"Secrets to Saving Money in Australia" Free Newsletter - April 2008

This issue includes:-

  1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Can Pete Fix It?
  2. Yes He Can!
  3. Sophie Gray: Fix Up Your Favourite Dishes
  4. Special Guest: Anita Bell
  5. Best of the Forum: Make Do, Mend and DIY
  6. Penny's Blog: The Vault Challenge
  7. Homeopathy Corner: An Alternative Fix
  8. From Last Month: Wasteful Housemate Drives Me Crazy!
  9. This Month's Help Request: Keeping Mould Away and Making Memories
  10. Saving Story: Quirky Ways to Live Off the Land


How are you going? I hope you have had a great month eating nude *grin*. Guess what! Today is Jacqui's fourth Birthday. Wow! Time really flies. This morning she got a Wonder Woman outfit, popped it on and then declared, "I am Diana, Princess of the Amazons. I won't be denied!! (Now I have to throw a heavy pole at you)." Matt and I were in stitches. Being a mum is a lot of fun. Sitting around having fun opening presents made me really grateful for our way of life. Being frugal, shopping smart and fixing things means we can spend heaps of time with our children and it is FANTASTIC!!

Even more wonderful are some of the emails this month. It isn't just our family who are thriving - some of the stories are amazing. Thank you for letting me be a part of something so good. Thank you for supporting and inspiring each other every day.

"I have just renewed my Simple Savings membership for the third time! Having brought up five children, mostly on a single income I have always had to be fairly thrifty and thought I knew all the ways there were to save money but I was wrong, I have got so much out of the site over the years and am constantly astounded at the new ways that members come up with to save money. Penny's Blog is always interesting and educational and your characters Sad Sally and Happy Hanna are always thought provoking. Why does Sad Sally think that being thrifty limits her life style? I find that it actually empowers me! It enables me to plan for things that I want and to achieve them. My husband and I are leaving for a trip to the UK and Europe in five weeks time (the second overseas trip in the last six months) and we certainly wouldn't be able to afford this if we were Sad Sally's!" (Liz Delaney)

"I just want to say a huge thank you for your site. I had been deciding whether to join for a couple of months. I finally did the other day and I'm sure I've got the money back already! I am now really inspired to make the most of the income we are currently getting." (Rachel Campbell)

"Thanks for the site. I joined in November and haven't written anything for the four-and-a-half months - I've just been taking it all in and re-training my brain. We are doing really well, from three maxed-out credit cards in the thousands in December to no longer relying on them and only using them for one-off payments which we then immediately pay back from our current account. Also, we now have money in the bank at the end of the pay week, without going into credit-card mode by Wednesday. (There are five of us, including three kids under five).

"I have gone cold turkey from the shops (since January), and if I need milk or bread I ask my mum to bring them (and then pay her) rather than go near shops until I know I can control myself. We are now spending about a quarter of what we used to after being reckless for over 10 years!

"Formerly I was a clever high-earning, high-spending professional woman turned stay-at-home mum. I didn't seriously alter my 'money-to-burn' spending habits (doh, I mustn't be that clever then!), I didn't blink at paying hundreds for a haircut and colour or $20 for a luxury body wash (instead of a five-pack of soap, which we now use). How shameful. It all went on the credit card too, as I didn't see anything wrong that whole time.

"Before joining Simple Savings, I didn't know how to spend a weekend if it didn't involve at least one trip (all of us) to the shopping centre. It was never to keep up with anybody, just for our own satisfaction and gluttony. I hadn't ever completed a no-spend day.

"Now, we still go to the beach, fishing, park and so on, but don't go shopping afterwards and can get by without spending a cent some weekends. Our girls are now thinking in terms of 'activities', not possessions." (Anon)

"You have outdone yourselves! March is the best newsletter ever. The idea of nude food is brilliant. I am an ex-orchardist who decided when the amount of chemicals we were being asked to put on our fruit became too much to get out of commercial production to the corporations (Coles and Woolworths) and just grow for our friends and family. Towards the end of our commercial production we were expected to dip our fruit in fungicide to stop it rotting and also to wax it to make it nice and shiny (not very nude). The fungicide treatment was a bit scary because the fruit was preserved and no longer followed the laws of nature. Some of this treated fruit we threw in the compost pile, where it stayed preserved for a long time while everything else around in the pile composted as normal. Good on you for encouraging better practices!" (Sharon)

"We're on our way to doing the $21 Challenge! After joining the Savings Vault last week (have been getting the emails for years) I decided to look at everything in more depth. I decided that we were going to do the $21 Challenge! Thanks for the great hints. A lot are common sense as I'm already pretty thrifty, but there are so many things that I have never thought of. Thanks a heap." (Michelle Cherry)

"I used to go shopping for groceries and just buy whatever I felt like getting off the shelves but since I have been visiting your website I have become really a bit of a scrooge in the supermarket. Every week now I take a certain amount of cash with me to the supermarket. The first thing I do is put $20 aside and try not to spend it during the week. I make sure I have plenty of time to check products on the shelves - do I really need that pasta sauce when I have tinned tomatoes and dried herbs in the pantry, or that shower cleaner that is on special when I can use white vinegar? I found that this kind of thinking is saving me heaps and whatever money I have left in my purse at the end of the week goes away with the $20 I put aside. Now whenever a surprise gift for a birthday or other unexpected expense occurs, I have some cash to buy it without withdrawing more money out of the bank." (Freda Davies)

Brilliant work! Have a great month!!
Fiona Lippey

P.S. The Savings Diary top ten finalists have been selected! We will be reviewing the entries and announcing the winners soon.

1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Can Pete Fix It?

"Aha! Now this is what I've been waiting for!" Sally excitedly waved a furniture store brochure under Pete's nose. "24 months' interest free on all dining suites at Henry Newman's! At last we can get rid of this dreadful lot," she smiled, tapping the back of Pete's chair. "This? What's wrong with it?" Pete twisted around in alarm.

"It's time it went! Look at it Pete," Sally reasoned. "It is daggy. This chair is broken. And as for the table, it's covered in scratches and all sorts. How many years have I had to stick that plant in the middle of it to cover up the time the kids drew on it with permanent marker? It's awful!"

"It's not awful, it's history!" grinned Pete. "We've had this suite longer than I can remember. Besides, we've been using it more than ever since we've all been sitting down enjoying proper meals together!" he winked. Sally scowled back at him - she wanted a new table! Was it really too much to expect after putting up with it all these years?

