30 June 2013

My No Waste Kitchen

A funny thing happens when you become a Cheapskate. You become aware of the food you eat, where it came from, how much it cost. You become aware of just how much you eat and just how much you waste.

It was the waste that shocked me way back when Disaster Struck. Before that day, I'd do the shopping and put food in the fridge or the pantry or the freezer and perhaps use it.  Then, on the next shopping day, I'd go to the fridge and find something growing in a container way back on the middle shelf. There would be hairy vegetables lurking in the bottom of the crisper and jars of indescribable in the condiment shelf. Without hesitation I'd toss them, sometimes container and all (those were the times I was just too scared to lift the lid in case the contents escaped and attacked me). 

The pantry was worse. I thought I was being a good housekeeper and keeping it in spic'n'span order. I'd wipe over the shelves and stack new tins neatly, pushing older food to the back at the same time.

The freezer was the great unknown. There were piles of mystery packages at the bottom, they'd been there so long the labels had come off (if there were ever labels) and the contents were really a mystery.

My first big shop, the very first once-a-month shop I ever did, I cleaned out that fridge. I emptied that pantry and wiped over every shelf. I even tackled the freezer with a hair dryer and a paint scraper (I do not recommend this method of cleaning the freezer at all - I was on a mission and in a hurry). What I found brought me to tears.

Food. So much food. And all of it past it. Past it's best before date, past it's use by date, just so old it was past it. What a waste. I didn't dare try to work out how much money went into the garbage bin that morning (I hadn't started composting yet), I was too scared.

I vowed then and there to never, ever waste food again. My kitchen became a "no waste" zone.

That was almost 19 years ago. The kitchen is still a no waste zone. I try to use every scrap of food, including the scraps so I get every skerrick of value out of it before it's thrown away.

Egg shells - rinsed, dried and then crushed to use around new seedlings in the garden or added to boiling water to soften and whiten linens

Vegetable peelings - (potato, carrot, pumpkin, onion, sweet potato etc) are composted either in the compost bin or the bokashi bucket

Wilted veggies - tossed into the stock pot for stock, soup or gravy, then strained and put into the compost

Tea bags and coffee pods or bags - tea and coffee bags are composted, coffee pods are emptied into the compost

Over-ripe fruit - mashed and used in baking muffins or cakes or puddings or frozen into cubes to add to smoothies

Banana peels - put into the ferns (they love them)

Fruit and vegetable leaves - cauliflower, cabbage, rhubarb etc. are composted

Celery leaves - used in vegetable soups or frozen and saved to make stock, then strained from stock and composted

Leftovers - leftovers are planned. They become lunches or single serve dinners or mufti meals for weekends.

Bones - from roast chicken or lamb are frozen and saved to make stock, then into the bokashi bucket.

Citrus peels - zested and frozen for cakes and icings or candied to use for a sweet treat or dried and used in pot pourri, or put into white vinegar to make citrus all-purpose cleaner

Syrup from canned fruit - we don't have tinned fruit in syrup very often, but I keep the syrups and use them in cake, muffin or pancake batters instead of milk (gives a beautiful flavour to plain cakes and pancakes) or frozen into cubes for smoothies

Pan juices from a roast - saved to make the best tasting gravy

Fruit peels and cores - composted; apple cores are used to make apple drink in summer

Fat drippings - clarified and used for cooking or put into the compost or bokashi bucket

Nut shells - composted

Stale bread/rolls - frozen to make breadcrumbs or croutons or toasted for garlic bread, made into mock chicken sandwich filling or stuffing for chicken or rolled roasts

Stale cake - doesn't happen around here very often but when it does it's either freshened up in the oven and eaten warm or warmed up and served with custard and fruit for dessert or made into an old fashioned trifle.

I'm sure there are other things we don't waste, as I think of them I'll add them to the list.

On my kitchen bench is a bucket for scraps, it gets emptied into the compost or bokashi every night as a part of the after dinner kitchen clean-up. If it has bones, meat or fat in it then it goes into the bokashi, otherwise I trot down the backyard and empty it into the compost.

So do you have a no waste kitchen? What don't you waste? Share, we want to know!
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29 June 2013

More Land, Less House

Since 1996 I've learned a lot. I've learned to cook. Better still I've learned to grow a lot of the food I cook right in our own backyard.  I've learned how to preserve food so it keeps for later use. I've learned some basic DIY skills like tiling and painting and how to hit a nail straight. I've learned to sew things that are really useful. I've learned to be self-sufficient.

I've learned to reuse, recycle and reduce.

Right now we are thinking ahead to reducing. Our children are growing up and it won't be long before they will have homes of their own. And I have a plan for our "Darby and Joan" years: more land, less house!

I want to be able to grow more food, run livestock including chickens, sheep and at least a house cow for milk. And perhaps a couple of bee hives (we use a lot of honey  in our house). I want to be as self-sufficient as we possibly can be for food, water and power.

In my dreams we live in a carbon-neutral straw bale house, off the grid. We grow all our own food, including grains and meat for food, and herbs and flowers for medicines. We have solar and wind power for the few electric appliances we use. We barter for the few things we can't grow or make for ourselves. And life is good.

In reality we live in a typical suburban house. Our home isn't big by any means, but certainly bigger than two old fogeys will need. And our block is small. I have room for a veggie garden and the clothesline, but there's no room for chickens or sheep or a house cow or even a bee hive. And I'm not sure the neighbours would appreciate the baa of a sheep or moo of a cow.

We already grow a great proportion of the vegetables and herbs we eat, any excess is frozen, dehydrated or bottled for the future or bartered for fruit or meat or other food we need or just shared because we can.

We barter for some things, but most of our necessities we don't grow or make are bought from shops. We do what household repairs and maintenance we can ourselves before we call in a tradesman.

In my garden journal I have planned a few different types of gardens, depending on just how much land we end up with and where it is - we're not exactly sure where that will be, or even who will be living with us.  Our parents are getting older and perhaps it won't be long before they will need another home, perhaps with us, or at least close by so we can care for them if it's needed.

While we are here for a few years yet, we are making do the best we can, practicing for our self-sufficient life by living as self-sufficiently as we can now.

Life is good and the future is going to be fantastic with more land and less house!

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28 June 2013

Today is Shopping day

I just love these 6 rules for food - they fit perfectly with the Cheapskates way of living.

