Tuesday, 22 September 2015

View from the top

What a wonderful start to the day!  Actually to be honest, since I've started walking every day to do my errands and leaving the car at home, EVERY day is a wonderful day.  I have my routine down pat now.   We live at one end of town and Ali's school is at the other so every morning when he drives to school I hop in the passenger seat.  When he arrives at school I jump out and walk the 5km back home again, taking care of any errands along the way.  There are so many benefits of doing this! Obviously it saves us money running two cars but another bonus is because I'm so much calmer and rush less I no longer forget things.  I keep my trusty blue butterfly backpack by the door and anything I may need to post, drop off or whatever gets put straight in there, no more annoying extra trips every time I forget something.  It also prevents me from buying anything not absolutely necessary because I don't want to have to carry it home!  Although saying that it can be pretty good weight training at times!

Best of all however, it's so good for the soul!  Just the increased exercise and fresh air makes you feel good - but it's much more than that.  Getting out and about each day has made me realise how truly lucky I am to live in such a wonderful little community.  Take this morning for example.  I hopped out of the car and as soon as I begin my walk everyone starts waving and smiling at me.  I continued through town and popped my head in at one of the local real estate agents on the corner where my friend works for a daily greeting and a giggle.  Heading out of town I pop in to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread and run into lots of wonderful people along the way, such as a new friend I met recently who among many other things told me where I could get my new vegetable garden filled with mulch for free!  Because I never forget anything any more, I was also able to pass on a bracelet I sold last week to another friend I bumped into in the next aisle as it was already in my backpack, saving both of us another trip!

From there I popped into Bunnings and had a lovely chat with the store owner who told me the best places to get free rocks for the rockery I'm building and also got some very handy advice on the most economical way to grow vegies for my garden, before wending my merry way home.  Before I started walking, none of this would have happened but now every day is more fun and brings something new and rewarding.  So simple, yet so positive in so many ways.

As for weekends, I walk as long as I like!  Last weekend was a real 'silver tea set' weekend where I made the most of every opportunity and stepped out of my comfort zone.  On Saturday I went for a big long walk for a couple of hours, then got home and decided to build a rockery.  As you do.  I'll show you the before and after photos when I've finished but it's always been a horribly messy area which has really bugged me so I decided to finally do something about it.  I had a roll of weed mat which I bought last year and never used and it was just enough to cover the space I needed.  Next came the rocks which were free and hiding under my house!  The previous owners at some stage must have stashed them under the deck and there were heaps; more than enough for me to cover all the edges of the weed mat as well as the joins.  I would have loved to know how many kilometres I must have walked lugging flipping great rocks backwards and forwards!  It was a great workout, not to mention all the times I had to crawl under the house on my belly to reach them and carefully back out again!  I still need to finish the job but Ali is helping me with that and our efforts will save us at least $200 on buying rocks.  As it is, the improvement already is already brilliant!

I also weeded and decluttered a large corner of the garden and built a compost bin and by the time I had finished for the day I was exhausted but it was time to get ready for a birthday party.  This was a big deal for a hermit like me.  I avoid this sort of thing like the plague and I tried my best to get out of it but to no avail and thank goodness I didn't because I had the most brilliant time!  I met some lovely new friends, caught up with some old ones I hadn't seen for ages and danced almost continuously for over four hours!  Once again it brought home to me how many wonderful people I am privileged to know.   Had I not vowed to myself to be a silver tea set girl, I would have missed out on a whole lot.

Sunday dawned a bit chilly and blustery and thanks to all the exertion of the day before I was literally barely able to move!  But there was a day to be made the most of so I dragged myself out for a walk. Goodness only knows what people must have thought as I struggled to get my legs to work for the first half a kilometre, to use my mum's expression I must have looked as though I'd done something nasty in my trousers!  Thankfully my muscles did eventually warm up though and I ended up walking for hours.  The wind dropped, the sun blazed down and it was lovely!  So I decided to take a leaf out of my own blog and climb the big hill to check out the view.  Here's what I saw:

     Our little township

Where the estuary meets the sea

The estuary.  Well, a bit of it!

All in all it was a really lovely weekend and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, happy that I had made the most of it.  

Last week I wrote how I had started to follow Wendy Gower's example of making a note of all the money saving things I did.  There ended up being so many I couldn't possibly keep track of them all! However I can definitely vouch for it being a worthwhile exercise, it really does make you realise what a wonderful job many of us do at saving money in countless areas on a zillion things.  I won't share them all with you but some of my favourites for the week were buying a pair of unusual pink and grey genuine Converse shoes in immaculate condition on Facebook for $10 (my others were literally falling apart).  I was chuffed to bits with this bargain, the seller could have easily got $50 for them!  