"Sal, we don't have any money now, let alone for the next 24 months - or have you forgotten how big our mortgage is?" Pete reasoned. "This is a perfectly good dining suite. It's part of our family and is worth fixing. It shouldn't take much; we can glue the top back on that chair, sand it all back and give it a new lick of paint. Then they will be as good as new. A much better idea, don't you think?" Sally was horrified - what if it all went horribly wrong? She knew Pete meant well but he was no handyman! "I'll get on to it at the weekend" he smiled, pleased with himself. "Never fear, my love - you shall have your 'new' suite!"

2. Yes He Can!

Once upon a time I was a sucker. Whenever something was broken, worn out or getting old I used to rush out to buy a new one - after all it wasn't like the item was worth fixing. It wasn't valuable; just a stereo, a table, a fridge, all consumable goods. I could always get another one. Anyway, isn't it cheaper to just buy another one, than to fix it?

Then I trained as an Industrial Designer and learned about a thing called designed obsolescence - this is when the manufacturer instructs the designer to design the object to break so you will have to buy another one. And, it is the reason why most people are always broke! This made me think about the way I was doing things. I stopped throwing items out and started fixing them instead. The more we fixed, the more we saved and the more we fixed the more we learnt. The key things we learnt are:-

Fixing things is easy!

When our stereo broke down, I had no idea what to do with it. I would have thrown it out but Matt pulled it apart, cleaned all the electrical connectors inside, and put it back together again. It was so EASY! Matt does this with any electronic gremlins and 90% of the time that's all it takes. (The standard warnings apply: Electricity can easily kill you. If you don't know how to be safe with electricity, don't mess with it!) If you aren't sure how to fix something, don't fret; there are great DIY sites around. A quick Google search will give you all the information you need to fix pretty much everything. Just type 'How to fix' whatever the broken item is in the search box. Give it a try. Let's see how many items you can fix this month.

Fixing things is cheap

Fixing items is almost always the cheapest option. Fixing a chair is much cheaper than buying a whole new lounge suite. The longer you can keep your items going, the more money you have in your bank account. If you only buy a new table every 40 years instead of every five years and the setting costs $1400 a pop, you will have an extra $9800 in your bank account when you retire. That is a lot of money to save on a table! Fixing things makes sense.

Fixing things gives you dignity

Fixing items around your home is important to keeping your self-esteem and important to happiness. If you start believing things around you are worthless, then you will start thinking you are worthless. Everything you have is valuable. Go around your house this month. If it needs a new coat of paint, give it one. If it needs a few new screws - do it! If your windscreen wipers need fixing - give it a go! You will be stunned - you are actually more capable than you have ever realised.

Beware of false economy

It is true some things are not worth fixing but they are few and far between. So when items break, do your research, see what others have to say about how to fix them and then make an informed choice. Doing your research is vital - and make sure you give fixing things a good go before caving in and buying a new one.

Be creative

If the first place you ask doesn't have the part you need, then get creative! Ask yourself if you can make the part yourself, or where a part like the one you need is likely to end up. Search the wreckers, or eBay, even an appliance graveyard. You will never know until you look!

So this month fix everything you can. Stretch out those goods as long as you can to reduce the toll on the environment and keep money in your pocket. Try and spend ten minutes every day figuring out how to fix your valuables. If an item is on its last legs then pulling it apart (after you have done some research) is not going to hurt it further. Be confident, give it a go. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose!

3. Sophie Gray: Fix Up Your Favourite Dishes

There is always potential for us frugal foodies to become so cost conscious that we neglect the health and nutrition aspects of our meals. 'Fix-it' month is about fixing rather than replacing broken or out-dated stuff. Now I don't want to have to fix damaged arteries because I've scoffed too much cake and biscuits. I'd rather fix the food and prevent the problem! Prevention is better than cure so they say. Don't get me wrong, I'm a frugal foodie of the first order and I'm all for cake, but I do believe we must look after our bodies if they are to last a long time. A diet that is good for the heart is also going to be good for the hips, thighs, waist (whatever that is), and all the other wobbly bits.

It is cheap to fill up on lots of lovely but unhealthy puddings and baked goods. Eggs, sugar and flour are cheap, and let's be honest, the results are delicious! However there are lots of small changes that you can make to the way you prepare everyday foods that over a week, month and year add up to big reductions in fat, salt and sugar. Healthy food isn't expensive but health care is, so why not fix up some of your favourite foods, so you eat well and spend less?

Read labels and avoid the traps

  • Reduced fat: does not mean 'low fat' - it means less fat than the regular variety.

  • Lite/light: can mean less kilojoules, or fat than the original, or it might be light in flavour such as light olive oil, or light in colour.

  • Cholesterol free: doesn't mean low fat.

  • Good energy source: energy in food is measured in kilojoules (or calories), this just means more kilojoules, not revitalising ingredients.

  • Baked not fried: can simply mean baked in lots of fat rather than fried in lots of fat - read the fat grams per serve (as a rough guide 5 grams is around 1 tsp). Crackers in particular make this claim as a marketing strategy. The yellower the cracker, the higher in fat it is likely to be.

  • If it ends in '...ose' it's a form of sugar. Glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, malt extract, palm sugar, and corn syrup are all sugars. Think 5g = 1 tsp of sugar.

  • No added sugar does not mean less sugar; juices and commercial yoghurts for example can contain lots of natural sugars, as much as 5½ tsp. It's still sugar and must be considered along with the other foods being consumed in a day.

Lighten up your favourite creamy pasta by substituting lite evaporated milk for cream, or at least go half and half.

Use a mono-unsaturated oil such as olive oil in white sauces instead of butter, it's still fat but it's a healthier fat, and use a reduced fat milk.

Bake meatballs instead of frying them.

'Veg up' your meals, try to add an extra serve of vegetables than you usually would.

Try some of your favourite cakes and muffins made with less fat. Replace half the fat with apple puree, for moist, healthy baked goods.

Reduce salt by seasoning when you cook, not at the table. One persons sprinkle is another's deluge. Remove the salt shaker from the table.

Discard chicken skin as soon as the chook is cooked so you're not tempted to eat it.

Use spray oil wherever possible.

Satisfy the sweet craving with a handful of raisins or dried apricots.

Choose pies with potato rather than pastry topping.

Brush filo pastry lightly with olive oil instead of butter.

Swap the kids ice cream for a frozen yoghurt dipped banana.

