Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Cheapskate Tuesday

Exercises in extreme budgeting.

This week I'm organising Frog's second birthday! I love birthday parties, and I don't mean the hire a bouncy castle, laid on entertainment, with swavorski crystal encrusted party bags kind of party we are seeing more and more these days. I'm talking about good old fashioned fun!

Birthday parties for us mainly mean family. I have stuck to one big kids party every five years or so - at 5, 10, 15, 18, 21 and then if you want to get married you are big enough to pay for it yourself!

On the in between years we allow the kids to invite a couple of friends to a lunch or tea with our family. My family is quite small so all the extended family have become immediate family over the years and all of them together doesn't make for a reunion style dinner! 


I'm part of the WonderMan clan now...... and just his immediate family makes any family get together seem like an army exercise in tolerance, battle training and mess cooking! And even though they are spread out across the country.... there are still enough reasonably locally to have quite a party without even trying.

Frog has invited four friends, all of whom are BOYS. Apparently Frog thinks boys are much more fun.... an attitude which has WonderMan wondering if it's too early to put the rocking chair on the porch and polish his shotgun.....

Attempts to get her to name a girl she played with resulted in "Mummy!" well yes darling, Mummy does happen to be invited.....

And I made a rather silly mistake - I asked what kind of cake Frog would like.... "PIGGLE! MACCA! DAISY! DANCING!" Yep.... I actually dobbed myself in to make a flipping In The Night Garden carousel....

We are having an afternoon tea - which was my brainchild after looking at how tired 2 and 3 year olds (not to mention 89 year old great grandmas) can get, and as a way of reducing my workload by baking everything in advance! 

In my family everyone always brings their "specialty" to any parties or gatherings - cream puffs from my aunt, pasties from my great aunt, trifle from my grandma... This pretty much means that I can actually afford to have a party for my kids, as I only have to provide half the food I would otherwise.

PARTY BAGS always do my head in, because they seem to always ending costing at least $15 a child.... when you count the bags, lollies, treats, toys.... but this year I have found my own solution! I'm using paper party bags filled with homemade caramel popcorn, and a couple of treats, a mini juice box, and a mini cupcake buried within like treasure. Cheap, fun, and popcorn is a whole lot healthier than the lollies traditionally used!

If it was a big party we would usually play some funky games - and the most loved in our family is Toilet Paper Mummies. Simply pair off the kids, give them a couple of rolls of cheap toilet paper, and give them a time limit to see who can wrap their partner as the best mummy! The kids love lurching around trailing ripped toilet paper and groaning at each other. Then you give a prize to the children who pick up the most paper(because any way of getting kids to clean is a good thing!)

We generally play dress up freeze - with a big bag of dress ups in the middle of a circle, and a ball you pass with the music, each time to music stops the person with the ball has to close their eyes and pick something from the bag to put on. I always photograph the kids crazy outfits at the end and give them a print to take home!

There are tons of ways to adapt card games into party games for older children. My mother made up one with a small bowl of lollies (including one big lollipop or similar). She dealt one pack of cards between the kids, and kept another for herself. When she turned up a card the person with the matching card placed it down in front of them and took a lolly from the bowl. When the lollies in the middle ran out you could take from another player. This meant the lollipop went round and round until someone had the lucky last card! And everyone had a small stash of lollies to put in their party bag.

Seeing as Frog is only two hers will probably be more of a free range party, and will probably mean she and her friends disappear to her room to play trains while the rest of us crack out the wine  fizzy drink in relative peace and quiet! 

They are only small once so why not enjoysome good old fashioned fun, before they are asking for PS3's and rave parties?

What's your favourite party game?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Like Grandma Use To Make

I'm having a retro day....

One of those days when you yearn for the warmth and rose tinted days of your childhood, and want scones, instead of mini muffins with fancy ganache.

I'm very lucky to come from a family of women who bake, and even luckier to have so many generations of recipes stored away in my own recipe book. Coffee kisses, cheese rusks, "wireless biscuits" (because Great Grandma heard the recipe on the wireless and never got the name!), pasties, nutty anzacs, jubilee cake.... the list goes on and on....

I've been breaking out my old recipes, and my mother's set of balance scales, and bringing some of my childhood to my children. 

I can remember cooking with my great aunt, asnd watching my grandmother bake bread in her wood stove (I desperately want a home with a wood stove....) using their balance scales with the stack of silver weights, and different tea cups for different recipes, instead of the standard metric plastic stacker cups we have now.  