I also took in a brand new pair of Lee jeans which I had also bought from our Facebook Buy and Sell group to a local seamstress to be taken in and up as they were way too big.  Even after the extensive alterations I ended up with an awesome pair of jeans for just $25 and tailored to fit me perfectly!  Flea treatments for pets are a necessary evil but a bloody expensive one, especially as only one type works on our allergy-prone dog so I was really glad when my shopping around saved me almost $18 on Comfortis last week.  I got them online from a website called www.pet.co.nz and they definitely deserve a plug as their service is just as brilliant as their prices.  They have a member of staff available on instant chat to answer any queries, delivery is super fast and they even send a personal follow-up email to ensure you were happy with your purchase.  Highly recommended and I'll definitely be using them for all my everyday pet needs from now on!  I also got a free haircut with a free bottle of hair oil to take home and paid only $14 for top make-up by purchasing what I needed from our local Sunny's variety store, rather than the $49 'special 25% off' price I had sourced from Farmers online.  I sold $90 worth of stuff on Facebook myself which paid for petrol and numerous other things without having to touch my bank account and to top it all off, after grumbling about going over my grocery budget the previous week, I managed to stay within my magic $80 figure last week, woohoo!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Silver Tea Set Girl

My mum recently gave me a silver tea set.  Which is kind of funny because I've never drunk a cup of tea or coffee in my whole life!  Even so, I really rather like it, from the sugar bowl and tea strainer to the teeny tiny spoons.  It kind of reminds me of days gone by, when people did things 'proper'.  Of course the silver tea set (or in my grandmother's case the china tea set with the ivy pattern and gold trim) only came out on special occasions.  Why do we do that, do you think?  Save all the good things for special occasions?  Why can't we feel special every day?  Why do we keep the good stuff locked away, out of sight, out of mind?  What exactly are we waiting for?

I don't really know where today's post is going, it's just something that was in my head that I had to get out.  I think it's to do with mortality.  Over the past two weeks, five people I know have passed away and another is just hanging in there.  Only one of them did not have cancer.  The youngest was just 35.  To hear of his passing was a huge jolt and as the sun beamed in through my window that Saturday morning when I read the news, all I could think of was that he would never get to enjoy a beautiful day like this again.  All the many, many things he would never get to do that I still could.  And I realised that for a long time I hadn't been making the most of my life.

So I jumped out of bed, got dressed and went for a walk in the sunshine.  I walked and walked for hours.  I had a great long chat on the roadside with one of my favourite people, picked up a random toddler called George having a tantrum on the pavement and delivered him back to his family, saw a lady with rainbow hair, breathed in the salty sea air, saw starfish of every shape and size - so many little things which made me happy.  Then that afternoon I got out in the garden for the first time in months and months and had fun sprucing up the deck and yard, moving things around and potting up plants.  By the time I'd finished I was exhausted!  That night I slept better than in longer than I can remember.

I realise all these things will seem like absolutely nothing, but you see for the longest time I hadn't done anything.  Not really.  I'd just been living on auto pilot, going through the motions, getting through each day.  And if I'm honest, most days I couldn't wait for them to end.  Every single part of my energy was so focused on where the next dollar was coming from and how I was going to survive that in the end that was all I did.  Survive, but not live.  I didn't want to see anyone, talk to anyone, I shut everyone out.  You probably wouldn't think that was the case with me being such a Facebook addict but Facebook is different; you don't have to deal with 'people'.  You can do and say all the right things without anyone ever knowing that you didn't have the physical or mental energy to get out of bed and join the human race today.

That weekend I got my mojo back.  I also realised it was the first true weekend off I'd had since probably the start of the year.  Every other weekend I was either working or writing my arse off trying to make money when I didn't have work.  It felt so wonderful to finally have some free time and do something productive, something fun, something for ME that I made a rule never to do that again.  From now on, weekends will not be spent slogging my guts out unless it's in the garden, or bush walking.  Talking of walking, ever since that day I have been leaving my car at home and walking everywhere whenever possible.  I used to love walking, it's good for the soul but I'd stopped doing that a long time ago too.  In just two weeks I've lost weight, got my fitness back and am so much happier in myself.  And why wouldn't I be?  Today I actually counted how many people waved and said hello to me as I walked from one end of town to the other - it was 42!  Not a bad effort for a hermit!

And another thing, I've started wearing my armour around the place too.  You wouldn't guess it to look at me but I am!  I'm not talking about a medieval suit or a bullet proof vest though - I'm talking about my hair!  Years ago I met a very gifted psychic who told me that wearing red is like putting on a suit of armour; it brightens you up and makes you feel strong.  Unfortunately I don't own anything red but I adapted his way of thinking into something which works for me - I wear pigtails! The best thing about having happy hair is that it doesn't just make me happy, it makes other people smile too.  Seriously, try it sometime - everyone is always super nice to you when you have pigtails!