I love shopping. Looking at new things, trying them on, umming and aahhing and ooohing over the colour or fabric or style (or price :o). But that's not the type of shopping I do today.

Today is grocery shopping day. And it's an epic adventure that starts early in the morning, before I take Hannah to school.

I like being a stay at home working mum, so I need to keep an eye on our spending and our family budget so that I can stay a stay at home working mum. One area of our budget that I can control quite easily is the food and grocery shopping. I know that I have $350 to spend each month and that's it. I can go under (not often but I try) but I can't go over. Ever.

Going over budget means that some other area of our spending has to suffer and that's not good. So I have a grocery shopping plan that I've developed over the years that works for me and my family.

Back to early on a Friday morning: while the kids and Wayne are getting themselves up and dressed and fed I'm searching through the dim, dark recesses of the pantry and the barren icy wasteland that is our freezer and fridge  to see what we haven't eaten and what I need to buy. I put what I find on my shopping list. If it's not on the list it won't get bought so everything has to go on the list.

I work with two shopping lists - one for spring/summer and one for autumn/winter. We tend to need the same basic groceries all year round, with a few seasonal variations (more pineapple in summer, more rice and rolled oats in winter) so making up a new shopping list is easy - I just print off the list and then tick the items I need to buy.

I'm not one for fancy menu plans but I do like to have an idea of what dishes I'll be cooking during the month (and you can see my monthly meal plans in the Member's Centre) so I usually scribble them on the back of the shopping list.  This next month we'll have
*cream cheese patties and vegetables,
*a roast chicken dinner,
* steak and salad,
*roast beef with veggies, 
*chicken & mushroom spaghetti 
*fish cakes, wedges and salad

I haven't worked out what else we'll be having, but the freezer is full, the pantry will be full this afternoon and there are plenty of herbs, spices and other fillers on hand, there are even some veggies in the garden.

There is not much on the shopping list this month food-wise. The only thing apart from topping up the dairy and fruit and veg that I need to buy is fish. Everything else is already on hand, just waiting to be turned into a gastronomic delight.

After I've written up the food requirements, I check cleaning supplies and toiletries. And the toilet paper stash. Wayne has an inexplicable fear of us running out of loo paper so our stash never gets under at least two twelve packs. In twenty-four years we have never, ever run out of loo paper but it's his pet fear so I humour him. One of the kids has just opened a twelve pack so loo paper is on the list.

By now it's time to take Hannah to school and hit Aldi. I try to get there as early as I can so I can have a quick look at the markdowns and see if anything tickles my fancy. And because I can get a car park reasonably close to the store,  not that I dislike exercise or anything, but those trolleys are just too hard to control when they are full.

After the supermarket it's the greengrocer. Our local has the loveliest fruit and veggies and on Fridays he always has bunches of lovely fresh flowers that look so nice on my dining room table. It's actually a local orchard that does a roaring trade in fruit and veg and is good for bulk buys and has a wonderful organic range too.

Then, if meat is on the list (and the specials are good) the butcher. I won't be visiting the butcher for a little while, I did a bulk shop on Sunday at Tasman meats. I spent $187.72 and have 67 meals -  that's just $2.79 a meal for the meat component and enough for two months - I am very happy with that. I managed to get legs of lamb, mince, chicken fillets, steak, corned beef and roasting beef so we'll have plenty of variety. And no one will go hungry or miss out, I plan meals so meat, fish or chicken is the side dish and vegetables make up the bulk of the meal.

After all that it's usually close to lunchtime so home I trot to get it all lugged into the kitchen and put away.

One little thing I do that has saved my bacon many a time is check each thing I put away off my shopping list. This double checks that I bought everything on my list and that I brought everything home. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived home and put everything away only to realise the soap is missing or the crackers aren't in the cupboard. If something is missing I can call the shop straight away and arrange to pick it up later.

If I have been super efficient I have time to sit down with a cuppa and a sandwich to update my spreadsheet before it's time to go and get the Hannah.  And that's my once-a-month Friday shopping day.
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Stretching Shampoo

I swear I keep the shampoo and conditioner companies in business. I buy shampoo and conditioner for the kids' bathroom every week! And it's the boys, not Hannah who use it all! Oh well at least they have clean, shiny hair, even if it does smell like tropical fruit salad this week.

Shampoo and conditioner are expensive, even the "cheap" varieties add dollars to a grocery bill.

I stretch them both by diluting them with water. This week I stocked up on 900ml bottles of shampoo and conditioner for $4.99 each (half price). The shampoo is diluted on a 1:2 basis (300ml shampoo, 600ml water), giving me 3 bottles for the price of one. It also goes into a pump pack which stretches it even more, or at the very least stops it being wasted. You can tell them over and over "just enough to cover a 10 cent coin" but we all know kids just squirt the bottles. A pump pack and a two pumps only rule works wonders. Conditioners are diluted the same way, and they go into a pump bottle too.

Shampoo and conditioner both work just as well diluted. The trick to shampooing is to make sure your hair is wet - really, really wet all the way through. If it's not wet enough it won't lather up. With the conditioner massage it into your hair and let it sit while you finish showering. Rinse it out, thoroughly, right before you turn the shower off.

Those two bottles will last about a year. $9.98 for a year's supply of shampoo and conditioner suits my budget just fine.
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27 June 2013

What’s in Your Sewing Kit?

When I was 11 years old my father gave me a tool box. It wasn't to be used for tools, well not the type of tools that would normally go into a tool box. It was to be my sewing box.

I still have it and use it's contents at least once a week to fix a hem or stitch on a button or some dressmaking or sewing. Over the years my sewing box has saved us from a lot of embarrassment (no one likes to wear a shirt with a button missing or a skirt with the hem down, or worse still, sticky-taped in place).

To be perfectly honest though, I never really enjoyed sewing until I had to. When Disaster Struck and money was so tight we couldn't even afford op-shop bargains, learning to sew meant I could keep us all well dressed without spending a lot of money. I've been hooked ever since, and an afternoon at the sewing machine is one of my favourite ways to relax.

Having a well-stocked sewing kit can save you a lot of money. Home sewing seems to be a disappearing skill but you can save a lot of money by learning a few simple basics of sewing; you don't have to be an expert tailor in order to perform a few basic sewing techniques. Not only will this save you money on your tailoring bills, it will save you time, as well; however you must start with the basic sewing kit.

