31 May 2013

Save10% on Your Grocery Bill

Always do your grocery shopping alone.
Leave the family at home. You will not only spend less money, you will save time and come home far less frustrated.

Whenever possible, know the prices of the items you are buying.
Don't trust the scanner - they have been known to be wrong. Keep an eye on your shopping as it is scanned and if you are unsure of a price, ask for a price check.

Check the store policy on goods that scan incorrectly.

Often you will receive the item for free if it has been scanned incorrectly at a greater price.

Always take from the back of the shelves.

If you are shopping at a store that still individually prices each item always check the back of the shelves (when you are buying non-perishable items) as these goods are often marked at the old price. Of course, be sure that the old price is the cheaper price.

Consider joining a food co-op.
Or starting your own – five or six families will be enough to get you started. You then gain the benefits of buying in bulk without having to worry
about the storage.

Get to know your grocery stores and discount warehouses.

You will know which store is about to have particular items such as soap powder, toilet paper, margarine or cereals on sale. Manufacturers often have them in a cycle - on sale at a different supermarket each week.

Look for discount coupons and don't be afraid to use them.
They can save you a small fortune over the course of a year. Naturally, you would only use them if you need the items on the coupons.

Don’t be afraid to try generic brands.
They have to come from somewhere and chances are the generic is the end run of a regular, more expensive brand name. If you don’t like it you can go back to your regular brand next time. If you do like it you can save 20 – 60% of the price.

30 May 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

One thing we can do that is good for the budget is stop wasting so much. This can apply to many areas in our lives. From eating to home heating, waste equals money going down the drain unnecessarily.

Cooking for the family instead of eating takeaway or dining out is a great way to save money. But if you're throwing food out, the benefit is reduced. So if you have leftovers, don't let them end up in the trash. Some dishes freeze well, and this makes for easy dinners when you don't have time to cook. You could also eat dinner leftovers for lunch the following day.

If your home is not well insulated, you're probably wasting lots of money on home heating and cooling. Insulating will cost some money up front, but it will pay for itself quickly. If you have drafts around windows and doors, weatherstripping can help maintain the temperature of your home.

Most households waste an unbelievable amount of electricity. This can be prevented in part by using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs. Turn lights, televisions, computers and other devices off when you're not using them, and open blinds to take advantage of the sun's light during the day.

Unplug the dryer and get out the clotheshorse. If you're already heating your home for winter, let the cost of heating help dry your washing. A clotheshorse over a ducted heating vent will dry washing overnight. Put one in a sunny window and the washing will be dry in no time. Sit one next to the combustion heater and you'll be folding and ironing in just a couple of hours. Best of all it won't be costing you $1.10+ to dry a load of washing.

Benjamin Franklin said "Small leaks sink big ships".

It's not the big amounts you waste that will bring your Spending Plan undone, but all the tiny amounts you let slip by "because it's just a small amount".  Plug those small leaks, stop the waste and watch your finances improve.

29 May 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 15 - Reduce Driving

I commented to Wayne last night about just how cheap (in the grand scheme of things) a particular car was. His comment made me stop and think: "That's because it costs so much to run, it's the most fuel thirsty car on the market".  And that led to a discussion about just how much we spent on petrol each week and how we could keep it under control.

With the skyrocketing prices of petrol, diesel and LPG, try alternate methods of transportation, especially for frequent or shorter trips. Get a bike and a helmet and ride, the exercise is great and now the weather has cooled down it's a comfortable way to travel.  Try the bus or train when you travel.  I use the tram to get into the city. Sure it takes a little longer, but I hop on, sit down and enjoy the ride. I arrive at my destination relaxed and I don't need to waste time looking for parking.  Or walk if you’re heading somewhere closer.  Hannah and I often walk to our local shopping centre if we're just going to the post office or to pick up one or two things. Take some time and really analyze where your fuel money is going.

If you can’t use public transport to get to work, consider carpooling with someone else in your company. This reduces the wear and tear on your car and will save you fuel money, especially if three or four people share the ride.

Also try grouping your errands all at once so you can get it all done in one trip. I do the school run twice a day 3 days a week. While I'm out I go to the post office, bank, fruit shop and do any other errands I can along the route. One trip, multiple errands done.

