31 October 2014

Shopping Lists - Your New Best Friend

Grandma never left home without hers. Even our mothers probably had one of some kind. And today's women are turning back to them in droves to save not only money and time but their sanity. Shopping lists, once considered old fashioned and a nuisance are making a comeback and in a big way.

It's a fact that most of us buy the same items each time we shop with the occasional new foodstuff or cleaning product to try. But how often have you gone to the supermarket, picked up what you thought you needed, only to discover when you arrived home that you had doubled up on some things and totally forgotten others? You will be wasting money and time if you shop like this.

“I've always used a shopping list. It's usually scribbled on the back of an envelope or a small piece of paper but if I don't have it I can guarantee that I'll forget something vital or go way over my budget and these days especially I can't afford to do that,” says Catherine Allan, a young mother of four from Melbourne's outer east.

“Knowing that I will get what we need and not have to go back to the shops for another week saves us hundreds of dollars a year. I can ignore the urge to impulse buy when I only have 45 minutes without the kids on a Saturday morning to do the shopping. Getting what's on that list is my focus, if it's not on the list I just don't have the time or the money to buy it.”

As prices have gone up (inflation officially hit 4% last month) saving money, especially at the supermarket has become essential for families on a budget. Just as in Grandma's day people are feeling the pressure to spend less time shopping for groceries and save more time and money.

It's easy to set up a perpetual shopping list so you never forget what you need. Having a perpetual list makes shopping a breeze. You simply tick the items you need and then cross them off as you put them in the trolley.
Whether you use a notebook, the sample shopping list template or a spreadsheet on your computer or a shopping list program (and there are lots of free programs available) the steps are the same:

1.  Rule up your master sheet with seven columns. They will be: item, brand, quantity, price last month, price this month, total.

2.  Now list every item you buy, from peanut butter to toothpaste. If you want to be super organized, list the items in the order you find them in the supermarket. You’ll save time by not having to go back and forth and you will be able to mark off your list in order. Most supermarkets have a free store layout brochure available. If you can't find one in the aisles, ask at the service counter.

3.  Once you've finished, run off some copies. Stick one to the front of the fridge or the pantry door. This will become your next shopping list. During the week as you run out of things or as you notice you’ll need an item, circle it on the list.

Each shopping day, you just have to grab the list and hit the supermarket. Before you leave home, in the price column put the price for each item when you last bought it. You’ll get this information from your pricebook (a pricebook will save you an absolute fortune, if you don't have one seriously consider setting one up).

When you are shopping just put the current price in the appropriate column and you have a record of how much each item has cost you. This helps you to keep track of how much items have gone up or down and will help you decide whether you need to reconsider the purchase.

If you carry a small calculator and tally as you go, you’ll easily pick up checkout errors and notice immediately if you go over budget.

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30 October 2014

Good Old Fashioned Laundry Tidbits

Laundry. We all have to do it, at least every now and then, although if you have a family you probably spend more time than you'd like in the laundry.
While there are many products on the market for getting your laundry in tip-top shape, there are also many old fashioned ideas that still work just as well.

As with any laundry advice, it is also important to check the label and the colorfastness of the garment itself, perhaps in an indiscreet area before trying anything new or even anything old.

Some good old-fashioned laundry tidbits have been around for quite some time and some individuals swear by these remedies. Here are a few:

Blood Stains

One of the toughest and most annoying stains is the bloodstain; however just as tough is the old-fashioned remedy of hydrogen peroxide to remove that stain. It is important to get the stain as soon as possible after it happens. Removing the stain when it is fresh will help remove it more thoroughly.

Grab a clean sponge or clean cloth and place the hydrogen peroxide on the cloth and then immediately onto the bloodstain. This will loosen the original stain from the fibers. Then, you can apply the hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain and let the foam do the work. Follow the directions on the garment and wash in the appropriate cycle using the appropriate bleach product. You can get a small bottle of peroxide from the chemist, I keep one on the windowsill in the laundry (between sport, working on cars and power tools I seem to have a lot of bloodstains to shift).

Underarm Stains

You can either spot treat the stains directly with white vinegar on a cloth or you can soak the underarm area for a longer period in the vinegar. You can add bicarb soda for an extra added scrubbing bonus as well as some dishwashing detergent. Follow label directions for washing.

Or you can reach for the hydrogen peroxide again. Soak the stain with a mixture of one part peroxide, two parts full strength dishwashing liquid and rub in. Let it sit for 30 minutes and then wash it as usual.

Gum on Clothing

One of the worst laundry disasters is gum on clothing. If you spot the gum before washing, that is great as it makes it easier to remove. One method is to try to freeze the garment, if possible, thereby freezing the gum. If not, you can rub the gum with an ice cube in an effort to harden the gum, which makes it easier to remove. Then using a butter knife, you can scrape the gum off.

