Being a money-savvy adult

Today, we’re going to be looking at something that can seem somewhat scary – MONEY! (and it’s friends, Credit Cards and Loans).

I’ve had an awful lot of “learning the hard way” experience with all of these things, and hopefully I can help  you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. These are my rules for how I manage our money day-to-day.

Rule 1 – Live within your means
Do your income and your outgoings match up? Or are you earning $1000 a week and spending $1050 (or even more!)?
If your income is equal to or more than your outgoings, YAY! If your income is less than your outgoings, you need to do something about that. Which brings us to…

Rule 2 – Have a budget and stick to it
This is important, whether you are living within your means or not. However, if you’re spending more than you’re earning, this will be a much more painful process.
There are several ways of doing this – an app, on a excel spreadsheet, or good ol’ paper.
First step, no matter what method you’re using, is to take all your ins and outs for a month and categorise everything – groceries, cars, spending money, EVERYTHING. This is can be somewhat scary – I almost had heart failure the first time I did this and saw how much we were spending on food (not even takeaway, just plain old grocery shopping).
Use these ins and outs to design your budget and work out where you might be able save some money.

Rule 3 – Save a little bit each pay packet
This doesn’t necessarily mean putting money into a specific ‘savings’ account, but that’s definitely the simplest way.
What we tend to do makes our money work harder for us – we have a loan with a redraw facility, so we put our “saving” money into the redraw account. That way, while the money is sitting there, it is reducing the amount of interest we’re paying on the loan and we can pull it out if/when we need it.

Rule 4 – Be smart with your debt
The first part of this is that just because you CAN get a certain amount of debt, doesn’t mean you should. You want to minimise your debt. Just because the bank is willing to give you $25,000 for a car loan, doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a $25,000 car if a $12,000 one will do. Don’t get sucked in by those credit limit increase offers that banks send out regularly – a lot of people get the increase “just in case”, then end up spending the money on things they don’t really need. Which is exactly what the bank is counting on you doing. Avoid this, and just don’t do it.
The second part about being smart about your debt is managing it well. Always make your payments on time. Pay more than the minimum payment amount. Pay off your credit card every month.
If you’re in a situation where you’ve ended up with several credit cards with high interest and you’re not able to pay them off, go visit your bank and have a chat. Often, you can roll those amounts into a single personal loan, which will usually have lower fees and interest rates. The big thing if you do this is to not go and just get another credit card afterwards.

Rule 5 – Re-evaluate everything on a regular basis
Life changes, and with that your cash flow requirements can also change. I’d personally recommend doing this every 12 months, or whenever you have a ‘major life change’.
Not regularly checking in is almost as bad as not making a budget in the first place.

~K

I was approached by Jessica from Credit Card Insider to do this post. I did not receive any compensation, monetary or otherwise, for this post.

 

Taco Casserole

Taco Casserole

You can’t really see the casserole too well – you can just spy it at the top of the bowl, near the fork.

This is really easy to make, and freezes well, so you can have it ready in the freezer for whenever you have a taco craving!

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 400g can tomatoes
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 1 cup dried beans, soaked and precooked (use whatever beans you like. I used half black beans and half black-eyed beans)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 4 tbsp chunky salsa + extra for topping
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • Whatever toppings you want! (I used cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, avocado, and some extra salsa)

Method:

  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat with a little oil of your choice (my personal preference is rice bran oil). Cook mince until mostly browned, then add onions and cook until they are translucent.
  2. Reduce heat to med-low. Add tinned tomatoes, stock, taco seasoning, salsa, beans and corn. Stir and bring to boil.
  3. Add rice and bring to boil again, then reduce heat to low. Cook (covered) for 30mins (or until rice is cooked through), stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Rice dries out the older it gets, so if you’ve had your rice for a while (i.e. 6mths+) it will likely take longer than the 30mins.
  4. Serve with whatever toppings you like.

NB: Freezes well

After I made this, we ate it 3 times in the same week! It passed the “Hubby test”, and he gave it 5 stars 🙂 I will be making this again very soon, and I’ll try to remember to take a picture of the finished product before I put toppings on.

Budget Tip!
If meat is too expensive (or you’re vegetarian) you can replace the beef mince with an additional cup of dried beans without losing much in the way of flavour.
Vegetarian note – I use Massel brand stock cubes, which are gluten & dairy free as well as being vegan. They are “beef style” and “chicken style”, but do not contain any animal products – the taste and colour of the different stocks is created using herbs and vegetable extracts.

~K

Tips for Eating Cheap

My Mum is the QUEEN of cheap eating, and she’s taught me how to do it too – so I’d like to pass a bit of that wisdom on to all of you!

Eating cheaply does not mean eating boring!
Cheap eating does not have to be the same thing day in, day out. There are quite a lot of things you can make for very cheaply that use the same ingredients, put together in different ways.

Herbs & spices are a godsend
Herbs and spices are reasonably cheap, and can turn a meal of something like rice and beans from boring to awesome! Different spice combinations can make the same base ingredients taste like a meal from anywhere in the world, which makes meals a lot less boring. Eg – a bit of tomato paste and some italian herbs can turn beans and rice can turn it into something akin to a stuffed capsicum, or add a bit of curry powder and cornflour and make a curry sauce! Beans and rice easily take on the flavour of whatever they are cooked with, so using stock instead of water to cook them can give them a bit of flavour as well.