And on other thing I try to do: have one day a week that is a "no driving" day. If I go out on that day (for me it's a Friday) then I walk, get the bus or the tram or hop on my bike. That may not work for you, but think about it and try it - I found that it was actually a very calming and relaxing thing to do, and you might too.

28 May 2013

Sesame Vegetables

2 tsp sesame oil
500g mixed vegetables: snow peas, carrot straws, corn kernels, broccoli and cauliflower florets, onion wedges, sliced celery, bean shoots, diced capsicum etc.
1 tsp sesame seeds

Place the oil into a wok or large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat.
Add the vegetables and stir fry for 5 minutes or until crisp tender. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, cook another minute, stirring the sesame seeds through the vegetables.

Makes 4 servings

The sesame oil gives these vegetables a great taste. Use your favourite combination of vegetables. Add this dish as a side to any of your favourite grilled chicken, steak or pork dishes for a very quick, easy and healthful side dish.

27 May 2013

Underwater Photos

For great photos at the beach or in the pool, put a cheap, disposable camera inside a plastic snap-lock bag. Make sure you leave a big air bubble inside. You can now take photos underwater, and the camera won't sink too fast if it is dropped! Kids love it, and the photos turn out great!
- Contributed by Jenna, Wagga Wagga

24 May 2013

How Much Meat to Buy

Whichever way you budget, there is a difference between buying meat in cost-per-serving as opposed to cost-per-kilo. This list shows you some quick and easy comparisons.

Boneless and minced meats (flank, tenderloin, round, fillet, rump, lambs fry, heart, kidneys, brains, tongue, sausages etc.) will yield approximately 6-8 servings per kilo. If you take the half-way point (7 servings), just divide the cost of the meat per kilo by 7.

Meat with a medium amount of bone (rib roasts, rump roasts, chuck, chops, steaks, ham slices, loin roasts and leg of lamb) will yield 4-6 servings per kilo. Again, take the price of the meat per kilo and divide it by 5.

Meat with a large amount of bone (short ribs, neck, shank or shoulder cuts) generally gives 3-4 servings per kilo. Divide the cost of the meat per kilo by 3.5. It is very possible that although these cuts of meat may appear to be inexpensive when compared to other cuts on a per kilo basis, when you calculate the cost per serving, some of these cuts may be quite expensive.

Smart shoppers use cost per serving rather than price per kilo in making meat selection decisions. Price per kilo can be misleading because all cuts will not yield the same number of servings per kilo. Although some boneless cuts may cost more on a per kilo basis, they may be more economical due to less waste. The amount of bone and waste fat determines the number of servings of cooked meat a cut will yield. Cost of the edible portion is really the important factor.

The type of cut you purchase is very important in determining the amount of meat to buy. Normally a recommended serving size is 90 – 100 grams, or about ten servings per kilo of cooked lean meat.  The servings per kilo of purchased weight can vary greatly due to differences in fat and bone content of different retail cuts. For example, about twice as many people can be fed from boneless pork chops as from pork sirloin roast because boneless pork chops have about eight servings per kilo, compared to four - five servings per kilo for a pork roast.

23 May 2013

Every Little Bit of Savings Adds Up

Living on a budget is the key to financial freedom, but getting started can be frustrating. When we look at our expenses and see all of those bills we're paying every month, it's easy to throw our hands up in disgust. But what about all those little expenses we incur? You might be surprised to find out just how much they amount to.

It's easy to dismiss cutting back on little things. A few dollars a month won't make a significant difference in the big picture. But a few dollars here and a few dollars there adds up to a few more dollars. When you cut back in a lot of small ways, you could end up with a lot more money at the end of the month.

22 May 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 14

Reduce Unnecessary Services

One of the most common money-wasters is paying for services you really don’t need. For example, how many television channels do you really watch? Chances are good that there are a few dozen channels you simply never turn to.  If you can get rid of some of your programming, you just may find that you’ll have some extra cash at the end of the month. Do you use all your Internet or mobile phone data allowances each month? If not, perhaps there is a better plan for you. Look at your Spending Plan and if there are things in it that you pay for but don't fully use it's time to revise and reduce those services.

