"Secrets to Saving Money in Australia" Free Newsletter - March 2010

This issue includes:-

  1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: I Will Survive!
  2. The $21 Challenge Is a Rip Off!
  3. This Month's Competition: Before and After
  4. Best of the Vault: Helping Yourself
  5. Best of the Forum: Challenge Central
  6. Sophie Gray: Stuff Happens
  7. Penny's Blog: A Changed Man
  8. Homeopathy Corner: Preparing for Radiation
  9. From Last Month: Keeping My Chin Up
  10. This Month's Help Request: One Pan Dishes
  11. Savings Story: Debts Paid, $1000 Saved!


How are you doing? This month we have discovered that we definitely gave our youngest daughter the right name. Elora rhymes with 'explorer', and that's just what she is! We have no choice but to sit back, watch and laugh as she charges around the house, sticking her nose into everything and getting stuck under furniture. As she eagerly opens drawers and ferrets through cupboards, we encourage her along by singing 'Elora the Explorer'. All she needs is a backpack and a map!

This month is $21 Challenge Month and we want you to follow Elora's lead and do some exploring in your own kitchens. You'll be amazed at what you'll find, just like these members!

"I did a $21 Challenge and didn't even realise it! I renewed my membership to Simple Savings at the end of February, after many months' absence and began reading through the Vault every night. The wonderful hints, old and new, encouraged me to cook more, bake more and use the things in my pantry before handing over my hard-earned cash to buy more food.

"I love the idea of a $21 Challenge, but my family has many food sensitivities and requires special diets, so I assumed I would never be able to stick to a 'mere' $21 in one week. Since I track every cent of money that comes into or out of my hands, I had a startling and dramatic realisation. After just ONE week of reading the Vault, my food expenses for the three of us were just $17.32! The week before I renewed my membership, my weekly food expenditure was $183.85! My membership has more than paid for itself already, and I was hardly even trying!" (Teresa Randall)

"I joined your website yesterday after purchasing and reading the $21 Challenge book from cover to cover. I have just completed my stocktake of the fridge, freezer and pantry. The first two were simple enough and enabled me to give them both a good clean out. The pantry, however, was a mammoth task to say the least! My daughters were writing the stuff down as I cleaned and organised the shelves. To our astonishment and embarrassment we had an overwhelming amount of food in there that quite possibly could feed our family of four several times over. It made us realise we were just shopping for shopping's sake and out of habit. This has been such a major eye opener that I wanted to share my experience with you and to thank you for your book. If I didn't buy it and read it I would have most certainly gone out and bought more groceries 'just because' and spent up to $300 per week without batting an eyelid. I am astounded just how powerful this exercise has been, so thanks again for giving me the tools to stand back and take stock!"

(Kristina Perry, pictured with her three daughters.)

"I borrowed the $21 Challenge book from the library. We have just moved house and while we were in accommodation I found I did exactly what you said - bought things blindly that we already had and didn't know! So, no sooner had we unpacked the pantry, than we took everything back out, and repacked it while doing our stocktake. So many things were doubled up, out of date or USI's (Unidentifiable Smelling Ingredients - soon to become chook food when they arrive next week!). I have now labelled all the containers, along with their 'use by' dates so I know where I'm at with my massive inventory. The way things are at the moment, I think we could probably do a $21 Challenge for a couple of months! Thank you for opening my eyes to myself and my bad habits - my husband is so happy we will be spending less cash!" (Kylie Bonnor)

"I received the $21 Challenge book one week ago and was pretty skeptical. I took notes on what was in the pantry, fridge and freezer and was shocked how much 'stuff' I had in all three. I didn't spend any money for four days and only then to buy potatoes and bread for the other half, as he's not keen on pasta or rice. On the sixth day we had $13 left - enough to be able to splurge out on a few goodies and still stay within our $21 limit! I am now planning for one week a month to be our $21 Challenge week! Thanks for such a great book." (Val Reeves)

"I joined Simple Savings a few months ago. I wasn't in debt myself, but I wanted to see how others dealt with it. What has really delighted me and has prompted me to write, is that in the process of dealing with money issues, so many subscribers have discovered a simpler and happier life that doesn't depend on spending large amounts of money.

