"Secrets to Saving Money in Australia" Free Newsletter - March 2014

This issue includes:-

  1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Here's One I Saved Earlier
  2. February: Better Deal Month
  3. Ye Olde Shoppe: Grunge-Free Sponges
  4. Penny Wise: My Right Hand Man
  5. Best of the Vault: It Pays to Ask
  6. Best of the Forum: Simple Savings with a Simple Phone Call
  7. Best Members' Blog: Use, Don't Collect
  8. Cooking with Mimi: Café Avoidance Syndrome - Relief is Here!
  9. Rob Bob's Gardening Blog: Preparing the Patch and a Tasty Sweet Treat
  10. From Last Month: Help with Grime Fighting
  11. This Month's Help Request: Help with 'Cheep' Easter Goodies


Hello! How are you going? We had a fantastic No Spend February, but not even our efforts could match No Spend February Fanatic Maria who emailed in to say she had saved $300 by 'shopping at home' and cooking from scratch. Good on you Maria!

Well, it's into Better Deal March and we've got some great ideas to show you how to ask for better deals – good luck!

Here are our favourite emails from this month.

"We have had the most amazing time doing No Spend Month and can't believe how much we've saved. Thank you for making me stop and think about the money we unconsciously spend every day. Well, that has now stopped!" (Tineka)

"My mum gave me a Vault membership for my birthday and I am overwhelmed by how much information there is on your website. I can see we are going to really start saving some money with the help and motivation that is on your website. Thanks, Mum and Simple Savings!" (Sabrina)

Have a great month!
All the best,
Fiona Lippey

P.S. We've added A Current Affair's story about Macadamia Oil to YouTube if you would like to watch it. It is a beautiful story. A Current Affair did a fantastic job.

1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: Here's One I Saved Earlier!

Hanna couldn't help but smile as Sally sashayed back into the office after lunch. "Wow, that new coffee in the staff room must have given you quite a kick!" she chuckled. "Nope, been too busy for coffee!" grinned Sally. "Guess what I just did?" "Hmm, let me think," pondered Hanna. "Had lunch with a handsome stranger? Bought the winning lottery ticket? Oh Sal, tell me you didn't go shopping again, not after last time?" she said, glancing quickly at Sally's shoes to make sure she was still wearing the same pair as she had been this morning.

"No, no, no, nothing like that!" Sally brushed her off impatiently. "Quite the opposite. I..." she paused for effect, "...have just made a $240 phone call!" "You did what?!" Hanna's eyes nearly popped out of her head. "You spent $240 in a single phone call? What did you buy " a KARDASHIAN HANDBAG?!" "Oh honestly, Hanna, what sort of fool do you take me for? I didn't SPEND $240, I SAVED it!" explained Sally. "I was checking our insurances rates to see if I could get a better deal and spoke to another company during lunch time. I saved us $240 in a single phone call!"

"Oh I see! Well that's brilliant, Sal, well done!" Hanna replied. "And I haven't finished yet!" Sally went on. "I took all that stuff back to Henry Newman's so it didn't end up costing me a cent and when I get home from work I'm going to sit down with Pete and see if we can get a better deal on our phone and Internet and other bills too." "That's great, Sally, you're really on a roll!" Hanna smiled warmly. "Thanks! Not a bad effort if I do say so myself," Sally agreed. "So tell me," she said, raising a quizzical eyebrow at Hanna, "What have YOU done lately?"

2. February: Better Deal Month

Nice work Sally! And now we’re going to be cheeky and throw out the same question to you – what have YOU done lately? Because when it comes to getting a better deal on your power, insurance, phone and other utilities, it really is up to you. Many of us are content to stick with the providers we’ve always had and let our contracts and policies just roll over from one year to the next but the harsh truth is, if you are letting this happen, there is every chance that you are quite literally throwing money away. Sure you may be happy with the company and receive good and reliable service – but you may well also be paying more than you need to while other people are paying less for the exact same thing! Don’t let that happen to you! This month is Better Deal Month – and that’s exactly what we want everyone to achieve for themselves this month.

The good old days have gone

Years ago we didn’t need to keep tabs on how companies were treating their customers or whether we were still getting the best deal we were six months ago. We used not to have to check every rate or policy because we trusted our service providers – but times have changed and now we know we can’t. The deals change all the time without us even knowing and the companies continue to rake in the extra dollars because so many of us never get around to checking what they’re up to since we last looked. Of course they’re not completely inhuman – if we ring and ask them to do better, more often than not they’ll happily do something about it – but all the time we say nothing, they think we don’t care and just keep getting away with charging us more.

It really isn’t good enough!

Why does our loyalty get taken for granted? Why are new customers getting discounts while customers of 20 years get nothing? Because we let them, that’s why! So this month, we want everyone to ring around all your service providers and check that the deal you are getting is the best they can do for you. Speak up now and show them that you DO care or you will continue to be taken advantage of. It only takes a few minutes of your time and the monetary savings are potentially huge. However, it’s not just about money; it’s about exercising your basic rights as a customer. We know that initial step can be a bit awkward or nerve wracking but don’t let fear or procrastination put you off any longer. You won’t believe how easy and empowering it is until you try!

What do I need to do?

The key to making it as easy as possible (as well as making yourself sound as confident as possible) is to be prepared. Before you pick up the phone or jump online trying to find the best deal, you need to know exactly what the deals are you are currently getting! If you don’t have these details anywhere handy, simply ring the company and ask. Don’t try and wing it as it is the only way you are going to be able to make an accurate comparison.

