"Secrets to Saving Money in Australia" Free Newsletter - March 2009

This issue includes:-

  1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Out of Control
  2. April is Control Your Cash Month!
  3. Best of the Vault: How to Keep Your Cash
  4. Best of the Forum: Keeping Tabs
  5. Sophie Gray: Treats for Easter
  6. Penny's Blog: Let's See How Far We've Come
  7. Homeopathy Corner: Treating Eczema
  8. From Last Month: Successful Birthday Planning
  9. This Month's Help Request: Inspiring Side Dishes
  10. Savings Story: A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events


Mwuhaahaahahaaa! This month we take revenge on credit cards *rubs hands together.* Where are my scissors? This month I want you to hide your credit card at the start of the month and get by without it. You can do it! It will be easy :-)

Please tell us how it goes! Your emails are brilliant inspiration.

"I only paid my Vault membership half an hour ago and have already had my $47 worth! I am a 61 year old addicted surfer who wished she had found this site when it first started. Just the value of the wonderful info is worth every penny, not to mention the pennies I will be saving. Thanks heaps - I can see all the hard work that has gone into your site and the calendar is really great too." (Ann Reynolds)

"I just renewed my membership and wanted to say how much I still get from being a member of Simple Savings. Things have certainly changed in the years since I first became a member. Our circumstances have also changed just recently and I know I will need the motivation of SS more than ever to keep me going as we embark on a new phase of our lives." (Briget Taylor)

"Two and a half year ago I got divorced after 39 years of marriage. I found myself with a mortgage and credit cards fully maxed out. At present I have paid my credit cards and have paid off over $15,000 of my mortgage. This month I am having Solar Hot water and Solar Electricity installed with the money from my redraw facility. During the last two years I have worked an extra job and have also had a cruise holiday. Each payday I put $100 straight into an online saving account and already I have enough money to go on holiday again. I only shop once a week and buy on special and in bulk where necessary. I am growing my own fruit and vegetables and even in the intense heat I have been able to keep some of them alive using water from the shower and washing machine. I make everything from my own cleaning products to garden pest sprays. I enjoy reading the newsletter and the weekly hints and have used many successfully. Using a spreadsheet to record all my expenses and income gives me constant control over my money. Thanks for all the hints and happy saving!" (Emmi G)

"I bought some of the very first SS bags, in lime green. Today I was out shopping and had only one with me as I planned to get only the few things on my list, being the day before pension day. I nearly bought a cake, a book from a stall and some Chinese noodles that were on special as it was nearing the end of the day. However each time, I looked down at my bag, read the logo, 'Stop, Think and Save' and didn't give in to temptation. I felt very proud of myself as I drove home, thanks to my SS bag. I put the money I would have spent into my Christmas savings tin instead!" (Josie Gray)

All the best,
Fiona Lippey

1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Out of Control

Sally was exhausted. She had been out with her girlfriends all day and was looking forward to putting her feet up. 'Oh it's good to be home, these shoes are killing me!' she grinned, kicking them off. She went to give Pete a kiss and was puzzled when he pulled away from her. 'What's up love? You don't look too happy,' she asked. 'I'm NOT happy,' Pete snarled. 'There's a message for you on the answering machine. The bank rang to tell you your new credit card limit has been approved.'

Sally's eyes almost popped out of her head. Oh no, why now? She was too tired to think straight; the last thing she needed was an argument. 'I don't get it Sal you cut up your credit card. I SAW you! Why did you get a new one?' Pete pleaded. 'Umm... errrr... it's not... really... umm... hmm... a new one - I've had it... for years,' mumbled Sally. 'You've WHAT?'

Sally shrunk into her seat. 'Well... I wasn't lying... You just never asked.' 'Oh - and you just never got round to telling me,' Pete laughed sarcastically. 'And if it wasn't for the bank, you never would!' Sally looked miserable. She had hoped this day would never come. Why did he have to find out about the card? Why did the bloody bank call her at home in the first place? She had told them only to call on her mobile. She had kept it secret from him for nearly five years. How on earth was she going to get out of this one?

2. April is Control Your Cash Month!

When partners fight about spending, it's the lies they're fighting about as much as the money.

Credit cards fuel all sorts of lies that can lead to the breakdown of a relationship, so this month I want you to give up your credit card.

