This issue includes:-
How are you going? I hope you are having an excellent month. This month we have one of my favourite challenges - No Spend Month! This challenge is a great way to learn the difference between the words 'want' and 'need', and to save a big pile of money while you're at it. Past years have shown us it is easy to save yourself as much as $1000 in No Spend Month. We love it!
"I probably am one of your oldest readers (just turned 80) but I still enjoy reading all your hints. I am now putting your $21 Challenge into practise and loving it. It's making me sit and look at what I really have on hand, and how I can utilise it in every way possible with plenty of variety. It is simply amazing what people can work out and do when money is short. Keep up the hints." (Betty Threlfo)
"I own a copy of The $21 Challenge and it is an amazing read. I subconsciously used a lot of the information last week as we were very low on funds whilst waiting on two payments to come through. I looked back on last week and realised that I had spent a lot less than I normally would. I hadn't been trying to do the Challenge but I think if I had been taking notice of the amount of money I was spending then I probably wouldn't have been far off.
"Also I wanted to thank all the lovely ladies who have been sending in such wonderful hints and tips. I think they are amazing. My membership has certainly been saved many times over." (Peta Hills)
"I love your calendar; I use it to write all my bills paid and all my weekly expenses on it. I then total them up at the side in categories such as food, household, personal and so on and total it at the bottom of the page. This gives me a record each month of how much my expenses are and when it's time to budget! I use the previous year's calendar to see what bills are coming up the following month too, for example, rates, water, insurance and so on, so I can budget for them too. It gives me a chance to check to see what has increased in price as well." (Diane Green)
"I have only just recently found your site and joined the Vault. What a revelation! But, more importantly, what a wonderful group of people contribute to and enjoy your hints and suggestions. I feel like I'm part of a big family. Do you feel the warmth and friendship and this as well? When I'm feeling down and overwhelmed by things and life in general I log on to your site and 'join the group'. It lifts my spirits to connect with others out there just like me. Thank you all, you've saved my sanity. With love and gratitude." (Rhonda Trott)
If you didn't grab yourself a copy of the calendar at Christmas, it's not too late! You can download it here :-
All the best,
P.S. BIG DISCOUNT: $21 Challenge books for sale. (Australian addresses only)
OK, I made an *ahem* teensy mistake ordering $21 Challenge books and we have run out of Australian copies. BUT! We have a big pile of New Zealand books needing a good home. The only difference is the cover; everything inside the book is exactly the same so we are selling New Zealand copies of the Challenge for $10 per book plus postage. (This special is only for Australian addresses. Changes in the book industry mean it is very expensive for us to ship books to NZ and our NZ stock is now sitting in Australia. Don't ask!) Nab some now and tuck them away!
To order your copies go to www.simplesavings.com.au/order/?21dc
After some fantastic suggestions from Forum members last month (not to mention welcoming a new staff member called Linda!) we are changing Linda's name in the Sally and Hanna stories to Clueless Chloe. Thank you for your help.
Sally had just made herself a nice cup of tea and was looking out of the window when she noticed her new neighbour, Tom, leaving Clueless Chloe's house looking downcast. "That was a short visit; he can't have been there more than ten minutes! I wonder what's happened." Sally thought. Before long curiosity got the better of her and she headed next door.
Chloe greeted Sally with open arms. "Come in! I'm so glad you dropped by!" "Oh really? That's a relief, I didn't want to bother you - I just wanted to borrow some sugar." Sally lied through her teeth. "It's great timing actually - you just caught me throwing myself a pity party. You see, Tom was just here. He invited me out for a Valentine's Day dinner... but I had to say no." Sally's jaw hit the floor. "You said NO? But why? I thought you liked him!"
"I DO like him. I would have loved to go!" Linda confessed sadly. "But I don't have anything to wear and I am flat broke. I didn't want to go on a special date looking like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards!" Sally immediately swung into action. "Right - go and call him right now and tell him you have changed your mind. If there's one thing my mate Hanna taught me, it is that you don't have to have money to look good. She'll have you fixed up in no time!"
Do you think Tom would have enjoyed Chloe's company any more if she had spent a week's wages on a new outfit? Would he even have noticed if she had worn the same top before? The chances are, highly unlikely - but just like many of us do, Chloe got confused between a want and a need.
It's amazing how often we DON'T have to spend money if we just stop and think about it - but it's all too easy to fall into the familiar trap of thinking we DO have to. This is why No Spend Month is so fan-flippin-tastic!
Only one of the most popular challenges on the Simple Savings calendar for the past five years! The rules are as follows:
Your mission is to avoid spending money on ANYTHING in February other than the absolute essentials for your work, education or survival. Obviously there will be some things you cannot avoid, such as basic food and prior bills but apart from that your mission is to make sure you don't buy anything that is not essential.
For example, this month you should NOT be buying:-
Things you CAN spend money on:-
Yes, we know it's harsh, but look at that list. How many of those things do you currently buy each month? Imagine how much you would save by NOT buying them for a month. Imagine how much headway you could make. Imagine all the things you could do to get ahead financially if you managed to keep all that money in your bank instead of automatically handing it over to shopkeepers for things you don't need. You could use it to pay off a credit card. You could pay some extra off the mortgage and save yourself some interest. You could use it to create an emergency fund to bring a little extra peace of mind. You could use it for a reward or holiday for your family. Put like that, isn't it worth the effort for a few short weeks?
No Spend Month will help you and your household break the cycle of thoughtless, wasteful spending. It really couldn't be easier - and besides, it's fun! Every day you can get through without spending makes you feel FANTASTIC! It makes you feel proud; it makes you feel as though you've done something really good, something really important in helping yourself and your family to get ahead. Go on, try it and you'll see!
