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

Great Grocery Deals for Christmas

Christmas and the New Year holidays are almost upon us!  Most of us will do even more shopping this month than we did last. So how will you stretch your dollars to get everything on your list without going over budget?

Don’t worry, if you focus on what’s on sale in November and December, you’ll feed your family some great meals this Christmas and save money too.

With all those get-togethers, barbecues, parties and Chrismtas baking, you’re going to love the bargain pricing on these items:

·Baking supplies like cooking chocolate (Nestle Choc Melts and Choc Bits $2 a pack at Woolworths this week), cooking oil, flour, nuts, and yeast
·Broccoli ($1.99kg)
·Cake mixes and frostings
·Cauliflower (I bought huge cauliflowers for $2 each this week)
·Chips, nuts, pretzels
·Crackers and water crackers
·Custard powder
·Deli meats
·Dried fruits (Mixed Dried Fruit 1kg $4.99 at Aldi)
·Frozen Pies
·Ham ($6.99/kg at Aldi)
·Mushrooms (I've seen them as low as $3.99/kg - up to $4.99/kg)
·Prepared custard
·Soft drink
·Sweet potato

You might be surprised at the great deals you’ll see on disposable baking pans, foil, baking paper and plastic wrap when you’re doing your November and December grocery shopping. Take advantage of the sales and stock up if you have the cash to save even more money.

Enjoy these shopping savings and own your Christmas!

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12 November 2015

Christmas Organization Tips for Busy People Part 1

How often have you thought "This year Christmas is going to be different"? You're tired of the stress, hurry, and busy-ness of the season. You're determined to enjoy Christmas this year - even if it kills you! No matter how many days remain until Christmas, it's never too late to get your house in order so that you can enjoy the holidays. When your house is in order - your "stuff" is organized and your "activities" are well planned - you will find that you have less stress and more time to enjoy your family and friends and focus on the true meaning of this most blessed season.

Christmas Calendars

Take a look at your November and December family calendar. This time of year becomes so hectic with end of year parties, school break-up activities, carols, shopping, wrapping, decorating and baking. Make sure that all activities for each family member are listed on the family calendar. Look carefully for conflicts and tricky scheduling, as well as multi-tasking opportunities. And look for a day or two that you can plan on completing your Christmas shopping - without kids!

Have a family meeting to discuss each family member's Christmas activities. Are your children going to be spending more evenings with a sitter than with the family this holiday? Have you left plenty of "white space" on the calendar - time with no planned activities - time to sit back and enjoy a family Christmas movie or perhaps drive around town looking at holiday light displays?

As December progresses, at the beginning of each week look at the week's scheduled activities and necessary errands. Try to schedule all the week's errands during one time period. If possible, plan to do your errands in the morning, early in the week to avoid crowds (and the heat). If you drop kids off for extra-curricular activities or parties, do some errands before picking them up.

Taking a few minutes now to work out who needs to be where and when will save you so much time and stress, and really help you enjoy Christmas.

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11 November 2015

We Are Saving Money Using Envelopes

This is such a simple, old fashioned way of budgeting, but it works! Spreadsheets and debit cards linked to a multitude of bank accounts that you can update via your smartphone may be the modern way of budgeting, but it has its downside.

When Disaster Struck and we had no money coming in, we switched to a cash envelope system and I still use it for the housekeeping today. It works, it's convenient and it's simple so why change it.

Switching to a cash budget and then using envelopes (or separate purses or ziplock bags or whatever) is a very tactile way of managing your money. If you, like me, need to be able to actually see and physically control your money, envelope budgeting may be for you, as Cheapskater Amanda found out.

We Are Saving Money Using Envelopes

Approximate $ Savings: $50-$100  

We find using the 'envelope' approach helps us save so much money. We live on one wage so have to watch our budget. Now when we get paid we have money transferred straight in to specific bill accounts to cover weekly and fortnightly payments like rent etc, as well as money transferred in to a savings account, so we don't actually see this money and payments are covered.

Then I take out a small amount to cover food, petrol and weekly spending money for my husband and I. This cash I withdraw goes straight into labelled envelopes or labelled plastic seal money bags, and then means I only ever pay for things in cash from my envelopes.

I am not tempted to spend money because I don't use my cards, and I really think about what I want to use my cash on. When you use your card you don't realise that $10 here and $15 there all adds up and before you know it you have spent $100 on unplanned items that you could probably live without.

