30 August 2015

The Week that Was

Marigolds in the veggie garden, left from last summer, a nice spot of early spring colour

Monday was a work at home day last week. I didn't go out, so I didn't spend any money or fuel, a real no-cost day.

Shopping lists, inventories and stockpile lists have been worked on again this week. They are almost to the point where I'm confident with the numbers and know exactly how much of each thing we use each week, to get a final quantity for a year.

Tuesday was another stay-at-home day. I spent the day working on the new website, getting ready to move the members database over to the new site. To say I'm nervous is an understatement, I'm terrified. This is a really big move and so much can go wrong (at least in my imagination, I've been told it will be seamless and painless). Time will tell! Either that or my instantly snow white head of hair (it really is that stressful).

Bushy Park fruit orchard has had oranges for 29 cents a kilo this week so I bought 30 kilos. Some are in the bottom of the fridge, they'll keep for a long time if they are kept cold, for eating. Some I've processed for orange cake and marmalade and some I've used to make more marmalade for the Christmas hampers. I've been putting the skins from the fruit we've been eating into vinegar to make orange scented vinegar cleaner.

Wednesday I had a film crew here for the morning. The guys were in fits checking out the pantry and shelves. The five dozen cans of baked beans had them in hysterics - men! They were also a little stunned at the potatoes too. I did explain I'd bought them for 20 cents a kilo so stocked up but I think it was the quantity they were looking at more than anything else, that was odd. I guess 60 kilos of potatoes is a lot for most households.

Stocked up on Dove soap and Lynx deodorant on sale at IGA. Both were less than half the regular price, so big savings.

The washing was dried by the fire again.

All our meals have been cooked from scratch, using food from the pantry and freezer. I keep using food from the freezer but it doesn't seem to be getting any emptier!

I spent some time in the garden, weeding and digging in more compost Wayne spread for me.

Most of our summer veggie seeds have been planted and the starts are in a blanket bag hot house until they are ready to transplant into the garden.

To better organise the stockpile storage some cupboards in the kitchen were emptied and tidied. Some kitchen things I don't use were taken to the op shop.  I didn't think I was a kitchen gadget hoarder but obviously I was, the tidying up gave me two empty cupboards. Gone are cups and saucers, some glasses we've never used (and I have no idea where they came from), a couple of really ugly bud vases (I mean really, really, really ugly - that's why they were in the cupboard), some odd plates and some containers I only used if I had to because I didn't like the way they sealed.  This cupboard now stores tea bags, coffee, coffee pods and cocoa, freeing up space in the pantry and laundry cupboard.

AJ has an interview for his dream job and he asked for help buying a new suit. Off to the op shops we went but didn't find anything that would fit him. We were both disappointed, then we went to Lowes and for $79 he has a really lovely suit, that fits him perfectly and looks great. Fits perfectly is especially great, it means I don't need to do any alternations, which I probably would have done if we'd found one at the op shop. Best of all he can wear one of Wayne's shirts with a matching tie and handkerchief with it. If he gets the job he won't be in a suit and tie every day so we'll wait to see if we need to buy shirts and ties and we'll try the op shops first, I know we'll be able to get plenty of ties for no more than $2 each.

Picked and juiced limes and picked mandarins for eating off the fruit trees. These trees have well and truly paid for themselves already, from now on each piece of fruit is a freebie!

Filled the car up with petrol when it was down to $111.9 at Woolworths. I had a discount on my rewards card to use up before it expired.

I'm making Wayne a new zip front jacket for Father's Day using micro fleece from the fabric stash and a pattern I already had. I've had to adjust the pattern to take the zipper instead buttons, new patterns are just too expensive. I've been doing it in drips and drops while he's at work so it's a surprise for him.

While the sewing machine was out I made a new table topper for the lamp table in the lounge room, using some of the damask from the fabric stash. I backed it with a little iron-on Vilene to give them a little body.

I've cut out eight shoe bags from some lemon damask scraps in the fabric stash. I have perle cotton to make the ties for them, so they'll be no cost gifts for Christmas.

Yesterday was my day off. I don't work on Saturdays, nor do I do any non-essential housework or garden work. We often have visitors for lunch and tea on Saturdays, but yesterday it was just the family so I was going to spread out my card making supplies and happily spend four hours making cards. Instead we ended up meeting friends in the city. They'd come up from Warrnambool for a course and were only here overnight. We met them, and a couple of other friends, in a little coffee shop in Richmond and spent a cosy three hours nursing a cappuccino and chatting. And my card making has been moved to this afternoon.

The weather has turned cold again, it's been freezing. We've kept the fire going and have only put the ducted heating on for about an hour first thing in the morning, when it has been very cold. I can't wait for the gas bill to come in to see just how low it is. And we have enough wood to see us through to the end of September when hopefully the weather will have warmed up enough to not need a heater.

I'm not sure where the time goes, but every day just seems to fly by. There's always something to do, especially when we're trying to not just save money, but not spend any we don't need to, too!

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29 August 2015

Cath's Meal Plan 30 August - 5 September 2015

Knowing what we're going to be eating each week, even if I do switch things around, saves so much time and money. It's a simple thing to jot down seven dinners, stick them on the fridge and then just cook each night.