Some things to make note of are:

  • Electricity – How much are you paying per month? Is there a prompt payment discount or other discount available?
  • Landline – How much are you paying per month? What are the different calling rates for various times of day? Is the landline part of a package deal?
  • Mobile phone – How much are you paying per month? How many minutes calling time do you get for this price? How many texts do you get for this price? How much data do you get for this price? Is there a cap on this price? If on contract, is there an early termination fee?
  • Internet – How much are you paying per month? How many gigabytes do you receive for that price? How much data do you actually use out of that quota; does it suit your requirements or do you not use anywhere near that amount? Is there a cap on the amount of data you use to stop you from being overcharged? If not, what are the charges?
  • Insurance – How much are you paying per month? Is there a loyalty discount or any other discount? How much is the excess? How much house contents are you currently insured for? Is it enough? What is your life insurance pay out? Do all your policies still suit your current circumstances?

Check too whether there are any other perks, such as reward points, fuel discounts and so on. Everybody loves something for nothing but many people aren’t even aware what other benefits they are entitled to. For example, you could be paying for your kids’ swimming lessons without knowing that your health insurance will take care of these for free! Whichever company you end up going with, find out what they are and make the most of them. It also pays to check with your union, super fund or any other organisation you belong to, in case they offer discounts with various companies, particularly insurance. Once you have all the information you need, you can check out the competition with confidence!

Go and get those deals!

Comparison shopping is easy and convenient online, however you often find you can only get so far and still need to pick up the phone for more information. Also bear in mind that not all companies are represented through comparison websites so it definitely pays to do further research as well. And when you do make those calls, don’t let nerves get the better of you! Remember you are a valued customer and these companies are there to serve YOU. They owe it to you to provide excellent service and value – but you owe it to yourself to get it too.

Good luck getting a better deal this month!

3. Ye Olde Shoppe: Grunge-Free Sponges

We love our Grunge Free Sponges and they are a great way to save money in the kitchen, and the bathroom, in the shed, well pretty much anywhere! They are on special for this month only. You can learn more about them here.

4. Penny Wise: My Right Hand Man

Wow, almost at the end of No Spend Month! On the whole, it's been a really good month. We spent basically nothing, didn't stuff up buying useless non-essential rubbish and consistently made smart choices, yay for us! And then Penny went and got the flu to end all flus! Today is the first day I've been properly out of bed for 10 days - I was so ill I couldn't even sit and watch TV! Even then, I refused to let it affect my No Spend month by frittering money away on the usual things I would normally rush out and get to make me feel better. (This was largely because I simply couldn't get out of bed but hey, it worked well as a No Spend strategy!) And I even dragged myself out of bed each evening to cook dinner for the boys so we didn't waste money on takeaways - even if it was only bacon and eggs! However, eventually we really did run out of food and as I wasn't up to going to the supermarket I did succumb to getting takeaways twice and oh good grief on both occasions they were so bad! Makes you wonder why you bother! Still, sometimes it's good to remind yourself just how rubbish value they are and why it's so much better to cook from scratch. So technically we had made it almost the whole way through No Spend Month and wasted less than $40, which did annoy me as those takeaways were so not worth it but under the circumstances we hadn't done too bad. In fact, we were doing really, really well! What was I going to do with all my savings? Put them away in a separate account? Pay off some debt? Bit of both? I hadn't decided but I couldn't wait for the end of the month so I could throw some money around in a super duper sensible and grown up manner!

And then came the real clanger. Not content with losing a whole week's work due to illness, I decided in my infinite flu-fogged wisdom to pay a whole bunch of my bills twice. I still don't even really know how it happened! I thought I had cancelled most of my usual automatic payments whilst waiting for Gayle the budgeting lady to get back to me with a different plan, so in the meantime I simply paid them a nominal amount manually to keep everyone happy. However just two days later I was horrified to see the automatic payments had also gone through as well! Somehow through all the fevers, aches and pains, I had managed to literally give away more than $700 too much, which put me slap bang back to square one, used up all my savings before I had even managed to save it and basically went and made the whole of next month a lot harder. I wanted to cry - how could I have been so stupid?! There was nothing I could do about it; I could hardly ring them up and say, "Oh I paid you too much, can I have it back?", when they were already being kind enough to let me pay it off in the first place! There was absolutely nothing I could do except kick myself. The boys couldn't believe it after all my premature celebrating but already aware that their mother is totally bonkers, they took it in their stride. "We should be alright - we just need to be really careful," I told them apologetically. "That's OK Mum," said Ali, "We never spend money any more anyway, it should be easy!"

That's Ali all over though; he just gets on with it. Through this whole turbulent year - and the months leading up to it, Ali has been amazing. Even though his world was falling apart he never missed a day of school and still got up at 6.30 every morning, same as always. He always kept trying, not wanting his education to suffer. The day we moved house, even though he was in tears himself at leaving the family home he loved, he worked for hours doing all the heavy lifting when his brother was overseas and helped me to make a new home for us. Even though things have been just as hard for him as anyone else, he has never let it show. And he has always, always been there for me. He is one of the best No Spenders I've ever met, because he never asks for anything. Material things don't really matter much to Ali. He has his own style, knows what he likes and what he doesn't like and will happily wear every item of clothing he owns to death, until his shirts don't cover his midriff and his trousers are halfway up his legs if I let him! I can't imagine he'll ever be rich bless him, as he's far too generous; always spending his money on his friends rather than on himself, right down to his last dollar.

