Friday, December 18, 2009

Broody chooks

We have four lovely chooks who, until recently, provided us with all the eggs we needed plus some surplus. But one by one they all went broody. My knowledge of chooks is not great - I rely heavily on the internet for information. I also asked around my friends and family for advice. My understanding of this whole broody thing is that the chooks go through a hormonal thing and decide it's time to have some chicks. In our situation that is really not going to happen especially given that we have no rooster. But our four lovely chooks obviously didn't know that and spent nearly all of their time snuggled down in the nesting boxes - and not producing any eggs. After asking around we finally found a solution that has worked. We blocked off the nesting boxes from the rest of the coop for two days.

The picture below shows my four girls looking distinctly grumpy sitting on their perch.

They seemed to feel this was cruel and unusual punishment but once we unblocked the nesting boxes their whole mood was different - they were back to scratching around in the grass, eating well and happily clucking. And the best result is that today we had an egg! Yay! At least we now know what to do.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More changes afoot!

Apologies for the lack of posting recently - there has been a lot going on around here.

The most fantastic news is that in about a month's time my youngest son and his girlfriend will be moving into their very own house. That means I will officially be an empty-nester! They are moving out on 22nd January. We are all very excited (mega-excited!) about the move. The house they have bought is perfect for first-home-buyers - it's a lovely 3-bedroomed house on a small section.

I have decided that I will spend my spare time (hahahaha, not a lot of that) de-cluttering my house. I made a start on the weekend when I cleaned out one of my two bookcases. I now have two big boxes of books to donate to a charity store and three bags of magazines are ready for recycling. Plus the bonus for my son is that there is now an empty bookcase looking for a home. I love the feeling I get when doing a big clean-out so I am looking forward to sorting through the rest of my house.

I know I still haven't posted with the summary of my no-spend month from November but will get that sorted very soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I won a draw (and am slightly red-faced!)

To me, part of being a blogger is spending time reading other people's blogs. I follow a number of blogs - usually a mix of personal finance, simple living, home-making, gardening and fitness. And every now and then I encounter blogs which grab my interest. One of these is a blog titled Ramblings of the Bearded One. This blog is authored by Kim Ayres of Scotland who has an interest in photography and is also a very entertaining writer.

Recently Kim advertised a prize draw he was going to run. Basically Kim invited readers of his blog to submit a photograph to him and one randomly selected person / photo would have their photo enhanced by Kim. This was too good a chance to pass up so I duly sent off a photo of my mother and I and asked Kim to see what he could do with it. Well, I won the draw! To see the results of the enhancement work on my photo go to : - watch the video (with sound) and see what you think!

All I need to do now is figure out how to copy and paste my wrinkeless photo onto my face! It is certainly interesting to see the changes that can be made - Kim is a very clever man! Thanks to Kim for showing me what can be done!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Yummy Portuguese Chicken Recipe

This recipe has been appearing regularly on our menu since we found it a month or so ago. The recipe is from the back of a Pams frozen chicken (Pams is a budget brand here in New Zealand).

Whole chicken
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped finely (or a good sprinkle of chilli flakes)
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup (125 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1. Pre heat oven to moderate temperature
2. Wash chicken under cold water. Cut along both sides of backbone - discard backbone (or keep for chicken stock). Place chicken skin side up on chopping board, press down on breastbone to flatten the chicken.
3. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken.
4. Cook for 2 hours.

Now the bonus of this recipe is that we use the leftover carcass (including all the seasoning and leftover meat) to make chicken stock for rice risotto the following day. It makes a delicious risotto - quite spicy and very tasty.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Update on no-spend month - one week to go

With one week to go I thought it was timely to report on how the no-spend thing is going for me. As previous posts show there were some minor slips earlier in November but overall it's gone pretty well.

Until Sunday anyway.

We did go out for dinner as discussed in a previous blog entry, for my eldest son's birthday. Five of us had a wonderful meal at the Southern Cross in Wellington - this place was chosen because they do stone-grill which is a favourite of the birthday boy. To be honest I like stone-grill too - it's one way of ensuring your steak is cooked exactly how you would like. The evening was quite mild so we sat out in the garden bar. We enjoyed watching people who had turned up for the Sunday night free dancing lessons. None of us were game to join in but it was interested to watch.

The evening cost about $250 (eek!) but was worth every cent. That was for five adults including our drinks so not bad overall. After dinner we went home for birthday cake as shown below. Just so everyone is aware, my son just turned 23 but it's a bit of a family joke to have kiddie birthday cakes - last year was a race-track and this year the theme was Batman. My youngest son's girlfriend did a wonderful job with shaping and decorating the cake.

I will draw up a report at the end of the month showing exactly what was spent and maybe some tips on how to "not spend".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sticky Gingerbread Recipe

This is a new recipe I came across. My collegues at work love it so thought I would share it - it's really moist and absolutely delicious.

1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup golden syrup (yes, a cup!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
100g butter
1 cup brown sugar (just in case there wasn't enough sweetness in the golden syrup)
1 egg
2 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius

Combine boiling water with golden syrup and baking soda. Leave to cool slightly.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix in the golden syrup mix and then add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix until smooth.

Pour into lined loaf tin (don't try treat and just grease the tin - I did and it was not a good idea). Bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until cooked. If anything it takes a little longer to be cooked through.

The first time I made this loaf I sliced it all up and froze half of it. It was just as good after being thawed from frozen as it was fresh.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One small slip and a big one looming

Today I confess that I bought my breakfast from a cafe - $7.50! It was delicious but it felt so wrong to be eating it. To explain how this came about...... I went to the gym at 5:30am (this is normal for me so don't panic on that!), drove to town and arrived at work too early to get in (7:30am). I then realised that I had an 8am meeting, a 9am meeting and a 10am meeting - no time for breakfast at work which is what I usually do. So I ducked next door to work and had some yummy scrambled eggs on toast with peppermint tea. Maybe this is a justified spend? Or maybe I should have planned things better.

The upcoming big issue is that it's my son's birthday on Monday. I planned ahead on this one and bought his gift last month and thought I was very clever. What I hadn't planned on was his birthday dinner. The way I work birthdays is to let my sons decide what they would like to do for their birthday dinner. I thought I could set things up for a dinner at home - food of his choice. But, when I broached the subject he was dead set on eating out at a stonegrill place. I very subtly tried to sway him but he was firm about what he wanted. So I have agreed - what an indulgent mother I am (some would say over-indulgent). But, you know, it is a long time since we were all out together for a meal (probably February!) so that is what we will do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 11 - fail on no-spending

Well today is day 11 of my no-spend month and I failed! Luckily it wasn't a big fail at all. A total spend of $2 so I am not kicking myself too hard. :) Basically I caught an earlier train to work this morning and then a later one home - I chose to travel on the "comfortable" train (the Wairarapa one) instead of the usual electric unit. Travelling on that train costs me an extra dollar each way on top of my train pass.

I am pretty happy with my progress on this no-spend thing. It has really made me think about the choices I make.