If you've never tried meal planning, do! You'll love it, trust me. Even if, like I do, you switch things around every now and then, the time you save, and the money you don't spend or waste (ever throw out perfectly good food gone bad because you didn't use it?) will convince you to always have at least a simple meal plan.

This week the Armstrong family will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Chicken, baked potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, cauliflower with cheese sauce, beans, gravy

Monday: Swedish Meatballs, mashed potato, peas, corn, cranberry sauce

Tuesday: Stroganoff, noodles

Wednesday: Spinach Ricotta Ravioli, green salad, garlic bread

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Vegetable Moussaka

Saturday: Soup & crumpets

Mushroom Stroganoff

This delicious casserole is tasty and easy to make.  The blend of sauce and noodles is perfect on a chilly evening.

500g egg noodles
500g minced beef
2 tsp beef stock powder
250g sour cream
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp basil
125g mushrooms
1/2 cup plain flour
3 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil, add egg noodles.
Reduce heat and boil for 8 minutes.
Remove from heat, drain, rinse and pour into a greased baking dish.
While cooking noodles, brown mince over medium heat.
Drain mince and add to noodles.
In a large frying pan pour two cups of the water and add seasonings.  Bring to a boil.
Add the flour to the remaining cup of water and whisk until smooth.
Carefully pour flour mixture into pan and whisk until smooth.
Reduce heat and add sour cream, stir until creamy.
Add mushrooms and mix well.
Pour gravy mixture over noodles and mince.
Cover with foil and place in oven.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and let the casserole sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves: Six
Cost: $5.40, 90 cents per serve

28 August 2015

The Grocery Leapfrog Game

When it comes to grocery shopping there is no such thing as loyalty. I often hear people say that it takes too long to go to more than one supermarket, or that it's a waste of time to visit a particular store to pick up just one or two things. I've even been told that it costs more in time and petrol to shop at more than one store than you save.

You may well think it's a waste of time to shop at more than one store, but let's look at the big picture. You make up your shopping list, using only the flyers for the one store, listing the specials and adding them to your list as needed. Then you hit the supermarket. Even if you stick closely to your list, buying the things on sale, there will be things you are buying and paying more for that are on sale at another supermarket. The difference in your grocery bill can be significant.

It doesn't need to take you any longer to do your shopping at two, three or more supermarkets if you plan your trip. Most Australians have at the very least two of the major supermarkets within a 10 minute drive, so the cost of petrol is not really a consideration. And most of us pass one or two supermarkets in our daily travels too, so again the cost of petrol isn't an issue. By having a plan and sticking to it, I can do a four week grocery shop in under two hours, saving me money, time and energy!

Don't be conned into thinking that just one supermarket will save you money, regardless of the advertising and the emotional blackmail used to entice you into the store. Remember, supermarkets pay big bucks to marketing agencies to come up with tactics to lure you in and encourage you to spend your money, usually on things you don't really need and don't really want.

That's ok, they can spend their money on what they want (you can too!). I believe in capitalism and free enterprise, marketing companies are as entitled to make money as you and I. Just as we are entitled to make conscious decisions about where and how we spend our money. We just need to be aware when we hit the shops.

Another objection to grocery leapfrogging I hear is that there are only two supermarkets to choose from. That's great! You'll save even more time because you'll only have two lots of junk mail to go through (if you don't get junk mail you can download the flyers off the websites) and two supermarkets to go to so your travelling time should be less.

You can save money by grocery leapfrogging even if you live in a little country town. You don't need to live in a capital city to play this game.

The Last Word

Do not be loyal to any store! There is no one supermarket that will always have the cheapest prices, regardless of what the advertising says. Sometimes they do, sometimes the competition will be cheaper. Sometimes the loss leaders will be incredible at the most expensive store, simply to lure you in, in the hope you'll fall like most other shoppers and just keep on shopping, buying what you see just because you are already in the store.

If you do that, then the supermarket has won and you've been conned out of your money.

But, if you only buy the loss leaders, because you are grocery leapfrogging, and don't have store loyalty, then you are the winner. Every time. Your bank balance will confirm it. And you'll be a savvy shopper, and not a loyal sucker.

27 August 2015

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, clingwrap, 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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26 August 2015

The 5 Commandments for Managing Bill Payments

Paying your bills each month is essential to continue to have the services you need and the credit you've earned without interruption. However, life happens and there are times when that doesn’t mean you are always on top of getting those bills paid.

How can you best manage recurring expenses?

These five commandments for managing bill payments can help you stay on track:

1. Focus on necessities first. In many cases, the challenge with bill payments comes from trying to manage expenses. You have a limited income, so you want to ensure the money is spent most efficiently. To do that, ensure you're paying for necessities first.

2. Review bills for accuracy. You'd be surprised how often billing companies make mistakes! In order to pay only what you're supposed to, constantly review your bills.

3. Set up recurring payments. Sometimes the challenge lies in trying to remember when to pay bills. If that's the case, and if the bill totals are usually the same each month, setup recurring payments.

4. Pay bills online. If time is a real issue for you, avoid standing in line to pay bills. Many companies facilitate online payments. Make use of it, it's easy and can be done when you have the time!