Rice, beans, and frozen veges are your friends
So you all know about the rice and beans – but the way I’m talking about is not how you’re used to hearing it. Use legumes and grains to extend your meat (e.g. add beans to taco mince, add cooked lentils or barley to casseroles, put both in soups – there’s more, but that’s some ideas), as well as without meat.
NB: On their own, most legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are not complete proteins. However, grains contain the missing amino acids, so eating them together means that your body can make better use of the protein. Hence the beans-and-rice combo.
If you’re making something that is served with rice (e.g. curried sausages), mix the rice and sauce together before you serve it. This means you can make the meal stretch further, because even though you’ve made more rice, mixing it in together with the sauce first makes it look like you’re getting more food. I think it is because you are looking at a big bowl of something all the same colour, not a little blob of something on top of the rice.
Frozen veges are awesome – they keep FOREVER, they’re just as good as the fresh ones (often better, because they are frozen at peak ripeness), and they’re usually pre-chopped! I always have 3 different bags of frozen veges (corn only, peas only, corn peas & carrot mix), because they are absolutely the most versatile things you can have. They mix well with anything! Add them to literally everything, they’ll extend the meal as well as making it healthier.

Meal planning is the bomb
It may seem like a pain, and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before, but meal planning really DOES save money. I never used to do it when I first moved out, because it just seemed like way too much effort – but after I started doing it, I was amazed how easy it actually was!
It enables you to buy only what you need, so you don’t have food going gross in the pantry/fridge because you didn’t eat it. It also means you can plan ahead a bit, and incorporate a bit of variety into your meals. You can plan to buy a big bag of something this week, which will last a few weeks and frees up a couple of dollars next week for something else.

You really do need freezer space
The best thing you can invest in for cheap cooking is not a slow cooker – it’s a decent free-standing freezer. I have a little bar-fridge-sized freezer in addition to my fridge-with-attached-freezer, and it’s the main thing that makes it so I can keep my meal costs down. It means that you can cook a meal and freeze the extras, so you don’t need to eat the same thing for 3 days straight before it goes off. It’s also often easier and cheaper to cook a meal that serves 4+ people than it is to cook a meal just for one person. You’ll also want to invest in a big pack of those plastic ‘chinese containers’ (you know, the ones that food from chinese take-aways come in). The 6ooml size easily fits a one person serve, and they stack nicely in the freezer. If you’re squeamish about reheating food in them, just get a couple of glass containers with microwave-safe lids.

That said, I do love my slow cooker
Having one means that you can buy the cheaper cuts of meat (particularly red meat) and still make it edible. They’re also great for turning dried beans into perfect-texture cooked ones (except kidney beans. You need to boil those, and a slow cooker doesn’t get hot enough).
A slow cooker is also a god-send for if you are both time- and cash-poor. While you’re doing dinner the night before, you can prep all the ingredients for the next day’s slow cooker recipe (only 1 lot of dishes required!) and chuck it all in the fridge overnight. Then the next morning, dump everything in and let the cooker run while you’re at work/uni/home-but-busy and when dinner time comes around, voila! You have a large pot of something yummy ready to go.
NB: Bigger is not always better for a slow cooker, particularly if you are only feeding 1 or 2 people. A slow cooker needs to be at least 1/2 full to work properly, so get a smaller one (3L-ish) if you aren’t feeding a large group on a regular basis (or plan on making lots of really big stews/soups/roasts). I have a big 6.5L one and a smaller 3L one, and the 3L definitely gets a better workout than the big one – I only use the big one if I’m making big pot of something for a get-together or similar. The 3L is our everyday cooking item.
You can still cook slow-cooked meals without an actual slow cooker, but most of those methods use the stove/oven, which means that you can’t necessarily leave the house while it’s cooking.

As promised in my post last month about meal planning, I will be doing a list of my pantry staples VERY SOON. Hopefully ready for next week’s Tutorial Tuesday (fingers crossed!)

~K

 

Easy Stewed Apples

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This is the recipe for stewed apples that my Nan makes to put in apple pie, so I learned how to make this when I was about 4 years old.

I’ve never made stewed apples any other way, and it’s sooooo yummy 🙂

I got 2kg of “ugly apples” at the shops this week for quite cheap – they were not so nice for eating normally, so I decided to cook them up instead.

Makes: a lot – 2kg is usually enough to fill 2 family-sized apple pies.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 – 2 kg of apples (any sort)
  • 1L water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon (as much as you like)

Method:

  1. Peel, core, & dice all the apples. You want the pieces to be approx 2cm square (1/2 inch). This will take a while, put on a tv show or something while you do it. A good thing to do is to have 2 large bowls in front of you, 1 for the diced apples and 1 for the rubbish.
  2. Once you’ve diced your apples, put them in a large-ish pot. I usually use a 2.5L pot for 1.5kg of apples (If I have more apples, I’ll use my big 5L soup pot). Add the water, sugar & cinnamon to pot, and stir gently. The water will not cover the apples completely, it doesn’t need to.
  3. Cover pot and bring to boil over med-high heat. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft enough for your liking. I usually cook mine until they’re about the texture of tinned pears.
  4. Take pot off heat and allow to cool for about 15mins, then drain off the water. Apples can now be used for whatever you like!

This recipe freezes well, I like to freeze the apples in muffin trays (see this post for instructions) so that I’ve got convenient 1/3 cup serves of the apples to add to porridge or whatever. They’re also great to eat on their own like you would with normal tinned fruit.

I’ve successfully used these in recipes that call for “tinned pie apples” – just use the amount stated in the recipe.

One of my favourite desserts is some the apples, heated up, with a little bit of vanilla ice-cream – tastes like apple pie, but without all the fuss 🙂

If you want to use the apples for pie/crumble, cook them a little less so they keep their shape and texture once baked.
If you are wanting to make this into apple sauce, leave out the cinnamon and sugar and blend/mash up the apples once you’ve drained them.

~K

Using Evernote for Meal Planning

This post is not about how to meal plan as such – it is about using some awesome little features in Evernote to make the process much easier.

If you have never done meal planning before, check out this link before you start here. It gives all the basics about meal planning, and will help you get an idea of what you are doing.

Last week on Tutorial Tuesday, I showed you how I organised my recipes in Evernote. Now I’m going to show you how I use those recipes to make up a comprehensive meal plan for the week.

