31 December 2015

The Year that Was

Time to reflect back on 2015, the trials and tribulations, successes and wins, and to look forward to 2016, a brand new year - a clean slate just waiting for me to add my tiny influence on what will become history.

Wendy (My Abundant Life) told me she likes reading my "week that was" posts so I thought I'd do a "year that was" and see how far we've come in 2015.

So much has happened this year and we have been blessed in so many ways.

Hannah officially started her apprenticeship, giving her job security and beginning her "life plan".

AJ started a business with two friends from Uni. These three brilliant young men are so enthusiastic about their futures, it's been an absolute joy to watch them as they've established their company and settled into a working partnership that has strengthened their friendship. And we're all going to benefit from their enthusiasm and expertise too.

Tom has taken an interest in Cheapskates and began helping in the office and learning how the website runs and his input and help has been invaluable.

A Current Affair spent a few days with me, filming my day-to-day life and putting together a story about just how Cheapskates came to be. The story aired in March and I'm still getting emails from people who watched it. The repercussions have been astounding, and I'm humbled to think that by sharing my story I've been able to help others.  You can watch the story here.  http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8970023/australias-supermarket-whistleblower

The first Cheapskates workshop was held in Adelaide and it was amazing. Wendy and I had the best time with everyone, putting faces to names was lovely and meeting "old" friends in person for the first time was wonderful. The excitement and enthusiasm in the room was overwhelming, so much so that the Today Tonight crew who came along to film our workshop were blown away.

I also did lots of library talks around Melbourne this year. I love library talks because they're (usually) smaller groups, where we can be relaxed and really share hints, tips, ideas, stories, experiences and spread the word about living frugally. I already have quite a few booked for 2016 and I'll post the details closer to the dates.

Wayne and I were able to get away for a few weeks, this time travelling from Melbourne to Robinvale, Broken Hill, Tibooburra, Birdsville, Mt Isa, Burketown, Katherine, Alice Springs, Port Augusta, Adelaide and Ballarat and lots of places in between. Along the way we caught up with some lovely Cheapskaters, again putting faces to names and email addresses was wonderful.

Back home in July and straight into sorting out our new website. This has been a HUGE job, much bigger than even I thought it would be and I knew just how much there was on the old site. It's had ups and downs, swings and roundabouts but we are almost done completely. I'm still tweaking little things here and there but for the most part the old website is shut and will be gone completely very soon. It served us well for 15 years. In website years that makes it pre-historic and I am really sad to see it go, but I'm more excited at the possibilities our new home brings with it.

We had some interesting news, with a new challenge for us financially. It meant a major overhaul of our spending plan, shopping habits and spending habits and things are tight, but not so tight we're choking. We've survived on less before, I know if we stick to the plan we'll survive this too.

Throughout the year we've been blessed by the most unexpected gifts that have come just as we have needed them. God is good.

In August we started our card-making afternoons and they've been so much fun. Again putting faces to names and sealing online friendships into "real" friendships has been such a blessing. I look forward to the next card day as soon as the last one is over, tragic I know, but I've saved a fortune on cards already!

Along the way we've dealt with health problems and learning to care for ageing parents.

We've persevered with the garden, even a few veggies saves us a lot of money.

 I finally have my very own shed (yay).

Of course there were the weekly newsletters and the Journal each month, along with blog posts and Tip of the Day emails that, along with answering your questions, have kept me out of mischief.

I'm sure there are other things that have happened this year, but they don't come to mind right now. That's OK. 2015 has been a great year. It started full of promise and is ending with lots of those promises kept and for that I am grateful and feel blessed.

Thank you for your support, kindness and friendship, I can't wait to share 2016 with you.

Happy new year!

30 December 2015

Top 10 Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing Posts for 2015

Looking back over my blog posts and planning new posts for 2016 this week, I've been shocked at the popularity of Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing. I know I have lots of readers, I just hadn't really realised how many of you there are, and now I know just what your favourite type of post is!

Here are my 10 most visited posts (going on unique visitors) for 2015:

  1. Groceries I don't Buy
  2. Where to Buy Lectric Soda and Borax
  3. 31 Days of MOO No. 23 - MOO Tim Tams
  4. $75 a Week Meal Plan
  5. Where I Shop
  6. Our Frugal Wedding Anniversary has changed our Marriage
  7. 5 Creative Ways to use Powdered Milk in your Kitchen 
  8. Cheapskates Healthy Apple Cake
  9. Rolled Oats Chocolate Cake
  10. How we are going to Live on a (Really) Tight Budget

29 December 2015

Crunchy Veggie Tuna Pasta Salad

This is a lovely salad served chilled on a bed of lettuce and garnished with cherry tomatoes. It packs well for lunches and picnics too.

2 cups small pasta shells, uncooked
1/4 to 1/2 cup your favourite creamy salad dressing
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced onion
2 x 185g cans tuna in water, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to directions, drain well. In a large bowl, put the drained pasta, add the dressing, and toss until well blended. Add the veggies and mix again. Lastly add the tuna and toss gently, making sure you don't break the tuna up too much.  You still want some chunks, not totally shredded. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Cover and put in refrigerator to chill until ready to serve. Makes 2 good size servings or 4 small servings.

Notes: You can add whatever vegetables you like or have to this salad. Tiny tomatoes, capers, olives, cucumber all make great additions.

