31 January 2014

Saving Money Grocery Shopping: Buy In Season

My favorite time of year is farmer's market season. My family enjoys fabulous fresh food and my food budget gets a break. We all feel healthier, look healthier, and my bank account looks better too. What could be better than that?  But did you know that even if you don't go to the farmer's market, if you buy at your local greengrocer or even supermarket, buying seasonally can save money because even chain grocery stores buy local products on a seasonable basis.

Most supermarkets source things from the local market first, to find the least expensive items. Local items are less expensive because they don't have to use as much fuel to get it to the final location. With fuel prices closing in on $1.60 per litre, and higher in some areas of the country, transportation cost can add quite a bit to your grocery bill.

During the season for any typical produce item the supply is going to be greater than the demand due to the fact that produce does not last forever. Try shopping at several different grocery stores to find out what they've over stocked and are trying to move from their shelves.

Another benefit of buying in season is that you'll get foods that are more nutritious causing your body to crave less food, therefore cutting down the cost of food. It's a fact that nutrition, rather than fullness, dictates how fast you get hungry again after eating a full meal (I'm sure you've heard the old "had Chinese for dinner and was stuffed full, hungry again an hour later" tale). It just makes sense to buy in season to save money because you're going to need less of it to be satisfied.

Any fresh item that has been shipped 2,000 kilometres to your store isn't going to have much in the way of nutrition left, not to mention taste. If you purchase something fresh at the supermarket, then don't eat it because it doesn't taste good (tomatoes often have this problem) then you're just wasting your money.

When you buy local, in season, you are supporting local farmers and therefore supporting your local economy. The more people who do this, the less expensive the produce will become. Local farmers will grow more to accommodate the demand, and soon, the prices will go down as well.

And lastly, seasonal produce just tastes better. Fruits and vegetables eaten in season taste better than produce eaten when it is not in season. There are many factors at play including picking unripe produce, then shipping it thousands of kilometres away while it ripens. You'll be shocked at how good your local, in season produce tastes compared to what you normally buy. It's healthier, cheaper, and simply yummier to eat local, seasonal produce.

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30 January 2014

The Cold Water Bottle

With the uncomfortable hot weather that we have been enduring lately in Victoria I have resorted to my old trick of regularly freezing plastic soft-drink or cordial bottles filled with water. Once frozen I wrap the bottle in a tea-towel or even place it in a hand-made hot-water bottle cover. I take my cold-water bottle to bed to keep cool. You need to make sure that you wrap the bottle properly otherwise your bed sheets can end up a little damp. By doing this I essentially create the opposite to a hot water bottle. It beats paying large amounts of money for the air-conditioner to be left on for hours at a time. The beauty of this hint is that in the morning you can just put the bottle back in the freeze and it should be ready for bedtime, there's no need to waste water. I have survived the summer heat using this hint for years now, it certainly makes bed-time more comfortable.
Contributed by Natasha, Broadmeadows

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29 January 2014

Start an Easy Spending Plan

Most people live pay to pay and spend what they want whenever they want. But if you keep up that pattern long enough, you'll soon discover that the money runs out before you've paid all the bills, and there is never any left over for emergencies, special purchases or holidays. To get control of your household spending and start saving you will need to set up a household spending plan.

The thought of having to stick to a spending plan might make you cringe. It sounds restrictive and boring. But if you are serious about living debt free and creating wealth, a spending plan can actually give you freedom. You will have control over your finances, know where your money is going and have a plan to reach your financial goals. Not spending on a few things that you can do without right now means you will be able to spend on larger, more important purchases in the future.

To get started, find out how much you earn.  The way you're paid can determine how you budget your money each month. If you're paid on a weekly basis, you can calculate your budget based on four pays a month. That means you'll have four extra pays throughout the year to help with extra expenses. If you're paid bi-weekly, you can calculate your budget based on two pays a month, and have two extra pays throughout the year. If you're paid monthly, calculate your budget based on the monthly amount. You won't have extra pays throughout the year, so you'll need to be careful in budgeting for the extras. For those who aren't paid regularly, figure out your annual income and divide it by 12 to determine your monthly income.