Lite and Creamy Fettuccine with Rosemary Roasted Chicken

For lovers of creamy sauces this dish will push all the right buttons. Roasting the chicken with the skin on keeps it moist and infuses flavour into the meat, just be sure to discard all skin and fat when cooked. Lite evaporated milk will stick to the base of the pan if not stirred frequently and while it doesn't thicken naturally like cream, it does give a great tasting creamy result with much less fat.

Serves 6

  • 600g fresh fettuccine
  • 100g bacon, trimmed of fat and chopped
  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts with skin on
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup lite evaporated milk
  • Several sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • Salt and pepper

Pre heat oven to 200°C

Prepare the chicken by lifting the skin and tucking a sprig of rosemary under the skin against the flesh of each breast. Place the chicken in ovenproof dish, skin side up and roast for 30 mins or until just cooked. While the chicken is roasting prepare the sauce.

In a frying pan heat the oil and gently sauté the onion and garlic till soft then add the chopped bacon. When the bacon is soft pour in the chicken stock and stir to lift any sticky golden bits from the bottom of the pan, simmer for 2 minutes then reduce the heat and add the lite evaporated milk. Add a few tender rosemary sprigs and the torn basil leaves and simmer gently. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the cooked chicken from the oven, discard the skin and rosemary sprigs and allow to rest for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, then slice and add to the sauce. Mix the cornflour to a thin paste with a little cold water and stir into the sauce, simmering gently to thicken.

Boil pasta for 2-3 minutes till al dente, drain and return to the pan. Pour the sauce over and gently fold through. Serve the pasta on warmed plates or on a platter, spoon plenty of chunky pieces over the top and garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs.

Healthy Spicy Bean Nachos

We rarely ate nachos because corn chips are so high in fat and hard to resist. By sticking to the recommended serving size of 45g of chips and adding a great tasting topping, fresh salsa and salad, nachos are off the black list in our house and no one has noticed the modest serving of chips.

Serves 4

  • 45g corn chips per serve
  • 3 cups cooked kidney beans (2x 420g cans)
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • ½ tbsp oil
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chilli
  • Pinch of oregano
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 50-60g grated Edam cheese
  • Lite sour cream to garnish

Fresh salad to accompany the nachos made from lettuce, bean sprouts, grated carrot and whatever else you have to hand

Mash or process half the beans and add the chopped tomatoes. In a saucepan sauté the onion in the oil, add the spices and stir in the tomato and bean mixture, tomato paste, soy sauce, lemon juice and remaining beans. Simmer, stirring gently till required.

While the onion is cooking assemble the salad and set out the plates. Place a serving of corn chips on each plate, sprinkle each serve with grated cheese and flash under a hot grill till melted. Spoon on a generous serving of bean mixture, add some sour cream. Add a large cupped lettuce leaf to each plate and fill the leaf with salad. Top with a fresh salsa if you like.

Cook's tip: any leftover bean mixture can be used to fill a jacket potato or to make quesadillas for lunch - Spread a tortilla with bean mixture, add a little grated cheese and top with another tortilla. Spray a frying pan with cooking spray and cook the quesadillas on each side till golden and crispy, cut into quarters.

Tropical Fruit Strudels

These sweet crispy dessert pastries are great on their own or with custard or a dollop of Greek yoghurt. Filo will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks once opened or put it in the freezer for longer storage.

  • 8 sheets filo pastry
  • 2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup mango slices, fresh or canned
  • ½ banana, chopped
  • ¼ cup dried apricots, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Cooking spray
  • Extra sugar for sprinkling

Place the fruit in a bowl with the sugar, juice and spice and mix well. Allow it to macerate for 5-10 minutes then assemble the strudels.

Lay out a sheet of filo keeping the remaining sheets covered with a sheet of greaseproof paper and a damp tea towel. Spray the sheet lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle on some brown sugar. Rub it over the sheet with your hand then fold the sheet in half lengthwise. Spray lightly with cooking spray and place a spoonful of fruit at one end. Roll over a couple of times then fold in the sides, creasing all the way along the length of the pastry. Roll over until you have a neat package and place on a greased tray.

When all the strudels are assembled, spray lightly with cooking spray and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and crispy.

4. Special Guest: Anita Bell

Once again we have been inundated with your questions for our special guest debt-buster, Anita Bell. Unfortunately Anita is unable to answer all of them at once but she will pick three topical ones each month to answer. The good news is, she has also answered many Simple Savers' questions in her books. You can view her range of books and get yourself an autographed copy directly from Anita's website.

Here are this month's three questions and answers:

Question 1

'Confused' asks:

"We're a young family with two kids, a mortgage and one and a half incomes. We don't have much spare cash at all and only $2,000 to invest right now. What would be a good place to start, investment wise? There seem to be so many choices. Many thanks!"

Hi Confused!

Firstly, to help bolster my own savings during those tough years with young children and a mortgage, I used to direct the family payments into a separate savings account. Often, I had to dip into it for emergencies for the kids, but on the whole, over the years, this money grew to a healthy nest egg for all of us.

Of course, I think the first $500 to $5000 of your savings (on top of your normal bill savings) should be kept relatively handy, not only in case of emergencies, but also because I often find that people feel more confident about their money and their longer term investments if they still have a very safe (low-risk) nest-egg as a safety net, even if it doesn't earn very high interest. So like your bill savings and holiday savings (if any) these first $500 to $5000 long term savings can be put to work in three ways, depending on how comfortable you feel with each level of risk, such as:

1) Parked in your mortgage offset account in order to reduce the amount of interest you have to pay each day on your home loan, remembering that every dollar saved is the equivalent of spending up to $2.00 that you had to earn by working for it (before tax).

2) Parked in a high interest savings account.

3) Used to buy ordinary shares in strong, reliable, high income, low risk Australian companies on the stockmarket using a stockbroker (not a virtual broker) so you have the benefit of speaking to a professional who can assist you in getting the best prices (whereas a virtual broker is unable to provide a second opinion during the process, even if they do happen to be cheaper).

Some quick definitions for the stockmarket:

Choosing only 'strong, reliable' companies means choosing ones that are well established with good management committees and have products that are in high demand, without needing to be neck deep in debt to achieve it. Unfortunately, many beginners often mistake best-known for best-investment. A company that seems to be strong and reliable because it's one of the best-known and best advertised is not necessarily a good investment for cautious investors who need their money to work hard, because often, the annual dividend returns to investors are poorest from companies who redirect large sums of income away from investors for their big-name directors in order to keep them. Those companies promise strong growth in the share price over the long term as their enticement, but the truth is that higher dividend paying companies can do that too so long as their lesser-paid directors are honest, dedicated and very good at what they do. So that's why you need the following definitions as well...