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28 December 2015

​Easier Knitting

With a little spare time I've brought out my knitting needles again (and I need some new dishcloths - the old ones are ready to be moved to the laundry). This tip from Zofia makes casting on and getting a nice first row easy. It's so simple and so effective.

Easier Knitting

Knitting the first row of your project can be a little slow because the stitches are usually quite tight. To solve this problem use two needles when casting on instead of one. The extra width of the two needles ensures that the stitches of the first row will be able to be knitted easily. Alternately you could use a knitting needle that is several sizes larger than the one needed in your project to achieve the same result.
Contributed by Zofia Vandenburg

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23 December 2015

The Most Liberating Feeling

Jen P sent this Saving Story to me a few Decembers ago, but its message is as valid this Christmas as it was then: you can get control of your finances and live a really good life, without depriving yourself. Jen is still a Platinum member and still doing a great job at living the Cheapskates way.

We all have a saving story, some of them are just being written, as Jen's is, some of them are almost finished. Wherever you are with your saving story, I wish you the very best Christmas and New Year and may you find peace, happiness and joy living the Cheapskates way.

"Dear Cath,

I am just writing to say a very heartfelt Thank You!!! to you from all of my heart. You are wonderful with how you help us  and I only really realised it today, but this is the first Christmas in over  11 years where I am not stressing one bit about money or where I am going to find it for all the expenses of the season. It was enough to actually make me cry with relief when I realised it!

My groceries are nearly under control finally and I look forward to even more savings next year if I can in getting them down even more.

I have money for my bills saved  and no credit card debt any more. We have money in our savings account finally and money building up and some set aside for a long overdue holiday next year to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

It is the most liberating feeling to not feel controlled by debt. We are still paying off our home loan, but I am happy to say this is the only debt we have now.

We are not high income earners and pay our own way with private health insurance and school fees etc., but I think we have learned to live within our means and save up for the things we really want from life.

I have only been a member since August but what I have learned I could not have learned in a lifetime without Cheapskates support and guidance.

I would also add that it has not been easy, I have had to work on fine-tuning and getting my budgets a bit better every day, slowly and steadily, but it certainly wasn't as hard as what I thought it was going to be either.  Also the advice and encouragement from other members is  just overwhelming and wonderful not to mention invaluable.

Thank you so much once again Cath. I wish you a blessed Christmas and a New Year full of love, happiness and good health ( and savings!) ."

Jen P

Use Those Christmas Leftovers

Don't you just love Christmas food? It's the one day of the year you don't have to watch what you eat and you don't need to feel guilty for eating lots of yummy things.  Unfortunately, even when we eat to bursting point we still seem to end up with a fridge full of leftovers (because it's wasteful to throw them out), even though we are sick of the sight of turkey, ham, chicken, seafood, Christmas pudding and baked veggies.

So what are you going to do with them? Turn them into delicious and appetizing meals, meals so good no one will know you made them from leftovers!

Turkey Toastie Tasties

Slices of bread
Slices of cooked turkey (or chicken)
Cranberry sauce
Cream cheese spread

Butter  the bread slices on one side as you do for toasted sandwiches. Spread cream cheese on one side of the sandwich, then spread the cranberry sauce and top with the sliced turkey. Cook in a sandwich press or hot fry pan until toasted and golden.

Real Ham Steaks and Pineapple

1cm thick slices of ham
Sliced pineapple

Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Melt the butter and cook the ham slices until browned on both sides. Remove from frying pan and keep warm. Drain the pineapple slices and add to the frypan, cooking until golden on both sides. Place a ham steak on each plate and top with a pineapple ring (or two). Serve with hot toast for breakfast or lunch or with a tossed salad for dinner.

Chicken Roll Ups

These are so good, it's easy to eat four of these without hesitating. Double, triple or quadruple all the ingredients except for the extra butter to suit your family. You can double the extra butter and then melt more if you need to, just remember not to scrimp with it or your roll ups won't be golden and crisp.

8 slices fresh bread, crusts removed (put them in the freezer for crumbs later on)
1/2 cup chopped spring onion
1 tbsp oil
30g butter
1 cup finely shredded, cooked chicken
1/2 cup grated tasty cheese
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
125 -150g butter, extra

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Using a rolling pin, roll the bread slices until they are thin and flat.  Combine oil and 30g butter over a low heat and cook spring onion for 1 minute. Add the chicken, cheese, egg yolk and seasonings and mix well. Spread a layer onto each piece of bread. Roll bread up. Line a lamington tray with baking paper. Melt the extra butter. With a pastry brush, dip in the melted butter and brush the outside of each bread roll up generously. Place on baking tray, join side down. Dip the outside of the rolls lightly into the butter on all sides and also on the base and put each one onto the tray, join side down. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crisp.

18 December 2015

Cath's Meal Plan 20/12/ - 26/12/2015

It's Christmas week already! Oh my goodness but this month has flown by.

We're all ready for Christmas, with presents wrapped and under the tree, cakes and puddings made, treats stashed away and the house decorated. Now we just have to sit back and wait patiently, not something I'm very good at.

Our meals this week are simple, because I just know we'll be tempted with lots of treats as we visit and have visitors and we need to save room for Christmas dinner.