We are moving towards summer here in New Zealand and I was thinking about my summer wardrobe - or lack of it - there are some really yummy fashions in the stores at present and I spotted a few things today that made me drool. Then I thought about the clothes I already have and realised that I am not wearing most of my summer skirts because they are too big for me (a bonus in some ways as it means I haven't put on the weight I lost at the beginning of the year). So I decided today that I will drag my sewing machine out this weekend and alter my skirts. I figured that I used to sew the majority of my clothes in the past so I am more than capable of taking my skirts in to extend my wardrobe. Yay for me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

8 days down - one slip

As I reach the end of day 8 of my No Spend month I am pretty happy with how it is going. As mentioned in my previous post I met my brother for lunch the other day. We had an awesome lunch sitting in the sun on a glorious Wellington day. It was great to catch up with him and totally worth the $23 it cost for lunch.

All in all the challenge is going well. It has certainly changed how I think about what I am doing every day. The only issue I have is that I have a list of things that is growing day by day of items I need to spend money on - next month. I need some putty to repair my garage window. I need some chicken wire to repair my strawberry bed cover. I am also plotting an extension to my chicken coop so that will require a bit of timber as well as chicken wire.

We've had a great weekend weather-wise - if this is indicative of what summer is going to be like I will be more than happy. The fine weekend has meant I have almost managed to finish painting the garage, mowed all the lawns and been busy in the garden weeding, planting seeds and watering. I made a point of taking my "before" photos of the garden on Friday so will post those sometime soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

4 days down

My No spend challenge has been all good so far.

I have needed to make sure I bring a couple of extra small snacks to work and have tended to stay away from shops to avoid temptation. I was worried yesterday as I flew to Auckland for the day for a training course and felt sure I would end up hungry or thirsty on the trip home. Luckily the lunch provided on the course was substantial and the airline provided some very nice cheese and crackers (and a free beer) so I didn't end up spending a cent! In fact I couldn't face eating any dinner when I did get home.

Sadly tomorrow I think I will fail. I am meeting my brother for lunch in the city and am certain we will end up going to a cafe for lunch. We only meet a few times a year so I figure this slip is ok (with me anyway). What I plan to do is have a late morning snack so I won't need to buy a lot and probably skip having a drink. That will keep the cost down. If I can do lunch for under $10 I won't be too worried as I sold a chess board on Trade Me for $10 so that can pay for lunch.

Monday, November 2, 2009

No-spend month is underway

I mentioned last month that November was going to be a no-spend month for me. Well, today is the 2nd November and so far so good. :) Only another 28 days to get through.

Just to re-cap, no-spending to me means no spending on anything other than essentials. So I will still be paying the mortgage and other bills and will still be buying groceries. But no spending is allowed on entertainment, eating out, hair appointments, clothing purchases etc.

Yesterday was a struggle but I managed to get through with no spending. On Saturday night (still October) I went out to celebrate an impending wedding with friends. This was a big night out for me and I had booked into a budget hotel for the night so I didn't have to find my way home. I woke in the morning feeling slightly under the weather and quite tired. Normally I would have found a nearby cafe and had a nice hot breakfast to kickstart my day. But it was the first day of my no-spend month so I headed home and made myself breakfast. It was a lovely sunny morning so was nice to be at home having breakfast in the sun. After breakfast I spot-primed two walls of the garage in preparation - I get all the fun!

In the afternoon I met a friend to go to the movies. I made sure I ate lunch beforehand and took along a bottle of water from home. That was a successful strategy except that the movie (Julie and Julia) made me feel hungry! I had a voucher for the movies (part of my birthday gift from one of my sons) so no money spent there. After the movie I went straight home and cooked dinner. So no money spent on Day 1! Yay!

Today I have made sure I have brought along plenty of food from home to work so no need to go buy any snacks through the day or on my way home. I made a muesli slice on Saturday to use up some old cereal so that is my "treat" for the day.

I will be posting a bit more frequently this month to give you progress reports.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A healthy spring meal

At the weekly market today I picked up some lovely asparagus which reminded me about this dish. The combination of the ingredients may sound unusual but the result is delicious.

Asparagus Pasta Combo

Ingredients :
350g small-medium waxy potatoes
100g spiral or penne pasta
1 large lemon
freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint leaves
400g fresh asparagus
400g zucchini
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered (optional but a good way of getting some protein)
1 cup black olives (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil

Cook the potatoes until just tended. Drain then cut into small bite-sized portions and immediately toss in 1 tbsp lemon juice (half a large lemon), 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp mint leaves and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside and allow to cool.

Cook the pasta to al dente, drain and immediately refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process and prevent sticking.

Preheat oven to 190 degrees.

Snap ends off asparagus and lay in a single layer on a baking tray. Toss in 1-2 tbsp oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Trim the zucchini and slice each thinly down its length. Place zucchini on a baking tray and toss in oil, salt and pepper. Place trays (or tray if you have only used one) in oven and roast, tossing once, for 7-12 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pasta and potatoes on a large serving platter and pile the vegetables on top with the hard-boiled egg quarters (if using).

Just before serving, toss everything with the remaining juice of the lemon, olive oil, remainder of mint leaves, salt and pepper to taste and olives (if using).

This should be served warm and with warm crusty bread. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Caramel Dumpling Recipe

This is a recipe which we discovered a little while back and has now become one of our firm favourites. Be extra careful making these as it's easy to burn yourself when adding the water.

Caramel Dumplings

Dumpling Batter
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp melted butter

Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter

Mix all dumpling ingredients - set aside.

Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat.

Stir constantly until sugar has melted and turns a light brown. Carefully stir in boiling water - take extra-special care at this stage as steam will be created and it will hiss and spit. You may find that the sugar and water go clumpy - carry on stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add butter and vanilla, bring to the boil and boil for two minutes.

Drop spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture into the sauce (I make 4 large dumplings with the quantities listed above).

Lower heat, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes.

These are best served warm with cream or ice cream. If you would like to make less dumplings you can half the dumpling quantities but it's best to make the same amount of sauce - lots of sauce is yum!

For those in the northern hemisphere this is a great winter warmer dessert recipe. Enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The warmth of spring is here!

As anyone who lives here in Wellington will tell you, the title of this post is untrue. We did have a brief period of spring-like weather quickly followed by an extended wintry blast (included snow in the central North Island).

Lucky old me escaped from Wellington's weather to experience some lovely spring weather when I travelled to Australia a week or so ago.

It was wonderful to have some respite and be able to laze in the sun on the beach. My parents were on holiday and staying in a 2-bedroom apartment on the Gold Coast in Queensland - at a little place called Kirra. Our days started early (5am!) with a cup of tea and a walk of an hour or so on the beach. This was followed with breakfast and any chores before heading to the beach for a spot of sunbathing. We visited several surf clubs, sports clubs and RSLs (Returned and Services League) for drinks, meals and a little play on the pokie machines. The following picture is of the high-rise apartments of Surfers Paradise at about 5:45am as the sun was coming up on one of our beach walks.

We did have one day of wet weather but had planned to do a trip inland to see a natural formation called the Natural Arch (a very original name!). The picture below shows where the stream enters the arch having eroded a hole in the rock over the years.

While I was only away for 6 days it was a nice break and great to see and feel the sun. Spending time with my parents was fun and it was sad when I had to head for home (and back to the rain and wind!).

