7 different recipes, 71 serves and 8 hours of cooking = once a month cooking… for 7

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Here is the promised post about the massive cook off we had back in early June The cooking has been made necessary by the fact that I’ll be consistently finishing work some time after 6.30pm every night for the next couple of weeks and then every second week thereafter. With our household currently containing 7 mouths to feed, I didn’t like the idea of needing to prepare dinner most nights once I finished work. We’d be eating at midnight.

I decided that the most economical use of money and time was to do a big “once a month” cook-off. For those of you who don’t know what it is, or are considering starting to do it yourself, I suggest googling it as there are several helpful articles written by other bloggers that can help you. This has been my first attempt at large scale cooking and I can understand how the process would seem daunting and completely overwhelming to many. I chose to do so many recipes and meals because I have a basic hospitality certification and have worked, in the past, for a children’s cooking school/cooking birthday party company. The amount of cooking that I did today is nothing compared to  what I would cook working for that company, where I often had 11 hours shifts followed by having to cook a meal for myself. My advice to you is to only do what you are comfortable with. It will be better to cook a recipe or two, well, than trying too many recipes and then having to bin them because you got overwhelmed.

The steps involved in the cook off started way before the actual cook off. I have been collecting the meat and other grocery items that form the recipes for almost a month. We decided after dedicated observation and recording, that meat is only worth buying if it costs less than $9 per kg. For those of you who measure using lbs, that’s approx 2.2 lbs for around $8.33 US dollars. In Western Australia, the meat prices are pretty high so you can get basic beef mince, lamb mince and pork mince, sausages, lamb shanks for that price consistently. You occasionally get most types of roast or the odd cut of beef when they are on special for the price too. I have been buying meats at this price over the weeks and storing them in the freezer. For this cook off I accumulated a lamb roast for $8.99/kg, two chicken roasts for $3.50/kg, two lamb shanks for $8.99/kg, about 4.5kg of beef mince for $6/kg, 1kg pork mince for $9/kg, a 500g pack of bacon for $9/kg. Other grocery items, I usually pick up when they are on special.

When I started to plan what we would cook, I thought of recipes, using the meat I had, that we enjoy and have cooked many times. I wanted to use master recipes that could be used for multiple meals. I chose:

– Mexican beef mince, for tacos and nachos.
– Creamy chicken and leek mix, for pot pies, chicken pasta and chicken and rice.
– Tomato/Italian beef mix, for a lasagne and other pasta dishes.
– Cheesy bacon mix for pasta and pasta bake
– Lamb casserole for casserole and rice, shepherd’s pie and meat pie.
– Asian pork patties, for rice paper rolls, stir fry with noodles etc…

For each master recipe, I wrote the ingredients down in a list. I came up with the sub-meal options for each dish and then chose extra vegetables to add. This step serves the dual purpose of bulking out the meals to make more and making them more healthy. I wrote a massive list of all of the ingredients needed for all of the recipes (note: I scrapped the breast chicken because it didn’t fit into the strict price range at the supermarket).

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Next I went through the cupboards to see what was already there and what was needed. I transferred the veg list to another page and put in an order with the greengrocer that lives in our house. When we went grocery shopping on Friday, I picked up the last few bits and pieces we needed (pasta sheets, cheese, few tins of beans). I swapped around the meat values a bit from the list because of scrapping the chicken breast. I bought less pork than I had planned and more beef mince.

I then went through and wrote up a massive prep list for the whole thing. I won’t post that because it changed on the actual day but I just thought about the logical order of preparation. I think I learnt this skill from my training in hospitality and my work at the cooking school. For example, I knew that I needed to roast the lamb and chickens first and cook the lamb shanks and that this would take the most time. I also knew that it would be easier to cut up ALL of the vegetables before putting the meals together so I wrote this into the plan. The recipes sometimes required different prep for the same vegetable. For example, I needed grated carrot for the mexican mix but chopped carrot for the lamb casserole. I also planned to mash the beans. I planned to cook up all of the onion and garlic then split it into 5 parts. Next I planned to cut up the cooked meats and begin assembling each recipe. I planned to put each recipe into containers for the freezer, which meant making sure that I had enough containers. I did have to buy some more larger sized ones. Once the plan was done, I double checked to make sure I had everything I needed. I also needed to pull out the meats from the freezer to defrost. The roasts and lamb shanks came out 2 days before and the mince meats came out 1 day before.