What you’ll need:

  • Evernote program on computer (Mac or PC) – Please note that for this, you WILL need the computer program. The tablet/phone apps do not (in my experience) allow some of the actions we will be using in this tutorial, but once you have finished your meal plan you can use it on a tablet/phone.
  • Your recipes
  • A bit of free time

How to:

I’m assuming that you already have some sort of recipe archive in Evernote.

Step 1:
First thing you will need to do is make up a notebook called “Meal Plans” or something similar.Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.07.22 am

Step 2:
Next, create a new note in “Meal Plans” and open it in a separate window next to your Evernote window.

Step 3:
Open your “Recipes” notebook in the main Evernote window, then set up your “Meal Plan” note as you would like it. I tend to do 3 sections – Dinners, Lunches, and Baking. You can use whatever headings you would like. NOTE: I don’t plan breakfast as such, as I tend to either forget to eat breakfast, or eat the same thing on the days I do remember (generally toast, unless I’ve made some muffins or something for breakfast).

 Step 4:
This is where you can “shop the specials”, if that is what you want to do.
Collect all your supermarket catalogues (for us, there are usually 3 of them) and look at what is on special. Write down the things that you are interested in and their cost in your “Meal Plan” note. These specials will help you pick what to cook.

Step 5:
Next, select the first recipe you want to add to one of your lists. Click and drag the recipe preview from the centre column (blue box) to your Meal Plan note. Release your mouse button when the cursor is in the location you want on the note and a little green “+” appears (the little green “+” was sitting just next to the recipe title, but it didn’t show up on the screenshot for some reason).

I chose this recipe because canned beans were on special, and I know that I have beef mince in my freezer and several of the other ingredients in my pantry. 

Step 6:
Repeat this until you have a full list to your liking. As you can see, I’ve added some recipes and some notes to my list – for example, I bulk-cook so on busy nights we eat meals that I’ve frozen previously. The green ones are the recipes – if you click on one of them, it will take you straight to that recipe! (This is one of the best things about meal planning in Evernote – no need to go searching for the recipe!)

Step 7:
Make your shopping list.
In the main Evernote window, open your Meal Plan note (still keeping the same note open beside it though).

Click on one of the recipes (green writing) in the main window and it will open the recipe. Now, you can compare what the recipe ingredients are to your specials list, and create a shopping list (I do this in the same Meal Plan note, so it’s all in the same place. If you prefer to use paper instead, that’s fine too).

I know that I have arborio rice, paprika, and frozen peas already in my pantry, so I don’t need to add these to my list 

Step 8:
Once you’re done with a recipe, there is a “Back” button in the top LH corner of the main window that will take you back to your previous note. Once you’re done with all the recipes, you can close the Meal Plan note, and your meal plan has been saved! For good measure (particularly if I’m going shopping straight away) I click on the little “refresh” button up the top of the main window to make sure the notes are synced to my phone/tablet.

 

Now your meal plan is all ready to go!

I generally put aside an hour or so on a Sunday evening to do this, because I do food shopping on Monday nights (Monday is pay day).

~K

Reasons and Justifications

I am terribly torn at the moment.

Part of me feels terrible about the fact that I am not going to be working this year while I am studying. Hubby has said he is totally cool with me not working this year, because the first year of Nursing is full-on and it’s not like we’re going backwards – we’re not really getting ahead in conventional terms, but we’re in a position where we are pre-paying bills and we’re paying a little extra each week off our car loans. We are easily able to afford all the basic necessities for a decent standard of living – we have a nice house, we have cars, we can afford sufficient fuel for our transport needs, we can afford decent food.

But I still feel like I should be doing something to bring in more money, mainly because of “wants” – Hubby wants to finish his custom-made canopy for his ute. We want to buy our own house (instead of renting). I want to be able to buy books and music again, instead of having to wait for them to go on special. We both want the newest shiniest technology. We want to be able to afford to go on holidays, or even just out for dinner and a movie.

It’s all wants, and somehow I feel bad about the fact that I’m not bringing in the money for us to be able to do that.

So, my reasons and justifications for NOT working, just so I can remember for later when I feel horrible and stressed about everything:

  • it’s not even a whole year – I’ll be able to get work in some sort of nursing capacity as of the end of Semester 2 this year (9 months away), and there’s every possibility I can get a slightly better job than most people in that position because I’ll already have a Psych degree.
  • I need to concentrate on my uni work – the last time I was a properly “full-time” student was in 2010, and I’ve honestly forgotten what it’s like to have a full study load. I need to be able to concentrate on my studies and bring up my GPA, so that if I do decide to go on to the MD at the end, my marks will be good enough
  • I need to be sure of my health (mental & physical) – I have always tried to do too much, and I always seem to hit burnout just at a crucial point in the semester. I need to make sure I’ve learned how to manage myself so I don’t screw up this degree.
  • This year is content-heavy, but the next two are far less time-consuming – I have it on good authority (3 nurses, with degrees from different places) that first year is HARD – there’s lots of reading and rote learning, because you just have to learn the base knowledge (the thigh bone’s connected to the… shin bone…) and once you know that, the rest of the time is spent applying that knowledge to the practice of nursing.
  • Living through the discomfort will make you better able to deal with it – one of the CBT things for dealing with anxiety and other unpleasant feelings is NOT to avoid them, but to “sit with the feeling” and consider it, and FEEL it, and let it pass. Eventually, the feelings get less intense, because you are not allowing them to build up by ignoring them – you’re dealing with them, and moving on. The “deal with it and move on” process apparently becomes far quicker with time and practice.