I also only pay cash for my groceries and will only spend my budget limit and am very good at sticking to this and anything over goes back on the shelf, and I fill my car up on $50 petrol per fortnight and that's it.

Now when I have money left over at the end of the week I put it aside in another envelope and this then gets used when something unplanned comes up and we need it, or we spend it on the family as a treat, put it in a Christmas fund envelope or in an envelope for something we are saving for.

It is so nice to see the money start to build up in the account because we aren't making any other withdrawals apart from the one-off withdrawal for our envelopes each pay day.
Contributed by Amanda Woodwood

10 November 2015

Fruity Tea Cake

This is the quickest and easiest fruit cake you'll ever make and it tastes great! Slice and serve with butter or freeze for a quick grab-n-go snack.

Fruity Tea Cake

2 cups cold tea
2 cups mixed dried fruit
2 cups SR flour

Soak the fruit in the cold tea for 10 minutes. Beat in the self-raising flour. Pour into a greased and baking paper lined loaf tin. Bake at 180 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let stand in tin for five minutes before turning out onto a cake rack to cool.

Variation: This is so good, it adds a little zing to the cake: substitute dry ginger ale for the cold tea, then follow the recipe. The cake is moist with just a hint of ginger - delicious. I sampled this version at the card making afternoon on Saturday, courtesy of Meg, and I think it will be my favourite quick fruit cake from now on.

09 November 2015

Free Meals from the Freezer

Even a small stash of freezer meals can reduce the grocery budget. Single serves of spag bol, chicken soup, lasagne, fried rice, moussaka all in my small freezer, waiting to be used.
Freezer meals, put together from leftovers are free food - it's already paid for. I love freezer meals, and not just because they're free food, but because they give me a night off from cooking, or save buying takeaway when my day gets beyond crazy and dinner is the last thing on my mind. I love them because they can be self-serve too. The meals are already cooked, they just need to be thawed and heated and that can be done in the microwave in just a few minutes.

You may be wondering how you build a stash of freezer meals so that they are free. It's simple really - portion control. We're a family of five, so most of my recipes make at least six serves. I dish up five when the meal is cooked, and as I'm dishing up I put the extra serve straight into a container and put it into the fridge to cool. Then after tea I put the lid on it and pop it into the freezer. One free meal added to the freezer meal stash. If the recipe makes more than six serves, I have more than one free meal to put into the freezer.

Hint:  Use some masking tape and a marker to label the containers. Strangely enough chicken soup looks a lot like vegetable soup when it's frozen, as does bolognaise sauce and vegetable pasta sauce. Labelling the containers also stops everyone from pulling them all out, opening them to see what's in them then putting them back in the freezer.

Sometimes there are no leftovers or extra serves. That's OK. But when there are I take full advantage of them. I think it's far better to put a single serve into the freezer for a freezer meal than stash it at the back of the fridge until garbage night then toss it out - that really is just putting money in the bin.

Take a look at your recipes. Are there any you could perhaps stretch to an extra serve or two? If so, those extra serves could become freezer meals. I have a couple of recipes that serve four. I add a few extra ingredients (grated veggies or rolled oats or rice or even water or stock) to stretch them to make six serves. Then they feed us all and give me at least one freezer meal.

There are a couple of tricks to using free meals from the freezer though:
1. you must pay for them and
2. you must use them.

I budget $5 a dinner. When we have freezer meals I take $5 from my grocery budget and put it straight into the grocery slush fund (you could add it to your Emergency Fund or pay it off a bill or similar) because the meal is already paid for. That $5 is a lot easier to find than the $30+ that takeaway costs too - think about freezer meals next time you're tempted to dial for pizza!

Not everything freezes so plan your freezer meals around dinners that will freeze. Things that freeze well are pasta dishes, rissoles, stews, casseroles, soups, pies, pasties, sausage rolls, fried rice, cooked sausages (great for a quick curry) and quiche.

Then write "freezer meals" into your meal plan at least once a month. We usually have them on a Saturday night. I always plan a meal for Saturday night, just in case we don't have any freezer meals, but usually it's a GYO night. Sometimes we're all home for tea, sometimes there is only Wayne and I, sometimes it's just me.

It doesn't matter, if there are freezer meals then Saturday night in our house is simple - go to the freezer, choose a dinner and enjoy it because who doesn't enjoy a free meal.