Another method that has been around forever is that of using peanut butter. Rub peanut butter onto the gum softens it, making it easier to remove. Using an old toothbrush or a butter knife after makes gum removal faster and easier.

Or better still, ban chewing and bubble gum completely!

Ink Pen Stains

Rubbing alcohol placed on a cotton ball and then placed directly on the ink stain works magic on the stain as does hairspray. Soak the stain, let it sit a few minutes then into a normal wash.

While these stains are certainly nuisances, these old-fashioned tidbits should do the trick in alleviating them quickly and efficiently and save you buying any expensive stain treatments.

29 October 2014

Save Money Using Goals

Once we recovered from the shock of being jobless and worked out how we were going to survive with two little boys, a baby on the way and a mortgage that just had to be paid, we made a vow to ourselves to never, ever be in the position of having no money again.

We made a saving plan that we still stick to today, 20 years on. We worked out what our goals were in the short and long term, how we'd like to live our lives and raise our family and what things were important to us as a family. Then we worked towards meeting those goals.

• Plan your goals for 3 months only. It takes 3 weeks (21 consecutive days of the same action) to establish a habit. If you can make it 3 months, you will have changed your life!
• Make your goals as specific as possible.
• Write them down so you can remind yourself of them often.
• Make your goals or resolutions "action oriented". For instance, if you want to save money, choose one thing to focus on such as putting every $2 coin you get in a piggy bank until it's full, then banking it.
• Write your goals down and put them where you will see them, on the bathroom mirror perhaps?
• Become accountable. Choose someone you can report to; this will help to keep you on track. If you have to tell them whether or not you're on track, you are more likely to stay focused.
• Break large goals down into smaller, more achievable goals. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.
• Be sure to choose one thing you can do right now to help your family finances, and set a realistic goal.
• Keep on setting goals. Don't stop once you have reached your first goal, set another one and keep on striving to meet them.

28 October 2014

Sweet & Sour Meatballs

2 small carrots
1 large onion
1 small green capsicum
1 small red capsicum
1 small tomato, peeled and chopped
6 level dessertspoons sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 cup pineapple juice
2 level dessertspoons cornflour
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 pineapple slices, cut into pieces
500g mince
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 egg yolks, beaten


Cut carrot, onion, capsicum and pineapple into small wedges. Boil carrot and onion in salted water for five minutes. Add capsicum. Cook for three minutes. Drain. Mix tomato, sugar, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Heat gently. Mix cornflour to a paste with water, add lemon juice and add to sauce. Stir gently until nearly boiling. Add drained vegetables, simmer for two minutes, stir in pineapple pieces. Mix finely chopped onion into mince. Roll into small balls. Dip in the beaten egg then into cornflour and sauté in a little hot oil until browned all over. Drop into sauce and cook gently for 20 minutes. Serve with fluffy boiled rice.

27 October 2014

What can I do with a favourite t-shirt once it's too small?

Turn it into a favourite face washer or towel!

Cut out the picture and sew onto the face washer or towel.  No need to overlock or hem first, t-shirt fabric doesn't fray.  Just cut out Barbie or The Wiggles (or Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob the Builder or Batman, Spiderman, Hi Five - you get my drift) and use a medium length stitch around the edges. Use a face washer or towel you have (this is perfect for covering up stains).

You can safely send it to day care or kinder and know it won't get lost; after all it's an original and your little person will love their new towel and not miss their favourite t-shirt at all.

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26 October 2014

French Toast in a Mug

Oh my goodness, you just have to try this, it is so good!

In-a-mug recipes are all the rage and I'm sure you've all tried Hannah's chocolate cake in a mug (it's good too), but this French Toast in a Mug is to die for. Of course it helps that we all love French toast, either sweet with syrup or savoury with baked beans, so when I came across a recipe for it I had to try it. It was OK, but now I've tweaked it to suit our tastes it is perfect.6

French Toast in a Mug

2 slices toast bread or 3 slices sandwich bread
1 egg
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp MOO pancake syrup
1/2 tsp MOO vanilla extract

Cut the bread into 1cm cubes. Beat the egg, cream, MOO pancake syrup and MOO vanilla extract together with a fork until well combined in a large microwave safe coffee mug. Add the bread cubes to the mug, gently pushing them down to soak up the egg mixture. Cook on HIGH for 1 minute, then in 10 second bursts until the custard is set.  In my microwave the total cooking time is 1 minute 30 seconds - time will vary depending on the power of your microwave.

Drizzle with extra syrup and enjoy.

We love French toast for breakfast, lunch or tea depending on what we have with it and it is such a good way of using up stale bread too that I think this will very quickly become a favourite in our house, especially when there's only a fork and a mug to wash up!

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24 October 2014

Becoming a City Farmer

The huge bottlebrush that not only shades the back verandah but brings beautiful birds and bees to the backyard
It hadn't occurred to me, but it did to my 11 year old niece, that our backyard is like a little farm in the city.

