Dollar Diet 2017: Week 37

money 2

Now I’ve finished a piece of work that was sucking most of my spare brain-power, I have more time again to devote to my blog and all things frugal.  This week I was stuck indoors with sick kids.  I thought we’d escaped the worst of what winter has thrown our way, but no, my tots seem to be catching everything just as the weather is warming up.

This week’s frugal happenings:

  • Made two batches of tortillas which I used for enchiladas and burritos.  Tortillas are seriously easy to make (it’s the cooking them that’s the time-consuming bit), and once you’ve had home made tortillas, you’ll never buy commercial ones again.  For the enchiladas I made the sauce from scratch too.  Yum!


  • Found a mint-condition Tinkerbell summer dress from Disney at a secondhand clothing store, which will make a perfect gift for my friend’s daughter who is turning 5 soon.  She is really into long, swishy dresses and this one fits the bill nicely.  The wrapping paper and card are, as usual,  handmade by my tots.

    party dress tots in tawhero

    Such a cute dress!

  • Stayed home most of the week.  This has been a self-enforced embargo on going out as my children came down with conjuctivitis.  It is doing the rounds here at the moment and is ridiculously contagious.  Anyway, saving my town from more pink eye saves me money on petrol and saves me from the temptation to spend.


  • Stocked up on basics that were on sale at the supermarket.  It’s not often I come away from a supermarket these days, saying ‘Wow! Great bargains today,’ but this happened to be a week where many of our regular groceries were heavily discounted.  Items like canned corn and tomatoes were 75c each, toothbrushes were 58c etc so I stocked up on as much as I could and still came in quite a bit under budget.


  • D won some headphones in a competition he entered quite randomly.  He already has a great pair so he sold them on for $130.  Apparently there’s quite a demand for decent gaming headphones, and the buyer was very happy with his purchase.


  • Purchased at $60 meat pack from one of our local butchers, which I’ve then divided up into 14 meals (some of which include our whanau* night, when we feed 5 adults and 4 children).  As we eat several vegetarian meals a week, I won’t have to buy meat for three or four weeks.  For NZ prices, this pack was a great deal, working out at just over $4 per meal.


  • D’s tax return finally showed up!  That is now salted away with other savings to help with our moving costs.  As we are moving islands (which requires taking our household goods and cars on a ferry), our moving costs will be in the thousands.


  • I made a batch of gluten-free date scones with baking mix left over from my 100th failed attempt to go gluten-free.  We have a GF family at my church, so I thought I’d surprise them with something nice for morning tea after the service.


  • Gave a bagful of grapefruit to friends.  I am not making grapefruit marmalade this year as we are likely to be moving soon and I am trying to take as little as possible with us.  I am really going to miss all the free fruit our garden provides us with!


  • We had several meatless meals, including baked potatoes, which D reckons are the best foodstuff ever invented.


Lest you think I am some sort of saint, I did splurge on some unwarranted things this week.  After several days inside my MIL offered to take both my tots for the afternoon.  I was so thrilled, I went to a cafe because I felt like I needed to celebrate!  It was wonderful to spend time without being whined at, or having to wipe snot or eye gunk.  I also went to a Tupperware party (for a friend’s birthday) where I came face to face with an old friend, their children’s tea party set.  My brother and I had one growing up which we LOVED.  I remember holding many, many tea parties in our shed.  The tea set wasn’t too expensive (I don’t usually buy Tupperware as I think it is outrageously overpriced) and I plan to stash it away to give to the kids as a joint present at Christmas.  So there you are, suckered in by nostalgia!

Image result for tupperware kids tea set

Who remembers this?  Ah, the colours of my childhood.



* whanau: (noun) extended family, family group, a familiar term of address to a number of people – the primary economic unit of traditional Māori society. In the modern context the term is sometimes used to include friends who may not have any kinship ties to other members.





Effortless ways to save money

Effortless ways to save money tots in tawhero

I want what she’s having…

I am an avid reader of frugal blogs and articles about how to stretch my dollar further. Many ways to save money require time and effort, like cooking from scratch to de-cluttering and selling off your unwanted stuff.  I’m not averse to putting in my time or my effort to save money, but thanks to my AI disease I may not have the oomph required or I just don’t have the time.  But there are still loads of things we can do to save money without taxing our brain cells.

Here are some truly effortless, very-little-brain-power-required ways to save money:

  • Use a third or up to a half less sugar or cheese than indicated in a recipe
  • Likewise, swap out some milk for water in a recipe
  • In fact, use less dairy period.  Even here in New Zealand, the dairy capital of the world, the price of butter, cheese and milk is getting off-the-charts-ridiculous.  A word of caution though: many dairy-free recipes can still be costly because they use things like almond milk or coconut oil.  Search for depression-era recipes for cheaper dairy-free alternatives.  beverage, black-and-white, business
  • If you are a multiple cup of tea or coffee per day person, boil the water once, and make up a second drink in a travel mug (heck, if you use the same tea bag you probably won’t notice).  This way you save money on power and resist the temptation to buy a cup of coffee/tea if you’re out and about.  If you are going to be at home, pour the hot water into a thermos.  Now, if only I can remember where I put my thermos…
  • Drink water.
  • Switch off the lights in rooms that aren’t in use (I am CONSTANTLY doing this is my house, sigh).
  • Put your spare change into a piggy bank at the end of the day.  My brother (who is on a very limited budget) does this and is able to really treat himself every few months with these savings, which helps with the grimness of life on a benefit.  He regularly finds he’s saved $60-70 once his piggy bank is full.  White Piggy Bank on Brown Wooden Surface
  • Shut the fridge door as quickly as you can.  
  • If you are heating a room, shut the door! (My family, this one is for you!)  My kiddos, like everyone else’s, were born in a tent.
  • Don’t have time to use up that produce before it goes off?  Chuck it in the freezer.  Veggies can be added to soups and stews and fruit into smoothies.
  • Unplug appliances at the wall if they use standby power (e.g. microwave) or at the wall for appliances that don’t (e.g. toaster)
  • Reduce your portion sizes.  Experiment with how much food leaves you satisfied.
  • Put on warmer clothes if you feel cold, rather than switching on the heater.

    Put on your coat and hang out with a tree

  • Use less meat or include more vegetarian meals in your diet
  • Buy generic.  Supermarket own brands or budget brands usually come with significant savings, and many times these products are EXACTLY the same (often made in the same factory!) or they are indiscernible from the market leader.  I have certain brands that I prefer because of the taste or results they give, but you can bet I’ve tried all the generic alternatives first.  If it’s something I’m not picky about, like headache pills or canned tomatoes, I go for a generic brand every time. I use a generic brand moisturiser (of which I only need a tiny amount so it lasts for ages) and save hundreds a year.

    Women in Yellow Dress Holding Hands in Purple Grassland

    Buy generic so you have more time and money to hang out in lavender fields with your mates

  • Find a frugal alternative to your favourite-but-expensive recipes.  There are loads of copycat recipes out there.  I find it also helps to have a think about what it is you like about a certain meal.  I know for me, it’s often the sauce or the dressing!  My family loves to get fish and chips as a takeaway.  Recently we decided it was just the chips we love, so now we bake frozen, crumbed fish fillets at home while D nips off to buy the chips.  This saves us several dollars.
  • Use less.  Experiment with how little shampoo, soap, moisturiser etc that you can get away with.  You may not notice any difference if you reduce the ‘splonge’ of shampoo you regularly dish out to yourself.
  • Use it up!  Opening up toothpaste tubes, mayonnaise bottles, foundation tubes, moisturiser bottles etc to get the dregs at the bottom mean you really get your money’s worth.  I find when my moisturiser is getting low and won’t squirt out anymore, storing it upside down means I get another two or three weeks out of it!
  • When your spray cleaner is half empty, dilute with water.  I don’t notice any difference in its effectiveness.
  • When an old bulb blows out, swap it for an energy efficient one
  • Make extra dinner portions for an effortless lunch the next day.  The savings from making your own lunch instead of buying it can be huge.
  • Double or triple a baking recipe if you can squeeze the extra portions in the oven, or if it’s something that freezes well, like cookie dough.
  • Embrace the slow-cooker.  They will save you so much money!  Cheap cuts of meat become mouth-watering, and prep is minimal for many recipes.  My favourite curried chicken recipe requires no more effort than chucking whole pieces (because you can shred it later) of chicken into the slow cooker, along with a tin of coconut cream, a tin of tomatoes, and a few spices.  It takes me all of two minutes!  Roasting a chicken in the slow cooker takes me maybe 40 seconds as all it needs is rubbing with oil.  The added bonus of slow-cooked roast chicken is every single piece of chicken will fall off the bone so nothing is wasted.  Once everyone has eaten, I leave the carcass in the cooker with water, a few veges and some seaweed to make nutritious chicken stock.
  • If it’s a warm but not boiling hot day, switch off the air conditioner in your car and open the windows.  Free stock photo of road, traffic, man, person
  • Read your free community newspapers to find free or low-cost things to do in your area.  My city has cool events on almost every weekend, and they’re usually free.
  • Stay home!  If you’re bored and don’t know what to do with yourself look up lists like this and this for inspiration.
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists for stores that are your kryptonite.  If you don’t know there’s a sale on in your favourite store, you won’t be tempted to spend.  Ditto group deal sites.
  • Do subscribe to mailing lists for stores that sell the essentials, so you know when the sales are on.  I stock up on winter coats and thermals for my kids a year ahead when these items are at rock-bottom prices (how weird is this saying, by the way?).
  • If you’re not already on Pinterest, sign up and create frugal ‘boards’ for tips and recipes.  You can find my frugal recipe board here.  When I’m out of inspiration or time when I’m meal planning, my Pinterest board comes in very handy.
  • If you are on a power plan that gives you a night rate, push the ‘delay start’ button on your dishwasher or washing machine so you can take advantage of it.  comfort, control, cooking


Share your effortless ways to save money below:


Dollar Diet: Frugal birthdays

I haven’t posted much Dollar Diet material in a while, but this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to save a buck whenever possible.

