29 August 2014

The Cheapskates Way to Stretch Expensive Cheeses

We are cheese lovers in our home. Hard or soft, as long as it is cheese, we'll devour it. And that can play havoc with my grocery budget.

I keep the cost of the cheese component of my grocery budget down a number of ways:

1.I buy blocks of tasty cheese ($6/kg at Aldi) and grate them to use on pizzas, pasta bakes, potato casserole etc. Grated cheese freezes beautifully and can be used straight from the freezer for casserole toppings. To stop the cheese shards sticking together when they are frozen add a teaspoon of corn flour per cup of cheese when you pack it into containers or bags. Shake it up to coat the cheese and you won't have a problem with clumped, hard lumps of cheese again.

2.I make mozzarella, ricotta and feta. Fresh mozzarella grated in slivers over hot pasta is divine. These are three of the easiest cheeses to make and they are so versatile. Ricotta can be used in dips and cheesecakes or as a spread on bread instead of butter. Feta is delicious on its own and in salads.

3.I buy blocks of the more expensive aged hard cheeses when they are on sale and use my trusty cheese slicer to slice them. This is the biggest cheese cost saver for my family. I never buy sliced cheese. The slices are always much thicker than what I slice myself and at twice the price of a block of the same weight I feel it's money I could use for something else. Slicing the cheese myself and storing it in a Tupperware container.

4.I portion the cheese out. That means when I do my monthly grocery shopping and buy cheese for the month, it is packed into weekly portions and frozen. I take one portion a week out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to use for cooking, sandwiches, salads, snacks and so on. When it's gone, it's gone. I don't get any more out until the next week. We've learnt over the years to make our cheese last or go without.

We get to enjoy the cheeses we like without blowing my grocery budget.

Is cheese a big expense for your family? How do you make it last? Or do you just absorb the cost and buy more when it's all gone?

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28 August 2014

Where to find the best bargains

Every city and some of our larger towns has at least one outlet mall. That's the enormous shopping centre, often bare bones factory style, that has a whole lot of factory outlets in the one place. They are great for hunting out bargains if you are after brand names like Sheridan or Mikasa or Gazman or Oroton or Puma any other brand.

The thing with these shopping centres is that often they are not cheaper than department stores. You need to know your prices and you need to know what is current stock and what is last season's stock. You can still pick up a bargain, but not quite the bargain you can pick up if you find an independent outlet.

Every city has lots of independent outlets, well kept secrets, that sell their wares direct to the public for less - a lot less; in some cases up to 85% off the retail price. That's a whole lot of money that stays in your bank account, that you can use to pay down debt, build an emergency fund or splurge with.

Some of my favourites are :

NQR Grocery Stores - brand name groceries at greatly reduced prices.

Hindustan Imports - spices, herbs, rice, oil with savings of up to 85% of supermarket prices.

Aurora Cleaning Supplies - save 50% plus on basic cleaning items. Great for bulk washing soda and soaker.

Tasman Meats (my favourite butcher) - meat isn't a luxury at Tasman's prices.

TruTaste Nuts - huge savings on dried fruit and nuts, honey and snacks.

Mountain Bread - order online, have it delivered to your door and save 50% on supermarket prices.

Theo's Discount Craft - find the interesting and the more mundane craft items here at  rock bottom prices. Great for buttons and ribbons.

Do you have a secret super saver outlet you love? Where do you find your best bargains?

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27 August 2014

The Fine Line

There is a saying about a fine line between love and hate.

Living the Cheapskates way there is a fine line too: a fine line between Contented Cheapskate and Sad Skinflint.

Whether you choose to live the Cheapskates way out of necessity (sudden un-employment, huge debts etc) or to have the cash to do the things that are important to you, the line has to be drawn: just how far can you go without becoming a mean, sad skinflint?

For me not buying takeaway food on a regular basis frees up money for music lessons for Hannah. The boys can play their sports because we choose to recycle clothes and buy from garage sales and op shops before we resort to paying retail. This frees up the cash needed to pay for sports fees and other activities and we have a contented family.