One big thing for me when I’m studying is that I feel guilty for “just sitting and reading” when there are other things I ‘should’ be doing (like cleaning, washing, ironing, etc). Hubby doesn’t have this problem – and I think part of it is because I’M FEMALE, and when I was growing up Mum was a fantastic domestic goddess. My brain conveniently forgets the fact that Mum wasn’t studying or working while she was that domestic goddess. I’m trying to get myself into a routine where certain things get done on certain days, and I’m using all the labour-saving appliances we can afford to purchase and run.

  • I use the dryer ALL THE TIME. It’s not like we live somewhere that has terrible weather so I have no choice, or that we live somewhere with no clothesline – we have a clothesline, and the weather is IDEAL for drying things naturally. But, it takes a total of about 45mins to hang things out and bring them back in, and our clothesline isn’t huge – I wouldn’t be able to do all our washing on one day if I was using the clothes line, because the clothes wouldn’t dry quick enough for me to do 3 loads in a day. Using the dryer doesn’t really add anything cost-wise to our bill, because it’s something I’ve been doing pretty much since we moved out of home – so I’ve never really seen our power bill without it to notice the difference.
  • I don’t iron – or at least, not often. 80% of my clothes are purposely “non-iron”, and most of the others I can get away with not ironing, but I will iron them if I have time (they just look a bit nicer when I iron them). I have maybe 2 dresses and 2 or 3 shirts that really do need ironing – but I can minimise the time it takes by hanging them up while they’re still warm out of the dryer.
  • Set-and-forget food is great. I love my slow cooker – it doesn’t get much of a workout in summer, but in winter I make at least 1 meal a week in it. My cheap-as-chips rice cooker is the best $10 I ever spent, because I can set the rice to go and then all I need to worry about is the sauce/whatever is going with the rice.
  • I love my freezer. I bulk-cook, because making 8 serves of something doesn’t take any longer than cooking 2 serves, but it means there’s always meals in the freezer than I can fall back on for weeks when we’re short on time or money. Often, it’s cheaper too, because generally bigger packets of stuff are cheaper.

I really have no idea where I was going with that. I think I just needed to get it all out of my head. I’m not even sure it all makes sense.

But I’ll publish it anyway, because this is real life and I’m determined not to make my blog a “rose-coloured-glasses” view of my life. You get the whole hog – good bits, bad bits, and everything in between.

~K

P.S. if I’m the only person who now has “dem bones dem bones dem dry bones” stuck in their head, I’ll be very disappointed haha

Using Evernote as a recipe book

http://www.galleryleather.com/uploads/recipebook_glamour.jpg

There’s so many different ways of organising recipes that you collect from different places. You can cut them out and stick them into a pretty book, or write them in (this is my Mum’s preferred method). You can file them in some kind of folders, in whatever categories you want. Or, you can do it electronically!

There’s a thousand and one different “recipe book” apps and websites out there, and while I’m sure all of them are fantastic, they all have their limitations. Most of them, a free membership only allows you to add a certain number of recipes, then you have to pay a monthly fee to access them. If there’s an app, it might only be available on one device, which means that you’re limited to when and where you can do your meal planning and cooking.

So I use Evernote!

For this tutorial, I will not be explaining in detail how to do things in Evernote – I will say something like “create notebook”, but I will not elaborate much further (unless there is a slightly hidden feature you need to use), because otherwise I’d have to do a whole post just on that.

What you need

  • Evernote (this is the website, from here you should be able to find an appropriate download for your computer and devices)
  • A handful of recipes (to get started)
  • Some free time (Put aside an hour or two, depending on how fast you type)

How-To

  1. Download Evernote and install (if you haven’t got it already). To start with, just do it on your computer – that is what I will be using for this Tutorial. Open Evernote, and get yourself set up (if you aren’t already). You will need to create an account, but you can opt-out of getting emails from them, and the account is free. This account is how you will be able to access your recipes from anywhere, at any time.
  2. Down the left hand side there will be a menu – go to the Notebook view, and create a new notebook called “Recipes”Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 9.40.03 am
  3. Double click on the Notebook to open it.
  4. At the top of the page you will see “+ New Note in Recipes”. Click this to add a new Recipe (or use keyboard shortcut ctrl+N for windows, ⌘+N for mac).Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 9.45.22 am
  5. Once your new recipe is open, set it up as you would like to. Shown below is how I set up a recipe card (all my recipes are set up exactly the same way, so it is easy to read).Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 9.51.23 am
  6. If I own the recipe book, I set it up like this because why go to all the extra effort of copying out the steps when I can just grab the book out? I put the ingredient list in so I can use it for menu planning.Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 9.53.17 am
  7. Then tag your recipes (up the top where it says “click to add tags”). I generally tag according to main ingredient (e.g. eggs, bacon, chocolate), meat used (chicken, beef, vegetarian), and number of serves (Serves 1, Serves 10, etc). I also have a “baking” tag, and I then tag those items further as “sweet” or “savoury”, and as “biscuits”, “muffins”, “cake”, or “slice”.
    A few other tags I use – I tag breakfast recipes as “breakfast” (but not lunch or dinner, because in our house those are interchangeable); If it’s something that is baked in a big pan and served from there (like pasta bake or lasagne) I’ll tag it as “bake”; Other similar cooking method tags or by food type, such as “stir fry”, “slow cooker”, “soup”, or “deep fry”
    Most recipes end up with between 4 and 8 tags. Use whatever tags work well for you and your cooking style.
    Tags are very important for meal planning (how I meal plan using Evernote will be another TT post).
  8. If your recipe is from a website and you have the web link, add it to your recipe using the little information button (an i with a circle around it) in the top row. This isn’t strictly necessary, but I think so many years of uni has gotten me in the habit of always referencing EVERYTHING. I find the web links come in handy for when I’m posting recipes from other blogs, because it’s easy to find the original blog post and give credit where it is due.

