31 July 2013

The Bills to Pay First When There's No Money

Unfortunately, the bills don’t stop even if the pay does. There is still a financial responsibility to your creditors. It’s time to sit down and come up with a game plan.

The reality is that there are certain bills that can’t go without being paid. Your family needs a home to live in and the basic comforts like heat, electricity, transportation and a working telephone. These are the bills that warrant getting paid first.

When there is nothing else you can cut and money is still stretched too far to meet all the bills, it is probably time to call the creditors. No one wants to do it but you will have a more favorable outcome if you call them before your bills start falling behind. If you have been a good customer who has had on-time payment in the past, they will help you to make your payment in some form without ruining your credit.

As for any credit card bills, making a payment arrangement won’t adversely affect your standing with them or the credit companies. When you are back on solid financial footing, you can resume your normal payments.

Whether you have an income or not, bills are still going to come due. Use the above tips to help you stay afloat in hard times.

Cutting the Budget When It's Already Cut to the Bone

"I know I have written to you before asking for help but Disaster has struck since my cancer diagnosis and we are on one wage which only just keeps a roof over our heads.  I am reading and re-reading your books and website info which is helping. But I have debts that I want to kill and then have savings so that if the Big C comes back we are not in the poo again.  How can I cut back even further? I have been to the banks and utility companies to re-jig things. I now pay by the fortnight for my gas and electricity and so that is not a problem.  Is this the way to go?  I hate having to go to the charity organisations for hand outs but I have had to do this at times. I hate asking for help. Did you ever have to do that when Disaster hit you?" (I've kept this anonymous to protect privacy)

When I read your email, my heart broke for you. I will never forget the feeling of despair, when money was tighter than tight and it felt like we were never going to survive, let alone get ahead financially.

It is so very hard when you feel like there is nothing else to trim, let alone slash, and yet you're still barely treading water.

Here's how I coped: I focused on the things I could control. I was pregnant, we had two little boys, half a house and a whopping great mortgage (actually it was only the interest rate that was whopping, thank goodness).

There is always something you can do, even if it's just choosing to only cook enough for each meal, with absolutely no leftovers. Or to just drink water or milk for a month (amazing how much that will save you, even if you just give up tea, coffee and juice or cordial - it's not a huge amount but it could be enough to pay off a bill).

Look at what you are doing and how it is helping your family. Letting the despair control you won't get you anywhere; it makes you feel worse and like just giving up. Don't do it! When you give up your chances of ever getting back on your feet, let alone ahead, are almost zero.

Instead keep plugging away, little by little.

I know you have children, so get them involved. Let them learn from you that you control the money, it doesn't control you. That can be hard, especially when you see things you want them to have. It's your job as their mother to make sure they think of themselves as rich, rather than poor. If you need to change your attitude then do it, and do it quick smart.

Find things to do with them that don't cost any money. Look for things you can do together. Teach them to cook. Let them help you make dinner each night, or treats for their lunchboxes. Instead of going out, let them have their friends over to watch a movie and eat popcorn or pancakes or for sleepovers. Make your house the fun house to be, where all the kid want to come to play.

Take this opportunity to turn your life around and make it better. I think the phrase "bloom where you're planted" suits here. Look at your attitude. If you are feeling poor and hard done by, then you will be miserable and pass that on to your family. Instead be content with what you have: a family who loves you, a roof over your heads that you can make into a home, an income, friends, the best country in the world to live in.

That doesn't mean you have to stay right where you are now, it just means be grateful you have those things. Choose the things that are important to you.

We had to. We took a long hard look at the way we were living and decided a lot of our expenses weren't really what we wanted, let alone necessary. We ditched those things. We stopped going out to eat. I cut back on playgroup days, instead having everyone come to our house. I supplied the tea and coffee and the other mums took it in turns to bring the morning tea and craft activity for the kids. I learned to cut hair. We walked to the park rather than drive (when the boys were old enough we rode our bikes). We stopped buying brand new clothes for the kids (I learned to sew and made a lot of them), instead haunting garage sales and op shops (I found garage sales better quality) for their clothes. I could buy brand name clothes in almost mint condition for 50c or $1 a piece. For $10 I could outfit a child for a whole season. And if I was careful and looked after them, I could sell them and recoup my money, meaning it cost me nothing to keep my children clothed.

On that note, look for ways to increase your income. The easiest way to pay down that debt and get ahead is to increase your income. Can your husband take on a part-time job? Wayne worked three casual jobs for four years to keep us going. I taught embroidery classes in our loungeroom twice a week. It won't be easy, but it is only for a short time. Have a garage sale. Get selling on eBay or Gumtree. Do you knit or sew or crochet? Can you make things to sell? Hand-crafted items sell like hotcakes on Etsy.  Just be sure to use this money to pay down the debt, and once the debt is cleared use it to build your savings.

There is no instant solution to your problem. You didn't get into debt overnight, and you won't be out of debt overnight.

It isn't easy. It will take a lot of effort and a lot of sacrifice. But it's only for a short time. It's not forever. Keep that in mind and keep plugging away and little by little your debt will disappear and your savings will grow.

30 July 2013

Silverbeet Lasagne

This is the most delicious lasagne recipe, perfect for using up that silverbeet you have growing in the garden. It makes a huge lasagne so I usually make it up in two dishes, one to eat for dinner and one to freeze for another meal.

2-1/2kg silverbeet, washed, dried, and finely chopped, including stalks
3 pkts instant lasagne noodles (can use fresh)

Tomato sauce:
2 x 810g cans diced tomatoes
1 x 400g can diced tomatoes
50g tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large onions, finely diced
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cheese sauce:
120g butter
1 cup plain flour
1-1/2 litres milk
1-1/2 cups tasty cheese, grated
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook silverbeet in a very little water until tender, either on the stove or in the microwave. Drain well.

To make the tomato sauce place all the ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook the mixture for 1-1/2 hours, until the sauce is thick and rich. Stir occasionally to stop it sticking on the bottom.

Turn the oven to 175 degrees Celsius to heat.

To make the cheese sauce put the butter and 1 litre of the milk into a small saucepan and gently heat until the butter has melted. Combine the flour and the remaining half litre of milk and mix to a smooth paste. Bring the butter/milk mixture to a boil and whisk in the flour/milk mixture. Cook for one minute, stirring all the time. Stir in the cheeses, mixing until combined and all the cheese has melted.

To make the lasagne spray a lasagne dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 cup of the tomato mixture over the base of the dish. Cover with lasagne sheets. Spread half the tomato sauce over the lasagne, then half the silverbeet over the tomato sauce. Cover with lasagne sheets. Spread half the cheese sauce over the lasagne sheets. Repeat the layers, finishing with the cheese sauce.

Combine the mozzarella and parmesan. Spread over the cheese sauce.

Bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden and set.  Let the lasagne sit for 10 minutes before cutting.

29 July 2013

Glass jars are one of those household items we all tend to hang on to because they might be useful. Of course they can be recycled, and sometimes we give in and put them gently into the recycle bin. But most of the time they are washed and dried and put away in a cupboard, or when those cupboards are full, into a box so we will have them when we need them.

Of course if you make lots and lots of jams and pickles or do lots of preserving then they do get used. But there are still loads and loads of them, sitting empty, in the cupboard.

As they are, glass jars are pretty boring. They don't have to be. A few minutes with some spray paint, a couple of stickers and some clear spray sealant and those jars become something beautiful and useful for our homes.

