31 December 2015

The Year that Was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I finally have my very own shed (yay).

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

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

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

Happy new year!

30 December 2015

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

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

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

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

29 December 2015

Crunchy Veggie Tuna Pasta Salad

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

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

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

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

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28 December 2015

​Easier Knitting

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

Easier Knitting

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

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23 December 2015

The Most Liberating Feeling

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

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

"Dear Cath,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jen P

Use Those Christmas Leftovers

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

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

Turkey Toastie Tasties

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

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

Real Ham Steaks and Pineapple

1cm thick slices of ham
Sliced pineapple

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

Chicken Roll Ups

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

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

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

18 December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, this week we will be eating:

Sunday: Roast Chicken with baked vegetables

Monday: Crumbed schnitzels, salads      

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

Wednesday: Tacos              

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Christmas Dinner

Saturday: Leftovers & salad

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Staying Cool in Extreme Heat

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

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

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

Put draught stoppers against doors to keep hot air out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have window awnings, use them.

Sit with your feet in a tub of cool water.

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

Wet your hair.

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

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

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

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

Stay cool and safe everyone.

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17 December 2015

Three Budget Christmas Dinner Menus.

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

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

Cheapskates $25 Christmas Dinner

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


Christmas pudding with stirred custard
Christmas cake

Cheapskates $50 Christmas Dinner

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


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


Ice Cream Christmas Pudding with custard and cream 


Christmas Cake
Royal Puddings

Cheapskates $80 Christmas Dinner

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


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


Christmas cake 
Assorted cheeses & crackers

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

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

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

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

You can get your Cheapskates Christmas Dinner Meal Plans here

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16 December 2015

Good Gravy

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

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

Beef Gravy Mix

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

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

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

Chicken Gravy Mix

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

Combine all ingredients and store an airtight container.

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

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

15 December 2015

The Week that Was 13/12/2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week we will be eating:

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

Monday: Mexican meatballs, savoury rice

Tuesday: Chicken and mushroom pies, steamed vegetables

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

Thursday: MOO Pizza

Friday: Curried tuna slice, salads

Saturday: Honey soy chicken wings, fried rice