Feel free to add images if you want to, but keep in mind that pictures are BIG. Evernote has a limit on the total size of uploads, and also has a limit to the amount of data you can upload on a free membership (60MB per month). If you are only using text, you will likely never reach this limit, but if you are using pictures as well, you can get there pretty quickly.

If you want pictures, you can pay for “premium” membership for a month, upload all your stuff, then cancel the subscription (that’s what I did when I was setting up my recipes a couple of years ago). Premium costs about $5 for a month, and you get 4GB of uploads. You can still access everything once you’re back on the free membership, and as far as I’ve encountered there is no limit to the amount of cloud storage space – you can have as many recipes as you like saved there, and you don’t NEED to pay for premium membership to use them.

Please note that just taking a picture of your recipe and uploading that is fine – but you will not be able to search within the recipe, you’ll only be able to search the tags. I like being able to search within the recipe itself, as then I can do things like search for 3 ingredients I have in the cupboard and find recipes that contain those things. I use this a lot when I’m meal-planning, or when I have to cook with what I’ve got in the pantry.

~K

Evernote is available on just about every platform and mobile device, and for free. I am not getting anything from Evernote for this post.

Shopping the specials…

For the past 3 years, I’ve just been shopping at the same one supermarket. I haven’t been using one of the best money-saving tricks my Mum taught me.

Why? 2 reasons. Firstly, convenience – we lived a 5min drive from that one supermarket. Any others were 20+mins drive away, so it was just way to far to even bother. Secondly, timing – monthly pay meant that as a general rule (except for bread and milk) I did a bulk shop once a month, so there was just no point in shopping for specials. If something was on special that we regularly bought, BINGO! Otherwise, we I just bought the same stuff every month and our food bill was roughly the same every month.

Now though, Hubby’s new job means we’re getting paid weekly, and our new house is LITERALLY less than 1km from 4 different supermarkets, so I’ve started shopping the specials again. It’s great, because generally the stuff you want is on special at one of them in any given week.

One thing I had forgotten about it though – how time consuming it was! I’ve got a 3hr block put aside on a Sunday night to sort out my meal plan for the week (takes about 20mins), check the pantry to see what needs topping up & make shopping list (20mins again), then spend about 2-2.5hrs going through the catalogues, comparing prices and deciding what I’m going to buy from where!

At this point, it is worthwhile, because I am not at uni or working at the moment, and therefore I can afford to spend that time doing this. When I go back to uni though, things may change – there is a high possibility that I’ll be eligible for some sort of government assistance once I get the official acceptance paperwork for my Nursing degree (i.e. we’ll have a bit more money week-to-week) and I’ll also have significantly less time to spend on something like this (5 subjects – eek!). At that point I’ll have to decide whether my time is worth the $20-$30 in savings, or whether I’ll just shop at the one supermarket again.