You will need:
Glass jars with lids - sauce jars, jam jars etc
Spray paint that will adhere to the metal or plastic lids (if you want to change the colours)
Stickers for the lid- I chose some vintage decals I had in the craft cabinet, use whatever suits  your style
Labels for the jar (optional)
Clear sealer - to seal the sticker or decal to the lid

Step 1. Wash and dry the jar and the lid.

Step 2. Paint the lid if you are going to. You may need to use at least two coats of colour. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly between coats.

Step 3. Position your sticker on the lid.

Step 4. Give the lid three coats of the clear sealant, drying between each coat.

Step 5. Stick the label to the jar.

Now you're ready to fill the jar with buttons or pins or chocolates or bobby pins or cotton buds or whatever you want.

28 July 2013

A Change of Plan and Homemade Apple Drink

I asked No. 1 Son to take the roast out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to defrost. I know, I should have been more specific because he took a piece of roasting beef from the freezer instead of the chicken I had planned to cook.

He had to dig to find the piece of beef, moving the chicken in the process. It must be a male thing - seeing the obvious right in front of them isn't one of their strengths.

Anyway roast beef for tea it is.

Mustard roast beef, cooked slowly on the barbecue, so it is moist and flavourful and very, very tender.

We'll have baked potato and sweet potato, broccoli with cheese sauce, carrot, corn and green beans. And gravy made with the pan juices from the meat (gravy is a must for any roast dinner in our house).

And for dessert tonight we'll have lemon meringue pie made with Six Minute Lemon Butter. It's Wayne's favourite and it's a good way to use up some of the lemons I have in the fruit bowl.

And frankly it's a rather delicious way to end a lazy winter Sunday in Melbourne.

Homemade Apple Drink

I've been asked for my recipe for Homemade Apple Drink, made from apple peels and cores.

It's simple really.

After you have peeled, cored and sliced the apples for a pie or to make applesauce, you do the "right thing" and put the peels and cores in the compost pile.

Stop right there!

For a truly healthy treat and as a part of a no waste kitchen, put the peels and cores into a saucepan. The more peels and cores you have the stronger the drink will be, so if you only have the remains of one or two apples, freeze them until you have enough to half fill your saucepan and then make juice.

Add enough cold water to just cover them and slowly bring them to the boil. Let them boil a few minutes until the cores and peels are soft (about 10 - 15 minutes, depending on how many you have in the pot). 

Pour the mush into a jelly bag (or a piece of clean cheesecloth, Chux or muslin if you don't have a jelly bag) and hang it over a deep pot until all the juice has dripped through. I use an old (but clean) muslin baby wrap for this step. I already had it and we are way past the baby wrap stage, so this is a great use for it instead of just taking up cupboard space. This may take a couple of hours, be patient.

Gently squeeze the bag to get all the juice and a little of the fine pulp. Bottle the juice and store it in the fridge.

Now you can add the leftovers to the compost pile and let the worms feast!

This juice doesn't look like commercial apple juice and it doesn't taste like it either.

It's heaps better, just ask my kids!

27 July 2013

Housekeeping on a Saturday

Saturday is a no work day for us. It's a timeout day, the day we turn off. We turn off the television, the radio, the mobile phones, the games and most of the time our computers (sometimes I forget and logon).

We don't do any of our regular activities: no working or shopping or cleaning or gardening or cooking.

The basics are covered of course: bed making, dishes, rubbish out but otherwise nothing else is done.

I have a mixer I love, it gets used at least 4 times a week to make cakes, muffins, bread dough, whip cream, make batters, it works hard. But the instruction manual tells me that I can't use it continuously, I need to turn it off after a few minutes of use to rest it. If a machine needs rest between work periods, how much more do we need a proper break?

Everyone needs a day to rest and recharge and Saturday is our rest and recharge day. It's the day we restore our minds and our bodies by taking a break from the daily treadmill we walk.

Not so very long ago the shops closed at 1pm on a Saturday and didn't open again until 9am Monday morning. You worked a 40 hour week and you had the weekend to rest and rejuvenate your mind and body.

Today's world is frantic. Everything is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Supermarkets. Restaurants. Service stations. Pharmacies. Transport. Phones. Television. Radio.  Work. There is no defined break anymore, "weekend" is just the name for two more work days.

We step off the treadmill for 24 hours each week to restore the balance to our lives, guilt free.

Saturday is my favourite housekeeping day.

26 July 2013


We all make choices every day, usually without thinking about it. What new choices can you deliberately choose today?

Drive OR bike or walk?

Supermarket fruits and vegetables  OR farmer's market OR grow your own?

Buying synthetic fertilizer OR making your own compost

Watering your grass OR catching rain in a water tank/barrel and using that to water your grass OR get rid of the grass?

Clothes dryer OR clotheshorse OR line dry?

Your choices not only affect your finances, but your lifestyle and your environment. Make deliberate choices and live the good life the Cheapskates way.

25 July 2013

MOOing Coconut Milk and Cream

I just popped into the Cheapskates forum and the chatter is about mooing coconut milk or cream (technically the same thing, just a different name in different areas).

Now you can MOO it very easily, probably even easier than buying it when you consider you need to go to the supermarket, find it on the shelves, stand in the queue, pay for it and then get it home.

A 400ml tin of Coles Savings brand coconut cream costs 97 cents.

A 500g packet of desiccated coconut from Coles costs $2.92 and is enough to make 4 cups, or 1 litre, of coconut milk. The difference in price is around 26 cents more expensive to buy the tin.

There are two ways to make coconut cream; option one takes about 2 hours, option two takes just a few minutes. Again the choice is yours - the end result is the same.


Option 1:  Soaking method

You will need:
250g coconut
2 cups water
A blender
Cheesecloth or Chux or muslin for draining

Step 1.  Soak coconut in cold water for 2 hours.

Step 2.  Put the coconut and water into the blender and blend on high until the mixture is very smooth.

Step 3.  Once blended, pour the mixture into the cheesecloth, gathering up the sides and twisting to close.

Step 4.  Twist the cheesecloth tight, squeezing as much moisture as possible out of the  pulp. Keep twisting and squeezing until you can't get any more moisture from the pulp.

Pour into a clean jug or jar and chill.

Option 2:  Not quite instant boiling water method

You will need:
250g coconut
2 cups water
A blender
Cheesecloth or Chux or muslin for draining

Step 1.  Bring 2 cups water to a boil and pour over coconut. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Step 2.  Put the mixture into the blender and blend until very smooth. This takes about 5 minutes so be patient.

Step 3.  Once blended, pour the mixture into the cheesecloth, gathering up the sides and twisting to close.

Step 4.  Twist the cheesecloth tight, squeezing as much moisture as possible out of the  pulp. Keep twisting and squeezing until you can't get any more moisture from the pulp.

Pour into a clean jug or jar and chill.

Now you have your coconut milk/cream to use in smoothies or sauces or curries or cupcakes or pancakes or whatever you are making, but what do you do with the leftover coconut pulp?

You use it of course!

You can use it as is, adding it to muffins or cakes or breads or desserts. Or add it to yoghurt or fruit salad.

Or you can dry it and use it in baking as desiccated coconut.

Or you can dry it, grind it and use it as coconut flour. If you're on a GF diet, you'll know just how expensive coconut flour can be. Now I'm going to tell you just how easy it is to MOO it, you won't ever want to buy it again.