The words "I wish" almost popped out of my mouth when she told me, because to me it's just our backyard. I've seen other backyards and they really are little farms in the city. Ours has a long way to go compared to some, but it feeds us almost all year round and is self-sufficient in it's way with rain barrel water and homemade compost and worm castings along with bokashi and worm teas for fertiliser.

I forget that it's full of vegetable gardens and fruit trees and a real clothesline, a worm bin and a compost heap. That there are seeds germinating in the MOO mini greenhouse. That there are strawberries in guttering along the fence and  herbs in hanging pots on the verandah. That the long side of the house is being converted into a chicken run and there are rain barrels under the downpipes to collect water and a grey water system for watering what's left of the grass using the water from the washing machine. There's a wheelbarrow with a rake and a spade resting against the back wall of the house and bundles of sugar cane mulch waiting to be spread around the garden. There are marigolds and daisies in amongst the vegetables as bug repellent and a bird feeder hanging off the side fence in the hope they'll enjoy the ease of eating there and leave my garden alone (I can only dream).

In our backyard at the moment the last of the winter veggies are waiting to be harvested. There are cauliflowers and cabbages, broccoli and the last of the celery, along with some red onions.
Tiny tomato plant in a supporting frame growing in one of the smaller raised beds

The first round of summer veggies have been planted:
18 tomato bushes (6 x Mortgage Lifter, 12 x Amish Paste)
12 bush beans
6 capsicums
6 eggplants
12 lettuce
4 cucumbers
4 zucchinis
4 Queensland Blue pumpkins
2 sweet potato (this is the first year we've tried to grow sweet potato, can't wait to see how they do in our Melbourne soil and climate)
6 mini cabbage
6 mini cauliflower
Spring onions
6 x sweet basil (enough to use fresh and to make pesto, yum!)
12 beetroot

In a couple of weeks I'll be planting out more lettuce, radishes, cabbages, cauliflowers, beetroot, zucchini and cucumbers.

Staggering the plantings helps us cope with the ripe vegetables and ensures we have fresh, ready-to-pick food in the backyard all summer and autumn and well into winter. This year we were still picking tomatoes in July, although that worries me a little. Our winters aren't meant to be so mild that tomatoes will continue to bloom and fruit half-way through winter; a sign of the changing seasons that just confuses gardeners and plants alike.
Lettuce growing in a raised bed. I've been picking around a dozen leaves a day for our salads and they just keep on growing, love plants that give and then give some more

This year the garden is a little higgeldy-piggeldy with plantings all over the place. I always rotate the beds, never planting the same thing in the bed two years in a row. I also try to leave one bed fallow, or resting, each year. It worked in biblical times and I know many a modern-day farmer who still leaves paddocks fallow as they rotate crops and stock around their properties.

Fallow beds are simply beds (or paddocks on big farms) that have been harvested, ploughed and then left to rest to regain soil fertility. My fallow bed is composted and mulched and then left to enjoy the rest so it can replenish what constant cropping has taken out of it. I have no idea of the science behind it, although I know a certain uncle who would love to tell me about it, but I know I need a rest every now and then so it makes sense that the soil I demand so much of needs a rest too.
Early Marigolds to keep the pests away. They are spread every 2 metres or so throughout the garden. I love them not just for their pest control properties but that gorgeous, vibrant summer orange.

There's still a lot to be done. The compost needs to be turned and the compost that's ready can be dug into the garden. The worm farm needs to be emptied too, it's over-full and I've been finding some escapees as I've been feeding them this week. It also needs to be moved to its summer spot under the verandah so it doesn't get too hot.

Then of course there is the usual weeding, watering, feeding, mowing, pruning and mulching that gets done all the time.

I suppose my garden is a bit like a (very) little farm in the city - there's always something waiting to be done and something waiting to be picked.

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Why Meal Planning Makes Sense

It's a simple question, but one that can strike dread into the heart of any cook.  What's for dinner? When life is hectic, having a meal plan can at least keep the dinnertime woes under control. A meal plan keeps the grocery budget on track too.

With groceries being the one part of your Spending Plan that you have complete control over, having a meal plan in place and knowing what's for dinner can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year.

Taking Stock

It makes sense and saves you time and money to plan your family's meals.  The concept is basic, and easy to do.  Start by taking stock of what you have on hand.

Go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer and throw away anything that has expired or gone stale.  Keep a box handy for dry goods and cans that you know your family won't eat or you won't ever use and donate them to a local food bank or soup kitchen  if they still good.

It Saves Time

When you start to plan your meals, you’ll no longer waste time at the supermarket every day, scrambling to find something you can make for dinner. Instead, you’ll go to the supermarket once a week and pick up all the items you need to make healthy and delicious meals for an entire week!