Maybe spring in Wellington will arrive soon! Sure hope so.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Another step in my master plan of reducing my outgoings is to downsize my house (and subsequently my mortgage).

In the next little while I will have an empty nest and this house is too big for one person and three cats. It's not like it is a mansion by any stretch of the imagination but it is a typical suburban family home . I still have a hefty mortgage outstanding and it makes sense to me to buy a smaller, cheaper property.

Of course I will still need a reasonably-sized section so I can still have my chooks and vegetable garden but there are definitely properties around which would fit my requirements. I can envisage a 2-bedroomed cottage with a decent size backyard.

Before I can sell my current house there are a few projects that need to be finished off - my bathroom renovation for one. Plus my lounge and hallway needs some re-plastering and painting. Finally the carpet right through the house really needs to be replaced. So my focus is to channel all spare cash into completing these projects so that the house is ready to sell some time next year. That No-spend month is coming up soon so that should help.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yummy Chicken Pie recipe

I posted a week or so back about making food to take to work for lunch. One of the things I make is a Chicken Pie. Here's the recipe.

Base :
1/2 cup of uncooked brown rice
1 onion finely diced
1 whole egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon each of cumin, turmeric, dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)

Topping :
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
3/4 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Other veges - corn, broccoli, mushrooms - pretty much whatever you have on hand.

Cook rice, drain well. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (Celsius).

Base :
Saute onion for 2 minutes in a non-stick pan with a small amount of oil. Add spices and cook for a further minute. Place in a medium size mixing bowl, add cooked rice and breadcrumbs mixing well. Beat egg and milk and pour into rice mixture, combine well. Grease a pie dish (23cm) then press the rice mixture evenly around the base and up the sides of the dish.

Topping :
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and milk together. Add the remaining ingredients except for 1/4 cup of grated cheese (which gets sprinkled on top of the pie). Mix all the ingredients together, add salt and pepper. Pour mixture over the rice base, sprinkle remaining cheese over top and bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes or until set in the centre and browned on top.

Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. Can be served hot or cold.

I hope you enjoy this recipe - it's one of my favourites. It would be easy enough to turn this into a vegetarian dish by leaving out the chicken.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What are your priorities?

I have plans to have a No Spend month in November. To me this means I will not spend money on anything that is not necessary. In reality this means no dining out, no outings (that cost money), no clothing purchases, no treats.

When I was considering doing this I realised that for this to be successful I needed to figure out what my priorities are. Of course I could spend money on a meal out but that would mean less money put aside in my savings account. Please don’t think I am one of those people who save, save, save and never spend their money. That is definitely not me. I have some goals to achieve and to be able to succeed with those goals I need to save money. So, for me, it is a no-brainer. If I want to be able to have my lounge re-plastered and painted I need to put money aside. If I want to upgrade my ugly, aging bathroom I need to put money aside. If I want to landscape my front garden I need to put money aside. Getting that work done is more important to me than going out for a meal.

Having a No Spend month should boost the coffers quite nicely and will provide me with an incentive to look at what frivolous spending I can curb without too much pain.

All those small expenses add up to significant amounts of money that could otherwise be saved for those higher priorities. If you are a coffee drinker and spend $3.50 each working day for a takeaway coffee, that mounts up to $840 annually (calculated at one coffee five days a week for 48 weeks of the year). I’m not a coffee drinker so my estimate of $3.50 for a takeaway coffee may well be incorrect but you get my drift right?

Consider what your goals are that require money. Would you like to buy an investment property? Would you like to upgrade your home or car? Would you like to take time out from work? Would you like to rid yourself of debt?

Write your goals down. Work out how much you need to save to achieve those goals. Figure out which goals are most important to you and review your goals regularly. Consider what you are spending on items you could live without. Next time you are about to spend money think about your goals and consider whether the expense is necessary or not. If it’s necessary is there a cheaper option?
For anyone who thinks my bathroom upgrade is frivolous here is a photo of the current bathroom. I’ve lived with it for 8 years and fervently hope that I can upgrade it within the next year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ideas for work lunches

Buying lunch each day works out to be an expensive and sometimes unhealthy proposition. It's easy to pay $6 - $8 just for a sandwich. That all adds up to too much in my book so I bring my lunch from home each day. The trick is to plan ahead so you don't end up bringing the same boring food day after day. It helps that there is both a refrigerator and a microwave available for me to use at work. Plus there is a sandwich press and toaster too.

Leftovers are great to take for lunch as this reduces waste at home as well as providing something tasty. Today's lunch is leftover salad, couscous and two venison sausages. Yum!

Often on a Sunday I will cook something specifically for lunches - this could be a vegetable curry, risotto or soup. I have been delving through my cookbooks recently looking for new ideas. One recipe I found was for a chicken and corn pie - the "crust" is made with breadcrumbs and brown rice and also includes some spices. The filling of the pie is chicken, sweetcorn, eggs, milk, cheese and whatever other vegetables I have in the fridge that need to be used up. I used brocolli and cauliflower in this which made the pie delicious and healthy. I'll post the recipe for this when I get a chance.

I have a few ideas to fall back on when there are no leftovers and I haven't had time to cook anything specifically for lunch. One idea is to cook up some brown rice and a grab a can of tuna - I heat these up and add a good dose of black pepper. Another idea is to make up a sandwich that can be toasted for lunch - my favourite is mushroom, spinach and cheese on grainy bread. Delicious!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Things I've done

Although the following list probably originated in the States I thought it was interesting to do anyway. The things I've done are in bold.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day.

This was an interesting exercise...... makes me realise how much more is out there!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Attitude wins!

The forecast for the weekend was for rain. It would have been easy to plan for a sleepy, laidback day today. Instead I decided to go full-blast and ended up having one of my most productive days for ages.

Groceries were first on the list and were all over and done with before 8am. First thing Saturday morning is my favourite time for getting my weekly grocery shop out of the way. The bill was nice and low which made my day!

I put a load of laundy on and then had scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast (yummy fresh eggs from my lovely chooks!) while reading the newspaper and was at the gym by 9am. After a good cardio workout and some weights I was done with exercise for the day and headed to the library. I selected myself a good mix of books and a couple of movies to watch and then it was off to pick up chook supplies. I put my order in for wheat, laying mash and oyster shell then wandered off to get some cash to pay for it all (the store was having difficulties with their POS system). I managed to get a wee bit waylaid on my way back in the local craft store. I picked up a pattern and some wool to knit a baby jersey for a friend who is expecting. After picking up the chook food I headed for home.

It was raining on and off but it wasn't cold and it wasn't windy so I decided to get out in the garden which is what my original plan for the weekend had been. I finally planted my seed potatoes - I had been feeling guilty for not getting them in earlier but noted that some potato plants that had self-seeded in last year's potato patch had been badly frost burnt during the week so it was probably a good thing I had been a bit slack. I then planted my blackcurrent bushes that a friend had given me - I can't wait until they start producing but apparently it will take a while for that to happen. Once that task was done I got to work in the greenhouse and planted the following seeds : silverbeet, lettuce, sweetcorn, sweet peppers, zuchinnis, squash and chillis. My eldest son had ordered some super-duper hot chilli seeds off the internet so I planted those along with some other chilli seeds (not so hot) that I had bought. I spent a bit of time weeding the herb bed and planted some basil.