Credit cards lie to us, and make it easy to lie to others about our purchases. They trick us into believing we have money when we do not, leaving us vulnerable to spending when we're having a bad day. This is why I'm challenging you to hide your plastic and pay with cash instead.

One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we have money 'available' to us on our credit cards. We don't! It's someone else's money, and if you spend it you have to find a way to earn it so you can pay it back - with interest. It's easy to forget just how much you're spending on a credit card because every purchase feels the same and you do not have to physically count out the dollars.

These lies are impossible with cash because you know exactly how much you have in your wallet, and you can physically see that it's gone when you've spent it. At the counter you see the money you are parting with, you smell it, feel it and even hear the notes shuffling against each other. Paying with real money - your real money - makes it very hard to trick yourself into believing that impulse buys are okay.

Many people think it's dangerous to walk around with $5000 cash in your pocket, but safe to have a credit card with a $5000 limit, yet the opposite is true! Sure you may be robbed of your cash, but this is unlikely. You're more in danger of accidentally spending the money, which is worse than it being stolen because you have to pay interest. Neither option is safe, so don't do either. Carry cash, but only as much as you need for the day.

Making it easy to spend makes it easy to make mistakes with money, which is how credit cards put relationships under pressure. They encourage us to lie to our partners, even if it's not deliberate. They let us spend too easily and later, when reality hits, we try to hide our errors so our loved ones won't get upset. The problem grows until it threatens the relationship. This is another reason I am asking you to ditch the plastic this month and give cash a go.

There is one remaining myth that needs debunking: that credit cards provide a safety net for emergencies. This is an illusion. You would be much safer to open a savings account and have a fixed amount set aside each week. That way if you lose your job or get in trouble you will actually have some money to help you through. Using your credit card when you're in financial trouble is only digging yourself a bigger hole. Build your safety net - even if only gradually - with cash. It's real, it's safe and it's yours.

So this month, give cash a go. Hide your credit and see how you go.

3. Best of the Vault: How to Keep Your Cash

Controlling your cash is easy - really! You just need to find a system which works for you. These clever members have all come up with their own ways to make sure they always have enough to go around. Which one is right for you?

Kids become bankers in 'cash-only' family

Our family has come up with a fantastic budgeting system, where the kids are the 'bankers'! We have become a 'completely cash' family. This means that we worked out what cash we need to put aside every week and we withdraw only that amount. I have a card in my wallet that has the note denominations on it, for example, 3 x $50, 6 x $10 and so on. When I get home, I give the whole lot to our boys aged 6 and 8 and ask them to 'do the budget tin'. We have a money tin with resealable plastic bags in it, which all have category names and amounts on them. The boys go through and meter the money out, putting for example, $15 in the family entertainment bag, $40 in the Christmas bag and so on. They then give their father and I our allocation for petrol and groceries and they keep out their pocket money. When we want money for clothing, holidays, birthdays or DVD and pizza nights we go to the bags and get what we need. The boys are learning the value of money and we always have cash on hand. We now feel so rich because we are so much more careful when we can actually see the notes. It's the most successful system we have ever used!

Contributed by: Michelle

Get real about your credit card spending

My credit card comes in handy and I would like to keep it, or more accurately, keep it under control. At the moment I am paying off a credit card debt but I see myself always having a card as it is handy to have, particularly when travelling. Credit card debt can creep up so quickly and the reason is that card expenditure is 'invisible' and isn't 'real', so I plan to make my credit card expenditure real and in the process retire my debt.

First, I pay off a pre-determined amount each month as soon as I get paid. This is the debt reduction part of the strategy.

Next, I check my online statement every day and then pay from my savings account into my credit card account the amount I have spent the previous day whether it's from shopping or an automatic payment like health insurance. This makes sure I acknowledge to myself how much I am spending and I can see if I am going to run out of money before the end of the month. It makes all of my spending real and I feel much more in control of my monthly budget.

If there is money left over at the end of the month I can use that to further reduce the debt.

Contributed by: Jan W

Stick to a budget night and reap the benefits

By doing my budget on my payday every second Friday I have found that I have stopped overspending or impulse buying because the money is already allocated. My budget is already drawn up so as soon as my money goes into the bank I immediately transfer any money for savings into my savings account (bonus interest of course) and I pay as many bills online as I can. Then I subtract my direct debits (mortgage, life insurance, car insurance) from my balance and work out exactly how much money I have left to physically take out of the bank. This way I only use the ATM once a fortnight, saving on fees, and the only money I have is the cash in my hand. With that cash I disburse it to bills which can't be paid online, gifts, whatever is due that fortnight and all I have left then is my pocket money, which I also divide up into different amounts for different outings I have planned for that fortnight. This only works if you do your budget the very day you get paid, otherwise it is easy to spend money without thinking about where it's coming from and finding it later isn't easy.