Then track your expenses. Your fixed expenses will be easy to figure out. These are the items that stay the same from month to month, such as your mortgage, car payment, and the like. Your other expenses can be trickier to calculate. To find out how much you really spend in a month, carry a notebook with you and write down everything you spend for the next 30 days. This will tell you how much money you're spending, and where it is all going.

When you've done that, figure out the difference. Now, find out the difference between what you spend and what you earn each month. If you have a surplus, a portion of that should be budgeted for emergencies and/or savings.  If you have a shortage, you have one of two choices to solve your budget woes: lower your expenses or increase your income. You may even want to do both.

Lowering your expenses is the most obvious way to solve a discrepancy between your income and your spending. Simple changes made over time, such as renting a video instead of going to the movies, can add up to big dollars in your bank account. Others may be lifestyle changes, such as giving up one car and taking public transport instead.

Taking control of your finances by setting up a household spending plan is an important first step to living debt free.  As you begin to make wise decisions about where your money goes, over time you will find opportunities to spend less and have more money to save.

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28 January 2014

Malteser Freezer Cake

2 litres vanilla ice cream, softened
1/4 cup malted milk powder
2 litres chocolate ice cream
1/3 cup chocolate topping
1 cup malted milk balls, chopped

Place the vanilla ice cream into a bowl. Add the malted milk powder and stir until blended in well. Spread the chocolate ice cream evenly into the bottom of a spring form pan. Drop the topping by spoonful over the top of the chocolate ice cream. Sprinkle half of the chopped malted milk balls evenly over the top. Spread the vanilla ice cream evenly over the milk balls.
Freeze for at least 4 hours being sure the ice cream is firm before removing. Remove the sides of the pan and garnish with the remaining milk balls before slicing into wedges to serve.

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27 January 2014

Basic Family Soap Recipe

***Thank you everyone for your kind (and some not so kind!) emails regarding this recipe. Please do some research before you choose to criticise - sustainable palm oil is readily available and is actually quite affordable.***

Here is a basic recipe I use for my family... it makes about 4kg of soap.

1kg Copha (Coconut Oil)
2kg Olive Oil
500g Palm Oil (Yellow Frymasta)
502g Lye (Caustic Soda)
1256g Water

Step 1. Using digital scales measure everything accurately. DO NOT substitute fats because lye/fat ratios are different for the various fats/oils.

Step 2.  Melt the fats together over a slow heat then take off stove.

Step 3.  Add lye to water, stirring in a well ventilated area. When both mixtures are about 60 degrees Celsius mix together using a stick mixer until trace. At this stage you can add colours, essential oils, other stuff if you want to.

Step 4.  Pour into moulds, leave for 24 hours then unmould and cut it into blocks.

This soap is ready to use in about 4 weeks.

NOTE: Only use stainless steel, ceramic and plastic.... the mixture will eat through aluminium.

Contributed by Rose, Kilmore

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26 January 2014

Composting: A Great Way to Save Money in the Garden and Go Green

Years ago, every backyard had a compost bin. The sole purpose of the compost bin was to fertilize soil for growing a vegetable garden. Today, however, composting has many other benefits besides using it for growing a garden.

When you add table scraps and food remnants from cooking to your compost, you create a rich fertilizer for the soil. Not only does using compost provide all-important nutrients to the soil, it also provides a base for moisture retention in the soil once it is fertilized.

Another benefit of using compost is the fact that when you do, you contribute to recycling in a major way. Scraps of food, eggshells, tomato seeds, coffee grounds and even banana peels are all items that typically wind up in the garbage. Whatever lands in the garbage, thereafter, winds up in a landfill somewhere. As the population grows, so do the landfills.

Many landfills have actually closed, as they are too full to contain any more waste. By composting, you are greatly contributing to the environment in such a way that it leaves more space within the landfills.

Studies have most recently shown that plant disease is significantly reduced when household compost is used in gardening. All that natural material breaks down and regenerates the soil. Once the soil is aerated and regenerated, it reduces the risk of plant disease.

Using natural compost avoids the necessity of using chemical fertilizers or moisturizers added to your soil. By using food waste from the house as well as leaves, wood ash, and grass you are contributing to a healthy, green environment.