To make your No Spend Month as easy and successful as possible, all it takes is a few minutes planning each day. Keep a savings diary - this can either be something as basic as a notebook or you can sign up for our free online savings diary. This is visible to you only and is very cool because a) we email you every evening so you can't forget to fill it in and b) it automatically adds up every cent you spend on non-essentials as you go, which really helps to strengthen your resolve! Whichever option you choose, fill it in at the end of each day with the following:
It really is possible to save as much as $1000 in a single month when you take part in this Challenge - and February is a short month. But don't just take our word for it - give it a go!
Our Hidden Gems directory is designed to help members find it easier to source the best deals in their area. Whenever you come across a real gem of a store, enter it in our Hidden Gems directory and you could be in to win our monthly prize of $100 cash! This is our way of saying thank you for helping other members save by sharing your knowledge. The more information you can give us, the better your chance of winning. This month's winner is Café Palazzo as nominated by Kylie K. Read her entry to see what makes them such a great example of a Hidden Gem.
"I have found a terrific online source for my favourite coffee at the right price! I have always loved the flavoured coffee from Café Palazzo. It is produced in Sydney and is Rainforest Alliance certified. It used to be available in both Coles and Woolies but Coles dropped it as a product line two or three years ago, so I had to go Woolies for it. A few weeks ago, however, Woolies dropped it too!
"Then by chance I found the manufacturer's website when looking for another shop that sells it. The prices from them are cheaper than Woolies sold it, even with delivery!
"The 200g packets of plunger coffee that Woolies and Coles used to sell are only sold in six packs, but work out cheaper than what I used to pay for them.
"They also have other varieties that weren't available in the supermarket and in a range of sizes and grind types. The last order I got was a flat $5.00 delivery, and I got six 200g packets and a 500g packet, delivered in under a week."
Congratulations on being this month's winner Kylie and a big pat on the back to Café Palazzo for fast service at a good price. If you know somewhere special that others would like to know about, please write in and tell us and you could win $100. Send in your hidden gem here. Thank you and good luck!
One of the many benefits of being a Vault member is that you can win a cash prize of $100 each month for your Simple Savings blog! Starting your own blog on the site is easy. All you have to do is log into the Vault, click on 'My Desk' at the top left, then 'Your Blog'. Then get writing! We love reading all your money saving trials and tribulations and really appreciate the effort that goes into each one.
This month's winner is Clutterhen for this extract from her blog:
OK so I've finally succumbed. After all these years of avoiding them like the plague, I've got some routines. I've grown up. I've worked out that the single thing I've been avoiding, but that I've most needed to keep it all together, to make it all work and to get it all done so there is time to enjoy fun was... routines!
I've read it all before - routines keep our homes tidy. Routines keep our homes clean. Routines keep us organised and others wondering how we got it all done and had fun in the same amount of time that everyone else had. I say 'we' got it all done, but it's really been a vicarious 'we' as I've watched from the sidelines. Organised women turn up for work with wonderful stories about their weekends and with great things prepared for work, everything colour co-ordinated, homes and work areas decorated, lovely clothes, happy husbands and children, regular holidays and social activities. OK, OK so regular holidays could also have a bit to do with money, but read on.
I'm a creative soul, however, the thought of constraining myself with a chain of routines just made me cringe, shake my head, raise my hand and shout "NO THANKS NOT ME!" Meanwhile keeping my time free for spontaneous adventures. I watched all those organised people and they always made it look like there was a lot of work to routines. It looked like nobody had any spontaneity or a sense of freedom, they 'booked' in social engagements, planned their holidays, did tasks today that surely could have been put off until tomorrow! Whilst I sat sipping my cuppas and watched as they raced about cleaning this or folding that. I preferred to enjoy life. To enjoy the thrill and rush of the last-minute, winging it, flying by the seat of my pants, making it across the line just in time with a big rush of excitement that I'd managed to get it done and make an entrance!
The problem with the last-minute entrance was that it all worked out, well most of the time anyway, until I hit the grown-up years. You know; career, baby, tired, single, pressure. The rush now barely keeps me awake, the baby took my 'last-minutes' and used them on nappy blow-outs, sleeps that halted my trips to the shop to pick up the items I needed for dinner RIGHT NOW. Plus my wanting to cuddle her and make her giggle and smile. Not forgetting sleepless nights to attend to bubs whilst hanging on by the fingertips to a busy career and the exhaustion of an undiagnosed sleep apnoea.
Sure, I survived. I'm here aren't I?
Survival is just not enough anymore! I want to feel that rush of excitement at having done something good, not the rush of the last-minute adrenaline dash. The rush of pleasure that comes with having done a good job, making someone's day by sticking to my plans, meeting commitments on time and with a little breath still left in my sails. I think I used up every last drop of adrenaline I had in the past. I don't think I'll be able to make that work for me in quite the same way as before. I lost the ability to 'fire up' somewhere between the washing, report-writing, travelling 2+ hours a day for work and the invisible-ness of becoming a mother. There's no adrenaline rushes left in me.
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE IT ALL. I love being a mum more than anything else. Ever! And I want that joy to come out from under the ironing and get caught up in some FUN!
So, some change was needed.
I now have a routine for my work mornings and I tweak it a little for my non-work mornings. It hasn't worked much during the holidays, but I did fire it up on our week away this month for our early starts each day. I think that's one of the keys to my success...keep to your routines. Get up at the same time each day. Go to bed at the same time each night. Have a focus for the day. It might be the focus of creative time or family time. It might be the focus of work or holiday activities. Whatever it is, I think that it is the key to feeling good about each day. And I don't mean slogging it out each day. I just mean a focus through which we can rest our heads at the end of the day knowing that we did something good, achieved something of purpose in our lives. We can rest our heads and look back over our day and feel a sense of fulfillment and achievement no matter whether your focus was for work or for play.