The other day Ali's dad took him and a friend hunting.  His friend had never been hunting before and as they reached the top of a big hill and took in the view both the boys were amazed at the view before them.  'Woah, this is awesome!' Ali's mate said, seriously impressed.  'What's stopping you boys from doing this every day? Nothing!' said Ali's dad.  The boys looked at each other and shrugged, knowing he spoke the truth.  The only thing which stops most of us from making the most of each day is ourselves.  I might not drink tea and I most likely never will but following the loss of so many dear friends I have made a vow to myself to be a Silver Tea Set Girl.  To my mind, this is someone who makes every day a special occasion, who takes delight in the small and simple things and doesn't have to wait for something or someone special to come along but finds something beautiful in every day just as it is.  There is so much more to life than work or money.  Sure it's important - but it should never be everything.  There are people to wave to, friends to hug, bright colours to wear, flowers to pick, miles to walk, starfish to count, hills to climb and so much more.  To my five friends who are no longer living, thank you for reminding me our time on this earth is not to be wasted.  RIP x

Monday, 14 September 2015

Jack Gets Her Groove On!

It must be said, sometimes I am my own worst enemy.  I think we all are to a certain extent aren't we? Certainly in my case it seems half the time I'm taking two steps forward and three back.  In the past week alone I've picked up a $100 fine for not paying my car rego on time and had to fork out $62 to the Medical Centre for being rushed in after hours with a suspected heart attack.  Turns out I have an irregular heartbeat, which makes sense, I'm an irregular kinda gal after all!  Even so, I don't mind telling you I shat myself.  In the hypothetical sense of course.

The good thing about the whole experience was that it made me appreciate being alive an awful lot and ever since then I have been determined not to waste a single moment.  The sucky part was I spent $162 I hadn't planned to, which was a bit of a downer after all the brilliant saving I'd been doing leading up to my near-death experience (slight exaggeration but I genuinely did think I was dying!) To be fair, I do a pretty darn good job of saving every week wherever I can but just lately I've been a lot more conscious of it and once again I have my totally unrelated but totally lovely namesake Wendy Gower to thank.  As a blogger of more than a decade, I should really be embarrassed to admit that I've probably read less than half a dozen other blogs in my whole life.  Before I started my own blog, I knew basically nothing about them and had never read another one so I had nothing to compare my own to, no guidelines.  I just rambled willy-nilly and here I am ten years later still rambling!  Not reading other blogs is by no means a conscious decision, most of the time I simply don't know they're out there or where to find them.  But anyone who knows me will also know I am a chronic Facebooker.  Put a blog where I can 'like' it so it jumps out at me and I'll read it!

Which is exactly what happened with Wendy's blog 'My Abundant Life' - I've given you the Facebook link here so you can make it jump out at you too.  Every week Wendy posts 'This Week's Frugal Tasks', listing every single thing she has done to save money and it's usually quite a list! Seeing all those savings in black and white like that really made me realise how much all the little things we do add up.  I mean, I've known that ever since my early Simple Savings days but somewhere along the line I've gotten so bogged down with everything that I kind of forgot.  After reading Wendy's blog I started making a mental note every time I did something that helped me save, whether it was walking instead of driving, using something up instead of wasting it, how many times I came up with a free solution rather than buying something - and I realised that my actions save us truckloads every single day.  I also realised something else.  For a long time I've been treating my efforts to save money like a fight - a constant battle, me against the world.  And yes, it is a hell of a battle at times.  But it's also a celebration!  I know more ways to save money than you can shake a stick at!  And every one of them is a triumph.  Every one of them is smart.  Heck I'll even go as far as to say I'M smart!  And so is Wendy and everyone else who can write a list of frugal tasks every week. We are legen - wait for it! - dary.

So ever since reading Wendy's blog I have been shaking my frugal groove thang with renewed delight and enthusiasm.  I'm not one of these militant feminists who think they can do everything - but I'll give most things a bloody good go.  Especially if it means I don't have to pay someone to do it!  So last weekend I built myself an enormous vegetable garden.  Well, it's enormous by my standards anyway.  I built it entirely from recycled timber the previous owners of Nawtypoo Cottage had left behind and it didn't cost me a cent!  I was so proud of myself because I'd been wanting to get it done for ages but didn't think I had the skill or the strength to do it - turns out I did!  It might not be pretty, I could feel my beloved late father (who was a builder) watching over me and saying 'Jesus Jack, that's a bit rough isn't it?!' But I didn't care - it was mine and I made it all by myself and it was going to be fabulous.