Choosing 'high income' stocks means choosing companies that pay dividends to you regularly at the rate of at least 5%, noting that your after tax income will be even higher if you only choose stocks that are also fully franked (which means company tax at 30% has already been paid to the tax office for you by the company). Dividends are reported in the daily stockmarket reports of the Financial Review as well as many other major newspapers. If the dividend is franked, as most are, then the dividend will be coded with an 'f' if it's fully franked at 30% tax, or a 'p' if it's partially franked at a rate determined by the company. In either case, it may be disappointing for you to see just how many of the biggest profit-earning companies in the country pay only stingy dividends back to their investors. But on the bright side, sticking to companies that pay higher dividends makes it much easier to choose a shortlist of stocks to discuss with your broker, especially when you're a very conservative beginner. But you also need to consider...

Low risk means that the EPS (earnings per share, which is also recorded in its own column in the daily stock reports) is both positive (has a plus symbol against it in the reports) AND is a relatively high value when compared to other similar companies. By similar companies, I mean that you should only compare oranges with oranges and apples with apples; i.e. shopping stocks with shopping stocks, not shopping companies with oil companies. Also note that a negative value means the company is making losses, so the positive value means... well, you've already guessed it means profits, haven't you? See how easy and logical it can be?

Your degree of risk can also be measured against the P/E ratio (share Price divided by Earnings ratio, which also comes in its own column), noting that the PE ratio is usually the most 'comfortable' for conservative investors if it's within the approximate range of 6 to 16. Lower than 6 means the company may have a while still to go before the price turns up again, while higher than 16 usually indicates that the share is beginning to be overpriced. So now you'll be able to look at the PE ratios of the best known companies and see for yourself just how overpriced a company can get, just because investors are trained to have a few slow but reliable 'old dogs' protecting the backyards of their portfolios.

For the top 10 most recommended steps for investing in the sharemarket, see the last chapter of 'Your Money: Starting Out & Starting Over - Australian Edition'. Note: The stock prices which are used as examples in that chapter are a little out of date, but I deliberately haven't updated them because it's much more interesting (and exciting!) to see just how much prices have steadily risen since then... yes, even after the recent big slump (during which many easily-spooked investors unloaded their perfectly sound stocks, often at a loss, but at the benefit of those who are either more comfortable with higher risk or more experienced at long term investing.)

Also note that these definitions and criteria for shortlisting your potential new investments is no secret. I summarise them for you in everyday terms in the last chapter of 'Your Money', but you don't have to buy my book to discover them for yourself. And you don't have to pay big bucks to go to investment seminars or buy stock-choosing software. This information is in the media every day. You just need to learn how to listen by familiarizing yourself with the jargon of the industry. And you need to read for yourself what the figures are telling you, not listen to what people report, because I often hear/read reports that say the market is going up/down, when individual figures for many companies are doing the opposite.

Handy hint for others who are 'confused': One of the reasons why you're confused is because many investment advisors advertise (not only often but also loudly) that you should consider the 'choices' of investing your savings into managed funds, superannuation or use it to help secure an investment property. But you must also remember that these people put food on their own tables by selling ideas that you don't feel comfortable doing yourself, and they achieve it by making you feel like you really need them, even when simple DIY strategies are available that are better for your situation, even if they don't earn quite as much in dollars.

From my own experience, (having been in your exact situation of being on one and a half average wages while paying off a property which we achieved in 22 months) I would suggest that struggling families survive better financially if they can figure out how much they need as a safety net (on top of bill savings, so often their safety net is the equivalent of 6 to 12 months worth of bills), and then keeping this very first investment bundle in places that are not only the easiest to understand AND the easiest to access in a hurry but also have the least penalties and the least middle men who want their cut from your investment too. The trick is in keeping this safety net close enough while also tucking it far enough out of regular sight that you can't spend it by accident or on a whim. (There are a lot more reasons for keeping a safety net which include the psychology of how to empower yourself by having 'coins to jingle', which are explained more thoroughly in 'Your Money'.)

So now you know why I suggested the first three options instead of many others that you hear abut in the media, and why I leave it open for you to draw your own line - usually somewhere between $500 and $5000 - as the line that separates your safety net from your first 'fully fledged' get-out-there-and-stuck-into-it investments. Also remember that this does NOT include your bill savings. But if you can manage to keep that safety net without feeling the slightest need to dip into it - not even once - then it's probably safe to skip the first two options and go to shares.

Is it big enough to consider as a deposit for an investment property yet?: no way, for lots of reasons, even if you manage to find a lender/developer who doesn't require a deposit.

Handy Hint: if you don't have MORE than enough for your own deposit on a major investment like a second property, then it's highly unlikely that you have the right mindset, or enough in-built safety nets to ensure you can keep it when times go bad, as they always do with ANY investment during a long term commitment.

But don't be embarrassed by the size of your savings at this stage either. Saving anything at all under the current economic circumstances is the next best thing to miraculous. So be proud of achieving your first major safety net. And start the next stage of your investment plan starting today, (i.e. saving for your first share purchase - usually between $200 and $3000, or saving for the legals on an investment property, or putting a little more into super per year; especially if you'd be eligible for spouse bonuses/co-contributions and so on as mentioned in previous letters.

Question 2

Tricia wrote:

"I'm a 45 year old woman who lost my home eight years ago due to my marriage break up and by lost it I mean by the 'bad and incorrect' decisions I made at that time, however I won't go into the long and dreary details. My husband and I have been back together for about three years now but we are in so much debt I no longer know what to do. I have read your book and LOTS of others and while I find the information interesting I truly wonder how people our age can make a go of it again when age and time is no longer on our side. No-one will give us a home loan at our age and saving seems totally beyond our grasp (we also have two boys and pay $390 p/w rent). What do you think is the best option for people in our situation - shares, property (albeit trying to save for the deposit would be a mighty task) or just cut our losses and retire in a caravan park? Your advice would mean a lot - thanks."

Hi Tricia!