Oh the joys of being an adult…

~K

Real Money-Saving Ideas for Students

This post motivated me to make my own list of things I do to save money as a student (married & living out of home).
1. Use veges and legumes when cooking
Anything where you use mince, you can add beans and lentils to make it go further. I tend to use about 1 cup dried beans/lentils to every 500g mince – this approximately doubles the amount of the meal. Only thing with this is it does require a bit of pre-planning – ideally, you should leave the dried whatevers to soak overnight (I often decide in the morning what I will be doing for tea, then put the stuff to soak then. Gives an 8hr soak, which is about what they recommend on the packet). Always follow the prep instructions on the packet for dried stuff. Canned stuff, generally just drain and rinse (can then be used hot or cold).
Add veges to EVERYTHING. Either chop up stuff that is a bit old and freeze it yourself in bags, or buy the cheapest bag of frozen mixed veg you can find. I do a bit of both – depending whether frozen were on special, and whether we ate all the fresh stuff.
2. Check your local fruit & veg shop
My local fruit & veg shop does these things called “value boxes”, where they put together a box of assorted fruit and veg and deliver it for free (to your house). They put up on their website what is going to be in the box that week, and it changes every week. Usually, a $35 box has about $60-$70 of stuff in it, and will stay fresh for at LEAST 2 weeks (sometimes longer, for hard veges). They also let you swap out 2 ‘items’ for something else (in case you don’t like/allergic to something).
Farmers markets will often do similar things – usually if you go towards the end of the open hours. You can get a huge box/bag of fruit and veg for WAY below cost price.
3. Cook in bulk
This is only if you can – if you’re share-housing, this won’t always be possible. But that said, if you can, GET A DEEP FREEZER (mine was a bday present from my mum). It doesn’t have to be a big one, I have one that is the size of a bar fridge and along with the freezer on the bottom of my fridge, it’s enough. (Also, ‘upside-down’ fridges – with the freezer at the bottom – give you more room in both fridge and freezer. They’re also usually more efficient. Because science – cold air falls.)
Get a whole crap-load of chinese takeaway containers (I buy them in bulk packs of 25 at my local supermarket – usually this is about $5). The 600ml size is just about right for a single serve of something, and they stack well in the freezer. Get some of those little label stickers, so you can put the name and date of your food on the containers – everything looks THE SAME once it’s frozen. Also, you should only keep meals frozen for about 3-4mths (before eating or chucking them out).
This saves me a heap of money on nights when actually cooking something seems WAY too hard, because I already have meals ready to go so I don’t go and get takeaway. It’s also a heap cheaper than buying pre-made freezer meals. They’re also great to take for lunches if you have access to a microwave.
It can take a little while to build up a stock of these meals, but I generally try to cook at least 1 large meal every week to freeze – by the end of a month, there’s 4 or 5 different kinds of meal in the freezer.
*If you’re worried about heating things in plastic containers, just pop it into a glass/ceramic container before microwaving. I use the cheap containers for freezing, and have a small number of more-expensive, BPA-free (and water-tight) plastic containers that I use for reheating and taking food around with me*
4. Buy home-brand
A lot of stuff tastes the same as the brand names – and some tastes even better, or has better ingredients. Eg – the only brand of Oyster Sauce that doesn’t have MSG is the home-brand one, and the home-brand tinned tomatoes have more tomato and less fillers & salt. Go figure.
This is a bit of trial-and-error to find the things that are fine (e.g. tinned tomatoes, rice, pasta, flour, frozen veg, sugar) and things that you’re going to be a snob over (COFFEE, tea, tuna). Buy small numbers of home-brand items and taste them. Some you will HATE, and some will be fine, and some YOU will like, but other people will think are awful (I hate home-brand tuna because of the texture, but my sister thinks it’s ok).
5. Buy on special
Connected to #4 – avoid paying full price. If you live somewhere that does coupons, USE THEM. That will be the end of my comments on coupons though, because we don’t have them in Australia (so I don’t really understand how they work).
Only buy things that you will use!!!!!! And only buy things that you can store without them going gross. So if bread is on special, make sure you have enough room in your freezer to store it. Bread is the only ‘fresh’ food I buy when it is on special. Otherwise, I stick with canned, dried and frozen food (and stuff like toothpaste, toilet paper, deodorant, etc).
Just because something is on special, doesn’t mean you should buy heaps of it – if you only use coconut milk once in a blue moon, don’t buy 10 cans because it’s on special. But, if you use HEAPS of tinned tomatoes, go nuts. I usually buy 10-15 cans when something like canned beans or tomatoes are on special, because I use them for everything.
Meat – please, portion it before you freeze it. Because trying to separate it once it’s solid just DOESN’T HAPPEN. If you get your meat from a butcher, they will usually portion it up for you into the sizes you want if you ask nicely. However, if you’re going to ask for 100g lots, you should probably go when it’s not busy.
6. Buy in bulk
But only if it’s ACTUALLY cheaper. (See #4 & #5 as well). Sometimes, the unit price ($ per 100g) is actually higher for bigger packets, because companies know that we instinctively think ‘bigger is better’. If your supermarket doesn’t put the unit price on the shelf label, carry a calculator and do the maths yourself. Often when a smaller size of an item is on special, it actually turns out to be cheaper to get multiples of the little ones (compared to 1 big one).
Meat – portion it before you freeze it (I know I’ve already said this, but it is important – I learnt this from experience). Because trying to separate it once it’s solid just DOESN’T HAPPEN. Butchers usually also have specials where the price per kg is cheaper if you buy more. If that’s the case, get a larger amount and portion it up.
Buying in bulk is one thing that can be difficult when you’re on a budget – sometimes, there just isn’t any spare money to get the extra to take advantage of the cheaper bulk pricing. Often it’s worth biting the bullet and going without something less important/urgent to do it though, because it frees up money in future shopping budgets.
7. Don’t buy pre-packaged
Single-serve packets of oats, chips, biscuits etc may seem good for portion control, but they’re hard on your pocket. Buy a normal bag/packet, and some sandwich/snack bags (cheap shops usually have these for 1/2 the price of the supermarket) and pack up your own single-serve snacks. Keep them in a large air-tight box (those cheap snack bags aren’t always air-tight enough to keep food really fresh).
8. Make use of Food Banks