5. Know your due dates. Being able to keep track of due dates can help you manage bill payments.

These are pretty easy commandments to follow to effectively manage your bill payments.

Remember it's your responsibility to maintain a positive history of payments. Use these strategies and you'll be surprised at how easy it can be!

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25 August 2015

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup MOO buttermilk
2 tbsp poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with muffin papers. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Mix the oil and sugar, add beaten eggs, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the buttermilk and mix until just blended, do not over mix. Carefully fold in the poppy seeds. Fill muffin pans. Bake 20 minutes until golden on top.

MOO Buttermilk:  1/2 cup milk minus 1 tbsp milk, plus 1 tbsp vinegar added and left 5 minutes to curdle

If you have your own lemons this recipe costs $1.85 to make, costing just 15 cents per muffin. If you must buy lemons it will cost between $2.05 and $2.25 to make, costing between 17 cents and 19 cents per muffin.

To bring the cost down, use cupcake size papers, you'll get 24 cup cakes from this recipe bringing the cost down to between 7 cents and 10 cents per muffin.

Olive oil can be used in this recipe, it gives a very moist muffin.

Replace lemon juice with orange juice for orange poppy seed muffins.

Can be iced with a lemon (or orange) cream cheese frosting if desired.

24 August 2015

Should my Recipes have a more Healthy Focus?

Rocky Road, a Christmas treat

This email landed not in my inbox, but in an unmonitored box and I found it when I was in the process of emptying said unmonitored mail box.

"Hi, I love your tips, but do you think food should have a more healthy focus perhaps?
There is not one ounce of nutrition in those bars.
I think we owe it to our kids.
I know they are considered 'treats' but so should watermelon, healthy homemade bars etc. "

Short answer: No.

I think the writer of this email is confused.

Treats are treats, they are a reward or compliment given occasionally.

Fruit on the other hand is not a treat. It is, or should be, consumed daily as a part of a healthy diet, watermelon included.

"Healthy home made bars" are treats and the "healthy" description, whether for a home made product or a commercial product, is loose at best.

I think we owe it to our children to teach them to eat a well balance diet all the time. To recognise that a treat is just that. To teach them the self-control to enjoy a treat as a one-off and not gorge on them. To teach them that good nutrition comes from a good variety of foods.

Fresh Fruit Salad

If you want a longer answer, read on.

I am regularly chastised about the ingredients in the recipes featured in the free weekly newsletter, on this blog and in the Journal. The two most common complaints are that they are not healthy (too much sugar, too much fat etc.) or use too many convenience products (expensive, unhealthy etc.).

There seems to be some confusion out there about the Cheapskates Club and  this blog and exactly what they are and what they are about. They are not a health food website or blog. They are not a diet website or blog.

Cheapskates and my blog are about living life debt free. Not about living life debt free on a sugar free diet or a paleo diet or only eating "healthy" food or going gluten free or using just organic coconut oil and no other fat.

Baked Rice Custards

I'm not saying that healthful recipes aren't important. I'm also not saying that they shouldn't be a part of the Cheapskates Recipe File. I am saying however that it is not my responsibility to ensure I use, recommend or publish on the website, in the newsletter, on the blog or on facebook, recipes which you consider healthy.

The recipes in the Recipe File may or may not be gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, egg free, raw, cooked or not. If you don't like a recipe you don't have to make it. You don't have to eat it. You don't have to prepare then feed it to your kids. Simple.

You should look at it and think about how you could adjust it to suit your dietary needs or health beliefs (and yes, they are two different things). I do all the time. I very rarely make a recipe exactly as it is written.

For example, most of my recipes are not low fat but they are low in salt. Why? Because I don't have a problem with using real butter and pure cream, good hard cheeses, quality olive oil or coconut oil in my cooking. I do have a problem with salt because I don't like salt. At all. So I don't include it in my cooking.

Banana Walnut Loaf

I also don't have a problem with fresh free range organic eggs, vegetables, meat and poultry. I do have a problem with recipes that list corn syrup or that use packet cake mixes as the base so I simply don't make them (or I put my thinking cap on and look for alternative ingredients).

Out of curiosity I have gone over the 52 Bright ideas newsletters sent out last year (2014) and noted what type of products were in the recipes.

Here's the list:

52:14 - No recipes
51:14 - No recipes
50:14 - Royal Puddings - all processed ingredients for these once-a- year treats
49:14 - Grape Fool - no convenience products used
48:14 - Bought biscuits, chocolate
47:14 - Easiest Christmas Biscuits - sprinkles - can colour sugar to MOO
46:14 - Christmas treats -no convenience products used
45:14 - Silverbeet Casserole - no convenience ingredients used
44:14 - Frozen pastry used, can use Elaine's Easy Pastry
43:14 - Corn Fritters, no convenience products used
42:14 - No convenience products used
41:14 - Uses Singapore noodles, otherwise no convenience products used
40:14 - No convenience products used
39:14 - No On the Menu section in this newsletter
38:14 - No convenience products used
37:14 - Uses cream cheese
36:14 - No convenience ingredients used.
35:14 - Uses refried beans or baked beans.
34:14 - Chicken Cordon Bleu - canned mushroom soup. Can be bought on sale for 89c or MOOed.
33:14 - Lemon Ginger slice - no convenience ingredients used.
32:14 - Wendy's Honey Mustard Chicken - no convenience ingredients used.
31:14 - Fish Tacos - taco shells.
30:14 - Quick Beef Stroganoff- can of mushroom soup used - and explained how to replace with a MOO substitute.
27:14 - Colleen's Sausage Casserole - uses 1 pkt French onion soup mix, this could be the MOO equivalent.
26:14 - Mum's Spaghetti & Meatballs - uses 1 jar pasta sauce - this can be bought or homemade.
25:14 - Hot chocolate & marshmallows - there is no MOO substitute for cocoa or milk powder
24:14 - Yorkshire Meat Pancakes - no convenience ingredients.
23:14 - Chocolate self-saucing pudding - no convenience ingredients used.
22:14 - Bolognese Pasta Bake - no convenience ingredients used.
21:14 - Apple Shortcake - no convenience ingredients used.
20:14 - Slow cooker Porridge - no convenience ingredients used.
19:14 - Cath's Mock Shepherd's Pie - uses 2 convenience ingredients (Nutmeat, dry Cream of Mushroom soup which can be MOOed).
18:14 - Sweet & Spicy Glazed Ham - uses tinned peaches and pineapple.
17:14 - A Jam Session - no convenience products used.
16:14 - Hummingbird Cake -  uses a can of crushed pineapple.
15:14 - Easy Fish Cakes - uses a can of tuna.
14:14 - Chicken with Feta and Tomatoes - uses bought feta.
13:14 - Elephant Ears - uses bought tortillas.
12:14 - Fried Green Tomatoes - no convenience products used.
11:14 - Meatless Meals - baked beans, cream cheese used.
10:14 - Chicken Fried Rice - uses frozen corn and peas.
09:14 - Choc Cherry Slice - no convenience products used.
08:14 - Using Your Stockpile - no recipe
07:14 - No Spending Month - no recipe
06:14 - Ice Cream Slice - uses condensed milk which can be MOO, malt biscuits which again could be MOOed, choc coated honeycomb which could be MOOed
05:14 - Cheats Lamingtons - no convenience products used.
04:14 - Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder, Damper - no convenience products used.
03:14 - Creamy Pasta Salad - uses bought coleslaw dressing.
02:14 - No recipe
01:14 - No recipe

Cheese and Veggie Rolls

Here are my notes about the recipes and their ingredients in these newsletters:

*Refried beans can be MOOed if you prefer over buying them.
*Baked beans can be MOOed if you prefer over buying them. It is not always cheaper to MOO baked beans.
*Cream of Mushroom Soup - can be MOOed however it is not cheaper even if you grow your own mushrooms.
*Taco Shells - can be MOOed but they are time consuming and fiddly.
*Dry French Onion Soup - can be made but it is not cheaper than buying.
*Pasta sauce - can be MOOed but not everyone has access to fresh tomatoes. If they have to buy tomatoes it is then more expensive to make pasta sauce.
*There is no MOO substitute for milk powder.
*Nutmeat - can be homemade. It is a time consuming and fiddly process and is not cheaper than buying the Sanitarium product.
*Dry Cream of Mushroom Soup - can be MOOed but it is not cheaper than buying.
*Tinned fruit - peaches, pineapple - can be canned at home but unless the fruit is free it is not cheaper than buying.
*Tinned Tuna - is cheaper than buying and preparing fresh tuna.
*Feta - can be easily MOOed. Most people would not know how to do this, nor would they have easy access to the ingredients. It is also not cheaper to make your own feta.
*Tortillas - can be MOOed you prefer.
*Cream Cheese - there is a MOO substitute you can use if you wish to make your own cream cheese.
*Condensed milk - can be MOOed. It is much cheaper to MOO condensed milk and it is very easy. The recipe is in the Recipe File.
*Evaporated milk is also easy and much, much cheaper to MOO. The recipe is in the Recipe file.
*Malt Biscuits - can be MOOed if you wish.
*Choc Coated Honeycomb - can be MOOed.
*Coleslaw dressing - can be MOOed.
*Milk chocolate - you can make it but it is not cheaper, very time consuming and requires skill.

I've gone through all the recipes in every newsletter for 2014. There are some convenience products used, but for most of them there are MOO substitutes if you want to use them. Out of the 52 newsletters, only 11 of them use convenience products, and of that 11 only 1 recipe uses 2 convenience products.

Recipes usually require specific ingredients in specific quantities i.e. one tin of condensed milk. You don't have to buy the tin of condensed milk, you can MOO it if you want to.

As long as you replace like with like you can substitute MOO ingredients for bought ingredients in any recipe.

Am I going to change the recipes that are shared via the Cheapskates Club website, newsletter or the blog?

No. As I mentioned above, if you don't like the recipe, or the ingredients in the recipe, you don't have to make it or eat it. And if you do like the sound of it, get creative and make it suit your needs.

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Crochet Towel Toppers

This is a very quick and easy topper to add to a hand towel. I love to give them as gifts, sometimes with a bar of homemade soap, sometimes with a knitted dishcloth.