Not only are food scraps from the table valuable to composting, but so are things found in nature as well. Grass clippings, plants and shrubs, eggshells, banana peels and fruit and vegetable leftovers are all excellent ways to fertilize and moisturize the soil in which you intend to grow your garden.

Knowing that your garden is grown using organic materials that are chemical free is also a bonus for you and your family. Not only are you providing a safe way to fertilize the soil, which is the very foundation of your garden, for your family, you are also making a major contribution to earth by going green.

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24 January 2014

Let the Manufacturer Know if the Goods You Buy Aren't up to Scratch

Have you ever opened a nice soft cheese or focaccia bread that was mouldy long before its use by date? Or opened a cup-a-soup packet to find the contents of the sachets spilt inside the box? Don't take it back to the supermarket, ring the complaints/information number and let the company know directly. They will send you a voucher for Coles, Safeway, etc for much more than the value or the product. All the supermarket will do is refund you the purchase price or give you another of the same product. I received 7 packets of mountain bread for 1 faulty pack and I received a $10 Coles voucher for a mouldy camembert that only cost $3-4.
Contributed by Naomi, Geelong

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23 January 2014

Being Thrifty is Nifty: Ways to Repurpose Everyday Household Items

Even if you are not a creative soul, there are so many ways to repurpose 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 repurposing.

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 repurposed.

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 garage. 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.

Preserving Jars – If you went through your home preserving phase and can't seem to find the time to continue this process, those preserving jars sitting in a box in the garden shed 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. Preserving 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 on in the pantry. The preserving jars filled with that pasta will look great and be accessible and handy when you need to use them.

Champagne Buckets – Every one of us probably received a champagne bucket as a wedding gift decades ago. These champagne buckets are wonderful for making centerpieces for special occasions and the during the holiday season. Rather than let them sit in our china cabinet, 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.

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 and scarves will never be lost again (hopefully) if you place a wicker basket by the front door for everyone to grab a pair and go.

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

22 January 2014

Honey and Lemon Cough Syrup

I've had a dreadful cough for the last ten days. What I thought last Monday was just a summer cold became progressively worse until finally I gave in on Wednesday and saw our family doctor.

The diagnosis: pleurisy. Well no wonder I'm coughing and struggling to breathe. The cough is the worst; once it starts it just goes on and on and on.

I have medicine to take, and I was sent to bed until yesterday. The doctor suggested an anti-bacterial decongestant to soothe my sore throat and ease the coughing so I made a batch of Honey Lemon cough syrup.

This syrup is easy to make (it had to be, I can hardly take two steps without gasping for breath) and because it's completely natural, made with everyday food items, I can sip a spoonful as often as I need to. I'm not limited to 10mls every six hours as I would be with the chemist's mixture.

This syrup has coconut oil in it. I love coconut oil and use it for all sorts of things. I substitute it for oil or butter in baking. I use it as a spread on bread or crackers (try it with a little raspberry jam on fresh bread - yum!). I use it as moisturiser and a cleanser. And for the last three winters I've been adding it to my cough syrup. Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and contains lauric acid, which is anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Coconut oil can be used to help prevent colds by boosting the immune system, speeding recovery.

The lemons I use are home grown and so organic. No pesticides used in my garden. Lemon is full of Vitamin C, but did you know it's also full of anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties? That's why lemon juice makes a great ingredient in cleaning products. It's also why it's an essential ingredient in my honey lemon cough syrup.

I use Manuka honey in this cough syrup. Ideally if you don't have Manuka, you'd use raw, local honey. Local honey will ease allergies too - a teaspoon or two a day for a week before the start of the Spring pollen/hayfever/allergy season will boost your immune system and ease, if not completely alleviate, your symptoms. But it must be local honey to combat local pollens. Honey is also antibacterial and very soothing for sore, dry throats. Clinical studies have shown honey to be just as effective a cough remedy as any over-the-counter cough medicine.

Honey Lemon Cough Syrup

100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup local raw honey (or Manuka honey if you have it)
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a small saucepan. Heat over a low flame until coconut oil is melted, stirring all the time. This doesn't take long - just a couple of minutes. Stir to combine everything into a syrup. Pour into a clean jar. When the syrup cools the coconut oil will solidify again. Just warm the syrup over boiling water before using it. Keep it in the fridge for up to a month.

