Monday, 29 February 2016

Pool Renovation

Last year we spent a lot of time on projects around our house. The previous year was spent building up enough money and saving every dollar to be able to pay for these repairs in cash. The first task we did was to get our pool renovated. We had not been able to use the pool for a few years due to it having some big cracks and leaking water. There was also a large patch of concrete-from when we first moved in several years ago- that was lifting.

I rang about 20 different companies to get a rough idea on price and most were around the $15 000 mark! I could not believe it, this job alone would gobble up all of our savings. We looked into doing the job ourselves but realised the concrete pool would need an over all coating, not just a patch and paint job like we did when we first moved in. We would need a fiberglass coating. It was decided we would hold off on the pool until we had saved up some more money. At this point we even looked into filling the pool in, it certainly would be cheaper! But we love the pool in summer and having one helps keep our cooling costs down. Also our pool area is entirely fenced off and raised, making it difficult, plus having a pool would help resale value if we decide to sell our house later on.

 I then compiled a list of companies that I had already called, and found one I must have missed. I called and gave them the measurements of our pool and they gave me a quote of $9000 which was $6000 cheaper than the previous quotes, we were hoping for it to cost under 10k so this was perfect! The company were booked out for a few months in advance, but because we were in no rush, this was fine.

 Ideally we try to do most renovation jobs ourselves but in some cases this is just not possible. I am so happy with the finished result, and we have been using the pool almost every day this Summer. A few years ago I would never thought it was possible that we could save up enough cash to pay for this and I was even looking at refinancing our mortgage to afford these repairs! I'm so glad we stick to our savings goals as it has certainly paid off! To those who think that that something like this might be out of their reach, I say stick with it, keep saving hard and have your goal in mind. It may take a few years but you will get there!

Before: One of the large cracks. The only ones getting use of this pool are the frogs.

Before: Beneath the murky water is the lifting concrete.

Before: Pool water being pumped out ready for repairing.

After: Resurfacing is complete.

I love it.

The boys enjoying our pool.


Saturday, 27 February 2016

My Frugal Task's 28/2/16

Stewed apples and a lovely apple cake

-I received a $25 Woolworth's voucher in the mail for a phone survey I did a few weeks ago. I will put this towards this fortnight's grocery budget ( I allow $100) and will use $25 in cash to put towards our debt.

-Sorted out our seed box, which was over flowing and have now stored them all in a large ice cream container. I made a list of what seeds we have and Mr 9 decorated his own "seed packets". We added some seeds from our garden and will give these to a friend. We also collected some more rocket and silver beet seeds for our collection and planted some thyme, lettuce and more silver beet.

-Called in to Bunnings to buy some more lettuce, spinach and kale seeds. This cost just over $6. While we were there Mr 9 enjoyed a free pony cycle ride. We had seen these in a shopping centre over Christmas and they were charging $10 for a 15 minute ride!

-I've been saving water and using it on our blueberry bush, strawberry plant and vegetable pots.

-I received some free fruitless hot cross buns for free. Hubby is the only one who likes them and because we had 3 packets, I put a couple in the freezer and used the other to make a bread and butter pudding. It was delicious!

-Chopped, snap froze and bagged an excess of broccoli for later and made a large broccoli and cheese bake that we had as a main with other vegetables one night for dinner and the rest as a side dish on another night.

-Made a double batch of bolognaise mince using half beef and half TVP with lots of grated veggies. One night we had spaghetti bolognaise and the next night I added cumin, chilli and half a tin of mashed baked beans to make a Mexican mince and we ate this with rice. Hubby also had lettuce and cucumber with his. There was some left over and I mixed it with the rice for lunches the next day.

-I made another felt fox and raccoon to give to a friend.

- Bought some broccoli for 50 c a kilo. I cut, blanched and froze it to use later and also made a large cauliflower and broccoli bake that we had as a main with other vegetables on night for dinner and the rest as a side dish on another night.

-Set up our grey water hose to our washing machine so our undercover garden beds will get watered. this had been packed up so Mr 9 could ride his scooter on the pavers out the back.

-Purchased 5kg of cat biscuits using a $10 Kmart I earned from doing online surveys. The bag cost $12, so my out of pocket expense was only $2.

-Hubby and Mr 14 baked honey joy slice and vanilla biscuits, we ran out of icing sugar for decorating so he sprinkled coloured sugar on top instead.

-I found a zucchini and chocolate cake in the freezer and used this for morning/afternoon teas.