That was all the gardening done. I am in the process of having my house painted currently - the painters came the other day and waterblasted the house leaving lots of paint flakes around the place. I hosed the deck off and finally tidied all the miscellaneous junk off the deck that had been there for ages.

By this stage it was mid-afternoon so time to have a lunch break and get some inside jobs done. I spent some time sorting my bedroom out - general tidying up etc then it was time to have a bit of a relax so I watched one of the movies I got out from the library. Once that was finished with it was time to get dinner sorted - tonight we had homemade burgers followed by caramel dumplings - yum! And the evening has been spent getting my knitting underway - it's years since I knitted anything so I had a couple of false starts (of course I had chosen a tricky pattern!) but it's now going nicely.

So, reflecting on how my day has gone I realise today was all about choosing my attitude this morning, getting my body moving and working through my to-do list. Now I am happily tired and very content. Hope you all had a good day!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Father's Day Dad!

Today I've been thinking about my Dad - Father's Day tends to do that to me.

I reckon overall Dad's have a pretty thankless task. I certainly didn't grow up as a Daddy's girl. Our family was very much traditional in that, while we children were young, Dad was the breadwinner and he certainly ruled the roost. Woe betide making a noise when the News was on the tv each night. I still get into trouble every Sunday when I ring Mum and Dad as I always manage to ring when the footy is on. :)

When we were growing up, one look from Dad and you knew when you were in trouble. And I remember the phrase "You just wait till your father gets home!" being said to me on numerous occasions.

But, you know, Dad was always fair and I know he loved us all equally and I respect him for that.

Here's a photo of my Dad with me last March. Love you Dad! Have a great Father's Day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


We have exciting news! Today our chooks have produced our first egg! Here it is!

As you can see from the picture it's a little on the small size but that's ok. It's also a lovely shade of blue - real cute.

Felix gave us a hand finding the egg. He's real helpful like that.

Right now this little egg is the most expensive egg I have ever had so we are looking forward to plenty more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hot yoga!

I've done a tiny bit of yoga before but never really got into it in a big way. The other exercise I am doing at the moment (spin classes, running and weights) is great for my fitness and strength but doesn't do a lot for flexibility. There is a hot yoga place just around the corner from where I am working currently. I picked up a brochure a while back but finally went along to a class last night with a work colleague. All I knew about it was that it was yoga in a hot room and that the class would last an hour and a half.

According to the website ( the room is heated to prevent injury, warm the muscles and allow for a deeper release within the body. The room was certainly very warm with the temperature in the high thirties. The heat reminded me of holidays in Australia and lying on the beach at Port Douglas - yum!

Anyway, the class itself was interesting - parts of it were physically very hard and hurt (to be expected considering I am new to yoga) while others were supremely relaxing. One thing is for certain - you sweat! A lot! But that's ok - everyone in the class sweats buckets too.

They suggest you hydrate yourself before and after the class as well as take in some water during the class. You don't need any specific gear - they hire out mats and towels. I would certainly advise not wearing heavy clothing - singlet top and tights / shorts of some sort is all that's needed.

The leader of the class was really helpful and options were provided throughout the class to make the movements harder or easier depending on your skill level.

After the class finished and I had showered I headed for home - was hugely hungry! I could have eaten a horse!

I have decided to stick with it and attend a weekly class. Have a look at the website mentioned above for more information. There are actually two hot yoga places here in Wellington - both on Tory Street.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Other members of our household

Today I'd like to introduce to the other non-human members of our household. The first photo shows Sam (black and white fluffy male), Rambo (petite tabby male) and Felix (grey and white fluffy male kitten). These three get on reasonably well although the older cats do get a bit fed up with being chased and attacked by Felix.

And here is Rascal - he and Felix don't get on. Rascal needs to be reminded to "not eat the kitten" from time to time.

And, just because he is real cute, here is another one of Felix.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Arrivals

We've taken delivery of our four new "girls" - four young chickens (hopefully all girls but apparently you can't tell until they are older). At least three of them are too young to lay eggs yet but I am hoping the biggest, older one will start producing once she settles into her new home.

So here is the coop I bought off Trade Me

And here a couple of photos of the girls - we have three different breeds (don't ask me what they are though).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exciting news!

Well I think this is exciting news - my youngest son doesn't seem to share my enthusiasm though.

We are getting some hens! I've ordered a purpose-built coop from our local (New Zealand) internet auction site so I am hoping it will get delivered real soon. A friend of mine has a lifestyle block and has different breeds of hens as well as ducks. She has said I can buy some hens from her so I will be getting that organised as soon as we have the coop all setup. The coop is large enough for up to 5 hens.

Once we are up and running I'll post a photo and let you know their names. :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Awesome chocolate mousse recipe

This mousse is a firm favourite in our house. It's pretty easy to make and delicious!

200g cooking chocolate
5 egg whites
200g castor sugar
1 tsp instant coffee powder
300ml cream
2 nips rum or brandy (optional)

Beat egg whites with 100g castor sugar until very stiff. Put aside. In a separate bowl, beat cream with 100g castor sugar and then set aside. Break chocolate into large bowl and melt over boiling water. Stir coffee and rum / brandy into melted chocolate and remove from heat. Add egg white into chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined. Carefully fold under whipped cream. Pour into serving bowl (or individual bowls) and refrigerate for a few hours - cover with cling film to ensure mousse does not absorb other flavours.

Serve wtih fresh fruit and cream - or simply eat it as is.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Changes are afoot

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. There have been some changes happening in our household. The Optimist is moving on so this is, obviously, resulting in a number of changes. Our separation is very amicable - which is proving hard to get our heads around. We kept feeling like we should be shouting and arguing but we're not. All of which is a good thing.

In some ways I am quite excited about what the future holds at the same time as feeling sad that our marriage didn't work for us. Those who know me well know I am a strong person and very independent. I've accepted the situation and am now in "planning mode". Our home will be quieter and slightly emptier. I've re-hashed my budget and re-set my goals. We've worked well together to separate various accounts, etc and now we will embark on our separate lives.

I'll be back blogging properly very soon so watch this space.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies

The following recipe is a favourite of all who have tried the resultant cookies. The original recipe stated 1-2 cups of chocolate chips. I found that amusing. Of course the cookies should only ever be made with 2 cups of chocolate chips! When my son and his girlfriend make these cookies they like to use an assortment of chocolate chips - milk, dark, white, mini-m&ms, etc. I do the budget version - the cheapest chocolate chips I can find at the supermarket.

The recipe makes loads of biscuits - 5-6 dozen depending on how big you make them.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp hot water
2 tsp vanilla essence
3 1/4 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Beat butter, brown sugar and white sugar until pale and creamy. Add eggs, hot water and vanilla. Beat until fluffy then scrape into a large bowl.
Sift together and stir in the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop teaspoonfuls on greased oven trays and bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recipe time

The following is the recipe I use to make Anzac biscuits - these have been stunningly popular with the people I work with and are simple to make. The original source of the recipe was the Australian Womens Weekly.