One thing is for sure though, Ali will never starve - and he'll make sure the rest of us don't either! He can cook pretty much anything and is often experimenting in the kitchen making up recipes. It was HE who taught ME how to cook a BBQ recently! He still loves nothing more than hunting and fishing and has been on several hunting expeditions with his dad, each time bringing home meat he has successfully hunted and carried out of the bush himself. Even though we no longer had a boat when Noel and I split up, Ali didn't let it stop him fishing. When other kids his age are wandering aimlessly around town or hanging out in the local Subway, Ali can be found at the wharf fishing for John Dory, or surf casting off the beach - and as of last week he has his own boat! He suddenly remembered his dad having a little old aluminium dinghy which he bought years ago second hand but never used. When we moved to the beach we took it down to the marina, but again it was never used even once. So off he went to the harbour, unlocked the chain which had held the dinghy safe for more than three years and went for his first sail. The first day he rowed and rowed until his arms almost fell off and whilst he had a wonderful time cruising around in the sunshine, all that rowing took way too long and wasted far too much fishing time! So the next day he dug around in the shed, found an old outboard motor which hadn't been used for 10 years or more and spent the morning getting it fuelled up and running again. He didn't know exactly what to do with it and I certainly didn't but if you make enough of a spectacle of yourself someone will eventually come to your aid and it wasn't long before two fishermen turned up at the boat ramp. Before we knew it they had taught Ali and his friend all the various motor parts and how to work them and they were whizzing off on their way! I was so proud of him for having the drive and initiative and now he takes his little boat fishing every spare moment he gets.

Whatever Ali does, he commits himself to fully and gardening is no exception. He asked recently if he could start his own garden so he could grow some food of his own, which was perfect timing as I had just shifted a whole load of soil into a disused sandpit. So he spent a morning preparing the soil, then trotted off to town to buy some plants with his own money and returned with a raspberry bush, as well as blackberry, blueberry - and a curry plant! Morning and night he tends his little garden and it makes me smile to see him happily popping blackberries into his mouth as he goes about his chores, more often than not accompanied by his cat.

We've always been a good team, Ali and me. No longer the 'little guy', he towers over me and I still can't quite get used to the deep booming laugh that comes out of his mouth these days! I'm the smallest in the household now and there's no one more protective of me than he is. When I had a stalker a few months back, Ali was the one who slept beside me at night with a cricket bat and a hunting knife by the bed. Heaven knows what either of us would have done if we had needed to use them but it made us feel better! The funniest thing happened more recently though, just before No Spend Month, when I was feeling particularly low and vulnerable. The boys had been working hard all summer, it was almost time to go back to school and all holidays I had promised them a big day out in the city to do whatever they liked. They had money and they wanted me to live up to that promise and the last thing I wanted to do was let them down but as we trailed around the malls I'm embarrassed to admit I was being a big ol' party pooper. All I could think of was that I shouldn't be doing this, I shouldn't be doing this. I couldn't get my mind off all the bills I had to pay, the petrol it had cost to drive to the city - I couldn't even bring myself to eat as the boys happily scoffed their burgers, having lost all appetite and not having wanted to buy lunch in the first place. What a bundle of joy I was and saddest of all was that the boys could see it and it was having a real dampener on their special day out.

As I trudged around feeling woebegone, I must have looked it too, as I was suddenly accosted by a beautiful young Israeli woman who told me my eyes looked sad and she wanted to give me a treat. I protested and told her I had no money and couldn't possibly buy her miracle skin products but she brushed me off and told the boys to go and check out the shops for five minutes while she put some cream on me. They rolled their eyes but off they duly went and came back in five minutes. And ten. And 20. And 30 and still she kept going. No matter what I did, I could NOT get away from this woman! She was lovely, she was sweet, and she knew her market PERFECTLY. She knew exactly how to tap into my emotions and in my weakened state I let her. Which was still a big old waste of time as just ONE pot of cream cost more than $200 and she was taking me through the entire range! Even if I had wanted the darned stuff more than anything on the planet, I would not have been able to buy it and I told her time and time again but she would not let up. The boys were getting beyond fed up. They texted me, they rang me and even though I was getting visibly upset, again she just brushed it aside. 'You do something for yourself! All the time you do things for your children, this is for you, you deserve this', she said firmly, rubbing more cream into my face and hands. I wanted to cry. This was the boys special day and as if I hadn't already made it bad enough, our quality time was now being completely ruined by a bulletproof midget. How on earth was I going to get away from this woman? And then suddenly, I spotted a tall, thin young man striding purposefully across the mall. 'Leave her alone!' Ali growled as he reached the display. 'Come on Mum, you don't need this shenanigans!' he said (I think we all know that wasn't the exact word he said!) and he literally grabbed my arm and dragged me off. I can't explain the relief - but why hadn't I been able to find the strength to do that myself in the first place? It made me think of the reason Fiona had started Simple Savings in the first place; because she was so sick and angry at seeing vulnerable mums being targeted by marketers and for the first time I truly realised just how heartless companies could really be.