Did you get my Christmas dinner menus? I've done three over the years: $25, $50 and $80 meal plans for delicious Christmas dinners. And yes, you can have a lovely Christmas dinner for four for just $25 - I've done it. I've also done the $50 and $80 plans too - and both those plans include planned leftovers for Christmas tea and Boxing Day so you can relax after the big day.  You'll find them here.

Anyway, this week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Chicken with baked vegetables

Monday: Crumbed schnitzels, salads      

Tuesday: BBQ—chicken kebabs, tossed salad, naan bread

Wednesday: Tacos              

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Christmas Dinner

Saturday: Leftovers & salad

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Staying Cool in Extreme Heat

Heat waves are record breaking for this time of year, and don't I know it! I'm not a fan of hot weather (just in case you haven't noticed by my whining over the years). I think it is much easier to get warm than it is to get cool and of course when it's cold I can work away, I just can't do that in the heat.

So with the predicted temperatures of over 40 degrees for most of Australia for the next few days, I went to the Cheapskates Club Tip Store to look for frugal ways to keep cool. Of course Cheapskaters came through - here are some of their favourite frugal ways to stay cool in hot weather.

Close windows, blinds and doors early in the morning, before the sun even peeps over the horizon.

Put draught stoppers against doors to keep hot air out.

Turn fans on early in the morning to circulate the cool air and keep it a little cooler.

Use wet sheets in front of fans to cool the air even more.

Keep ice blocks in the freezer. (We have reusable ice blocks, $2 a bag from Kmart and they are brilliant in the water cooler).

Keep plenty of plain water in the fridge and encourage everyone to drink just water.

Use damp hand towels, folded in half, across the back of your neck to stay cool.

Dress appropriately - if you're not going out bare feet and minimum clothing is OK. Especially watch babies and toddlers - no need for even a singlet on a hot day, just a nappy at home is fine.

Half fill the bath with cold water and let littlies (and bigs!) play in it. It keeps them cool and you don't need to worry about sunburn. When they're finished you can either bucket the water into the washing machine or onto the garden.

Do your housework early in the morning when it is coolest.

Think cold food: salads, cold meats, jelly, frozen fruit (banana, strawberries, watermelon, pineapple etc.).

Barbecue rather than cook inside if you must cook to avoid heating up the house.

Keep pets cool by freezing milk ro soft drink bottles of water and putting them out for them. Dogs,cats and rabbits will love to lie on them, chickens will flutter around them to keep cool.

Hose down dogs during the day to help them stay cool. Make sure they have a shady spot to lie too.

Use a personal misting fan - they really work! Kmart sell them for $5.

If you have window awnings, use them.

Sit with your feet in a tub of cool water.

Wear a damp sarong - see above for it being OK to dress to the weather.

Wet your hair.

Turn off as many heat producing appliances as you can - you'd be amazed at the amount of heat that comes off the new LCD/plasm televisions for instance. Turn them all off at the wall to save power and avoid heating up the house.

Keep your garden watered, especially any near the house. Amazingly a well-watered garden will help to cool your house.

Once the sun has gone down, open up the house to let the hot air out. If you can, leave windows and doors open overnight to allow the cooler air in.

And then start the process all over again the next morning.

Stay cool and safe everyone.

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17 December 2015

Three Budget Christmas Dinner Menus.

Over the years we've celebrated Christmas on a budget because we live on a budget. Sometimes that budget has been tighter than others but we've always had a lovely Christmas Dinner, with lots of yummy food and treats. And since we've been back in Melbourne we've always shared our Christmas dinner with family and friends.

I've shared three of my meal plans with Cheapskaters over the years:

Cheapskates $25 Christmas Dinner

Golden roast chicken with bread stuffing
Rosemary and onion baked potatoes
Green beans with almonds
Honey sesame carrots
Cauliflower au gratin


Christmas pudding with stirred custard
Christmas cake

Cheapskates $50 Christmas Dinner

Onion Dip
Taco Dip
Carrot and Celery Sticks
Shapes- Barbecue, Cheese, Savoury


Golden Roast Chicken with gravy
Potato Bake 
Honey carrots
Peas and corn. 


Ice Cream Christmas Pudding with custard and cream 


Christmas Cake
Royal Puddings

Cheapskates $80 Christmas Dinner

Cranberry glazed roast rolled turkey breast 
Apricot mustard glazed ham
Rosemary and onion baked potatoes 
Green beans with almonds 
Honey sesame carrots 
Cauliflower au gratin 


Christmas pudding with stirred custard & brandy cream
Raspberry Ice-Cream Mousse with frozen raspberries 


Christmas cake 
Assorted cheeses & crackers

If you don't believe you can have a yummy and special Christmas dinner for $25, trust me - you can!

You can have a truly wonderful Christmas dinner (with planned leftovers) for $50, and this has been my budget for years. I feed six on this meal plan, and it's always a winner.

And a few times we've really splurged and spent $80 on the food and trimmings for Christmas dinner, adding a little luxury with a stunning glazed ham for those who like it.

So if you are stuck for ideas for Christmas dinner, and are on a budget, have a look at these meal plans. I've included shopping lists and recipes so getting Christmas dinner on the table will be a breeze.

You can get your Cheapskates Christmas Dinner Meal Plans here

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16 December 2015

Good Gravy

Making good gravy is easy, especially when you have a good gravy mix. You don't need to buy gravy powder - you have everything you need right in your kitchen to make the best instant gravy powder around.