Needles – It is always a good idea to have various cards of needles in different sizes on hand. Some cards come with a variety of needles. This is important, as some projects will necessitate a stronger needle for heavier fabric while others require smaller needles for delicates.

Thread – The most basic colours are the best to have on hand. Plenty of spools of black, white, brown and navy blue are essential to the basic sewing kit. You can always pick up spools of thread in various alternate colours as you go along, especially if you find them on sale. However, having plenty of basic thread colours is important since you never want to run out of these.

Pins – An assortment of various sized pins will come in handy depending upon what type of sewing you will be doing. Smaller pins are great for projects that are more delicate and sturdier pins will be a better option for heavy-duty projects. I have large safety pins for holding heavy fabrics (and quilts) together and extra long and fine pins for large projects and shorter.

Buttons – It is just amazing how a simple lost button can wreak havoc on your entire outfit just minutes before stepping out the door. A lost button on a pair of trouser pants can spiral into something of a fashion tragedy. If you don't want this to happen, have plenty of buttons on hand. Blouse buttons that are more delicate and come in neutral colours and darker, sturdier buttons in darker colours are essential. Just think how a missing button in the middle of your blouse can cause you to try to find an entirely different outfit and make you late to an event, as well.  I have a jar full of buttons collected over the years. Clothes are never relegated to the rag bag until the buttons (and zips) are carefully removed and stored in the button jar.

Thimbles – It is a good idea to have a thimble or two lying around. If you are involved in a scenario like above where you are rushing around to get somewhere and you pop a button, rushing and sewing do not go hand in hand too well. A thimble will save you a prick or two of the needle especially when you are in a rush. I have metal, plastic and leather thimbles in my sewing box. I use the metal thimble for hand-stitching heavy fabrics like denim or cord. The plastic thimble is perfect for lighter fabrics and the leather thimble I use for embroidery work.

Scissors – A good pair of sewing scissors is a sewing kit’s best friend. There is nothing more frustrating than a dull pair of scissors that cuts or frays your fabric. You can also purchase a small scissor for cutting thread and a better, sharper pair for cutting fabric and materials. Mark your fabric scissors so they are only ever used for fabric. Good fabric scissors must never be used for cutting anything but material. I have fabric, paper and ribbon scissors and they are all marked so anyone who uses them knows exactly what they can be used to cut.

With these basics you will be well on your way to making your own repairs, saving money and saving time with sewing.
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26 June 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 19 - Experiment

Experiment. Can you put away the paper towels in the kitchen one day a week and use cloth towels instead?   Look at it this way: if you place a clean tea towel and dishcloth on the sink first thing in the morning, it won’t be as difficult as you think to go without the paper towels. What if you stored them in the cupboard and used them only for extra-messy clean-ups?

A basket of dishcloths sits on top of the microwave, right next to the sink, in my kitchen. When I need to mop up a spill or wipe down the bench I can just reach for one, and it's good to go.  Tea towels are in a drawer, within reach of the cooking and food prep areas.  When they are ready to be washed they go straight into the machine, ready for the next load.

Using paper towels may seem convenient and they may not seem expensive, but add up the cost over a year - and don't forget to include the cost to our environment - and you'll see that convenience comes at a rather hefty price.

Try cloths for a day – out of sight, out of mind can save you some money.
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25 June 2013

Two-In-One Crockpot Chicken

I love my crockpot. It is used all year round for soups and stews, puddings, roasts, sauces and this simply sensational two-in-one chicken recipe.

You start off with a lovely fresh chicken, season it with delectable spices and let it cook until it is so tender the meat falls off the bones. And that's exactly what you want it to do!

Pick the meat off the bones and use it as roast chicken or in fajitas or pasta or in a chicken salad or chicken pot pie.

Leave the bones in the slow cooker.  Let it sit for a while to cool down.

After dinner, fill the slow cooker with fresh water. Toss in the contents of your broth bucket and turn the slow cooker on. Let it simmer away overnight. In the morning you will have a rich, flavourful chicken stock to use in sauces and gravies, to cook rice or as the base of a delicious chicken soup.

Strain the broth to remove the bones and veggie peelings. The measure it into portions and freeze it in ziplock bags or Tupperware containers or clean peanut butter jars - whatever you use to freeze stock in your house.

Crockpot Roast Chicken

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 onion, cut into 8 pieces
1 large fresh chicken (I use a No. 20 for my family of 5 adults)

Combine the dried spices in a small bowl. Put the onion pieces in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Remove any giblets from the chicken and then rub the spice mixture all over. Put prepared chicken on top of the onion.  Cover and cook on high for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or until the chicken is cooked through and falling off the bone. If you are in doubt, use a meat thermometer to make sure it's done.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove the meat and start your stock.

Crockpot Chicken Stock

Leftover chicken bones (use the bones from your Crockpot Roast Chicken, or two chicken frames from the deli)
1 onion, peeled and loosely chopped
1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped (no need to peel)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh parsley
The contents of your broth bucket if you have one

Leave the bones of your roast chicken, the cooking juices and the remains of the onion in the bottom of the crockpot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf and parsley.  Fill the crockpot with cold water. Cover and cook on "LOW" overnight. If you are starting your stock in the morning cook for 10 hours.

When the stock is done, strain to remove bones and vegetables and then pour the stock into containers. Freeze for future use.

I freeze in 2 cup containers for cooking rice, 1 cup containers for sauces and gravies and 1 litre containers for soup. I also freeze some in ice-cube trays to use in place of stock cubes in recipes. 

With winter in full swing, this stock is the ideal base for Grandma's Chicken Soup, guaranteed to make you feel better whether you have a cold or not.

21 June 2013

Receipt Rights

Every time you buy something you get a receipt. After you've recorded it in your tracking book you can usually throw them away unless it is for something with a warranty or that you need for tax purposes or to prove ownership.

The problem with keeping receipts is that often they are printed on thermal paper, which over time fades or darkens. This is because the chemical used is sensitive to light, heat and moisture, or like me you accidentally throw it away.

I had reason to return a sheet set to Target this week and struggled to get a refund because I didn't have the receipt. The store flatly refused to even listen to why I wanted to return the sheets.

What to do? Is there something else I could use as proof of purchase? And can a faded receipt still be used as proof of purchase or for tax purposes?

The short answer is yes.

I did some hunting and researching and found this information on the Choice website:

Keeping the original receipt, especially in tip-top condition will help. Do this by storing it away from heat and light and do not be tempted to put it into a plastic page protector. Of course even taking these steps the receipt could still fade or go black.