-A friend won tickets to a performance, but couldn't make it so she gave the tickets to us. It was a lovely free date night for hubby and myself. I cooked chicken stir fry and rice and packed it in containers for us to eat while we were out.

-We drove to a local orchard and bought apples for $1 a kilo, plums and nectarines for $1.50. We had some soft apple in the fridge no body would eat so I stewed them up with cinnamon and popped them in freezer bags to make crumble later on. I also made a vanilla cake and layered apples on the top then sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar. Really yummy.

-Baked healthy banana and oat biscuits.

-Received some of our favourite T2 tea from a friend.

-Went for a family day out to the Swan Valley. We packed leftover homemade pizza, biscuits, fruit, drinks and ate lunch at a park. We also visited a couple of chocolate factories for free samples and dropped into a honey store where a friend of ours works. It was a fun day out and only cost us the petrol we used.

Our seeds all sorted into a large ice cream container.

Mr 9 having fun on a free pony cycle ride.

Mr 9's strawberry plant is doing well, now the weather has cooled down.

Bread and butter pudding made with hot cross buns

Cauliflower and broccoli bake, cumin and maple carrots and rocket from our garden for dinner.

Our fruit haul from the orchard.

Banana and oat biscuits.

Miss 17, Mr 14 and Mr 9 on our trip out to Swan Valley

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Vanilla Biscuit Recipe

This is a recipe I've been using for years from an old Women's Weekly cookbook. It is a lovely plain vanilla biscuit recipe which is perfect for using cutters with. Biscuits are another name for cookies here in Australia, for my lovely American readers :)

I bake these a few times a year but mostly on special occasions like Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween. but they would also be great for lunchboxes or a snack. I usually ice the biscuits by making a mixture of icing sugar, water and food colouring then dipping the front of each biscuit into this mix. Here is a video I found which shows the method better than I can explain it!  how to ice cookies I like the addition of the skewer to scrape the excess icing off, and think I will do this next time.

120 g butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks (I save the whites and add to a quiche)
1 c plain flour
1 c self raising flour
4 tsps milk approximately

Mix room temperature butter, essence, sugar and yolks in a bowl until smooth.

Stir in sifted flours and enough milk to form a soft dough.

Knead gently on a lightly floured surface, then roll out and cut into shapes.

Place shapes on greased trays.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on racks and then ice if desired.

This recipe makes about 30 biscuits. Depending on how big your cutter is.

Happy baking!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Superhero Cape and Mask

This year my goal has been to be more organized with gift giving and I am aiming to make as many homemade gifts for Birthday's and Christmas as I can, and also to check what items I might have on hand to make said gifts-before going out and buying anything new.

I have spent many hours online and have an impressive craft bookmarked on my computer of ideas ready to go. Once time and motivation presents itself of course!

While chatting to my best friend who lives interstate, she mentioned her toddler daughter is right into superheros at the moment. I remembered I had bookmarked a cape as a potential kid gift idea so I offered to make one for Miss K's 3rd birthday coming up in May. The birthday girl had requested a blue cape, so I had a look in my material stash. Nope no blue fabric there. I made a plan to call into the fabric store next time I was driving Mr 9 to his drama class in a few days as it was on the way.

I ended up calling into the op shop while picking up some free bread and decided to check out the material they had there. I came across a blue double bed valance, which was a perfect shade of medium blue. And it was only $4! I would need to cut the pleats off, but I knew in the middle there would be enough fabric for a few items.

The tutorial I used for the cape is here on How Does She which was the one I found that had the easiest instructions.

The only variation I made was after cutting out the 2 pieces of material, I drew up a star template and cut a yellow star out of felt. I hand stitched it onto the middle of one side of the cape (I'm a sucker for hand sewing and find it relaxing).

I also decided to make a superhero mask from felt. I couldn't find a decent sized template so used the Captain America one I found here at Cutesy Crafts and just omitted the wings and letter A. This site also has other adorable superhero masks to make. For the mask I cut out the template and pinned it onto some blue felt from my stash.

I cut out 2 masks and stitched a little yellow star in each corner. I did consider using felt but thought it would be too fiddly. Then I used blanket stitch I sewed the 2 pieces together and stitched in 25 cm of elastic on each side as I went.

Our Debt Reduction and Savings Progress

This is our 4th year of dedicated frugal living and I thought I would share our progress. For the first few years our goal was to build our savings accounts to pay for our home renovations which included our kitchen redo, new carpet and flooring in our kitchen, dining and games room, ceiling and patio repairs and our pool restoration all of which came to around $20 000. The work was all completed last year and this is why you can see our savings have now dropped significantly. At the time we chose to have 2 savings accounts as we were regularly depositing and this way could gain extra interest. We are still debating whether to keep the 2 accounts or roll it into one.