I would feel like a Sad Skinflint if I didn't buy the brand of coffee I enjoy to just save a couple of dollars. Instead I wait for it to go on sale and then use the grocery slush fund to stock up, I never pay the regular supermarket price and I am a Contented Cheapskate.

By using generic sugar, flour, custard powder, bi-carb soda, coconut and icing sugar I have the cash to buy the coffee I like. We don't notice any difference in the end result of my baking, we are not missing out on any treats and I am able to enjoy good coffee.

In our quest to live the Cheapskates way sometimes we go to far. There is no purpose in going without something you need, enjoy or even want if you can afford it just to not spend money.

We cut back on things we don't particularly care about so that we can have the things that are important to us. There have been times when I've gone too far (a rissole recipe using just bread crusts, herbs and water springs to mind) and the exercise has ended up causing us to be unhappy.

Using the bread crusts and herbs along with some chopped tomato, a grated onion and an egg to make a Mock Chicken however saved us some money, used up leftover crusts and it was delicious with gravy and baked vegetables.

With things like electricity, gas, water, telephone and petrol trim them little by little until you find that you need more, then ease the trimming just a bit. You've found your fine line and by easing back a bit you are on the Contented Cheapskate side.

With clothing, shoes and so on you can work out exactly what you need to maintain a comfortable wardrobe. Add a couple of spare outfits (for those times the washing hasn't dried or you just plain ran out of time to do it) and you'll be on the Contented Cheapskate side.

Not giving yourself enough clothing will end up costing you money. You'll be washing more often, perhaps having to resort to using the dryer, and your clothes will be wearing out and looking old much faster. This is the Sad Skinflint side of the line.

In all things, trimming a little, gradually, lets you find exactly where you want to be in your Cheapskates lifestyle and when you are contented with where you are you'll find saving money, time and energy easy.

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26 August 2014

Freezer Coleslaw

At the One Day Workshop reunion a couple of weeks ago we were talking about cabbage and how to use up an abundance. When I mentioned freezer coleslaw all heads turned with interest and the questions started to flow.

Yes you can make coleslaw and freeze it. Yes it thaws beautifully and the cabbage will be crisp. Yes it's a great way to use up excess cabbage, especially if you're not a fan of sauerkraut or are sick to death of chop suey and cabbage rolls for dinner.

This recipe uses a vinegar based dressing which helps it to remain crisp after freezing, Freezer coleslaw doesn't work with a mayonnaise style dressing. It's not complicated but you must follow the steps. Don't be tempted to skip any and don't be tempted to try and rush them. The idea is to remove as much excess water from the cabbage as possible before you freeze it so you'll have delightfully crisp coleslaw when it thaws.

Freezer Coleslaw

1 large head of cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup salt
Cold water
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp celery seed
1 large carrot, grated
1 capsicum, diced (green, yellow or red - your choice)

Step 1. Put the cabbage and salt in a large plastic or glass bowl. Add enough water to just cover the cabbage. Let the cabbage soak for 1 hour.

Step 2. While the cabbage is soaking make the dressing. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.

Step 3. After 1 hour drain and rinse the cabbage thoroughly. Then squeeze to remove as much water as you can. This is an important step in getting crisp cabbage in your freeze coleslaw.

Step 4. Add the carrot and capsicum to the cabbage and toss through.

Step 5. Pour the cooled dressing over the vegetables and toss through.

Step 6. The coleslaw is ready to use and can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to two weeks. To freeze the coleslaw portion into freezer safe containers or ziplock bags and place in the freezer. This coleslaw will keep in the freezer for up to three months.

To use the coleslaw take a container from the freezer, let it thaw and serve.

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25 August 2014

Oh So Easy MOO Banana Ice Cream

MOO banana and hazelnut ice-cream

We were talking at the Workshop reunion about fruit ice-cream and I was quite surprised to realise that not everyone knew about this simple, fat free, dairy free, totally delicious and so easy to make "ice-cream".

