrap at a slight angle. Add a dab of glue or decoupage medium to secure the end. If you like, paint the paper before cutting it into strips.

There are some beautiful jewellery pieces made from paper beads, and they are very pricey. Use old magazines to get multi-coloured beads and different types of paper and card for texture.  For inspiration visit Pinterest, there are some beautiful ideas there to inspire you. 

If you try all of these crafts you'll at the very least get through your scrap paper stash, and hopefully in the process you'll find a craft you love and make some beautiful things for your home (or to give as gifts).

I'm off to work on some cards - talking about quilling has made my fingers itch to start rolling strips of paper!

15 February 2013

Paying Your Bills On Time

Did you know that credit card companies make more money from late fees than they make from those very high interest rates? Banks rely on late fees for revenue so let them rely on someone else's tardiness. Check out these tips and save some real money.

Make a bill paying calendar
A particular bill is usually due about the same time each month. Write down all your bills on a calendar that you'll see on regular basis. The calendar will serve as a reminder of what's due and when. You'll never forget to pay a bill again. Use the Cheapskates Bill Paying System to get your bill paying organized and under control.

Set aside one day a week to pay your bills
Pick a day to sit down each week and pay all the bills that are due in 7-14 days. The bills that are due in 0-7 days will have been paid last week. This way the speed of the mail is never an issue, and you have time to deal with any unexpected challenges.

Go electronic
Paying bills online is faster and easier and it is very safe (it's certainly much safer than sending credit card details through the post or giving them to someone over the phone!). Once everything is set up, you'll just need to enter the amount and click 'send'. You can even set everything up on your bank's website and pay all your bills at once from one website. Now that's fast and easy.

Consider automatic payments
Many bills can be set up to automatically debit your bank account. You can arrange payments by Bpay or if Bpay isn't available, and you have the account numbers set up a direct credit each month. DO NOT have any bills charged to your credit card, under any circumstances (this is one of the fastest ways to get into debt).  If a credit card is required, get a Mastercard or Visa debit card and use that. You'll change your automatic payment to go to your card account instead. You'll never be late, provided you always have sufficient funds in your bank account. The overdraft fees can really get you if you're not careful, so make a note of the date your payment will come through and ensure your bank account has the funds to pay the bill (the Bill Payment Reminder sheet will help you with this).

Reward yourself
Changing habits can be challenging. Promise you'll do something special for yourself each month you pay all your bills on time. A little reward can really help to reinforce a new habit.

14 February 2013

Happy Valentine's day everyone :)

Love is a force more formidable than any other.
It is invisible — it cannot be seen or measured,
yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a
moment, and offer you more joy than any material
possession could.

~Barbara de Angelis

3-D Spaghetti Painting

Not sure what to do with those leftover cooked spaghetti noodles? Create a piece of art! Here's what you'll need:

* Cooked spaghetti
* Acrylic craft paint
* White glue (Aquadhere or similar)
* Silicone baking paper
* Scissors
* Bowls and plastic spoons
* Baking sheet

Place the wax paper on the baking sheet; set aside. In a bowl, mix 1 tablespoon glue with 1 tablespoon paint. Use bowls and paint/glue mixes for as many colours as you want. Add the spaghetti noodles to the bowls and "stir" with your hands until the noodles are coated with paint. Then, take a strand at a time of the colored spaghetti and arrange it on the wax paper in fun designs. Allow the noodles to dry for 24 hours or so, then remove your 3-D painting from the wax paper.

13 February 2013

5 Money Habits of the Wealthy

These tips come from recent interviews with millionaires about how they have accumulated their wealth.

How can you make them work for you?

• Avoid spending money on expensive digs. Get comfortable in your modest home. You'll pay it off quicker, which means you can then save even more money. Plus, a less pricey home is thriftier to maintain than a mansion.
• Refrain from making frivolous expenditures.  You might embarrass yourself if you purchase something unnecessary. Why not spend smartly instead?
• Never pay full price for anything. Shop sales or clearance only. Shop off-season to save even more.
• Wear business clothes for business only. Plan for  shirts, suits, and outfits  to last 4-5 years. Stick with classic styles and clothing that wears well and requires little ironing.
• Keep cars for 10 years or longer. Take exceptional care of them inside and out.

12 February 2013

Chicken and Salsa Tortilla Bites

One of the things I like to do is take a recipe that uses mainly canned and packaged ingredients and adapt it to my "make it from scratch" cooking technique. I did exactly this with these roll-ups and boy are they good! They're also very economical, using the meat left from a chicken roast and make a great change to sandwiches or rolls for lunches.