21 May 2013

White Chocolate Gingerbread Blondies

These little squares of deliciousness are well worth the effort in making them. They are moist and full of spice and keep in an air-tight container for up to a week, if you can resist them.

2¾ cups plain flour
1¼ teaspoons bicarbonate soda
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
300g butter, room temperature
1¼ cups packed light-brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup molasses
300g white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet, 40cm x 30cm with cooking spray.  Line bottom with baking paper cut to fit, and coat baking paper with cooking spray. Whisk together flour, bicarb soda and spices. Beat butter, brown and white sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs and yolk, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in white chocolate.  Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake until edges are golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 5cm squares to serve.

20 May 2013

How to Make Your Own Toxin-Free Glue

Glue can be extremely toxic. It’s not something you really want your children to be playing around with. This natural glue recipes are easy to make, good for the planet and your pocket book.

This recipe is really easy to make and fun for kids.

1 cup of plain flour
1/3 cup of sugar
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon of vinegar
Natural food dye/colours

Place all ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Stir together gently until mixture thickens. Remove from heat to cool. Store in an air tight container and the glue will keep for approximately 7 days.

17 May 2013

Car Buying Tips

Young Cheapskater Cecily Morgan emailed with a question this week and as we are in a similar boat to Cecily, with Hannah about to turn 18 and anxious to spend her hard-earned and saved money on her first car, I thought I'd share some of the tips we use when buying cars.

Cecily wrote
"I'm looking at buying my first car but I don't know where to start. I want something reliable without paying a fortune. Do you have any suggestions?  Where should I start looking? When is the best time to buy and how do I make sure I'm not going to get ripped off. Thank you for your help."

Cecily you are smart to do your research first before committing to such a big purchase.  We depend on our cars, and it’s important to have a safe and reliable means of transportation.  Here are a few tips to help you get the best car for the money.

Buy Used

You’ll pay a premium for a new car.  New cars depreciate quickly (really, as soon as you leave the car yard you've lost thousands), so it makes sense to buy used—let someone else pay for the depreciation!  “Used” doesn’t have to mean “lemon,” however.  Even a year-old car offers significant savings.

Do Some Online Research

Think about the features you want in a car: its size, its fuel efficiency, its durability, its resale value, its “bells and whistles.”  Then, start reading about cars.  Make a list of cars you might consider, along with the range of prices and model years.  Be sure to check online and newspaper ads as well to get a sense of what is available.

Do Some Test Driving

Check out some dealerships that sell used cars, and ask to take a test drive.  Don’t buy any cars on the spot!  This is still part of the research.  Be very clear with the salesperson that you are still shopping around.  If you are thinking about buying a car from a private seller, make an appointment to go look at it during daylight hours.  Drive around with the seller and ask questions about everything. If you can take someone who is a mechanically savvy with you on the test drives - it might be your father or an older brother, or even a work colleague, someone who will know if there is a knock in the motor or an odd wobble in the steering and so on.

Do a Background Check

Be sure to get a vehicle history report on any used car you are strongly considering.  This will tell you if the car has been in an accident, or has any recalls, for instance.  This may cost a small fee, but it is definitely worth it.  Ask to see the service books and look at them closely. Also, especially for cars sold by private sellers, hire a mechanic to inspect the car before you buy it.  Your auto club may offer this service for a small fee and it's well worth it if you are not mechanically inclined. You should be a member of your state's auto club too - if you're under 21 membership may be free AND cover you for any vehicle you are in, not just your own. Again, it's well worth investigating and even if you don't qualify for free membership, for peace of mind it's worth the annual fee.


Don’t pay asking price.  If you have done adequate research, you can be confident about a price you are requesting.  Be willing to walk away.  Both dealers and private sellers want their car to move, and that can work to your advantage.

Bonus Tip!   The end of the month is often a good time to a buy a car from dealerships, since many of them are trying to make sales quotas and are more willing to negotiate.

Cheapskater Corinna Wijnen created a Car Buying Checklist that you can take with you when you're looking and doing your research. You can get a copy here.

16 May 2013

Learning To DIY (And Actually Enjoy It)

DIY or Do It Yourself projects are all the rage. You can find mainstream DIY television programs, books, magazines, tip sheets and thousands of You Tube segments all devoted to DIY. And of course many DIY bloggers have made a fortune on the topic.

