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Here are the ten highest voted hints from the Vault:

120 bickies for $4!

Make over 120 bickies for just $4.00! This fantastic basic bickie recipe is terrific value, makes loads and has lots of room for variations:

500g margarine
1 tin condensed milk
1 cup sugar
5 cups self-raising flour

Cream sugar and margarine. Add condensed milk and flour. Roll into teaspoon sized balls and press down with a fork. Place on greased trays and bake in moderate oven until golden brown (approximately 10-15 minutes).

Before baking I divide the mixture into five and add the following ingredients for different flavoured bickies:
1. Chocolate chips and glace cherries (chopped)
2. Cornflakes and sultanas
3. Hundreds and Thousands
4. Jam drops
5. Milo and coconut

You could add any number of other things like Rice Bubbles, Smarties, nuts, cinnamon and other spices and so on. The raw mixture can be frozen in balls, just thaw slightly before baking.

From this one batch we made 123 bickies and by my calculations using the cheapest possible ingredients, the whole batch cost just over $4.00 to make!

by: Kristy Frahm 433 responses in the members' forum

Skint but stylish

Skint but stylish. That's how I like to think of my lifestyle, because it is such fun to live on the smell of an oily rag without anyone else knowing! Eighteen months ago, although in recovery from depression, I found myself many thousands of dollars in debt and with several accounts having been sent to collection agencies. I was also 31kg overweight and at risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. The excess weight (not to mention the stress!) was also making my arthritis worse. I was no longer able to work in my former profession and, as I was in my early sixties, I wasn't able to find other work and was on Centrelink (Social Security) benefits. I have since been transferred to the Age Pension. I knew I had to make some drastic changes, and pretty darn quickly too! I had just a few things going for me:

  • My Visa card was a debit, not credit, card.

  • My account was with a credit union, rather than a bank, and fees are much less.

  • I was knowledgeable about nutrition.

  • I was willing to face unpalatable facts about myself and make lifestyle changes.

With this small armoury, I prepared to do battle! The first thing I did was to sit down with all the paperwork, and list all the accounts, personal loans and the total. I nearly had a heart attack right there and then, but with the information, I was able to draw up a projected payments schedule. I contacted all the collection agencies and told them how much I proposed to pay each fortnight until all were paid. I did the same with private lenders. Nobody turned my proposal down; it really is true that, if you get in contact and show willingness, most lenders will give you time to pay. They would rather have their money than you in jail!

Step 2 was to organise payment of my electricity account by direct debit from my pension - what you never have, you never miss. Once the phone bill was paid off and reconnected, I did the same with that too. In all, my debt reduction program was going to be about $200 per fortnight, or roughly 34% of my pension and Centrelink allowances. Since my rent costs another 34%, the remaining 32% had to stretch to cover food, cleaning materials, clothing, pharmacy costs over the pharmacy allowance, fares for trips outside walking distance, presents, postage, life insurance and credit union fees (direct debit from my credit union account), occasional small charitable donations and the occasional small treat.

Step 3 was to go on to a sensible eating program (not a fad diet) that would help me to lose weight, bring my blood glucose and serum cholesterol levels into the normal range. A low GI, high carbohydrate, moderate protein, low-fat pattern fitted the bill in all respects. The challenge was: could I do it on $50-$75 per fortnight? The answer is yes! I make my own wholemeal bread, soups, skim milk yoghurt and lots of interesting dishes from many countries, based on grains and vegetable proteins, and stock up on tinned oily fish for essential fatty acids when on special. I have red meat and poultry only once or twice a fortnight and the rest of the time my proteins are derived from legumes, eggs and low-fat cheeses. It's just as well that I like oats! I drink two litres of water a day and make my own herbal teas from homegrown herbs. I don't buy soft drinks and buy leaf tea rather than tea bags, as it's better value per unit serving. I find whole fruit better all round than juice as a rule.

Step 4 was to get mobile! I walk, because I can't afford gym membership, and walking can be done by those who can't jog. Being out in the open air blows away the blues too. Having won a free pedometer, I wear it and try to reach 10,000 paces a day. I also started a vegetable garden and this saves me money where it counts, on vegetables, as well as being another source of fresh air and exercise.