The best thing to do is to take a copy of it and staple the original to the copy. If that sounds like too much work and you have a smartphone, then use the  ACCC Shopper app to take a photo and store it.

Other departments of fair trading and consumer affairs have released their own versions of the app, including:

If your receipt is faded beyond recognition and you need proof of purchase you can provide:
  • credit card or debit card statements
  • handwritten receipts
  • lay-by agreements
  • a confirmation or receipt number provided for a telephone or internet transaction 

According to New South Wales  Fair Trading they are all considered proof of transaction.

Armed with my statement I returned to the store yesterday and stood my ground. I offered the transaction on my statement as proof of purchase and was told it didn't prove I'd bought the sheets. I then suggested that it was acceptable proof and if I didn't at least get an exchange I'd be sending a complaint off to the ACCC. 

In the end, after about 45 minutes of haggling and discussing and going back and forth I did get my money back. The sheets were faulty (the top hem on the flat sheet wasn't caught all the way across) so I was entitled to a refund or at the very least an exchange. I opted for the refund as we'd found nicer, cheaper sheets. 

The point of this epistle is to let you know that you do need your receipt OR one of the acceptable alternatives as proof of purchase, and that there are indeed legally acceptable alternatives. 

Don't be bullied into backing down if you have an acceptable alternative to the original (although the original is always the best defense).

20 June 2013

Being Thrifty is Nifty: Ways to Repurpose Everyday Household Items

Even if you are not a creative soul, there are so many ways to re-purpose everyday items found around your home. Chances are that once you start, you won’t want to stop. Once you see the things you can create and the money you will save, you will discover a win/win situation in the art of re-purposing.

More than likely, you are like everyone else who has followed many a fad while decorating and then redecorating your home over the years. This probably has resulted in a garage full of miscellaneous items from your colourful art deco phase to your stainless steel era. Many of these items can be successfully re-purposed.

•    Stainless Steel Paper Towel Holder – An old stainless steel paper towel holder may not fit into your new black and white only kitchen theme and is sitting helplessly in your basement. You can find many uses for a stand up paper towel holder. For one, you can use this once-adored kitchen item to hold all of your bracelets. For another, you can use these stand up paper towel holders to stock your craft tape and ribbons. Or you can get a spray can of black or white enamel paint and paint it!

•    Preserving Jars – If you went through your home preserving phase and cannot seem to find the time to continue this process, those mason jars sitting in a box in the garage are useful for many things. You can store your sewing materials such as buttons, bows and spools of thread in a colourful array on top of your sewing machine. Your sewing materials will be organized while looking good at the same time. Mason jars are also great for storing half-open packets of pasta. We all open up various types of pasta for different recipes and find ourselves with a ripped open packet of pasta in the pantry. The mason jars filled with that pasta will look great and be accessible and handy when you need to use them. They make great tea, coffee and sugar canisters on the bench. Use them in the bathroom to store guest soaps or cotton balls.

•    Champagne Buckets – Every one of us probably received a champagne bucket as a wedding gift decades ago (we did – and we’re not even drinkers!). These champagne buckets are wonderful for making centrepieces for special occasions and the during the holiday season. Rather than let them sit on the top shelf of the hall cupboard, why not fill them with fresh flowers or seasonal picks from the craft store and have them be the focal point of your next occasion, or just to pretty up the diningroom table.

•    Wicker baskets – There is probably not a soul around that has not bought an overabundance of wicker baskets that are just sitting around the house. These are great for placing miniature soaps and initialed hand towels in your bathroom. These can also serve as napkin holders on an end table if you are hosting a party. Placed on top of your entry table, wicker baskets make a great catchall for your keys and your mail. Gloves will never be lost again (hopefully) if you place a wicker basket at the top of your stairs for everyone to grab a pair and go. I have one on top of the microwave to hold the dish cloths. There is another one next to my desk to hold shopping bags and another one in the family room that holds my knitting needles, patterns and whatever project I’m working on. They also make great flower pots on the verandah – sit pot plants in them for an instant facelift.

These are just a few ideas for re-purposing household items. If you look around, you will be sure to come up with many of your own.

19 June 2013

Lots of Little Savings Add Up to One Big Amount

This week's $300 a Month Food Challenge debate is raging over in the Member's Centre.

It's all about little savings and if they are worth while.

Of course they are.

Think about  it this way:  it's easy to save $200 on a large purchase (new washing machine or computer or bed), but that's a one-off, you won't be repeating it again for (hopefully) ten years. That's a $20 a year saving.

It's equally as easy to save lots of small amounts, especially on your grocery bill, and end up with more in the bank at the end of the year.

If you could not spend just 10 cents on every item in your trolley (around 50 items say), that's $5.  Repeat that $5 saving every week and you'll have an extra $260 in your bank account at the end of the year. Over 10 years that's $2,600 - makes that $200 saving look sad doesn't it?

Now some of those savings may be more than 10 cents and you can take advantage of them by buying them up in bulk quantities. 

A good example is tinned soups. Heinz condensed soups are on sale at Woolworths this week for $1.08 a can, regular price $2.16, a 50% saving. Buy two cans and you've already saved $2.16 - that's the equivalent 21 "10 cent" savings and you're well on your way to your $5!

A note: over winter soups are on sale regularly, giving you plenty of opportunities to stock-up. If you use just one can of soup a week over a year and stock up on a year's supply (quite a few Cheapskaters do), you've not spent (and hopefully saved) $56.16!

Another example is the onions I've just put into the freezer. I paid 30c a kilo for them, saving $1.20 a kilo on supermarket prices, for a total saving of $24. Not a huge amount on it's own, but when it's combined with the other savings I make over the course of the year it adds up quickly.

And it's the reason I spend $80 a week on groceries for the five of us.

Try it yourself next grocery shopping day. Aim to save an average of 10 cents per item in your trolley and see how well you do.

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 18 - The Cents Add Up

Make note of prices of items you buy regularly in your price book. It’s smart to know how much you’re paying for those barbecue potato chips. In one store, they cost $1.79. In another, they’re $1.49 each. One store has them on sale for four for $5.00. You can save a bundle by knowing what you pay for items you regularly use. 

18 June 2013

What to do with 20 Kilos of Brown Onions

My local greengrocer had a fantastic special on onions this week - 10 kilo bags for $3!  That's just 30c a kilo - about an 80 per cent saving on supermarket prices.