I now have a routine for going to bed each night. Yes, Flylady has helped me put much of these routines together. Of course tweaked to suit our needs. So at night I get my daughter to do her routine of preparing her clothes for the next day, teeth, toilet and tucked-in. I bought her a fun calendar for Christmas and we've added it to her nightly routine. She colours-in the leaf around the date and records what she did that day. She is really enjoying knowing what day of the week it is each day and tonight she read over all the things she's done so far this month as she prepares to return to school on Monday. She has worked out how many more sleeps until school starts and I noticed tonight that she's written "Wahoow" for Monday's return to school. HILARIOUS. I'm hoping that this simple routine will set her up for future studies and assignments, work and life in general. Keeping a simple record on your calendar is motivating, memory-making and a reminder of what you can achieve.
My going to bed routine is similar to my daughter's although there are a few adjustments to suit. I check my calendar, lay out my clothes for tomorrow, brush my teeth, moisturise my face, hands and feet, check my CPAP machine has water topped up, set my alarm, put on my CPAP mask and turn on machine, lights out, prayers. Off to sleep. Works every time. Although I might need to adjust when I say my prayers because I'm none too sure that I get to the Amen part? LOL
I have a routine for meals. I fill the sink with hot soapy water, start preparing the meal, wash up as I go and wash anything left in the sink since previous dishes were done. I tidy the kitchen as I go, toss science experiments from the fridge into the bin, call DD to take out rubbish and set the table. I'm loving this part of 'my' routines because DD is now old enough to help and with her needing to earn screen time she'll do almost anything! Have I mentioned yet how much I LOVE Simple Savings? I make tomorrow's lunches and DD likes to help sometimes. I've sporadically made tomorrow's lunches on weekends as well and in the holidays so DD can eat when she is hungry. It saves a lot of preparation time during the day as I'm already in the kitchen and on the go whilst cooking dinner it just makes better sense. I dish up our meal and either wash or soak the last cooking utensils before heading out to the table.
DD and I say grace and eat together chatting and enjoying family time. DD will help clear the table straight after we have finished and I wash up immediately. DD enjoys playing in the soapy dish water so she sometimes does the dishes whilst I put leftovers in containers or sweep the floor etc. OH and DD has actually been vacuuming and sweeping floors to earn screen time here and there too. Gotta love help when the helper is keen to lend a hand without being asked and even more so without complaining!
There are routines for getting the washing done, cleaning out the car and my purse, decluttering and keeping the toilet and vanity clean and ready for my family to use or for unexpected visitors. I even have a routine now for booking appointments; I book whilst I'm there! Last few haircuts I booked whilst I was there. If I find I can't make it when the date comes around I simply ring to change the booking, but when I don't make the booking there is not always a reminder in my diary to book a haircut and I tend to get too busy to make calls during the work week so with this new routine it makes me get it done. I've managed to keep my new hair style for a year without a hassle.
But, there are still routines in need of being developed. Those for work, planning ahead so we have something to look forward to kind of fun with DD. Fun that she can record on her calendar and count down the days until we reach it. We've just started doing this, but it is in its early days and I'm prone to not feeling like doing certain things on certain days when they're not spontaneous. Having said this, DD needs a bit more routine so she has something to look forward to so I am very keen to discipline myself on this one. I need to plan routine times for getting to my hobbies even when work gets busy. I need to plan social fun; adult time out without kids to find that sense of humour and wit I once enjoyed.
The result of all these routines being set is that I am noticing just how much we actually DO that may have been missed before or at best, rushed. This month alone we have been away for a week, been to the Power House Museum and taken a friend for DD, been to the pool a number of times, DD has been to the movies, had playdates, we are cat-sitting - something I would never have done before for various reasons but mostly because I would have had to move mountains to fit in a cat. I can call the electrician and the plumber, both of which have been here several times this past week, and I don't have to worry that they can't access whatever it is they need to work on. There's no major junk hanging around because I'm decluttering as I go each day or two rather than bulking it up for one big to do list in the holidays the result of which means I don't do things with DD because I have to get to the jobs first. Well DD and I feel like this has been our best Summer holidays, ever! We know because it is written on our calendar to remind us.
Ahh, feel the serenity! Whilst not 100% there yet, even 60% feels like freedom. I thought I had freedom by not sticking to boring routines. But that freedom was hidden behind adrenaline rushes, tears when I couldn't reach a deadline at work, embarrassment turning up for social engagements or work with hair long overdue for a cut, clothes un-ironed, events missed because I just couldn't conjure up the energy to get everything done and have fun at the last-minute. Only now does the freedom really feel like it is freeing. I don't have the weight of all those jobs I haven't done filling my mind, the mess I have to clean up before I can invite someone over, the piling of dishes, washing and to do lists.
Freedom's just another word for nothing left to do.
Congratulations Clutterhen! To read more from her, or any of our other members' blogs, click here
Firstly, I have to confess I've been naughty these holidays. Ignoring my garden's pleas for attention. I blame it on the hordes of visitors, but even though I have done nothing, it is still giving us food.
Countless times these holidays we have pulled out scrumptious fresh vegies for our dinner:- beetroots, carrots, loads of corn, masses of cherry tomatoes and baby spuds to impress our guests!
Together we crunched on our sweet 'raw' beetroot salad. Yes, raw beetroot. It is so tasty! And, very good for you!
Our garden has been so well behaved, it has even been giving us more food then we can eat. So my son and I started selling it to our neighbours. Sebastian (6) and I walked around tonight offering 10 cherry tomatoes and a FREE cob of corn or carrot for just $2.00! When we came home he proudly showed off his hard earned money! I was so proud of him as he had knocked on each door, introduced himself and offered each person his 'special deal' from his own garden!
Here are some other great tips I wanted to share with you:
I wanted to share one last thing with you! This week we saved a total of $22 from picking vegies from our own garden. Multiply that by 52 weeks and that's $1144 in one year! Once we become fully self-sufficient, including growing our own fruit trees, we have the potential to save approximately $3000-$4000 a year! Now that's motivating!