Is it working? Is it what! In the last financial year I paid off $5000 in debts on the pension alone, and am on track to achieve the same amount this financial year. I lost 13kg in the same period - a nice, sustainable rate. My blood glucose level is normal, my serum cholesterol almost so, although because of familial hypercholesteraemia, I need some medication to help with that. I am continuing to lose weight slowly but surely and have much more endurance and less pain. My GP is nearly as stoked as I am. I take care of my clothes, believing that 'well-pressed is well-dressed', so my appearance doesn't give me away either. Occasionally I earn a little money from magazine contributions and this usually goes towards seeds or something else for the garden, but occasionally I restock the pantry with staples. I make my own cleaning products with such simple substances as vinegar, bi-carb of soda, washing soda crystals, soap scraps, eucalyptus oil and - wait for it - Worcestershire sauce (cleans brass and copper a treat, and one nearly always has it handy). I turn my appliances (apart from the fridge) off at the wall when not in use and have noticed a difference in my power usage. All my incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with long-life fluorescent ones, and by crafty use of acrylic-lined curtains I keep my house cooler in summer and warmer in winter. I pile on the clothing layers in winter and wear cool clothing in summer. If I'm watching TV in the winter, I cover my legs with a woollen rug and put on another cardigan if necessary, rather than turn up the heater.

Because I can't afford much for presents, I give of myself. A nice present is a 'book of vouchers', made attractively and containing such redeemable coupons as: 'This voucher is good for two hours' ironing... or an evening's baby-sitting... or... whatever!' Very few people say no to home-made goodies either. It makes me feel truly wealthy to give someone a loaf of bread still warm and fragrant from the oven, or a jar of chutney.

by: Eco-Baby the Green & Grey Grandma 179 responses in the members' forum

Grandmotherly skill finds new purpose

A novel idea to help my Mum save on new ceiling fans has led to some fantastic and unexpected long-term savings! After being quoted a whopping $160 per unit (pensioner rate) to get ceiling fans installed, we took matters into our own hands and placed an advertisement on local notice boards. It read: 'Experienced licensed electrician required to install three ceiling fans. I would like to trade the costs by doing your washing and ironing for one month.’

Within a few days, Mum had received several enquiries and selected a nice, young single guy who needed a 'mother's touch' to some of his clothes - a lot of stain removal and buttons re-sewn. He installed the fans and dropped and picked the clothes up from her place on a weekly basis. To our surprise we learned he also had connections to plumbers and gardeners and she was soon able to have her bathroom wall retiled in exchange for scrubbing out an oven and re-organising a food pantry for a couple that were having a baby soon.

It didn’t stop there! Before long she was taking up hems, sewing on buttons and doing basic mending in exchange for garden maintenance and mowing lawns. These guys are ripping up old items from homes every day with their trades so these days they even search around to find her the cheapest - or even free - items if she needs them, as well as providing an oven door and dials on her heater for free. They often come across things that others could use but end up in the tip instead.

As a pensioner, Mum has time on her hands and is very experienced in household chores but has a limited income. This trade of skills and services means she can now carry out tasks within her ability and has made some fantastic friends. Her place looks amazing and is she even happy to do babysitting for the families. In turn they really appreciate having a cuddly grandmother figure around. She has a new purpose and a whole new social network too - in fact she looks 10 years younger!

by: Moo Moo 66 responses in the members' forum

$30,000 saved in one year

I had never considered my lifestyle to be particularly excessive, but when I found myself facing large debts and unable to make headway, I had to take control. Using the methods below, I managed to reduce my debts by $30,000 in twelve months.

Bill paying and budgeting:
I began making regular monthly payments into a savings account - which I called my ‘debt reduction’ fund. At the same time, I started to put weekly amounts in labeled envelopes. These envelopes were to cover all of the regular bills; meaning I no longer came under stress when they were due, and I didn’t need to touch any of the savings in my debt reduction fund.

I began a Christmas tin, paying $20 per week into it. While it may not be ideal to keep large sums of money in the home, for me it was preferable to paying more fees to the bank for opening yet another account.

I clear out my wallet every night and put all my coins in a jar. This alone gives me an extra $50 a month to take to the bank.

Food and grocery shopping:
Instead of takeaway food, I began substituting with one of the following:

Spaghetti (five meals per pack for $1.50) with bolognese sauce (two meals per can - $2.50)
Rice (eight meals per pack - $1.50) and canned chilli-con-carne (two meals for $3.50)
Savings approximately $20 per week.