Meal planning will also help curb your desire to stop at a fast food restaurant because you don’t know what’s for dinner!

When you come home each night, you’ll know what you’re having for dinner and can spend time relaxing with your family.

It Saves Money

Meal planning really does save you money. For starters, you can plan your meals around your local grocery store’s weekly specials. This will be a lot cheaper than buying regular priced groceries, and as you know, regular priced groceries are still a lot less expensive than going out to eat or ordering takeaway!

It’s very easy for a family of four to spend $40 or more on a single take-out meal. If your family gets takeaway twice a week, that adds up to over $300 a month just on takeaway dinners! Imagine how much you will save when you go from buying takeaway meals to planning your meals around your supermarket's specials!

The Basics of the Planning

If you are short on time and like to mix prepared foods with fresh foods, you can try short-cut cooking. In this example, you may pair a rotisserie chicken from the deli with a homemade side dish.

If you like to prepare your weekly meals at home, you may want to start planning your leftovers in order to create new meals out of yesterday’s dinner. For instance, you can cook up several kilos of minced beef and make tacos one day, spag bol the next and shepherd’s pie the third day.

If you would like to get a month’s cooking out of the way in one weekend, you can try freezer cooking. In this method, you will cook a whole month’s worth of meals over one weekend and put them in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook them, you simply take them out of the freezer, thaw them out, and pop them in the oven.

Creating Your Grocery List

Once you have decided on the meals you would like to make, write out the ingredients you need to make those meals. If some of your meals need the same ingredients, write out a tally, such as 3 kilos of mince, 5 chicken fillets, 2 heads broccoli etc

Next, go through the items you already have on hand and cross those off the list. As you are looking through your cupboards, take a moment to add any staples to your list that you are running out of, such as flour or sugar.

As you add things to the list, put the price against each item. Tally them up when you're finished and you'll know exactly how much your meals for the week are going to cost.  If you don't have a working price book, use one of the handy online shopping lists to find the prices. Coles, Aldi and Woolworths all have very easy to use online shopping lists. You don't have to do your shopping at any of those supermarkets,  you are just calculating the cost of your meals.

Now that you know exactly what you need from the supermarket, and how much it's going to cost, you’re ready to go shopping!

When you start planning your meals, jot down notes as to what works for your family and what doesn’t. Keep adapting your meal planning to make this a way for your family to spend quality time together around your dinner table.

To help you get started with your meal planning, I've created a brand new meal planner.  The What's for Dinner meal planner will help you plan all your meals for the week, including takeaway meals or those nights you eat out. There's even space to include breakfasts, lunches and snacks so you can plan all your meals.

Use our pantry, fridge and freezer inventories when you are taking stock. They'll save you a lot of time and you will have a ready to use stock list at your fingertips.

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23 October 2014

16 Things to Do With Stale Bread

One of the most frustrating things on the Earth is buying a loaf of bread, only to find out that it is going stale. Instead of throwing it out, here are some ideas for that day old loaf that would otherwise be tossed.

1. Soup thickener – Many soups can be thickened by adding bread. Just think of the French onion soup you get in a bread bowl. The consistency becomes top notch when you start scraping the sides.

2. French toast – No matter how dry the bread is, soak it in some beaten eggs, milk and cinnamon and you have the makings for some killer French toast. This is even truer with breads that have hard outer crusts.

3. Bread and butter pudding – Of course this has to be in the list, after all, it is the main ingredient.

4. Egg in a nest – If you want a breakfast that will transport you back to your childhood, sitting in your mother’s kitchen, try egg in a nest. Make a small hole in the middle of a slice, drop in an egg and flip and you have the makings of a great day.

5. Panzanella – This is an Italian bread salad, which makes use of cubes of day old bread.

6. Croutons – Coat the bread cubes with a light drizzle of olive oil and your favorite herbs, pop in the oven around 175 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes and you have the best croutons in the world. If you want to get daring, try tossing them with some roasted garlic, cayenne or dried mint right as they come out of the oven.

7. Breadcrumbs – Take your croutons and smash the heck out of them with your rolling pin. Tadaa, breadcrumbs.

8. Toast – It is already lacking a little moisture, why not dry it out some more and put some butter and Vegemite on it? Good as gold.

9. Grilled cheese – The more exotic the bread and cheese, the better. Experiment with Gouda and an Italian focaccia or some other variety you can find.

10. Cinnamon toast – A little butter, cinnamon and sugar to top the bread and the cereal may make a run for it.

11. Garlic bread – The all-time use for left over French bread, but the idea can be applied to almost any other type of day old bread for a slight twist on an old classic.

12. Stratta – This is an egg and cubed bread dish that is baked in the oven. A close cousin to the quiche, strata is usually denser and can be made with any number of ingredients, try one with asparagus, mushrooms and cheese.