To make desiccated coconut or coconut flour

You will need:
The pulp from making the coconut milk
A baking sheet
Baking paper
Food processor or blender

Step 1. Pre-heat oven to 80 degrees Celsius (or as low as it will go if it doesn't go down this low).

Step 2. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Do not be tempted to grease the tray or use cooking spray - it will ruin the end result.

Step 3. Spread the coconut pulp in a very thin layer over the baking sheet.

Step 4. Bake for 45 minutes or until the coconut is completely dry.

Step 5. Let cool a few minutes. If you want it as desiccated coconut, let it cool completely and put into a canister.

To make coconut flour add the dry coconut to a food processor or blender and process in short bursts until it is ground to a very fine texture.

That's it. Easy. A little cheaper than buying coconut cream, a lot cheaper than buying coconut flour.

MOO Vanilla Sugar


An ingredient in many sweet recipes, vanilla sugar, or vanillan sugar (depends on the brand and where you live as to what you call it) costs an absolute fortune!

And yet it is the easiest, simplest thing to make, and you can make a whole kilo of it for less than the price of a 50g jar.

I use it mostly in my cheesecake recipe (which is my mother's cheesecake recipe) and to top off a coffee cake or muffins. But you can use it is milkshakes, coffee, custards, sauces - just about anything that has both vanilla and sugar in the ingredients. It is just delicious sprinkled over porridge.

You will need:
1kg white sugar
4 - 6 vanilla beans (how many will depend on how strong you want the flavour to be and how quickly you want to use the sugar)
A large jar with a good, tight fitting lid

Step 1. Sterilise your jar.

Step 2. Take your vanilla beans and split them down the centre. Then cut each one into three or four pieces.

Step 3. Fill the jar with the sugar. Add the vanilla beans.

Step 4. Put the lid on and shake, shake, shake until the vanilla beans disappear into the sugar.

Step 5. Put the jar in a cool, dark cupboard for four weeks. Give it a shake every couple of days to move the beans around.

After four weeks, take the lids off and breathe in that delicious vanilla scent - it's ready to use.

Cath's Mum's Lemon Cheesecake

1 pkt Teddy Bear biscuits, crushed into fine crumbs
125g butter, melted
1 can evaporated milk, chilled 24 hours
1 pkt lemon jelly crystals
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
1 x 250g blocks Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened

Combine biscuit crumbs and butter. Press into the base of a well greased 20cm spring form pan; chill.
Blend the jelly crystals into the boiling water until dissolved.
Beat the evaporated milk until it is thick and fluffy.
Add the cream cheese, a little at a time, and beat until well combined and there are no lumps.
Beat in all remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour into prepared crumb crust. Chill for 2 - 3 hours or overnight before serving.
Teddy Bear biscuits can be hard to find. You can use any plain sweet biscuit to make the crust.
I don't use Philadelphia cream cheese, it's too expensive. I use the Aldi alternative, but you can buy Neufchatel cream cheese from the deli and use it instead.

24 July 2013

Benefits of Paying Off Your Mortgage Early (or as Early as You Can)

1.  You'll save big on interest. Depending on where you are time-wise in the term of the loan, you stand to save literally thousands of dollars that you would have paid in interest over the life of your loan.

2.  You won't have the monthly stress of a house payment. This can be a great relief!

3.  As retirement approaches, paying your house off means you won't have to struggle with house payments on a reduced income.

4.  You'll have hundreds of dollars to spend or save monthly. It’s empowering to know that whether you want to take a couple more trips a year or concentrate on saving for the kids’ educations, you'll have money to put aside for it.

5.  Your confidence about your financial situation will increase. After all, if you pay off your mortgage early, you're likely doing something right with your budget. You have a lot to be proud of!

23 July 2013

It's a Boy!

At last, a brand new prince has been born. Congratulations to the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cambridge, I am sure they are very proud new parents to their baby boy.

We are in the middle of a baby boom at the moment. Our wonderful neighbours G and M welcomed their first grand-daughter a fortnight ago, and she is just gorgeous. We have friends waiting patiently for the birth of their second baby, who is now eight days overdue (perhaps that waiting isn't quite so patient). Old friends (we met when our eldest children started primary school) are going to be grandparents for the first time too, and their eldest son will become a father. Then in September we have friends who will be welcoming baby number three to their family.

So many new lives entering the world, some creating happy families, some completing them.

I remember how excited Wayne and I were at the birth of each of our children, and if any of these new parents and parents-to-be are half as excited there is a lot of joy in their homes.

With this baby boom I've been putting together some little gifts. My knitting needles have been clacking away, creating cute little bonnets and helmets and bootees. I've had the crochet hook working too, making granny squares to put into little blankets and the sewing machine has had a workout, running up bibs and burp cloths and I've even made a couple of stork bundles.

My favourite thing when our children were small was the pull-over bib. So easy to get on and off, I had dozens of them.

They are really easy to make too, no special skills required.

How to Make a Pullover Baby Bib

You will need:
1 hand towel
30cm x 8cm piece of ribbing (either a contrast or matching the hand towel)
thread to match
sharp scissors
sewing machine or overlocker

The hand towel I used came from Big W, in a twin pack for $3.00, making it $1.50. The ribbing I used for this bib was cut off the bottom of a white singlet and doubled over. If you are using regular ribbing you only need to cut one piece and fold it in half.

Step 1.
Fold the top of the hand towel 1/3 of the way down, and mark this line — this will be the centre of your circle opening.

Step 2.
Centre a 15cm saucer over the line marked in Step 1.
This will form the cutting line for the head hole of the bib.

Step 3.
Cut along the line, through both thicknesses.
Open the towel out flat.

Step 4.
Stitch ends of ribbed knit to make a circle with a 6mm seam allowance. Fold in half so seam allowance is inside.

Step 5.
Divide ribbing into quarters and mark with pins. Divide hole into quarters and mark with pins.
Place raw edge of ribbing along the opening in the bib (right side), matching pins and markings and stretching as necessary.

Stitch a 6mm seam — I used my overlocker and simply overlocked the raw edges together. If you are not using an overlocker, I would recommend a stretch stitch and zigzagging
the raw edges together to neaten.

The finished bib

Easy enough to put on and take off with one hand and big enough to cover almost all of baby and a fair bit of a toddler at meal time, with plenty of towel for wiping faces and hands and even mums :)

Frangipani Pie

Bring a little bit of summer to the middle of winter with this old family favourite! I remember my mother making a version of this pie when I was a child, we usually had it as the dessert part of our dinner after Church each week. I can still see my father scraping the crumbs from the pie dish, pretending to hide from Mum so he wouldn't get into trouble for bad table manners. When I found the recipe in an old notebook it brought back so many memories, I just had to share it.

Franginpani Pie

1 shortcrust pastry shell OR
1 packet Butternut Snap biscuits, finely crushed
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tin crushed pineapple
1/2 cup cornflour
1/2 cup water
2 egg, separated
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup coconut
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp sugar, extra

If making a pie crust, combine the crushed biscuits and the melted butter. Stir well to combine thoroughly. Press into a pie plate. Bake in a moderate oven for 10 minutes.

Put the crushed pineapple into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Blend 1/4 cup cornflour with 1/4 cup water, add the 2 egg yolks to blended cornflour. Stir this mix into the boiling pineapple till thick and set aside.