250g cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp MOO taco seasoning
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (left-over from a roast is ideal)
1 large tomato, seeded and finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
4 Mountain Bread wraps - whatever style you like, corn is good for these wraps
In small bowl, stir together cream cheese, chicken, tomato and onion. Gently stir until well mixed.  Spread chicken mixture evenly over each tortilla to within 1cm of edge. Tightly roll up tortillas. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until serving time. Cut wraps into 3 pieces to serve.

To make these more "adult" for parties, add 1 tablespoon diced jalapenos to the cream cheese mixture. Then cut each wrap into 2.5cm slices after chilling. Arrange on platter to serve as nibbles or finger food.

You can buy Mountain Bread direct from the baker, and you'll save around 33% off the supermarket price. Order with a friend or two and postage will be free too (there is a minimum order of 8 packets for free postage), making it a very Cheapskates style purchase. www.mountainbread.com.au  Or order 8 packets for your family, it keeps for ages and is so versatile - use it to replace lasagne sheets and tortillas for a frugal, healthy change.

11 February 2013

Quick, Cute Marshmallow Chocolates

We don’t do Valentine's day with expensive cards and chocolates, or fancy meals, flower or gifts. But I do like to do hide a treat in everyone's lunchbox as a little extra "mum loves you" surprise.  This year I've made marshmallow flowers and I'll put a bouquet of three in everyone's lunchbox on Thursday for their special Valentine's treat.

I saw the idea on Pintrest, and they were so pretty and so easy I had to try them. Of course I also modified the instructions to suit Australian ingredients and my budget.

You'll need:
1 packet Coles pink and white marshmallows (or use your favourite brand, as long as they are large marshmallows)
1/2 cup white choc chips
1/2 cup pink cake sprinkles or hundreds and thousands
Pink straws

Step 1. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler (or in the microwave).

Step 2. Stick a straw into the bottom of each marshmallow.

Step 3. Dip each marshmallow into the chocolate and then roll it in the sprinkles.

Step 4. Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and put into the fridge to harden.

Step 5. Tie three marshmallow flowers into a posy with pink or red ribbon.

You could also give single flowers, wrapped in cellophane or put a bunch of pretty marshmallow flowers into a bud vase and use as a table centrepiece for a special Valentines day dinner.

08 February 2013

Catalogue of Dreams

I cut the pictures and information on items of clothing, make-up, household design ideas, storage options, cookware, utensils, bedding, Christmas decorating ideas, anything that I see that represents a look or style I would like to achieve in the future from magazines and pamphlets I get. I then paste them in a big scrapbook that I bought.

I save my "sanity" money towards items in the book and use my spare time to try my hand at some of the decorating ideas. Looking through the book, which is now full, is like looking at a personalised catalogue. It is great to cross things off as I get them or complete them and it means I am not storing an excess of magazines for "one day", I pass the mags on to mum who doesn't mind if the odd page is missing!

And how many times do you get asked what you would like for your birthday or Christmas? It can be hard to think of suggestions, but with a scrapbook full of ideas it makes it an easy question to answer.

Contributed by Brydie, Warrnambool

07 February 2013

Enjoy Freshly Baked Muffins Whenever You Want Them

Freshly baked muffins are delicious and when you can just whip them up in 20 minutes, OK, 22 minutes, you need to fill the muffin tin, why wouldn't you? I was talking to my friend Jordan on Skype earlier this evening about this recipe, and how I've adapted it from the original to make it slightly healthier, when she asked how Cheapskaters liked it.  Well I don't know how Cheapskaters like it because I haven't shared it, so here goes (and I've put it in the Cheapskates Club Recipe File too, so you can find it there as well).

This is one of those amazingly simple recipes that makes really delicious muffins. It also makes a huge muffin batter, and around 3 dozen muffins. That's a lot of muffins to have in the cake tin at any one time. You can freeze them, but if you like freshly baked muffins for breakfast, morning tea or lunchboxes, you'll love this recipe because the batter keeps in the fridge for up to four weeks (or so I'm led to believe - it never lasts that long in our house).

It also used basic pantry items and is cheap. The batch I made this afternoon cost approximately $4.30 to make! That's just 11 cents a muffin! Make them in patty cake pans or mini muffin tins and they'll cost even less, and if you have small children a mini muffin is the perfect size, no half-eaten muffins to compost.

Now for some of you, if you aren't regular bakers, may find the ingredients interesting. There are some different ingredients in this recipe.