As with all things MOO the advantage is you control what goes into it. When you are looking for a stock powder, read the ingredients and buy one without MSG. I use Massel stock powders, they cost a little more but are 99% fat free without MSG and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.  They are truly concentrated which means you use less to get the same flavour.

Beef Gravy Mix

1/2 cup plain flour
3 tbsp beef stock
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground thyme

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To make gravy, whisk 1/4 cup of gravy mix with 1 cup of boiling water (or vegetable stock or pan juices or milk) in a large heat-proof jut until there are no lumps and the gravy has thickened.  If the gravy is too thick add a little more boiling water, whisking well. 

Chicken Gravy Mix

1-1/3 cups skim milk powder
3/4 cup plain flour
3 tbsp chicken stock powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground thyme

Combine all ingredients and store an airtight container.

To make chicken gravy melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan. Whisk 1/2 cup gravy mix into 1 cup of water (or milk if you want a rich gravy) until there are no lumps.  Add to the saucepan and whisk the butter into the gravy mixture. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer 1 minute until the gravy thickens, stirring constantly.  Add more liquid for a thinner gravy.

These recipes make the equivalent of four packets of flavoured gravy mix.

15 December 2015

The Week that Was 13/12/2015

The last couple of weeks have been busy, busy, busy with moving to the new Cheapskates website and finalising Christmas plans, but through it all I've pretty much managed to stay true to my Cheapskates lifestyle (although one day I was tempted to just call a cleaning service and go out for dinner!).

Even being busy some things get done because they are habit: things like catching shower water, putting veggie peelings in the worm farm, emptying the vacuum into the compost, freezing planned leftovers as soon as they're made so the fridge fairies don't eat them or they get forgotten, filling the car up with a coupon when petrol was down to $1.08 a litre, picking and eating veggies from the garden, making lunches and so on. They're just normal things that are done out of habit.

Some other ways I've saved money the last few weeks:

Recycling wrapping paper and ribbon by carefully ironing it. Even Thomas is on the "iron the paper" bandwagon to reuse what we have rather than buy new.

Picking beans, peas and zucchini every morning and processing and freezing them straight away. It only takes a few minutes to do small batches and nothing is wasted.

Picked a giant zucchini - this is what happens when you don't get to check the veggie garden for a couple of days! I diced it for stir-fry and bagged 15 cups from it - told you it was big!
Planted more seeds for lettuce, beans and peas. The wind last week destroyed the peas.

Picking the last of the oranges, mandarins and grapefruit off the trees for the fruit bowl.

I bought a tablecloth and eight serviettes in Christmas green from the op shop for $10 and it fits our dining table perfectly. Our table is slightly bigger than normal and tablecloths to fit are expensive. The plan is to embroider Christmas wreaths onto the serviettes using threads I have in the sewing cupboard so we can use them on Christmas Day.

Put the Christmas tree up and decorated the loungeroom. It's not quite finished, hopefully I'll get to it this week. I won't need to buy any new decorations, I've used the things we bought at last year's Boxing Day sales to decorate the tall boy in the entrance hall and it looks pretty.

Made gift tags for the Christmas presents from the wrapping paper used and Christmas stamps I had.

Made bows for the gifts from ribbon in the craft drawers.

Made a double batch of shortbread and AJ took some to a get together for supper.

Made double batches of Cranberry Hootycreeks, Lunchbox Cookies, Choc Chip Biscuits and Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls and froze the dough ready to bake just before Christmas.

Gave some handmade cards to my mother to use. She was going to buy cards, and I had some leftover that as it turned out were just the number she needed. Win, win - Mum had nice cards and I cleared my stash.

Found a lovely gift set of a wallet and key chain in the present box for a 21st birthday present (the original price was $69.99, the sticker over it was $10 - bargain). Used paper we had and I made a card to go with it.

Gratefully accepted wraps, tomato sauce, noodles, rice, pop tarts (the kids will love them), cream and rolled oats (that are very yummy, I tried them for breakfast yesterday), a wonderful boost to the pantry and an amazing blessing.

Spent a lovely day with Wendy on Friday. We talked and laughed and ate and drank tea and talked and laughed some more and drank some more tea, it was a wonderful day.

Wendy gave me a raspberry plant, I am so excited at the thought of having our own raspberries, and it's already sprouting a runner! I've been watching it grow the last couple of days and I can almost see it growing before my eyes.

I'm still making Christmas cakes and puddings. These ones are orders from friends and the profits will be a nice boost to the slush fund. One more cake, three big puddings and four small puddings to go - they should be finished this week before the heatwave arrives - 39 degrees predicted for Saturday! I do not want to have the oven on and pots bubbling away on the stove all day.

I'm so grateful I live in Australia with the healthcare system we have. The last few weeks I've had a lot of different tests done and they have all been bulk billed. If I'd had to pay for three lots of blood tests, two x-rays, and a biopsy and five doctor's visits I'm sure it would have been hundreds of dollars.Instead I presented my Medicare card and could relax and concentrate on keeping well
, knowing I wouldn't have a huge bill.

I'm sure there are lots of other frugal tasks accomplished over the last three weeks but I can't think of them, I really need to write things down as I do them!