I make sure I eat either frozen broccoli, cauliflower or peas five nights a week, at a cost of $0.60c per meal. I buy all my steak and meat in bulk and freeze in portions.

I get a box of slightly over ripe tomatoes ($3.00 for 5 kg - on special from the local fruit shop) and boil them (skins on) with onion, salt and pepper and a dash of chilli sauce. This sauce makes even the cheapest steak taste delicious, and is great with chicken too. I freeze the sauce in single portions.

Chicken drumsticks are cheap and often on special. All you need to do is roll them in flour and cook on an oven tray until golden. A quick, moist and tasty meal (two drumsticks per person) for less than $1.00.

Potato chips at $3.50 per bag are both expensive and very unhealthy. A cheaper option is to cut a $1.50 loaf of Lavash bread into triangles, dust with paprika or lemon pepper (spraying with a little oil to coat) and cook in oven until golden and crunchy. Add the home-made tomato sauce as a dip and save another $2.00 - $3.00.

I am self employed and work a minimum of 70 hours per week. It would be so easy to succumb to fast food when I am tired, but to curb the temptation I make a large lasagna (without pasta) or a salmon and rice bake; both meals with plenty of vegetables and freeze in portions. All I need to do when I get home is zap in the microwave and eat, and have my own tasty, balanced fast food meal (15 minutes to defrost and cook). Each batch I make gives me eight meals for each recipe, and as they have some of the same ingredients, it is easy to make both at once.

My recipes are delicious and low fat and I am happy to share them if anyone would like them. They cost only around $2.00 per complete meal and all use fresh vegetables.

I make my own burgers by buying mince, making thin patties and grilling, then freeze cooked, in portions. They cook super fast from the freezer with two minutes in the microwave. A quick, low fat hamburger with lettuce tomato and beetroot - $1.50 a hamburger. You can add some zapped frozen home-made tomato sauce for a really tasty treat.

I have my entire shopping list saved on my computer as an Excel spreadsheet and have the prices for each item entered. When I want something, I just enter the quantity (the spreadsheet automatically adds the total each time I input an amount) and know beforehand how much the whole bill will cost. I then look at the total and question whether I really need an item, or just want it!

By doing this, I also know when the supermarket adds a few cents (far more regularly than many people realise - usually 20% - 50% of items weekly, from upwards of $0.03c to $0.40c). I buy regular goods on special (enough for three months supply) and choose generic brands for things like tissues and toilet paper (1,000 sheets of this is the same price as 250 sheets name brand)! I also know when a special is really a special and when it isn’t, which is quite often. I take a calculator shopping and work out the best buy in quantity. Bigger is not always cheaper, and it really is good advice to never shop hungry. I have my weekly grocery budget and any savings go into the account.

I used to buy my lunch and a drink for around $8.00 each day. Now I make my own lunch each day - sandwich, fruit and a large bottle of lemon cordial. Otherwise I take a bowl of Country Ladle soup and a roll. One can gives me two meals for just $1.25 each, with my $0.60c roll. It is healthy, fills me up and saves me $6.00 a day - another $30 a week in my savings account.

There are always two large bottles of lemon cordial made up in my fridge. I only keep fizzy drink for times when I am expecting guests. I put bottles or cans in an hour prior to their arrival. If it is not normally there, I don't drink it. It costs $0.10c for a glass of healthy water based drink, as compared to $1.00 for unhealthy sugar based drinks - what would you rather have?

I save $10 a month on washing powder by reducing the amount I use each load by half.
You know by now where that extra $10 saving goes!
I am always organized for birthday and Christmas gift wrapping - I buy one bolt of wide, colourful paper (from Cello paper) for between $50 - $100 every 15 years. Based on usually giving 40 presents each year, instead of having to buy 40 sheets of gift paper at around $2.50 each, my bulk buying gives me an extra $100 a year in my savings account.

Reducing phone bills:
I now save $70 per month on my previous average mobile phone bill, simply by not making calls on impulse, and calling on a land line wherever possible. That extra $70 a month goes in the savings account. I also reduced by home phone bill by $210 per month once I realized where all the charges were going - on checking my email every time I dialed up. Now I only connect to the Internet once a day and that $210 each month goes into the savings account.