I couldn't resist and before I knew it two bags had mysteriously made their way into my kitchen.

So faced with 20 kilos of brown onions what was I to do?

Well first off I roped in all the family and had them take turns at peeling - a half a bag each.  That was the worst chore over and done with.

Then I took out the food processor and, using the chopping blade, I processed half of them. Now that's a lot of chopped onion, and I did it in batches. With my trusty 1/2 cup measure I portioned those chopped onions into ziplock bags ready to go into the freezer.

Those bags of frozen onion will be used to prepare rissoles and burgers, meatloaf, pies, soups and stews, casseroles, pies and quiche and anything else that needs diced or chopped onion this winter.

The remaining onions were sorted and any small enough to roast were blanched, drained and put onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and then flash frozen. I'll use these for our Sunday roasts. When they are completely frozen they'll be bagged up too.

That left about 7 kilos of rather largish onions. Those were sliced on the mandolin. They will be great for hamburgers and steak sandwiches and crumbed they'll make lovely onion rings. The mandolin had them sliced up, into lovely even slices, in no time. And again they went into ziplock bags, this time in 1 cup portions.

Now there is a green bag in the freezer, full of packets of diced, sliced or whole onions.

It did take a couple of hours to process that 20 kilos, but it will save me a lot of time over winter. When a recipe calls for onion I will be able to just pull a packet out of the freezer.

And know that I've saved around $24 too.

What do you buy in bulk to prepare ahead and freeze? Leave a comment and inspire us!

Emergency Spaghetti Bolognaise

Sometimes things don't quite go to plan. You may have dinner planned then life happens and before you know it you need a meal in a hurry.

This is my fallback emergency meal. In the time it takes to cook the pasta the sauce is made and 5 minutes later it is on the table. It's delicious, quick, easy and cheap!

250g spaghetti (or use 250g pasta twists or 1 cup rice)
500g mince
1 tin tomato soup
1/2 tsp sweet basil (dried)
2 tbsp dried onion
1/2 tsp dried garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Put a big pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Brown the mince in a large fry pan or wok (I use my wok for this). If the mince is frozen you could use the microwave to thaw it, I usually brown it and thaw it at the same time, breaking it up as it browns. By the time the mince is browned the water will be boiling - add the pasta. Drain the mince. Return the mince to the pan along with the tomato soup, basil, onion and garlic. Stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook until the pasta is done - about 8 - 12 minutes depending on your pasta. Drain the pasta and plate up. Stir the parmesan into the pasta sauce. Spoon over the pasta and serve. Serves 4.

Total cost: $4.00/$1 per serve.

17 June 2013

Beautiful Napkin Roses

These paper roses, made out of serviettes, are a pretty finishing touch to any table setting.

They are so easy even a child could make them and even the cheapest of paper napkins will look sensational folded into these roses. You can use linen napkins too. Plain white looks especially lovely for a formal dinner setting.

Step 1. Take a paper serviette and lay it out flat. Starting with one corner, fold it in to the centre. Work your way around each side. Make sure you press each fold really well.

Step 2. Take a corner and fold into to the centre. Repeat for the remaining three corners.

Step 3. Fold each corner into the centre, being sure to press the folds down really well.

Step 4. Flip the folded napkin over. Fold each corner into the centre. Your napkin will now be quite small and the folds thick - make sure you press them down hard.

Step 5. Take each corner and fold it over 1 centimetre. Press the edge well.

Step 6. Holding the 1 centimetre fold down with your left hand, reach behind it and pull the corner up and over it. This forms the first petal. Repeat with the other three centimetre folds.

Step 7. Turn your rose over and very carefully work your way around it, pulling the next layer of corners up.

Step 8. Pull the last layer of corners out flat. These form the leaves of your rose.

That's it - simple, quick and beautiful.

15 June 2013

It's Officially Formal Season

This was the dress 'we' were going to make - the sleeveless pink version in the centre
Our girlie is in Year 12. That means lots of study, lots of late nights, lots of extra books and papers and pens - dozens of pens, trying to find the "perfect" pen to use for assignments and essays - and formals.

It seems that these days there are two formal occasions for Year 12 students. One the formal "formal" and the other the valedictory dinner.

The "formal" formal is next weekend. We have been hunting high, low, east, west, south, north, online and in stores for the perfect formal dress. And shoes. And bag. And wrap. And jewellery. And make-up.  For weeks and weeks and weeks.

Nothing her father and I approved was  deemed by her to be suitable, nothing she "just loved" met our standards (and yes, we are a little old-fashioned and conservative, but she is our only daughter and we do have a dress code for the family).

In the end we decided to drag out the pattern box and make a gown. That meant of course we had to find fabrics. Then we (and I use the "we" very loosely) decided the pattern from my stash was a little too out of date so off we went to our local fabric shop to find a new one. Finally found a pattern we both liked and that I knew I'd be able to put together - only to find it was about to be discontinued and wasn't available.

Oh the stress!

Home we went and remembered eBay. Yay for eBay, we found the most gorgeous frock, custom made with free delivery - for the grand sum of $27! Even Dad liked and approved of it. Measurements were taken and double checked and just as we were about to click the buy button we realised it wouldn't be here in time, even if we paid for express post!

More stress!

More tears (and I'll admit they were mine - I was beginning to loathe this school formal).

And then out she comes, in a really pretty dress. Still with the tags on it. I loved it, she loved it and Dad was quite choked up at the picture his girl made in her beautiful dress.

So where did it come from?

Her wardrobe!

It was one we bought two years ago to wear to a Year 10 function that was cancelled. So it has been hanging in the wardrobe, waiting to be worn. And I had totally forgotten about it. Not only that I had forgotten about the shoes and bag we bought to go with it.

Problem solved, almost. This is a June event, the dress was meant for November. It needed a little wrap or shrug or cape or something to cover shoulders.

And yesterday while we were in Kmart we found the perfect little bolero - for the princely sum of $5!

We (and again I use the "we" loosely) are going to tizzy it up a little with a length of sequinned ribbon around the edges and her formal out fit will be complete.

The tag on the frock says $15. Her shoes were $20, bag $10 and the bolero $5.

A complete formal outfit for $50!

Am I happy? Yes!

Am I proud of my frugal daughter? Oh, yes, yes I am!