Why not kickstart your Simple Savings year with our No Spend Month. This is a superb challenge especially for anyone still struggling with Christmas over-indulgence and debt. If it's not essential, don't buy it - no worries. Get the whole family involved and see how much you can save in just 29 short days!
Fiona put this essential guide together last year for anyone who may need some help with tackling this month's Challenge. It's a great tool to help keep you motivated and on track.
Starting the year off with a BIG bang is SalliMumof3 - going in, boots and all with a full No Spend year. Why not follow her inspiring thread and perhaps even her lead. Your wallet will soon reap the rewards.
...and here is Part Two
Here's the place to get all the inspiration you need to whip up a storm in the kitchen when you are watching the pennies. Thanks so much Claire M. for helpfully putting all these excellent links in one place.
If you are a newcomer to No Spend Month have a browse through this encouraging thread which has been going on for all of 2011. Read how these members live the good life on limited funds.
Keeping the No Spend idea running all year round is an austerity measure many of our members aspire to. Here are some handy ways you can keep up the momentum.
Are you ready for this month's Super Saving Season? Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is not to spend a single cent unless absolutely necessary. And we don't mean mission impossible! Why not take your inspiration from our clever members.
To take your mind off going shopping and spending, organise for a friend to come around for coffee instead. It's a great way to catch up with each other and enjoy someone else's company - no spending necessary! You could also alternate between them coming over or you going to their place, then you are still going on an outing!
I have come up with a system that gives me a No Spend Month every three months! With just me at home I had become lazy with my grocery shopping; in fact I was grabbing takeaway or eating just a sandwich and was making myself ill from not eating properly. I discovered a weekly menu, complete with shopping list in a magazine. So I crossed off what I didn't like and headed for the supermarket. It was not until I was on my way home that this aged brain suddenly realised I had bought enough ingredients for four of each meal. Out of stupidity and lack of thought I had actually hit on a winner. The next few nights I cooked the meals, made one serving for me and froze the rest in meal lots. Over the next few weeks I added to my meal list and ended up with a variety of meals from which to choose, plus I saved myself literally hundreds of dollars by stopping panic buying and takeaways. And of course I was at last eating in a healthy way. Every three months I have enough meals to last me for the entire month, plus I can feed any unexpected visitors. I have made sure that it does not become boring and have now incorporated the same system into work lunches and every now and then breakfasts. So, all in all the old girl has now become this very budget conscious, gourmet cook and I have to admit it has become a real sense of achievement. Money is still tight, but I am not being strangled by the lack of it anymore.
For No Spend Month this February why not pretend you don't have a car for the month? (You could actually disconnect the battery if you have to.) This will make you stay away from the shops unless absolutely necessary, saving you extra time to cook meals from scratch and start projects you have been putting off. Plus it will really force you to learn to be resourceful with what you have. Also, turn off commercial television so as not to let yourself be bombarded with ads encouraging you to buy things you don't really need. Watch commercial-free stations instead or have a mammoth month of DVD fun - they are free at the library.
Our No Spend Month paid for our family holiday! Recently, we were lucky enough to obtain $9 each way flights from Newcastle to Melbourne for our family of five. As this was an impulse/unplanned short holiday and money was tight that month, we decided as a family to do a couple of $21 Challenges. Worried this still wouldn't be enough and concerned about the children's ever increasing 'NEEDS', we also decided to have a month where we only spent money on actual needs, not wants. The 'No Spend' challenge was a real eye opener for my seven, eight and 10-year-old daughters and was definitely NEEDED (no pun intended!). Basically, anything we were going to spend money on (including the groceries) was debated. During the month I needed foundation and my girls decided this was a WANT but I said it was a NEED because I needed to wear make-up to work. In the end, the girls found all the foundation samples and little bits of foundation leftovers and I had enough to get me through. My 10-year-old actually said foundation should be a business decision because it was work related. So we made a third category - business/money earning. It was fun to debate buying things and I think I struggled more than anyone else! Like the time I was caffeine deprived and tired one afternoon while we were out and I said I NEEDED a coffee. Miss 10 replied, 'Mum, that is actually a WANT. It's just that you want it so bad you've convinced yourself it is a NEED!' The reward for the challenge was we were able to pay for our trip with the money we saved and the girls saved over $180 between them to use as spending money (this included all pocket money and proceeds from a garage sale where they sold a few toys and so on). Funnily enough, it was really hard for them to spend that money! We were really in the habit of analysing spending by that stage. So they ended up coming home with $130 which is now in their bank account. The $50 they did end up spending was well spent! We were at St. Kilda wharf deliberating about the penguin cruises and thinking that $200 for the family just wasn't do-able - when the captain of one of the boats approached us. He had just had a bus load of tourists cancel and offered us the trip for the entire family for $50 including wine and nibbles! Even better was that after it finished they were heading back to Melbourne and they let us stay on the boat, so we ended up cruising under the bridge at night and into Melbourne as a bonus!
During a No Spend Month, team up with a like-minded buddy or family member to alleviate any unnecessary spending. There are so many things you can do in partnership, or on your own, including: 1. Raid each other's pantry rather than make a trip to the shops. 2. When heading out to run errands, make one trip for both buddies/families. 3. Pay bills online 4. Raid each other's cupboards or gardens before buying gifts. 5. Cancel the lawn-mowing for the month. 6. When cooking, cook surplus and deliver to your buddy/family. 7. Make greeting cards from household materials including card and glitter. Use downloadable images too. As you've seen, no spend is no problem!
Here are some bonus tips especially for you, our lovely, loyal members. Thanks so much for your continued support of Simple Savings.
It's back to school time and the cupboard is bare.
Well that's how it always is for me.
The last week of the holidays is spent labelling uniforms, shopping for overpriced black school shoes and covering books. Somewhere along the way the hours in the day or the money in the bank seems inadequate when it comes to actually doing the grocery shopping!
So this month I've got two recipes for you that require very little in the way of ingredients, but carry maximum school yard brownie points. These completely irresistible little cakes are so much fun. They don't need icing and use up odd bits and pieces of tinned, dried or fresh fruit in quick smart, tasty fashion.
Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
Check that your fruit pieces are of a uniform size. I slice my tinned pineapple pieces in three so they are nice and thin.
Line your muffin pan with the muffin papers and spray the base of the papers liberally with cooking spray.
Lay your fruit pieces in a decorative pattern in the bottom of your muffin papers. This is a great task for the kids and they'll adore making little flowers or faces with different coloured pieces of fruit. Currants can be eyes, bits of glace cherry make great smiles, dried cranberries and pineapple pieces make pretty flowers. Sprinkle enough brown sugar over each one to cover your fruit art, then drizzle with your oil.
Place your butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla in your mixing bowl.
Beat it for about two minutes with your electric beaters or wooden spoon and muscles.
Combine flour and baking powder and fold into cake batter.
Spoon a dessertspoonful of mixture on top of your sugary fruity bases and smooth with your knife.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they feel firm when lightly touched in the centre.
Rest in tin for five minutes before inverting onto racks or your bench.
Now the fun part. Call your children in and show them how, with a flick of the wrist, a perfectly normal looking cupcake becomes designer art when you peel off the papers! Clever!
Remove the cakes from their muffin papers and wrap them well in foil to freeze them, and add to lunch boxes as a special surprise. Much more spesh than a pink cupcake!
Popcorn is yet another brilliant, cost effective and super healthy school lunch snack.
But don't go buying it in ready-made snack packs that were popped three months ago. And don't waste your money on the stuff in the ready-to-pop bags. Who needs to pay two bucks for someone else's paper bag?
Pop your own the old fashioned way, as you need it and spice it up with yummy home-made taco seasoning. It costs less than one tenth what you pay for either pre-packed lunch box snack popcorn or the ready-to-pop popcorn and takes just minutes to prepare.
Makes about 12 batches of 4 serves per 375g packet of popping corn (about $0.02c per serve and nearly 50 lunch box serves per packet).
Add all of your spices to the small bowl and stir well with your teaspoon to combine.
Place your saucepan over medium high heat and add your oil.
Drop a single corn kernel into your oil. When it starts to sizzle at the edges, your oil is the right temperature for popping.
Add your corn kernels to the hot oil and cover firmly with your lid.
Within ten seconds you'll start to hear the familiar sound of popping corn.
Shake your saucepan every fifteen seconds or so to ensure your yummy popcorn doesn't scorch. It shouldn't take more than 60-90 seconds to pop this amount of kernels.
When the popping reduces to less than one every two seconds, you're done.
Tip your popped corn into your large bowl. Note that you'll always have some unpopped kernels. They're just duds, so discard them.
Now, because you've used a small amount of oil to pop your corn, you should have a light coating on your popped corn. This will help the seasoning to adhere to the popcorn. Scatter your seasoning over your popcorn and stir well with your serving spoon, ensuring that your fluffy little morsels are well coated. If necessary, a light spray of any sort of cooking oil will help the flavour stick.
In our house, this is about four school lunch serves, and is certainly equivalent to what you'd get in a pre-packaged snack. So now's the time to line up your cellophane bags, resealable bags or airtight snack boxes and equally divide the popcorn between them.
A really good trick and a way of making your snacks look 'store bought' is to fold down the excess at the top of the cellophane bags, cover with a cloth, and iron with a hot iron for around 20 seconds. This 'seals' the bag, just like the real deal.
Once you've got this method under your belt, feel free to use any kind of seasoning or spices you like. Try chicken seasoning, chicken stock cubes and curry powder, drinking chocolate or salt and pepper.
School newsletter worthy lunch boxes coming up!
Have you any idea how many times I have tried to write this blog? Over the years, a lot. It's not going to be an easy one for me to write and who knows, maybe it won't be an easy one to read. But I'm glad I have waited until now to share it because a) it's only now that it has a happy ending and b) it just might help somebody else.
To start with the traditional cliché, 'My name's Penny and -' OK, I'm not an alcoholic. But for years I have drunk way too much. I've known it and I've hated it but have never been able to beat it. Almost everybody has some sort of vice; some evil nemesis and for me it's the booze. I've written blogs about it before over the years, gleefully announcing 'I've quit!' and managing to last a whole two days before succumbing to the lure of an ice-cold bottle of Chardonnay. But not anymore. Like with giving up anything I guess the timing has to be right. Either that or you hit rock bottom, which is what I did.
Let me take you back a few years (OK, more than a few!) to when I was 17. I was already a heavy drinker - perhaps that's a slight understatement. Like many teenagers I would raid my parents' booze cupboard but unlike most teens I also used to hide bottles of wine in my knee-high boots in my wardrobe and carried a hip flask at all times, even in my school bag. I had a two-litre bottle of orange juice in the fridge at home but Mum and Dad didn't know half of it was vodka. I was rarely rolling drunk; just in a permanent state of never quite being 'all there'. To be honest I never knew why I did it - I didn't do it to try to be cool. I didn't have a traumatic childhood, quite the contrary. I simply liked the stuff.
At first my friends thought it was funny - particularly the day I sank a bottle of wine before school and had to stagger my way up the school bus and be helped into my seat. But drinking on your own isn't cool and before too long they were grabbing my hip flask or whatever bottle I happened to have on me and tipping it down the sink. They were worried sick about me but I didn't care. I must have been a right royal pain in the bum and I consider myself very lucky not to have lost those friends. I'm still in touch with each and every one of them after all these years but I know how close I came to losing them.
I wasn't so lucky with everyone though. When I was 18 I fell head over heels for a chap called Garry. I thought my sparkling personality was enough to keep him but he didn't want a drunk for a girlfriend and I got a heck of a fright when he dumped me. After a week of grieving and worrying the heck out of my mum by not eating I somehow ended up sobbing in my dad's lap confessing all. My dad bless him, didn't bat an eyelid. He just told me 'it's alright mate, we'll fix it'. And he did. Before I knew it my mum had poured out my troubles to our GP. He didn't think I was an alcoholic - but he did think I needed a good fright.