Spring (which is right now, for us in NZ) ushers in a ton of birthdays for special people in my life.  I have three just this week alone, plus Father’s Day!  Frugality doesn’t mean stinginess.  I love, love, love celebrations and giving presents, but it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Here are some ways I save money on gifts and other birthday-related expenses:

  • Set a budget.  It’s helpful to look at gift-giving over the course of a year, as you can spend a shocking amount if you’re not careful.  I have different dollar figures in mind when it comes to giving a gift to one of my children’s friends, compared say, to one of my friends or to my husband.  For example, I usually limit a child’s gift to $10 as each of my tots gets invited to several parties a year.  It all adds up!  $10 might not seem like much, but it forces me to be creative.  I can come up with a darn good present for that amount – like a baking set, clothing, books, art supplies, or materials with which to make a gift with myself.


  • Make it yourself.  I am not a super-crafty person (knitting is not my idea of fun, for instance), but there are tons of great ideas on Pinterest and other sites for easy and inexpensive gifts. For adults, I try to gift perishable things where possible, as most of us don’t need any more stuff cluttering up our houses.  Food or drink that I’ve made myself is well received.  I make my own cards and wrapping paper as well, which is loads of fun as I can personalise them to the birthday person.   The wrapping paper is from a newsprint roll I bought in 2014, which I then decorate.  Here’s a card I made recently.  I found this meme online for my Star Wars-obsessed brother who found it hilarious…          star wars.jpg I also make party decorations myself when practical.  Here’s some table decorations I made for a tea party recently from (mostly) op-shop frames and pictures I found on the internet:  tea party decorations


  • Making it yourself includes the cake!  If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a gift, you can always bake a cake for the birthday person instead.  A dear friend is having a birthday this week.  She’s just had child number 3 so life is rather hectic for her family.  I volunteered to make a cake (the cake with the heart below) so her husband doesn’t have to worry about it.  It wasn’t a milestone birthday, so a simple cake sufficed.  I calculate that I’ve saved hundreds of dollars making cakes for my children’s parties and for other special occasions by doing it myself. 

  • Limit what you say YES to.  I have a rule for my children that they only attend parties for children who they are actually friendly with.  For some reason it seems to be trendy at the moment to invite your child’s entire class to a party, but it’s not a trend I buy into.   Unless your child is begging you to go for fear of social death or it’s a party for a child who tends to get excluded by others (I’m trying to raise includers here), it’s not the end of the world if they don’t go.  In a similar vein, if a friend invites you out to dinner to celebrate their birthday but money is super-tight, there’s nothing wrong with politely declining and inviting that friend over for a home-cooked meal or a drink at another time.

    Related image

    Okay, so maybe don’t do it quite like this..


  • Plan ahead.  Unless you are a hermit, we all have people we regularly give gifts to.  I know that my children are bound to be invited to at least 4 or 5 parties a year.  At the end of last year a local store had character t-shirts on sale at a heavily-reduced price.  I grabbed a few because I knew they’d make good gifts for my children’s friends this year. I also try to avoid giving toys whenever possible, so they fit the bill nicely.  Last year I gave most of my kid’s friends child-sized baking sets, which included a measuring cup, spoons, whisk, tongs, cupcake liners, cookie cutters and sprinkles.  I bought the cookie cutters and liners as sets, which I then divided up.  A friend recently commented that her child uses his set all the time.  Also, when I am out and about during the year, if I see something that would make a great gift (sometimes for a specific person, sometimes not) – and it’s a great price – I grab it.  For instance, I’ve had my November-born dad’s gift since February, and I have a small stash of gifts that cover those unexpected birthday invitations that come in from time to time.  Planning ahead helps me to save time and serious money by not having to buy something at the last minute.


  • If you are hosting a party, keep it simple.  Parties seem to be getting more and more elaborate these days.  If spending hours hand-painting in-theme straws for your child’s first birthday is your thing, then that’s fine.  Do that.  But if you find yourself grumbling into your handmade chia-infused ganache, or moaning that your toddler only ate the icing on his $100 cake, it might be time to scale things back and think about what’s actually important to you or the birthday person.  Is it the cake or certain foods that just say ‘BIRTHDAY!’ to you?  Is it more about the party games? The decorations?  Is it getting to catch up with friends?  Focusing on one element and spending less on others makes for a cheaper and more meaningful birthday.  For my son’s recent birthday, he only cared about having his special friends there, and the cake.  It was an evening party, and all I needed to serve was a few pre-dinner nibbles, fish and chips and cake.  Easiest party ever!


  • Involve your children.  If they are invited to a friend’s party, have them make the card and wrapping paper.  Get their input into what gift they might give or make, if appropriate.  If it’s their party ask what they would like.  Even at two years old my son was able to tell me exactly who was on his invite list and what food he wanted.  A friend recently scaled back her plans after learning her child longed for a family-only dinner.  She was grateful that she took the time to really listen to his desires instead of assuming he’d want a traditional party.  Another friend loved the handmade birthday banner my children made to mark his birthday.  Frugal gifts made with love mean more than anything flash or expensive.

    Making wrapping paper


What do you do to save money on birthdays?  Share your tips below.