Why so much attention for DIY?

Because it’s a great way to save money and achieve a luxury lifestyle.

You can get the home design you want. You can make the clothes, accessories and even the appearance you desire with a few DIY projects.

Now DIY isn’t fun for everyone. In fact, it can be enough to make you give it all up, run out to the shops and spend more than you should.

Rest assured, you can learn to DIY like a pro and actually enjoy it.

Start Small

Instead of deciding to tile your kitchen or make a dress by yourself, choose to paint a chair or sew a button on your shirt first. It may not seem as dramatic but starting with smaller projects that you know you can be successful with help you achieve a pattern of success. Generally the larger the project, the more skill is required for a successful completion. Starting small allows you to learn those skills gradually so you can confidently tackle the big project.

Get Help!

There are so many DIY resources that there’s no reason why you can’t find a detailed step by step process for just about any DIY project. And if you cannot find help online, then hit the social networking sites and start asking for help and guidance. You may glean some tips that experts don’t even know. Your local hardware store probably runs weekend DIY workshops too - Bunnings springs to mind - and they are usually free, or with a small charge for materials if you use them. Well worth attending if you want to learn a new skill or even pick up some hints to stretch your existing skills.

Share Your Success

Once you’ve completed a project, share your success with your friends, family and online community. Not only will you feel good about your success you may learn new projects and tips you can tackle next.

DIY can be fun and so can saving money.

15 May 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 13

Consolidate Your Debts

Get in control of your money by consolidating large debts with one loan. Research which banks or credit cards will give you the lowest interest rates and consolidate your payments into one. This will save you money by paying fewer interest fees, but you must also limit your spending until the debts are paid off.
Be in control of your money and your life by evaluating your accounts regularly and staying organized. A little bit of work each day and regularly monitoring your progress will help you reach your financial goals.

14 May 2013

Everyone Should be Baking - Even on a Budget!

While many families are conscious of the fact that stretching their meal-planning budget to the maximum is essential, many of those very same families are becoming more and more aware of how easy and cost-effective baking on a budget can be.
Here are a few baking recipes, tips, and strategies to bake and save money at the same time.
One of the best things about fruit that has become a bit overripe is that you can utilize it in many creative baking recipes. Overripe bananas can be used for banana bread or even banana nut muffins for breakfast. Strawberries can be made into jam and leftover rice can be used for rice pudding. Even extra noodles from last night’s spaghetti can be used to make a noodle pudding.

When baking, try to bulk bake. Utilizing a gas or electric stove costs money, so why not batch bake and freeze the leftovers. Cooking in bulk can save you time as well as money. Being able to reach into the freezer and defrost a batch of muffins can be a tremendous time-saver as well as money-saver. Not having to stop at your local cake or bread shop when you are on the run saves money, time and energy. Not to mention that home baked goods have only the natural ingredients that you put into them.

Shopping in bulk and shopping in season will save you quite a bit of money as well. Buying out of season items during off-season periods will cost you more, so pay attention to the fruits, nuts and other baking ingredients of the season on your bulk buying trips.
Some great baking recipes can be rather simple as well.
Peanut butter cookies (if there are no peanut allergies) are simple to make and delicious too.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup of peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoonful of vanilla is all you need
Combine all the ingredients and drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet, flatten and bake for 15 minutes on 160 degrees Celsius.
Banana Bread is inexpensive and easy to make. Another bonus is that banana bread can be used for a dessert or even for an on-the-run breakfast treat.

Banana Bread

2 large mashed bananas
2/3 cup of sugar
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
½ teaspoon of vanilla
3 eggs
2-2/3 cups of MOO Bisquick mix.
Mix all ingredients; pour into a greased loaf pan. Cook for one hour at 160 degrees Celsius.
Baking does not have to be just for dessert. Broccoli and bacon quiche is another amazing breakfast bake, but it goes down equally as well for a light lunch or dinner.

Broccoli and Bacon Quiche

½ cup frozen broccoli florets, thawed and drained
½ cup grated cheese
1 strip of cooked and crumbled bacon
3 eggs,beaten
½ cup cream
salt to taste
a dash of garlic powder.
Place the broccoli, cheese and the bacon in a pie plate that has been coated with cooking spray. Pour over the mixed egg substitute, cream, salt and garlic powder on top. Bake at 170 degrees Celsius for 15 to 20 minutes.
With today’s economy in the state that it is in, going back to baking is a delicious and cost-effective way to feed your family.