We all wore aprons, which seem to be a foreign concept nowadays, unless you are trying to be one of those anal-foody-mastercheffy-can't-cook-without-messing-about-with-a-decent-recipe people.

 I still wear an apron... and can often be seen sitting in my car at the supermarket doing a twisty, mental dance type thingo designed to get the damn thing off before anyone realises I'm such an old fuddy duddy I actually went out the door and forgot I had it on. I don't wear old clothes to clean in.... I wear my nice clothes and an apron. 

I'm going to break out the paper and coloured pencils, and play "Bug" with the kids the old fashioned way this afternoon. For those of you who have never seen it (except for the plastic fantastic costs the earth version that gets chucked in the corner of the cupboard very quickly and never sees daylight again) instructions are below.

Coloured pencils

Youngest player starts.

Roll the dice and draw bits of your bug as follows:
6 = Body
5 = Head
4 = Tail
3 = Feeler
2 = Eye
1 = Leg

You must have a head or body to start drawing.

To complete your bug you need:
1 body
1 head
1 tail
2 feelers
2 eyes
6 legs
Each player takes one turn and passes the dice to the left. The first person to complete their bug wins.

The best part of this version is having all the lovely bug pictures to display!

 Do you have a retro game you play with your family?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Hey, It's Okay!

I'm borrowing...

I found "Hey, It's Okay! Tuesday" over at Airing My Dirty Laundry - One Sock At A Time

And she has invited her readers to share.... so.... for me....


1. Curse dinoputer every seventeen minutes of the day - which is about the time between crashes - and yet continue to ask it to do things that were beyond it's capability when it was made, let alone 13 years later.

2. Have a 13 year old computer - because I'm poor and it's better than having no computer at all. 
3. Secretly wonder if I could use the grocery budget to buy an espresso machine and just feed the family on crackers, cheese and espresso for the week.....

4. Buy more than my one budgeted Cafe Mocha a week.... using the theory it gets me to my #10 free one quicker....

5. Put on a dress and lippy to do the housework to make me feel better about the whole "being a housewife isn't slavery" charade.

6. Make jelly as part of my kids' lunchbox food. It's homemade isn't it? And I use the reduced sugar variety.

7. Refuse to have a shower until the fire has warmed the house up.

8. Refuse to get out of bed until my coffee has been made and is waiting for me.

9. Microwave said coffee after staying in bed 10 minutes longer because it's too damn cold and early!

10. Have sexy dreams about dishwashers.......

What are you okay about this week?

Have a fabulous day!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Where's My Sock?

A Guide To Household Gremlins

You may have noticed some strange goings-on at your place... socks on the run... toliet roll holders empty... towels on the floor... Well I'll let you in on a little secret... there's gremlins in your house!

I have been observing some of the most common, and present my findings below:

Common Sock Gremlin
Found in almost every laundry, the Common Sock Gremlin is a quiet creature, not easily seen, but it's effects are all too obvious. They prey on singular socks, seeking out the newest addition to the washing pile and devouring it in the time it takes to run a wash cycle. 

Sock gremlins are extremely difficult to remove, but can be limited in their effects by placing an offering (usually a new pair of socks) in the laundry every few months. They will only ever eat one.

Towel Troll
The Towel Troll only ever appears while you are having a shower, and steals all the clean towels. No reason has been found for this behaviour, although the towels do generally appear in the washing basket later on.

They are attracted to the bathroom in relation to the local temperature, the distance to walk from the bathroom to the linen closet, the slip factor of the floor, and always appear when unexpected guests have arrived at your front door.

Dishes Stork

The dishes stork is a pest that I have found impossible to remove. I have tried all manner of methods of attack, but he still insists on bringing me regular dish deliveries. Hot wiring your draining board is probably the only effective method of control, but may result in kids with seriously 80's hair do's.

The Bathroom Bug

Bathroom bugs roam in packs, and can cause a number of household issues. They are notorious for pulling the shower curtain out of the bath leaving puddles on the floor, spreading toothpaste around the top of the tube and allowing it to dry, and consuming the last of the toilet paper but leaving the roll.

Key Kritters

Key Kritters hoard keys. They are especially fond of unique, one of a kind keys that cannot be replaced.