Firstly, congratulations on your relationship success, even under such very stressful circumstances. Unfortunately, as your financial situation worsens, it's a sad statistic that relationships get harder to hold together. So it's usually worth the effort to do more than just read books about other people's situations and try to find one that is sufficiently close to your own situation that it can inspire you to put something into action. And while you don't mention which books and authors you've read aside from me, I can almost bet that you haven't read 'Your Success in Five Years or Less' which showcases success stories from people who were in far worse situations than you, such as aged and invalid pensioners and single parents who were about to lose - or had already lost - everything. There are also families with up to eight children who were renting and very deep in debt but now they're either ahead in repayments on their own home, own it outright already and/or have progressed onto major investments. (Note for other readers: singles and recently divorced success stories are also showcased in that book, which is the 4th in my series of 8.)

Regarding your age at 45... it's unlawful for companies, including banks, to discriminate against anyone in this country, purely on the basis of age. It's much more likely that your expenses, savings and current assets (when compared to your income) will be the hurdle in getting a loan approved. Even with stretched finances however, there are a few things you can do, and I don't mean going to a lender who advertises for high-risk clients who normally have trouble getting loans, because those lenders are usually far more expensive to deal with; and riskier because anyone who hasn't got their finances under control is likely to lose the 'investment' in their own home eventually - making it a win-win situation for those lenders. I mean making a list of everything you own that has a second hand value over $50. Push bikes, computers, TV's, cars, everything. They're your assets. Then make a list of your savings; not only your bank balances, but also your rental bond plus any voluntary super contributions, term-life insurance policies that have fine print allowing cheap or free loans. And if you're ahead in repayments on your car (other readers may have extra repayments on their house), then include these as well as anywhere else you've got 'stored money'.

Then clean up your budget and list all the money that could be put toward repayments if you made your situation change to owning your own home. i.e. your weekly rent, travel costs or perhaps even pay TV that you don't use or use enough at the moment. (Handy hint: once you achieve ownership of your own home, many buyers who were previously tenants discover that it's easier to compromise on smaller luxuries now that you have the biggest one.)

Example: Using the checklist of things that lenders are looking for in potential borrowers, a 62 year old reader of 'Your Mortgage' wrote to me to say that he was able to convince a major lender that he was able to make the repayments on a new home by preparing his finances for the credit check, even after they had rejected his initial application. He said he did this by taking the book with all of his prepared calculations into the bank, and proving how he could make repayments and comply with their checklist, despite his age and the fact that he no longer had a conventional job.

Regarding cutting your losses and moving to a retirement park; you don't mention which state you're in, or where you'd choose to retire, but may I suggest that if you're still earning an income and paying tax, then you should search the Internet (for starters try domain.com.au and realestate.com.au) for properties under $150,000. Doing this, you'll find a lot of investment opportunities all around the country (not only inner-city units and caravan parks, but also relocateable homes which have permanent sites in retirement parks in great tourist destinations). In particular, check out some of the cheap retirement flats/units and dual-units (two units per building) in Queensland, which can be used as investment properties now and moved into later. If buying a dual-unit, then once you're retired, you not only get the pick of the two, you also get to choose your nearest neighbour who will still be paying rent to you. (Note: it's not possible to invest in retirement homes in every state, but some states who currently don't are thinking of changing so you can, to help relieve the housing problem for pensioners, so stay tuned, and make sure you let your local politician know how you feel!)

Question 3

JayJay wrote:

"Hi there, Anita. A suggestion please, I have paid off my mortgage, and have no debts except the usual bills of day to day living. I have some super but not a huge amount, am about five years off retirement, and have some money from the recent sale of shares, sold because the company was sold to another company, also thought it was time to sell. What to do with the money is the question, put it into super, or perhaps get more shares? I will be getting a newer car and lounge but apart from that, have no real plans. Currently half is in an online savings account and half with a major bank savings account. No doubt I will have to pay capital.gains tax @ 50%. Look forward to your reply. Thank you."

Hi JayJay!

Firstly, don't panic too much about the capital gains tax until after you've spoken to your accountant. There's plenty of reasons why you might not have to pay the top marginal rate for the whole amount and if you contact your accountant soon, with enough time between now and the end of the financial year to plan and take action, there's even a few opportunities to invest in ways that will result in the tax office paying a sizable refund to you (even though you might only own the investment for a month or two, interest-only loans can let you have a whole years' worth of deductions in exchange for interest payments made in advance... and your lump sum might make a good deposit for such a step.) It's also possible that your tax bill could be less than you expect if the company that urged you to sell your shares to another company made tax payments to the ATO on your behalf during the sale, especially if you were paid with a 'bonus dividend' like the one done by Coates Hire a few months ago.

If you're only five years off retirement and don't have many savings up your sleeve yet, then you really do need to choose which retirement strategy suits you, and use this money as a kick start.

For example, if you feel completely and utterly hopeless with investments, then superannuation is the way to go. Plough in as much as you can, as often as you can, and consult your accountant in order to make sure you get all the bonuses and co-contributions that you may be eligible for depending on your income and personal situation.

But if you're a healthy work-a-holic, you need to consider establishing a home-hobby that can help supplement your future Centrelink pension in a small enough way that it won't effect it, but in a large enough way to be helpful pocket-money that also keeps your mind and body healthy.

On the other hand, if you're already familiar and confident with a particular type of investment, two to three years is all you need to work toward full or part ownership (or positively geared ownership) of a property or portfolio of shares (or a mix of both) that could generate an after-tax income that either supplements your Centrelink pension or is good enough to replace the need for it.

So, to summarise your choice of three strategies. You could aim to be either a:

a) Superannuant with a pile of money that you scraped together during your working life and start spending when you retire in the hope that it lasts longer than you do.

b) Supplimenter who has a profitable hobby, investment and/or part-time work that supplements your Centrelink pension in a way that not only survives as long as you do, while keeping up with inflation, but often results in having a little left over to reward any of your favourite relatives and friends who helped to care for you before you 'left'.

c) Self-funded retirees aim to have a portfolio of asset(s) that not only fund their retirement, but also keep up with inflation (not only with the income they generate each year, but also in their underlying value).

Handy hint: the last book in the series, 'Your Retirement: how to plan, save and superannuate for financial independence' will also help you to find the best combination of strategies from all three, regardless of your age.

Note: Anita Bell is a bestselling Australian author who writes from personal experience. She is not associated with any particular bank, real estate agent, stockbroker or other investment advisor and she uses the profits from her books to help others, so she mentions specific books in her replies above for reference purposes only, to help point readers in the direction of more thorough responses where necessary, and she encourages budget-battlers to borrow her books from friends or local libraries wherever possible. (When borrowing from libraries, remember to ask your librarian to check that you're borrowing the most current editions.)