To use, take warm syrup by the teaspoonful as often as you need to. There's no fear of overdosing, there's nothing in it that will cause you any harm.

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What Survived, What Thrived and What Died During the Heat Wave

The heat of the last week was fierce. Temperatures over 41 degrees Celsius for four straight days, with Friday being the hottest at 42.3. And it was a dry heat, fed by a strong north wind. Step outside the house and the air wasn't only hot, it burnt; no need to stand in the sun.

So how did my garden fare? So-so. I was too sick to really care, although I did remind the family every morning to give it all a drink.

I've just come in from an inspection and for the most part everything is fine.

The climbing beans have a few burnt leaves, but their tendrils are still clinging to the posts and the beans are looking good.

The egg plant are going great guns. The heat seems to have given them a spurt, they've been a little slow this summer.

The beetroot are another matter, out of 2 dozen plants there are only 9 left. I'll put some more in over the weekend. They'll be a little late but beetroot will grow all year round here in Melbourne, they're just a little slower when it's cooler. We love slow roasted baby beetroot in winter with our roast. If I get them in now they'll be ready for the start of the cooler weather (they'll need about 12 weeks in the ground).

The cucumbers - well I just picked two huge cucumbers that will become pickled cucumber, I think they're too big to be nice for salads. The large leaves are singed on the edges but they did a great job of protecting the flowers and the tiny fruits. We'll have plenty of cucumbers in the next week or so and I've earmarked most of them for bread and butter cucumbers for winter.

The pumpkins are going great guns too. Not a singed leaf or fruit on any of the vines. They're in a sheltered spot that doesn't get the wind or the fierce late afternoon sun and that spot seems to suit them.

I was a little concerned about the lettuce. I'd just planted a dozen babies out into bags (no room in the garden). The bags seem to have given them the shelter they needed from the wind and the sun, they have grown a lot, almost double in size and I'll start picking a few leaves from each plant from tomorrow.

The bush beans didn't fare quite as well. Burnt leaves and wind blown, but I think they'll come back. There are flowers on all of them again, a good sign I'll get more beans from them.

The strawberries. Well I am amazed. They are big, red, sweet and juicy. I filled a pasta bowl this morning. I was sure that the extreme heat would slow them down. I was wrong.

My orange tree didn't take the heat very well, dropping more than half it's tiny fruit. The lemon and lime trees have a few singed leaves otherwise they look healthy enough and the mandarin trees look better than ever.

The biggest disappointment is the tomatoes. This summer has been shocking enough weather wise, with a cold start and then such a strong heat wave. The tomatoes are still green! Tomatoes need sun and heat to ripen on the vine. We had plenty of that last week and all I could find this morning was one slightly orange tomato. There are hundreds of green tomatoes on those plants, and I'm waiting for them to ripen to make sauce for the winter. If they don't ripen soon we'll be eating green tomato chutney and fried green tomatoes and skipping the sauce.

Why did the garden fare so well? I think because of the soil. It's well composted. Every time it gets planted it's composted and well turned over. And mulch. Lots of mulch. Mulching keeps the weeds down and the moisture in the soil. You can use just about anything to mulch but I use pea straw. It does a great job and stays put. It also breaks down really well when it's dug into the soil at the end of each summer.

My gardens get a double mulching. I mulch in spring, digging it in at the end of summer. Then I mulch again for the winter garden. It works like a nice warm blanket over the soil in winter, keeping it a little warmer for those plant roots and giving them a growth boost. And that gets dug in at the end of winter.

It's almost time to get the winter veggie seedlings started. That's on my list of jobs for next week as long as the weather stays reasonably nice. I've started collecting toilet rolls (empty ones of course!) to use as pots and sorting out the seeds.

I have cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, beans, beetroot (again) and silverbeet seeds ready to plant. That should get the winter veggies started and keep me busy for a day or two.

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How to Haggle, a Guide for Newbies

Know what you want. Research your item and the price at different stores. Use catalogues, flyers, the internet and don’t forget to ask other people where they get their best deals.

Know how much you are prepared to spend. Set your budget and stick to it. Take into account delivery time and delivery charges.

Start with the question “What’s your best price?” Don’t get tricked into telling them what you can afford or how much you want to pay first, let the salesperson give you a price. With that, you have bargaining power.