Raw sugar - you can substitute brown sugar if you don't have any raw, but the raw gives a nice caramel flavour.

Molasses - it's thick, black and very sticky. Butter your measuring cup before you measure it so you can get it all out.

Coconut oil - this replaces the butter or vegetable oil. If you must, use butter, but don't try to substitute vegetable oil, it won't be the same. The coconut oil gives a silky smooth texture to the batter and we like it so much I've started using it in other cake and muffin recipes too.  Coconut oil is very good for you. You'll find it in the health food aisle or at any good health food shop. It comes as a solid, so just measure your half cup and then cream it with the other ingredients as per the instructions. The coconut oil will whip up beautifully, better than butter or margarine.

And real, old fashioned rolled oats. Not quick oats. Not instant oats. Proper rolled oats (like the ones your Grandma cooked for breakfast).

I use olive oil spray to oil the muffin tins and they turn out perfectly every time, I am trying to get away from using paper liners, especially the coloured ones. They may look pretty but I was quite upset a little while ago when the dye from the papers I used actually bled into the cupcakes! I have no idea what the dye is, and I think it must be food safe, but really we don't need to eat it so coloured papers are definitely out and when my supply of unbleached ones runs out I'll stick to oiling the muffin tins for all my baking.

Refrigerator Muffins

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup hot water
3/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup coconut oil
2-1/2 cups Spelt flour (or whole wheat flour or gluten free flour blend with xanthan gum)
2 tsp bicarb soda
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk (or milk with 2 tbsp lemon juice; dairy free milk will work too)
1 cup dried fruit, chopped into small pieces (I use dried apricots)

Mix oats and hot water. Let them stand 5 minutes to soften oats. In a separate bowl, cream coconut oil, sugar, eggs and molasses. Add oat mixture, bicarb soda and flour alternating with milk.  Mix until just combined. Store, covered,  in the fridge up to 4 weeks.

To cook:   Fill oiled muffin tins or muffin papers (or your cupcake papers or mini muffin tins) 2/3 full.  Bake at 205 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Makes about 3 dozen.

Cook as many as you need and chill the remaining batter for next time.

Wayne and the kids love them because they are just plain good, I love them because they are quick, easy, frugal and healthy.  Let me know how you like them.

Re-use Household Items

You can save money by thinking of ways to re-use your household items. Try these ideas to get you started:

Plastic Grocery Bags

  • Never throw away a plastic bag from the store before re-using it at least one more time.
  • Use them in small rubbish bins rather than buying new rubbish bags.
    • Re-use them - if the rubbish is just clean waste paper, empty the rubbish into the recycle bin, keeping the liner in the wastepaper basket.

  • Place items in the plastic bags before storing to keep the items free
     of dust and dirt.
    • Use them to store Christmas decorations, extra bedding, clothes waiting to be passed down etc. Label the bags with a permanent marker so you know what is in them.

  • When you're done with them, re-cycle them at the supermarket.

Packing Materials, such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts and cardboard inserts

  • Use them as packing whenever you ship something.

  • Use them when storing breakables to cushion and protect them.
    • Great for storing decorations and fragile seasonal ornaments.
    • Use them to protect your good china and crystal when it's in storage.

  • Use them to protect many items when you're moving from one home to another.

Worn Towels, Wash Rags, Sheets, Blankets, Curtains, and Clothes:

  • Cut them up to use as cleaning rags. Use them to wash windows, wipe appliances, clean vinyl and tile floors or wash your car.
  • Put them in the garage or garden shed to use for cleaning hands, wiping up spills, cleaning tools and so on.
  • Cut them into squares and use the good portions of them to make quilts.
  • Cut them into strips to use for making colourful, braided rugs.

Old Carpet

  • Cut it in pieces and place them in doorways, the garage or laundry room for people to wipe their shoes on before coming indoors.

  • Cut it into strips and use it as weed mat.

Washable Dust Mops

  • You can buy dust mops with a removable dusting end that you can throw in the washer. No more buying disposable sweeping cloths!


  • Buy rechargeable batteries and use them over and over again instead of continually having to replace them with new batteries.

Silk Flower Arrangements

  • When you're finished with a silk flower arrangement, save on redecorating by taking it apart and using the flowers in fresh, new decorations, like wall baskets with some flowers, birds, and butterflies or small posies for table centres.

Save Money by Re-using Other People's Stuff

  • Frequent garage sales, op shops and consignment shops for great savings on gently used items you want to buy anyway. Buy it used instead of new and save a bundle.