5. Best of the Forum: Make Do, Mend and DIY

One of the best things about being a Simple Saver is that we know how to be resourceful. We're never ones to throw something away if it can be saved or re-used. From fixing curdled curries, broken barbecues, noisy pipes or split nails - the members of the Savings Forum have the answers. Check out some of our favourite threads next time disaster strikes!

2008 May: Fix It Month

Claire Mitchell is on the go once again! Find out how other members are using 'Fix-it' month to save!

What have you done DIY?

Gather some inspiration from fellow members that have been very productive doing it for themselves. Installing dishwashers, building computers, painting houses or even rewiring horse trailers! This lot are amazing!

Fix noisy pipes

Don't bother paying expensive plumbing fees to fix your noisy pipes. Here's a thread to show you how to DIY!

No job for a girl!

Wonder Woman eat your heart out.

No chocolate-chocolate fix balls

Appliances and other household items are not the only things that need fixing. Sometimes we need a 'fix' too! These yummy ideas for no chocolate balls will fix up your tummy in no time without an expensive trip to the shop!

6. Penny's Blog: The Vault Challenge

Apr 8, 2008

OK everyone, to the tune of '21 Bottles of Beer' if you please!

'21 bags on the washing line

Flapping away in the breeze,

I've saved them from landfill, hooray for me

And that's only a week's worth - Jeez!'

Seriously - our family has kept 21 plastic bags out of the rubbish in just one week by washing and recycling them. Plus we also had to throw a few out that were beyond repair so supposing we can manage to recycle 21 bags in an average week - that's 1092 bags that WON'T end up in landfill over the course of a year, just in a single household! Although I have to admit I am racking my brains as to where the heck I'm supposed to store 1000-odd bags. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it - it could be a bit of a challenge!

Talking of challenges (oh very smoothly done Penny) I have to admit, I did end up going ever so slightly over my $21 Challenge limit. However, I refuse to beat myself up about that - it's the first time ever that I have gone over budget during a Challenge week and I still ended up with the huge majority of the usual grocery budget left to transfer into savings. We enjoyed some great meals too! Which reminds me, I still haven't got round to trying that lamb recipe but I will do so this week. So seeing as I'm still in frugal overdrive mode, I reckon it's time for a whole new challenge and everyone is of course welcome to join me. I call it The Vault Challenge!

Be honest, when was the last time you looked in the Vault - properly? I'm ashamed to admit that I've been neglecting this wonderful resource lately and I was blown away when I clicked on Recent Hints and saw so many brilliant tips there. It's not that I've been slack about living the SS way - far from it; it's just I've got used to incorporating so many of the existing tips into every day life, I've forgotten about trying some new ones. I know it's not just me either - another member, Pip, decided she also wanted to get around to trying some new tips and started a great thread called 'Challenge - one new tip a week' right at the same time. Great minds think alike! The only difference is that I aim to try out not just one tip a week but as many as I can as there are so many brilliant ones at the moment, I don't want to forget them again! Some of the current ones which I really like the sound of are:

Enjoy a big breakfast and save!' - I am really curious to try this out and see if it works. Breakfast in our house is a real 'get-it-over-with' meal so it would be nice to see if we could make it more enjoyable. As long as I don't have to get up earlier!

'10% less rule saves money and planet'. Could I truly be that disciplined? It's a great idea!

'Watties microwaved mashed potatoes - the SS way!' I have never bought ready made mashed potato in my life but I really like this idea for a quick filler for kids so am planning to try it out.

'Visualise your goal and stay on track'. Our family has a brand new goal to save for so we are definitely going to do this! If we can save enough over the next few months, we are going to go to Australia in the July school holidays. This tip will really help keep the whole family on track.

'Work out the real cost of whistles and bells'. This is a clever one and has already saved me a few dollars here and there since I read it.

'Luxurious natural facial scrub'. I just HAVE to try this, it sounds divine!

'Scrapbook-style canvas saves fortune on albums'. This is a lovely gift idea which I reckon even I can make!

'Grandma's Day saves $30 a week on groceries'. What a brilliant idea! Even though we make just about everything from scratch, it would be really fun to do this next time the kids and I are in Mr Patel's. I wonder when potato chips were invented.

Jings, there are just too many great ones to mention them all here - and that's just in the last week or so! I dread to think how many other fantastic ideas I've missed lately. Then of course there are the recent Hints of the Week like 'Mealopedia' and 'Love Food Hate Waste'. Honestly, if it wasn't for Simple Savings I would never hear of any of these! So today I'm going to start off by making our visible goal chart for our trip to Queensland. The kids can cut out pictures of the things they want to do and see and Noel still has fond memories of the Ettamogah Pub, I wonder if I can find a picture of that?!

Talking of booze, almost had a drunken disaster on my hands yesterday! Noel bought me a nice bottle of wine as a treat and I had some leftover but I didn't want to leave it around the house as it would be too tempting for this new tee-totaller! So in saintly SS style I poured the leftover wine into ice cube trays and popped it in the freezer so I could use it for cooking when the need arose. Unfortunately Ali has a similar habit of squeezing fresh lemons and freezing the juice in ice cube trays to enjoy in a nice, cold glass of water. I was pottering around yesterday afternoon and heard a voice shout from the kitchen, 'oh great Mum, thanks!' I thought he was thanking me for the new tub of ice cream in the freezer but a few seconds later I heard the 'plink-plink' of ice cubes hitting glass. 'Look Liam - I've got HEAPS of lemon ice cubes!' he announced, most impressed. I dashed out into the kitchen to find him happily sipping away on a tumbler of water, full to the brim with frozen wine cubes! Of course it didn't take long for him to realise that it definitely was not lemon juice he was drinking and before I could do anything he spat everything back into his glass, before rushing to the sink and pouring the whole lot away. So much for saving my leftovers!

At least I do get to enjoy a few more leftovers of a different kind for lunch - although I prefer to call them 'tiffin' a la Sophie Gray lately. It sounds so much nicer - I always really look forward to having my tiffin for lunch and it's made me a lot more conscientious about using up leftovers wisely. One thing we won't have to buy for a while at least is eggs. The chooks have all gone off the lay apart from the odd egg here and there and I was finding it rather painful having to buy eggs. However, Ali's young pet hen Speckles came to the rescue. She kept getting out and would ask to be let back in at feeding time but unknown to us, she had spent many a day happily camouflaged in the ferns and bracken before we finally found her hiding place, proudly sitting atop 15 tiny bantam eggs! Unfortunately they are so small you almost have to use twice as many as normal but nonetheless we are all very grateful to her for her contribution.