Heat 1-1/2 cups milk and 3/4 cup sugar in a saucepan till sugar dissolves. Blend 1/4 cup cornflour with 1/4 cup water and add to milk mixture; stir till thick. Remove from heat and add coconut, 1 tablespoon butter and vanilla.

Spoon half the coconut cream mixture into pie crust, then top with all the pineapple mixture. Spread the top with the remaining coconut cream.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the 4 tablespoons of sugar, beating well to make a meringue. Spread the meringue over the top of the pie, being sure to cover the edges so the meringue won't weep. Bake for 25 minutes in a moderate oven until the meringue is golden brown.

22 July 2013

How We Live a Greener Life on a Tight Budget

When Disaster Struck and I had to come to terms with living on no income we become a much greener household, although it was almost by default rather than any deliberate actions on our part.

Going green was a side benefit. My first priority back then was stretching every dollar we had until it screamed, and then some, just to pay the bills and feed the boys. It was that stretching that changed the way I looked at the way we were living.

Things were tight. Very tight. I had $200 a month ($46 a week) for housekeeping money. That was our groceries, medicines, baby needs, Playgroup fees and anything else we needed that wasn't a regular bill. I budgeted $5 a week for gas, $3 a week for electricity and just $1 a week for water (if only I could budget those amounts today!). We didn't make phone calls. I only drove the car twice a week. We didn't eat out, buy new clothes, have haircuts, go to the movies - we couldn't afford to.

That's when I started Cheapskating. I needed every dollar we had to do the job of at least three, preferably four. I stretched them till they screamed, and then kept stretching. I became very inventive, learning to reuse, recycle, redo. I learned to cook, properly, from scratch with individual ingredients, not packets. I learned to grow food we could actually eat. I honed my sewing skills. I even learned to cut hair. I learned that washing plastic bags meant I could use them over and over. I learned than plain laundry soap and a soak in hot water lifted stains just as well as Napisan, but cost a whole lot less.

I learned to do a lot of things I never thought I would ever do.

As it turned out, so many of the things we did (and still do) to reduce our cost of living were very "green".  Things like hanging the washing out to dry. It's a no-brainer here in Australia but there are still a lot of people who automatically take the wet washing from the machine straight into the dryer. We have a wonderful climate so why not take advantage of it? If hanging washing on the line is too difficult, move the clotheshorses out onto the lawn or balcony and hang it over them. It will still dry.

I didn't have a dryer, I had clotheshorses, and lots of them (bought for $4 each from Crazy Clints and I'm still using them). My brother called in one afternoon and after a cuppa and a snack, he said he was going out for a little while, but would be back for dinner. As he was working, I just assumed he had work to do.

He was back in a little while, with a clothes dryer. Bless him, he thought I needed a  dryer. He saw the clotheshorses all over the house, covered in wet clothes, nappies and towels and bought me a dryer. What he didn't realise was that we didn't have a dryer because we simply didn't have the money to pay for the running. I found out that dryers make the best storage spaces. I stash all sorts of things in the dryer; it's dry, dark and out of the way, great for hiding presents that need to be hidden.

You do have clotheshorses don't you? There are five in our house. One in each bedroom, over the heater vent. And one in the familyroom, over the heater vent. They actually save me a lot of time, as well as money, especially in winter. I just hang everyone's wet washing over their clotheshorse each morning. The washing dries overnight and then everyone puts it away the next morning. Or in the case of the boys, they take the clean stuff off and put it on!  Either way it works.

The tea towels and dishcloths and other "general" stuff are hung over the clotheshorse in the familyroom. It's a very green system - it recycles the warm air from the heater to dry the clothes, and the wet washing acts as a humidifier in the rooms so the air doesn't become too dry and horrible. I figure if I'm going to run the heater anyway we may as well get our money's worth from it.

In my quest to stretch our money I looked for ways to heat or cool the house without spending anything. When reaching double digits in winter was a warm day and 40 degrees was a mild summer day, simple tips like making sure that draft-stoppers were against all exterior doors and most of the windows were tightly shut keep heat in the house in winter (and out in summer) reduced the need to run the heater as long. I still do those things and it cuts around $35 from our heating bill, reduces the amount of gas we use and it is a teensy, tiny green thing to do.

I also switched to using cloth serviettes. If I'm being honest that was just because I prefer cloth napkins; paper tears to easily. But it stopped me buying a packet every other week or so. I also switched to hankies instead of tissues (unless someone has a very bad head cold, then I give in and supply a box of tissues). Apart from the cost savings, and the teensy, tiny greening of our household it also means I never, ever have tissues through the wash anymore! Now that is a real bonus :)

We switched to compact fluorescents as soon as we could. I'm still not convinced they save us any real money but when it comes to being a green Cheapskate every little bit helps. Although the jury is still out on the green benefits as the mercury they contain is downright dangerous in landfill, they are another teensy, tiny way we greened our household.

There are lots of other things I do to save money that help us lead a greener lifestyle.

We use table lamps of an evening for reading, knitting and watching TV, using one light bulb instead of the six in the ceiling lights. And when we leave a room we turn the lights off.

It took a while but I've finally trained everyone to turn appliances off at the wall and unplug them. The only time it's a problem is first thing in the morning, before I'm fully awake. You have no idea how many times I've hit the button on the kettle and wondered why it hasn't boiled. It always does once it's turned on at the wall - go figure!  But it saves us a little money and helps us to be a teensy, tiny bit greener.

I re-use baking paper over and over. I wash and re-use foil, Clingwrap and plastic bags too, so much so that I lashed out and bought one of those hanging mini clotheslines to dry them on. If you wander into my kitchen you'll see it hanging from a hook in the corner of the ceiling and it will most likely have plastic bags, foil, empty cereal bags and Clingwrap hanging on it along with bunches of herbs to dry.

By now just about everyone uses green bags to carry their shopping home. But do you say no to plastic bags for your fruit and veg? I've been using MOO veggie bags for years now.

The idea of not adding to landfill if I can possibly help it really appeals to me and saying no to plastic bags is one way of reducing the impact my family has on the environment. It saves us money too. Fruit and veg kept in those bags tends to sweat and go off much faster. I'm happy to see the produce I buy go furry in a reasonable time, but not overnight, so I use gel bags and Tupperware containers to store our produce in the fridge. They are both re-usable.

Of course with our garden we compost as much as possible. I have a bucket with a lid that sits on the kitchen bench and all food scraps, small bits of paper and the vacuum dust bunnies go into it. When it gets full, which is just about every day, it gets emptied into the Bokashi bucket to make compost. This has really helped reduce the amount of rubbish in the bin too. If you don't have a Bokashi build a compost pile. You don't need anything fancy, just get started. Your garden will thrive, the soil will be rich and full of worms and witchity grubs and other good bugs and you'll be living a slightly greener life.

Instead of being the politically correct thing to do, when Disaster Struck recycling became a necessity and now it's something I actually enjoy. It became a challenge, one I'm still facing. Just once I'd like to have an empty recycle bin on garbage day because we've found ways to re-use and re-cycle everything that would normally go into it. It's a work in progress, some fortnights there's not much in the bin at all but it's still not empty.  One day we'll get there, I keep on trying.

Every day I see changes we can make to not only save money, but to live a more sustainable life. There's so much more we can do, and we will - one thing at a time.