Contributed by: Elisa Simpson

Dressing daggy stops takeaway trend Contributed by: Leisa

When you're in a hole, stop digging! Contributed by: Salli

'Zero spend days' make savings out of nothing Contributed by: Paige Ocean

Breaking old habits saves money and improves lifestyle Contributed by: Mary G

4. Best of the Forum: Keeping Tabs

If you're serious about controlling your cash, you need to know exactly where all your money is going. These smart members from the Forum are not only great at controlling their own cash; they're a dab hand at helping others to control theirs too!

Help me budget!

Teamblue needs to budget her finances so she can stay on top of her bills and have enough left over for savings too - but how? The Forum members are here to help!

Addiction to spending

Spending addictions are as real and as hazardous as any other addiction. Just like Sally, everyone needs support of friends and community members to win the war on spending addiction! This is the place to go if you have a problem with your spending habits.

The real cost of spending

Have you ever considered how much of your valuable time you are spending without any control? This thread is a real eye-opener!

Compulsive spending on children

Are you overindulging your children to the detriment of your financial security? We all love our kids dearly but it is all too easy to lose total control on buying endless toys and treats. Find out how members restrain themselves here.

5. Sophie Gray: Treats for Easter

Even the staunchest of savers need to reward themselves every now and then and what better reward during Control Your Cash month than chocolate? After all, Easter is coming and Mother's Day is just around the corner too, so you'll need to test drive these recipes on yourself before you make them for anyone else! In fact making these recipes could save you even more money, as you won't need to buy so many Easter treats.

Truffle Logs

Made from real chocolate, this truffle mixture is richer and more luxurious than most of the bought ones and they are easy and fun to make. You'll need a cardboard tube from the centre of a roll of cling wrap (or something similar) to use as a mould. The rest is easy. Kremelta (Copha) is simply vegetable fat; it makes the chocolate really liquid and easy to work with. Use sparingly.

  • 500g dark cooking chocolate - not compound chocolate! Check the ingredients, if it says cocoa butter it's chocolate; if it says vegetable fat then it's compound and won't taste half as good.
  • 1 tbsp Kremelta (Copha)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1-2 tsp liqueur or a drop or two of flavouring. You could use Kahlua, rum, or Cointreau if you like a liqueur flavour, or for a non-alcoholic log try orange, peppermint or coffee.
  • 250g milk chocolate melts
  • ½ tbsp more Kremelta or Copha
  • A handful of white chocolate melts or buttons - you may need a little extra chunk of Kremelta for this too.
  • A sheet of foil

Place a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan containing a couple of centimetres of water on the element and heat. Break the chocolate into the bowl and add the Kremelta or Copha. As soon as the water is simmering, remove the pan from the heat and stir continuously, allowing the residual heat from the hot water to gently melt the chocolate. Be patient, and do not turn the heat up to hurry it along. If it gets too warm, instead of melting it seizes and becomes stiff and horrible.

Chocolate melts and similar products can be heated; microwaved or whatever because they are made from vegetable fat, not cocoa butter but that is reflected in the flavour - not like real chocolate!

While the chocolate is melting, use a craft knife to slice the cardboard cylinder long-wise to form two semi circular moulds. Line each with cling film, secure with sticky tape and place on a tray. Clear some space in the freezer for the tray.

When the chocolate and Kremelta are completely melted, mix in the oil and the flavouring of your choice. Pour the mixture into the moulds up to the rim, tucking the cling film around either end to stop it running out. Place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes until firm.

While the logs are setting, melt the milk chocolate melts in the same manner as the dark chocolate, stirring in the Kremelta.

When the logs are firm turn them out of the moulds, remove the cling film and slice into desired lengths.

Use a fork to dip the logs into the melted milk chocolate coating, shake off some of the excess chocolate and place onto a sheet of foil. The coating will set very quickly. Melt the white chocolate and drizzle onto the logs - I use a piping bag but you can just drizzle off a spoon.