Before I go, I must share with you one rather humorous example of recycling. The boys absolutely love WWE wrestling and spend hours on their trampoline, practising their 'finishing moves' over and over again. Great exercise for them I must say! However, the one rule is that they are not allowed to wrestle each other as it's too dangerous. For a while they were content to wrestle Ali's giant stuffed penguin but a few days ago Ali was consumed with remorse for the poor penguin's ill treatment and decided it was to return back to his bed to be cuddled at night with the other stuffed animals instead. 'Oh - well that's great - what are we supposed to wrestle with now?' moaned Liam. They tried using pillows but it wasn't the same at all - then I hit upon an idea. Remembering the hilarious Guy Fawkes days of my youth, we always went to great lengths to build a wonderful 'Guy'. In fact, it was a real combined effort as we always used to celebrate with two other families and every year we would take it in turns - one family would make the head, another the body and the third would make the legs. Then on November 5th we would all come together to attach the three parts of the guy and it was always absolutely hilarious to see what everyone else had created. That was what the boys needed - a wrestling 'guy'!

The boys looked on bemused as Noel helped me find an old pair of trousers and a shirt, then we set about stuffing them with everything we could find. Old, ripped sheets, clothes which were beyond even giving to the op shop - you name it. We sewed the legs and body together with baling twine. Then for the head, I stuffed a white plastic shopping bag full to bursting with other plastic shopping bags from our vast saved collection, attached it to the body and drew on a face. By the time we had finished, the 'guy' was bigger than Ali! The kids were over the moon and took it straight outside where they have played for hours ever since, throwing this thing around and launching themselves at it. We certainly never realised years ago that our Bonfire Night guy-making tradition was actually a brilliant exercise in recycling!

April 2008

1st - The price of being nice


15th - No eye-deer

23rd - Full steam ahead

26th - Ivana Trump (sort of)...

7. Homeopathy Corner: An Alternative Fix

When your fridge breaks and the repairer tells you it can't be fixed it is upsetting, expensive and inconvenient, but what happens when it is not your fridge that is broken, it is your body and the doctors are having real trouble fixing you. What next?

Should you take the doctor's word for it or should you do more research? Maybe the doctor you are speaking to has already tried various procedures and you have reached the limits of their experience, but it doesn't mean you should give up, maybe another doctor or a good homeopath with a different approach will get better results.

Every health professional has a different skill set and there are many things a doctor can do that a homeopath can't. But there are also many things a homeopath can fix that are beyond mainstream medicine in Australia.

The following is Carol's story, it was published in Good Health magazine, February 2008. Carol is one of Fran's patients who rather than accepting she would be sick for ever, did more research and her life is better for it.

"I have suffered from recurrent kidney stones since I was 17 years old and have needed major surgery about once every 18 months for my rare disease. I have tried so many different types of treatment, both natural and conventional medicine, and many, many 'specialists' to try to stop the growth of the stones, or at least slow it down. I had actually given up on finding anyone who could help me, but heard of a homeopath who was doing amazing things so thought I would give it one last go, although I was very skeptical. I had just had my 15th operation and it was a particularly traumatic one with complications. I had a few small stones in my left kidney which would need surgery by about June. I had not passed a stone for 9 years although I drink between 3 and 4 litres of water every day.

"After my first treatment I noticed so many other little problems like irregular periods, irritable bowel and constipation, fear of confrontation and many more had dramatically improved. My marriage improved amazingly because I was able to communicate more effectively. My libido also increased (maybe that helped my marriage too!). My kidney pain reduced and I was able to do a lot more each day because my energy levels greatly increased. If that wasn't enough I passed 4 stones in 4 weeks and continue to occasionally pass stones to date.

"I had my regular x-ray the other day. Normally, 4 months after surgery I was expecting to have a few 5mm stones in my right side and a few 15mm or larger stones in my left. The x-ray showed just one 6mm stone in my left kidney (as I had passed the others), and that stone hadn't increased in size at all. It showed just one small 4mm stone in my right kidney. Amazing!!

"I can't believe all the amazing things that a few drops of special water can do. I am so thankful to my homeopath for giving me and my family my wonderful life back!!"

Carol's story is a fantastic example of how homeopathy can be cheaper than mainstream medicine. Carol's treatment meant she was able to avoid more surgery and hospital stays which freed up a bed and money for other patients. Carol's results were very fast and obvious; others will experience a gradual but steady improvement. This just goes to show that in many cases homeopathy is the cheapest option.

8. From Last Month: Wasteful Housemate Drives Me Crazy!

Last month Kate L asked:

"I am trying really hard to save money and pay off my enormous debt. However, my housemate is making it very hard for me! He never turns off ceiling fans, ALWAYS uses the air con turned on HIGH in his bedroom overnight even when it's not needed! He never hangs his clothes out to dry - only uses the dryer, and forgets to turn the TV off when he leaves the house. All of this electricity is surely adding up and unnecessary, yet because we pay half of the bills each in the household I have to pay for half of his unthoughtful habits. I have tried explaining to him that by doing all of these things it will cost more money in the long run yet he refuses to believe me. I can't work out how we would 'split' the electricity bill evenly to reflect each other's habits. When we do groceries he always puts in extra items which I am sure we don't need, so our pantry is stocking up with extra unneeded condiments. Again when I try explaining we don't need to buy the same things every week he doesn't listen. Do you have any tips to help me? My savings account is drowning in someone else's habits!"

It appears Kate is not the only one that has had trouble with sharing accommodation and splitting the bills. Thank you again for your brilliant responses this month!

Ask your housemates to 'no spend month'

Completing a 'no spend month' with your housemate will show them just how much money can be saved on your electricity bill when you both really try. Hopefully the savings will be significant enough to convince your housemate to continue to use less electricity. If you continue to be careful with your usage but your housemate reverts back to their old habits, suggest they pay the extra amount each month thereafter. If you keep coming up against negativity, maybe you are not compatible housemates?

Contributed by: Krystal Makiha

Agree on essentials with flatmates

Shopping with a flatmate can be difficult if you don't agree on what are essentials and what are extras. Try both writing a shopping list of what you think the house needs, then compare them. Check the pantry and cross off anything not needed or that you can't agree on. Take the list and pen with you when you go shopping and stick to the list, crossing off as you go. This way you both know what you need and the urge for impulse buying is a lot less than if you didn't carry your list.