13 May 2013

Bring Your Scrapbooks to Life

Scrapbooks are not meant just for photos.  I tend to often date myself with my scrapbooks. When I was in high school, I had a scrapbook (of sorts). It was huge, and of course back then it was made of newsprint, now the pages are yellow and I used glue to stick everything down. However, what’s important is I remember the events behind the contents of that scrapbook.

I kept movie ticket stubs, concert ticket stubs, love letters from boys I liked, essays with an A+ on them, sports ribbons, music certificates and many other items.

Today, we can still preserve those memories by adding these extras to our scrapbooks (keen scrapbookers call them embellishments, I call them memories). I always recommend making copies of everything. Sadly, unless the original paper is acid free, it will yellow and crumble with time. So include the original in your scrapbook, but also keep a copy.

What types of “memories” are fun to put into scrapbooks?

    • School Reports (the good and the, well not so good)
    • Essays from school
    • School newsletters
    • Sports ribbons and certificates
    • Birthday invitations
    • Maps of cities visited
    • Plane, train and bus tickets from special holidays and trips
    • Greeting cards
    • Post cards
    • Decorative napkins (I've saved them from family weddings and special birthdays)
    • Place cards from table settings
    • Pressed flowers
    • Receipts from a favourite restaurant
    • Play and concert programs
    • Sporting event tickets and programs
    • Magazine and newspaper articles
    • Old drivers licenses
    • CD covers

These items can be added to individual pages or they can be left in tact and put into a sheet protector alongside photos of the events they represent.

There is no limit to the items you can put into your scrapbook. Extra items can help tell the overall story and after all, telling the story is the reason I scrapbook.

10 May 2013

How to Eat Organic, Even if You’re on a Budget

A lot of people tell me they love the idea of organic food and would start eating it in a heartbeat but their grocery budgets simply don’t allow it. It’s true that organic food can cost considerably more than conventionally grown food…absolutely. The one glimmer of hope is that there has been a downward pricing trend as organic foods became more popular. Still, the prices aren’t low enough for many people, so how can you eat organic when you’re on a budget?

Here are a few ideas you can start with.

Start with one thing at a time.
Going organic doesn’t mean you have to go all or none. Take small steps to where you want to go. I also recommend downloading the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Dirty Dozen list that shows you the produce that is most likely to be grown with the most pesticides, so either avoid those or purchase them organically. The list includes items like apples, capsicums, peaches, potatoes, blueberries, spinach, celery, strawberries and more. These are all easily grown in a backyard veggie garden, you can even get dwarf varieties of fruit trees that will grow in pots.  They also keep a list of produce that is least likely be grown with as much pesticide, so you may not have to rush into organic versions of those.

You can get the list or download a mobile app here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/  This is a list based on US fruit and vegetables. It's slightly different here in Australia. For example the list has potatoes on it, but Australian grown potatoes test with almost no chemical residue, so if you really want organic spuds grow your own, it's not worth paying the extra for organic.

Buy from farmers markets.
There are many organic options at farmer’s markets and they are often more affordable than organic fare found at regular supermarkets. You can search Google for “[your town] farmer’s market” to find markets in your area.

Cut out expensive, processed foods.

While processed foods may seem like a great deal because they save time and they appear to be inexpensive, they often don’t provide a lot in the way of portion size or nutritional value and can really eat up a food budget if you rely on them. Look for your organic foods in other areas of the supermarket, don't just stick to the health food aisle. Try reducing the amount of processed foods you buy and eat more nutrient dense whole foods. It’s good for the budget and good for your health.

Stock up when things go on sale and then bottle, dry or freeze it.
It’s the same money-saving concept that people have been using for years and you can apply it to organic foods as well. Invest in a food dehydrator, bottling outfit and freezer-ready containers, so you can store organic foods for later eating.

Make it a goal to eat a fully local and/or organic meal each week. 
If you just try for one meal, you’ll be making a difference without a lot of cost. Plus, leftovers and extra ingredients can be stretched out to additional meals.