"Families are spending more time together, friends have been rediscovered and children and parents have found that there are other more exciting and interesting ways to use their time other than in front of a screen, whatever its size.

"In the light of increasing problems of family stress and breakdown, as well as the issue of climate change, the ideas generated through this website are truly life changing.

"Congratulations and well done. This is most definitely a perfect example of 'the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.' Keep up the good work!" (Lyn Hamilton)

All the best,

Fiona Lippey

P.S. WARNING! Fantastic new site improvements ahead!

We have some major upgrading happening in the Vault over the next day or two. It is possible that you may experience a few hiccups on the site while we get all the new functions live, but we promise it's going to be SO worth it! We have been waiting for the new improved Vault for a long time and are really excited. Keep an eye out for some fantastic new changes. You're going to love it!

1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: I Will Survive!

Sally strolled round the supermarket, carefully checking prices and totting them up on her calculator. 'Grand total - $18.90. Yes! I've done it!' she smiled to herself as she headed for the checkout. Thank goodness for the $21 Challenge! She could use her savings to pay off her credit card from last month. Pete, bless him, hadn't said a word about her spending spree. He didn't have to; she had been berating herself enough ever since.

Still, this month she was determined to make up for it. The $21 Challenge would soon get things back on track. She was in control! She was a super saver! She was standing in the supermarket queue with an idiotic grin on her face. 'Hmph! Wish I could find something to be as happy as you about!' remarked the woman in front of her. 'I've just done my whole week's shopping for $18.90!' Sally told her proudly.

'That's a week's worth of food?' the woman questioned, sneering at Sally's basket. 'You must eat like a sparrow!' 'Not at all!' Sally smiled sweetly back. 'This really is all we need to keep the four of us well fed for the week. I won't have to buy another thing!' The woman looked at Sally as if she had gone mad. 'Honestly,' she rolled her eyes at the cashier. 'The lengths some people go to just to stay thin!'

2. The $21 Challenge Is a Rip Off!

It would be lovely if the lady Sally encountered in the supermarket was a one-off. But you would be amazed at how many naysayers there are. The $21 Challenge can't be done, it's impossible, it's too good to be true, Simple Savings are just rip-off merchants, you name it; we've heard it.

But the $21 Challenge is no scam. It's fantastic! It's fun. April is $21 Challenge Month. So join us in proving the sceptics wrong and saving truckloads of money in just one week!

You may be wondering 'why is the Challenge so good?' Put simply, it changes the way you see food. Or, as one lady stood up and said in the middle of Jackie's library talk the other day, "Your book changed my life! It showed me all the mistakes I was making with food."

You see, when you do a $21 Challenge you won't just save yourself as much as $300 in a week. You will learn priceless new skills. You will learn how valuable you are. You will learn just how important cooking is and why you are so needed.

Let's face it - you have to cook every day. While you can't change this, you CAN change the way you feel about cooking. Instead of being the usual daily chore, the Challenge turns cooking into a game. It becomes a fun competition where you are the winner; rather than a ball and chain around your neck.

Most of all, the $21 Challenge book gives you the tools to become a legend in your own kitchen. Once your family experiences the awesome job you do of feeding them and have applauded your culinary skills, why would you ever want to go back to throwing money away on takeaways or cooking out of a packet?

The only way to learn how effective and enjoyable the Challenge truly is, is to give it a go. So this month, take the plunge! Take on the $21 Challenge in your own household. If you need any further encouragement, see this newsletter for details of our brand new 'before and after' competition. If you have already mastered the $21 Challenge and Challenge weeks are easy peasy for you, we have a task for you too! Your challenge for this month is to talk your friends into joining you. Lend them your book and share your favourite survival recipes. See if you can change their life, the way the $21 Challenge has changed yours!