So before I knew it I was making a daily trip to Eastleigh Ward - a centre for people with drinking problems. I did this every day for six months. There I became part of a big family of wonderful people, all of whom just happened to be ruining their lives with alcohol. There was Peter H, a successful graphic designer whose downward spiral began when he started drinking G & T's with his colleagues on the train at 8 o'clock every morning. There was Mick, a 23-year-old train driver who had been sent there by a magistrate after being caught driving his train drunk. He had no intention of giving up and thought the whole thing was just a big joke. There was Craig, who was younger than me and as brash as they come, with a heart of gold. Unfortunately he was so hell bent on getting his hands on alcohol he had even been known to drink aftershave. Phil was a jovial man in his 50's who, unlike the others who all had broken marriages as a result of their drinking, had the support of his loving wife. Unfortunately he also had cirrhosis of the liver and his blood was so badly poisoned you could see every pore showing purple against his yellow skin. Saddest of all was Peter A, a lovely old chap in his seventies whose daughter had banned him from seeing his grandchildren. His tears at not being able to see them broke my heart - but he still just could not give up drinking. In fact, he had been to the centre so many times that he had been told there was nothing more that could be done for him.
Everyone there had lost someone dear to them as a result of their drinking. Wives, girlfriends, children, grandchildren. I became fond of them all and during the six months I was there I didn't drink a drop. Next to them I felt strong. I was also lucky enough to have youth on my side. I still think of them and wonder what they are doing now but if I am truly honest with myself they are probably almost all long gone.
Just a few months after that I met Noel. Ironically he was the barman in my local pub! But by then all I would drink was lime and soda. At only 25p a glass I was a cheap date! However, the landlord still felt it necessary to warn Noel. 'You want to watch that one, she's got a problem with the bottle,' he said knowingly. 'I'll be the judge of that,' came Noel's reply. We never really talked about it and to this day, I've never talked to anyone about it other than my parents - well and now you. He just told me he wouldn't 'take any crap' and I knew he meant it. That was enough.
When I was at Eastleigh Ward they told me I wouldn't be able to drink again but when you're only 18 that sounds like a very long time. After all, I had only just reached the legal age limit! Still, for several years I didn't touch a drop. For starters the budget didn't allow it. But as time went by I started having a glass of wine on special occasions and holidays and once the kids came along and we started to earn more it started making an appearance in our weekly groceries. And that's how it's been ever since. The only difference this time around was that drinking wasn't an addiction; it was nothing more than a habit. A big, expensive, fattening habit.
But still a harmful habit nonetheless. I knew I drank too much to start with but when you have glandular fever for months without knowing, are training for a marathon and lose 20kg in less than 12 months your tolerance for alcohol goes down. In my case it went down to pretty much zero. The crunch time for me came on January 2nd when we had a guest for dinner who I had never met before. A pleasant and interesting chap, I had just ONE glass of wine whilst preparing dinner and realised to my horror that I was slurring my words. No matter how hard I tried to engage in scintillating conversation I just couldn't get the words out properly and I could see this guy looking at me thinking 'what is her problem?' That was it. No more booze for Penny.
I haven't touched another drop since and that was 28 days ago. I know in my heart that this time I have finally cracked it. I don't need it, I don't want it and I sure as hell don't miss it. I don't miss the arguments I had with Noel at night because a few wines made me say things I would never normally say. I don't miss the memory loss, forgetting things I had promised loved ones or checking texts and emails the next day to remind myself what I said and hoping and praying it wasn't anything too bad. I don't miss the 3kg I lost in two weeks through not consuming all the extra calories. I don't miss the hideous amount I spent on wine and cider every week.
Instead I am relishing my freedom. I am relishing waking up not hating myself for drinking too much AGAIN, which I have done for as long as I can remember. I am relishing sleeping like a log every night instead of waking up religiously at 2.30am and laying awake beating myself up. I never realised it was alcohol which was ruining my sleep but yep, it was. Better still, I'm not waking Noel up with my tossing and turning any more either so he's happy too! I am relishing being everyone's sober driver and hearing about everyone else's hangovers. I am relishing the weight I have lost through no longer pigging out at night simply because I've had a few drinks. I am relishing the fun nights I am spending with my children making muffins or watching stingrays at the wharf instead of blobbing out in front of the TV with a glass of wine, or not being able to drive them anywhere because I'm over the limit. No more drunken arguments, no more memory loss. Admittedly I think my karaoke performance is suffering without the help of a little Dutch courage but what the heck, it's a small price to pay. From now on it's just freedom - and an extra $3000 a year in the bank. I'm back on the lime and soda and that's how it's going to stay!
This month Fran is comparing the cost and the outcomes of long term homeopathic treatment versus mainstream medicine. It is a very interesting read! To read Fran's article go to:- homeopathyplus.com.au/what-do-patients-think-of-homeopathy
Last month Christine asked:
"Would it be possible to ask if other members know of some lunch box fillers that are healthy and don't need to be cooked? I am battling with some weight issues with my girls and would love to know of some successful healthy options from other parents, as well as any tips of how they combat their children just swapping what they don't like for 'junk' food!"
Woah! We've been snowed under with replies for Christine! Thank you to everyone who responded with helpful suggestions. Unfortunately we can't print them all but here is a small selection of some of the many we received.
A healthy lunch box doesn't have to be a boring one. Quite often we pack a tin of tuna and some rice crackers. Pick a variety in spring water, not oil, and if they can't manage opening a tin, prepack it into a small container at home. Create a dried fruit mix of apple, sultana and a few nuts or try threading watermelon, rock melon, kiwi fruit and mango onto Paddle Pop sticks. Yum!