Eat more vegetarian meals.
I know it’s scary for some meat lovers, my family included, but eating more meatless meals gives you so much more money in the food budget. Or if you’re not ready to do vegetarian, consider using smaller portions of meat in your meals. Try things like stir fries and similar meals where meat is simply an accompaniment, rather than the main focus of the meal. There are lots of lovely vegetarian and vegan meals in the Recipe File. Why not try one new meatless meal a week?

Pick your own.
Don’t be afraid of a little manual labour. Using “you pick” opportunities allows you save a lot of money and stock up for bottling, drying and freezing. You can pick a variety of fruits and vegetables. Cherries, strawberries, tomatoes and corn are just some of the vegetables we've picked over the years. It's a great family activity too, kids just love to eat the food they've picked themselves. Just be sure to make sure they are certified organic first.

Every little bit helps and the better you get at picking the right foods, the more affordable it can be. And remember, the long term health benefits of eating more naturally will save you plenty in health costs in the long run.

Just one thing before you race out and stock up on organic everything…we should talk about what organic really means and we’ll do that next week.

09 May 2013

How To Set Up A Swapping Circle

 Do you swap things with your friends and family?

Swapping has actually become quite popular. It’s a great way to enjoy things like books, movies, clothing and entertainment without spending too much money.

One of the best ways to integrate swapping into your life is to create your own swapping circle.

Here’s how:

Step1. Recruit

Ask friends and family if they’d be interested in swapping books, movies, clothing or even babysitting services with you. Once you have a handle on how many people are interested and what they’re interested in swapping, you can begin to create a plan.

Step 2 Map it Out

Decide what you’re going to swap and when. A good model to work with is a monthly swap. For example, if you decide to swap books and movies then once a month you meet, bring your items, and choose what you want to watch and/or read the next month.
You can also create a blog or website where members simply post what they have and what they’re looking for. Then everyone can respond if they’re interested.

Step 3. Make it Fun

Put on music, offer cocktails and rotate the swapping meetings to different houses. For example, if you organize a clothing swapping circle with your friends then once a month you can all get together and enjoy a girl’s night in with friends, laughter and a whole new wardrobe.
Swapping is just one way to save money and live well.

Visit the Cheapskates Club to learn how to live large on a small budget.

08 May 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 12


Consult with a Financial Advisor

We don't have a huge investment portfolio, but we do meet with a financial advisor every year around this time. He considers us ultra-conservative investors. He's right, neither of us is fond of taking huge risks with our hard-earned money on the off-chance the return will be a little higher than we thought. But we listen to what he has to say, ask lots of questions and go over the reports he puts in front of us so we understand and are comfortable with the risks we are taking.

Whether you have a substantial investment portfolio or just want to get started, consult with an expert who can help you reach your financial goals. By organizing your finances, you’ll not only save money, but make it too!

· If your current investments aren’t performing well, an advisor can help you move the money around to better performing funds that earn a higher yield or give you greater dividends.

· If you don’t have any investments, an expert can listen to your financial goals and recommend an investment plan for achieving those goals. Even starting off modestly will often bring you some annual dividends. Every little bit helps!

Your bank or superannuation company should have a financial advisor on staff, just ring for an appointment (it shouldn't cost you anything, although with the superannuation advisors there may be a fee they will deduct from your super balance - either pay it up front or find another advisor). Remember they are advisors, you don't need to take their advice if you are uncomfortable. Shop around and do your research, and remember to ask lots of questions. And don't commit to anything until you are absolutely satisfied that it is what you want to do and you are comfortable with the risks.

07 May 2013

Italian Pasta Soup

500g mince
1.5L beef stock (MOO or bought)
250g cooked broccoli
250g cooked cauliflower
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 cup wagon wheel pasta, uncooked
1/2 cup basil pesto

Crumble the meat into a Dutch oven pan and place the pan over medium heat.
Cook the meat, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until browned through.
Drain the meat well and return to the pan.
Stir in the stock, vegetables, tomatoes with their juice and tomato juice.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil then stir in the pasta.
Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.
Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto.

Makes 6 servings

If you don’t have basil pesto on hand that’s okay. Just add a pinch of dried basil to the soup before bringing it to a boil. Add some Italian bread and a side of fruit and you have a meal that is both filling and delicious in no time.