You will need:
1 tea towel, cut in half (you get two hand towels from the one tea towel)
Crochet cotton to match
3mm crochet hook

Hem the raw edge of the tea towel.

Work a row of chain along the top edge of the tea towel. This is your foundation row.

Row 1: Ch. 3, skip one chain, work 1 tr.t in each chain to end of row. Turn.

Row 2.  Ch. 3, skip onetr, work 1 tr. in every second tr. to end of row. Turn.

Row 3. Ch. 3, skip one tr, work 1 tr. in every second tr to end of row. Turn.

Continue in this manner until 5 treble remain. Turn. This forms the "handle" of your towel topper.

Work 1 tr. In each chain to end. Turn.

Continue in this manner until handle measures 10cm.

Next row: Work 1 tr. In first four chain, ch. 2, skip 2 tr., work 4 tr. In next four chain. This forms the buttonhole.

Next row: Work 1 tr. In each ch.  to end. 10 tr. Turn. Repeat this row twice.

Cast off.

Sew button in place.

Your towel is finished.

The towel in the photo cost $1.50 to make.

I buy handtowels and pretty tea towels from $2 Shops, on sale at Kmart or Big W and sometimes from the op shop if they are in very good condition (i.e. new). Supermarkets often have lovely tea towels, but wait until they come on sale for $2.50 each or less.

23 August 2015

The Week that Was

Lavender sprigs from the cuttings, ready to dry

The boys helped me empty the pantry on Monday. I just knew having really tall sons would come in handy, I didn't need to stand on a chair or drag the steps inside. They washed all the walls down, wiped over the shelves and scrubbed the floor for me too.

While they were doing that I was washing and refilling or topping up canisters and adding the things we're running short of to the shopping list. It now looks lovely, all tidy again. It's been a mess for weeks and it was driving me nuts, now I just stand at the bench and smile at it :)

A nice, clean, tidy pantry - easy to see what is where!

I'm slowly going through the house, updating my list of what we use, how much we have on hand and working out how much we need to have a 12 month stockpile. I'm pleased to say that apart from hairspray for me and shaving cream for Wayne we have a full 18 months of toiletries stocked up. Yay!

A part of the toiletry stockpile - shampoo and conditioner in the main bathroom - enough for two years, all bought on sale for $1 a bottle (or under!).Imagine how much more I'd be able to store if the cupboard was square instead of a corner cabinet!

Used lemon juice from the freezer to make lemon and honey tea for Hannah. She has been sick for over a week with a sinus infection and the flu and feeling miserable.

Tuesday I went to Spotlight. They had 30% off store-wide, including craft and I wanted to see if they had anything I particularly wanted. They did! I was able to get a couple of 3D Paper Tole/Decoupage kits to use in card making. 30% off brought them down to $4.90. I also bought a punch and a block for my clear stamps. I found an envelope of money in the bottom of my handbag, leftover from our holiday spending money in June so I used that money to pay for these items. I'm hoping I won't need anything else for a while, there certainly isn't room in our new budget for craft items. I'll either have to get very creative with my budgeting or use birthday and Christmas money. Or maybe I'll start charging for classes again and use that money - something to think about.

Part of the card making supplies I picked up at Spotlight 30% off, I'll get at least 4 cards from this pack

Thursday was my niece's 12th birthday so we delivered her present to her, along with the card I made. I bought the present in the Boxing Day sales, at 60% off and I've been itching to give it to her. It's a kit to make a teddy - a ballerina teddy. She goes to ballet classes and is a talented little dancer so I'm sure she'll have fun making and dressing her new ballerina teddy.

Wayne's Dad arrived Thursday afternoon for a few days. They spent the weekend at the AMRA exhibition at Caulfield Racecourse so I was left to my own devices. Dad brought me some cuttings from Mum's lavender garden and I've planted them in seed raising mix, I'm hoping to get some strong strikes from them. I'd like to plant lavender along the front windows of our house, but buying the plants is out of the question.

Lavender from my mother-in-laws lavender garden, ready for me to take cuttings to start my own lavender garden

The boys helped me turn the soil over and dig in some compost so the beds will be ready for planting in a couple of weeks once the soil warms up.

Of course if the garden is ready I need plants to actually plant so lots of seeds were planted. In a couple of weeks I'll plant more, and then in a month I'll plant another lot. That will give us three lots of plants, enough to keep us in food all summer and well into autumn next year.

Filled the car up for $115.5 using a discount voucher from Woolworths.

Rang around and checked we are getting the best value for our car insurance. I swapped my car to Coles, they were cheaper. Wayne's car will stay where it is, it has too many extras and accessories so it's already on the cheapest and best policy for what we need.

The washing was dried by the fire again all week, even on Wednesday when it was fine and sunny and Friday when it was so warm we let the fire go out.

Opened the doors and windows on Friday and yesterday. It was so warm, and I was just itching to air the house out after being closed up for winter. There's nothing quite like fresh air through a house.

Water from the showers and the kitchen sink was collected and used in the washing machine, to water the pot plants and to wash the floors.