The $21 Challenge has been a much loved and integral part of Simple Savings since 2006. If you would like to know more about what it is and how it works, check out the $21 Challenge section in the Vault. All of the tips and recipes are there to help you and others succeed. There is STACKS of information available!

You can join the Vault here.

To order a copy of the $21 Challenge book click here


3. This Month's Competition: Before and After

The entries from last month's short story competition have been brilliant. We are in the middle of choosing a winner and have been having so much fun that we thought we should keep the fun rolling. This month we want to see your pantry - before and after a $21 Challenge! Keep a diary of your Challenge through the week and take a photo of your pantry, fridge or freezer before and after. We want to know what weird and wonderful things you found on your Challenge. What was the best new meal you came up with. Was the Challenge easy or hard? What obstacles did life throw at you and how did you tackle them? The most entertaining and inspiring entries will win.

The best entry will win $200 and we'll also award four runner up prizes of $50.

Please email your entries

Click here to read the terms and conditions before entering the competition.

4. Best of the Vault: Helping Yourself

One of the best things about the $21 Challenge is that you simply cannot fail! Even if you don't manage to squeeze in under $21, there is absolutely no doubt that you WILL save money compared to your usual food bill. When things get really tough, the $21 Challenge is something positive that you can do to help yourself get back on track and back in control. It's amazing how many new ways you can find to avoid spending money during a Challenge week!

Challenge means change

My husband and I want to purchase our own home but we realise that if our current spending habits continue, we can kiss that dream goodbye. Thankfully, I discovered the $21 Challenge through your website and decided to give it a go.

My son has just turned one and loves the pureed vegetables you can buy from the supermarket. Although convenient, these vegetables are expensive, ranging in price from $1.88 to $2.69 a packet. So, I checked the phone book and found a local fruit and vegetable wholesaler. I bought $15 worth of produce, cooked it up and froze it in portions. We now have weeks of pureed vegetables to go over rice, plus pre-cooked vegetables for our dinners. The fruit I buy is also cooked and we now have lots of apple sauce for pancakes and roast pork, or stewed fruit for dessert and breakfast. I have estimated that I have saved about $100 in packaged fruit and vegetables, and I know that all the food I give my family is home-cooked and locally grown.

Even our dogs have benefited! I use the food processor to chop up all the skins, seeds, stalks and leaves off the fruit and vegetables and combine this mixture with some gravy or leftover meat and a raw egg from our own chickens. This means I am now saving about $20 a week on dog food as well.

Thanks to Simple Savings, we are now well on the way to saving up a deposit for our own home.

Contributed by: Katja Bishop

$21 Challenge helps two families

I took on the $21 Challenge, and won! However, my husband was a rather grumpy participant; he loved the savings but not the lifestyle during Challenge week. As he goes away regularly, I decided that every night he's not home for dinner would become a $21 Challenge night for me and the kids - all meals must be made from ingredients I already have at home, and I can only use ingredients that have not been allocated for other meals. This saves money and gives me a night off cooking, as my Challenge meals are usually simple affairs, sometimes as easy as pancakes or toasted sandwiches.

The true value of the $21 Challenge became apparent when a friend was recently diagnosed with a severe form of leukaemia. She is a married mother of four boys and is embarking on a long therapeutic journey that will hopefully lead to a full recovery. As a way of helping her family, the parents at our school have banded together to make all their meals for the next three to six months. As they are a large family, with an above average food requirement, I was unsure how I could afford to help feed them each week. Thankfully, my husband was away the week my friend was diagnosed, so the kids and I lived off the $21 Challenge that week and all left over money was put into making meals to freeze for my friend's family.

We now do the same thing whenever my husband is away - it's a great gift to know that I can afford to cook and freeze meals for my friend's family, and look after my family at the same time. Thank you.