All you need is banana. I usually use six large bananas at a time, but you can use just one or two depending on how many serves you want. This is a fabulous way to use up those soft bananas no one will eat, just pop them in the freezer until you're ready to make ice-cream then let them thaw for about half an hour before you use them.

Step 1. Peel your bananas first. Cut them into small pieces.

Step 2. Freeze for just 1-2 hours on a baking sheet or freezer safe plate.

Step 3. Put the frozen banana into the food processor (or a jug and use a stick blender) and blend, blend, blend – scraping down the sides of the bowl when they stick. Keep blending until the banana has reached the consistency of ice-cream.

At this stage you can eat it or put it into an air-tight container and freeze. It goes well in icy-pole moulds for individual banana pops too.

Want to glam it up a little? Try these variations:

Hazelnut Chocolate Banana Ice Cream

For every two frozen bananas you will need 4 tablespoons of chocolate hazelnut spread. Blend bananas in food processor until they are the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Blend in the choc hazelnut spread, transfer to a freezer container and freeze until solid.

Peanut Butter & Honey Banana Ice Cream

For every two bananas you will need 3 tablespoons of peanut butter (try crunchy for a delicious twist) and 2 teaspoons of honey. Blend bananas in food processor until they are the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Blend in peanut butter and honey and transfer to a freezer container and freeze until solid.

Strawberry Yoghurt Banana Ice Cream

For every two bananas you will need 2 tablespoons of plain, full fat yoghurt and 1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries. Blend bananas in food processor until they are the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Blend in strawberries and yoghurt until smooth, and transfer to a freezer container and freeze until solid.

What other flavours can you come up with?

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24 August 2014

For the Coffee Addicts: The Cheapskates Way to Refilling Pods

I promised over on our Facebook page to share how you can easily (and cheaply) refill coffee pods. Here it is, step--by-step.

We all know coffee is expensive. Good coffee is even more expensive. Buying great coffee is one of those outrageous costs we coffee addicts have put up with until recently.

The arrival of coffee pods and the idea of instant good coffee took Australia, and the world, by storm. The machines are compact. They make a reasonable cup of coffee in just a few seconds. Best of all they have brought the price of a half-decent cup of coffee down.

But the pods, the little containers of coffee grounds, are actually quite expensive. You can buy pods from Aldi for $5.99 for 128g or $4.67/100g (and these are the pods I use - my mother gave me the Expressi unit for Christmas a couple of years ago).

I can buy coffee beans from Coles and grind my own coffee for a fraction of the price. Coles Fair Trade coffee beans are the cheapest at just $1.30 per hundred grams. My favourite Lavazza beans cost $3.37 per hundred grams, almost half the pod price, off the shelf and less than half price when they are on sale.

These days I refill the pods. Now in saying that my unit is well and truly out of warranty. If you're unit is still in warranty then I don't recommend you refilling the pods just in case you need to make a warranty claim and your MOO pods are used as an excuse to not honour the warranty.

But if you're up for a fun challenge, would like to make your daily java even cheaper and are not concerned about the warranty on your unit, give refilling the pods a go, it is really easy.

You will need:

Used coffee pods
Your favourite ground coffee
Step 1. Take your used pods and carefully cut the foil off the top of them. Clean the used coffee grounds out (put them in the compost or sprinkle onto the garden) and wash and dry the pods.
Step 2. Fill the pods with ground coffee beans. I use two teaspoons of ground coffee per pod. Gently, very gently, pack it down. Don't press to hard, you don't want the coffee compressed.
Step 3. Cut a square of foil large enough to wrap over the top of the pod and down the sides. Wrap the re-filled pod with the foil, pressing it tightly over the edge so it is smooth.
That's it - you've just refilled your coffee pod. How easy was that? Use it the way you usually do and then save the pod and the foil to re-use. I can re-use the foil three or four times before it becomes too holey (each time you use it the coffee machine will put tiny pin pricks in it to let the water through).