No leftovers this week - all our meals were made to exactly the number of serves we needed. I still have a decent freezer stash to get through.

Hemmed a couple of towels that were a little frayed. Only took a minute, it took longer to get the sewing machine out and thread it up! But now they are neat, and with proper hems they'll last longer.

Embroidered some grub roses on a couple of bibs and crocheted a trim on some face washers for a friend who has just had a little girl.

The cards from the Forum card swapped arrived, they are beautiful and a great boost to my card folder.

Five masculine themed cards and one Christmas card for my card folder. The September theme is flowers.

Bought oranges from Bushy Park for 29 cents a kilo.  Some have been juiced, some have been processed for Whole Orange Cake and I'll use the rest for marmalade this week to use in the Christmas hampers.

Sold three Cheapskates Cleaning hampers to a friend who is using them as gifts. This will give my Christmas budget a boost.

Went to the train exhibition dinner with Wayne last night, so Hannah and Thomas had freezer meals for tea.

And I finished watching Lark Rise to Candleford on Stan, before our free trial is up. I wasn't sure I'd get through four seasons in a month but I have and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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22 August 2015

Meal Plan 23 - 29 August 2015

Easy meals this week, I have a full diary and lots to do. The leftover roast beef from tomorrow night will make the pancakes for Monday night and a couple of slices to use in French Shepherd's Pie (and yes, I know it's beef not lamb - it's a very forgiving recipe) giving me three meals from the one piece of meat. The piece of meat cost $10.90, making the meat portion of each meal $3.68 and that fits very well within our new grocery budget.

I bought two kransky on sale a while back and froze them. I slice them thinly, fry them with some sliced onion and then make a barbecue sauce with tomato paste, brown sugar. black coffee and Worcestershire sauce. I don't use a recipe for the sauce, more mix and taste, when it tastes good it's done. The sausages cost $1.50 (they were a markdown) and the sauces costs around 50 cents, so a $2 meal. It feeds the five of us because I slice the sausage thinly. Add some potato bake and it is a quick, tasty meal and at 40 cents a serve it's another one that fits in my budget.

The meatless meal this week is a simple vegetable curry. If you follow the recipe it's good, and it's another forgiving recipe. I use whatever veggies I have in the garden, fridge and freezer until I have enough to fill a 2 litre bowl. I also adjust the seasonings to suit our taste, so I cut back on the chilli and curry powder.

Mixed Vegetable Curry

1/2 medium cabbage, shredded
1 medium egg-plant, cut into 3.5cm strips
20 French beans, cut into 3.5cm strips
2 mediums potatoes, peeled and each cut into 8
1 medium tomato, cut into 8
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
5 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 dried red chillies, seeded and finely pounded
5 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp sweet paprika
130ml coconut cream
2-3 cups water
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Cut vegetables as above. Heal oil in wok or pan. Fry onion, garlic and chillies till the onion is soft. Add a pinch salt and a little water. Add curry powder and sweet paprika and fry until fragrant. Add potatoes and bean curd puffs. Stir-fry 2-3 minutes. Add eggplant and beans and stir-fry 2-3 minutes. Add cabbage and tomato and stir-fry 2-3 minutes. Lastly, add the coconut milk, water and sugar. Bring to boil and stir constantly. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until veggies are done. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Note: do not overcook cabbage and tomatoes. Always cook this curry on the day you want to serve.

Sunday: Roast beef

Monday: Yorkshire Meat Pancakes

Tuesday: Kransky & potato bake

Wednesday: Vegetable curry

Thursday: MOO pizza

Friday: Porcupines

Saturday: Tacos

19 August 2015

How to Find your Ideal Grocery Budget

I'm often asked about grocery budgets, how much they should be and how they should be spent.

Here's a breakdown of how your food budget should spent for optimum value and health:
  • 60% on fruit, vegetables, cereals, breads, grains, etc.
  • 30% on dairy, fish and meats (middle of the pyramid)
  • 10% on fats and sugars
But how do you find your ideal grocery budget?

It's easy really, but it may take you a few weeks. Start next time you go shopping. Write your list as you usually do and buy your groceries, this will give you a figure to work off.

Next time you go shopping, write your list but deduct 10% from the total you spent last time.

If you can do your shopping and feed your family on that amount without any complaints, cut your grocery money by 10% the next time you go shopping.

Keep going in this way until you find you can't buy the groceries you need or your family starts to complain about missing out.

Then simply up the grocery budget by 10% and you've found your ideal grocery budget.

We won't all have the same ideal grocery budget, that's OK, we are all different. We all eat different foods and shop at different stores. We all buy different brands, some of us stick to plain labels, others will only buy particular brands. Some of us shop around, others don't.

Our grocery budgets are personal and the only person your grocery budget has to suit is you. Follow the steps to find your ideal grocery budget and then relax, happy in the knowledge that you are getting the best value for your grocery money.

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18 August 2015

Living off Our Stockpile Part 1

Due to a change in circumstances (that sounds worse than it is really) our income for 2016 will be cut by about two thirds. This is a challenge we had thought would be about five years away, but it's been brought forward due to circumstances totally beyond our control.