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain white flour
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup coconut
125g (4oz) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon boiling water.

Combine oats, sugar, flour and coconut in a bowl. Gently melt butter and golden syrup, stir while melting. Mix soda with boiling water then add to melted butter mixture. Stir into dry ingredients. Place tablespoonfuls of mixture onto lightly greased oven trays, allow room for spreading. Cook in slow oven for 20 minutes (around 150 degrees). Loosen while warm, then cool on trays.

The trick to making them into a chewy biscuit seems to be to cook them slow and maybe add a bit of extra golden syrup. The recipe should produce quite a flat biscuit.

The other recipe that I've made a couple of times recently is for a gooey chocolate cake. This is divine - a nice moist rich cake which is just as good heated the day or two after.


100g dark cooking chocolate
150g raspberry jam
125ml cream

30g cocoa powder
60ml milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
90g raspberry jam
115g softened butter
65g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
80g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Generously grease a 22cm round cake tin.

For the topping, put the chocolate, jam and cream into a small pan over a medium heat. Stir until smooth, then pour into the prepared tin.

In a bowl, mix the cocoa powder with 125ml boiling water, stirring until smooth, then add the milk, vanilla and jam, whisking to combine.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Using a large spoon, fold the dry ingredients and the cocoa mix into the creamed mixture, alternating the two, then fold the raspberries through.

Pour the mixture into the cake time, ensuring you spread it right to the edge and cover the topping completely. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cake is firm. Leave the cake to cool in the tim for 15 minutes. If you're not serving straight away you can refrigerate the cake in the tin, but you will need to warm it in the oven before turning it out.

Turn the cake out onto a plate (be warned - use a big plate as the topping tends to run everywhere!). You may need to scrape some sauce out of the tin and spread it over the top of the cake. I think the cake is best served warm. Also, the last time I made this cake I made it the day before, let it cool, refrigerated it and re-heated it the following night. It was just as good as if we had eaten it the night it was cooked.

The downside of this recipe is the vast number of bowls needed - lots of washing up to do - but the cake is delicious!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A busy weekend in the kitchen

This weekend has been a grey, dull one weather-wise so I've spent most of it in the kitchen happily trying out some new recipes.

Yesterday (Saturday) I found a new recipe on the internet for a creamy lemon chicken pasta dish. This was a great success and the family all seemed to like this one. I made garlic bread and spinach salad to go with it. Yum! For dessert I made a chocolate mousse which always goes down well.

Today (Sunday) I needed to find a recipe to use up the egg yolks left over from the chocolate mousse. I was going to a friend's house for lunch today and wanted to take a couple of things for that. I found a recipe for Cinnamon Swirl bread on a forum and spent the morning making that. For a savoury dish I made some Kumara and Cashew fritters out of one of my recipe books. They were very simple to make and tasted great.

After lunch I came home and made a banana cake to take to work and then started to prepare our dinner. I had a new curry recipe to try (Chicken Rendang) and a recipe for roti bread which I hadn't tried before. Both turned out really well - the roti bread was especially yummy! For dessert I made fluffy banana rice puddings. These tasted great but didn't rise as expected. I don't know if I would try that recipe again. In searching online there were quite a few other rice pudding recipes that I'd like to try.

Now my weekend creativity is at an end - it's time for bed and the start of another working week tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fitness and health

One of the parts of my current "mission" is to improve and maintain my fitness as well as staying healthy. In addition I want to pass on to my family any tips I can so that they may benefit as well.

On the fitness side, I have always been quite an active person and up for a challenge. As I age my body is not so keen on some things which I find a real source of frustration. Over the past few years I have been a regular gym goer and have got into cycling (road). I used to hate cycling but stuck with it until I reached my current state of loving it. Unfortunately I have a severe elbow injury and have been warned it may be 12 months before I can ride my bike again. I have also been a runner in the past but that has always ended in tears (and injury).

Anyway, my belief is that I should be doing something active 6 days of the week and I give myself one day for my body to relax (and recover). At the moment it's all at the gym until I can get back on my bike. I kick-started my year by signing up to a programme at the gym to "drop a dress size". The exercise was hard out and the programme also covered off nutritional guidelines. I dropped 5 kilos over 6 weeks which I was very happy with. Since the programme finished I have lost another kilo and am happy with the weight I am now at. My current exercise regime is 3 or 4 spin classes a week, 1 or 2 weights classes and 1 or 2 cardio / weights programme. I try to mix it up a bit each week so I don't get bored and so my body doesn't get too used to a particular regime. I'm investigating yoga currently as I would like to stretch more, gain strength and relax.

For me, in the past, when I have been less fit I wasn't happy. I would find I was lacking in energy and was unhappy about how I looked. To me that is my motivator. Feeling energised and comfortable in my own skin is incredibly important. My exercise regime may seem over the top to some but, for me, it is just right. I think any activity we do on a regular basis is good for the body and soul - from walking to swimming to running to dancing. Anything that gets the body moving. On the financial side of things it would be good to not be paying for a gym membership but while I am coping with this injury the gym gives me the ability to keep my level of fitness up.

On the health side of things, I believe that eating well-balanced meals and getting adequate rest are must-haves and key to being healthy and well.

The majority of our meals are cooked from scratch and I am focused on reducing our intake of processed foods as much as possible. I have been caffeine free for a few years now and this year have drastically cut my alcohol intake. I now go for weeks without any alcohol and feel so much better for it. I've cut down the amount of meat I consume but I don't think I will be going vegetarian any time soon - I like meat too much to do that. :)

I enjoy cooking which is lucky for my family and am always looking for interesting new recipes to give us some variety. I work hard to ensure we get a good amount of fruit and vegetables as much as possible and love it when our garden is producing a variety of vegetables. I'm looking forward to spring and getting back into the garden. With hard frosts it is difficult keeping the garden going through the winter. Sleep is important to me. I am an early riser (up at 5:10 during the week) so I am definitely an early to bed person each night. Funny thing is, the odd late night now doesn't impact me like they used to in the past - maybe being stronger and fitter has reduced my dependence on sleep a bit?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's all in the attitude!

I've been mulling over what to write next and decided that an article on attitude would be useful for me as it will help me to refocus.

There are times when stress kicks in, the bills pile up and the weather is horrible (welcome to winter in Wellington, NZ!) when it is hard to stay positive. These are the times, for me, when it starts to get hard to stick to the budget. The thought of dining out, running away for a few days or booking a holiday in a warmer climate becomes incredibly tempting.

We've made a commitment to hold off on spending outside of the budget until our nastiest debt has been cleared. So these are a few tricks I try to make sure I stay on track.

1. I bake and I cook. To me there is nothing better, on a nasty day when I am grumpy, than turning the oven on and cooking up a storm. There is something about the aroma of cookies in the oven and soup bubbling on the stove that lifts my mood immediately.

2. I look at how far we have come since our budget has been in place. I find it inspiring to see that we are managing to chip away at our debt, bit by bit. I like to imagine what life will be like once those payments can be routed into savings instead - that will be a wonderful feeling!