Now enjoy your even cheaper coffee :)

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22 August 2014

What are your vices? Are there expensive foods you can’t resist?

I am very particular about coffee and that’s about it. I have one brand that I love and I stock up when it comes on sale – right now there are 6 cans in the pantry. Life is too short to drink bad coffee just to save a couple of dollars. 

Otherwise I'm not at all brand loyal and no one should be unless that particular brand is important to them.

Don’t be afraid to try new brands if they are cheaper, if you don’t like it you can always go back to your old brand. If you do find you like it, you now have two products to choose from so you can buy whichever is cheapest when you shop.

21 August 2014

Down the Drain

Living in Australia we tend to take good plumbing for granted. Until it blocks up and the kitchen sink won't empty or the shower fills up and floods the bathroom. Or the toilet overflows (guess how I know about this one?). And then we start to think about caring for our drains.

Sluggish drains are usually the first sign of a problem but we don't usually take much notice of the fact that the water isn't disappearing as fast as it should be. Then one day it just sits in the sink, doing nothing at all.

There are commercial products available to clean and unclog drains but they are expensive. Drano, found in the cleaning aisle of your supermarket, costs $12.35 for a 500g jar and is extremely toxic. White vinegar, salt and bicarbonate soda costs 65 cents to do the same job and is a lot safer for you and the environment.

You can clean your drains quickly and easily yourself for only a few cents and help to prevent costly and very annoying blockages and calls to plumbers.

Rinse your sinks, basins, bath and/or shower with hot water first then put the plug in. Tie a string to the plug first, long enough to hang over the side of the sink. Fill the sink with hot water (boiling if you can) and add 1 cup salt, 1 cup white vinegar and ½ cup bicarbonate soda. Once the bicarbonate soda has dissolved, just a few seconds, pull the plug (now you know why it needs a string on it) and let it flush out the drains.

Doing this on a regular basis will prevent odours and build-ups that cause blockages. Why the salt? The salt will help to keep small roots from taking up residence in your pipes and causing major problems in the future.

20 August 2014

Building Your Emergency Fund Part 4: When to Use Your Emergency Fund

Have discipline and only use this money in times of financial emergency.  Regardless of what you think, a holiday or a new wardrobe is not an emergency! Avoid dipping into your emergency fund to pay for other large expenses that aren't true emergencies (they should be covered by your Peace of Mind account).

Having an emergency fund is a big part of maintaining financial stability. It protects you and your family from unforeseen emergencies. Get started today! Every dollar saved can make a difference.

Everyone faces financial challenges at times. We didn't have an emergency fund to fall back on. It took Wayne almost four years to find a permanent full-time job. We were not in any way at all prepared for such a financial crisis.

Learn from our mistake and experience. If you're not ready when the time comes, you'll hate yourself for not having made the proper preparations. Be prepared for the inevitable challenges of life. Not only will it be easier to weather the storm, you'll sleep better knowing you're ready for whatever fiscal crisis life throws your way.

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19 August 2014

Things that are outrageously overpriced

I had  the pleasure this afternoon to chat for a few minutes with Darren James who was hosting Afternoons with Dennis Walter on radio 3AW here in Melbourne.

I was thrilled to be able to talk about everyday things that are overpriced and if you click here you'll be able to listen to the full segment.

Darren mentioned hairdressing and I agree, hairdressing can be very expensive. I get my hair cut and dried at a local salon for just $27 and in all the years I've been going there I've only been unhappy twice. Thankfully my hair grows very quickly so I wasn't sad for too long.

He also mentioned parking and I agree with him there too. Parking fees are outrageous. Whether it is in the city or at the airport or even our local hospital parking can eat up a huge chunk of your daily budget. I've had reason to visit Box Hill Hospital here in Melbourne weekly for the last couple of months and the parking was sending me broke - $7 minimum each visit. These days I get dropped off and just call when I'm ready to be picked up. My chauffeur brings a book and a drink and parks a few streets away, where it's not only free but far less congested.