When set, wrap in cellophane and store out of sunlight.

Elizabeth's Chocolate Roulade

This is a really rich, fudgy chocolate log (it's also gluten free but don't let that put you off!). I fill it with whipped cream and cherries but you can use berries, flavoured cream, or mousse or a lighter option with ½ cream and ½ yoghurt, it will still be delicious.

  • 6 eggs
  • 175g sugar
  • 175g dark chocolate

Line a Swiss roll tin (approx 33cm x 23cm) with non-stick baking paper.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. To do this you place a small pan with a little water in it on the element to heat. Put a heat-proof bowl over the top not touching the water, and break the chocolate into the bowl. The chocolate will melt gently. If chocolate overheats it 'seizes', becoming stiff and granular and is ruined.

Separate the eggs, ensuring absolutely no yolk makes it into the whites or they won't whip up properly. Beat the yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy then wash the beaters in hot soapy water before beating the whites. Beat the whites until stiff. Stir the melted chocolate into the yolk mixture then fold in the whites.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 180° for half an hour. Turn onto a clean tea towel and gently peel off the baking paper. Roll the roulade up gently in the tea towel from the short side, and leave to cool.

To assemble the roulade, gently unroll (expect a few cracks), spread with cream and scatter on berries or cherries. Re roll then slide onto a platter and dust with icing sugar. Keep refrigerated till needed.

6. Penny's Blog: Let's See How Far We've Come

Mar 27, 2009

No Spend Month is almost at an end and I'm determined to finish it with a flourish. I've been really good this week on the whole! In fact I've enjoyed No Spend Month so much, I think I'm going to continue. Initially I thought I was taking on too much, starting off No Spend Month with a $21 Challenge week as well but it ended up being a really good decision and was by far our most successful week. Once the Challenge finished I didn't do so well and it took me a good week or more to really toughen up my resolve but now there's no stopping me. If there's any way I can avoid spending money, I do it. I hate spending money, I HATE it!

This month I realised just how well the $21 Challenge works and, like No Spend Month I am going to do my utmost to keep that mentality going. I really feel at my best when I'm in Challenge mode. We save the most, yet eat the best! The $21 Challenge and No Spend Month are my 'tough guys'. They enable me to stay strong. They make the rules and I can't break them! I have also learned three more rules, courtesy of my Savings Diary:

1. I HAVE to menu plan. If I don't, I am constantly picking things up from Mr Patel's or getting Noel to grab me things from the supermarket. When I menu plan, I only have to set foot in a grocery store once all week. I pick up everything I need in one hit and know I'm done.

2. I HAVE to make everyone's lunches. Of course the boys have a lunchbox every day at school but I am really bad at making sure Noel and I have something! Noel is on the road most of the time so it's really easy for him to grab food when out and about. For starters it's not too healthy. A stock agent can get through a whole week existing solely on sausages and bread at the saleyards if things are really busy! However it's also way too expensive. I didn't realise how much he was spending on lunches until he informed me that his canteen bill at the saleyards was around $60 a month. I almost died but it gets worse - that's just on FRIDAYS! The rest of the days he's driving around picking up food from bakeries or wherever! Needless to say, I have not missed making a single lunch in longer than I can remember. If I don't have anything handy for my own lunch, I make a big pot of soup and that does me two or three days at least.

3. I HAVE to bake. If I don't, I throw money away, it's that simple. When I bake, everyone is happy. Everyone has food they can grab and we spend so much less on other, more expensive foods because they don't get gobbled up so fast. It also makes filling lunchboxes so much faster in the mornings and means when the baking tins are full I never have to give the kids money for the canteen to 'top up' either!

Three simple things, which I've always done on and off, but now I realise that I HAVE to do them. Reading the Savings Diary is painful when you scroll down and see how often we go and buy food. Just bits and pieces here and there but it all adds up. I admit, I still do not enjoy baking and I don't know if I ever will, there are always at least a dozen other things I would much rather be doing BUT! I love the results, I love the money I save by doing it and I love the warm fuzzy feeling of looking after my family and keeping them well fed.