 Always be polite and friendly.

Be prepared to haggle. Ask another question “How much for cash?”  if you are paying cash. Wait for their response and then ask for  Seniors discount if it applies, or if they would throw in delivery, installation, etc. Always be appreciative of a discount; a dollar in your pocket is better than a dollar in someone else’s!

Value Add. Ask how much if you buy another item e.g. a lounge suite and a flat screen TV, a washing machine and a dryer, a TV and a DVD player, a dress and a pair of earrings, shoes and a handbag, etc.

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21 January 2014

Zesty Parmesan Fried Tomatoes

The tomatoes have been slow in ripening this summer and I have a glut of green tomatoes. This recipe is a delicious way to use them up. Serve them as a snack or with a salad for a main meal.

4 green tomatoes, sliced 6mm thick
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp chilli flakes, crushed
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil

Sprinkle both sides of the tomato slices evenly with the salt. Let the tomatoes stand undisturbed for 10 minutes. Place the cornmeal into a shallow mixing bowl. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle in the garlic salt, oregano, ginger and chilli flakes blending all the ingredients together well. Break the eggs into another shallow bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour the olive oil into a fry pan and place the pan over medium heat. Pat the tomato slices dry with paper towel. Dip the slices into the eggs allowing any excess to drip off.  Coat the slices in the Parmesan mixture. Place the tomato slices into the oil and fry, a few at a time, for 3 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Turn the tomatoes and continue frying for 3 minutes or until completely browned. Remove and drain on paper towel.

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20 January 2014

Filing Spare Buttons Keeps the Button Box Tidy

Approximate $ Savings: $1.00 - $100.00

When your old shirt or other clothing item finally wears out, and you are about to cut it up for rag rugs (of course!), carefully snip those buttons off, and with a needle and thread, just tack them to an old birthday card or similar. Not only can you easily choose the size and colour of button you need for your next project, but you can see at a glance whether you have enough of that particular button for the job, without spending ages sorting through the button box. Now you can 'file' your buttons according to size, or colour or whatever in a filing box (that's an old shoe box). When the kids are bored, you can set them to sorting out the buttons already mixed up in the button box, and tacking them to cards, too.
Contributed by Wendy, Macgregor

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17 January 2014

How to Cover School Books

It is every parent's back to school nightmare but it's a good idea to help protect your kids' school books from a year of abuse by making covers out of a durable material, such as brown paper covered with clear contact or patterned or coloured contact. Follow these easy steps and it will be a breeze, rather than the traumatic experience of the past.

Step 1.  Measure the height of the book you want to cover.

Then measure the distance from the front to back covers.

Add 15cm to the two measurements (to create the inside flaps), and cut a piece of paper to this size.

Step 2.  Open the book, and place it face down in the centre of the paper.

To accommodate the spine, make two vertical cuts on the excess paper at the top and bottom of the book, creating a flap.

Fold the flap down and behind the spine, creating two notches. If this isn't possible, carefully trim the flap level with the edge of the spine.

Step 3.  Wrap the paper around the book, making sure the inside flaps are equal sizes. Tape in place.

Fold top and bottom flaps over the side flaps and tape in place.

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16 January 2014

Take One Doona, a Sunny Day and a Pair of Feet

Today is sunny, very, very sunny. And so very hot - expected to reach 41 degrees C here in Melbourne today.

Which makes it the perfect day for washing doonas.  You could, if you wanted, take your quilts and doonas to the laundromat but that costs money, around $8 to wash and partially dry, so why bother when you can do it so easily yourself?

Here's my step-by-step to seasonally cleaning doonas (and they are synthetic, hypoallergenic, not down - down doonas require a completely different treatment).

1.  Strip the cover off the quilt and launder it with the sheets, pillowcases, pillow protectors and mattress protector.

2.  Fill the bathtub with the hottest water available. Add a half a cup of Cheapskates Washing Powder. Swish it around to dissolve. Now add the doona. Squash it down so it's all submerged. Allow to soak for an hour.

3.  Drain the bath and refill with more hot water and another half a cup of Cheapskates Washing Powder. Let the whole thing soak for another hour.