13. Hamburgers – No, not as a hamburger bun, but chunk it up, slightly larger pieces than breadcrumbs and combine with the meat when you make your hamburgers. The bread will keep the burger light and juicy.

14. Zwieback toast - Cut thick sliced day old bread into 2cm fingers. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated oven at 120 degrees for two to three hours until bread is dry through and toasted. Let cool on a cake rack before storing in an airtight container. Great for teething babies to chew on

15. Feed the birds – Birds can’t really tell the difference between fresh bread and day old bread, or if they can, they are not too picky. Either way, a great repurposing of your day old bread.

16. Toss it – There comes a point when you have to say goodbye. If you can crack your granite benchtop with it, now is probably that time.

Grab a loaf or two of day old bread from your local bakery and get creative. After all, it is extremely cheap and you can never have enough French toast.

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22 October 2014

Money Myth

Myth: Buying things on sale is a great way to save money.

Truth: Buying things on sale is a way to spend less money, but it has absolutely nothing to do with saving money.

The money you have supposedly "saved" isn't really saved until it is safely in the bank in either your Emergency Fund or your Peace of Mind account.

Until that happens it's just not spent. Get into the habit of depositing that money into your bank account as soon as you make the "saving" so you really are saving money.

21 October 2014

Crumbed Cauliflower Bake

Cauliflower has been cheap recently, great if you don't grow your own food, but it can get pretty boring very quickly if you just serve it steamed or with a cheese sauce. This crumbed cauliflower is a delicious alternative, so good that even the most picky of eaters will love it.

1/2 cup olive oil
2tbsp oil, extra
Olive oil spray
1 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cauliflower, cut into florets and steamed until tender

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Use the 2 tablespoons of extra oil to oil a 20 cm square baking dish.
Place olive oil in a small bowl. In another small bowl, blend bread crumbs, crushed garlic, salt and pepper.
Dip each cauliflower floret in olive oil then in bread crumb mixture. Place crumbed florets in prepared baking dish and coat florets with olive oil spray.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until light golden.

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20 October 2014

What To Do With Out-of Date Sunscreen

Winter is over and we are well and truly into spring; the sun is warm but not really hot just yet. So now is the time to check the expiry date on all the bottles, tubes and pump packs of sunscreen you collected last summer. Yes, sunscreen does have an expiry date, after which it loses its effectiveness. But what else can it be used for? Here are a few ideas, if you have any more let us know and we'll share them with other Cheapskates.

1. It makes an effective hand cream.

2. Sunscreen is a great shaving cream - for male or female!

3. Use it as a moisturiser on your feet after a pedicure (very relaxing and luxurious).

4. Replace your regular cleanser with it - works like a charm and even removes waterproof mascara and make-up. Just wipe off with a warm face washer, then use your regular toner.

5. Rub it into your elbows whenever you think of it, to keep them smooth, clean and soft.

6. ? Share your favourite use here

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17 October 2014

Organizing Your Food

If it's been a while since you cleaned out your cupboards, you may want to give your kitchen an overhaul before your next shopping trip. You'll be surprised at how much easier meal planning and cooking is when you have a tidy kitchen. You'll also be surprised at just how much money you can save too.

When your pantry, fridge and freezer are organized, you will stop over-buying. Using inventories will show you at a glance just how much food you have on hand and what you need to add to the shopping list.

Here are some tips for organizing your food:

· Check the food in your pantry for expiration dates; if it is past its prime, throw it out.

· If an item isn't expired, but no one is interested in eating it, throw it out. Unopened items can be donated to family, friends or a local food bank.

· Group like foods together; for example store all canned foods in the same cupboard and all dry goods, such as rice and pasta in the same cupboard. Designate a shelf to baking supplies. Store flours, dried fruits, coconut and other baking supplies in air-tight containers to keep them fresh. If you put new packets into the freezer for 72 hours before putting them in the pantry you won't be bothered with pantry moths and weevils. If you have the freezer room they can be stored in the freezer in air-tight containers permanently.

· Keep drink mixes, coffee and tea in the same area and keep breakfast cereals, breakfast spreads and other breakfast items grouped together. When you want something, you'll know right where to go to get it.

· Keep regularly used items front and centre. You'll save time by not continuously searching, reaching and bending for these items.

· If you pack a lot of lunches, designate a “lunch” shelf or cupboard. Place lunch bags, Ziploc bags, greaseproof paper, foil etc. in a basket so they are all together and not falling all over the pantry.

· When you start packing the lunch, you simply open the lunch cupboard, grab your lunch stuff and start packing. Of course, you'll need to walk over to the fridge to grab meats, cheeses, jams, fruits, and so forth, but having most of the items in one place will save you a lot of time.

· Clean out the fridge each week. Leftovers have a short shelf life and you don't want to risk getting sick by eating something that should have been frozen or already been thrown-out.