There are many more, such as the dust sprite, hoarding brownie (which lives down the back of the couch) and the muddy footprint monster...

ALL THESE CREATURES ARE CURRENTLY ENDANGERED - or at least they will be when I get my hands on the little buggers......

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cheapskate Tuesday

Quick tips for today - just some random things I have learned over the years of containing my shrinking budget....


  • We have unit pricing in Australia - check it! I buy so many things in small packets when common sense general advice tells me I should be buying the gargantuan size, because the little ones happen to be a better special.
  • Don't be fooled by no frills - Homebrand, Black and Gold etc - have you noticed you can buy CSR sugar for less than half the price of Black and Gold? And the no frills is s**t quality to boot. 
  • Try the store brands (like Woollies Select, or Coles products) as I have found many are coming out of the same factory as the "top quality items" with a different label on them.
  • Some things are okay to buy no frills - some things aren't. Things I refuse to buy cheap are freezer bags/food wraps, sugar/flour/baking supplies, toothpaste, and toilet paper. You will end up chucking them and paying the bigger price for the better item anyway. 
  • Things I buy cheap are dish washing liquid (my grandmother still uses the same brand of soap bar in a tin swished in hot running water that she has always used.... her dishes are so clean and smell pretty for almost nothing!) , laundry liquid (earth friendly and washes my clothes perfectly for a quarter of the price of a top brand) and nappies (woolies homebrand are almost a Huggies copy, and Huggies give my kids nappy rash so it's better on both fronts.)
  • Don't shop with the family if you can help it. I bargained with WonderMan and he looks after the kids to allow me to budget bust at my best. Kids distract and make you rush. Husbands pick the most expensive brands and items, and you end up at the checkout with half a trolley full of things that were sneaked in when you were comparing the 1c per nappy difference in price between brands.  If you must shop with your hubby, put him on a short leash and say "NO!" regularly in a firm voice - guaranteed he will have something sneaky in his hands....

As you can see, grocery shopping in my house is not so much a chore, more of a mercenary experience.


  • Try using less laundry powder/liquid - i halved the cap of laundry liquid I use and my clothes were just as clean as if I had double dosed them. Recommended amounts are designed for you to use the product and be buying it again within a certain time. Same with the fabric softener.
  • Close/open your curtains/blinds at the right time of day - I am amazed at WonderMan and the kids' ability to sit in a house with all the curtains drawn all day with every single light on. I am often heard shrieking "SUNSHINE IS FREE! Are you all vampires or something??" Closing them just as the afternoon starts to cool in winter also helps keep the warmth in with less heating.
  • If you work in an office, or go out to dinner in your best clothes, consider if they really need washing. Of course your undies do! But do you really need to wash your delicate item every time you wear it? Airing and putting away is cheaper and means your clothes will last longer. Think of it this way - do you wash your coat every time you come inside or do you hang it up on a peg? Commonsense really.
  • BAKE. BAKE SOME MORE. Get on the net and find the cheapest, simplest recipes you can make quickly and easily. Buying snacks and fillers for lunchboxes cost me a fortune - and I saved $50 (yep, $50... woah) every week by baking instead of buying. And I get at least double, if not quadruple the quantity I would get when I bought the items.
  • Put a jumper on. Make you kids do it too. And hubby. WonderMan is the worst for turning the heating/cooler up or down to ridiculous temps - costing us huge amounts of money, while he sits around in his boxer shorts. Split systems are fab at keeping a comfortable temp on very little power if you leave them that way. 
  • Love your slow combustion stove. Although I admit, it's getting really hard in most places to collect firewood unless you own your own farm or piece of scrub. We are lucky that we are permitted to collect firewood from road verges in our council, and I grew up with long days exploring rabbit holes while dad cut wood and mum loaded it into the trailer. I also remember driving home from school and having to stop and pick up sticks for mum's fire lighting kindling! 
  • Light your stove with newspapers and twigs, cut up egg cartons, the chips from around the wood chopping block, whatever you have in your house... firelighters can cost you a LOT over a winter.

So you see - there are lots of little things you can do to save that little bit every day. Some may work for you, some might not fit - adjust them, try them... 

Do you have any quick "cheapskate" tips? 

Monday, 2 May 2011

I Have Returned!

And I have found just the tiniest little part of my sanity in the process!