Contributed by: Thomsmum

A Challenge for life

After reading The $21 Challenge, I thought I would see which other areas of my life I could apply the Challenge to.

First, I opened a separate bank account and now deposit $21 every week before I do anything else with my money. I see this as a type of retirement fund - it will be nice to see the funds in 30 years time!

My next $21 Challenge is to only put $21 worth of petrol in my car each week. I will park my car further away from where I need to go; this will save money and improve my fitness and wellbeing.

When my phone contract ends soon, I am going to challenge myself to spend no more than $21 on pre-paid phone credit each month - now that will be a challenge!

There are so many ways we can implement the $21 Challenge in our lives, thanks to Fiona and Jackie's inspirational book.

Contributed by: Shivaya

Don't be afraid to trade

I have just bought your fantastic book, The $21 Challenge, and am working my way through it.

I wanted to try out a few of the recipes, but discovered I didn't have the tomatoes and corn that a few of them called for. So I rang my good friend and asked if she had any to spare that she might like to swap for a whole heap of eggs - we have 21 chickens!

She was more than happy to swap, so my advice is that you shouldn't be afraid to use this method if you require ingredients. I've found that friends and family are usually quite willing to swap, and we all end up with something we want.

Contributed by: Carissa Craker

Many ways to meet the Challenge

There are so many small things you can do to make your $21 Challenge week a big success. Here are just a few:

  • Limit shopping trips and make do with what you already have.
  • Plan your meals so that you don't overspend or waste food.
  • Give your pantry and freezer a regular clear out and use up what's in there.
  • Look for recipes that use leftovers.
  • Google for cheap student recipes, for example, www.bangor.ac.uk/studentlife/cooking.php.en
  • Learn how to joint a chicken on YouTube instead of buying individual pieces.
  • Buy a side of lamb, instead of more expensive individual cuts.
  • Hot water with a drop of detergent and some white vinegar cleans a lot of surfaces.

Just imagine the dollars you'll save by doing these simple things!

Contributed by: Dianne Barling

5. Best of the Forum: Challenge Central

With a whopping 91 threads on the subject, our Savings Forum is $21 Challenge Central! All your Challenge questions are answered, recipes shared and meals saved with the help of our savvy members!

Recipes from $21 Challenges

This thread is an absolute gem! Delve into this treasure trove of recipes shared by members during their $21 Challenges. You need never wonder 'what's for dinner?' again!

$21 Challenge for January 2010

Once again the super-inspiring Claire M takes the reins and leads members in a monthly $21 Challenge to help them get ahead during times of uncertainty. Feel free to jump on board at any time, the Forum door is always open!

$21 Challenge increases fitness

Who says the $21 Challenge has to be about food? Kimberley vows to find herself a new exercise regime for no more than $21, which gets the members wondering - how many other ways can they apply the $21 Challenge to their lives?

6. Sophie Gray: Stuff Happens

A friend once told me there is never a 'right time' to have a baby or buy a house. These things are life and we just get on and do them as best we can. I currently have friends facing bankruptcy, others adjusting to life with an unexpected baby 15 years after the last one! Both families are under real pressure; their advice - man up! Tough it out, get a grip! Going to pieces won't achieve anything. Being able to ride through the difficult stuff is the mark of maturity. Do we buckle? Or just get on with it?

I'm all for buckling myself. I'd happily climb into bed, pull the blankets over my head and pretend I'm somewhere else while the tough stuff goes on. But I have people who depend on me. A daughter, a son, and a husband who, God bless him, will likely starve if I don't hold it together.

The $21 Challenge provides opportunity to practice being resourceful whether you need to or not. It does require fortitude but it's only a week. A week where the simple things become the heroes - nourishing, filling and cheap ingredients and a 'get on with it' attitude. It's a chance to take stock, plan where you can and above all be grateful for what you have got.