12 December 2015

Cath's Meal Plan 13/12 - 19/12 2015

It's been a busy last couple of weeks here and I haven't posted my meal plan, but I did have one. It's on the fridge and for the most part I've stuck to it.

I did swap Wednesday's planned enchiladas for butter chicken and rice with freshly made naan and it was delicious. I've moved the enchiladas into January, the ingredients are in the pantry and they don't go off.

Another thing that is affecting my meal plan is the price of mince. Wowsers but it has gone up 100% in the last three months and that means it is out of my budget. Mince!  I was at Tasman last Monday and grudgingly bought one tray, and grumbled about it all the way home. I'll keep an eye out for a sale that brings it down closer to my price range and then stock up. There is money in the meat fund and some in the slush fund that will cover at least 30 kilos if I can get it under $5 a kilo and I can stretch that to cover mince based meals for a year, $4 a kilo would be even better.

With mince being so expensive I'll adapt the recipe for Mexican Meatballs to include some rolled oats and cut back on the mince. They'll taste the same but I'll be able to use 250g of mince instead of the 500g in my recipe.  I can then use that 250g of mince with some grated veggies and cooked rice to make the muffin meatloaves on Wednesday and I'll get two meals from 500g of mince and they'll both come in under budget at around $2 per meal for the meat component ($8/kg for mince).

Our roast beef on Sunday is from a freezer meal. Remember I explained a while back how I cook once, eat twice with roast beef and lamb? This week I just need to take the container of roast beef in gravy from the freezer, thaw and then heat it. I'll do the vegetables in the electric frypan rather than turn on the oven and our roast will be ready in about 40 minutes.  And this type of roast is just perfect for summer, no need to heat up the kitchen with the oven.

This week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Beef, baked potatoes, sweet potato, cauliflower, zucchini, beans and gravy

Monday: Mexican meatballs, savoury rice

Tuesday: Chicken and mushroom pies, steamed vegetables

Wednesday: Muffin meatloaves, steamed potato, beans, carrot, zucchini

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Curried tuna slice, salads

Saturday: Honey soy chicken wings, fried rice

29 November 2015

I Love Coffee

My favourite beverage - freshly brewed coffee
Everyone knows I love my coffee. I'm a coffee snob and proud of it. I see absolutely no point in suffering a disgusting brew just to save a few cents, I'd much rather ditch something else so I can afford good coffee.

And that is what I do.

I've always had a coffee machine of some kind.

When we were first married we inherited Mum's old Sunbeam coffee percolator. It was great, it's in the laundry cupboard and I still use it occasionally.

We were given a plunger for a wedding present (I'm still using it) and that made beautiful coffee for one or two quickly.

Over the years I've collected stove top percolators from op shops in different sizes. I've even bought one that we keep in the camping box so we can freshly brewed coffee while we're away (thanks Nino for that great idea!).

We were given a benchtop expresso machine with a milk frother. It made great coffee but it was a pain to clean, I didn't use it all that often.

And then a few years ago Mum gave me an Aldi Expressi machine and a couple of packets of pods for Christmas. I was torn, really torn. I loved the coffee it made, but I was a little concerned about the cost (duh! it's about 37c a cup! and the impact of all those empty pods in landfill).

The coffee won. It makes great coffee, quickly and easily and cheaply - it's still about 37c a pod and then the 3/4 cup of milk costs approximately 18 cents so a cup of coffee ends up costing 55 cents (beat that *insert your favourite coffee stop chain*).

I still worry about the impact of the pods, but I do my best to lessen it. I save the pods and empty the coffee grounds out of them once a week or so. The grounds then go into the compost or the worm farm or the bokashi bucket or are dried to use in pin cushions (they keep the pins and needles nice and sharp). The empty pods have a little tiny hole in the base so you need to think about how you're going to use it but they can be used for so many things:

1. tiny seed starters - no need to block the hole for this one

2. in the bath or sand pit - they're a good size for little fingers to handle

3. in doll houses - they make great doll sized buckets, vases, upside down they can be tables or stools, glued to the ceiling they can be light fittings - use your imagination

4. they can be used to make a Christmas wreath - see this video below. It uses regular sized plastic cups but anything you can make with regular sized cup you can make in miniature with empty coffee pods (maybe a miniature wreath for that doll house front door).

You can imagine my joy when I learned that Aldi were going to release a new, even stronger, flavour in the already extensive range (I like the decaf pods too - No. 7 but still a lovely flavour). I was just jumping and bouncing all over the place (that could be the caffeine, I like to think it was excitement) waiting to try it. Did I mention I like a really strong coffee?

Well it's here and I've just tried my new favourite brew. It's everything I could want in a coffee:
  • flavourful 
  • aromatic
  • quick - 90 seconds and I'm enjoying my coffee
  • cheap - 57 cents a cup
  • convenient - made in my kitchen at home, easy clean up too.
It's Aldi's new Expressi Calabrese 13, the strongest brew in the range.

Oh my giddy aunt but it is good. Wayne caught me standing at the Expressi machine breathing in deeply as it brewed this morning. The aroma is enough to give you a caffeine buzz I'm sure. And the flavour - it's the best tasting coffee I've had in a long, long time. And I drink a lot of coffee.

Some of my coffee pod stockpile - where can I stash a few boxes of Calabrese pods?
One thing I'm wrestling with though. In light of our budget changes and living off our stockpile for the next 14 months, I have a cupboard full of Abruzzo pods, but now I want Calabrese. Maybe I can ask for some for Christmas?