On the day itself, you need to be prepared. That means making sure the kitchen is clear, the knives are sharpened- my partner spent well over 30mins sharpening one knife- the oven works and the cooking can be done without a hitch. I made sure the dishwasher was empty and ready to be filled, the sink was full of hot soapy water and we had all of the utensils we needed. I will show you a bit of a photo sequence to show how the day went.

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As you can see, there was a fair amount of food produced. In the end. Most of the meals easily fed 7 people with leftovers but a couple were a bit short, so I added extra veg. We ended up using the meals over a few months because we cooked from scratch when I finished work early. For my first attempt at once a month cooking, I’d say it went well.

See you soon,

Lauren

10 activities to entertain yourself without spending money

amuse yourself for free

The number one downer of a cheapskate is having some free time but not being able to do whatever it is that you want to because it costs money. To be happy, you need to stockpile good ideas so that you can start something straight away when those feelings creep in.

Here are 10 to get you started:

  1. Pore through google to find great information about personal finance and development topics. You have to mentally filter out the stuff that is poor quality advice because if you do, you will find the gems. There are so many things out there that you can find if you spend more than a few minutes looking.
  1. Sort through one drawer or shelf of stuff in your house. Designate a pile to be thrown away, a pile to be recycled and a pile to be sold. Take photos of the stuff to be sold right away and post them online. Then put the rest of the stuff back neater than before. If you do this once a week, there is guaranteed to be an increase in the tidiness of your house at the very least. If you’re lucky, you might also make some money out of it.
  1. Go through the e-book selection from your local library. There is bound to be something you are interested in there, whether it be about personal finance or not. Going to the library works too but really, who can be bothered to do that?
  1. Bake something tasty. This helps because it makes you feel good and at the same time, stops you from buying these items outside the home for a huge mark-up. Anything with chocolate in its title is good.
  1. Trawl the internet for free personal finance audiobooks. Many well known books can be found on the internet in an audio format. Try youtube. These books will often contain little activities for you to complete which you would not be able to do if you were reading. Listening to them allows your hands to be free for writing.
  1. Write a statement about how much money you want, when you want to achieve it and the steps that you will take to get there. Next, add what you would like to do with the money once you get it. This will renew your energy for saving money and help you to focus through the various temptations that appear in life.
  1. Text a friend who has unlimited calls on their plan and ask them to call you. You can talk for hours and hours without wasting anyone’s money. You could even talk to them about money.
  1. Write your own blog. If you don’t already do it, blogging is a fantastic time filler. The best part is that it’s your blog so you can write about stuff that interests you rather than having to write what other people want you to. It can also help your own journey towards money because you are able to reflect on your experiences.
  1. Have a discussion with your significant other about money. Check in with each other to see if you still have the same dreams and goals. This is where you can negotiate all sorts of issues in your relationship and connect with each other in a significant way. If I know anything, it’s that life often gets in the way of connecting with people and this relationship is one of the most significant ones in your life. Also… divorce costs a lot…
  1. Go for a walk. If the weather is nice, a solitary walk can be the place for self-reflection and may even give birth to new ideas. Anyone can walk and think so it is the ideal way to really reflect on your life now, your desired life and all of the challenges you face moving between them.

Those are just some of the many things that you can amuse yourself with whilst trying to save money. I tried to select activities that will energise rather than drain you, to ensure that you are motivated to continue on your journey.

What do you do at these times? I would love to hear some suggestions to add to my list!

See you soon,

Lauren

Purpetual Cheapskate the graduate- 6 months on

soaringHi all,

After a fairly lengthy hiatus, I am back with news of the cheapskate life. After the end of the 103 dollar challenge I went through a few things, like losing my job due to formally complaining about being paid less than minimum wage, an expensive wisdom tooth removal surgery and of course, graduating from my degree- with an award for outstanding achievement thrown in and a monetary prize. Yay!

After graduation, I had around 2 months of total unemployment to contend with. That along with our big 4000km move to the other side of the country, which we drove in a van full of all our belognings, made the last 8 months a great big test of my budgeting willpower and perpetual cheapskateness.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve come out the other end. I have a new country home, a new first-ever full time hours at graduate pay job and things are finally settling down. I’m super excited about being able to save $7867.69 since I started my job on the 10th of Feb, with more to come. That’s about 78% of what I’ve earned.

The new house we live in regularly has around 7 mouths to feed and we do most of the food shopping for them in exchange for our living here. We also cook most of the meals and clean the house. This is allowing us to avoid paying rent. Our grocery bill has gone up about $40-50 a week as opposed to when we were living in Sydney because we are feeding more mouths and food is a bit more expensive here. We get access to free fruit and vegetables due to one member of the house owning a fruit and vegetable shop.