Oat cuisine

During the Challenge you may need to find new or different ways to use the ingredients you already have to hand. Oats are a favourite staple in our house, and I try to include them in a variety of ways for their nutritional benefits as well as their economy.

Oat bran differs from rolled oats and oatmeal. Basically, the oat groats are rolled more and sifted in order to separate the oat bran from the flour (or endosperm).

So the resulting oat bran contains more fibrous material than rolled oats: a half cup of oat bran contains 7.6g of fibre, whereas a half cup of rolled oats contains 4.2g. Both oat varieties make a healthy contribution to our daily fibre requirements (men 30g a day, women 25g). Consumption of oat fibre has been linked to lowered total and LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels.

Oat bran, rolled oats and oatmeal also contain some potassium, calcium, iron, zinc and selenium.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand considers evidence linking wholegrain intake to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease inconclusive, but the US Food and Drug Administration has a more optimistic view. The FDA allows health claims on certain oat products, suggesting that the soluble fibre in oats may contribute to a decreased heart disease risk.

Everyday meat loaf

Meatloaf makes great family dining. It's quick to prepare and leftovers slice really well for the lunchbox sandwiches the following day.

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrot - approximately 1 large carrot
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooking spray to grease loaf tin

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl or food processor and mix thoroughly. Press firmly into a greased loaf tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 35 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before turning out and slicing. Serve with tomato sauce and vegies.

Oaty breakfast pancakes

You can't beat a hot breakfast for kicking off the day. The extra fibre in these oaty pancakes provides sustained energy and will help with concentration. They're also delicious so you can serve them for a morning or afternoon tea.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup medium rolled oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 30g melted butter

Place the rolled oats in a bowl and add the milk so the oats begin to soften. In another bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the egg and sugar to the oat mixture, stirring to combine and then pour it into the flour mix. Add the melted butter and stir well. Add more milk if necessary to make a dropping consistency.

Heat a frying pan and in it melt a knob of butter. Place spoons full of batter into the pan, when bubbles appear, turn the pancake and cook the other side. Serve hot with maple syrup or golden syrup.

Oaty crisps

Home-made biscuits make the house smell wonderful and the cook very popular. These are easy and economical to make and go well with a glass of milk or something more grown up.

Makes quite a lot - depending on how big you make them.

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups medium rolled oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 180°C

In a large saucepan melt the butter. Add the syrup, sugar and oats. Dissolve the baking soda in water and add to the pan along with the flour. Stir well. Place teaspoons full on a greased tray and bake 10-15 min or until golden. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Sophie Gray is the author of the range of Destitute Gourmet cookbooks. www.DestituteGourmet.com

7. Penny's Blog: A Changed Man

Mar 25, 2010

No, I'm not talking about my husband in the title! Before I reveal his identity I want to say an enormous, sincere thank you to Barb K and every Simple Savings member who has ever contributed to the $21 Challenge. Together, we have changed a guy's life. You see, when it comes to the $21 Challenge I have always believed there to be two types of men. There's the type who wouldn't touch the Challenge with a bargepole for fear of missing out on their daily dose of meat and vegies and then there's the type who say they would love to be married to a woman who can do a $21 Challenge. But in Caleb I've discovered there's actually a third type! I met Caleb on Friday (though I didn't know who he was then). He and his wife were sitting in the front row at one of my library talks in Thames and I was pleased as punch when he came up afterwards and bought a copy of the book. While my library talk audiences are predominantly women, I've been really pleasantly surprised to see the number of men always in attendance and they always end up purchasing a book, whether they are in their twenties or their eighties. Some are single thirty-somethings, some are married with their first baby on the way and some have been married for 50 years, but as one elderly chap told me recently as he bought his copy 'there's always something new you can learn!'