My entertainment habits have also changed. Instead of paying $50 a time on the pokies, whenever I get the urge now, I put $50 into a tin for my next visit to the bank - it saves $100 - $150 from being frittered away each month. To keep control of my alcohol consumption, I would line empty bottles on my kitchen window sill and clear weekly. Doing this, you see it daily and unconsciously count the value - plus, do you want the neighbours to see how much you drink?? This saves me another $50 a month for my account. Instead of opening a can, now when I get home I have a really large lemon cordial. Then if I still feel like a drink, at least I have taken the edge off the need to relax and I will only have one every few days.

One last golden rule - put away $50 per month for ‘mad money’ - just for you to use for something special.

I paid off $30 000 in one year by using these exact tips and many more. The relief is amazing and now I save the same way.

[Shane's recipes are in the cooking section of the Savings Vault.]

[To view or download Shane's Excel Shopping spreadsheet follow the link below.]

by: Shane O'Donnell 131 responses in the members' forum

Grandma's promising gift

My grandson turned six on Boxing Day, and I came up with a new idea for a birthday present that will bring him lots of fun over the next six months. It's called a 'Promise Photo Frame'; here's how it works.
I bought a large photo frame with spaces for six different photos. I then downloaded ClipArt pictures of various activities and put them in the spaces with the following captions:
Trip to Beach with Grandma
Trip to Zoo with Grandma
Train ride with Grandma
Trip to playground with Grandma
Dinner out with Grandma
Movies with Grandma
My Grandson can choose one activity to do with me each month, and when we go out, we'll take a photo of the actual event to put in the space on the frame. This gift, and the activities, can be modified to suit all children, and even adults.

by: Woolfie 29 responses in the members' forum

Home mixed household cleaner

My mother is chronically ill and disabled. She suffers from a rare type of auto-immune disease, called lupus, and is therefore allergic to most chemicals. This made cleaning difficult because she was allergic to most cleaning products, or those she wasn't allergic to were too expensive to buy on my carer's pension. Because Mum's disease is an auto-immune disease, I have to keep our house hospital-grade clean.

So I have come up with a fantastic recipe, and my house is spotless, smells great and is fresh and clean. The solution cleans and polishes everything, including windows. I have never seen glass and stainless steel taps look so clean.

This solution also lasts forever. Household cleaner used to cost me $80 per month, but now I buy detergent every three months, vinegar once a year at $1.50, washing soda every 18 months at $0.98c and eucalyptus oil once every eight months at $3.50 - a saving of $880 a year minus $20 for the few items I do buy. In total I've saved around $2640 over three years.

Household Cleaner

1 litre water
200ml vinegar
40ml detergent
40ml eucalyptus oil
2 dessertspoons of washing soda

Mix all ingredients together, and it's ready to use. Use 60ml of solution in warm water to wash your floors. Fill a spray bottle and use it to clean your table, benches and bathroom.

by: Becky-lee Taylor 433 responses in the members' forum

Time-saving tips for working mums

For many people juggling work, family and study, time is the most important saving they can make. I work four days a week, have a three-year-old and studied part-time for a diploma for a year. I got by with these time-saving tips:

  1. Lowering my expectations for the house. I don't need a spotless house, but a tidy and lived-in home.

  2. Doing my housework little and often, rather than spending huge amounts of time tidying up. I do things like:

- put my little one's daycare bag together for the next day as soon as we get home in the afternoon.
- cook my lunches (pasta and sauce, muffins and so on) once a week and freeze them.
- put my lunch box together from the freezer in the evening.
- clean the toilet by putting a teaspoon of Napisan in it each night. It soaks overnight and the bowl is clean with the next flush.
- do laundry when enough for a load accumulates so we don't have a sudden clothes drought, then an avalanche of laundry to do and put away.

  1. Exercising on a stationary bike in front of the TV in the evenings after my little one is in bed.

  2. Programming our DVD recorder once a week (Sundays when we get the new TV guide) so I don't miss my favourite shows.

  3. Filling cereal bowls with water if I am rushing and have to leave the breakfast things. This makes them easier to clean later and stops ants.

  4. Trying not to double handle things. Rubbish goes straight in the bin, meat is put in meal size portions in plastic bags and frozen as soon as it gets home, magazine subscriptions go straight to magazine rack when they arrive in mail.

  5. Leaving rooms better than when I arrived, so the need to tidy doesn't build up. It only takes five minutes to put laundry from the floor to the hamper, make the bed, wipe a bench, replenish the toilet paper.