I mentioned bottled water. Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about paying for water in a plastic bottle. We have a very cheap, clean and safe water supply here in Australia so buying bottled water is a complete waste of money. Tap water costs you just one tenth of one cent per litre. Bottled water can cost over $5 per litre!

Fill your water bottles from your kitchen tap and you'll save around $844 a year. For my family that's almost three months' grocery money. It's 15 months of mobile phone access for Wayne, Hannah and me. $844 is 21 weeks of petrol for my car (I budget and use around $40 a week at current prices of $1.44.9/l). And if those figures don't convince you think about this: we pay $1.45 or more per litre for petrol and whinge and whine about it, while we pay three, four or more times that price per litre for water and gloat because we're drinking plain water!

Bottled water is not just expensive, the cost truly is outrageous.

Coffee pods are another thing that are very expensive. Aldi pods are $5.99 for 128g or $4.67/100g. I can buy coffee beans from Coles and grind my own coffee for a fraction of the price. Coles Fair Trade coffee beans are the cheapest at just $1.30 per hundred grams. My favourite Lavazza beans cost $3.37 per hundred grams, almost half the pod price, off the shelf and less than half price when they are on sale.  And if you're not convinced or really love your pods, you can refill them with your own ground coffee. I'll post a How To later in the week showing you how, but it is really easy.

So many of the things we buy are overpriced and yet we still buy them. We may be aware they are overpriced and we may grumble and moan about the cost but we still buy them.

We don’t have to. We can stop using those products. We can find MOOs to replace them. We can look for cheaper, better value alternatives. We don't need to be swept up in the advertising hype that has us believing that only those over-priced products will make us happy.

What outrageously priced items do you buy? What outrageously overpriced items do you leave on the shelf because you've found a cheaper alternative?

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17 August 2014

Hannah's Double Choc Chip M&M Biscuits

Hannah loves to bake (and we love eat her creations!) and experiment with new recipes. This afternoon she made these very delicious, extremely moreish  biscuits and they are so good I just had to share the recipe with you.

Thankfully she made a double recipe and we have a log of dough in the freezer so we can have fresh biscuits later in the week.

Hannah's Double Choc Chip M&M Biscuits

125g butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1-½ cups self-raising flour
½ cup cocoa
¾ cup choc chips
Mini M&Ms for decorating

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Whisk in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour and cocoa then fold through chocolate chips.
Take teaspoonful's  and roll into balls. Flatten balls with fingers and press one side into mini M&Ms. Place on greased baking trays.
Bake in a moderately slow oven 160°C for 10-15 minutes or until cooked.
Cool on a wire rack.

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15 August 2014

Wise Words

Where I Store Things

People look at me like I'm a mad woman when I tell them I shop once a month and I have been asked over and over where I store it all (last week when we did the monthly grocery shop we had two trolleys!). I can tell you that a month’s worth of food isn't really that much.

Because I shop once a month and have a stockpile of groceries, most grocery items are kept in the kitchen pantry or on the store shelves in the laundry until they are needed in the kitchen. In the pantry I keep the things we use everyday – cereals, spreads, baking supplies, oil and so on.

Bread goes into the little freezer over the fridge so it doesn't get squashed and bent out of shape. I keep pastry sheets, spices and stock cubes in there too.

The door of the fridge holds four bottles of milk, plus cream, sour cream and salad dressings. Eggs go on the top shelf of the fridge along with butter and cheeses. The top shelf also holds three Tupperware containers: one for beetroot, one for pineapple slices and one for pickled onions. I keep jams, mustards and pickles on the top shelf too.

The second shelf holds containers of sliced meat for lunches and leftovers. The third shelf has Tupperware containers holding fruit and vegetables, as do the crispers in the bottom.

Meat is packaged up in meal sizes and double wrapped in freezer bags or vacuum sealed and then stored in the chest freezer. Frozen vegetables are kept in the basket in the chest freezer, along with a spare bottle of milk.