These are FANTASTIC for when you only have maybe $30 a week for food – sure, stuff is often past the ‘best before’ date, but for most stuff that’s ok. Bread I would personally avoid (for food-safety reasons), but things like cereal, biscuits, canned food are usually FINE. Just check that cans aren’t distended (a sign that they are not safe to eat). A lot of these places also have free fruit & veg if you get other stuff too (keep in mind, the sort of “food bank” I’ve had experience with is the sort where everything is a negligible cost – like ‘fill a box for $10’ or similar). I don’t know how these things work in other countries, so do your research first.
9. Slow-cookers are your friend
This ties in with #3, because there’s not much point using a slow-cooker unless you can cook in bulk. Even the smallest ones make enough to feed at least 4 people. I own a HUGE one (6L) and I generally make one-pot meals like soups and stews. I have basic ’templates’ for minestrone soup and beef soup that I use a lot, and I’ll post them as I go along. I tend to only use the slow-cooker in winter, but you can use them year round.
Slow-cookers are great because you can get cheap cuts of meat (which are usually quite tough) and the long cooking time makes them tender and yummy. I would recommend browning the meat before putting it in the slow cooker – a lot of people will say this isn’t necessary, but for tougher cuts it does help with keeping them moist. Slow-cookers are also fantastic for busy days – the cooking times are very flexible, so if you’re going to be out of the house for 10hrs but the cooking time says 8hrs, that’s ok. Most recipes, if it’s 4hrs on High, it can be cooked instead at 8hrs on Low (and vice-versa). As a general rule, 1hr High = 2hrs Low. They’re great for time-poor students, because they’re set & forget (until it’s eating time).
A few health & safety notes – NEVER add frozen anything to a slow cooker. Always defrost everything first (overnight in the fridge, or in the microwave) otherwise it will spend too much time in the ‘danger zone’ for bacteria growth. Also, never put the pot insert straight from the fridge into the cooker – the sudden temperature change could cause it to crack. If I’m prepping the night before, I put all the ingredients in a big plastic container in the fridge, and tip it all into the pot in the morning.
10. Learn to cook from scratch
This has a couple of aspects – learning to cook things using basic ingredients (not packet mixes), and learning to cook with whatever you have.
Cooking without packet mixes
It can take a little while to build up a store of ‘cooking stuff’ like flour, herbs & spices, basic sauces (not pre-made stir fry sauces, but things like soy sauce) and other cooking/baking items, but it is worth it – once you’ve got them, you only need to replace 1 or 2 at a time, which ends up quite cheap. All these sorts of things keep almost indefinitely, and once you’ve got them, you can start with the second part of this: cooking with what you have.
There are some things I still buy packets/bottles for – curry paste and some stir-fry sauces. Have a look around, sometimes it’s cheaper to buy things in a bottle/packet even when they’re not on special – I have had NO LUCK with making a successful sweet & sour stir fry sauce myself, so I buy that. Curry pastes (as in the mixes that come in jars and are the texture of peanut butter) are great, because you can make your curry as spicy as you want, which is something that a lot of pre-made sauces don’t let you do. I usually buy a couple of recipe bases when they’re on special, because they’re always good to have in the cupboard for if Hubby has to do the cooking (he hasn’t got the ‘from scratch’ thing down yet).
Cooking with what you’ve got
First tip here – learn what things taste like. Learn what flavours you like, and what you don’t. Do some research and make a list, if that helps – e.g. “curry spices”, “things that work with tomato”, “things that work with beef” etc (I’d also suggest having a “things that don’t work together” list if you’re doing this). There will be a bit of trial and error, but you’ll gradually learn what works and what doesn’t. I started cooking like this while I was still in high school (when I was about 15), and I’m now at the point where I can decide what to add just by tasting or smelling whatever I’m cooking. Sometimes, if I’m not sure what I want to add but I know it needs something, I’ll go through the cupboard smelling all my herbs, spices and cooking sauce stuff to work out what needs to be added. And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS add small amounts at a time – it’s easy to add more of something, but impossible to remove it if you add too much.
If you find something is too salty, or too spicy, adding milk/cream/yoghurt or potatoes can help undo some of it, but not all of it.
11. Bake!
I love baking. LOVE baking. I’ve had some epic fails – my most recent one was because I grabbed the wrong flour (moral of the story – label your containers. Plain flour instead of Self-Raising makes for a dry gross coaster, not a cake). Never say “I can’t bake” – like everything, it takes practice. I procrastibake – which is where you use baking as a study break, or as a way of AVOIDING study. The benefit is that you get something yummy and useful out of it at the end.
Bake your own snacks – you like banana bread? Bake it yourself, and freeze it. Muffins? Make a double batch and freeze. BUT always follow the recipe – baking is a lot more likely to be inedible if you don’t (unlike meals, where they’re pretty much edible unless you burn the crap out of them).
A few notes about my food tips
I’m assuming that you are already minimising takeaway and taking packed lunches to work/uni. If you’re not, you can save a heap of money by doing this.
Also, anything that quotes costs – I have NO IDEA what things cost in other countries, or what the average food costs would be for you. I have run the full range of food bills since moving out of home, ranging from $30 a week for myself and Hubby (when he didn’t have a job and I was working 2 casual jobs as well as full-time uni) up to around $300 a week (when both Hubby & I were working full-time, and before I went back to uni). Our current income means that our monthly food bill (I now think in months, as Hubby is on monthly pay) is now about $300 (sometimes $400 if I run out of EVERYTHING, and sometimes down to $200 if there’s a lot of other bills that month).
I have found shopping at Aldi to have mixed results at best – sure, stuff may be cheaper, but it usually only has half the stuff I need, so I have to go somewhere else anyway. Which I hate, because it means wasting time and petrol to get to another shop. Because of that fact, I shop at the one supermarket 99% of the time, because it is literally a 2min drive from my house, and also has a butcher in the same block of shops. I also know exactly where everything is, so I can fly through my shopping. I used to ‘shop the catalogues’, because that’s what my Mum taught me to do – work out what’s on special and where, make a list for each shop, then buy those things at those separate places. This works fine when you live really close to a big shopping centre (Mum lives 5mins from a centre that has Coles, Woolworths, Big W, Kmart and Target, as well as a vege shop and a butcher) but if everything is separate (like where I live) the time & petrol spent driving around to all the different shops isn’t worth it.