Of all the tips and skills I have learned from Simple Savings, I think the ones I most treasure are all food related. How to make something out of nothing. How to reduce food waste. How to cook using real food. I was in my kitchen the other day using a leftover chicken carcass to make home made stock. I was feeling very SS and very proud of myself and it struck me all of a sudden how far I had come. This was so far removed from the way I used to cook and I realised that the way I used to cook wasn't really cooking at all. It was usually nothing more than chucking a jar of pre-made sauce over something or adding milk or water to a packet. I would use a jar of Chicken Tonight and a jar of bought pasta sauce at least once a week. I joined Simple Savings and I stopped doing that overnight. I haven't bought any of those in four years now! As I stood over my bubbling pot of stock, happily inhaling its herby aroma, I thought to myself 'you know what Penny? You might be rubbish when it comes to buying food out sometimes, but when it comes to food at home, you do a pretty bloody good job!

I feel so fortunate to have the skills I have to feed my family. I wonder how I would be coping now with the recession if I didn't? The other day I thought we had no food and was sorely tempted to go and buy something for lunch. Instead I stayed strong and raided the freezer. There I found a stash of delicious beef and vegetable pies left over from our $21 Challenge week. I had one of those and finished off my lunch by treating myself to one of Ali's Choc Cherry cupcakes, courtesy of Nigella Lawson. I don't usually eat any baking, I just make it for everyone else but these are to die for! As I sat there munching happily I thought to myself 'it doesn't get any better than this, why on earth would I even think of buying food!'

Noel's a huge help too of course. I had to buy a bag of potatoes today for the first time in five months as I've just used up the last of his bumper crop of spuds. I'm a dreadful gardener but I have discovered something I can grow well and that's herbs. I love fresh herbs and have this idyllic view of trotting out to the garden to pick sprigs of this and that for dinner. Unfortunately while I have no less than three large planters crammed with herbs outside and a couple of pots of mint too, I always forgot to use them. I made Noel fall about recently when I said during one of the hottest weeks of the year 'Wow, those plants must be really hardy, I've never had to water them you know!' He roared with laughter and said 'No dear, they're not at all - who do you think has been watering them all this time? They'd be bloody dead if they had been left up to you to look after!' *Blush*, I stand corrected!

So I decided the best way to look after my herbs and make sure they actually get used was to bring them inside. You name the herb, I've probably got it - the only thing is I have no idea what most of them are any more, so many of them look the same! However my kitchen now sports a thriving pot of basil and another of coriander, with parsley and chives growing nicely on the window sill. It's working a treat and I can at least recognise sage and rosemary outside when I need it but I couldn't tell you what the rest are! While my knowledge of herbs may leave a lot to be desired, if I say so myself, I have become darn good at making something out of nothing and that's a skill I'm extremely proud of. You might be reading this and think 'oh yeah, whatever, we all do that!' but I think it's a skill many of us SS'ers take for granted. The majority of people around us don't have a clue how to do it. I love turning bits and pieces into awesome meals and my herbs are a great help with that. I don't waste anything any more. Where I would have once thrown out overripe bananas I turned them into banana splits last night for the kids with home made caramel sauce using a tin of condensed milk that poor old Noel can't have any more. The boys absolutely loved it and I love doing it for them. I have that pride, that $21 Challenge mentality instilled in me now.

I didn't realise just how much until a few days ago. Ali was having a shared lunch at school and I didn't have a lot of time to make anything but was determined to send him off with something home-made. I spotted one of the recipes from 4 Ingredients in That's Life! - Mars Bar Slice. That looked easy! I didn't have any Mars Bars in the house so rang Noel and asked him to pick some up on the way home, which he duly did whilst grumbling about the price of them at $1.35 each. Hmm, I hadn't thought of that! I didn't get time to make the slice until after dinner and put it together in five minutes flat, using butter, Rice Bubbles and the Mars Bars. Job done! But as I closed the fridge door on my creation I actually felt quite sad. To be honest I felt like a bit of a failure! It didn't feel to me like that was proper cooking at all - in fact even Noel said the same. When I said 'well at least I made something for Ali's shared lunch,' he said 'Hmph, well you didn't really actually have to MAKE anything did you?' Exactly!

To add insult to injury I realised that my super speedy slice had cost me dearly. Three Mars Bars, 125g of butter and three cups of gluten-free Rice Bubbles later, it wasn't far off $10. Imagine how many muffins I could have made for the class shared lunch with that! And as for being a time saver, I didn't really save any time, just redistributed it. Noel had to go out of his way going to the shop for me, waiting at the counter and getting back to his car then going back to what he was doing. If I had counted Noel's time in my cooking, it would actually have been faster if I had made something else!