In my kitchen dry goods are put into the freezer, in the packaging, as soon as they enter the house. I do this to kill any weevils that may be in the foods. Once they come out of the freezer  (after at least seven days, usually longer if I don't need them in a hurry) they are either stacked in the store cupboard or used to top up a canister in the pantry.

I prefer to decant everything into labelled canisters, rather than keep open packets on the pantry shelf. Open packets are an invitation to bugs to have a party – at my cost. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on canisters. Coffee jars or formula tins are a uniform size and stack neatly and best of all because they are recycled they are free.  Ask friends and relatives to keep them for you to build your supply quickly. When a canister is empty, it is washed and dried and refilled from the stockpile and I make a note on the appropriate inventory, ready for making up my shopping list.

Storing a month's worth of groceries isn't difficult. My kitchen isn't huge. In fact it is quite small. I don't have an abundance of cupboard space, I just use what I do have to its full advantage.

With a little creative thinking you can easily find room in your home for your once-a-month grocery shop.

Putting it all away is the hardest part of the whole exercise, but it only takes about half an hour. Everything fits in. And I don’t have to unpack groceries for another four weeks.

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14 August 2014

And Lastly: the Clothes Dryer

Last Thursday we talked about looking after the washing machine. The Thursday before that was taking care of the dishwasher. This week I'm going to wrap up the series and talk about caring for the clothes dryer.

I have a clothes dryer. I don't use it very often but I do have one. I don't use it because it is usually full of something non-perishable. Clothes dryers make great storage spaces. My brother bought it for me years ago. He called in one day and I had baby clothes and nappies on clotheshorses all over the place. He thought I had the house looking like a Chinese laundry because I didn't have a clothes dryer, so he very kindly went out and bought me one. He didn't realise I didn't have because we couldn't afford to run it. Now I have a clothes dryer and still prefer to use the clotheshorses. But that's another story.

If you have a clothes dryer, even if you only use it occasionally, spending just a little extra time once a year can save you a lot of money.

Your clothes dryer has a lint filter, either in the door or the back, that should be cleaned after every load and most people do this. But it's not until the dryer starts to take ages and ages to dry a load that they think to do some basic dryer maintenance (if they think of it at all, often they'll just go and buy a new dryer!).

Cleaning a lint catcher is a simple chore but what about the other end of the vent hose; you know, the outside end that probably puts out that warm humid air full of lint under the house. This is the end of the dryer that is usually forgotten. Over a period of time, lint can build up at the end of the vent tube, blocking it and causing heat to build up. Eventually the built up lint and heat can cause a fire to start, risking not only your home but your lives as well.

Now, when the dryer isn't drying clothes as fast as it should, think to check the outside end. Mine runs from the back of the dryer through a hole in the floor to under the house. By moving the dryer out and gently pulling the vent tube out of the hole, I can easily check to see if it is clean and clear. This is also a good time to check the duct at the back of the dryer as dust and lint build up there, too. Make sure the opening stays clear and your dryer use will be minimized. That's a lot of money to save.

Make sure to check the lint filters after every load and the vent tubes of your dryer when you change the batteries in your smoke detectors, more often if you use your dryer a lot. You will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing there is no fire smouldering below your home just waiting to burst into flames.

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13 August 2014

MOO Butter Chicken

This recipe is so good it earned "more pleases" from all four taste testers, and that's saying something because Hannah doesn't like spicy food at all.

It came about because we decided on butter chicken for dinner but didn't have a jar of sauce. No problem, I set AJ the task of finding a recipe that was easy and used ingredients we already had. He came up with three, the problem being we didn't have all the ingredients to make just one.

We did some adjusting and came up with this.

MOO Butter Chicken

500g chicken fillets (breast or thigh, whatever is cheapest), skin off and cut into 1cm dice
1 tbsp tandoori seasoning
1/2 cup water
1 tin tomato soup
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
300ml cream

Mix the tandoori seasoning with the water. Pour over the diced chicken and let marinate 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan or wok. Add the chicken and brown all over. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, garlic, coriander, cumin and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes until onion is soft. Add marinated chicken and cook for 2 minutes. Add soup and cream. Bring to the boil, reduced heat and cook for 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked. Serve with steamed rice.