My new job has varying hours. I can start as early as 6.30am, which I will be every day next week, and finish as late as 6.30pm. This has started to make dinner preparation difficult so I am currently in planning for a big monthly meal cook off next weekend. This involves cooking 7 different recipes which will form around 14 different meals over the course of a month. It is a huge undertaking because each meal must feed at least 7 people. Look forward to a post about it in the coming weeks.

Anyway, I’m glad to be back. Hopefully I’ll be posting and seeing more of you all soon.

See you soon,

Lauren

The Australian Budget conundrum translated for 20 somethings

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If you are from Australia, this post won’t seem very unique or surprising because the proposed federal budget is creating large tsunami sized news stories all over the country. If you’re not part of the country, then you may not have heard about the austerity measures  our government is proposing to end “the age of entitlement”. To sum it up in oversimplified terms, the budget takes all kinds of social welfare from the lower and middle classes and only a small amount for a short period from the upper class. It effects society’s most vulnerable: the unemployed, the disabled, families, students, people with medical conditions, the elderly and does so in many forms. Yet the people who have more money to spare seem to be largely unaffected because they do not rely on social welfare payments to survive. What can be taken away from that is, if you are over 30, but not nearing retirement, steadily employed, wealthy enough to support your family without needing support from the government and healthy, then you need not worry. For a 20 something, this plays out differently.

First of all, you can expect to be working until you are at least 70, regardless of what type of job you do. If you are a labourer or brickie, nurse or childcare worker, office worker or anything else, you will not get your pension until you turn 70. Unless you’re a politician… because they get their retirement money whenever they want really.

If you have children, the money you get to support them will be reduced or cut off completely. Particularly if your children are older than 6. This includes family tax benefit A and B and the child care rebate.

If you want to visit the doctor, get a blood test or are admitted to hospital and are expecting to be bulk billed for this, don’t. The government wants to charge a $7 co-payment for each visit, unless you are a concession health care card holder. That means it might be time to get your act together and apply for the card, even if you aren’t eligible for any other payments. At least then you still get a few free visits before they charge you.

If you are a current university student then the new changes to university fees will thankfully skip you as proposed changes only apply for people who haven’t begun their course. However if you have accumulated a HECS-HELP debt as a result of your study, you can look forward to increased interest on this debt. It will be raised to match the Australian 10 year bond rate and capped at 6%. At this present moment the rate is sitting just above 3%, which isn’t very different from the 2.6% CPI rate that they are currently charging but the change is designed to make you pay more than you currently do.
If you are an unfortunate soul who is planning to be a university student in the near future, you get the double whammy of increased fees and increased cost of debt. Not only can universities charge whatever they want for courses, this increased rate will be subject to a higher rate of interest. It’s already happened in America, but I think Australia is headed for a “30 and 40 somethings who still have huge debts from study” crisis. I feel thankful that I graduated just in time.

One small gift from the government is that the upfront discount of 10% if you pay before the census date and 5% for payments to your debt, is still in commission for the time being. The Labor government had decided to scrap the discount at the start of the year but the Abbot government has not yet abolished it. This means that if you pay your fees upfront, instead of letting them go through onto HECS, you’ll get a 10% discount on your total bill. If you wait til the amount has been added to your debt but choose to make a voluntary repayment of $500 or more, a 5% discount will be applied. This makes it an even smarter idea to save during your course and attempt to pay the debt off before the higher interest rates come in after 1 July 2015.

On another note, If you are an education, nursing, maths and science or early childhood graduate who meets the employment and income criteria, you only have this financial year (13/14) and next financial year (14/15) to claim the HECS HELP benefit to reduce the amount that you owe. The new budget has lined this debt helper up to the chopping block too. Check out the information here: https://www.ato.gov.au/General/Enquiry-hot-topics/In-detail/Individuals/HECS-HELP-benefit—Overview/
As an early childhood education graduate who is working in a rural area, I am eligible for the early childhood benefit but not the education benefit because I don’t earn enough. I’m planning on paying off most of my debt while the 5% discount still applies and letting the HECS HELP benefit pay off the rest of the debt before the new interest rates come in.