14 June 2013

Another MOO for the Kitchen - Onion Soup Mix

I was making a dip earlier to serve tonight (we have visitors coming after dinner) and it occurred to me that I haven't shared this recipe for a simple MOO French onion soup mix with you.  A lot of recipes I use require a packet of French onion soup - dips, apricot chicken, seasoned roasts, flavouring casseroles and so on.

Generic soups cost about 48c a packet, up to around $1.10 for a branded soup, so not overly expensive. My concern with the packet soups is the ingredients. Read the packet - it's full of numbers and odd ingredients.

A while ago, so I could cross another item off the grocery list, I started looking for a MOO for packet French onion soup. After a few tweaks of the ones that seemed closest to what I think of as French onion soup this is what I finished with. It has the colour of a packet soup, but tastes so much better. It's not as salty as the commercial product other than the onion powder is fairly straight forward ingredients-wise, nothing artificial.

MOO French Onion Soup Mix

3/4 cup dried onion flakes
3 tsp parsley flakes
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Combine the parsley flakes, onion powder, turmeric, celery seed, salt and pepper and use a mortar and pestle or a spice (or coffee) grinder to make a fine powder. Add the onion flakes and stir (or shake) well to combine.  Use 4 tablespoons of the mixture to replace one packet of commercial French onion soup mix.

This mixture keeps well for about six months in an air-tight container before it starts to lose it's potency. After six months it's still good to use, just not quite as fresh and therefore it won't be as aromatic and flavourful as the fresh mix. It's still good though, don't throw it out! Actually it makes a lovely mild dip or sauce when it's a little on the "old" side.

I use my own dried herbs (onion and parsley) when I have them.  If I don't have any dried on hand I use dried onion and parsley I buy in the large bottles from Costco. 

And the dip I made - a cup of plain yoghurt (MOO of course) mixed with 2 tablespoons of the soup mix and chilled in the fridge. It goes very well with pita chips, celery sticks and carrot straws.

Share Your Shopping List: Split the Cost

These days, more than ever before, families as well as individuals are looking for more and more creative ways to save money and share expenses.

One way to slash that grocery bill is to get together with other families and combine your food shopping lists in an effort to cut back on spending and save your hard earned dollars in order to get by during these tough economic times.

And young adults are no exception; they, too, are looking for ways to share expenses. University students and young adults just starting out are jumping on board the saving wagon as well.

While it may seem odd at first, there are definite benefits to sharing your shopping list.

1. Buying in bulk – buying in bulk can seem like a costly endeavor from the outset; however, once you get the hang of price checking, you will be able to spot a bargain from three aisles away.

2. Learn how to compare prices – learning how much something costs is the first step to saving. Go to your local supermarket and spend about an hour looking at the price per kilo for certain items that you frequently buy. Thereafter, take some time during your lunch hour to browse through the assortment of supermarket and grocery flyers that come to your home or apartment. Keep a journal of how much on average your favourite staples cost (like a mini price book). Once you have learned how much your top ten items cost and the cheapest price that you can buy them for, you will be well on your way to being a top-notch bulk buyer.

3. Bring your calculator - the first couple of times you visit a bulk store, bring your calculator. Open up your notebook and compare the unit price of one item to the bulk price of several. For example, if you buy a six-pack of your favourite brand yoghurt for $4.00 and a twelve-pack in bulk costs $6.00 on sale, just double the price of the six-pack if bought individually and note the difference.

  • If you were to buy that six-pack twice, it would cost you $8.00. However, if you were to buy a twelve-pack once on sale, it would only cost you $6.00. Your savings would be $2.00. If you split the pack and the cost with a friend, you will now only pay $3.00 for your six-pack of yoghurt. If you can save a dollar on yoghurt, imagine the savings on big-ticket items like toiletries and meats. It really does add up quite significantly.
There are so many ways to save if you just put a little time and little bit of effort into the mix and sharing your shopping list is one of the best ways to begin your saving endeavours.

13 June 2013

Two Old-Fashioned Meals That Taste Great

Although anyone can walk into a restaurant at any given time and try something new and different, there is no better satisfaction than making and eating an old-fashioned meal in your very own kitchen. Perhaps you have a great-aunt or a grandmother who made things from scratch, but you think you don’t have the time or that it takes too much effort.

Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to take a long time or a lot of effort. In fact some of the nicest from-scratch old fashioned meals are made from the simplest ingredients and are the easiest to prepare.

Here are two of my favourites that are not only fast and easy but economical and just plain old-fashioned good.

Chicken Soup

What better way to comfort your family on any given day than a bowl of homemade, old-fashioned chicken soup.

1 whole chicken, sectioned
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery
1 package (300g) frozen spinach
½ cup of olive oil
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 litres chicken stock
2 bay leaves

Heat up the olive oil in your pot over a medium heat and sauté the garlic and onions for about one minute. Add the celery and carrots and mix well, then place your cut up chicken on top. Add your salt, pepper, garlic and brown the chicken on both sides. Then add the chicken stock and lower the heat to a slow simmer. Add the 2 bay leaves and cook for approximately 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and let cool. Once cooled, remove the meat from the bone and replace into pot. Add frozen spinach and let cook according to package directions.

You can then add rice or egg noodles cooked separately to your chicken soup for a hearty old-fashioned dish.

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie has been around for ages and never gets tired with families old and new. It’s a great way to stretch a roast or to turn leftovers into a delicious new meal.

750g lean minced beef (or the equivalent of leftover roast)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp gravy powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
2 ½ cups of water
500g frozen peas and carrots
2 cups mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  Brown the mince in a large frying pan with onion, salt, pepper and garlic, strain fat. Stir in gravy, soup and water and thawed vegetables, stir well. Spoon into a 20cm deep pie plate and top with mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika and bake for 45 minutes.

Everyone will love these two simple, homemade meals. The cook will love them because they are fairly simple, not very time-consuming and economical and the eater will love them because they are just old-fashioned good, perfect for winter dinners.

12 June 2013

Map Out Your Expenses

For a month, write down everything you buy.  Don’t worry about obsessively reviewing it every day, but take the time to make it accurate.  You’ll find that there are plenty of unnecessary purchases you can eliminate from your budget without thinking twice.

This is a great way to track your cash expenses, which includes all the times you stop for coffee, go out for lunch or stop at the supermarket. Write down every cent spent and review it the end of each month.