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How we are going to Live on a (Really) Tight Budget

Morning and afternoon tea is always something homebaked, like this Fruit Salad cake
A few weeks ago Joy posted some statistics in the forum pertaining to how much money is needed to live in retirement.

The following was taken from the ASICS moneysmart website.

"The table below will give you a rough idea of how much money you need to support a modest or comfortable retirement. It applies for people retiring at age 65 who will live to an average life expectancy of about 85."

Those figures stunned me, and not in a bad way!

We live on a tight budget. We don't carry any debt. If we want something we pay cash for it. If we don't have the cash we save up until we do, then we buy it.

Our lifestyle isn't extravagant but it's not stingy either. We don't go without anything we need. We mostly don't go without anything we want either. We do think about our purchases and our spending, and rarely have any spontaneous spending. That is mostly because there's not much we need or want that we don't already have.

Our clothing budget stays low because we take care of our clothes, making simple repairs immediately so clothes don't sit in a pile until they're thrown out.
We eat well. I cook from scratch (real scratch, not packet scratch). I grow a lot of the vegetables and some of the fruit we eat. I have a strict budget for meat and poultry and shop once a quarter for those foods, timing the shop around the best sale prices.

Chicken pot pie from scratch, a delicious and frugal family dinner
I am a bit of a power warden, reminding the family to turn lights, appliances and power points off (if they're not powering something essential like the fridge or freezer).

We catch water in buckets in the showers and I have a tub I use to catch water from the kitchen sink. This water is either tipped into the washing machine, used to water the pot plants, wash veggies or for cleaning. It doesn't go to waste.

So why was I happily stunned with those figures?

Well because as a family we're living well under them. We have started living on our 2016 budget (yes, it's kicked in a couple of months early) and according to those figures we are living on the Single Modest retirement income of $454 a week!

I love flowers in the house, but they're expensive. Just a few blooms from the garden in a vase makes me happy and saves $12! These Daphne sprgs smelled divine and scented the whole house, and they cost nothing.
Our weekly budget is $454.81! And that covers everything we need to survive and a few non-essentials too. Now bear in mind there are five adults living in our house. I am feeding five adults, there are five computers, three TVs, five people showering every day. And yet we can manage on less than a single modest retirement income and we are not going without and we don't feel deprived at all.

Here is our current Spending Plan:

As we are and will be living off our stockpile, the grocery budget has shrunk considerably.
There is wiggle room in this budget. I've factored in haircuts for both of us, pin money and a craft allowance. These are all flexible and non-essential. I can cut Wayne's hair and if push comes to shove I can either stretch my monthly trip to the hairdressers to every second month or just let my hair grow (or act as a model for Hannah so she can practise cutting!).

Making soap is another way I keep costs down. It makes a lovely gift too.
I've included an entertainment allowance. We rarely (maybe once a year) eat out so it's covered if we do, but the main purpose of this category is to give us time out when we need it. We tend to go camping (usually free camping) or on day trips and this amount will pay for petrol and camp fees so we can have at least a few days away during the year.  Entertainment also covers expenses birthday celebrations, anniversaries and any other fun things we do during the year.

There is a separate Holiday category. We are saving up for another big trip so steady, regular saving will help us get there in 2017. It's flexible, again if for some reason I've miscalculated our expenses I can shift  this money to another category.

Camping is our favourite type of holiday - find a pretty spot, set up the tent and then kick back and relax. Once you have all your gear your holidays are virtually free!
The one thing that isn't flexible, that is set in cement, is our Emergency Fund category. An emergency fund is essential and even on a tight budget we will continue to build ours. I've been asked if we'll be dipping into our emergency fund next year to cover any shortfall in our income. The short answer is no.

Our budget has been re-worked, we've gone over the figures and double checked them and unless there is a major emergency i.e. the washing machine blows up and there's not enough in Household Maintenance to cover replacing it, then we won't be touching it.

We will thrive on our current budget because we don't live extravagantly. We live a modest lifestyle and we are happy.  The bills will be paid, we have food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over our heads. The present box is bulging with gifts for 2015, 2016, 2017 and I've started on 2018 (we have a couple of weddings in 2018 and the presents are ready and waiting).  There are veggies growing in the garden.