 

The First Home Saver Account, which was a government scheme where people could put away money in a tax sheltered account to receive a 17% bonus on deposits, as well as interest on the account, has been scrapped too. The rules for this account were that you could only access the money to buy a property to live in or else it would have to be transferred into your super. The 17% bonus was capped at $1065 a year (meaning you’d need to deposit $6000 a year to get it) and you needed to put in at least $1000 a year for 4 years to be able to access the account. The new situation is, the money currently held in the accounts and further money deposited into these accounts up to the end of this financial year (13/14) will still be eligible for the bonus. It will continue to be tax sheltered and held under the previous conditions of release until June 30 2015, at which point the withdrawal restrictions and tax sheltered status are removed. There is no option for people to open a new account since the changes were announced.
I have an account and am planning on taking advantage of the last ever bonus of $1065, leaving the money in the account for 12 months (like a term deposit) and then withdrawing it after July 1 2015. I have done the calculations and this proves to be the way to get the most money, especially since the $1065 is tax free.

This is just scraping the top off a huge amount of changes and only represents the elements that I think will be relevant to 20 somethings. It might be helpful to go and read more about it to get the full picture. I have come to an understanding of the new budget through reading a variety of sources, however it is possible I am mistaken due to changes or misinformation- there is a lot of hysteria in the media about this. It’s also possible that much of the budget won’t get passed through parliament meaning it will never even be implemented but it is worth preparing for the worst.

103 dollar challenge- Update 11 (final)

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Hi all,

Well, it’s over. Done. Finished! I made it and now I finally feel as though I can call myself a teacher. I mean, after all, I have only got 6 weeks left of classes before I graduate.

I survived 10 weeks of living off a measly $103. The final week scraped in at $99.80. There was only one week where I went over my goal and I achieved my goal of not taking money out of my savings to fund my weekly costs during prac.

As far as the week’s spending goes, I caved in and bought a second bus ticket at the start of the week because it was raining and my umbrella broke whilst walking over a bridge on the way home. Sometimes you just can’t take the frugality anymore. I think two bus tickets out of a potential 10 that I could have bought and a saving of $70.40 over the course of the prac.

I also had to buy presents for the children in my class and for the teacher that guided me through the murky waters of internship teaching. $31 on coffee vouchers and around $20 on little goody bags for the 24 small children. A testament to how much of a learning curve and a struggle I found the experience.

The one thing I have learnt from this whole experience is how much pain I can tolerate. It took me around 7 weeks to completely exhaust myself. I got sick, I got anxious and I forgot about the end of the road. I have realised that it is in my nature to try to give up just before the end is in sight.  With this knowledge, I can begin to plan for the inevitable. I can put things in place to give myself something to get me through those tough last stages of something. It could be a short holiday or even just something to look forward to.

“They” say that you can learn the most about yourself in times of struggle and failure, if you will only just stop to notice it.  It seems I have finally been able to notice.

And so comes the end of the challenge- this challenge. I will have to find some other way to motivate myself to be cheap now that I am going back to my usual routine. I think walking will start playing a larger role in my life 🙂

See you soon,

Lauren

103 dollar challenge- update 10

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Hi all,

As you can see from the image above, I feel as though the sun is rising again and light is beginning to appear instead of clouds. I have one week left of prac!!! That means one week left of the challenge (albeit, followed by a week in poverty, living on $42 for the week). It has been a long and difficult road but it is finally coming to an end!

The past two weeks of spending have totaled $79.27 and $96.29, so both under my goal for the challenge. A lot of my money has been going to the chemist with antibiotics, probiotics and other medicines to keep me plodding along.

 

Lately, we have been saving money on grocery shopping by not buying meat for dinner on Thursday nights. Instead, we take the meat out when we get home and put it into a large bowl of warm water. It takes an hour at the most for the amount of meat we need to feed 4 people, to be defrosted.

Another way we’ve been saving money is to stay home and play board games instead of going out to entertain ourselves. We’ve been trying to improve our strategies for playing these games rather than playing to win. It takes a fair bit longer and it is very satisfying.

So, one more post to go for the 103 dollar challenge and 5 more days to survive of working 68 days straight.

See you soon,

Lauren

103 dollar challenge- Update 9

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Hi all,

I said to my partner the other day that his girlfriend no longer lives here. She’s left- been driven away by the incessant amount of planning, work and illness that has happened over the last 7 weeks. I’ve calculated that over the last 49 consecutive days, I’ve worked 47. The two I had off were both sick days and I spent them doing planning for school.

This week’s number for spending is the best yet! After all expenses were added up, the spending came to $37.19. That is the least amount of money I’ve spent in a week since the challenge started. It means that I can save the rest of the money AND the extra $100 I earned babysitting the other night.

The cost cutting came in the form of reducing my chiropractor appointments to once a fortnight instead of once a week. I also walked to school every day, as usual. I haven’t spent any money except on groceries.

It’s been a long road but now the end is in sight, There are 3 weeks to go!

See you soon,

Lauren