While I was hugely grateful to Ali for rescuing me, the whole experience had left me feeling drained and even worse than I had before. Mostly I felt just plain awful that I had allowed myself to be overpowered in this way and the boys understood that totally bless them. However we had already wasted a lot of time and they wanted to have fun! The boys all jumped at Liam's suggestion of ten pin bowling so I took them to the heart of Auckland's Queen Street; although at more than $20 each for two short games I couldn't justify the expense and assured the boys I would be fine watching. However Ali wasn't having a bar of that! As soon as he discovered I wasn't going to play, he secretly paid for me. He had less money than anyone else and paying for the both of us used up everything he had but there was no way he was going to let me miss out on the fun! I'll never forget his generosity that day. I was so touched I burst into tears, which was rather embarrassing in the middle of the bowling alley. Luckily before I knew it I was crying again because I was laughing so much at our terrible bowling! Our disastrous day quickly turned into hilarity and I think Ali and I would say it turned out to be $20 very well spent - although I'm not sure Liam would agree, as for the first time ever guess who won? Me!

You can get updates on Penny's new blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page.

...or in our Members' Blog section.

5. Best of the Vault: It Pays to Ask

So much of our annual budgets are spent on loans, mortgages, credit cards, energy, communication and insurance. Well, it's YOUR hard earned money and we know there are savings to be made if you just pick up the phone and ask. Here are some tips, stories, ideas and motivation to get you going...

Don't ASK the bank, TELL them!

When thinking about consolidating your loan or refinancing, don't ask the bank what you can do. Tell them what you want! We have a $245,000 mortgage and a $45,000 line of credit. Our repayments for both are just over $1000 a fortnight. I decided it wasn't good enough so I sent an email to our local bank manager (a different bank to our own). Instead of asking what my options were, I just told her what I wanted. I wanted lower repayments. I wanted our money to pay off the loan quicker, I wanted a savings account for the kids, I wanted less fees. Basically, just a list of everything I wanted! She worked on it for a few days and came back to me with ALL of these things, PLUS a lower interest rate, a discount on insurance, a free session with a financial planner, a discount in fees for changing banks and application fees waived! This will save me $300 a fortnight in repayments meaning we can put more towards our mortgage to knock it off quicker. The best email I ever sent!

Contributed by: Olivia C

Six steps to big insurance savings

I just saved a healthy $250 on my house, contents and car insurance renewals! With all the price increases happening lately, here is a very timely reminder on how to save on your insurance policies.

Due to bad timing in buying a car and moving house in the same month of different years, our house and car insurance and both car registrations are due in the same month! We decided to see if we could save by reviewing the insurances. It was definitely worth it for us as we saved $250 - here are a few steps to help you do the same:

  1. Check your renewal notice and make sure you're not under or over insured! This is where you end up paying - either by not having enough cover on your claim or by having too much and paying a higher premium.
  2. Get quotes from as many companies as possible - even the bigger ones. My best house insurance quote was RACV due to my gold RACV card.
  3. Reduce your premium by increasing excess levels - the higher the excess, the less the premium. Look out for the level where the premium reduction changes from $30 per $100 extra excess, to $3.00 per $100 excess. Get a quote on each excess level - why have a $2000 excess when it only costs an extra $15 to have a $1000 excess on your car for example?
  4. Call up your insurance company and talk about price matching. Nine times out of ten they will do it and as I have found out today, it helps to stay with the same company a few years (and not claim), to get better bargaining power. They would rather price match than have me move to another company.
  5. If, like me, you have too many bills due in one month, ask about getting your policy dates moved. I was able to change the due date of my house insurance by 14 days at no cost. I'll do the same again at renewal time for the next few years until I've moved it a few months into the gap on the calendar.
  6. If you make a saving, find something else to use it on. We're using ours to save towards the family holiday!

Contributed by: AliG

Check phone plan for savings - often!

I've taken some Simple Savings advice one step further and have saved $396 a year! If you've read any of the tips and hints in the Simple Savings Vault, Forum or Newsletter, you would have come across the tip that tells you to check your plans, policies and accounts for further savings. Well I want to add that you should check them AGAIN and repeat! Regularly!

I made some savings recently with my home phone, mobile and Internet plan. I was very happy at the time. I'd done what I could. So I carried on feeling pretty happy with my savings. Then this week, just for kicks, I decided to repeat the process even though it had only been three months since my last check - I am so glad I did!

I found new savings! This time I am saving a further $33 per month - that's $396 a year. I am also receiving a new iPhone and over $400 more call credits than previously and I get unlimited text messages on top of the other great savings!

I don't think it matters which company you're with, keep giving them a call every few months. Some sales people know more than others so ask lots of questions. One rep at one company told me the 4G network has just been installed in my area. I made notes and got off the phone to think about it. I came up with more questions during this time and when I phoned back another rep answered who advised me that the 4G network ends two kilometres from my house! So I saved money by not signing up for something I can't use right now!

If I place the $396 I'm saving onto my mortgage as a lump sum, I'll save $1612 in interest over the life of the loan!

Contributed by: Clutterhen

Phone call saves $200 a year on power

I just saved $51.42 thanks to a quick phone call! I recently received a phone call from a lady saying she worked for a big electricity provider. She offered me an extra two per cent base discount off my current discount, plus $200 credit off my bill if I signed a new contract today. Not knowing if it was a scam or not, I contacted my provider and explained the deal to them.

I am currently getting 13% base discount, a two per cent pay-on-time discount and a one per cent direct debit discount. They couldn't give me the $200 off, but they did increase my base discount to a huge 19%! So using my last bill, which was nearly $900, a further six per cent off my bill comes to a saving of $51.42, in just one quarter! My yearly bills come to about $3000, so that extra discount saves me an extra $200, just for making a phone call. Coming into winter, this discount surely will come in handy!