06 May 2013

9 No Cost Winter Activities to Enjoy with Your Partner

Sometimes it's tough to come up with new and creative ideas to get you through the winter. Your best bet is to get together with your partner and make lists of things that you both enjoy. Then compare lists and see where you two meet up.

If you'd like to keep expenses to a minimum, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to have an excellent time without spending a dime.

Consider the following ideas as you build your list:

1. Cuddle. Sometimes when you're both busy, you may forget how good it feels to cuddle up to each other and relax. It's a great activity to enjoy when things have been stressful and you just need a calm break.

2. Go to the shops. You don't have to spend money when you go to the shops, although it may be tempting. Walking the shopping centre can be a great way to get out of the house without having to worry about the cold weather. Window shopping and dreaming cost nothing.

3. Listen to music. If you and your partner happen to share some musical tastes, you can always enjoy listening to music together. Chances are you can even find some live music at public winter festivals with no entry fee.

4. Play video games. Video games are a popular choice for people of all tastes and ages. The variety is astounding! You can play a slow paced puzzle game against each other or get involved in more active games. Some of them can really draw you into the action. Plus, there are several free video game sites online.

5. Go to a friend's house. Gathering with friends is always a good indoor activity you can enjoy together. Invite your friends over to your house for a mini winter party. Have a potluck dinner for a change of pace. This way, you share the cost of entertaining and everyone has fun.

6. Watch a movie. Agree on a genre and then find a good movie to watch together. You may be able to find one on TV or you can rent one for a day for a dollar or two. Afterward, compare your opinions on the movie or watch the DVD bonuses.

7. Make a meal together. You can still have a romantic dinner even if you aren't going out. Choose a nice meal that you can cook together. You're probably used to either you or your partner cooking. It'll be a nice change to have the two of you in the kitchen together.

8. Share memories. Spend some time reflecting on your past. It's always fun to recall the beginnings of your relationship. It doesn't matter if it was months or decades ago. It's a great way to pass the time with your partner.

9. Play an indoor sport. Find a sport to play with your partner. Your local community center may provide access to courts as long as you're a member of the community. Enjoying a sport together can bring you closer together in other areas as well.
Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean that you need to sit around and be bored. Try some of these activities together and take advantage of the winter to create some new memories!

03 May 2013

Frugal Ways to Spoil Mothers on Their Special Day

Mother's day is May Sunday 12th May, just over a week away.  Mums do so much for the rest of the family throughout the year. It’s nice to make Mum feel special at least once a year. Listed below are some frugal ways to spoil mothers on their special day.

Even if all of the children aren’t writing yet, a handwritten note or letter will be cherished by every mother. Have the children write a short paragraph explaining how special she is. If they can’t write, have them dictate what they want to say. Be sure to write it down verbatim so Mum knows exactly how they feel – even if what they say is funny. This gift is one of the most frugal since you probably already have everything you need at home.

Rather than taking Mum out for lunch on Mother’s Day, why not plan a fun picnic. You can either have it at a local park, the back yard, or even indoors if the weather isn’t co-operating. Spread the blanket out on the lounge room floor and you won’t even have to contend with ants!

Autumn is a great time to fly a kite because it is often windy and it's still quite warm. It probably won’t matter what type of kite you fly as long as you have fun doing it. Make your own kite or pick one up at a discount or $2 dollar store. Then go fly a kite together as a family.

Balloons don’t have to be expensive. Find one nice Mylar balloon and several plain ones in Mum’s favorite colour. Ask the store assistant to blow up the plain ones (often they’ll do that for free but you may have to pay a little bit extra) and make a bouquet of balloons. Then write a special Mother’s Day message on the plain balloons. This is a great way to personalize a message without breaking the bank.

Create a day spa in the privacy of your own home. Set up candles around the bathtub, find some nice bubble bath, play soothing music and let Mum have time to enjoy the peace and quiet. If possible, before she’s ready to get out of the tub, toss some towels in the dryer for a few minutes or over the clotheshorse in front of the heater so they’ll be warm when she uses them. She’ll definitely feel spoiled and pampered.