3. I read. I "do the rounds" of all the blogs I follow on the subject of finance and frugality. Often I will come across a post that provides me with the boost I need. If I come up empty-handed I will spend some time searching for new blogs or websites until I find one that gives me the inspiration I need.

4. I plan something. This may be an outing to the movies (using the vouchers I received for my birthday) or we might invite someone round for a meal or we might look at the budget for the next month and squeeze in something special - like a cheap night away somewhere.

5. I take some personal time out. On the weekend just gone, this was curling up in bed with a good book and having a snooze. Those who know me well will know this is completely out of character for me but it really did me a lot of good. My other way of escaping the world is to run a hot bath, make a cup of tea, apply a facial mask and soak for as long as I want.

These may all seem pretty simple fixes but they are do the trick for me. Deep down I know that we are on track to improving things vastly for our future so it's important we don't give up now!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frugal holiday ideas

In the past we've gone on holiday when we have felt like it with no thought to the overall cost incurred. In this new world of ours we've had to re-think our holiday strategy. Instead of simply booking some flights, checking into whatever accommodation we feel like and eating wherever suited us we've had to find cheaper options.

Rent a house : Here in New Zealand there are a few websites with reasonably priced houses and holiday homes for rent (e.g., and are some examples). This option is great for family holidays (lots of room for kids to run around), romantic getaways (nice and private) and for group holidays (grab another couple or two and have a grownup break away). Properties through these sites range from basic, cheap dwellings through to luxurious, more expensive places. Sharing with another family or friends can bring the cost down to a more reasonable level.

Camping : I have to admit I am not a fan of camping. I am used to my creature comforts (bed, shower, toilet, chairs) but for a cheap trip away this would be a good option. Of course we don't have all the camping gear for this type of holiday but I know we could borrow what we need from friends and family. Here in New Zealand there are plenty of options for camping sites from proper camping grounds / holiday parks with full facilities through to camping out on someone's farm or booking into a DoC (Department of Conservation) camping site (they have over 250 vehicle-accessible sites with a range of facilities from none to full-on). See for details. DoC also have cabins and lodges available at reasonable prices.

Home swap : This idea appeals to me. You may decide to swap houses with friends or family living in a different area - this could be at no cost apart from transport. There are also some sites to help with this option - and are a couple of examples. I haven't tried a home swap before but would be keen to try it at some stage.

Food : To save money self-catering is the way to go. I know this may seem like it's not much of a holiday for the cook of the family but this is an opportunity for everyone to pitch in and do their bit. If you stick to simple meals, salads, picnics and barbeques this doesn't need to be so onerous. You could also cook some meals ahead and take them with you - a big pot of soup or a casserole would be fantastic for dinner on a winter holiday.

Activities : I am a fan of relaxing holidays, spending time with the family and generally chilling out. My perfect holidays are those where walking, swimming and lazing in the sun feature predominantly. Personally I am not into rushing around, going to all the tourist attractions, etc. We spent time on our family holiday last year playing cards and board games - there was no television which was fantastic.

In this crazy, busy world we live in, holidaying simply becomes more important. Holidays that give your mind and body time to relax help bring sanity back into your life. Mmmmmm, must start planning our next break away.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A new approach to gifts

Just before Christmas last year, when I was worrying about the state of our finances but hadn't put a plan in place, I was considering what we would do about Christmas. We don't have a lot of extended family around so Christmas is a fairly low-key affair - except for the expectations about presents. This is the first time that I looked consumerism square in the eye and realised I didn't want to go down the track of buying loads of expensive gifts (not that we could afford to anyway). I am totally over buying "stuff" that doesn't last well or is played with for a short time before being discarded to gather dust in a corner. I also had a long think about those less fortunate than us. It doesn't seem right that we can splurge money on frivolous gifts without making an effort to help less fortunate people.

I had a talk to the Optimist, my sons and their girlfriends and asked them to nominate a charity they would like to support. I made a $50 donation for each person to the charity of their choice and bought each person a gift for around $50 each. I enjoyed being able to focus on something for each person that I thought they would really appreciate and they seemed more than happy with their gifts. The Optimist still went and did the usual level of shopping for his children.

I would like to think we can do even better this year. Id like each gift for birthdays and Christmas to be carefully considered so that the gift is something that would be really appreciated and be something that lasts well or provides a lasting experience. Plus, of course, these special occasions will be in the budget so there will be no nasty experience of opening credit card bills after the event. That's a bonus!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grow your own and save

We are lucky where we live as we have a good sized section giving us plenty of room for vegetable gardens. I've been in this house for about 8 years and my original attempts at growing vegetables were not that successful. Over the past couple of years we've built four raised gardens and that has seen a lot more success in the quality and quantity of vegetables grown. Also, last winter we put in a greenhouse for raising seeds and for growing tomatoes. chillies and cucumbers. The greenhouse has been wonderful as we have been able to grow a lot more from seed making considerable savings.

Our garden over summer kept us well-supplied in many of our basic vegetables. We produced tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, sweetcorn, garlic, cabbages, broccoli, peas, zucchinis, celery and potatoes. In addition, our herb garden produces mint, oregano, rosemary and parsley. We're now entering the winter months so the garden isn't looking as luxuriant and is certainly not as productive. But we do have some cabbages and silver beet nearing harvest and have onions, carrots and parsnips doing well.

We struggle with keeping the garden organic (and have failed miserably so far) and I am researching this subject all the time. We've been inundated with caterpillars and slugs. I think, in the future, we will cover the gardens with netting to reduce the damage these pests cause.

In addition to the vegetables we grow we have started to work towards producing more fruit. Currently we have lemon and lime trees in pots, a cherry tree, a grape vine, strawberries, a passionfruit vine, rhubarb and a blackberry. Apart from the grape and strawberries, all the other plants are quite new and not yet producing. Next spring I plan to expand further and would like to plant blackcurrent bushes and raspberries.

I have never calculated how much our garden costs us but, since we have started raising the majority of our vegetables from seed, I know we're saving money every week. We are lucky to have plenty of space for our gardens but, even if we were constrained by space, I would find a way of growing as much as we can. I've heard a lot of good things about square-foot gardening and also container gardening. Both these methods could be used if you have limited space.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More ideas for reducing outgoings

In our day to day lives there are several areas we can look at to reduce our costs. Here are some changes we have made.

Use the library - I read voraciously. When I was at school someone came in one day and taught the class how to speed read. I caught on to that and now can't read any other way. The negative side of this is that I race through books very quickly. One example is a 10 day holiday we had a year ago where I took 6 books to read. Within the first few days I zoomed through those and went and bought another 6 books. That was only just enough! In the past I bought lots of books (I really don't want to add up how many books or how much they cost me!) to feed my habit. I did try to pick up books on special when I could and bought second hand sometimes too. But, still, it was an expensive habit. With our new budget in place I knew that couldn't continue so now I utilise our local library. I go every week or two and check out a stack of books. I never get the bestsellers as they cost a couple of dollars - eventually they turn up in the main library collection. Using the library saves us hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year.