06 February 2013

Recycling Your Junk Mail

If you're like most people, you make quick lists throughout your week, such as the errands you need to do today or items you want to pick up at the supermarket. You've got tons of those little memo pads you buy at the office supply store. All over the house, the car, in your handbag and by the phone you need a scratch pad.

Rather than purchase all those pads of paper for your lists and notes, try the following:

Step 1.  When junk mail arrives, open each envelope.

Step 2.  Next, sort the papers by size.

Step 3.  Stack the papers, turning each paper over  so the blank sides are on top.

Step 4.  Use the envelopes as long as the envelopes are blank and have little writing on the back side. Envelopes are the perfect size for task and store lists.

Step 5.  Staple each stack of like-sized junk mail  papers in the top left corner.

You've just made your own scratch paper pads  and they didn't cost a cent!

*Place a scratch pad in your kitchen to use as a grocery list.

*Put one of your junk mail scratch pads in your car  to scribble important notes.

*Store a scratch pad on your bedside table  to jot down all those things that come to you as soon as you go to bed.

*Keep one of your junk mail scratch pads in  your handbag for quick notes.

*Put one by the phone to catch phone messages.

*Use the one you put on your desk as your daily to do list.

With only your stapler and your junk mail, you can make the world a greener place and save some money, too!

05 February 2013

Taco Muffins

These muffins make a nice change from the regular school sandwich and are just as good cold as they are warm.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup polenta
1 1/4 tsp chili powder (or less, to taste)
1 cup milk
125g melted butter
1 large egg
500g mince, browned and drained
3 tbsp MOO taco seasoning
2 cups grated cheese (I use tasty, use whatever you like)


Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the milk, butter and egg together. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones and gently stir until the batter is evenly moistened. Add the browned mince and stir to combine. Spoon into oiled muffin cups. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out dry. Cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

You can add finely diced capsicum and onion if you'd like to spice them up, but we like them just as they are.

04 February 2013

Brown Sugar, Yoghurt and Sprouts

This morning has been a busy one in the kitchen. I took the meat from the freezer for tea tonight and decided what would go into the salad.

While I was poking around in the fridge I noticed the brown sugar canister was empty (did you know if you keep your brown sugar in the fridge it doesn't go hard?). Brown sugar is very easy to MOO and that's just what I did.

The mixer was already set up and 1 kilo of white sugar measured into the bowl. The molasses was a little thick so 10 seconds in the microwave fixed that and three tablespoons were measured and poured onto the sugar. A flick of the switch and the mixer was making me some lovely fresh, fragrant and moist brown sugar. 

Now you can mix the molasses in by hand, with a balloon whisk or even a fork, but it will take a while to get it all mixed through. If you have an electric mixer use it.

While the sugar was turning from white to cream to caramel and working it's way to brown, I put on a pot of vanilla yoghurt and another of plain (to make cream cheese).

My garden isn't doing so well at the moment. It's a combination of us being away a lot and the weather - searing days, no rain, hot winds and relying on the kids to remember to water. So I have had to buy lettuce - or at least look at buying lettuce. There is no way I will pay $2.50 for lettuce, so instead we are sprouting.

Cress is the sprout of choice at the moment. Sprouts are so good on salad sandwiches and rolls, and they sit nicely on a plate as the base of a salad. They grow really easily indoors, take up very little space and require very little attention. And they don't cost $2.50, then go brown and slimy or rot from the inside out like supermarket lettuce does. Sprouts are quick too; three days and you are picking them. I usually start a new lot when I start picking the first so we have a continuous supply and I'll keep doing this until the lettuce start producing again. I gave in and bought some seedlings from the nursery so in about 4 weeks we'll have lettuce and sprouts for our salads.

Brown sugar, yoghurt and sprouts aren't terribly exciting. But they are three small things I can make for my family, that they enjoy and that otherwise would be out of our budget. The brown sugar will go into baking for them, the yoghurt will make cheese for dips and add a nice element to fruit or cereal and sprouts - well they'll save us at least $2.50! And they'll make sandwiches more appetising (and healthier too).

 It's in this way that Cheapskating, homemaking, simple and sustainable living go hand in hand - a part of the circle of a frugal life.  

Stork Bundles

These are a lovely gift for a new mum, and yes, they get their name from the baby bundles left by the mythical stork. They are easy to make, taking only a few minutes and look really cute when you hand them over. Best of all they are inexpensive and anyone, no matter how creative, can whip one up in just a few minutes.