4.  Make sure your feet are clean - if they're not, wash them. Climb into the bath and walk up and down on the quilt. Twist. Shuffle. Jump up and down. Run on the spot. Do whatever you like but make sure you squash the daylights out of the quilt and any little dust mites that might have taken up residence. Do this for at least 5 minutes.  Let it all soak for another half an hour.

5.  Now empty the bath and re-fill it with hot water and swirl the quilt around in the water to rinse it. Drain and re-fill, then add ten drops of your favourite essential oil and leave to soak for another hour.

6.  Drain and roll the quilt up and squeeze as much water as possible out of it.  Take it outside and hang it over the line to drip dry...preferably on a very hot, sunny day just like today!

7.  Go out in an hour and turn the quilt over. This will help it to dry right through  quickly and evenly.

8.  Once the quilt is completely dry take it off the line and give it a good shake. Put a clean cover on it and put it back on your bed that has been made up with the freshly laundered linens.

Plan an early night - you've earned it after washing your quilt.

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15 January 2014

Living with a Spendaholic Spouse

It's not easy when you and your spouse are on different pages, especially when it comes to finances.

Getting your spendthrift to change their ways isn't easy. Often they don’t like to take advice from their spouses, and it may be difficult to “make” him or her change.  Actions speak louder than words, it might be clich├ęd but it's true, and what you do and how you handle your finances might help him (or her) see the reality of the situation.

A dose of reality is often all that's needed to get someone's attention. Perhaps an appointment for the both of you with a financial advisor helps to put financial realities into perspective.   A good financial advisor can give realistic tips on how to achieve these goals without making anyone feel financially incompetent.

Credit cards make it way too easy to overspend.  Work on paying down the balances, and then cancel them.  Watching the balance shrink each month is a great motivator, perhaps keeping a record of the shrinking debt will keep your spendthrift focused.

If frivolous spending is a problem, agree on a fixed amount of “fun money” for any extras each month.  Each person can spend it how he or she wishes, but can’t go over that amount.  Pretty soon, it will be clear how quickly taxis and lunches out can make that money disappear.

It can’t hurt to model the behaviour you would like to see emulated.  Continue to demonstrate thoughtful spending.  Suggest eating at home sometimes to save some extra cash, for instance.

And don’t forget the value of an honest, heart-to-heart conversation.  Try to get at the root of spending behaviours, and work together to find a solution.  Spending and budgeting are family issues and as a family you need to work on them together.

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14 January 2014

Balsamic Bean and Tomato Salad

The beans in my garden are just gorgeous. Every morning I pick about a handful of long, crisp Lazy Housewife beans and gently carry them inside to prep them for my family.

Sometimes I use them as a vegetable the same night. Really garden fresh green beans have so much flavour, they just don't compare to anything you can buy at the greengrocer's.

Sometimes I wash and dry them and then flash freeze them - either whole or cut into pieces. Once they are frozen I pack them into containers to use in winter when fresh beans are scarce (and expensive!).

And other times, like today, I turn them into this delicious salad. We're at the start of a week-long heat wave so salads are very appealing and this one is particularly fresh, crisp and cool. It's also quick and easy, and if you use your own homegrown produce, very, very cheap.

Balsamic Bean and Tomato Salad

500g fresh green beans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp capers, drained
1 hard boiled egg, chopped

Place the beans in a saucepan and just cover with water. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, cook the beans for 8 minutes or until tender.
Drain the beans and immediately place them in ice water to quickly cool. Drain the beans again, pat dry and place in a serving bowl. Place the oil, vinegar and mustard into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the salt and pepper and whisk to blend in well. Pour the mixture over the beans and toss to coat them well. Fold in the tomato and onion until well combined. Stir in the parsley and capers. Cover the bowl and chill for 2 hours or more.
Just before serving stir the salad and sprinkle the egg over the top.

Makes 6 servings

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13 January 2014

Coping with a Heatwave

It is hot in Australia at the moment. Now that's not unusual bearing in mind that we are in the middle of our summer. But it is not just normal summer hot, it is higher than usual temperatures for longer than usual hot.

Some areas have seen temperatures above 50 degrees, and that's Celsius for my overseas readers. Fifty degrees Celsius is around 122 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot.