Some of the coffee pod stockpile - I'm looking for somewhere to stash a few boxes of Calabrese pods
They're $5.99 a packet of 16 (and have been this price since the Expressi pods were released I think - I don't have my price book handy but if not they haven't gone up in a long, long time - well done Aldi) so I'll whisper in Santa's ear later on and let him know there will be room in my Christmas stocking for some Calabrese coffee pods.

Seriously, if you love a good coffee, you'll love the convenience and the price of making your coffee at home. If you usually buy a coffee on the way to work or while you are shopping or after you drop the kids at school or after gym or whenever, get a good travel mug (we have lovely bamboo travel cups I picked up from House for around $6 each a couple of years ago - they are biodegradable if we ever decide to toss them) and start brewing your coffee at home, if for no other reason than the money you won't be spending on coffee that you will have for something else.

Wow, that was a long and convoluted sentence but you know what I'm saying.

My morning cup of coffee costs 57 cents - the same size from my local coffee shop is $4.80! Straight away I haven't spent $4.23 out of my mad money! That's $4.23 I have to spend on something else I can enjoy (and over the year that's $1,543.95 I'm not spending on coffee! And on just one cup of really good coffee a day!)

On our current budget that's our living expenses for four months!

Brewing coffee at home with my Expressi machine and now my new favourite flavoured pods I can afford to be a coffee snob.

Are you a coffee snob?
Do you use pods or do you prefer another method of brewing your favourite beverage?
Do you have an Expressi machine? What's your favourite flavour?

FYI: I have no affiliation with Aldi at all, other than as a loyal and very happy customer and I have been since the Chirnside Park store opened here in Melbourne. 

27 November 2015

Cath's Meal Plan - 29th November - 5th December 2015

My apologies for not posting a meal plan for this week, we have been eating though, and according to the plan. I've had a  problem with my eyes and computer time has been reduced to almost nothing, and time in genergal just vanished on me.

We'll be eating frugally this week, with Sunday's roast being a freezer meal (remember I explained how I get two or three dinners from the one roast a few weeks ago?). It's easy to prepare, just thaw in the fridge and then reheat while the veggies are cooking.

Then on Monday we're having Bread Fritters. These are a dish Mum used to make for us when I was little and I loved them. I had no idea they were a scrap meal, they taste so good. And they're cheap too. I use bread crusts (ends of the loaves) that I save in the freezer.

Tuesday is French Steak - such a simple dish and a really tasty way to serve cheaper cuts of steak - blade or barbecue. The slow cooking turns the meat into a mouthwatering, tender cut almost indecipherable from a much more expensive piece of steak. And it makes it's own gravy while it cooks - gotta love a dish that saves time.

The rest of the week are all frugal meals: pasta bake, pizza, sausages and haystacks. They're all quick and easy too.

Frugal Fritters

2 to 3 cups of bread crusts
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp dry mustard
oil for frying

Process bread crusts, onion and parsley in a food processor until finely ground. Add eggs, milk, mustard. Process until well blended and pliable. Heat a small amount of oil in a pan. Drop tablespoons of mixture into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown, turn and cook other side.

This week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Lamb with baked veggies, steamed greens & gravy

Monday: Frugal Fritters, gravy, salads

Tuesday: French steak, tossed salad, bread stick

Wednesday: Pasta bake, tossed salad, garlic bread

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: BBQ sausages, coleslaw, bread rolls

Saturday: Haystacks

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26 November 2015

The Rule of Half

This week's Tip of the Week in the newsletter is all about stretching a half measure to do a full measure job and it's a great idea.

I dilute just about everything! Why? Because most things can be diluted up to half and still give the same excellent results.

Case in point dishwashing detergent. I buy the Tandil Ultra Dishwashing Detergent from Aldi. I buy six bottles a year and dilute each bottle 50:50 with cool water, giving me twelve bottles for the price of six - enough to last a year. I also add 500 grams of bicarb soda to the dishwashing powder to stretch it. That 1.5 kilos of powder then does 60 washes (two level teaspoons per load, and yes I measure it, there is a spoon in the detergent container).  I only need to buy six boxes of dishwasher powder a year, saving $7.20 (I buy Savings brand dishwasher powder from Coles).

Shampoo and conditioner are diluted 50:50 with water and then dispensed with a pump - one pump for short hair, two pumps for long hair.

I also “dilute” groceries: I use half the quantity of mince in a recipe and bulk it out with either rolled oats, TVP, rice or grated vegetables; I add stock to dilute soup; I add milk to salad dressing and mayonnaise; I add breadcrumbs to grated cheese in a recipe; there are so many ways you can stretch your groceries when you get creative.

Baking is diluted too. Biscuits are no more than two teaspoons of dough, rolled and flattened. I use the smaller cutter to make scones. When I make a slice, it is cut into 3cm squares; that gives me 15 pieces from one slice tray, three more serves than most recipes give.

Diluting groceries saves a lot of money, and no, it's not being mean. It is frowned upon by manufacturers and grocers (I've been told in person that they don't like me sharing the Rule of Half) - that's fine, they're not living on my grocery budget. If they were they'd be diluting too - and loving it just as much as I do.