Every day we become better stewards of our money and of our environment, living a greener life on a tight budget, and happily too.

Let's Make Soap the Easy Way

If you've never made soap before, these lovely melt'n'pour glycerine soaps are the best place to start.  They are so easy, as the name suggests, you just melt'n'pour.

They are inexpensive too, a 1 kilo block of glycerine soap base costs around $13 and will give you 10 bath soap size cakes, up to 20 small cakes and dozens of guest soap size (the tiny 10g size you get in motels).

I buy my melt'n'pour soap base from eBay, the prices are competitive and the range is reasonable. You can buy online from soap retailers and some craft shops stock soap making supplies too.

Melt'n'pour glycerine soap bases come in different formulas. You can get clear (add your own colours), shea butter, coconut butter, goats milk and white. They are so easy to use because you don't need to add anything to them, except perhaps a little colour and a fragrance (use pure essential oils and remember "less is more" - you can always add another drop or two if the fragrance isn't strong enough).

You will need:
Melt'n'pour soap base
A double boiler or a larger saucepan and a heatproof bowl that fits in it
A kitchen thermometer
Moulds for your soap
A little isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle (rubbing alcohol - available at any chemist)

Step 1.  Fill your double boiler with water and bring it to the boil. Turn heat down so the water is just simmering.

Step 2. While the water is coming to the boil prepare your moulds. I use silicone cup cake moulds and spray them with a little cooking spray. Put them on a baking sheet so they have a stable base to cool on. You can use empty cartons, cans, muffin pans - anything that can withstand the heat of the melted soap base (it gets very hot).

Step 3. Cut your block of glycerine into chunks, about 2cm in size.

Step 4. Add the soap base to your double boiler. Pop the thermometer in the side and keep an eye on the temperature - you don't want it to go over 50 degrees Celsius. Stir the soap so it melts evenly. If the temperature goes up, take the pot off the heat and continue to stir until all the soap has melted.

Watch the temperature carefully, and keep it under 50 degrees. Heating over 50 degrees can cause the finished soap to sweat.

Step 5. Fill your moulds. I use a soup ladle, you can use a jug or a large spoon - anything that will hold the hot liquid.

Step 6. Spritz the top of each mould with the rubbing alcohol as soon as you fill it.

Step 7. Let the soaps harden. This will take a couple of hours. Turn them out of the moulds.

That's it. Melt'n'pour soap making is so easy even the kids can do it (with a little supervision).

I use silicone cup cake moulds in different shapes. Some are square, some are heart shaped, there are trains and teddy bears. They came from the Reject Shop and cost $2 a packet. I love that they can be used over and over and that it is so easy to get the soaps out of them.

I also have some very cute little silicone chocolate moulds (from Aldi) that make lovely guest soaps. They look lovely in the bathroom, but bundle them up with a pretty vintage dish (look for cut glass or bone china jam dishes at op shops) and a hand towel and they make a really nice gift too.

The rubbing alcohol isn't strictly essential but it does improve the final finish on your soaps. A quick spritz on each mould as it is filled removes the bubbles from the top, leaving a smooth and shiny surface.

21 July 2013

You Don’t Need to Spend $10 on a Gadget to Clear Your Drains

Wayne and I just sat down for a cuppa because we've been working in the garden since lunchtime (it's freezing cold, about 10 degrees, but beautifully sunny) and we've just seen an ad on TV for yet another handy-dandy gadget, the Turbo Snake. It's designed to clear your clogged drains.

You don’t need it! Your drains don't need it! Your cupboards don't need the clutter ('cos you just know it sounds like a great little tool but it'll be put away and forgotten about faster than you can tell anyone about it)! It's really not long enough to clear anything other than a small clog in the first bend of the drain - some clogs are further along!

It's really easy to keep your drains clean and free-flowing, without cluttering up your home.

You just need some bicarb soda, salt, vinegar and boiling water - common household items and all found in most Cheapskates' homes.

To clean your kitchen and laundry drains pour 1 cup salt and 1 cup of bicarb soda down the drain. Follow with 1/2 cup of vinegar and quickly put the plug in, because it will bubble and fizz and come up out of that drain like a volcano spewing hot lava. Let it sit for 15 minutes while you boil the kettle. Pull the plug and pour the kettle of boiling water down the drain. Listen to it as it gurgles freely away.

To help dissolve scum and hair in sluggish bathroom shower, basin and bath drains, pour a mixture of 1 cup salt, 1 cup bicarb soda and ½ cup white vinegar into the drain. Put the plug in (remember the spewing volcano of bubbles). Let it sit for 15 minutes, bubbling away dissolving grease and fat and gunk, then flush with a kettle full of boiling water followed by flushing hot tap water down the drain for 1 minute. You can repeat this process if necessary.

The salt will keep small roots from taking up residence in your pipes.

To help keep drains from clogging up remember to never, ever pour oil or fat down them. And get a little drain strainer to hold back any solids that might accidentally end up in the sink (peas off plates, stray hair in the bathroom). You can get them at any hardware shop and most discount department stores and supermarkets, they're not expensive and do a great job of keeping rubbish out of your drains and the sewer.

Make a note to do your drains once a month, perhaps on the first or as a part of your housekeeping routine and you won't need to worry about clogs or expensive plumber's bills and you won't need to buy a gadget either.

That said, we've had a wonderful day in the garden. As I mentioned above, it was freezing cold, only 1 degree when we went outside at 11am. It was a beanie and boots day, I must've looked a sight but at least I was warm.

We weeded and trimmed and pruned, it's not the right time I know but the tree in question was scratching and scraping on the pergola roof - not good in the winds we've had the last few days.

I pulled the last of the tomatoes from the garden at last, although there were still some flowers and fruit on the bushes - Tommy Toes -I don't think they would ever have stopped fruiting. I also picked the last three cabbages and a huge bunch of silverbeet.

Wayne shovelled on some compost and Thomas raked it in for me while Hannah and I cleaned the paving and swept for cobwebs. Mum and I are starting to plan our summer gardens and I want the empty beds to sit for a few weeks before I plant into them again. It will give the compost time to break down and give the soil a very tiny rest.

We also mulched the strawberries and prepared the spud bags ready to plant next year's potato crop.

Hannah picked three lemons.

By mid-afternoon it had been sunny and windy long enough for the grass to be almost dry enough to mow, so mow Wayne did. Thankfully this time of year the grass doesn't grow very fast so it was really just trimming the straggly tops.

Hannah and I followed behind sweeping the paths and weeding the pots.

By which time it was 3 o'clock, I was well and truly ready to stop for a cuppa and it was time to get the roast on for tea.

Which takes me back to the very beginning and the ad for the drain unclogger gadget that you don't need to buy.

You Decide.....

20 July 2013

Homemade Sweet Potato Bread

Another something I just had to share - this cake/bread turned out to be just perfect for a cold, wet, windy Melbourne July day!

This recipe was meant to be for pumpkin bread, but I didn't have any spare pumpkin. I did however have a lot of sweet potato. I bought a 5kg bag at the market last week and we've been eating it baked, steamed, mashed, in wedges and as chips, in cup cakes and scones and still there was sweet potato in the pantry.

The trick is to remember to make it the day before you want to eat it. I'm not entirely sure why it has to go into the fridge overnight, the original recipe didn't say and I haven't been able to find any other information on it. I made it late yesterday afternoon and as it was the first time I followed the method (even if I did play around with the ingredients).