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10 August 2014

Weekend Today and How to Get By When You Fall on Hard Times

This morning I was up at the crack of dawn. Actually I was up well before the crack of dawn as I had to be in at Docklands at the Channel 9 studio for a Weekend Today segment. I left home at 6.35am and it was still dark, but being a Sunday the traffic was light and I had time for a coffee before I checked in.

When I took the call about doing this segment I was so excited. This is something I know about. It's something I've experienced. It's something I've lived through. It's the reason I started the Cheapskates Club.

In the space of 72 hours we went from a two income family of four to a no income family of four with one on the way and half a house, waiting to be renovated, a mortgage to pay plus all the usual living expenses. It was a disaster. Like most people we knew we lived pay to pay. We had credit cards and we used them. We had a mortgage. And we had never heard of anything as sane and sensible as an Emergency Fund.

To say we were stressed is an understatement. It took me six long months to get my act together and realise that we could sink and lose everything we had worked for or we could change our attitude and our habits and get through what I thought would be a temporary hiccup. As it turns out that was one long hiccup - three years in fact. We survived, and from that disaster we grew stronger and much, much wiser and learned some valuable life lessons too.

Losing a job is a very stressful thing. But it's not the end of the world. You can control the way you react to job loss to ensure you come through stronger and happier or losing everything.

Take Stock

Firstly don't panic it is wasted emotion and energy. Take half an hour to sit down and take stock.

Get out your budget and have a look at your bank account and Emergency Fund. Do a pantry, fridge, freezer and garden inventory and make a list of the meals you have in the house. This will tell you how long you can survive without an income and how long you have to find another job.  It may be a month; it may only be a week. Either way you need to know how long your money will last.

Stop Spending

You would think this would be a no-brainer but there are those people who spend in times of emotional crisis, even though they know they shouldn't. You have nothing coming in to replace what you spend, so cut back on everything. Go back to the absolute bare essentials. No new clothes, toys, plants, books, eating out or takeaway, limit trips in the car to reserve petrol. If you do need to buy something look for the least expensive way: can it be bought second-hand? Could you get it free from Freecycle? Do you already have something that will do the same job? Will you find it at a garage sale or op shop?

Be ruthless with your grocery shopping.  When we lost our jobs the groceries were the first thing to be cut back. Cleaning supplies were the first to go, replaced with a bottle of generic white vinegar, a box of bicarb soda and some elbow grease. Then the processed foods went: biscuits and cakes, snack foods, cereals (except for Weetbix and rolled oats), most tinned foods.

Brand names became a thing of distant memory. Generic labels became my best friends. If you have a favourite brand product and it has a cheaper alternative you are just going to have to suck it up and buy the cheaper alternative. You can't afford brand names. It's not forever, just until you get back on your feet.

If you're not working you'll have more time to cook from scratch. Buying basic ingredients costs a fraction of the price of the ready-made foods so you can still enjoy your biscuits and cakes, muesli bars, snack foods and drinks. The difference, apart from the cost, will be that you made them rather than bought them. There are over 1,400 recipes in the Cheapskates Recipe File, all of them good. There is even a $2 Dinner category and of course the Bare Bones Groceries meal plan and shopping lists are on the Printables page.

Go back to tracking your spending. It's all the little things you buy that do the most damage. By recording every cent you spend, on the newspaper, that can of soft drink, the groceries, the phone bill, the power bill, petrol and so on you'll see where the money is going and the areas that can be trimmed.

Switch to a Cash Only Budget

If you haven't already, stop using those credit cards. If you don't have the money to buy something, what makes you think you will have the money to pay for it when the credit card bill comes in? Now is not the time to be getting deeper into debt.