If I dilute something and it isn't just as good then I don't bother again. But I always try because I just love getting double the groceries for half the cost.

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20 November 2015

Pay for Rain Check Bargains and Never Miss Out

Rain checks are wonderful things, designed to let you buy things after a sale at the sale price. I always ask for a rain check when I can't get something on sale that I especially want. But sometimes when it comes time to redeem the rain check, you just don't have the money before it expires.

I don't like missing out on a great bargain, and I really don't like wasting a rain check so I pay for my rain check items when I get the rain check.

Last week Coles had 12 packs of Mission tortillas on half-price sale, $1.99 a pack. I like to make our tortillas, but at that price making them actually costs more in dollars and time. I went to three different Coles supermarkets during the week and couldn't find them anywhere. The last store had an empty spot for them. So, off to the service desk I went to get a rain check.

Which you'd think would be simple but it was quite a procedure. And then I had to beg to get rain checks for 12 packets (and then only after I'd explained I would have bought every packet on the shelf if they'd actually been on the shelf). In the end I was given two rain checks for six, with a two month expiry.

As soon as I walked in the door at home, I went straight to the kitchen, took out my slush fund envelope and put the $24 for the tortillas in it. Then I wrote the date, the amount and what it was for on the envelope and put the rain checks into the pocket in my purse so I have them on me when I'm shopping.

Now, when I'm in Coles and find the tortillas I can buy them with the rain check, knowing they are already paid for. After I buy them I'll reimburse my grocery budget with the money in the envelope.

It's simple really. You have the money to buy the item when it is on sale, so put that money away when you get the rain check - you are paying for your rain check items when you get the rain check. When you redeem the rain check you'll have the cash ready and waiting to pay for your bargains, your grocery budget will be safe and you won't have missed that great bargain.

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17 November 2015

The Easiest Christmas Gift

If you love to give handmade and homemade gifts for Christmas but always seem to find the intentions are good but you never quite get there, then this is the homemade gift for you!

MOO Vanilla Extract is the easiest gift you'll ever make, it will take you less than two minutes to make seven 100ml bottles of beautiful vanilla extract - you can't get much faster than that!

You'll need a bottle of vodka (cheap is fine, it is the quality of the vanilla bean that will determine the quality of your extract) and four vanilla beans. Now vanilla beans are expensive from the supermarket. I buy mine online after checking prices between suppliers.

Once you have your vodka and the vanilla beans, simply split the beans lengthwise. A very sharp paring knife is great for this. Then drop the beans into the vodka, put the cap back on and put the bottle in a cool, dark cupboard for six weeks (do this now and you'll have plenty of time to get it made before Christmas).

I take the bottle out every couple of days and give it a shake. It's not strictly necessary, I just like to see the colour change and see the vanilla develop before my eyes.

After six weeks you can decant the vanilla extract into sterilised glass bottles.  These you can buy, or use bottles you have, ask friends and family to keep them for you, look for them in op shops. If you can find dark bottles, all the better, but they are hard to find in op shops and rather expensive to buy. Free is always good. Remove any labels, wash them thoroughly and sterilise them. Then decant the vanilla into the jars and put the cap on.  Label the bottles and there you have it - beautiful, fragrant, flavourful vanilla.

Don't throw away the vanilla beans, add them to your new bottle of vodka, along with two fresh vanilla beans and start the process all over again.

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16 November 2015

The Week that Was

This week a friend of a friend asked me what I do all seeing as how I "don't have a real job".  Well, I'm never bored, there's always something to do around the house  or garden, especially when you try to do things the Cheapskates way. And I most certainly do have a real job! Here's a few things that were done this week.

Monday was hot here - 34 degrees C (93 F). I was up at 5.30am and outside watering, coffee in hand, by 5.35am. It was so cool and quiet. Then birds started to wake up and the noise was incredible. I hadn't watered for over a week thanks to the wonderful rain we've had, but the ground was starting to dry out and strong winds were forecast.

I picked a half a bowl of strawberries, with lots more waiting to ripen. I've been picking a handful of strawberries every morning and eating them for my breakfast. So sweet and free - what better way to enjoy fresh fruit.

I picked the first zucchini of the season!

The first zucchini for this year!
The washing machine wouldn’t start. It wouldn't even light up so I did two lots of washing by hand (I'm out of practice, it was harder than I remembered). I wasn't able to wring it out as well as the washing machine but it dripped dry nicely in the sun and breeze.

Wayne looked up the washing machine problem using Google and was able to fix the problem himself on Tuesday, saving $135 service call plus approximately $300 in parts! All he had to do was re-solder a wire that had come loose and replace a fuse, then put two screws back to hold the panel in place. It took him about 35 minutes all up (and that included cleaning behind the washing machine for me).

Cooking all our meals from scratch. Really does save a fortune and doesn't take any longer than going for takeaway thanks to the meal plan.

Completed the stockpile. Now I'm re-organising it to make it easier to use and to ensure that everything will be used.

Started preparing jars for jam making. There are figs on the fig tree so I'll be making fig jam and drying figs before Christmas.  I've scrubbed the labels off and washed 15 jars so far.

Very gratefully accepted the offer of more jars from a friend who knows just what a jar snob I am and kindly offered me her excess :)

Picked beans from the garden two days. Washed, cut and bagged them straight away. So much easier to work with smaller quantities than to wait until there is a bulk lot. It only took five minutes and the job was done.