The easiest way I can think of meeting this challenge is to get your girls to decide what they want from a list of options you provide for them. They are more likely to eat food they have chosen themselves. Personally I make a week's sandwiches (with fillings chosen by my kids) and freeze them Sunday night. I know this is cooking but I bake a batch of cupcakes (in which I sneak some wheat germ) and freeze those too. I have included the recipe below. In the mornings I can just grab a sandwich, a cake and a couple of pieces of fruit and I'm done. A school lunch ready in 20 seconds!
Easy lunch box cupcakes
Makes approximately 12 large and 12 mini cakes.
Preheat oven to 180 C.
Mix 1 3/4 cups SR flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup wheat germ (or bran cereal or oats, whatever you have) and 1/3 cup of cocoa together in a bowl.
Add 125g melted butter and 1 cup of milk and mix well.
Add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition.
Line 2 muffin tins (one normal size, one mini) with patty cases (makes for easier lunch box travel).
Add 1/4 cup of the mixture to each large case and spoon the remaining mixture in the smaller patty cases.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, taking out the smaller ones after around 15 minutes.
Cool and freeze.
Fruit is always a good choice in summer; there are so many fresh options available. Fruit that my kids see as 'treats' include strawberries, blueberries, grapes, mango, pineapple and melon chunks. Chop up and include a small plastic fork if that makes it more palatable, or make up a yoghurt dip (assuming you have an insulated lunch bag and can insert an ice pack). In winter when there's not so much choice available, try a small container of tinned fruit in natural juice, not syrup.
Well done on facing up to your weight issues and tackling them head on. Nothing is better than a healthy lunch box! Here's my tip. Firstly aim to go to an independent fruit and vegie shop - I avoid the supermarket so I'm not tempted to trek down the junk food aisles! I purchase bags of carrots, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, nectarines, bananas, capsicum, celery, beans, cherry tomatoes, apricots and so on. My main idea is to get 5-7 portions of everything depending on price and what's in season.
When I bring home my fruit and vegies, I wash everything, peel/cut up the carrots and celery, then divide it all up into portions and then pop them into lunch boxes or plastic bags. The idea is that you then have 3-4 different types of fruit and 2-3 types of veg in each lunch box. You can put in as much as you like. I find that when the kids are at school they will eat what's given to them because they are hungry. You can do as many lunch boxes as you can fit in your fridge!
Our healthy version of 'chips' comes thanks to the wonderful Italian mums in my youngest daughter's class. You need:
Cut the pita pockets into eighths and spread evenly over an oven tray. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil evenly over the top of the cut pita eighths. Sprinkle with Italian herbs and some salt and pepper. Bake at 180C until crisp, turning once or twice. Cool and store in an air tight container.
These are a healthier and cheaper option to the traditional salted packet snacks. My daughter likes them so much that she says she wouldn't swap them for store-bought packets but the other kids are always trying to swap with her! We sometimes pair these with home-made dips such as hummus (see taste.com for a great recipe).
Pita pockets cost about $1.50 for a packet, which last about a week for a child. I don't know how much store-bought chips cost for a week's supply because I don't buy them but I definitely save in salt and fat intake for my children and I.
My daughter is seven years old and literally begs for a mountain bread wrap for her lunch box! We grate some carrot and cheese, add avocado and hummus, and any other vegies she asks for. We found that we had to roll it up properly, or it would fall apart by the time she got to school, but she loves them. It also helps us with using up the bits and pieces that are in the fridge. Another hit has been unsweetened yoghurt (you can make your own or buy it) with fruit. Slightly overripe fruit that would otherwise probably be chucked out seems to work well for this and you can add a teaspoon of sugar or honey if you want - it will still have far less sugar than most commercial fruit yoghurts! As a treat, we sometimes put in frozen raspberries. Yum! We have been really lucky with our kids' school as they have a no junk food policy so the kids swapping healthy food for junk has not really been an issue. Maybe it is worthwhile talking to the school about how they can help out with this.
One idea I can recommend for healthy lunch boxes is to buy small tubs of yoghurt when on special or close to expiry date. I buy these and freeze them. They are fabulous for lunches as they can be thawed by lunch or are like eating ice cream if refrigerated! Choose 'lite' yoghurts for an even healthier option.
My kids love to 'dip' food, so I give them carrot sticks, rice crackers or light cheese to dip in home-made hummus or other low-fat dips I pick up on special. They always get eaten and asked for again!
We like to make 'fruit leathers'. It does involve cooking initially, although there are non-cook versions where you just puree the fruit then spread it thinly on non-stick paper and into a low oven or even better, into the sunshine to dry (unless you have a food dehydrator). The leather keeps for months and you can cut it into small strips for lunch box fillers. This is so good that your girls will not be swapping it for anything!
My daughter loves to take salad to school. For a yummy alternative we wrap it in a lettuce cup. They are delicious and kids love them but don't forget the cold pack to keep everything nice and fresh or they won't eat it!
We make up a big batch of snack mix and keep it in the cupboard. You get a big bowl and add anything like sultanas, dried fruits, cereals like Nutrigrain, pretzels, mini mallows, chocolate chips and nuts. Although there are a few sweet things in there, it's only a small amount - just enough to keep the kids interested!
Several years ago I did a Family Food Patch course, which is a course centred on the idea of nutrition, exercise and children. It was interesting and insightful. Their website is www.familyfoodpatch.org.au - well worth a visit!
I have one child who loves everything healthy and one who runs at the sight of anything green! Try these for a different lunch idea.
1) Cruskits - with light cream cheese, ham, tomato or tuna, cucumber, the list goes on - very yummy and the cream cheese makes it taste more sinful than it is.
2) Fruit muffins - you can make them with gluten-free flour or protein powder instead of flour to lower the content of fat and calories and make it low G.I.