Contributed by: Becca7

6. Best of the Forum: Simple Savings with a Simple Phone Call

We spend a lot of time trying to squeeze small savings from our budgets - is that supermarket 'special' really so special, can I get another serve from tonight's dinner, is that the cheapest petrol I will find this week? But with a simple phone call, we may be able to save lots of dollars, perhaps hundreds of dollars, off our communication, insurance and mortgage payments. Here are some examples to get you running for the phone!

2014 - Calendar Challenge - March - Better Deal

We want to know about every cent that you save during Better Deal Month - get motivated and share your wins with Claire and Forum members here.

Health insurance - yay or nay? Would love advice please

Share your experience and the pros and cons of health insurance here.

Insurance loyalty brings rewards - but only if you ask

Discuss how you can get loyalty discounts on your insurance with just a phone call.

Does anyone live off the grid or without electricity? Or want to?

Having trouble with your electricity bills? There might be some ideas here!

House insurance time again

What exactly is covered in your house insurance?

7. Best Members' Blog: Use, Don't Collect

One of the many benefits of being a Vault member is that you can win a $100 store credit in Ye Olde Shoppe or $100 cash each month for your Simple Savings blog! Starting your own blog on the site is easy. All you have to do is log into the Vault, click on 'My Desk' at the top left, then 'Your Blog'. Then get writing! We love reading all your money saving trials and tribulations and really appreciate the effort that goes into each one.

This month's Blog winner is Frederica who finally put her money where her mixer was!

I recently went late night shopping with a friend. I wasn't out to spend much money, just have a wander around, a cuppa and a chat. However, I came across the bench-top mixer that has been on my wish list for a long time, on sale and further marked down as it was the last one in 'last season's colours'. With encouragement from my friend, and another 10% off from a helpful sales person, I happily took it home, sat the box on the kitchen counter and went to bed.

I tossed and turned all night and lay awake for a few hours worrying about impulse purchases and the number of appliances I already have which, truth be told, are not used to their full potential. By morning I had all but decided to return the mixer without even taking it out of the box. I had managed for years baking by hand and didn't want to add to my 'collection' of under-utilised kitchen gadgets.

To strengthen my resolve I opened the cupboard that stores my appliances and took inventory: a blender, food processor, multi-cooker (steamer, slow cooker, rice cooker and pressure cooker in one) and sandwich grill. All good brands, most used once a month if that. What a waste!

As I stood there though, I started to recall the reasons for each purchase and the plans I had made for using them. Bulk cooking, reduced reliance on packaged foods and takeaway, saving time and money. The reasons were good and the plans waiting. I could still put them into practice and then my appliances would stop accusing me from the cupboard in the corner. I Blu-Tacked a piece of paper to the pantry door with the list of appliances and kind of things I could use them for and resolved to keep a tally of my usage.

Last weekend was one month since my 'change of attitude' regarding my kitchen appliances. I counted up the tally sheet and discovered that I have made use of my fancy cupboard full of gadgets on 27 of the previous 31 days! Success! And the flow on effect of reduced takeaway and eating out has been obvious. My family has also become involved; reminding me to 'add that to the tally' when we're making after school smoothies or shredding vegies for quiche. We have also thought of other 'use, don't collect' challenges, such as sporting gear, cook books and craft supplies.

And the mixer? Well, my husband came in as I was compiling my list and muttering to myself about cooking ahead and freezer space and I told him my thoughts and intention to return it. His response: 'It's not really an impulse buy, you bake a couple of times a week and have talked about getting a mixer for years. It will save lots of time and is a great price. Looking at all the plans you've made, I think you're going to need it!' So I kept it, of course, added it to my tally sheet and got baking!

Well done Frederica - we hope your freezers stay full!

You can read more of our members' blogs here.

8. Cooking with Mimi: Café Avoidance Syndrome - Relief is Here!

I suffer from Café Avoidance Syndrome.

That's where I get really ticked off when I spend $6-$25 on a café meal or treat and leave wishing I hadn't bothered because the food is so mediocre.

We've all started calling it CAS and decided we need to resurrect all of our favourite recipes for café style treats.

It's generally agreed that we have a new excuse for NOT eating out... as in... 'I'm sorry. I'd love to come to the horrendous, noisy food court for an overpriced morning tea, but I'm suffering from a severe episode of CAS'. Hopefully your friends will be sympathetic enough to come to you for yummy treats instead!

So here's a really quick, easy and impressive idea for little bite-sized treats that needs nothing more than a batch of cake batter, some icing made with water and icing sugar and some pretty decorations, to wow everyone.

Cheat's Petit Fours

Makes 30-40

Petit Fours are little bite-sized cakes, usually decorated with fondant in pastel colours and little embellishments like crystallised flowers, sugar roses or delicate icing outlines. These are my quick version.

You need:

  • One batch of your favourite cake batter or one bought cake mix made according to directions
  • 2 loaf tins, lined
  • 4 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 8 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp flavouring, for example, vanilla essence, orange flower water, rosewater, coconut or almond essence
  • Pink, blue, green or yellow food colouring
  • Toothpicks
  • Baking paper
  • Decorations such as metallic or pearl cachous, edible flowers or flower petals, sugar flowers or a piping bag with a small nozzle

Then just:

Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans. The idea is to bake two thinner cakes, so if you don't have the loaf pans just use a baking dish or lasagne dish, making sure you line it with paper overhanging at the ends so you can lift your cake out.