So yes, those figures for a retirement budget have made me very happy. I know we'll manage next year and I'm reassured that when we're ready to retire we'll be able to manage on a "retirement" income too.

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Make a Vintage Rose Tote

Everyone uses totes for something. I use them for shopping, as a knitting bag, to store my seed packets around, to tote craft materials around and as wrapping for extra-large or oddly shaped presents.

I like calico totes. They're strong, washable, cheap to buy or make (and really they're easy to make) and they are easy to personalise.

I've made two this week, using bought totes (40% off at Lincraft, brought them down to $2.30 each). One I decorated with an iron on transfer I made and one I decorated by embroidering a picture onto a piece of fabric and attaching it to the tote as a pocket. They were both easy to do. Obviously the tote with the iron-on transfer was the fastest but the embroidered pocket only took about an hour to do all up (the sewing machine did the embroidery).

Vintage Rose Tote

You will need:
Calico or plain coloured cotton tote
A picture to fit the tote
Iron-on transfer paper*

Step 1. Wash and dry your bag. I like to pre-wash the bags so that if they shrink they'll do so before the transfer is applied. Iron it.

Step 2. Find an image to use as the transfer. I found this image here:  http://www.freeprettythingsforyou.com/ Make sure it is going to fit onto your tote. I usually print the image then use it as a template to work out the placement of the actual transfer.

Step 3. Follow the instructions on your transfer paper to print then apply the transfer to your tote.

And voila - in around 30 minutes (more if you can't make up your mind about the image) you have a lovely and unique tote to use or give as a gift for around $6.

This is a tote with an embroidered pocket. I embroidered the piece of fabric for the pocket (it only took a few minutes using the sewing machine) and then attached the pocket to the front of the tote. You'll need a sewing machine with a free arm for this or you'll need to unpick the tote, attach the pocket and re-stitch the seams.

*Spotlight and Lincraft sell iron-on transfer paper, but it's expensive. Buy it on sale (at least 40% off to make it cheap enough). You can also get it at Officeworks, where the packs are bigger, bringing the price per sheet down. Again, wait for a sale if you can. I have found it in some $2 shops too and it seems to be just as good a quality for a fraction of the price.

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08 November 2015

The Week that Was

Marigolds - not just colour for the garden but pest control for the tomatoes. I love their bright, happy colours!
Looking back I've managed to get a lot done this week that will boost our coffers or stretch our budget.

Planted cucumbers, more tomatoes, more zucchini and some rainbow silverbeet. The older zucchini plants already have flowers - yay! We may actually get a decent crop this year :)

Picked the oranges and mandarins off the fruit trees for morning teas.

Diluted a bottle of dishwashing liquid 50:50 with water. It works just as well diluted as it does full strength, and I'm getting two bottles for the price of one.

Finished off the Christmas gifts I was making.

Stitched some buttons on a couple of shirts so they can be worn again.

Cooked all our meals from scratch using ingredients already in the pantry, fridge or freezer.

Queried a bill I was sure had been paid - it had - so gratefully accepted the refund. It pays to keep track of payments.

Collected the water from the showers and kitchen and used it for cleaning this week. We've had rain so it wasn't need on the garden.

The boys helped me put another set of shelves in the laundry so I can finally get the stockpile sorted into a decent order and have it (mostly) in the one place. Now I can do a detailed inventory and make a list of the last few grocery items we need to see us through 2016.

Had a wonderful day yesterday with Pamela, Joy, Wendy, Maureen, Anne, Meg, Lee and Mel. We went shopping for card making bargains (and I think everyone picked up a few) then spent the afternoon making lots and lots and lots of cards - our most productive afternoon since the group started. Stay tuned for the instructions to make a lovely boxed set, perfect for a gift (teacher, thank you, birthday, Mother's Day, just because) that will cost you under $2 to make - really!

Gratefully accepted some Grosse Lisse tomato seedlings - they're now planted in tomato bags.

Also accepted some chili con carne seasonings. I don't buy ready-made seasonings, but these are perfect for packing in our camping tucker box instead of decanting and packing a jar from the kitchen. Chili is a great campfire meal and we have it a lot when we're camping.

Was surprised with a beautiful card and an extra special surprise gift from a beautiful friend. Wayne and I are overwhelmed at your kindness and thoughtfulness and we can't thank you enough. It was the perfect end to a lovely week. Thank you :)

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