Contributed by: Lorraine Smith

Tally housemates' electricity usage

To make your wasteful housemate more aware of his electricity consumption, set an agreed fee for electrical items used each day. For example, the dryer could be $0.50c per load and the air conditioner $1.00 a night. Each time an appliance is used it needs to be logged onto a chart on the fridge or by each appliance. If appliances are left on you could pay $1.00 per offence. At the end of the month do a tally and each housemate pays their share with the balance of the electricity bill split between you. If you hit them in the pocket hard, it often works as a bit of a wake up call.

Contributed by: Amanda Reynolds

Money box system for shared accommodation

Set up money boxes throughout your house and pay a 'fee', for example, $2.00 every time you use an appliance like the dryer, air conditioner or television. Deduct that amount from the electricity bill when it comes in then divide the balance evenly between housemates. This can also work for the phone bill; every time you make a call, put $0.40c in the money box.

Contributed by: Debbie Drakeley

Guide to shared grocery shopping

Here's my five step guide to shared grocery shopping:

1. Agree on a list of basic items that you both need such as milk, bread, butter, basic condiments, toilet paper, basic cleaning items and so on.

2. Agree on an amount needed to cover those basic items, such as $20 each per week, and make the commitment to both put that amount into a 'household expenses' jar every week.

3. Have a shopping list on the fridge where those basic items can be recorded when they run out.

4. When you do any 'household' shopping, take the money from the household expenses jar and replace it with a receipt.

5. Anything that either of you wants over and above those basic items, you just buy for yourselves.

Contributed by: Rowena Beresford

Sharing house and sharing budgets

With a little more cash to spare than my flatmate, I have to be careful when doing the shopping so that I don't end up overspending when she can't afford it. We both put money into the grocery shopping and cook dinner together during the week, taking leftovers to work for lunch. Although I am careful with my money I don't want to live on the same as my flatmate's tight food budget of $30 a week. To get around this we organise a menu plan for the week, my flatmate gives me her $30 and I do the week's shopping. This way, I am forced to think carefully if I want to buy extras (like expensive cheese) because it will come out of my money. This system is working really well and we are still best friends!

Contributed by: Joanna L

Provide incentives for reducing electricity cost

If you are battling with an unthoughtful housemate and are paying for his share of the electricity bill, ask him to humour you for three months, or one cycle of the bill. Throw in an incentive like a carton of beer if he can help you save more than $100 off the bill. It worked for me! We saved $130 and my husband is happy with his beer, and we have $90 in our pocket that otherwise wouldn't have been there!

Contributed by: Liz Neville

Find an ideal flatmate

My flatmate's bad eating habits were costing me my money and health. We were splitting the grocery bill but the food my flatmate liked was basically canned food with very little fresh food included at all. I decided to change the way we shopped and politely told her that it would be better if we shopped separately from now on as I just didn't eat the food she did. She got upset and moved out but I have since found a new flatmate who is happy for me to do the shopping and find the right price!

Contributed by: Sarah Dobbs

Use online calculators to split bills

Synergy (Western Australian power supplier) provides an energy calculator on their website (www.synergy.net.au) so you can calculate the approximate running cost of household appliances. For example, you could calculate the cost of an air conditioner running all night and it would enable you to split electricity bills more fairly between housemates.

Contributed by: Tabitha Arnott

9. This Month's Help Request: Keeping Mould Away and Making Memories

This month Dianne Harris asks:

"I have recently moved back to Cairns and over the last few weeks mould has started to develop on shoes, clothing, furniture, and so on. We live in the rainforest so the humidity is very high. Does anyone have any suggestions on ways to reduce the growth of mould and how best to treat it? I have wiped the mould away with a cloth soaked in bleach, but expect it will return. It is even on the baby's cot."

If you have any tips which can help keep the mould at bay we would love to hear them! Please send your suggestions here.

And Kirsty Bishop asks:

"Being kept busy having had three children quite close together, I have never got around to putting together a memory box as such for them (yes I know, very slack of me!). I am looking for ideas and information on what I should put in there and also where to find info from the previous birth dates without having to spend a lot of money."

Most busy mums can relate to Kirsty's problem! If you have some time and money saving ideas to help put together memory boxes to treasure please send your ideas here.

10. Saving Story: Quirky Ways to Live Off the Land

You reap what you sow, the old saying goes - and I reckon I'm onto something here. My family and I moved into a new rental home a few weeks ago. You can imagine the rollercoaster ride one can have just finding one on a tight budget! However, we found a place just over the back of where we used to live and not only was the rent a lot less, we now had many acres, meaning we could be more independent by living off the land. We soon discovered we were blessed with a mini orchard, which gets watered daily from all the water that comes from the house through an irrigation system - nothing is wasted.

I then set out to see what I could find to make compost and vegetable/herb gardens. I found an old wheelbarrow which was a little rusty in the bottom - just perfect for the job! I used layers of newspaper leftover from the move to cover the sides and bottom of the barrow, then added one bag each of organic garden soil, chicken manure and cow manure. I also used sticks, dry leaves and dry grass clippings to cover my barrow. The kitchen scraps went in too, seeds and all, to grow seedlings. Of course, then I had the problem of having no pots to plant them in - but not for long. I used passionfruit skins and pumpkin shells (all pulp/seeds removed) for the pots! I have these around the garden and not only do they look wonderfully 'country', they also break down naturally into the soil so nothing is wasted.

I have even found a useful way of recycling fallen palm tree fronds! They are very strong and I have found that they are very useful when cut into certain sizes. I use them like a small trowel for digging, as stakes and garden markers - even BBQ starters! We even have aviaries on the property which are well set-up to keep chickens and secure to keep them safe from all the predators we have around here, such as Monty the Monitor Lizard (who we came face to face with when our birds were on the back veranda). We have wallabies, kangaroos and possums too, which I can hand feed. What with the local slithery creatures and noisy birds too, it's like living in a nature sanctuary! The colours and varieties I have seen are truly amazing.

Achieving our garden may be a battle with all the wildlife around - but so far, so good. We were given some unwanted timber posts for free and these are just perfect for the vegie garden. We also have small wire mesh, pickets and shade cloth to keep out any pests and my step-father has given me plenty of plants for future eating. We are also looking at getting two calves and some sheep which will save us money in the meat department eventually.

While many of our friends commented on my quirky way of doing things at first, guess what they are also doing now? Keep gardening everyone!

Contributed by: Wendy-Leigh Craig