Our holiday was a complete success. A brief overview follows:

We went and stayed in a family shack (yep, cheapskate all the way... because if we had to pay for accomodation somewhere we would have lasted two days and eaten instant noodles the whole time on our budget!)

It's a good thing the shack is located in my favourite place on earth (so far.... i haven't travelled nearly half as much as I would like) because it meant I loved it regardless of it being the only place I can afford!

It's old, it's dusty, it's teeny tiny and has oddly shaped bedrooms that make me say "WHY??" everytime I go there..... but there is a river, and a beach, pretty places to walk, things to do and markets to buy yummy stuff from on the weekends. Plus a great big block of grass on which to chase the kids until they go to bed and leave me in peace with my bottle of wine.

It feels like coming home... every time... and it's a physical pain to drive away at the end of our stay... 

We had researched and planned several activities to spread over our time away, paying attention to our budget constraints and the fact that we had to make a toddler, a tween and two completely polar adults happy for the majority of the stay. 

Frog (along with Tiger and I) had her first ride on a steam train on Easter Saturday - it is such joy to watch a child's face light up at a new and unique experience! For the rest of the holiday, every time you heard the train whistle (we could hear it from where we were staying) - Frog would pipe up with a happy "Toot toot!" and run around yelling "Twain! Twain!" for several minutes.

We went to the movies and watched Rio - Frog slept through the first half hour, then woke up and proceeded to eat all my popcorn and giggle like a ninny every five minutes. Tiger got a good laugh out of it too, because she likes her movies funny, and has a total hatred of anything High School Musical-ish or similar, much to my delight. WonderMan thought it was pretty good, and I didn't have a meltdown in the cinema because the family actually sat (mostly) still for the hour and a half or so. SUCCESS!!

Which is nice, because our family mix can be very trying to organise at times. 

Nothing is ever designed for toddlers to teens. They are geared to very specific age ranges, which can be difficult for us to deal with when we want to go out together. Tiger gets bored at toddler style entertainment, and prefers fast rides to merry go rounds. Frog has happily hit the "Terror Twos" and has to be physically restrained in any situation not set up for under threes. WonderMan and I have had to split up in the past and take the kids seperately. Double the fuel, half the time with each child in the end, and no time to enjoy it together does not make for a happy holiday.

However we found a happy medium and decided on some Frog style activities, some for Tiger, and most for all of us, as well as some time doing what Mummy and Daddy wanted - ie sitting in the lounge with a cuppa in hand watching jet skiers fall into the water with amazing regularity!

I have to recommend the SA Museum - their holiday program (fossils this time) was a great mix for many ages, and both kids (plus their cousins) had a lot of fun. For me, the SA biodiversity room is fabulous! Frog and Tiger are very proud of the pleisiosaur mobiles they created there, and enjoy playing "dinesaws - raarrrrr!" as Frog informs me. It was a great day out in the city, and free to come and go in the museum, with a very small cost ($6) for us to do the holiday activities.

We spent lots of time at local markets, trying organic-free-range-uber-bread, farm fresh strawberries, fresh popcorn, hand made soaps, and lots more local produce and crafts. 

We walked, played games, ran on the beach, had bbq lunch at a wildlife park and patted koalas (they feel like scouring pads by the way... very wiry) - and good old Easter Bunny even managed to find us. We also had a suprise overnight visit from Granny and Pa - with Granny insisting Easter Bunny made a mistake and Frog's Upsy Daisy pyjamas were for her...

I also trawled every vintage/goodwill shop in the entire area, and came home with half a wardrobe full of clothes for the ridiculously small price of $100. I heart vintage!

And yes, I did get a holiday. WonderMan man lived up to his promise and shared all cooking, cleaning and kid-restraining duties, and brought me coffee in bed in the mornings after relighting the fire so I didn't have to get out of bed in the cold.

In fact the entire trip was a roaring success, with no in-car drama, very little sibling warfare, and the biggest smiles I have seen on all of us in a very long time. 

We shared everything, and went everywhere together. Enjoying the sights, sounds and yummies along the way. Tiger hardly pouted, instead she can't wait for school to start tomorrow so she can rave about her great family holiday! Frog found limits of toddler patience I thought were impossible. WonderMan and I sipped Cafe Mochas everywhere we went, instead of our staple International Roast! 

We feel slightly more human, a little more sane, a lot happier, and a million times more grounded as a family. 

Isn't that the best we could ask for?