Since May 2015 our focus has been to put every spare dollar towards paying off our only debt-the mortgage. Unfortunately I can't find our financial details for 2013 which was the year we began.

I have put these figure up to inspire and encourage others. There is no quick trick for building savings or getting financially ahead. We have managed to do this by sticking to a budget, not spending money unnecessarily and just saving in lots of little areas. Every dollar really does count.  

Savings Funds

Account 1- which is now referred to as our 'emergency fund'                                                                                                       
2014- $12,000
2015- $14,029
2016- $2,088 and slowly growing.

Account 2

2014- $5,000
2015- $7,000
2016- $3,000


February 2013- $105 846
February 2014- $101, 199
February 2015- $94,713
February 2016- $68,322 and dropping.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

My Frugal Tasks- 21/2/16

Mr 9 and I enjoyed a lovely morning tea at home.

It's been a quiet and productive week here, slowing down after the hustle of last week. I've made a point of going to sleep early and am now feeling quite well rested.

Hubby has had quite a few really bad pain days which has resulted in him being in bed all day. I feel useless when this happens and all I can do is make sure he takes his pain medication and keep the house quiet.

This week I really wanted to make a point of making more items as per Annabels' Christmas Challenge to give away as gifts. Due to this I did spend more money than I normally do in a week but I had the money there already in my cash envelopes and picked up some great items which in the long run will save me money.

- I spent the evenings using felt from my stash to sew up some little felt woodland animals for an upcoming baby shower. The parents to-be are having a woodland themed nursery so I think I will turn these into a banner for the but haven't decided yet. I found pictures for the fox and raccoon online and Miss 17 traced them and made the patterns. She also made the patterns for the other animals.

- I sewed a little felt fox onto the $1 baby blanket I bought last week. This will be a gift to go accompany the woodland banner.

- Mr 9 needs a new rash vest for swimming and I came across one for $2 at the op shop. There was also a large crate which had 5 items for $1. I couldn't believe my luck! I spent ages rummaging through there and found a vest Miss 17 wanted for a cosplay, a red tee shirt for Mr 9, a pair of black dress pants for myself, red scrubs shirt and a long black skirt which are not my size but are great quality material that I can use to make something else. I cut up the long black skirt, and made myself a short black one (I'll do separate post on this about creative frugality.) I also found another pair of pants and top for Miss 17 at a different op shop we visited and my local  Textile traders had a sale on fabric- 20% off everything and 40% off dress fabrics. I needed some more coloured felt and also came across some lovely red and black skull fabric. I've been searching high and low for skull fabric as it can be hard to find. I was so excited and bought myself 2 meters to make a skirt which came to $12. All of these items came out of money in our clothing budget, minus the felt which I took out of our gift allowance. For $19 we got quite a few items of clothes, plus material to make at least a couple of skirts. Op shopping for clothing can be so much cheaper than buying clothes new.

- I picked up 5 bottles for $5.50, filled them with Hollywood Bubble Bath
made from shower gel in my stockpile which was bought on sale/clearance. One of the bottles was a larger style jar  with a cork lid and I made some lavender bath salts to go inside. This one already came decorated with twine, a brown tag and silver charm. The others I decorated with items from my craft box. These will be used as gifts.

- I called into our favourite op shop to pick up some free bread and as usual had a quick look around. I bought a large box filled with cards for $3. Initially I thought that the box would be perfect for storing my homemade cards and then realised there were already quite a few cards inside. There were 44 to be exact! There was also some baby wrapping paper, 18th invitations (my daughter turns 18 next year!) and some scrap booking embellishments which i will use for card making. I worked out that each item-not including the box cost my 6c each. Such a bargain! I also found another bottle for $1 and a glass oil lamp for $1. I filled it up with olive oil and figured this would be reusable and cheaper than a candle. While it looks lovely, I've found it doesn't throw off much light.

- I redeemed $40 from points I earned from doing online survey's and used it to purchase grocery vouchers. This fortnight my shopping came to $52.

- On different days I baked vanilla and chocolate cakes while dinner was in the oven. You can find my recipes here I also made some jelly for dessert using cordial and gelatine from my cupboard. Jelly packets are now 90c and that's even the generic brand! While I haven't done the math, I believe buying a bottle of cordial and gelatine would be a cheaper alternative.