Find a favourite book shared by Mum and the children. If the children can read, have them record themselves reading the book. This idea can also be used with children who are small; instead of having them read, give them specific words they can say while you read the book. Mum will love having this memento of her children’s voices, especially when they get older.

Make a coupon book she can use at a future date. One hour of time alone is a good coupon, and vacuuming or ironing could also be offered. A back or foot massage is always appreciated, but she may enjoy the coupon for a breakfast in bed most of all. Use your imagination. Think of things the children could give her and then a few from you.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make Mum feel valued. In fact, any of these frugal ways to spoil mothers on their special day will probably do just fine. Of course, anything you give that comes from the heart will be treasured because she knows it came with love.

02 May 2013

How to Speed Your Way to Clean

Multi-tasking and cutting corners have become a way of life today. We are all familiar with doing many things all at the same time. We incorporate this skill in levels of our lives such as work, home and family. This skill set is also useful in our cleaning lives.

While no one really has the time to do a thorough cleaning once every week, there are some tips and tricks to speed your way to clean.

Your Mindset – Believe it or not, the attitude you go into cleaning with can make or break your experience. Let’s face it, cleaning is a dirty job, and somebody has to do it. If you go in with the knowledge that you will be doing the best you can in as short a time as possible, you will go in happy and come out satisfied.

Open up the windows, let the fresh air in, turn the music up and speed your way to clean.

Get Rid of Clutter – The next time you are on your obligatory weekly phone call with your favourite relative take the opportunity to get rid of clutter while you chat. You can be an attentive listener while you go through that pile of mail. Toss everything into the room that it belongs and you will see that your main quarters, living room, dining room and kitchen are starting to shape up nicely.

Your house may be spotless, but if it is cluttered no one will ever know. Whatever is not of any use to you any longer, feel free to purge. Next time around, your home will be ready for an even quicker cleaning.

Stick to a Cleaning Ritual - For bigger cleanings, however, set a schedule even going as far as making up a cleaning calendar. You will find, hands down, that once you put it in writing, you will want to stick to it and then cross it off your to-do list just like anything else. When you have a date with cleaning, you will find it gets done and it gets done quickly so you will move onto the next thing on your list.

Have a specific list of chores for that calendar otherwise you will definitely find yourself dusting your bedroom and then cleaning out the closets – leaving you with nothing more than a big mess. Cleaning cupboards, washing walls and skirting boards and so on are all best left as monthly or seasonal projects.

Get Down and Dirty – Before cleaning, make sure you have all your cleaning supplies on hand. Carrying them around in a bucket with a handle works really well. When you are finished, you can use the bucket to mop the floors.

Start by stripping the beds of all the sheets and run them through the washing machine. Next, load the dishwasher and turn it on. This way your dishes will clean themselves and your laundry will wash in the time it takes to clean the rest of the house.

I like to work in one room or zone at a time. I break the zones down like this:

Monday: Kitchen, laundry, family, lounge, dining and hall
Tuesday: Main bed and bath
Wednesday: Bed 2, main bath, back verandah
Thursday: Bed 4, shopping
Friday: Bed 3, Front entrance, swish'n'swipe lounge, dining and family

Start by dusting all the furniture in all the room. This way you will focus on just dusting. Next, take a soft broom and run it around the cornices and then along the skirting boards. Clean all the glass in the room, including windows. Wipe over switchplates and any fingerprints on doors and walls with a damp cloth. Next sweep or vacuum all floors (including under beds and sofas), then mop if necessary.

Cleaning like this every week means you never have to do a huge spring clean. Your home is cleaned top to bottom every week and best of all the more you follow this plan, the cleaner your home is and the faster you get your cleaning done.

01 May 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money - No. 11

Organize Your Paperwork

All of your paperwork should be organized so you know exactly where your receipts, financial statements, and bills are filed.  There’s nothing worse than going in search of a needle in a haystack when a question arises.

· Everyday take a look at your desk area and think about what pieces of paper you can immediately get rid of.  A wastepaper basket by your desk is essential, and a shredder to prevent identity theft is a good optional extra in the home office.

· Utilize file folders or a portable file container instead of having piles of papers on your desk or benchtops. This will prevent you from losing important pieces of paperwork under a landslide of unimportant junk.