Bake until firm to touch in the centre, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Sift the icing sugar to remove any lumps and mix it with the water and flavouring. Add the water bit by bit to get the icing the texture you need... runny but not watery. Dip in to the colouring of your choice with a toothpick, dunking the toothpick into the icing to impart the colour, to allow you to add the teeniest tiniest bit of colour bit by bit to get a delicate pastel shade. You can always add more, but it's nigh on impossible to make your colour lighter if you add too much colouring. You want it the lightest and palest it can be. Of course you can really tint them any colour you like, but they are more authentic done this way.

The icing should be a little runny, but not watery, as mentioned. If it's a little too runny, either add more sifted icing sugar or alternatively use two coats of icing. If it's a little too stiff, add extra liquid, of course, but do it in drops. It's funny how icing can go from not quite runny enough to far too runny with one or two drops of water!

Remove the cooled cakes from the tins and use a bread knife or serrated edged knife to square up the edges and smooth the top if need be. Usually the tops are nice and flat anyway as you've only barely covered the base of the tins with batter. You need nice neat little cubes of cake for this, so once the edges and top are squared off and neat, cut the cakes up. As a general rule, look at the height of the cakes and try to cut the crosswise slices about that width. My bread knife is the right width on most occasions so I use that as my measuring guide. Usually two cuts lengthwise along the loaf and five or six crosswise gives neat, even cubes.

Spread a long sheet of baking paper on your bench or table and line up all the little cake cubes.

Using a teaspoon, quickly spoon the icing over each little cube. Alternatively, use a small jug to pour the icing over them. The icing will run down the sides adding a bit of colour but won't cover them completely as in 'real' petit fours. But they'll be pretty nonetheless.

Allow the icing to cool and harden whilst the cakes are still on the baking paper.

When the icing is set, decorate each little cake as you wish. I love the little pearlised cachous or even those tiny heart shaped sprinkles, but my favourite is edible rose petals. I buy these from The Tea Centre website and you get the most enormous amount - and I mean thousands and thousands - for about $4.00. I put them in shortbread and iced herbal teas and freeze them in ice cubes; so pretty.

You can use your own rose petals, so long as they aren't sprayed. Just dry them in the microwave first. To dry rose petals for kitchen use, spread the petals on a paper towel in the microwave and microwave them on HIGH for 4 minutes. Leave them out in a cool dry place for three to four days and store them in an airtight container.

The rose petals used with rosewater flavouring and tinted palest pink as I've done them here are a treat worthy of any posh five star hotel high tea, never mind a coffee at home with friends.

If you don't have any of those things on hand, make up another batch of runny icing and leave it white. Then either use a teaspoon dipped in the icing to flick back and forth over the cakes to create artistic squiggles or use a piping bag with a tiny, tiny nozzle to pipe dots, hearts, stripes or flower shapes on to the top of each little cake. A re-sealable bag with a teeny corner snipped off will do in a pinch.

And that's it. Petit Fours, all posh and pastel and pretty and all for the price of a cake mix and a bag of icing sugar.

Nice :)

You can get updates on Mimi's new blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page

or in our Members' Blog section.

9. Rob Bob's Gardening Blog: Preparing the Patch and a Tasty Sweet Treat

Getting ready for the cooler months

Although I'm sitting here typing this blog in the 37°C heat of our lounge room, I have already started to get the plants and the patch organised for the coming cool weather growing season. As we don't get the freezing temperature folks in the southern states get, I can't really call what we get here in Ipswich 'winter'! Our average winter high is around 22°C/71.6°F and the average low is 6°C/42.8°F. Every year we get a few winter mornings of 0°C/32°F or below, but only for a few hours at a time. We do get it fairly easy here weather-wise in the subtropics in winter so we are able to get away with growing some crops that others can only grow during summer.

Seed selection

After the poor performance of the tomatoes this summer I have decided to try and grow our main crop during the cooler months. The plants were hit fairly badly with a mite outbreak and had to be protected from the fruit fly, both things I hope won't be much of an issue during the cooler months. The varieties I will be trying are Berkeley Tie Dye, Black Russian, Boxcar Willie, Carbon and Brad's Black Heart.

The KY1 tomatoes are being started from cuttings taken from a plant currently growing in the patch. I have popped them into the aquaponic grow bed as I find plants set roots in there very quickly.

Along with the tomatoes, I'll be putting some other fruiting plants like capsicum and eggplant into the patch. We'll be growing some proven varieties that include eggplant, long purple and udumalpet as well as bulls horn capsicum. I think we will have enough warm weather to get the plants up and producing before the weather cools down too much. Even if these plants don't do the best, we will have a head start on the next summer growing season.

The other plants that will be going in will be the typical cool weather varieties including peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, onion, celery, fennel and some various leafy greens.

When it comes to working out what and when things can be planted out in the patch, I like to use the free online Gardenate guide to get a rough idea. The site has listings for many different zones for us here in Australia as well as zone listings for NZ, UK, South Africa, USA and Canada. There are also helpful cultural notes which come in handy for a quick reference when planning out a planting layout and schedule.

Prepping the beds

The top bed in the patch has been given a bit of a makeover as some of the soil is looking heavy. I found a bit of a surprise on two of the tomato plants roots.

When the first tomato was removed I noticed that some root knot nematodes had infested the roots. The second wasn't as infected but still showed some signs of damage. I have found the best way to treat root knot nematodes is to dig through some mulched up French marigolds. As they decompose, the gasses they release fumigate the soil and knock off the nematodes.