-Had a lovely impromptu morning tea with Mr 9. He requested to use my special tea set and we ate some of the vanilla cake.  

- Bought some $1 chocolate bunnies and have stashed them away ready for Easter.

- The weather has been much cooler this week, so we've only run the fans when necessary and have opened the doors and windows to make most of the lovely breeze.

- My rocket plant turned to seed and died off a month or so ago. So I saved as many seeds as I could for later and forgot about it. A week or 2 ago I noticed some new sprouts amongst the dead stems and realised it has self seeded! I've now moved the pot into the shade and have been watering it well. Nature is just amazing!

-Tidied up my gift stockpile. The shelves are looking very full!

I hope you have all had a great week! x

Finding 5 items for $1 at the op shop is a rarity!

$40 off my groceries from doing online surveys.

A $1 choc treat for all of us. Stashed away from prying eyes until Easter.

Felt fox I stitched onto the baby blanket.

Little woodland animals I made for a gift.

Bottles of bath salts and bubble bath ready for gifting.

Homemade vanilla cake.

My self seeding rocket.

The collection of cards I got for $3.

Homemade raspberry jelly and ice cream for a midweek treat.

My $1 oil candle.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Tips for Saving Money on Groceries

Groceries from last year, clearly before I switched to using generic toilet paper

Today I thought I would share some of the things we do to save money on our grocery bill. Buying food can take up a big chunk of income so it makes sense to spend as little as possible. Doing this can save a few thousand dollars a year.

1. Use up your pantry.
 Do a pantry/fridge/freezer audit before you go shopping. Chances are you've already got the makings of a few meals right there before even leading the house!

2. Buy generic. 
I buy mostly generic grocery items like cheese, butter, milk, freezer bags, glad wrap, dish washing liquid, dishwasher powder, flour, sugar, cereals and have recently graduated to using generic tea bags and toilet paper! I have not found any difference in quality at all.  If there's a generic brand version, I'll try it!

3. Shop for the specials. I like to check all of the supermarket catalogues to find items I need on sale. I will often shop at Spud Shed or a local orchard for our fruit and veg, Coles for our "main" shop and a cheap butcher for occasional meat. I also travel into the city to buy our spices, polenta, Himalayan salt and dried fruits every few months from a wholesale bulk store. Before this I would buy spices from my local Asian grocery store which is still much cheaper than supermarket prices.

4. Make a list and stick to it. 
Pretty easy right? My only exception to this rule is half price loss leader items. Otherwise, only buy what you really need.

5. Avoid processed foods and "snack" serves.
Make your own food from scratch. My mind boggles at packaged slow cooker and meal bases. Check out the ingredients on the back, most of them are just a tomato base! Tomatoes cost 65c a tin and tomato paste is $1.30 for a large jar. If you build up your pantry with staple spices, there will be no need to buy meals bases again. Even a jar of bought pasta sauce is just diced tomatoes with some tomato paste added! Cakes, muffins and in store bakery items are ridiculously overpriced too. Some loaf cakes cost $4 each and that is on sale! Honestly, I am so shocked by some of the prices. Self raising flour is only $1.85 for 2 kilos, and sugar is around the same. Cakes and muffins can be made so cheaply at home. Packaged muesli bars or any kind of single serve snacks like yoghurt can be really overpriced. Museli bars can be made super cheaply at home and money and packaging can be saved by purchasing a big tub of yoghurt rather than individual potion packs.

6. Shop only weekly or fortnightly. 
This is a big one. Go shopping only once a week or fortnight. Plan your shopping list according to your families needs and make sure you have enough toilet paper etc. This is really crucial because how many times have we called into the shops for 1 item and ended up spending $20-$50? If you run out of an item for cooking just improvise and write it on the shopping list for next time. I think a lot of my ability to save money started from avoiding the shops. 

7. Use homemade green cleaning products.
Homebrand vinegar and bi carb can be bought really cheaply and you don't need fancy bottles of chemicals to clean your house. Check out my thrifty cleaning tab for some frugal recipes.

8. Avoid the "lolly aisle".
Unless you need to buy items for a celebration, just avoid this aisle completely!

9. Stock up on 1/2 price loss leader sales.
Half price catalogue sales can be great. I often pick up 5 kilo bags of rice and brand name deodorant at these times. I will stock up, so I have enough to last until the next time it goes on sale. 

10.  Don't shop on an empty stomach.
Pack a bottle of water and a light snack, or eat before you go. Research shows that if you shop when you are hungry, you are more likely to make impulse purchases.