11 June 2013

Spaghetti Carbonara

500g spaghetti
250g bacon, diced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk

Put a large pot of water on to boil (for pasta). In a large frypan, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 12 minutes; transfer to a paper towel or brown paper lined plate to drain. Salt boiling water generously; add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and cream. Set aside. Drain pasta, leaving some water clinging to it. Working quickly, add hot pasta to egg mixture. Add bacon; season with salt and pepper, and toss all to combine (heat from pasta will cook eggs). Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese.

07 June 2013

Are Your Grocery Shopping Habits Wasting Money and Harming the Environment?

With the high cost of everything these days, more and more people are learning to be more frugal. A really neat side benefit of living the Cheapskates way is that you are also very often helping the environment. This is never more evident than when you do your grocery shopping. Here are a few frugal and simple things you can do to save money and the environment:

Make a list

Writing out what you are going to cook and your grocery list is one way to avoid going to the supermarket over and over again. Make use of meal planning. Create menus a week or two in advance so that you can buy everything that you need in one pass (I put our monthly meal plan in the Member's Centre each month if you're stuck for ideas).  How many of us go to the supermarket for a few things and end up running back again and again because we forgot something? If that sounds like you, it’s time to get organized. Having a list and a plan will not only save you money, but time and petrol running back and forth.

Buy in bulk

This works for things like meat, cheese, canned goods, and frozen vegetables. You can buy in bulk whether you're a family of 6, a couple or single. The difference will be in the quantity of your "bulk".  For a family bulk chicken for instance may be 25 kilos, whereas for a single a bulk purchase may be 5 kilos (although if you're single, have the storage and the money buying a larger bulk purchase makes sense). Usually, the bigger the package, the less you pay per kilo (check the unit price, it isn't always the case). You can wrap meal size portions of meat, cheese and vegetables and store in the fridge or freezer. Date your frozen items so you can rotate them and use them up before getting freezer burned. If you use a lot of canned diced tomatoes, for instance, that would be one item you would want to buy by the case when they are on sale.

Visit a butcher shop

The butcher will cut up meat for you in the sizes that you need, eliminating waste. Also, butchers use paper to wrap their meat. It is easier to recycle than plastic or Styrofoam trays that you get with your meat from the supermarket. Buying from a butcher you can buy the quantity you want, you're not stuck with pre-packaged quantities. Make friends with your butcher and you'll learn what cuts to buy to get the most meat for your money. You'll also be privy to specials. Don't forget to ask your butcher about soup bones and bulk purchases. This is a personal service you probably won't get from any big supermarket.

Use reusable shopping bags

These simple cloth bags are cheap, roomy, easy to carry and are handy - every home has at least a couple of these shopping bags. Just keep a couple in your car, along with an insulated freezer bag or cooler and you'll get your food home from the supermarket safely, economically and without the plastic. The more plastic bags that supermarkets hand out the more they have to buy, which trickles down to you, the consumer, in prices. And the environmental impact of plastic bags is horrible; they simply do not recycle well, if at all. Ditch them when you can. If you must use bags, try paper or even re-useable veggie bags.

Discover the beauty of leftovers

Each year, families waste tons and tons of food because it's simply thrown out.  No one wants to eat the same thing over and over again. That's why you have to be creative. Granted, some dishes like spaghetti and stew are better the second time around, so you don't mind eating it again the next day or a few days later. But other dishes need to be re-created to be palatable. A beef pot roast with potatoes, onions and carrots is good the first night, but please, no re-runs. Instead, take the beef the next night, shred it and turn it into beef enchiladas with some spicy tomato sauce and cheese. Totally different meals using the same beef – that's the way to get your family to eat leftovers.

Buy reusable water bottles

This is a particular bug-bear of mine. I simply do not see the need for buying water for most of us, let alone buying water in throw-away bottles.  We waste millions of dollars on bottled water each year and as well as being hideously expensive it's no better than the water you get from your kitchen tap! That's not to mention the resources used to create those plastic bottles or the horror of the plastic bottles that end up in the landfills, lakes, streams, and oceans. An easy to use kitchen tap water filter and stainless steel or BPA-free reusable bottles eliminate this resource wasting and environmentally damaging nightmare.

It's not difficult to change your shopping habits to be more environmentally and budget friendly. Next time you head out to the shops, think about how you can make your shopping trip a trip to help, rather than damage, the environment and see the difference it makes to your wallet and your life.

06 June 2013

Is It Really Cheaper To Make Your Own Cleaning Products?

Do you make your own cleaning products? I do. I think I've always made some cleaning products. The first one that springs to mind was glass cleaner - a simple mix of water and metho in a spray bottle. It's what my mother used to clean the windows, mirrors and glass at home.

Since then of course I've expanded my range. It started with washing powder. Then I discovered how easy it was to make an all-purpose cleaner that didn't make me sneeze. Next was a solution to wash the floors. And it grew from that point.

These days the only commercial cleaners I buy are dishwashing liquid and dishwasher powder - and they are both generic brands.

Many environmentally friendly experts recommend making your own cleaning products out of natural elements. For example, vinegar and newspaper can be used to clean the windows. Bicarbonate soda can be used as an abrasive scrubbing cleaner and lemon juice also works to get rid of rust, oils, dirt and grime. Citric Acid will clean scale out of kettles and dissolve mineral deposits in toilets and basins.

But how economical is it to actually make your own cleaning products?

While you may have to spend a bit in the beginning to buy all the materials necessary to make your own cleaning products in the long run it can save you money. You probably already have some of them in your pantry (bicarb soda, lemons, salt, vinegar). Don’t forget to add to the initial expense spray bottles and storage for your homemade cleaners, although it's a much better idea to thoroughly wash empty spray bottles and re-use them (use a Sharpie to write the new contents on them).

Before you run out and buy everything to make your own cleaning products do a bit of analysis.
How much do you spend monthly or annually on cleaning products? How much could you save by buying on sale and in bulk? Could you save even more money by using store brand cleaning products and buying them when they’re on sale?

Create a list of the products you currently use and find homemade recipes to replace those products (there are dozens in the Tip Store and Cleaning with the Super Six). Tally up what it would cost to make them and how long they would last. You can then easily see how much money you’ll actually save making your own cleaning products.

05 June 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 16 - Teaching the Kids how Your Spending Plan Works

Saving money and using the money saving tips here on my blog and in the Cheapskates Club Tip Store will be so much easier if you have your whole family on board, supporting the effort together. After all, these are good money lessons to teach children of all ages.