This loaf worked out beautifully using sweet potato and tastes divine. It's even nice lightly toasted and spread with a little nut butter, which is how Wayne and I just enjoyed it with a hot drink.

Cath's Homemade Sweet Potato Bread

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup applesauce
3-1/2 cups plain spelt flour
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
3 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
Combine flour, bicarbonate soda, salt, spices and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk eggs, water, applesauce and sweet potato.
Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.
Pour into two loaf pans, well greased and lined with baking paper on the bottom.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let cool in tin for 30 minutes, wrap in aluminium foil, refrigerate let cool overnight before slicing.

To cook the sweet potato I just peeled it, stabbed it all over with a fork and cooked it in the microwave on HIGH for about 3 minutes, tested it and cooked in 1 minute bursts until it was lovely and soft. You could steam it if you'd rather not use the microwave.

Line the base of your tins with baking paper or greased greaseproof - it makes getting the loaves out the next day so much easier.

The original recipe used vegetable oil - I used my homemade, unsweetened applesauce to lower the fat content.

I would normally take the salt out, but I think this cake needs the salt to balance the sweetness of the sweet potato, sugar and spices so I adjusted the amount down to 1 teaspoon.

I swapped the plain white flour in the original recipe for plain wholemeal spelt - if you want to use plain white flour the recipe will work. I used the spelt as I prefer it as a more nutritious alternative to white flour.

This is the original recipe, minus my tweaks:

Pumpkin Bread (the original recipe)

2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
1 cup water
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
Combine flour, bicarbonate soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl whisk eggs, water, oil and sweet potato.
Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.
Pour into two loaf pans, well greased and lined with baking paper on the bottom.
Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let cool in tin for 30 minutes, wrap in aluminium foil, refrigerate let cool overnight before slicing.

Is this All Just About Frugality?

When we started out on this journey it was all about frugality, with a little survival thrown in. Over time though, it has morphed into something else entirely. Yes, frugality is still a big part of our Cheapskates lifestyle, but it's not the main part.

I have come across and even met people who are so focussed on frugality that they have lost the joy in living. They are so focussed on saving money that they miss out on the things they would truly enjoy just to save a dollar.  In their quest to save money they have become mean, and not just with their money, but with their sense of charity, their humour, their compassion, sympathy and empathy. They have forgotten why they chose to live a frugal life and live in loneliness and despair, scared to enjoy the fruits of their frugal ways.

That's not what we're about. Yes, we deliberately look to save money. That's just commonsense. Why pay more than you have to for something? But we don't sit in the cold because it's not cold enough to turn the heater on (when is it by the way? I always say not before Mother's Day but that's just a guide). We don't strain our eyes by only having one 40 watt light bulb burning, and we don't risk stubbing a toe because we only have one light on at a time. And we most definitely don't starve ourselves or run the risk of rickets because we only eat mince and rice.

Yes, I make my own washing powder (and if you haven't tried it may I suggest you do?). That's just commonsense. For around $10 and 5 minutes I can have enough of the best washing powder I've ever tried to last for a year. Why would I pay six or more times that price for a washing powder that makes my daughter itch unbearably and that causes us all to sneeze when we put clean clothes on?

And I cook from scratch. I actually like it these days. Pre-Cheapskates I didn't enjoy cooking at all. These days I take pride in serving delicious meals to my family, knowing they are budget-friendly, as well as nutritious. When I look at the shelves and see the jars of jams, apricots, tomatoes and sauces sitting there I feel a little satisfaction, knowing that the fruits of my labours (literally) will feed my family in through the coming winter.

So often the perception is that if you live life the Cheapskates way you don't buy anything new.  You don't eat out or go to the movies, you don't have holidays, all your clothes are secondhand and your home is sparsely furnished with rubbish. 

We don't eat out every week, but we do eat out on special occasions. And we always enjoy the meal. I think it's because it is special, something different to our normal meals.  There is the saying that what you don't cook yourself always tastes better, I think that's because it's a treat, something out of the ordinary.  When we eat out we can afford to go somewhere fantastic because we don't do it regularly, we haven't used all our money on run-of-the-mill meals. We've saved for one truly special meal. And you know what? Most of the time it costs under $50 for the two of us, often with a voucher, sometimes without.

Living frugally isn't about going without. It's about having the things you want, without the commonly associated debt. It's about seeing the difference between saving for a purpose and just saving. It's about understanding what is important to you and what is not.

I see no point in saving the shards of soap, just to boil them down and re-mould them into another cake when I'd much rather have a nice bar of my favourite shea butter soap and really enjoy my shower and my itch-free skin. I do see the point in keeping them to grate into my laundry powder - they're being used up and saving me money.

So, yes, it is about frugality. Frugality is important, without it we wouldn't be able to live the way we do. But it's not the most important part of our lives. We watch our pennies and look for ways to trim expenses because we like the end result - a debt free, cashed up life, where we laugh with joy every day.

What I'm trying to say is that living the Cheapskates way isn't just about saving money. It's about changing your priorities so that you can live life debt free, cashed up and laughing too.

A Fun Freebie to Help with Meal Planning

This is a very cute, fun freebie that will help you with meal planning, and it's free!

My cousin just sent me this link to downloadable, Disney inspired meal planners, and there's so many to choose from, 13 in total. Some are simple black and white, some are in colour. There are weekly and monthly planners.

If you are finding meal planning a little boring, these might just be cheery enough to get you motivated again. And at the very least the kids will think they're cute; they may even inspire the kids to take over or help with meal planning.

Click here to download the Disney inspired meal planners.

19 July 2013

Here's Another Thing You Can Cross Off Your Shopping List - Sour Cream!

We go through a lot of sour cream in our house. I use if for tacos, potatoes, in casseroles and sauces. We make dips with it and it's a key ingredient in coffee cake and plum cake.

Sometimes, to save the expense and the kilojoules I replace it with MOO plain yoghurt and it works reasonably well. But that MOO yoghurt isn't sour cream. And so I add it to the shopping list and screw my nose up at the price as I put it in the trolley.

I've been experimenting with cheese making (and I'll have more on that later) and reading lots and lots about it. In the course of my reading I've come across quite a few methods for making real sour cream at home, and they all piqued my interest.

It's a good thing I have a patient family, who are very used to my experiments, because they've taste tested a few batches of sour cream over the last three weeks. Some of them we didn't bother even dipping a spoon in, they just didn't appeal at all. Others were a little runny, some were too sour. And then on Tuesday we chose The One.

It's thick and creamy, and sour without being face puckering. It holds it's shape beautifully on a potato and doesn't slide off a cracker when it's made into a dip.

Best of all it's the easiest one to make, using just two ingredients, both available at your local supermarket, and it doesn't need any special appliances (not even a thermometer).

To try this beautiful MOO Sour Cream you will need:
1 cup cream (thickened is fine if you use it, as is pure)
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (MOO buttermilk won't work for this recipe)
A jar with a lid

Step 1. Sterilise your jar. Don't be tempted to skip this step, you don't want to get sick.

Step 2. Add the cream and the buttermilk to your jar.

Step 3. Put the lid on and shake, shake, shake to thoroughly mix the cream and buttermilk.

Step 4. Sit the jar on the bench for 24 hours.

That's it! After 24 hours you will have rich, thick and luscious sour cream to use for dipping, sauces, potatoes, whatever you normally use sour cream for.