Saved the water from showers and added it to the washing machine.

Fed the worms with veggie peelings and added citrus and onion skins to the bokashi bucket.

Took the curtain lining down in our bedroom and re-stitched the tape - I mustn't know my own strength, when I tugged the drape to close it on Wednesday night it came off the tape! They're old, probably as old as the house, but we're not ready to replace them just yet.

Laughed out loud when I read the letter from Telstra advising that from end of November they'd be charging $3.20 on top of the bill if I chose to pay it in person! Seriously, they should be grateful we're still customers and be trying to keep us, not turn us away. What an absolute rip-off! We pay our bill by direct debit so it won't affect us, but I wonder how much it cost to send the packet to all Telstra customers?

Finished writing out the Christmas cards - yahoo! And they're all handmade, saving around $110 (based on $3.50 a card from the newsagent). I have the stamp money in my hidey-hole so when I'm at the post office next week I'll buy them and then they'll be ready to go into the post-box on 30th.
Made some gift bags using beautiful paper I already had. So simple, and just the right size for the gifts. Making them has saved at least $2 a bag, and I was able to personalise them to match the gifts. I also made matching tags from the paper scraps.

Some of this year's Christmas cards - all done and ready to go!
Made some card sets and matching boxes to use as gifts. I used paper and embellishments from the craft drawers and searched online for inspiration.

Spent a morning in the kitchen baking for the two birthdays we have in the next 10 days. Made a double batch of MOO condensed milk - saving around $6. Made a double batch of sausage rolls and froze them. Made a double batch of mini quiche and froze them. Made mixed berry muffins, used cupcake papers and stretched the number from the recipe to three dozen. Made a batch of Lunchbox Cookie dough, rolled it into logs and froze it.

Started getting the Christmas decorations sorted. We have two birthdays before the end of the month so we won't be decorating until 1st December, but I like to be organised.

Spread crushed egg shells around the veggie garden.

The tomatoes are flowering so I've been rinsing the empty milk bottles over them. The calcium is good for them and helps prevent blossom end rot and it's a free treatment.

So what frugal tasks did you get done this week, in and around your job - real or otherwise?

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13 November 2015

Cath's Meal Plan 15/11 - 21/11/2015

Honey Mustard Roast Beef sandwiches - a tasty way to use up leftover roast beef

This week we are having roast beef on Sunday and then roast beef toasted sandwiches on Monday. That will give me 3 -4 slices of roast beef to use for another meal. When I get more than one meal from a roast it brings the cost down and makes a roast dinner much more affordable.

The piece of beef I have is quite big, 1.4kg. On Sunday Wayne will slow cook it on the barbecue so it will be melt-in-the-mouth tender and have a delicious smoky flavour to blend with the mustard coating. When it's cooked I'll cut some off for our tea and put the rest aside to cool.

When the meat has cooled I'll cut it in half, then cut one half into five slices for Monday night's sandwiches (we LOVE these sandwiches, they are so good).

The other half will be sliced and put into a freezer container, covered in gravy and put in the freezer for another roast beef dinner.

The piece of meat cost $9.77, bought from Tasman last time roast beef was on sale - I'm waiting (im)patiently for it to come on sale again. Getting three meals from it brings the cost per meal for meat down to $3.26, or just 65c per person.  We all get a decent serve of roast beef to enjoy (remember: portion control). I fill the plates with lots of lovely vegetables, drizzled with delicious made from scratch gravy and no one leaves the table hungry or feeling deprived.

And that's how we can afford to have a roast every Sunday.

Honey Mustard Roast Beef Toasted Sandwiches

1 slice roast beef per person
2 slices bread per person
1 slice cheese per person
Bread'n'butter cucumbers or 1 small brown onion, thinly sliced ors or
Mustard (honey, Dijon, wholegrain - choose your favourite)

Butter one side of each piece of bread. Put the slices of bread together, buttered side in. Combine 1 teaspoon of mustard and 1/2 teaspoon of honey and spread over the top slice of bread. Shred a slice of roast beef then spread over the honey mustard mixture. Then add some slices of bread'n'butter cucubmer. Top with a slice of cheese.

Heat a heavy frying pan (or a sandwich press). Put the sandwich into the hot pan buttered side down. Top with the other slice of bread, buttered side up. Cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Flip. Cook a further 2 - 3 minutes until the bread is golden, the cheese has melted and the onion is cooked. Cut in half diagonally and serve immediately.

If you're using Turkish bread, halve it, then spread one side with the honey mustard mixture, followed by the roast beef, the bread'n'butter cucumbers then the cheese.

Heat a heavy frying pan over a medium heat. Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in the pan, swirl around to cover the base. Put the sandwich in the pan and cook for 3 -4 minutes until golden, flip and cook a further 2 -3 minutes until the bread is golden and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

This week we are eating:

Sunday: Mustard Roasted Beef, baked potatoes, sweet potato, onion, carrot, steamed zucchini, beans, gravy

Monday: Honey Mustard Roast beef toasted sandwiches, oven wedges & sour cream

Tuesday: Pasta Bake, green salad

Wednesday: Mexican Meatballs over Spanish rice, green salad

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Wellington loaf, baked sweet potato, onion, carrot, cauliflower, beans

Saturday: Eggs on toast