In contrast, the following day I made a pot of home-made zucchini soup to help use up some of the current surplus. I used one onion, one potato, 500ml home-made chicken stock and two zucchini. Added 1/3 cup of leftover cream in the fridge and it was awesome! It didn't take much longer than my slice, around 15 minutes from start to finish, but what a difference! There had been no pride or achievement in chucking together something which was largely pre-made to start with, but my soup had come almost entirely from Mother Nature and I was pretty proud of it! Not to mention it cost me next to nothing and fed me for two days. Now that's my kind of cooking! Funny though, back in my Sad Sally days I wouldn't have thought twice about making that slice. It takes something like that to realise I've come much further than I thought.

Another great new habit from No Spend Month which we have adopted and is going to stay is keeping each other informed of our spending and being accountable to one another. I mean, we always inform each other of great savings we've made or larger things we've purchased but a lot of the day to day incidentals go unnoticed. I realised there was no point me proudly filling a No Spend day into my Savings Diary if Noel had gone and spent something and I had no idea! The clincher was when I was having my second No Spend day in a row and was horrified to check the bank balance and see three new Eftpos transactions that morning alone. None of them were mine! So we agreed from now on he will bring all his dockets home each day for me to enter into the Savings Diary. I have to do the same and we berate each other soundly if the other slips up! I wag my finger at him for spending $21.99 on beer and he ribs me mercilessly for spending $8.90 on lunch. Trust me, after a while it's just easier not to do it! By the same token we are always very proud of each other and ourselves too. Like when Noel went to the supermarket the other day and came home regaling all his fabulous bargains. And I couldn't wait to tell him about my soup!

One saving we are really relishing at the moment is the reduced expense in dairy food since Noel has cut it out of his diet. Obviously we no longer use dairy products in our main family meals now either and we have really noticed the difference. We just don't have to buy any! I was worried at first that soy milk would be a big expense but as none of us ever drank milk in the first place this hasn't been the case at all, although we have all been pleasantly surprised to find that we LOVE soy milk, where the boys and I always hated cows milk! Noel however was a big dairy consumer so it is proving a really big saving for us and he has found that he is actually enjoying being dairy free. I suppose because we have become so used to growing most of our own food I am also finding it quite easy to cook wheat AND dairy free meals. Unfortunately Noel is also intolerant to eggs so it won't be long before they are coming out of our ears!

In fact, we were also advised to cut out as many cleaning products as we could as these don't agree with Noel either. Hooray for SS! This didn't bother me in the slightest as most of our cleaning products are already home-made. I just saw it as another welcome way to save! However there were some products I wasn't sure how to replace so I popped into the Vault and came across this multi-purpose cleaner that everyone was raving about. I was fortunate enough to have everything I needed already on hand so I mixed it all up in a jiffy. WOW! This cleaner is awesome! I've never found a cleaner which works so fast and is so easy to use. Everything has never been so shiny! I love it! There's only one small problem - I can't stop cleaning!

March 2009

2nd - Hive of activity

6th - Saving my sanity (money)

11th - Sadie the cleaning lady

20th - My own worst enemy

7. Homeopathy Corner: Treating Eczema

Great news! April 27 is the start of World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) and this year it will be all about homeopathy and allergies. Homeopaths around the country will be giving talks, running promotions, and offering introductory specials. As part of the fun, Fran is teaching us how to use homeopathy for eczema. She also includes a link on what homeopaths are doing near you for WHAW. If you would like to know more go to:-


8. From Last Month: Successful Birthday Planning

Last month Nicole Anderson asked:

"I am the mother of four girls and all their birthdays fall between 29th October and 31st December. Then of course amidst all that there is Christmas! I know - very poor planning on our part! But, do you have any suggestions as to how to make this time of year a little more manageable? The girls range in age from 15 months to 9 years. At present we are using a piggy bank (known as Krissy Pig) and putting away $20 a week to save for the gift giving at the end of the year. It sort of worked last year but I still ended up with a blowout as I only started part way through the year (I am hoping for more success this year). I would be really interested in any suggestions you may have. Can you help?"

Of course! Thanks everyone for your terrific suggestions. With tips like these, hopefully Nicole will avoid another blowout this year - and Krissy Pig will get fatter too!