Take your lunch to work - I used to buy my lunch every day at work. I would easily drop up to $10 a day on lunch, often more. Now I take my lunch 99.9% of the time and it saves me lots. Sunday is my baking and cooking day so you will find me in my kitchen making soup, risotto, curry and other dishes for tasty lunches. I freeze meal size portions and then the Optimist and I can take whichever meal we feel like having that day for lunch. At other times I have made up sandwiches and either eaten them as is or toasted them at work. All of this saves us money but also results in us eating healthier meals than a lot of the food that we would have purchased in the past.

Home baking - As mentioned above, Sunday is my baking day. I calculated the cost of making a batch of biscuits one day and figured out that a batch of Anzac biscuits (usually around 40 biscuits) cost me under $3 to make. This didn't include the cost of using the oven. I would struggle to find yummy biscuits that could compete with that amount of money. There are lots of recipes out there that are really easy to follow. If anyone would like my Anzac biscuit recipe let me know and I will post the recipe.

Transportation - This was a biggie for me. I live 32 kilometres from work and used to drive every day. Parking in Wellington was costing me $12 a day and petrol worked out, as a minimum, at $10 a day. I never know how to work out the cost of wear and tear and subsequently maintenance on a car but I know there is a cost associated with that. So, in a nutshell it was costing me over $100 a week to drive to and from work. When I sat down and worked it out I realised it was a no-brainer to ditch using the car and get onto the train. It's a 15 minute brisk walk to get to the station which is a fantastic way to start the day and also a nice amount of time to unwind at the end of the day. A 10-trip ticket costs $64, a monthly pass $192 and a quarterly pass $547. What a huge saving! Additionally in the summer months I started cycling into work 2 or 3 times a week. This takes about an hour - it's flat the whole way. I would take in food and clothes on the train so on cycling days I wouldn't have to carry too much on my back. The added benefit of cycling in was the sense of well-being from having done some exercise and the subsequent increase in fitness and decrease in weight.

I guess one thing I have done is to be very focussed on reducing what we spend so I don't make excuses and just get on with implementing the change. If it is something that is hard I stick with it for 30 days then reassess how I feel about it. I can't think of any instances where I have reverted to the old (more expensive) way of doing things.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Today, in New Zealand, we are celebrating Mother's Day. This got me to thinking about my Mum and how I should show her my appreciation and love. In the past I've sent gifts, flowers and cards and I'm sure Mum appreciated those. This year I've decided to do something different by posting this entry to my blog.

Here's a photo of Mum and I taken last year at my wedding. Isn't she beautiful?

My Mum was born in England but moved to New Zealand when she was in her teens. She married my Dad and had three children - I'm the dreaded middle child! I caused my parents quite a bit of grief through the teenage years but, at no time, did my mother give up on me. She has been there in my darkest hours but also in those times of celebration.

In many ways I am similar to my Mum - very practical, a straight talker, caring and honest. My parents are frugal by nature and I am surprised I didn't "get frugality" earlier than I have. Their basic belief is that you don't buy something unless it is both needed and you have the money for it. If only I have stuck to that over the years. Never mind, now I get it.

Anyway, back to my Mum. She has always supported me in my decisions and been there to provide advice and, at times, a shoulder to lean on.

Mum was the first person I discussed the idea of this blog with. I was quite nervous at the idea of getting this blog off the ground and Mum was the person I went to to discuss the idea, toss up ideas for names and decide on some of the initial topics.

So, Mum, this blog entry is for you - I love you and thank you for all your support and love over the years.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quick after-work meals

I don't know about anyone else but I find it can be a bit of a challenge to get a healthy home-cooked meal on the table for the family during the working week. Over time this is something I have got better at so today's blog entry is all about some of the quick meals I cook.

We do have a couple of limitations in what we cook. The Optimist (my darling husband) can only have red meat once a week due to a cholestoral problem. The result of that is that we eat a lot of chicken. On top of that, I don't eat tomato (makes me ill) so that limits a lot of our choices. I'd like to move to more vegetarian meals but that is something the menfolk of the house struggle with. So here goes with some meal ideas!

Chicken kebabs - before I leave for work in the morning I cube the chicken (usually use chicken breast) and then marinate in a mix of soy sauce, peanut butter and chilli. When I get home it;s just a matter of putting the chicken onto kebabs, grilling them in the oven, getting some rice going in the rice cooker and getting some vegetables steaming.

Chicken burgers - Again I use chicken breasts for our chicken burgers. I slice them through so the fillets are thinner (and this also stretches the meat a bit further) and coat them in satay sauce. I grill the fillets while getting the salad ingredients ready and the bread sliced. The family loves this one, especially when I have bought mini-focaccia breads instead of plain burger buns. If I have enough time sometimes I will cut up some potatoes into generous chips and oven bake them with olive oil and fresh herbs.

Chicken curry - This isn't the healthiest of meals but a real favourite so this one gets on the menu every couple of weeks. I use a curry paste mix for the base of this dish. In New Zealand we have a range called Asian Home Gourmet and our standard is the Chicken Madras (sometimes we will have the Butter Chicken one for a change). To prepare this dish I simply cube the chicken, heat the paste in a non-stick pan, add the chicken and cook for a few minutes before adding coconut milk. I let the curry simmer for 20 minutes or so, cook the rice while that's simmering and then heat some roti bread in the oven. A tip I learnt recently about the coconut milk was to not buy the "lite" version which I tended to do to cut the fat content down. Now I buy the normal version (at the same price as the "lite" one), pour it into a bowl, whisk it up, freeze half of it, add water to the other half and use that. Twice the coconut milk for the same price!

Crumbed chicken - Yet another way of cooking chicken! You can use any type of chicken pieces for this recipe. My family prefers boned chicken breasts but drumsticks and any other portions work just as well. Using my food processor I make a mix of breadcrumbs and dried herbs (could use fresh herbs and I am not sure why I don't do this). Beat an egg in a small bowl and dip each chicken piece in the egg and then the breadcrumb mix. Place on an oven tray. Crush a clove of garlic into quarter of a cup of olive oil and stir. Drizzle the oil over the chicken pieces and bake until cooked. Usually 20 - 25 minutes works for me. I usually serve this with mashed potatoes (or sometimes fresh pasta) and vegetables.

Crumbed fish - this isn't really a recipe! Dip fresh fish fillets in egg and then fresh breadcrumbs and cook in non-stick pan with a little bit of oil (I usually use olive oil but sometimes rice bran oil depending on what I have at the time).

Roast beef - I know, this isn't a quick and easy meal but I am lucky enough to have an automatic oven. This allows me to set the oven to start at a specified time through the day so I can get home from work to find a cooked piece of roast beef in the oven. Fantastic in the wintertime! I buy a cheap cut of beef (usually blade), season it with salt and pepper, place in roasting dish and cover with foil. I set the oven so that it cooks long and slow which results in a lovely tender piece of meat. I wouldn't usually try and have roast vegetables with this as they take time to cook. But sometimes I do my "cheat" roast potatoes - boil potatoes for about 8 minutes, drain, put lid on pot and shake for a few seconds. This roughens up the outside of the potatoes. Put the potatoes into the roasting dish with the meat and cook for half an hour or so. The par-boiling will have partially cooking the potatoes and therefore they won't take as long to roast. The roughened outsides go nice and crispy.