Anyway, back to Caleb. He took away his copy of the book and I figured that was that. What I didn't know was that Caleb worked for a radio station, until his colleague rang me, requesting an interview. 'I have to get a copy of your book for myself,' he said. 'I can't believe what it's done for Caleb - he's a changed man!' He went on to tell me how Caleb and his wife had just completed their first $21 Challenge and got through the week spending just over $20. 'Fantastic!' I said. 'But it's not just that - it's the food!' his colleague Alan went on. 'He's actually baking! He made these awesome Peanut Butter Biscuits (from the book) and brought them into work. Everyone's raving about how good they are. You've even got him putting Marmite under his eggs on toast for breakfast. He's literally carrying this book everywhere!'

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather! It made my day I can tell you. Alan and I had a good old chat and he told me that he first heard about the $21 Challenge a while back but hadn't thought much about it, other than it was probably just a gimmick and certainly wasn't possible. 'But you know what?' he said. 'This is no ordinary recipe book. It's something to live your life by'. I couldn't help thinking to myself 'Wow, how cool is that! This bloke, who I've never met, likes our book. He likes our recipes (along with everyone else in the office!). Most importantly of all, he gets the Challenge - but he wouldn't have, if it hadn't been for Caleb. It took a physical book and word of mouth for him to understand what the $21 Challenge was all about. Now both he and Caleb are telling all and sundry how good it is! And that's the absolute best we can wish for, that other people like Caleb are sharing their book with others (not to mention their biscuits!) and helping us to help as many people as we can. We've had Playcentres buy a copy, so that groups of young mums can get together and have a friendly competition. We've had church groups buy copies, so that they can help and encourage some of the struggling families in their congregation. To see people helping each other this way through the $21 Challenge is just the brilliantest thing. I don't know if 'brilliantest' is actually a word but that's how it feels so I'm sticking to it!

I'm actually pretty proud of myself too this week! My 'Would Have Spent' account is going well and after ten days already contains $71.50 that I would have spent needlessly had I not had my SS head on. And do you know what all of that would have been spent on? Food and drink. It's my only vice really, buying food and drink when I'm out, but it's an expensive one and occurs purely because I'm not organised. However, this new bank account is really turning me around. I can't bring myself to make any bad decisions because I want to be able to put it away and say 'see how much I've saved!' Noel thinks it's hilarious and says 'why don't you just leave it in the bank?' but hey, I'm a visual person and I want to be able to SEE the results of my willpower. A whopping $52 was saved yesterday alone! $12 of that was on Noel's lunch, as Wednesday is his early start day and he often buys lunch on that day rather than either of us having to get out of bed earlier to make it! However, I managed to throw his lunchbox together in record time and will endeavour to do so every Wednesday from now on. That small thing alone will mean $600 in my 'Would Have' account over a year! The afternoon had the potential to go horribly awry, as we were set for long hours of travelling, dentist appointments and rugby training. Being the thirsty bunch that we are, the boys and I would have potentially spent up to $3.50 each on drinks BEFORE rugby training, then would have staggered out of rugby starving hours later and thrown an extra $30 at Ronald McDonald on the way home. Not so this week, however! I had the foresight to pack not one but TWO drink bottles each, one for before training and one after, and plenty of snacks, including a packet of rice noodles each and a Thermos of hot water to pour over the noodles when we were ready to eat them. The picture of organisation I was!

So I was rather peeved when the Thermos rolled off the back seat and on to the floor when I set off on my journey. 'It'll be fine, those things are bulletproof,' I told myself. Unfortunately not. 'What the heck is all this glass in here?' Ali asked in alarm when he went to pour water on his noodles. Hmm, that was indeed rather inconvenient but I was unruffled. I had a plan! 'I have to fill up the car with petrol so we'll go to the Mobil station and we'll pour hot water from their coffee machine on your noodles!' I told them. It worked a treat - even though the chap behind the counter insisted on charging me $4.00 for the hot water - the same price as a cup of coffee! 'Make sure you take a cup and lid with you when you go - you've paid for that you know!' he insisted. I would have rather he kept the flaming cup and lid and just gave me the water for free! But still, it could have been worse. Grand total spend for the day was $4.00 and the kids were happy. As long as Mum's organised and they've got food and drink when they're hungry and thirsty, I've learned that they really don't care what it is!