We are in the middle of a heatwave. According to the Bureau of Meteorology a heatwave is a weather system of continual above average daytime temperatures with overnight temperatures that remain in the mid to high twenties. Yuk!

I can almost manage hot days but hot, steamy nights are just miserable.

So how do you keep cool during a heat wave?

We don't have air-conditioning in our house. We do have ceiling fans in the living areas and fans in all the other rooms. They go on early, before the sun comes up.

We have outside awnings on the north and west facing windows and they come down early, again before the sun comes up.

While I'm up doing the fans and awnings I make sure all the windows get closed tight, pull the blinds and draw the drapes. I even pull the blinds down in the laundry. The house is almost pitch black, but it certainly helps to keep the heat out.

Another thing I do is freeze bottles that are half filled with water. Then one comes out of the freezer and gets topped up with cold water from the fridge and it sits on a dish on the sink - ready for anyone who needs a cold drink. Depending on the day it stays frozen for anything up to 2 hours and cold for at least an hour after that. It just stops the continual opening of the fridge for cold water.

I've also made up panels of bubble wrap that fit across the windows. It may seem extreme but extreme heat calls for extreme measures. These panels tape to the sides of the window frames, forming a mock double glazed window.  The gap between the glass and the bubble wrap traps the hot air and the bubble wrap stops it getting into the house. It looks a little weird from the outside but it really does help to keep the interior temperature down. My calculations show it makes about a 5 degree Celsius difference between the room before bubble wrap and after bubble wrapping the windows. That's a significant difference. My neighbours already think I'm a little odd so it doesn't really surprise them. And it comes off once the heat ends.

I had to buy the bubble wrap. It came from our local Officeworks in a 50 metre roll and cost $24. It's carefully rolled and re-used over and over - I am a firm believer in buy once and re-use.

We also have an ice box we usually use when we go camping. I've made up ice packs that fit it perfectly and vac packed them so they can be re-used. On days of extreme heat we use the ice box to keep drinks cool too.

On that note I freeze chunks of fruit. Orange, mandarin and mango segments, small clusters of grapes, whole bananas (just like banana ice cream) and strawberries all freeze into delicious ice blocks. They're far more nutritious than frozen cordial and do a better of job of cooling too. To do this I cut the fruit up, stick in a toothpick and flash freeze it. Once it's frozen it gets put into an air tight container. I put the toothpicks into the fruit to use as little handles - stops fingers from getting sticky - but of course you don't have to.

During summer we always cook outside. I very rarely use the oven or the stove, our barbecue has a side burner and a rotisserie and it gets used just about all year round. I also use the slowcooker, but sit it out on the verandah. They don't generate a lot of heat but any heat is too much when the temperature is in the forties. That means I can cook a roast or a piece of corned beef without heating up the kitchen.

I also use the side burner on the barbecue to steam veggie or to stir fry. And if I'm making a pasta or potato salad then I have the pot on the barbecue early in the morning so the food has time to chill before dinner.

When it's so hot getting up is an effort, but staying in bed is worse. You'll often find me up, coffee in one hand, hose in the other, watering the vegetable garden before daylight. It's actually a beautiful time of day; usually still, quiet and peaceful just before the sun comes up.

Keeping personally cool on very hot days is tricky. You can try wearing a damp sarong or nightie (and pray you don't get visitors). Wet face washers on the back of your neck are an excellent way to cool your body. As is a tub of cool water you can sit your feet in. We have neckties that are filled with water saving crystals. I just soak them for a few minutes and then tie or drape one across the back of my neck. It's not exactly a fashionable look but it really does help to keep me cool and the crystals stop it from drying out so quickly. I made some a few years ago and then last summer I found them in a $2 shop for $1 each! I also take them camping with us.

When the kids were little I'd fill the bath and let them play to their hearts content. I'd sit on the floor and read while they splashed and cooled down, then out they'd hop. The water stayed, ready for their next cool down session. It didn't cost a lot, we didn't have to leave the house and it kept everyone cool and happy - hot kidlets usually mean frazzled kidlets and of course frazzled kidlets cause miserable mummys. Keeping cool just worked.

However you manage it, I hope that you can be comfortable. And I'm so looking forward to that predicted change on Friday night!

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