Now we could curl up, start moaning and watch our dreams and plans for the future vanish, but instead we've sat down with our spending plan and re-worked it so that we will be OK.

We've made a few cuts to some discretionary spending (clothes, entertainment, holidays, gifts) and lowered the utility budgets (water, gas, electricity, phone, internet) and we'll be just fine. We've lived on very low incomes before, under $300 a week for a long time, then $390 a week for a long time and still managed to pay our bills, eat, dress nicely, have a holiday once a year, give gifts and do all the things we'd normally do. We even managed to pay school fees during that time, so I know we can do this.

Of course the first thing to be cut was the grocery budget. Just like when Disaster Struck it was the first thing I thought to cut because it is the one thing we absolutely control.

Most of you know that I keep a stockpile of groceries, enough of most things to last us six months without shopping.

I do this for a number of reasons:
1. I never pay full price for groceries
2. It is food security for times when money is tight
3.I t makes it easy to stick to my grocery budget (buying on sale, buying in bulk)
4. It saves me money, time and energy.

My grocery budget is $320 a month and because I have my stockpile I can stick to that budget and we don't go hungry, we eat really well (and healthfully - we get plenty of fresh fruit and veg, good meat and poultry, some fish,  homemade biscuits, cakes and sweets and no packaged or convenience meals,). I buy ingredients, not ready-made.

Due to the changes we are making to our spending plan for 2016, between now and the end of the year I will be concentrating on building the stockpile to hold a year's worth of food, toiletries and cleaning products (it's currently 3 months of food, 12 months of cleaning supplies and toiletries).

I started the stockpile 21 years ago this month, when Disaster Struck and we had three years of little to no income.

To get that stockpile started I wrote a weekly shopping list. On that list was everything we used in a week. Then I multiplied every item on that list by four to give me a monthly shopping list and took it shopping. I had $200 to spend, it had to buy everything we needed for the month. As I went around I noted down the price of each individual item (this was the start of my price book, not that I knew it then) and then the total.

When I arrived home I had four weeks of groceries - the start of my stockpile - and my cupboards were overflowing. I knew that no matter what, I would be able to provide meals for my family for at least four weeks.

Since then I've slowly built it up, tin by tin, grain by grain, toilet roll by toilet roll, so that now it holds enough food to keep us fed, enough toiletries to keep us clean and sweet smelling and enough cleaning products to keep our home and clothes clean for at least three months.

What do I stockpile?

Mostly basic pantry ingredients: pastas, flours, dried fruits, tinned tomatoes, tomato soup, baked beans, tuna, salmon, pineapple, beetroot, powdered milk, sugar, honey, molasses, nuts, oats, rice, bi carb soda, salt, herbs, spices, and fats - olive oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, butter.

I also stockpile toiletries: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, deodorant, shaving cream, soap, bath/shower gel, razors, moisturiser (for me!) and hairspray.

The cleaning stockpile is simple, just a few items: dishwashing detergent, dishwasher powder, laundry soap, washing soda, borax, vinegar, bicarb soda, eucalyptus oil, lavender oil and scourers.

The stockpile is a combination of home grown (i.e. zucchini) or made (i.e. dishcloths) and preserved (i.e. tomatoes) and bought (i.e. pasta sauce).

I've been able to re-work the grocery budget to give me $25 a week to spend. That will be for fresh milk, eggs and whatever fruit and veg we can't grow and maybe a little meat. If there's anything left each week it will go into the slush fund and I can use it to replenish the stockpile.

Between now and the end of the year I'll be using the grocery budget each month to primarily build up the stockpile with non-perishables to see us through 2016 so if you see me at the shops and I have a trolley loaded up with flour and pasta or toothbrushes and toilet paper you'll know why!

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Cheapskates Healthy Apple Cake

This moist cake is a family favourite. It can be a low-sugar and low-fat version of a popular afternoon tea treat. The topping is optional, but really finishes the cake off. Serve as is, or warm with a scoop of ice-cream and a dollop of whipped cream.

Cheapskates Healthy Apple Cake

2/3 cup white sugar, or the equivalent in artificial sweetener
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute (equal to 2 eggs)
1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup plain flour
2/3 cup wholemeal or spelt flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1-1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 cups finely chopped apples (unpeeled)

Topping (optional):
3/4 cup rolled oats (quick or old fashioned)
1-1/2 tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tbsp soft butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix sugars, egg and oil until well blended. Mix remaining ingredients, except apples, in a large bowl. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Stir in apples. Pour into a 25 x 32-cm baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. If adding topping, combine the ingredients and sprinkle over cake batter. Bake for 25–30 minutes.


The oat bran is optional. I usually leave this out as it's not a regular pantry item for me.

Use whatever apples you have in the fruit bowl, wrinkly is fine. I've used well drained stewed apple when I haven't had any fresh apples.

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17 August 2015

Meal Plan 16 - 22 August 2015

I'm running a little late with the meal plan, I do apologise.

Friday we flew to Adelaide and I was exhausted last night and could hardly see straight, let alone type :)

And true to form of the last few weeks, I've already changed things around. Oh well, at least with a plan that is possible.