3) Two-minute noodle pancakes! These can be eaten cold with sauce. This basic pancake recipe uses one small can of creamed corn, one cooked packet of two minute noodles and as many grated vegies you can cram in. Mix all together and cook like normal pancakes. A great alternative which tastes great hot or cold
Have a pantry clean out - you never know what helpful items you will find! My son who does not eat anything green except lettuce or green apples is starting to get chubby, and someone told me to get rid of any junk food in the house. They will soon find alternatives to prevent starving. My son's school lunch used to consist of jam sandwiches, juice, apple, chocolate yoghurt and so forth. Sugar, sugar and more sugar. Two weeks ago, however, I cleaned out everything chocolate and sweet related. My son has now decided he wants Vegemite cruskits for lunch, green apple, juice and muffins - a much better alternative! Whilst it means the whole family goes without as well, is that such a bad thing?
One thing that I learned while working in a school was, 'if the children make the decision, then it will be better or harsher than you would have and they will stick to it as they made that decision.' What I am trying to say is - get the girls to help you choose what goes into their snacks and they also help make them. That makes it harder for them to grumble that you have stinted them.
Set the ground rules, for example, they can only buy within your guidelines. So you will choose the bigger list of good foods, then the girls will decide what they want from there. You have dried fruits, fresh fruits, canned fruits, muffins and slices just to name a few.
Mix them up so that they are not having the same thing every day. Maybe the girls can choose one or two each per week. That will give you plenty to work on but not so many that it is hard to do. Then the next week (or fortnight) you plan another lot to make or make up, whichever suits your lifestyle best.
If they like dried fruit then you could buy bulk packs of apple, mango and banana chips or any others that they like. Then package them into reusable bags. I use Tupperware/Decor containers for fresh or canned fruit.
I like to make two different types of bags/containers - one for morning tea time and one for afternoon tea time (or after school treat time). Sometimes I swap the snack packs around so that nobody knows what they are to eat. This can be fun as you don't know whether to look forward to a mixed fruit pack or a muffin. This can be part of the fun when you have made up two or more different snack packs.
Also, there are a lot of lovely fattening looking low-fat cakes, muffins and slices in the Simply Too Good To Be True cookbooks and there are now six books to choose from. See www.symplytoogood.com.au for the books or your local newsagent. There is even a 'Wicked Chocolate Cake' in Book 2. My kids love the jam drops!
Download a photo or two of children with really, really bad teeth and explain that it goes from the teeth down and is very, very painful, if they don't CHOOSE to eat more healthily. Go through the fruit and vegie aisles with your girls and get them to pick out healthy stuff they love. Beware of the salted nuts on offer.
Tell them they can pick their fruit but not their lollies. Get the best that you can afford - it pays off in terms of less doctor visits, less hospital visits, down time for you from any job you might have, school time for the children, fuel getting there, disruption to your lives and so on.
Try new fruit - ask one of the staff if you can. That's how I was introduced to achachas. Delicious!
Get a water filter for your tap and let them choose their own drink bottle. Get THEM to write on their bottles in permanent marker, 'WATER ONLY'.
Go to such websites as Diabetes Australia and either ask there or see if there are any suggestions made.
Hope these ideas work for you. Remember - you are only limited by your imagination!
Bonus hints for Vault members:
This month Michelle Obama asks:
"I'm having real trouble with my organic vegetable garden. The secret service agents keep digging it up and planting listening devices in my radishes. Does anyone know how I can fix this?"
If you have any tips which can help Michelle, please send them in to us here.
Ahem, you may have guessed we didn't have a good help request for this month's newsletter! So if there is something you would like help with, please send us your help requests!
I had been thinking about buying The $21 Challenge ever since I heard about it, so when I renewed my subscription to Simple Savings recently I took the opportunity to buy a discounted copy (clever marketing!). Much to my surprise it arrived within a few days so I have been busily reading and am now up to the recipe section. At first I was thinking I didn't have time to do a full stock take of all our food, especially as I 'knew' what we had anyway, but thought this morning that I would at least have a quick look in our pantry. What a shock! So far I have only looked at 1 1/2 shelves but I was amazed at what was hiding in the back!
To put things in perspective, we have two adults and a one year old in our house. A quick scan showed we have five cans of baked beans, some creamed corn, three pasta bakes, several bags of pasta and rice noodles, and six different packets of breakfast cereals (several are open as I often mix a few together, but I think we possibly don't need all of them at one time...). Even more embarrassing is the fact that Corn Flakes were on my shopping list for this week - needless to say I crossed them off! I shudder to think how much food we have stored away in our pantry, fridge and upright freezer.
If I am to be honest with myself, I suspect we shouldn't have to buy anything other than milk, vegies and fruit for several weeks if we were to get serious. Yikes! I thought I was a fairly sensible shopper, not buying too much junk food or wasting too much, but I have to realise the food is still being wasted if it is lurking unseen and uneaten for months until it eventually expires. I like to have things 'just in case' but it's time to get real!
Although I don't think I am quite brave enough to go for it and try the Challenge this week (I still have a lot of stocktaking to do - and realistically I am not going to get it all done today as there are other more urgent jobs that need doing), reading the start of the book has certainly made me stop and think about what I am doing. The $21 Challenge is based on such a simple idea that I almost feel silly. Then I realise that presumably I am not alone in being oblivious to what I am buying - otherwise we wouldn't need the book or indeed the SS website. The tips and ideas on this website and in the book are such simple, sensible ideas, but they are slowly making a huge difference to my outlook and life as I explore my spending habits.
Wow! Didn't we manage to cram a whole bunch of money saving ideas into this month's newsletter? I hope you really enjoyed it and have been inspired to try something new.
I am always keen to receive your feedback about the kinds of things you want to see more of in the newsletter and those things you would rather we leave off. Drop me a line next time you're on our website. If you have enjoyed this month's newsletter, why not forward it to your friends to help them save money too? Or tell them about us on Facebook by clicking the 'like' button on our Simple Savings Facebook page?
Best of luck with your No Spend Challenge. We look forward to seeing you next month!
All the best,