Downgrade your birthday budget

You can ease the financial burden of catering for Christmas birthdays by giving yourself permission to downgrade. Downgrade the party food to coffee/tea/cake, a fruit salad and vegetable crudités and a dip. I've thrown a lot of parties and find that no matter how much or how little food you serve, people adjust their takings, so there's always a little of everything left over.

An inexpensive way to decorate is a centre piece of a few latex helium balloons that can be divided up at the end of the party as party favours. Spotlight is a great place to buy these and if you pay an extra $0.20c per balloon they will put a solution in the balloon that makes it last for five days.

Limit the number of guests of your children to one per their age, for example, a two year old has one or two friends their own age, a nine year old has nine guests and so on. Family attendance is of course a given.

At this time of year you can even downgrade your gift. A $20 gift is more than substantial and the fun is in trying to find something meaningful and useful to your child. Books are always a great option and a lockable journal will be a great hit with girls.

Whatever your budget, if it makes it easier for you to save by never seeing the money you are contributing, then have a set amount automatically transferred from one bank account to another specifically for your birthday/Christmas budget.

Contributed by: Leslie Chua

Happy Birthday from Centrelink

To manage birthday and Christmas presents for our children we saved all of our Centrelink payments and any Centrelink bonuses from tax time. If we weren't entitled to any, I saved a percentage of our tax returns as I classed it as money we never had anyway!

I kept a record of how much I was paid for each child each fortnight in my 'financial diary', and kept the money in our mortgage account to offset the interest we were paying on the loan. This total was updated each pay day.

When it came to 'present time', I just took the agreed set amount from the account. All the while it was saving us hundreds in long term interest.

Contributed by: Melanie Keilor

Year-round birthday budget

I have family presents to buy in every month of the year! To help me cope with the cost and stay within budget I have set up a separate bank account in which $35 is automatically transferred each week. It is not linked to my access cards so the money is not readily available. It is perpetual so it just keeps adding up and I withdraw what I need on each occasion. I don't just use it for birthdays but for Easter, Mother's and Father's Day and Christmas. It really helps!

Contributed by: Candy Dauncey

Coping with Christmas birthdays

Christmas time can be expensive enough, without having extra birthdays to buy for at the same time! To help keep costs down I shop in advance at the summer sales. I grab nice beach towels at up to 70% discount, sun hats, beach chairs, T-shirts and so on for the adults who have summer birthdays, and stash them away.

For the kids I tend to keep an eye on discount tables, sales and so on and grab anything that is dirt cheap and put it away in my wardrobe. I often buy my daughter beautiful summer outfits, new bikinis, caps and other goodies in the sales; just make sure you buy bigger sizes and put them in a secret hiding place.

My kids have a family birthday every second year (dinner of their choice at home with Nana and Grandad invited too). The other year they are allowed to invite a friend for afternoon tea (or sleepover for older children). This gives them a special day with minimal cost. My mum makes their cakes and on the odd occasion I have had to do a 'cake' I have bought and decorated a two litre block of ice cream with lollies. A winner every time!

My children also make their own gifts for each other, with my help often. The last lot of goodies included; note paper (A4 paper cut in quarters and a photo of birthday child printed and attached to front), a jar of slime, a big container of home-made play dough, a photo board (printed out pictures of the birthday child glued on painted card). The list goes on. When the children make their own gifts a great deal of thought goes into what each person would really like and the recipient loves their special pressies often more than the bought ones.

I think that what makes a birthday really special is being spoilt all day. Start with breakfast in bed, special lunch items in lunch box, cuddles, we always hang a birthday banner and a couple of balloons the evening before, so that is the first thing they see in the morning. We also watch any birth/baby videos and marvel over all the changes in our birthday child. They love seeing themselves on TV!

Contributed by: Julie Williams

Keep a birthday box

I spread the cost of birthdays throughout the year. For some years I have kept a box, covered in contact. Into this I put presents that I have found during the year. I try to find things that people have mentioned liking (perfume, toiletries, toys and so on). This year I managed to find a toiletry set in lavender - my daughter's favourite in the post-Christmas sales. One closing sale netted three sets of 50 different coloured pencils for $6.00 per tin. These have been put away for the junior family members who are going to school now. Last year I found a wooden dolls house for $15. This has been set aside for the only female junior in our family. When you buy them in this way, you are spreading the cost, saving money, and making sure that you have something that the person will really like!