Get on the Phone

If you are going to be out of work for longer than two weeks, get on the phone and let your creditors know. Contact the credit card company, your mortgage lender and any other creditors and explain the situation to them. Let them know you want to continue to make payments and ask if they can be reduced for a limited time. Most creditors are sympathetic and understanding if you contact them immediately, before your accounts fall into arrears.

Make Finding a Job Your Job

Spend time every day actively looking for work. Register with agencies, look through the papers, and look online.  Be brave and look at jobs that are new to you.  Paper qualifications are good, but experience is valuable too.  Don't think that you can't do a job because you don't have the paper that says you can. Of course there are exceptions to this, but for the most part experience and common sense are worth more than the degree.

Get your resume up to date and have it ready to email with job applications. Get copies printed ready to take with you to interviews too.  Answer your phone professionally when it rings, it may be your future employer. Don't let your personal grooming slide.  This is your job until you find a new one.

Keep Busy

Depression will set in very quickly if you do nothing. Don't sit in front of the TV or computer all day. Get up each morning with a list of things to do. Look for work, weed the garden, paint the fence, fix the dripping tap, and clean the car, bake bread, volunteer at a local charity. Do not sit, idle all day, thinking about "poor me".  It won't get you anywhere.

Take Work that is Offered to You

Now is not the time to be proud. If you are unemployed, you don't have an income.  When someone offers you work, either temporary or permanent, take it.  You need the money and the job. Look for part-time work - deliver pizzas, mow lawns, take in ironing. They may not be your dream jobs but they aren't forever. They are just to keep cash coming in. Wayne did all manner of things while he was looking for full-time work. He fenced paddocks, picked pumpkins and tomatoes, would get up at 3am to go out to a feedlot and put out the feed, ploughed paddocks and did odd jobs all over the district to earn some money. None of those things was even close to his trade, he did them because he had to have a job.  Don't think that any job is beneath you. Work is work.

Look at the Long Term Picture

If you believe it is going to take more than a couple of weeks to find work (it took us over three years to find permanent, full-time work) you may need to think seriously about your lifestyle. Having money to pay the bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over your family's head are the top priorities. If you can't find any work you may need to sell some possession, downsize your home or car (or both), move to a less expensive area or change the children's schools.  You may even need to move interstate, as we did.

And Lastly Build an Emergency Fund

As soon as you have an income start socking some of it away in an Emergency Fund. Years ago I would have said three months’ worth of living expenses was plenty. These days I suggest you aim for at least 12 months’ worth of living expenses. You won't be able to save that much straight away. Work at it every week. Start with just $10 if that is what you have and in a year you'll have $520. Add to it with bonuses, tax refunds, birthday money, money from garage sales - any extra cash that comes your way. An emergency fund gives you security and relieves the stress a financial hiccup, be it a week, a month or three years long, can cause.

Although when it happens it seems like it is, financial hardship isn't the end of the world. When disaster struck us, I thought it would be the end of our hopes and dreams. Instead it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. If we hadn't lost our jobs, with two little boys, a new baby on the way, half a renovated house, a mortgage and bills to pay, we would never have started living the Cheapskates way, learning how to live life debt free, cashed up and laughing and we would never have started the Cheapskates Club.

08 August 2014

Date Bubble Slice

A really quick, very tasty recipe for you today. It's similar to the MOO LCM bars or the Mars Bar Slice but uses dates instead of the marshmallows or Mars Bars.

The recipe calls for butter, and butter really is better. You can substitute margarine if you have to, the slice won't be quite as rich tasting.

Date Bubble Slice

125g butter
1 cup dates, finely chopped (use scissors, it makes this job so much easier)
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups rice bubbles

Combine the butter, vanilla, dates and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Simmer, stirring constantly, for five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the rice bubbles. You need to be quick here and if your hands are clean use them to combine all the rice bubbles. Press into a baking paper lined slice tray. I roll the top of the slice with a wet glass to push it all down firmly. Set in the fridge. Cut into squares to serve.

You can  top this slice with a cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with toasted coconut if you want to but it's really, really good just as it is.

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