When you don't have any clutter in your way, you may find that you actually enjoy cooking for your family much more than before. Not only that, your grocery bill will go down considerably.

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16 October 2014

What Does Your Fridge Say About You?

If you had sneaked a peak in my fridge before I became a Cheapskate you would probably have thought it was pretty normal.

The top shelf would have held eggs and butter, jams, mayo, bottled sauces and a variety of different cheeses. Perhaps there would have been a container of hummus and maybe a tub of sour cream. Some of it would have been well past it's Best Before date, nudging it's safe use-by time.

On the second shelf you would see some dairy meats, a few sealed containers with anonymous contents. There may have been a plastic covered plate or two holding leftovers.

Shelf number three would show up bottles of soft drink, some coffee beans and other miscellaneous foods.

The crispers should have been labelled with a warning "Open at own risk".

Without any fridge organization, we were throwing away most of what we bought, either because we bought more than we needed and could use, or because the fridge was such a mess we didn't know it was there to be used.

These days the fridge is very different.

When you open the door you'll find lots of jars, recycled and full of homemade jams, marmalades, sauces, salad dressings and marinades and jars of semi-dried tomatoes (home-grown and dried of course). There will be eggs and butter on the top shelf, along with containers of beetroot, pineapple rings and asparagus. If you're lucky you'll find a jar of homemade bread and butter cucumbers, delightfully crisp and tangy and just waiting to be added to a salad sandwich.

On the second shelf you'll find the baby bath. Well that's what we call it, it was what the Tupperware lady called it when she sold it to me and the name just stuck. This container holds cooked meat - roasts or silverside, sausages, rissoles, meatloaf, steak and chops to be used for other meals or lunches. Next to the baby bath you may see a container of stewed fruit or potato salad. Or you may find a bowl of leftover mashed potato or container of stock waiting to me made into soup.

Third shelf, left-hand side is a square container. In it you'll find tubs of margarine, blocks of butter and tasty cheese, tubs of sour cream and cottage cheese. Next to it is a container of chopped vegetables, ready to be used. It might hold carrots, parsnips, celery, broccoli and cauliflower - whatever was cheap or in the garden at the time - ready to be cooked or added to a recipe. The small green container holds mushrooms or spring onions. The round canister next to the vegetable box holds the shake-n-bake, all ready to be used. In front of it is the meat thawing for tonight's dinner.

The most exciting part of this fridge exploration is the vegetable crispers. What a treasure trove, although you'll have to look hard to find what they hold. I use Gel Bags to keep the vegetables in the drawers fresh until they are used. There is always a bag of lettuce and one of tomatoes. If broccoli or cauliflowers have been particularly cheap or the garden is doing its job there will be bags of chopped vegetables. And there is always a bag for cabbage, a much maligned, but very useful and tasty vegetable. You'll also see zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkin, capsicums, eggplant and squash in the crisper drawers. We eat lots of vegetables all the time.

What you won't find are bought jams, sauces and dressings. You won't find bought dips or spreads either. Pre-packaged deli meats will be a no-show too. As will packaged salad greens or bought pre-made salads.

Today our fridge is full to overflowing and yet the contents have cost a fraction of what it used to hold. I can open the fridge and put together a meal in minutes, without panic or having to dial a pizza.

Don't get me wrong. There are still bought things in there, just far fewer than there used to be. And with each bought item I replace with a homemade or home-grown item, we are one step closer to a healthier and less processed, fake, diet.

Learning to cook from scratch was a big thing for me. Yes, I could grill a steak or cook a roast, but I didn't know how to bake bread. I'd never made mayonnaise or jams. The only things in the freezer were frozen foods I'd bought.

The impact this fridge full of fresh food, ingredients really, has made on our budget is almost immeasurable. Each time I open the fridge and see its contents, I feel pride that I can feed my family and various ring-ins at times, without putting any additional strain on our grocery budget.

15 October 2014

5 Ways Your Home Can Save You Money

With today’s economy, it is important to save money where you can. But, sometimes saving money means giving up things that you like to do. Learn to use your home to put some extra money in your pocket without giving up the things you really enjoy.

Here are five simple things you can do right now that will cut your household costs and put some cash back into your budget.