These ideas are all stock standard for our winter menus (in New Zealand we are heading into winter now) but a lot of these are dishes I use in the summer too. Instead of grilling in the oven many of these dishes can be grilled on the barbeque and salads made instead of steamed vegetables. I do have a slow cooker but it doesn't currently get a lot of use. That is something I hope to change this winter.

I will post other ideas / recipes from time to time as I know there are plenty of other busy people out there who are looking for quick meal ideas.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Our grocery bill has always seemed outrageously high so we decided to sit down once a week and plan the menu for the following week.

Each week I ask people in our household to put forward suggestions for the meals they would like. They're used to the rules of the house (no takeaways, no junky meals, etc) so the suggestions are usually pretty good. I weed through them and decide which meals make it to the menu for the week. I base this on the mid-week meals needing to be quick to prepare and cook so that dinner can be on the table fairly quickly once we're all home from work. Weekend meals are generally those that require more preparation time or longer cooking times.

Once the menu has been set I check what we've got in the cupboards and freezer and draw up the shopping list on my computer. I started keeping a price book a while back so enter the prices into the spreadsheet so we have a good idea of how much the groceries are going to cost us. Of course this does vary a bit as prices rise unexpectedly and when items are on special. Also, through the week I will have put other items on the list that aren't part of the menu plan - such as toilet paper, flour, sugar.

Having a list makes the shopping itself a quick and easy task as there is no wandering around figuring out what to buy.

The only items I may buy between the weekly shopping trips are fish and sometimes fruit and vegetables. Most of the time I don't even need to top up the fruit and vegetables.

I am currently looking at changing our shopping cycle to a fortnightly cycle and later may attempt to make it monthly. For now the weekly cycle is working and we are spending significantly less these days.

Also, I buy a 1 litre bottle of milk each week. When it runs out I mix up more using milk powder and pour it into the bottle. I've been doing this for the past month or so and no-one in the house has noticed or made comment. That's another cost saving for us.

Since I started this mission I've also stopped buying some items, including paper towels, serviettes, breadcrumbs and liquid hand soap. Instead of using paper towels I use old rags and wash them. Same thing for serviettes. I refuse to buy breadcrumbs when it is really easy to make my own using old crusts of bread (stored in the freezer until I need them) in the food processor. I've replaced the liquid soap with small bars of soap that I've collected over the years from various hotels, etc.

My next post will talk about some ideas around simple, quick meals that I make during the week. I hope there was something here you found useful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reducing our outgoings

It was great developing our budget and I felt a lot more relaxed knowing there was a plan in place. One thing that the budget told me though is that we were paying lots of money for lots of "stuff" and I was unsure whether all these items were necessary.

I went through the budget and considered each item carefully. Was this something we really needed? Was this something that truly added value to our lives and to our future? Was there a cheaper option available to us? This produced some interesting results and we were able to make a number of changes as follows:

Cancelled our newspaper subscription - now we read the news online and only buy a newspaper on the weekend - saves $30 / month
Cancelled our telephone messaging service - saves $7 / month
Moved our credit cards and transferred balances to lower interest rates - haven't worked out the savings on that yet
Changed mobile telephone plan - saves $35 / month
Started using the train for commuting to work every day - saves at least $35/week probably more
Started cycling to work twice a week - saves $12 / week on train fares

Currently we are spending a lot each month for various insurances including term life insurance, house and contents insurance, serious condition cover, health insurance and income protection insurance. With no emergency fund or savings behind us we see the level of cover we have to be necessary. As our finances improve we will be able to look at reducing some of the insurances we have.

In addition to cutting things from the budget, we looked at what items we had that could be sold online. Due to a long-standing elbow injury my golf clubs had gathered dust for over two years. I thought long and hard about it but then decided they could be sold. Other items cluttering our house and garage were also sold online. All proceeds went straight into paying off debt.

One area we were spending a lot of money on was our grocery bills. With no budget in place we were spending a minimum of $1200 / month (and up to $1500 / month). We decided that we should be able to easily live on $250 / week groceries (bearing in mind that we were catering for between 6 and 9 people for evening meals each day). To ensure we could stick to the budget we started doing a weekly menu plan and developing a grocery list from the menu plan. Menu planning and saving on groceries will be covered off in my next post.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Where are we at?

The first thing we needed to do when we started this mission was to figure out where we were at.

I pulled together all of our bank statements, credit card statements, etc and created a spreadsheet with outstanding balances. The total was really scary!

I then created another spreadsheet where I entered all our transactions for a month - incoming and outgoing. Those totals were scary too. How could we possible be spending that amount of money every month? The good thing about this was that it made me even more determined to find a way for us to live within our means (the old spend less than you earn thing).

I knew that the next step had to be putting some sort of budget in place. This was quite tricky as the Optimist (my lovely husband) has an income that fluctuates every month - working on commission can be lucrative but, obviously, not all the time. Regardless of this we had to put together a budget. What I worked out in the end was that our fixed income each month was enough to live on - all commission could then go straight into debt repayment / emergency savings.

The key thing that makes our budget work is to re-set it every month. At the end of each month we sit down and work out what will be happening within the next month that we need to cater for. For example, any planned trips away, birthdays and other special occasions. We also have a good idea at this stage of the amount of commission we can expect to be paid. If it's been a slow month then the amount to pay off debt is low (we haven't had a month yet where we couldn't make a payment at all).

I don't use any specific tool for our budget other than an Excel spreadsheet. In this I enter the budget amount against each category and then, during the month, I enter in the actual spend. I leave our credit card payments until later in the month so if other unexpected expenses come up I can jiggle things around. I'd rather do that than tap into our emergency fund.

The other thing I learnt from putting a budget in place is that we were paying for lots of "stuff" that didn't seem to be critical to us. The next step was to work through all of our outgoings and decide if we could live without the service or product. That will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blog kick-off

Greetings to all who have stumbled across this blog.

I've thought about setting this blog up for quite a while now. I starting following a number of blogs last year when I hit a point in my life where I knew I needed to change my way of thinking, especially in regard to my finances. So this entry is to introduce you to me and explain a bit about what I hope to achieve here. This blog will cover financial planning, frugality, healthy eating and other related topics.

I'm in my mid-forties and I am married to a wonderful guy (let's call him the Optimist). I have two adult sons (one still at home with us) and the Optimist has an adult son (currently travelling overseas) and three daughters who live with their mother but visit and stay with us frequently. We live in a suburb of Wellington (capital city of New Zealand). We both work full-time and earn a great combined income but our overall financial position is not one to be proud of. I think it's a case of thinking that because we have a good income we can then afford to do what we want, when we want to do it. This has resulted in us carrying a significant amount of debt (one credit card and two personal loans) and having no real savings. For quite a while we have lived from payday to payday and the overall position has not improved.

Late last year I sat down and looked at our finances, read a few blogs and decided we needed to take action. So I ordered Dave Ramsey's book (second hand from the US), read it from cover to cover and started the process of getting things in order. Since then we've set up a budget which we re-do each month and have made many changes. The next few articles I post here will explain each of the steps we've put in place.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has feedback or who would like to contribute their own ideas.