I've mentioned the buttermilk. You will need to buy a cultured buttermilk and you'll find it in the dairy cabinet with the other milks. The smallest carton I could find was 600ml, which is way too much for this recipe. But don’t throw out the leftovers, freeze it in 1/4 cup lots in a ziplock bag and you'll have it next time you want to make sour cream.

The cost? Well 1 cup of cream costs $1.07 and a quarter cup of buttermilk is about 20c (using cream and buttermilk from Aldi) so you'll have about 300ml of sour cream for $1.27 - around the same price as buying it. Actually it's 2 cents cheaper than buying it from Aldi.

I think I'll keep on MOOing sour cream. I like the "homemade" aspect of it. We always have cream in the fridge so now if I know I'll need sour cream for a meal or a dip or cake I can pull a bag of buttermilk out of the freezer, thaw it in a jar, add the cream and then forget about it.

I guess it's up to you. If you can get cream at a reasonable price and you buy buttermilk anyway or are able to freeze the excess then why not make your own?

Would you bother to make sour cream? Or do you already MOO sour cream in your kitchen? Perhaps you have a better way of MOOing it? Leave your comments below :)

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Three Good Ways to Keep the Grocery Bill Low

1.  Comparison shopping is a good idea and it works for groceries too. Take a few minutes to glance through the different store flyers (check online too, subscribe to the mailing list if there is one and get the flyers delivered straight to your inbox - no more junk mail to fill the recycle bin) to find out who has chicken on sale or where you can find the cheapest cheese. If you know your family eats a lot of chicken breast for example, it's worth making a trip to the store that has it on sale and stock up on a few kilos. Freeze some of the meat for the next few weeks.

2.  Make sure you don't go to the supermarket hungry. It's an oldie, but this strategy really works. Eat before you leave home because research and experience show that if you do your food shopping while you're hungry you are going to blow that grocery budget to kingdom come. When we're hungry, we end up buying a lot more food – especially junk food – that we don't really need and weren't planning on buying in the first place and there goes your meal plan and your budget.

3.  And that leads to this next tip: plan your meals! Wandering around the store trying to decide what you'll have for tea on Tuesday and lunch on Friday is distracting and leads to a lot of "maybe" shopping. And "maybe" shopping is expensive. Planning your meals works because you know exactly what you're going to eat so you can make up a detailed shopping list, taking the "maybe" out of the whole experience. When you plan your meals you can plan to use up the food you already have, filling in the gaps with sale items. A meal plan really stops you buying too much extra stuff that you end up tossing because you didn't use it. It also stops those expensive impulse buys - if it's not on the list you don't need it so you don't buy it!

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Housekeeping on a Friday

I love Friday. It's the end of my "housekeeping" week. By the end of the day our entire home has been cleaned from ceiling to floor during the week. The washing is (mostly) up to date. There's food in the fridge and pantry, just ready to heat and eat.  And I can sit back and relax and enjoy the weekend ahead.

But before it gets to that stage there's a little bit of effort put into some chores.

Hannah's bedroom is cleaned, the bathroom is cleaned and the lounge and family rooms are given a swish and swipe.  The front porch is swept and the pot plants watered and I clean the car. It is a busy day, although all up it's only an hour and a half of actual work and I can live with that - I do live with that :)

Now I just need to clarify one thing: I am no one's slave. There are five adults living in our house and we all have our responsibilities. I used to clean the kids' rooms during term time when all three were studying and working so once a week I would clean for them. Weekends, holidays and semester breaks they did the cleaning. Now they're all working, and right now all three are still working at home, they are still responsible for keeping their rooms clean and tidy, to my standards. They all have other chores to do around the house, they are a trade-off for things I don't particularly like doing because they are a part of our family and our household.

We all share the work load and all work to keep our home the comfortable place we all love.

Here's my Friday routine:

8:15am - Leave the house. Aldi opens at 8:30 so I aim to be there as the doors open. Most weeks this takes less than 15 minutes - I'm in and out with my list. Once a month when I do my big shop it takes about 40 minutes.

Once I'm home the shopping is put away and then it's into the cleaning.

Hannah's room: (15 minutes)

Hannah makes her bed every morning and puts her washing out. She's also responsible for keeping it tidy - I don't mind cleaning but I do not tidy up her mess. Anything that's not put away on a Friday morning is presumed to be rubbish and goes in the bin.

1.  Hannah strips her bed linens and takes them straight to the laundry, puts them in the washing machine, adds 3 teaspoons Cheapskates Washing Powder and turn the machine on before she has breakfast.
2.  Dust the cornices, skirting boards and window sills with the cobweb broom.
3.  Wipe over the windows with a microfibre window cloth.
4.  Dust and polish the timber furniture.
5. Empty the wastepaper bin.
6.  Dust the pictures on the walls.
7.  Collect any dirty washing and take it to the laundry.
8.  Remake the bed with fresh linens. See here for my way of making a comfy bed.
9. Vacuum the bedroom floor.

Kids' Bathroom: (5 minutes)
1. Spritz the basin, vanity top and toilet. Wipe over with a damp microfibre cloth, follow with a clean towel to dry.
2. Empty the wastepaper basket.
3. Change the hand towels and face washers if necessary.
4. Sweep the floor.
5. Mop the floor with hot water and white vinegar. Our bathroom is so small I sweep it and then spritz it with vinegar and just use a microfibre cloth to wipe over the floor, backing out as I go so as not to have to walk over a damp floor.

Loungeroom and Family room: (10 minutes)
1. Dust the timber furniture
2. Dust the wall unit
3. Clean the sliding door
4. Straighten the cushions/throws/doyleys/tablecloth
5. Vacuum

Laundry: (10 minutes)
1. Put away any stray clean washing
2. Wipe over the washing machine and freezer
3. Wipe over the windowsill, clean window
4. Clean the sink
5. Sweep and mop the floor

Front Porch (10 minutes)
1. Sweep the sidelight and roof for cobwebs
2. Shake the doormat
3. Move the pot plants and sweep the porch and steps.
4. Water the plants and put them back, put the door mat back
5. Dust the front door
6. Clean the sidelight

Car (20 minutes)
1. Take all the rubbish out (where does it come from?)
2. Clean the inside of the windows
3. Vacuum
4. Check the wiper fluid, radiator, oil, power steering
5. Wash the outside

There's a bit to do on a Friday, but it is mostly maintenance cleaning.

At the end of the day I sit back, happy that our house is clean and tidy for the weekend. Unexpected visitors can arrive and there won't be a panic to hide the mess because there isn't a mess.

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18 July 2013

How To Measure Your Carbon Footprint

If you’re conscientious about being more environmentally friendly and living a greener life, then one of the things you may want to check out is your carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint, as defined by carbonfootprint.com is “a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment.”  It is specific to climate change and the amount of greenhouse gases your day to day activities create. Here’s how to measure your carbon footprint.

Primary and Secondary Footprints

While your carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases you produce, there are actually two measurements you can take a look at:

Your primary footprint – This is a measure of your emissions based on your direct use. For example, if you drive your car to the supermarket, you’re using fuel and having a direct impact on the greenhouse gasses you’re emitting. You have control over your primary footprint – you could walk or ride your bike to the store or make one trip a week rather than two or three.