You will need:
10 new born disposable nappies
10 rubber bands
a length of ribbon
one bunny rug

Step 1. Roll each nappy like a Swiss roll and secure with a rubber band.
Roll each nappy like a Swiss roll and secure with a rubber band
Step 2. To assemble the bundle, fold the bunny rug in half lengthwise and then in half again, creating a long strip.
Fold the blanket in half lengthwise, then in half lengthwise again
Step 3. Lay the folded blanket in front of you and stack four rolled nappies in the centre.Stack three nappies on top of the first four, then two nappies, and then one on the top.

Step 4. Fold the ends of the blanket up to help hold the nappies in place. Make sure the top of the bunny rug is even on both sides.

Step 5. Tie the ends of the blanket together with a ribbon, attaching a teething ring or dummy to the ribbon.

The instructions are for a stork bundle made with disposable nappies, which, despite their environmental issues, will make life easier for the new mother in those first few days before she gets into a routine - please don't point the cost, dollar, environmental or otherwise out to me before you finish reading.

But stork bundles can be made up with anything that will roll - not just disposable nappies. I've made them with cloth nappies and with face washers, and even a bundle of flannelette bunny rugs with great success. A bundle of MCNs would make a lovely and very useful gift too.  You could use bibs, jumpsuits, singlets - anything at all that will roll up. Use your imagination!

All these things are very handy with newborns, and you can never have too many nappies, face washers or bunny rugs as they all have so many uses.

Click here to watch a How To Make a Stork Bundle video

02 February 2013

Knit One, Purl One

While we were away in early January I noticed that some of my dishcloths were looking a little sad. It's time to retire them to the laundry, garden shed and camping box.  I even had to repair a couple of them that had worn through and were running.

Out came my knitting needles and I spent a very happy hour sorting through my stash of yarns. I still have a little of the lovely aqua  I used to make the soap sacks, so that was my first dishcloth.

I get a lot of mail from readers asking what yarn I use for my dishcloths.

Bernat Handicrafter cotton is my yarn of choice for my dishcloths and soap sacks. It's soft, but very durable (it has to be to last 12 months or more in my kitchen) and comes in gorgeous colours. I order it online from American Yarns in Brisbane and while it's expensive initially, one ball knits up 6, sometimes 7 or 8, dishcloths, depending on the pattern. This time I ordered a lovely soft green (my favourite colour) and a beautiful variegated blue called Denim.

I can go through three, four or even more dishcloths in a day, depending on the baking, cooking and cleaning I do so I like to have a good stash in the basket on the microwave and these two balls of cotton will give me a lovely supply of dishcloths and keep my hands busy while I'm relaxing.

Although I like to knit and find it relaxing I don't think taking time out to knit is anything other than essential homemaking work. I don't feel guilty if I sit for half an hour mid-afternoon to enjoy the feel of yarn through my fingers and the rhythm of the click-clack of the needles. Knitting provides useful items for our home, items we would otherwise have to buy and that most likely wouldn't stand up to 12 months of use in my kitchen.

The cooler weather of the last week encouraged me to get the needles out. I even took my knitting with me when we went camping last weekend. I sat next to the campfire and quite happily click-clacked away until it was too dark to see, much to everyone's amusement.

Knitting adds to the comfort of our home. It saves us money.

Knitting slows me down. It gives me time to breathe, to take stock and to realize that life isn't meant to be a race, it's meant to be a journey to be enjoyed (and it keeps the supply of dishcloths up :) ).  

01 February 2013

"Living" in Your Car

In today's modern world, many of us spend so much time in our car going from work to errands to carpooling kids, that it is essential to organize our vehicles as well as our homes.

· After a thorough cleaning out, set up your car as a traveling home office. Keep some extra water bottles, pens, paper, snacks and spare change in your car. Again, the dollar store is a great place to pick up organizers in all shapes and sizes although ziplock bags and ordinary Tupperware style containers you already have work well too.
· Keeping a file folder in your car for receipts as you travel along will help tremendously at the end of the month. By keeping receipts, tracking exactly how much you are spending in your Spending Plan categories for petrol, drive-through meals and coffee etc.
· Once your car is neat and tidy, just make sure that everyone else on board helps with the maintenance of your system. Teach little children to take their books, bags and toys inside with them when they get out of the car (you can teach big kids to do this too!). Make sure you aren't carrying stuff you don't need and don't use the boot as a storage unit - empty it after shopping and make sure you take out whatever it is you put in it as soon as you can.