1. Seal the leaks. 
When a house is new, it is very unlikely that there are air leaks or cracks that cost you money. Wait five or ten years and that might change. Inspect your home for any of these leaky places that are allowing air in and your hard earned money out. Use a candle or a stick of incense. Move around the doorways, windows, and other areas that are supposed to be sealed. The smoke will move towards the leak if there is one. When you find these leaks, seal them right away.
2. Make any small repairs yourself. 
Do you know what some repairmen charge just to come out and do a check? It should be illegal. See what you and your family can handle safely on your own and save money on repair bills. Change washers in taps, re-caulk tubs and toilets, change fuses, and replace air filters. Stopping leaky taps, air leaks, and cleaning filters will save hundreds of dollars on your utility bills each year. You can find handyman classes at most major hardware stores at the weekends. They will cover everything from how to paint a door to laying tiles and are usually free. And a tip: start the kids off as junior home handy people with the kid's classes. They'll learn a new skill and get to take home their creations and as a bonus they make great one-on-one time with Mum or Dad.
3. Enroll in payment plans at utility companies.
In the hottest of summers and the coldest of winters, heating and cooling bills can get out of control. Equal payment plans ensure that your bill payment stays the same each month. Just be aware that the payments are averaged using the previous year's*-- figures and you may find yourself with a higher than normal bill to pay at the end of the twelve months if you use more power or there is a price rise. Alternatively you can do this yourself - find your electricity and gas bills for the last two years - add them up, divide the total by 24 to find out how much you need to pay each month and add 10% (this is to cover an increase in usage and any price increases). Then set up a direct debit each month from you to the utility company. When the quarterly bill comes in you'll either have it paid in full, be in credit or have a minimal amount to pay. Paying in advance doesn't earn you any interest on your money but it does ensure that you are able to pay the bill. Once you get control of your finances you can go back to saving the money each month and paying the bill when it comes in.
4. Do some window decorating. 
Make use of what is free like the sun on a winter day or lack of it on a summer day. Hanging light blocking blinds and drapes keeps cool air inside and the sun out on hot days. Keeping the room dark lowers the temperature as well. Open up those blinds in winter when the sun shines. Let the rays warm your home so you won’t have to raise the temperature  on the heater. Blinds and drapes add character without ruining the décor of any room.
5. Sell what you don’t need. 
Have any stuff sitting around that you don’t use any more? Have a garage sale. Everyone has some clothes they can no longer wear or toys the kids don’t play with. What about books? And that overflowing plastics cupboard? With a garage sale you clear out some space in your house and you get money as a bonus.

Saving money doesn't have to be painful. You can still keep your lifestyle without breaking the bank when you use your home to do it.

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14 October 2014

Cherry Ripe Slice

½ tin condensed milk
1 cup coconut
250g copha
125g glace cherries, chopped
red food colouring (optional)
1 cup drinking chocolate
250g pkt milk coffee biscuits

Line the base of a slice tin with milk coffee biscuits. Melt 125g copha. Mix together condensed milk, coconut, melted copha, chopped cherries and food colouring. Spread over biscuit base. Put another layer of biscuits on top of the filling. Melt remaining 125g copha and mix with drinking chocolate. Pour over top of biscuits. Chill until set, cut into fingers to serve.

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13 October 2014

Cheapskates Style Cleaning

I'm the first to admit that I am not a great housekeeper. I'm not terrible at it but I'm not fantastic either. I like our home to be homely and comfortable, not display home pristine clean and tidy. But I don't like a big mess either. Yes, you can just call me hard to please!

Anyway to keep our home clean and at least liveable, we have some simple routines. I have found that cleaning up as we go makes life much easier – that was a real duh! moment.

I've also found that old adage “if the kitchen's clean and the beds are made then the house is tidy” is almost true! If the kitchen is clean, the beds are made and the washing is put away then our home is tidy and I won't panic if the doorbell rings.

Cleaning, if done regularly doesn't take long. I've also discovered over the years that having a different product for each job is not only expensive but it's time consuming as well. Trying to figure out which spray or detergent to use for what job can take ages.

So here are my basic cleaning products:
White vinegar
Bicarb soda
Eucalyptus oil
Washing soda
Laundry soap or dishwashing detergent
Micro fibre cloths – one for cleaning windows and glass, one for general cleaning
Old towels, socks and sheets to make dusters and polishing rags

Since first trying micro-fibre cleaning cloths about three years ago I've fallen in love with them. I've tried the expensive brands (Enjo and the less expensive Sabco) and I've tried the cheaper brands (Mr Clean, from dollar shops). Honestly, the cheaper brands have worked just as well for me as the more expensive. Yes, it's true they don't last as long. But recommendations are that the more expensive brands need to be replaced every twelve months if they are used regularly. I've been able to get 4 – 6 months out of the cheaper brands before I've had to replace them. At just $2 each they cost around $8 a year, still a saving on the more expensive brands.

Micro fibre cleaning cloths are just fantastic if you have allergies or are environmentally conscious. They use cold water and the cloth to clean like magic. The trick is to remember to use cold water. Hot water causes any grease on the surface you're cleaning to soften and spread rather than stick to the fibres in the cloth.

I use a micro fibre cloth to clean our glass dining table and wall unit each week. It also does the bathroom mirrors, the family room door, the mirror on Hannah's dressing table and the sidelight by the front door. It's so quick and easy I don't mind doing them every week. And they are always streak free.