Now for some non-food-related tips

12. Really look at your transport use
Do you drive everywhere? If you do, look at ways you can cut that down – walking, taking the train/bus, riding a bike (or a combination of the above). Look at everything – travel time, cost, location. Because it takes me 45mins to drive to uni, and then parking costs $1.50 an hour, I drive to the train station and get the train in – time-wise, I have to leave home 15mins earlier, but it only costs me about $6 return for the train (compared to $9 for 6hrs of parking and 1/4 tank of petrol). Don’t drive if you don’t have to – out of milk? Walk to the local shops (if they’re close enough), or include it in some other trip (on your way home from somewhere, or get someone to grab it on their way – like if housemate/partner is on their way home from work/uni/whatever). Walking/biking will also get in some incidental exercise, which is always good. CARPOOL – best invention ever. Evenly share it between a few friends, and everyone saves.
13. Volunteer to be “Designated Dave
This can save you a FORTUNE (and your friends too). Taxis can be expensive and very hard to get after everyone is finished partying for the night, so this is the set-up I have with my friends: They all come to my place (or I collect them), I drive everyone to the location. They pay for my softdrinks, and pitch in $5 each for the trip, and then I drive everyone home. ‘Home’ can sometimes be everyone crashing at my place, or direct to their own homes (depending on where they live compared to me & the venue). If they crash at my place and want a hot cooked breakfast the next day, it’s an extra $2. Some people may think this seems a bit rude (“You charge your friends!?”) but it is a setup that has been running happily for many years now. All my friends understand WHY I ask for the cost, and they are happy with it (because $7 is a HELL of a lot cheaper than a taxi).
14. Have fun without going out
Stay in and do things, rather than going out. Have a games night, a LAN party (everyone in the same room, not over the internet), a movie night – make dinner pot-luck, with everyone bringing a designated ‘food’ (e.g. salad, dessert). There are HEAPS of things you can do. Personally, 1 thing I recommend that EVERYONE does at least once – camp in your own backyard. Seriously. It’s fun, but without all the inconvenience of having to pack up the car and then unpack it all – and you can’t forget anything! Get a brazier and cook over a fire (if you can), make s’mores, do all that stuff.
15. Do things that are free
Check out free concerts & events happening in your area (local libraries often have information about this kind of stuff). Go bush walking, go for a picnic, go to the art gallery or museum – once again, there’s HEAPS of stuff you can do.
16. Learn to drink in moderation
Or don’t drink at all. The extent you take this to is up to you, but alcohol is EXPENSIVE, and you don’t need to get plastered to have fun (see #13, #14 and #15). This can be difficult, especially with the ‘drinking culture’ that surrounds universities and colleges (and anyone up to about 30 yrs old really). It’s all about knowing your limits, and being able to say no. Practice in small social situations with friends – practice saying no to drinks, PARTICULARLY after you’ve already had one. Set limits for yourself, and stick to them. Have a “drinking buddy”, someone who will remind you to say no and will help you stick to your limits. With time and practice, it will become natural and easier. This exact situation is why #13 came about – I’ve never been particularly interested in drinking, so friends started asking me to be their “drinking buddy” and stop them getting plastered/into trouble.
Sort of on this same topic, but sort of food-related – avoid soft drinks except for special occasions. You’d be surprised how much you can save by drinking water (or even cordial) instead. And it’s better for you.
17. Join a library
And I don’t mean just the one at your university. Join the local library, and the state library if you can as well. Most don’t just have books – they’ll have DVDs (movies and TV shows), CDs, Audiobooks, magazines, and access to e-books (among other stuff). If you have something like Netflix/Quickflix, you may be able to ditch your subscription – FREE MOVIES AND TV SHOWS PEOPLE!!!!
18. Use less paper
This is pretty much a purely student-based one, and will vary a bit depending on your personal circumstances and study methods. Don’t print the lecture slides – open them on your laptop or tablet, or even your phone (if you only want them for reference during the lecture). If you do have to print something, print double-sided (this is a cost-effective option for me, as our uni printing thing is cheaper if we print double sided – it may not be the same everywhere). Take notes on a computer/tablet. Use a planner app on your tablet/phone/computer – cheaper than buying a new diary/planner every year, and all your information is backed up in case something happens. The most expensive planner app I’ve seen is about $15, so that’s still a HEAP cheaper than most decent diaries/planners, and you don’t have to keep buying a new one every year.
This is one that needs a bit of an investment first to make it worthwhile, but if you can manage to afford it, a decent tablet or laptop is WELL WORTH THE MONEY (but also refer to #19, and always do your research first so you know that whatever you buy is going to go the distance).
19. Don’t replace something unless it’s past its usable life
Seriously – I know it’s really nice to get new stationery every semester, but do you really need new pens/highlighters/sticky notes/notebooks? A lot of the time, the answer is NO. Buy a big pack of decent pens/highlighters at the beginning of the year, and they’ll last you the whole 12mths+ (once again, unit price here – cost investment at the start for value later). Buy your normal notebooks, and at the end of semester, rip out the pages you used and see what’s left. There’s probably enough paper there for another subject, so don’t go and buy another book. If it looks ratty, go nuts with a collage look or something funky and artistic, then cover with clear contact. This also applies to electronics – unless your computer/phone/tablet/mp3 player has completely gone cactus/is completely obsolete, do you REALLY need that shiny new thing? (This is something I really need to concentrate on, because I’m a bit of a tech-head and I LOVE all things new and shiny.)
20. Make use of your own abilities
Are you good at cooking, but can’t sew to save your life? Find a friend who can sew, and see if you can do a barter – they can hem those pants you’ve been meaning to get done, in return for some of your home cooking. The possibilities are endless. Don’t pressure anybody into doing a swap, but most people are more than happy to do it if you have something they need as well.
As you can see, I’m a firm believer in investing in decent stuff to save money later, where and when you can. This applies to bigger items too – like electronics, furniture and clothing. Spend a little more (if you can) and buy something that is good quality and won’t age, or become obsolete quickly.
~K

Easy (Cheap) Minestrone

So, I made this yesterday. The recipe varies a bit each time I make this, depending on what I have in the pantry – but this is the basic template.
In my big slowcooker (6L), this makes about 12 serves.

Basic ingredients
– 2x 440g cans diced tomatoes
– 2 cups of various dried beans/legumes/soup mix (soup mix has split peas, barley and a few types of beans in it) (or canned beans – you’d need 2-3 cans)
– 1 stock cube (or replace 500ml of the added water with premade
– 1 brown onion, finely chopped
– 250g dry pasta
– seasonings/herbs to taste (I generally add worcestershire sauce and some mixed herbs)

Optional extras
– diced bacon
– various veges (celery, swede, turnip, potato, carrot, spinach, cabbage, WHATEVER). Hard veges and spinach/cabbage should be added at the start of the process. Frozen veges should be added with the pasta (or they’ll go to mush)

Method
1. If you’re using dried beans, set them to soak for at least an hour (but overnight is best) before starting this recipe. Adding a tsp of bicarb to the water helps them rehydrate quicker. Make sure you rinse them before adding to the slow cooker.
2. Put everything except the pasta into a slow cooker. Add about 2-3L of water and set to Low. Leave for about 8hrs (flexible time here, I left the lot I made yesterday for 12hrs purely because I went out and was out for longer than I planned).
3. About 1/2hr before serving, add pasta and seasonings to taste. Set cooker to High and leave for an additional 30-45mins, or until pasta is al dente.

This freezes fantastically, and I’d happily eat it every day for lunch during winter 🙂
If you dont have a slow cooker, this can be made on the stove, you just have to keep an eye on it so it doesnt burn or boil over. Bring to boil then reduce to lowest heat setting, leave (stirring occasionally) until beans etc are cooked through, then add pasta.
For a smaller pot, just halve all measurements (except the onion – just use the whole thing, it’s easier).

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