You can start by involving the whole family in managing family money. Let the children know that the light and power they use each day costs money. Show them the bill and, if they are very young, show them just how much that bill costs in cash. Young children are quite literal so showing them how much you earn each week and then how much of that money goes on the basics like power, water, phone, food, petrol, sports fees etc. will help them to understand just how much it costs to run your home.

A fun and memorable way to teach young children (and even a few teens) just how much things cost and how long it takes to earn the money to pay for them is to show them. It may seem odd, but next pay day go to the bank and withdraw your entire pay in $1 coins (you may need to pre-arrange the coins with the bank). 

When you get home, sit down with the kids (and your partner if needs be) and make piles for every category on your Spending Plan: rent/mortgage, groceries, petrol, sports fees, tuckshop, bus fares, electricity, gas, phone, Internet etc. with "fun" being the last pile.  Then tell them how long you have to work to earn the money to pay for each pile i.e. you earn $10 an hour and your grocery bill is $80 - you have to work 8 hours just to pay for the food they eat.

Then explain what happens if you over-spend in one category - there won't be enough dollar coins for the other categories. What will happen? One category will have to go without, meaning the bill can't be paid. Or you will have to work longer to earn the extra money, meaning you won't be able to spend as much time with them. Or someone will have to give up something they enjoy and put those dollars towards the short pile. 

Seeing the size of the piles and knowing how long you have to work to pay for just one pile will show everyone just how important it is to stick to the Spending Plan. 

04 June 2013

Corned Silverside with Balsamic Plum Gaze

Silverside, or corned beef, is one of my favourite meats. It's cheap, but more importantly easy to cook and can be used in so many different ways.  It freezes well too so take the opportunity to stock up when it's on sale. My highest price is $5.49/kg, I won't pay more than that. I like to buy it at $4.99/kg or less and have been known to buy up to 20 pieces to put in the freezer for family dinners (thank goodness for the slush fund).

It's also a year-round meat. In summer I sit the slowcooker on the verandah and let it simmer all day, keeping the heat out of the kitchen.  In winter it sits on the sink and the wonderful aroma wafts through the house, tantalising taste buds as everyone walks through the front door at the end of the day.

We love it cooked and served with garlic cabbage, creamy mash, carrot straws and delicious homemade mustard sauce. Or thinly sliced with a salad. Or shredded and put into spicy mustard pancakes. Or in a pie. Or like this, with a rather elegant sounding Balsamic Plum Glaze.

Corned Silverside with Balsamic Plum Gaze

2 kg lean corned silverside
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 fresh mint sprigs (don't be tempted to leave the mint out, it makes all the difference to the finished dish)
1 medium onion, peeled and studded with 4 cloves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and roughly cut into chunks
3 cups water
8 peppercorns (yes, I count them out!)

Balsamic Plum Glaze

3/4 cup beef stock
1/4 cup plum jam
1 1/2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
3 teaspoons sugar

Place the meat, sugar, vinegar, mint, onion, carrot, water and peppercorns into the slowcooker crock.  Cover and cook on Low 10-12 hours or High 6-7 hours.  To make the plum glaze place the stock, jam, vinegar and sugar into a small, non-stick pan (I use my milk pan). Cook over a medium heat until mixture has reduced to a syrup consistency.  Remove the meat, cover with foil and allow to stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve meat slices with plum glaze.

If you have any corned beef and glaze leftover, use it for either another meal or switch it up and make delicious pan-fried sandwiches with it. Butter two slices thickly cut wholegrain or multi-grain bread. Lay the bread buttered sides together. Spread the top slice of bread with the glaze, add a slice of corned beef and then a thin slice of tasty cheese. Heat a frypan until a little butter sizzles straight away. Add the sandwich, buttered side down. Fry until golden and the cheese is just starting to melt, turn. Fry until the other side is golden brown and the cheese  has melted completely. Remove from the frying pan and cut into triangles to serve.

03 June 2013

How to Start a Garden Journal

When the wind, rain and cold make gardening seem like a thing of the past, you can revive (or begin) your interest in gardening by starting a journal. You can continue it throughout the growing season, making changes and trying ideas on paper before actually digging. It can also be used as a sort of scrapbook to remember your gardening adventures. It is not expensive to get started, and in fact, getting your gardening experiments out on paper can save you money in the end. Here are some ideas for your garden journal.

1. Choose your notebook or other method for keeping your journal

What you want to put in your journal and how big a garden you have has a lot to do with what kind of journal you'll want. If making notes on a single, moderately-sized garden is your main goal, a simple notebook may be just what you need. If you have a large garden, you may want to use a large, 3-ring binder with dividers. If you want to add pressed flowers, empty seed packets, magazine pages, photos, etc. then a scrapbook or photo album may suit your needs.

Remember that you will need to keep track of things each year, so either use a different journal for each year or have a way to divide your journal clearly into years.

2. What do you put in it?

This is as varied as the gardener! Some ideas are: pressed leaves and flowers of plants you want to remember, sketches of potential layouts and beds, observations about the weather, notes on the growing habits of your plants, ideas for additions to your garden such as benches, trellises, photos of plants and garden beds etc. (More on what to put in your journal below)

2. Make it memorable

Gardeners often think they will remember details about their gardens - after all, your garden seems so up close and personal all summer. But when autumn comes and the garden succumbs to frost and cold, it is hard to remember where things were planted and how they were laid out. You may even forget some of the plants you had growing, especially if they are annuals. You can help your memory by putting pressed leaves or flowers in your journal, noting the name of the plant and where you got it. You can do the same with sketches, empty seed packets, or simply notes.

Take note of where you planted things as well. Labels in the garden are fine for the summer, but they are easily dislodged and lost over the winter.

3. Note what works - and what doesn't

It can really save you money to take note of what does well in your garden and what does not. You don't want to waste time and money planting and re-planting those flowers or vegetables that struggle or fail in your garden. Some situations and environments are just not conducive to certain plants, and it's easy to forget that in the midst of spring planting fever.

4. Recipes

If you grow edibles, keep the recipes in your journal. This is where a 3-ring binder or pocket dividers come in handy - you can take the recipe out and refer to it without having the entire journal on your kitchen counter.

Get creative! This is your journal, and it can be as private or public as you like. You can involve your kids, too, by getting them their own journals or adding their contributions to yours. Gardening journals are a wonderful way to connect with your garden.