To wash the rest of the windows I use a soft broom, a squeegee and a bucket of warm water with a splash of shampoo in it. I slosh the broom in the water, rub it back and forth over the window and the window frame and then squeegee it off for a streak free view. On the inside I use an old towel and the squeegee. Hint: wash your windows on a cloudy day, you'll avoid streaks.

A squeegee is great for cleaning the shower too. Again microfibre cloths are brilliant. But if you don't have a microfibre cloth try this method. Gently scrub over the tiles, screen and shower floor with a dry nylon scourer. Then wet a soft cloth, add a splash of shampoo and wipe over the shower. Rinse off with cool water and squeegee dry. Your shower will sparkle.

To maintain that sparkle, squeegee the shower after it's been used and then give it a spray of vinegar. You'll slow down the build-up of soap scum and hinder the growth of mould and mildew.
To keep your wooden floors sparkling clean Sharon Elliott recommends ½ cup kerosene in a large bucket of hot water. Sharon says this cuts through the dirt, grease and dust faster and better than any commercial product she's tried. She also suggests applying kerosene to your broom bristles to make a “magnetic” broom that the dirt and dust just flys to.

While the wooden floors are drying you can be freshening and cleaning the carpets. Before you vacuum sprinkle the carpets with bi-carb soda to deodorize them. I use one of those plastic sugar shakers because it has the larger holes in it and it makes the sprinkling easier. Let it sit for ten minutes or so then vacuum right up.

And while we're on the topic of deodorizing, vinegar is great for absorbing odours. If you've had a party or the dogs been inside or the house has been shut up and is musty put a small bowl of white vinegar in a corner. Leave it overnight and it will absorb the odours. Even your furniture will smell better.

To keep your jewellery sparkling and bright (who doesn't admire the dazzle of gold and diamonds?) Kateo from Scarborough in Western Australia suggests soaking your jewellery in Coke. “Why spend dollars on jewellery cleaner when all you need is a bottle of Coca Cola and an old toothbrush! To clean gold (it must be real gold) just put the jewellery in a bowl and cover with Coke. Leave it soak for about 15 minutes then scrub the jewellery with a toothbrush to get into those hard to reach areas. Rinse in warm water and dry with a soft tea towel. It will leave them looking shiny and brand new. Great for cleaning necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. No damage to your jewellery and on a budget. Happy cleaning.”

And my best cleaning tip: let it soak. Whether it's pots and pans, dirty clothes or even the kitchen floor, letting it soak for a few minutes before you start cleaning will make the job so much easier.

Fill the pots with warm water and a squirt of detergent and let them soak while you eat.

Fill the washing machine and let the load soak overnight. Run the cycle first thing the next morning. You'll find you won't need as much detergent or pre-treatments and your clothes will actually be cleaner.

Sweep your kitchen floor and then slop the soapy water over it. Let it sit for about five minutes and then mop. It will sparkle and shine. Polish build up, dirt and grime build up in the grooves and dips of the texture will just melt.

These are just quick little things that save you so much money, time and energy you may even come to like cleaning. 

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10 October 2014

Dinner Planning and Grocery Shopping

If you are someone who frequently finds themselves deciding what to make for dinner at 5 o'clock in the evening, this is for you!

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

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 etc.)
-- Mexican (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc.)
-- Asianl (fried rice, stir-fry, sweet 'n' sour chicken, etc.)
-- Italian (lasagne, pizza, spaghetti, etc.)

Step Two:

Determine how often you will shop. For example: will you shop weekly, every two weeks or monthly, and so on? 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 supermarket once a month on the first Friday - it takes the same time as a weekly shop, and it is a lot to put away but I don't have the hassle for another month! Just 12 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. You can use the grocery store ads at this time. If you notice a great deal on chicken, you might purposely plan a dinner with chicken -- and vice versa, if no chicken is on sale (and you don't have any in the freezer) you will not be eating chicken that week. Make sure to not to serve any two "categories" of meals on two nights in a row (for example, 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. Thursday is MOO pizza night because Wayne doesn't get home until late and often has to race out again to meetings. Sunday is always a roast so everyone knows to be home for dinner. Saturday night is always leftover night, we clean out the fridge and everyone gets a little of whatever is left over. I bulk it out with rice, potato or salad depending on the season and what's left over. I always plan something easy for Saturday nights just in case there are no leftovers to be used up, usually something like hamburgers or toasted sandwiches or soup, something that can be pushed to another night if necessary.

Step Four

Next to each meal list the ingredients that you will need to purchase for that meal. If you are having cheeseburgers, for example, look to see what makings you have and then list everything you need to buy.

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. However, if you shop for more than one week at a time, I recommend that you prepare yet another list - on this list you will want to list your needed groceries under headings such as produce, canned foods, frozen foods, etc.

By following these steps, you will be on your way to more organized meal planning and grocery shopping. Now the trick is just to stick to it!