Next layer to go on top of this will be some screened compost from the chicken pen followed by layer of worm castings and topped off with some mulch. The bed will then be left for a month or so to let the green manure break down before some cauliflowers or broccoli are planted out. I might pop a few beetroot or silverbeet in between the brassicas as well. I think all the nutrients in the compost and castings will be more than enough to feed up the soil and the marigold green manure will make some great tucker for the worms in the bed.

There are two other beds that will get the compost and castings treatment in the main part of the patch before they are planted out later on with some brassicas or greens. I am thinking of planting out one of them full of silverbeet just for the chooks. I figure that they deserve a bit of a thank you for all the eggs and compost they provide us with. ;)

Making up a home-grown treat

I decided to whip up a frozen mango yoghurt treat for the girls the other night using the mango flesh we have in the freezer. This is a very cheap treat for us as we already make our own thick set pro biotic yoghurt and the mangoes are all home grown.

No ice cream machine is needed, just a food processor and freezer.

Just a quick note before we start - about half an hour before making up the frozen yoghurt, pop the bowl you will be whipping the cream in into the freezer. This isn't necessary but will make whipping the cream a lot easier. You could also add the yoghurt in at the same time just to help chill it down a tad further.

Frozen Mango yoghurt

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 600ml firm yoghurt, Greek style works nicely and has a great tang to it
  • Flesh of three large mangoes (two to freeze, one to mix through at end)
  • Flat tray for freezing mix

Two of the mangoes need to be frozen. It is probably best to dice the fruit into 2cm cubes and freeze on a tray. This will make it easier for you and the food processor when it comes to processing it.

Chop one mango worth of flesh in the processor until it is broken up into small chunks. Set aside to mix through later.

Once the fruit is frozen solid, it's time to whip the cream to firm peaks. The aerated cream will help give you a lighter, softer finished product.

Slowly drizzle the honey into the whipped cream. This will help it mix through the yoghurt mix more smoothly later.

Add frozen mango and process until smooth.

Pour in cream and honey mix and combine well.

Taste test at this point and drizzle in more honey to taste if needed.

Once combined, stir through reserved mango then pour into flat tray and freeze until firm.

The first time I did this the mix set a bit too firm so I removed it, sliced it up into small sections and processed it again. This lightened up the consistency and made a much smoother final dessert.

I think the best way to top off this very lush dessert is with some toasted macadamia nuts. The three flavours complement each other very well. This can also be made up with other frozen fruits like berries. Koo has even asked if I think frozen lychee yoghurt would taste great, not too sure about that one myself. ;)

Cheers everyone and I hope you all get to play in the patch.

Rob : )»

You can get updates on Rob Bob's new gardening adventure blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page

or in our Members' Blog section.

10. From Last Month: Help with Grime Fighting

Last month Jacqueline emailed us asking for ideas on getting rid of grime on clothes:

"I am what might be described as a 'well-endowed' lady. I also love my food, which undoubtedly contributes to my endowments! I am also a grot. Not a wash goes by that I don't have at least three tops that need serious de-staining somewhere down the highly visible front. I find no joy in spending hours examining dirty clothes or undertaking laundry detective work to match the right stain remover to the right stain, particularly as I'm often unsuccessful. I am heartily fed up with forking out money for new clothes unnecessarily.

Any tips out there for quick and cheap multi-purpose, all-in-together stain removal? Or culinary behaviour change, other than tucking the tablecloth under my chin? Breast reduction is too expensive!"

We were completely overwhelmed with ideas for Jacqueline - thank you! Unfortunately we couldn't share every email but here are some of our favourite replies:

Eucalyptus oil all-purpose stain remover

As an all-purpose laundry stain remover, I use eucalyptus oil mixed with water in a spray bottle. I find it is great! Use about 20ml of oil and top up a 500ml spray bottle with water. Shake before use, spray the stain, leave for a minute or so, then wash as usual. I buy my eucalyptus oil from Aldi for about $4.99 for a 100ml bottle. As I'm a wildlife carer, some of the stains I have to deal with are 'very interesting'!

Contributed by: Jenny Beatson

Morning Fresh just not for dishes!

When you're faced with food spots on clothing, you only need two things! First up is just use a basic wipe, any kind, to clean up the spill. The great thing is you can use them anywhere, they dry out quickly and the mark has gone. If you miss catching a dribble at the time, the other thing I use for all stains, including blood, is Morning Fresh (and only Morning Fresh, other brands don't seem to work). Dribble it onto the offending spot, rub it in with your fingers, then throw it into the washing machine and wash as usual. Magic!

Contributed by: Wendy Murphy

Quality laundry powder and Napisan answer to stains

I have saved hundreds of dollars on clothing ruined from spills simply by using a good quality laundry powder and Vanish Napisan Oxyaction. Buy good quality powders (Aldi's Trimat Advance, Coles Ultra Concentrate and so on) and use half and half measure with Vanish Napisan Oxyaction on a delicate cycle. If there is a particularly troubling stain, an overnight soak in a bucket with warm water and Vanish Napisan Oxyaction should do the trick. Time and money well saved not having to have multiple products and I can't remember the last time I found a stain which survived a wash using this method!

Contributed by: Leslie M

Simple soap and nail brush for stains

My best standby stain remover is a bar of soap (household/laundry/cheap toilet soap) and a soft nail brush. If the stain is fresh, immediately apply cold water and a gentle scrub with the nail brush should remove it. Rinse and if the stain is still there, soap and scrub again. If I cannot remove a stain with this method I soak the article in cold water or a laundry/nappy soaker solution (cheapest on special) for 24-48 hours. I then add the article and its soaking solution to the washing machine and do a plain cold wash. I rarely fail to remove a stain with these methods. Tomato-based stains are the worst but if I particularly like the item of clothing I will carry on soaking and scrubbing until the stain is gone.