March 2010

1st - Bridget Jones strikes again

3rd - We could be heroes...

12th - $1.00 x 18,000

22nd - No such thing as a free lunch

8. Homeopathy Corner: Preparing for Radiation

Have you ever wondered why it is not safe for pregnant women to be X-rayed? Or why they put lead sheets over your body or the person goes behind a screen and hides before they start up the machine? Well, it is because X-rays and radiation are dangerous.

This month's article from Fran Sheffield makes fascinating reading. We live in a world where radiation in medicine is commonplace, in the form of CT scans, mammograms, X-rays and others. However, are they potentially doing as much harm as good? A worrying new study in the US estimates that CT scans could cause as much as 2% of all cancers in the next 20 to 30 years. Fortunately, homeopathic medicine has been proven to actually prevent and reduce the harmful effects of radiation. You can learn more by reading Fran's article:


9. From Last Month: Keeping My Chin Up

Last month Kate C asked:

"I've just been told by my boss that I'll be working 20 hours a week from next month instead of 37. I have no choice - it's either 20 hours or nothing and everyone else has been told the same thing. But I won't be able to make ends meet and my husband cannot work at the moment because of a knee reconstruction. The mortgage is the biggest worry, but if I pay that I am really scared I won't have enough pay the rest of the bills. What should I do? I really don't want to lose our home."

We knew that we could bank on our members to come to the rescue with some helpful suggestions for Kate! A big thank you to everyone who has shared their experiences and advice with great ideas like these:

Been there, survived that

When my husband was made redundant in April 2009, the first thing we did was approach our bank and tell them our situation. They initially offered a mortgage holiday but I was worried about three months of interest mounting up, so we elected to make our mortgage 'interest only' for 12 months. This gobbles up half my wages every week but at least we are meeting the payments and we have the other half of my wages to pay for food and utilities.

For utilities, we pay a small sum every week, for example, if our monthly power bill is around $200, we pay $50 towards it every week.

To help us out in other areas, we've planted extra vegetables in our garden and give away excess produce to friends. It's amazing what they give us back in return. Most of all, we've started looking at this situation for the opportunities it has given us, for example, we lost our second vehicle with my husband's job but we've gained precious journeys made every day as a family, which we never would have made before this catastrophe.

11 months on and we have just sold our house and made changes that we never could have imagined making at the time of this event. It will all work out for you in the end!

Contributed by: Rebecca Pearce

Be open and honest

When the unexpected happens in your working lives, and income is drastically reduced, make it a priority to get in touch with anyone to whom you owe money. In almost every case, the people you speak to will be quite familiar with circumstances such as yours, so swallow your pride and declare your situation before things start to unravel.

Loan repayments can be restructured, and even stopped for a time until you are back on your feet. Most utility companies, such as gas or electricity providers, also have hardship plans. Call sooner rather than later, as it will help you make a plan and follow it through.

Contributed by: Vicki Crampton

Students more than pay their way

When money is short, why not take in an exchange student or two? Your kids might have to share a room for a while, but at up to $250 a week per student, this could be a big help when you need some extra cash.

Contributed by: Elizabeth Bundock

Speaking from experience

My husband and I were in a bad financial situation this time last year. If things are not too good for you, let me say that there are options for you, and I promise things will get better!

In addition to living the 'Simple Savings' life, I suggest you contact your bank and request hardship assistance, as there should be options to temporarily suspend your mortgage payments. When my husband and I did this, our bank required a written statement of our incomes and current debts. I included the emotional impact the stress was having on our lives and also put in writing the circumstances that led to our situation, along with the timeframe we believed we needed the assistance for. We also provided letters from our employers showing our changed employment status and copies of our debts i.e. disconnection notices on power bills, reminder invoices and so on. Our paperwork was submitted to our bank manager, who then processed it and sent it to the mortgage hardship assistance team.