11. Eat less meat.
 I've steadily seen 1kg mince packs at Coles rise from $5 a kilo to now $8 a kilo.I can buy a whole lot of nutritious vegetables for much cheaper! Potatoes here are only 50c a kilo. I don't believe that the amount of meat humans consume is a viable option for our environment and for several months we have been reducing our meat intake to once or twice a week. You could try incorporating a veg meal once or twice a week into your meal planning.

12. Grow your own.
Herbs are very expensive in supermarkets and are so easy and cheap to grow at home. We only have a small garden but grow as much as we can. Even if its only a tomato bush or lettuce, you will be getting organic quality vegetables for a fraction of the cost.

13. Use less.
This applies to almost everything. Use less shampoo and conditioner, washing powder etc. When I was using commercial washing powder, I found I could successfully use half of the amount stated on the box without any difference. I feel like the recommended amounts on packaging are deliberately on the higher end so consumers use more product and will need to buy more at a faster rate.  I've started using less milk and sugar in my cup of tea as well.

14. Every dollar counts.
 Value your money-even $1. I see a dollar in terms of how much food could I buy? Mr 9 will sometimes ask for "a $1 treat" when we go shopping, these days I say no and look at what else I could buy. One dollar will buy 1kg of carrots, 1kg of rolled oats, a litre of milk or 1 litre of dish washing liquid. I buy our "treats" at the food co-op where I can buy 10kg of food for $15. They often have biscuits or chips and it is so much cheaper.

15. Plan a budget.
Have a goal of how much ideally you want to spend each shopping day. Any money leftover can be used for the following week and can be used to fund a stockpile. You can do this by buying some half price items on sale or spending say $10 of the money left on items you use regularly. I did this recently and spent bought $20 worth of sugar, milk and dish liquid to have on hand.

16. Make use of loyalty programs.
I buy most of my groceries from Coles because I love their Fly Buys program. Even though my family are not typical shoppers we still manage to accumulate enough points by the end of the year to add up to $70-$100 of free groceries. I use this to purchase our Christmas ham and any other special items.

What are some of your tips for saving on groceries?

Bulk spices from Kakulas Bros.

Meat bought cheaply from a butcher.

Fruit for $1 a kilo at a local orchard.

I stock up on deodorants for the teens.

I did pass up on this sale, because at the time we had an abundance of tomatoes in our garden.

Silverbeet from our garden.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

My Frugal Tasks 14/2/16

 We had a heatwave in Perth this week. Friends of ours who live a suburb away, have a weather gauge and said 2 days in a row temperatures were 47 and 45 degrees. The heat was so draining.

 Mr 9 had theater rehearsals during the week and was in performances on Friday and Saturday night. He had a great time and really loves acting. A lot of spare time this week was spent helping him with his lines, driving him to rehearsals and I also volunteered at the theater which meant being organized and cooking dinner early during the day so we could eat before we left or packing dinner to take because it was after 9pm by the time we got home.

It was such a busy week, but despite this I still managed to do a few things towards this week's frugal tasks.

-We spent a lot of time in the pool cooling down.

-Managed to hold off on using the air conditioner until after 1pm most days and made use of our fan and water cooler which is cheaper to run.

-Picked up some free bread, rolls and hot cross buns from the op-shop. I also found a new release kids book which I will put away for Mr 9's birthday for $1.50, and a knitted baby blanket for an upcoming baby shower which was $1. I plan to fancy it up using felt.

-We had some extra money sitting in a savings account and decided it would be of better use to put it towards paying off our debt. We are still working really hard at not spending even a dollar unnecessarily. I have been tracking our debt by using a printable with 75 swirls and each time we pay off $1000, I colour in one. this helps keep me focused and motivated.

-Mixed up some butter blend. You can find my recipe  here.

-Made another batch of laundry gel. This made around 10 litres and will last us 6 months.

-I sewed some beans for felt play food. My aim is to make a basketful which will make a great toddler gift.

-Sewed a felt Valentine's garland for our mantle.

-Baked a double batch of vanilla biscuits for Valentine's Day with Mr 14 and his friend and gave her some to take home.

Mr 9 loves helping pour the laundry gel into bottles.

6 months worth of laundry gel ready to go!

Felt beans.

Free bread, rolls, ciabatta and hot cross buns.

My great buys from the op shop.

The felt garland I made for Valentine's Day.

Heart biscuits.

Using a printable to track our debt totals keeps me motivated.