If I find something nice in an op shop but it has a stain I get it anyway as I'm almost certain I can remove it! I am always surprised when I get a 'new' op shop garment by how much detergent is left in the fabric. It usually froths up the water for at least two washes in plain water (just a hint if you have anyone with delicate skin in the family).

I haven't bought any commercial stain removers or laundry detergent for years - that is a lot of money saved! I usually go through two to three containers of laundry/nappy soaker a year which is my only laundry expense. I should add I don't have a very dirty job or kids or a sweaty husband with a dirty job but I do have three dogs and their blankets are just as clean/fresh as when I washed with detergent.

I should add a word of caution that if you have a stain on fine or delicate fabric - scrubbing, even with a soft nail brush, may damage the fabric.

Contributed by: Jo Bodey

Shampoo stains away!

My favourite stain remover, which I use all the time, is a mix of one half water and one half cheap shampoo in a spray bottle. A short spray and a gentle rub then just into the wash.

Contributed by: Loris Manns

White vinegar great stain solution

Getting stains out on clothes with white vinegar works a treat! Just pour a little white vinegar on the stain and throw it in your normal wash. When it comes to washing, white vinegar also doubles as a softener so throw a cup in during the rinse cycle! It's cheaper and better for your clothes and your wallet!

Contributed by: Leanne S.

Window cleaner clears clothes stain

A good cheap way to get stains from clothes is to spray with window cleaner before washing.

Contributed by: Gweneth Baker

Retro tip for clean clothes!

An apron or 'pinnie' as my mum and nan called them, is the best solution to keeping clothes clean! You can often pick them up cheaply in op shops or make your own if you're handy with a sewing machine. They can be plain and practical, or over-the-top 50's style flowery fabric with frills! With the 'shabby chic' era and revival of afternoon teas, wearing an apron is now trendy. However, make sure you pop it on to cook and keep it on while you eat. You could even go completely 50's style, in which case you can flit around the house all day in it, particularly if you have a feather duster in your hand!

Another retro tip is to 'sponge' your clothes. If you spill something, immediately get a damp cloth and blot then rub the spill. Very often it will come out straight away or will come out easily in the wash. Back when there were no automatic washing machines, it was essential to get more than just one wear out of clothes, hence aprons and sponging were essential. Less washing is also very SS so you win all around!

Contributed by: helendt

'Simple Savings' stain remover

I use the Simple Savings cleaner (vinegar, washing soda etc) for many stains. I'm not sure if I would chance it on silk or delicate fabrics but I've found that there have been no adverse effects on my clothes so far. I've used it on dog footprints, food splashes, tomato stains and even mould stains to good effect. The only other stain remover I have is a generic nappy wash I add a little of into every load.

Contributed by: Sue J

Stain help with cloudy ammonia

To help remove stains from clothing, try soaking clothes in hot water and cloudy ammonia before washing as normal. Alternatively, put some cloudy ammonia in your washing machine.

I do this with teenage boys' white socks and it is amazing how clean they become! Also, a little rub with a bar of Velvet soap or similar costs very little and can remove many stains easily. Cloth nappies washed with soap and a splash of cloudy ammonia will always be snowy white.

Contributed by: Leanne Neist

Dish the dirt on stains with dishwashing detergent

I have found that most food stains that linger on the front of tops can be removed by a simple pre-wash rub with dish washing detergent. I find this only takes me a few seconds and I regard it as an important part of pre-wash preparation. Be careful with delicate fabrics - do this as you put them in the machine and don't leave the load sitting in the machine without washing it. You don't need to keep a range of expensive stain removers.

Contributed by: Susan Herd

Sard works wonders on laundry stains

I use Sard Wonder soap to get rid of stains on clothing. Just wet the stained area and rub with Sard soap, give it a quick scrub together and then pop in the wash. I had a red wine stain on a white lace tablecloth and it disappeared completely after I used Sard soap and soaked it in cold water.

Contributed by: Gloria Cashman

11. This Month's Help Request: Help with 'Cheep' Easter Goodies

Aimee has emailed asking for some help! She writes:

"Now I have stopped working I'm looking at ways to cut expenses. With Easter coming up I need some ideas to give Easter gifts to my four children, their partners and my 13 grandchildren, aged from two to 19. I would normally just go and buy Easter eggs for everyone - last year this cost me over $250! I just can't afford to do that this year so would love to hear some crafty and clever ideas or recipes to cook, to give them this Easter."

If you have any pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with Aimee, please send them in to us here.

12. Goodbye for Now

Well, that's your Simple Savings Newsletter for March 2014 and we hope you have enjoyed it. We can't wait to hear how you have saved money this month and what Better Deals you have managed to find! Please let us know on the Forum or post on our Facebook page.

Our members are hugely important to us and we love hearing from you all! So next time you're on the website, why don't you get in touch and say 'G'day'! Let us know what you would like to see more of in our newsletter or any suggestions you have for something new to try. We love receiving your clever ideas!

Don't forget to spread the love around to your family and friends too by forwarding them our newsletter or letting them know about our website. Help make their lives easier and save them money too! Or tell them about us on Facebook by clicking the 'like' button on our Simple Savings Facebook page.

Till next time...
All the best,