Contributed by: Lesley Forster

Gift notebook has everything covered

To get the best value for money on birthdays and other gifts, keep a gift book. You can buy presents throughout the year with your budgeted money as you see them. Simply write down who they are for along with the price you paid.

At the end of season clearances in January you can buy T-shirts, shorts, swimwear and towels in the next size up. They are heavily reduced and if you purchase clothes without trendy designs no ones will know they are last season.

In June/July take advantage of the lay-by to Christmas toy sales in most stores - you will need to be there on the first day and early to grab the best bargains but as they are often 50% off it is worth it, then use your budgeted money to pay off the lay-by each week or fortnight. Leave a couple of dollars on it and you can leave pick up until right before Christmas, saving the hassle of hiding a lot of gifts. Doing this can save you money all year round on family birthdays, anniversaries, birthday gifts for the kids' friends or whatever. If you grab great bargains and remove the stickers no one will know you have not had to blow the budget!

Contributed by: Katie Walters

Kids choose the birthday budget

We have a horror month for birthdays during the year so have come up with this simple way to save. As well as saving a bit each week, my children have a choice each year - they can have a party and a small present OR they can have a larger present but no party. Over the years (they are now teenagers) they have seen the merits of bigger (or more) presents and no party, instead inviting one friend over for dinner (home cooked favourite meal) and cake and maybe a sleep over. If even that is not possible, we make sure we have any family members (we don't have many) over for an afternoon tea of home-made birthday cake and to sing Happy Birthday. Everyone's happy!

Contributed by: Lesley Taylor

Buy for Christmas birthdays in winter sales

To help with the added expense of birthdays over Christmas, put money aside for six months prior. For example, you can save for the first six months, then buy as much as you can on sale in winter around July. By the time Christmas comes around, most of your shopping is done! Be creative with your gifts too; kids love second hand gifts just as much. Santa brought a well-used but loved swing set to my girls for Christmas as our neighbours didn't need it any more.

Contributed by: Deanne Smith

9. This Month's Help Request: Inspiring Side Dishes

This month we have a question from Lisa H who asks:

"Embarrassing but true, my kids love the packet 'pasta and sauces' - you know the ones; sour cream and chives, Alfredo and so on. While I love the convenience, I know they are not dollar wise or healthy. Has anyone got some good (and quick) recipes for side dishes?"

If you have some ideas that may work for Lisa we would love to hear from you. Please send your tips here.

10. Savings Story: A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events

I had been living beyond my means for some time and knew I needed to trim my spending. For the last couple of years, I had been pretty careful with purchases, but was not succeeding in 'cutting my coat according to my cloth'. About eight or nine months ago, I decided I would only spend cold hard cash. I withdrew what I could afford to once a week from the bank and forced myself to make do with that until the following week. What a shock! The first couple of weeks, I was penniless within 24 hours and had long lists of unpurchased 'necessities'. My grocery shopping barely covered the bottom of the trolley. (What a joy when it came to unpacking it!) I discovered I could do without many things and started making all food (including bread) from scratch. Most things tasted better and I enjoyed cooking. I started buying vegetable seedlings and growing them, but have had to trim that back to seeds to supply us with enough. The junk food and alcohol are long gone - the money never makes it that far. I lost weight! But I still wasn't making ends meet, so I had to cut back on contents insurance. The result has been that I am more careful with what I do have and am becoming less concerned about material possessions as I am not acquiring expensive new ones anyway. I had more free time on the weekends as I didn't 'have' to scour the newspaper for the best buys and then rush around putting them on the credit card. However I still needed to trim my expenses, so I had to forgo my medical insurance. I find I am now so much more careful with my lifestyle, diet and exercise and I suspect it is because my subconscious knows that there is no comfortable private hospital or top specialist waiting for me if anything goes wrong.

Petrol is still a thorn in my side and I am very conscious of the percentage of my hard-earned money that is going on harming the environment just to get me to work. Tomorrow I have an interview for a less 'glamorous', but otherwise similar job within walking distance of my home. This would also increase my exercise. So far, the follow-on effects of spending only cash I have in my hand have not ended. But each time I have had to make a tough decision about which 'necessity' to forgo to live within my means, I have discovered that going without is not as bad as I feared and that, oddly enough, I am now healthier, happier, less rushed, more in control of my life and proud of my resourcefulness than I ever was when I had everything I thought I needed.

Contributed by: Anne Stephenson Piper