Sunday: Mexican Meatballs with Spanish Rice (I love Spanish Rice, and the first change for the week)

Monday: Sausages, wedges and eggs (was supposed to be steak but I don't have any). This is real comfort food for us, we rarely eat this type of meal and it is perfect for such a cold, wintery day.

Tuesday: Curried Chicken and rice

Wednesday: Tuna Surprise

Thursday: MOO pizza

Friday: Scotch Eggs and salad. This will use up the sausage mince in the freezer.

Saturday: Haystacks

In the cake tin: Double Choc M&M biscuits, Orange cake, Lemon Poppyseed muffins

Old Seeds? Try this Trick to see if they are still Good

Seeds get old, packets get torn, sometimes we forget to jot down the date we harvest them if we seed save. Old seeds don't need to be tossed away though. You can try this simple trick to see if they are still viable and worth planting.

You will need:
10 seeds
Paper towel

Step 1. Wet the paper towel and wring it out until it is damp. Spread it out.

Step 2. Space the seeds evenly along the paper towel.

Step 3. Roll the paper towel up so the seeds are completely covered - they need to stay damp.

Step 4. Put the paper towel somewhere warm (I usually sit it on a sunny windowsill).

Step 5. After two days check to see how many, if any seeds have germinated.

Here's how you can determine the viability:

1 seed germinated = 10% germination rate
5 seeds germinated = 50% germination rate
10 seeds germinated = 100% germination rate

I personally only use the seeds if I get a 50% or more germination rate. You can choose the rate that suits your planting space and harvest needs.

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16 August 2015

The Week that Was

Hannah made double choc M&M biscuits and chocolate M&M muffins for dessert on Sunday

Life has been hectic this week, with a trip to the airport on Tuesday, getting ready for the Adelaide workshop (which was a huge success and so much fun), a trip to the doctor, and of course actually travelling to Adelaide for the workshop!

In-between all this I've managed to come up with a workable shopping list designed specifically to boost our stockpile and fit within our grocery budget, a huge weight off my mind.

This week's tasks that saved us money, time and energy are:

Made a batch of Miracle Spray to use in the laundry. It is great in the washing machine for really dirty clothes (think sports uniforms, dirty overalls etc). Two pumps and three teaspoons of Cheapskates Washing Powder and those erky clothes come out clean and smelling fresh.

Miracle Spray in a pump bottle, just for the laundry

Patching the knee of a pair of Wayne's work pants saving $50 on new uniform pants.

Used MOO Cream of Chicken soup to make Tuna Surprise for tea on Monday night (another meal plan change!).

Gratefully accepted milk, eggs, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and apples from my aunty who was going away for two months, a very welcome boost to the pantry and fridge.

We were blessed with apples, potatoes, onions, eggs, tomatoes and milk this week

Made some flan bases to freeze. We have a couple of birthdays coming up and strawberry flans have been requested for dessert. I know I will be busy in the days before they are needed so while I had the baking ingredients out and the mixer going I made four shortcrust pastry flan bases, par-baked them then froze them when they were cool in a container (so they won't get crushed). When I need to use them I can finish baking them from frozen then fill them.

Shortcrust flan bases, pre-made for some birthday celebrations we have coming up

Kept drying the washing by the fire.

Bought three kilos of pickling onions for $1.50. They'll be made into pickled onions ready to add to the Christmas hampers. I'll use some lovely jars I've been saving and cut jar toppers from some gingham I have in the cupboard (leftover from one of Hannah's school sewing projects) and print off labels to finish them.

Made a batch of yoghurt, using frozen starter and powdered milk from the stockpile. Flavoured it with some frozen blueberries to eat with our breakfast muesli.

MOO yoghurt - less than half the price per litre of commercial yoghurt and nicer

Worked on a birthday present for my niece - a little personalised sewing kit to go with the sew-your-own teddy bear I have for her. Made her birthday card using card, paper and embellishments from my stash and a lovely gift bag to hold it all.

Used a  roll of wrapping paper I bought for $5 years ago at a warehouse sale to make gift bags seeing I was on a roll. They'll be used at Christmas to hold the hampers I make as gifts.

Had a wonderful day in Adelaide with some lovely Cheapskates Club members and some new Cheapskaters. Brought home the pens and notebooks and the lollies from the tables that weren't used at the workshop. Also accepted the bottle of water offered on the flight home and put it in the fridge for when I go out. It is a half size bottle and fits perfectly in my handbag.

Ready for the very first Art of Living the Cheapskates Way workshop in Adelaide

Met Tania from the blog Out Back   and of course Annabel from The Bluebirds are Nesting. It is so nice to be able to chat in person. Even if we "get together" via blogland regularly meeting face-to-face is special.

No roast for tea tonight, I'm too tired to cook it and no one took it out of the freezer to thaw. Take away was tossed around but it just doesn't fit our new budget so I made Mexican Meatballs (which were last night's tea that didn't get used) instead. Everyone fed, no extra money spent and I'm happy :)

Wayne picked Wendy and I up from the airport and we came home to a lovely lunch of freshly baked sausage rolls, mini quiche and M&M muffins Hannah made to share with Wendy's family when they came to pick her up.

How blessed I am to have a family who helps and supports me so I can spread the Cheapskates message.