  6. Recruiting my little one to help - she's only three but she can put dirty dishes in the sink, put toys away in her room, dirty clothes in the hamper.

  7. Shopping for groceries by myself in the evening so hubby can watch his TV shows in peace and I am not tempted to go to other stores as only the supermarket is open. Also many things are marked down at that time.

  8. Trying to do three things for myself that make me feel happy each day, like listen to podcasts while I do the housework.

  9. Writing the shopping list progressively through the week so I can pick it up and go when it's time to do groceries.

  10. Storing the bedding in storage containers under each bed so it's quick to make the bed, especially when changing my little one's wet sheets in the middle of the night.

  11. Shopping for presents at sales during the year (online or in stores) so I don't need to go to crowded stores during the Christmas rush.

  12. Not beating myself up if I find lifestyle changes tricky at first - I am afterall human!

by: Spud 198 responses in the members' forum

Bi-carb soda and vinegar replaces other cleaners

I have saved heaps by no longer buying expensive cleaning products. To clean my toilet, bath or shower, I quickly wet the area and let most of the water drain away. I then sprinkle the whole area with bicarbonate soda, using a small shaker (you can get them at Kmart for a few dollars). I then spray it with cheap white vinegar in a spray bottle. There is a slight chemical reaction that dissolves all the mould and dirt. Leave it for a few minutes to work. You still have to scrub a little and you may need to re-do any heavily soiled areas. It also works for benchtops and sinks, it's a cheap alternative to chemicals and good for the environment too.

by: Janet Candy 45 responses in the members' forum

How to save $3000 a year on groceries

Here's how we saved $3160 on our food and grocery shopping in one year!

With two kids, it's difficult to find time to shop every week, so I now plan a month's meals in advance and do one big shop each month for basics and weekly shops for fruit, vegetables and meat.

We used to spend $150 a week ($7800 a year) shopping, then find we were throwing away fruit and vegetables because they had gone bad, and that we never had enough ingredients in the house for a full meal. We now spend a total of $170 a month grocery shopping, and $50 a week on fruit, vegetables and meat, if that. This equates to a yearly total of $4640 - a saving of at least $3160!

Planning the month's menu takes a maximum of 20 minutes, and each week we have two fish meals, two meat meals and three vegetarian. Recipes come from 'The Destitute Gourmet Cookbook', the Safeway magazine, magazines from the library and from friends. Each week has a mix of easy/quick recipes and more involved ones so that if I have a busy day, I can make something quick. I also plan the 'snacks' such as oat cake, date loaf and banana muffins.

I have a spreadsheet on the computer which helps me to plan how much pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, and so on I need (four kilograms of rice, five packets of pasta, and so on).

After planning the menu, I write the shopping list and then hit NQR, Safeway and Coles while my husband looks after the kids. It takes only an hour if you're organised with a list and go at a quiet time of day! I prepare separate lists for the weekly fruit, vegetable and meat needs.

We are all now eating in a healthy way and always have cakes and biscuits on hand for guests - and we always use what we have before it goes off.

Other advantages are that other people can consult the menu to see what to cook if I'm not around. Because I'm only doing one big shop, I'm not buying as many impulse items - especially since the husband and kids stay at home! We're also finding that we have enough leftovers from one meal to last another, even after using some for lunches.
And we don't live on baked beans! Tonight we feasted on vegetarian sushi with pickled ginger and Asian dips. Last night was a Moroccan chicken casserole with couscous. Tomorrow night may be a tuna curry, home-made vegetable pizza or grilled balsamic lamb salad!

Doing this, we're saving more than $3000 a year for the family - and don't have the stress of shopping each week with two active children!

by: Tonia Griffith-jones 28 responses in the members' forum

Laminating without a laminator

I have saved a fortune on laminating costs over the years, by doing my own at home. I don't have a laminating machine though - I don't need one! I just buy the laminating pouches I need and get exactly the same effect using my household iron on a low setting. You just need to ensure you are working on a fairly rigid surface - if your ironing board is too 'spongy', strengthen the surface by adding a piece of cardboard, covered with cloth before laminating. When applying the iron, put a cloth or other fabric between the plastic and the iron. The results are just the same as using a machine and the heat will gently fuse the pouch together. I have done this for so long, that I don't know how much laminating costs any more, because I never pay to have it done!

by: Jennifer Martin 22 responses in the members' forum