It is in the bank's interest to assist you through this temporary difficulty, as they have nothing to gain if you lose your home. Stay positive by actively seeking out assistance as there is help available for you. You will get through this and come out of it a better person. I'm sure of it!

Contributed by: Andrea Storey

Take it to the bank today

With reduced hours, and a partner unable to work because of illness, there are several steps you should take immediately.

First, get your boss to write the change in your hours and income on company letterhead and sign it. Then, get a letter from your husband's doctor setting out the procedure and the estimated recovery time. If you can, you should also get a letter from your husband's former employer stating his income.

Take all of this plus any relevant information on government benefits you may be receiving and a copy of your loan agreement to your bank. Ask if you can go on an 'interest only' schedule of repayments in the short to medium term.

Your bank would rather keep you as a customer than go through the long and costly process of realising the value of your home. However, you need to do this straight away! It is your number one priority. If you default on any payments, it is unlikely the bank will take you seriously.

Contributed by: Rebecca Talbot

Lots of options

If you're on a reduced income, it is good to know that there is certainty about the number of hours you are working. This will assist you when it comes to making a budget and hopefully ease some stress as well. Of course, there are a number of other things you can do to make life easier:

If money is very tight after each mortgage repayment, consider walking, riding a bike or taking public transport to appointments, instead of taking your car.

If you can't pay off every bill completely, consider part-paying the bill. Ask your creditors if this is possible. Also, prioritise your bills and talk to the companies about options.

Can you do without an expense for a time, for example, the internet? Maybe you could use the library's internet.

Consider buying generic brands at the supermarket.

Contributed by: Talia Steen

Extras for Vault members:

Turn hardship into a challenge Contributed by: Annette Lawson

Plenty of practical advice Contributed by: bikerider

Opportunities within a crisis Contributed by: Lucy

Every budget is flexible Contributed by: Elissa Cox

Make that call Contributed by: Loodle

10. This Month's Help Request: One Pan Dishes

This month Emma asks:

"I need meals that are easy for the nights I'm working, preferably cooked in the one pot or pan. Can anyone share recipes for one pan dishes for the oven? I find dishes like lasagne, scalloped potatoes and shepherds pie easy but would really like more variety."

We're super confident that this is one tasty problem our members are sure to be able to solve! Send in your yummy one pan recipes here.

11. Savings Story: Debts Paid, $1000 Saved!

I just paid off my credit card and saved $1000 in five weeks with three easy changes! My first saving was on keeping fit. A friend and I had been going to a gym at great expense ($119 per month!). After six months, we feel we have learned the tricks of the trade, so we've both quit and are training ourselves in a local park.

My second saving was on my favourite hobby, reading. I love books and was buying at least one every two weeks. When I worked out how much this was costing me - at least $500 a year - I joined the local library.

My third saving was on pampering myself. I go to the beautician at least once a month, which costs about $60 a visit. Instead I found some pots of wax at the warehouse the other day for $2.50 each and now do my own waxing.

These three simple things have saved me at least $2500 a year! I have also started making my own cleaning products, baking muesli bars instead of buying, not buying paper towel (you'd be surprised how much difference this makes), using less washing detergent, adding water to body wash and bulk buying shampoo and conditioner. I spent $50 on five litres of shampoo and conditioner 18 months ago and the two of us are not even halfway through!

Another huge saving was purchasing a little freezer and a vacuum food saver. We now buy all our meat from a fantastic wholesale butcher and vacuum pack it and freeze it. I also do this with vegies and rice, as well as baked goods and pre-made meals. It's a great time and money saver.

Last weekend we had friends over to dinner and the only thing I had to buy was a few potatoes for $1.50, as everything else we needed was already in the freezer or pantry. Dinner for seven for $1.50 - not bad I reckon!

Contributed by: Claire Kelly