Your secondary footprint - This is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the products you use. For example, if you buy produce grown locally that will have fewer emissions than produce that was grown halfway around the globe and transported to your local market.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

There are several online tools you can use to calculate your carbon footprint. As you work your way through these tools they’ll ask questions like:
* How many people are in your family?
* What type of home do you live in?
* What state do you live in?
* How many bedrooms do you have?
* How much do you spend on electricity each month?
* How much do you spend on gas each month?
* How much do you drive and what kind of car?
* How often do you fly?
* How often do you eat organic food?
* How often do you eat meat?
* Do you recycle?
* Do you compost?

Here are some calculators you can use to measure your carbon footprint:

1 Degree
Carbon Footprint
Kids Carbon Footprint Calculator

Your Results

Your results will be given in tons, as in tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year. To provide some insight, for the year to June 2012, our national inventory emissions per capita were about 24.4 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per person, the world's biggest emitter per capita amongst major nations.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

A lot of what you can do to reduce your primary and secondary emissions are things you’re already familiar with:
* Carpool
* Walk when you can instead of driving
* Cut back on your home heating and cooling bill
* Turn off lights and electronics when you’re not using them
* Use cold water to wash things instead of hot
* Buy energy star appliances
* Buy local produce
* Recycle
* Travel less

Consider making it a goal, once you know your carbon footprint, to reduce it. Hitting the global average is surely a significant goal if you’re like the average Australian household.

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Housekeeping on a Thursday

Thursday is an easy day in the house.

Apart from the usual morning and evening routines, the only other housework that gets done is AJ's room.

The routine is the same as for Tom's room, and it takes under 15 minutes to whip through. That's the beauty of a regular routine - the more often it's followed, the easier the work gets.

AJ's room: (15 minutes)

AJ makes his bed every morning and puts his washing out. He's also responsible for keeping it tidy - I don't mind cleaning but I do not tidy up his mess. Anything that's not put away on a Thursday morning is presumed to be rubbish and goes in the bin.

1.  Get AJ to strip his bed linens and take them straight to the laundry, put them in the washing machine, add 3 teaspoons Cheapskates Washing Powder and turn the machine on before he has breakfast.
2.  Dust the cornices, skirting boards and window sills with the cobweb broom.
3.  Wipe over the windows with a microfibre window cloth.
4.  Dust and polish the timber furniture.
5. Empty the wastepaper bin.
6.  Dust the pictures on the walls.
7.  Collect any dirty washing and take it to the laundry.
8.  Remake the bed with fresh linens. See here for my way of making a comfy bed.
9. Vacuum the bedroom floor.

Around 10am I leave to go and pick up my mother. Thursday is her day. The day I take her shopping or to the doctor, to pay bills and any other appointments she has. We usually have lunch out, Mum's treat, and I drop her home about 2.30pm on my way to pick Hannah up from school.

Some Thursdays are super busy, with lots of errands to run. Others are really easy, with just a couple of supermarket items to pick up. However the day pans out, we always have a really easy dinner on a Thursday night. Often it's something I can get going in the slow cooker before I leave in the morning, or a ready-made meal from the freezer. Other times it might be pizza or fish'n'chips - MOO of course, that I've made ahead ready to just heat and eat.

Thursday is also newsletter day at The Cheapskates Club, and although I don't work Thursdays and set the newsletter to go out automatically, I often sneak in late afternoon and check emails and see how things are going on the Member forum while I have a cuppa before starting dinner.

Thursday night is also an early to bed night. Wayne has meetings three Thursdays of the month, so when he leaves for his meetings, I make a hot chocolate, get my books together and go to bed. I see no point in running the heater or cooler (depends on the season) just for me when I can be cosy and comfortable tucked up in bed.

Thursday is the easiest day housework wise, and it needs to be, because Friday is a very busy day - but I'll go through that with you tomorrow.

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17 July 2013

25 Strategies to Stretch Your Money No. 20 - Budget Your Eating Expenses

Are you eating your way into debt? When you’re looking at where you spend your money, you might be surprised that so much of it is spent on treats, take-away or restaurants. It all adds up!

Australians spend on average $200 a week on groceries and around $50 a week on take-away and restaurant meals and another $20 at the bakery - that's $270 a week!

A frugal food budget is $15 per week per person (and it can be done - see the $300 a Month Food Challenge over at the Cheapskates Club) while a slightly more luxurious budget is around $25 per week per person. Really want to live it up? Budget for $30 per week per person.

Being more prepared in your meal planning and grocery shopping can not only save you money, but it will save your sanity, it will save you time, it will save you energy and it can help to make sure that your family is eating a healthful diet.

Creating a meal plan is easy. Really. Start off with a simple plan, one that includes basic meals for the week and a few snacks. When you've mastered the basic meal plan you can get a little more elaborate with more detailed meals (you'll be able to put all those saved recipes to good use at last).

Getting started is simple, just five steps and you'll have a meal plan and a shopping list.

Step One:
Make a master list (either on paper or on your computer) of the meals that your family enjoys eating. To make this job easier, you may want to think of smaller groups of food -- for example, think of meals that you make with mince (beef, chicken, lamb or pork), chicken or other main ingredients.

In my family, we often eat meals from one of four "categories", so I have my list separated according to those:

-- Australian (meat & 3 veg, mince stew, meat pie, roast, burgers,  etc.)
-- Mexican (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.)
-- Oriental (fried rice, stir-fry, sweet 'n' sour chicken, spring rolls, beef and black bean, etc.)
-- Italian (lasagne, pizza, spaghetti, minestrone etc.)

Step Two:
Determine how often you will shop. For example will you shop weekly, every two weeks or monthly? You may find it easier to shop weekly, because that way you can take advantage of weekly store specials, and plan your meals accordingly.

I prefer to hit the supermarkets once every four weeks - it takes the same time as a weekly shop, and it is a lot to put away all at once but I don't have the hassle for another 28 days. Just 13 shopping trips a year!

Step Three:
With your list of meals, write down on a sheet of paper what meals your family will eat for your time period. If you do more than a week at a time, you may want to write the actual dates. I also use my grocery store ads at this time, you might like to as well. If I noticed a great deal on chicken, I may purposely plan a dinner with chicken - and visa versa, if no chicken is one sale (and I don't have any in my freezer) we will not be eating chicken that week. I also make sure to not to serve any two "categories" of meals two nights in a row (for example, we won't eat tacos on Monday and burritos on Tuesday).

Be sure to look at your family's calendar when deciding what meals to prepare. Because of our schedules with work and other activities, we also have designated meal nights e.g. Tuesday is ‘pasta night' because Wayne doesn't get home until late. Thursday is my busy day, I spend it with Mum, doing shopping and other appointments and Wayne is on call for work so we always have a slow-cooker meal, a stew or casserole that will cope with re-heating. Saturday night is always a light meal and leftover night, we clean out the fridge and everyone gets a little of what ever is left over. I bulk it out with rice, potato or salad depending on the season and what's left over.

Step Four
Next to each meal list the ingredients that you will need to purchase for that meal. If we are having cheeseburgers, I look to see what ingredients I already have and then I list everything else I don't have so I am sure to buy them.

Step Five
Now that you have your meals listed, along with the ingredients that you need to purchase, you are ready to go to the supermarket. Hit that store with a smile, you are on a mission and you have a plan!

If you are eating your way into debt, limit the number of times you go out or have take-away every week and start planning your menus when you cook at home. Then shop with a list, and stick to it. This will make a huge difference in your grocery bill.

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