The catalyst for my building frenzy was last week's trip to the supermarket.  I currently receive a Working for Families tax credit from Inland Revenue for being a sole parent until Ali leaves home.  I was eligible for the maximum payout of $160 per week and I would use this for all Ali and my food, petrol for both our cars as well as other incidentals such as hair cuts, phone top-ups and care packages for Liam.  However when my work dropped off a few months ago it was cut by $60 a week.  This, as I found out makes a BIG difference.  It's a bit bloody Irish, don't you think?  'Oh, you're not earning as much as you were so we're going to take some more off you!'  Then last week I found out they were taking another $20 a week off me because I have a private child support agreement with my ex and refused to make him pay through Inland Revenue.  The reason for this is a) We've already been doing this for two-and-a-half years and it works perfectly well, both parties are happy with the arrangement and b) If I go through Inland Revenue, my ex will be made to pay more.  I don't want that to happen.  In my opinion he already pays more than enough and in addition he helps us out with things like free firewood, meat for the freezer and other things that he doesn't have to do.  I have also had sole custody of our children since our marriage ended.  I would not dream of taking any more from him and I'm stuffed if I'm going to let IRD make me.  So in the space of a couple of months my weekly Working for Families payout has now halved to just $80 per week.

Last week was my first go at trying to manage on that.  I don't HAVE to stay within it but it's a challenge I like to set myself; a matter of personal pride.  I knew it would be tough but I still thought I could do it.  I couldn't.  I went to the supermarket and spent $120 and still had barely anything.  In this shop there were no bought snacks, no cleaning products, no tea, coffee or alcohol and the only meat I bought was a pack of bacon on special.  I didn't even buy a loaf of bread; all I purchased was fruit and vegetables, shampoo, pet food and some basic ingredients I could use to make a whole bunch of other stuff.  I was really, really, really, REALLY angry.  I couldn't have shopped any better, yet I was still a whole third over my budget!  I figured if I was going to have any hope of getting my food costs down I was just going to have to beat the supermarket at their own game and the only way I could do that was by growing my own food like I used to.  Obviously I knew how to do it, but this time was going to be the first time I had done so completely from nothing and all by myself.

So the world's ugliest vegie garden was created.  A patch of lawn was dedicated and my timber frame has been built.  No photos yet!  It's going to be a work in progress because I have to find the cheapest and most practical way to prepare the soil and fill it and one of the unfortunate things about setting up a garden is that it does require some outlay but it will be worth it because I never want to rely on the supermarket for fresh produce again.  If you have fruit and vegies in the garden you can always eat. Besides, getting out in the garden is good for the soul!  I just need to put in some serious weight training if I'm ever going to be able to get my spade through the grass and dig up the turf.  Methinks I may have to find an easier alternative!  I won't give up on that just yet though - after all, I always thought I wouldn't be able to build a garden either!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Friends don't let friends go broke

One of the most enjoyable parts when writing the $21 Challenge book with Fiona was compiling the chapter on 'Minor Hurdles'.  This was a section dedicated to all the different types of people who for whatever reason do their best to sabotage your efforts to save money and get ahead.  Some of them had no idea what an effect their behaviour was having, but others knew bloody well.  In hindsight we probably should have named the chapter 'Selfish Bastards' but 'Minor Hurdles' was more politically correct.  By identifying the people around us into different 'types', readers were easily able to identify who their own saboteurs were and how best to deal with them.  Once you become aware of who is affecting your financial progress and how they do it, they no longer have any power over you and their future efforts to trip you up become just that - a minor hurdle.  Let them try their darnedest!  You just keep doing your thing.

Like many parents, one of the greatest things about being a mother to my kids is being able to give them the gift of my hindsight now, in the hope that they will use it to their advantage a good 20 years earlier than I did and learn from the mistakes I made.  Of course in my case it particularly comes down to money - Ali and I talk about money a LOT.  In fact as I said to Rob Stock earlier this week when he was interviewing me for an article about teaching money skills to kids, I feel sorry for the poor guy!  Since becoming the only child still living at home with me, he gets bombarded with it 24/7!  But boy, what a valuable insight he has also got.  Whether he decides to take any of that knowledge into his adult years and make the most of it, well that's up to him but I was pretty chuffed the other day when I went into his room while he was at school and found a wishlist neatly divided into two columns: 'Things Alistair Wants' and 'Things Alistair Needs'.  Looks like somebody learned something from his mum's class at school the other day!  At the top of the 'Needs' list was 'Pay off car',  which as of this morning was proudly ticked off as he made the final payment to his brother.  One goal down!

'From now on all your money is your own!' I told him.  'Yeah, except now I don't have any.  I only have around $10 left from my last pay', he said.  'What?  But you worked three days last week and you only had to pay Liam $50!  Where's the rest gone?'  'Gahhh at the frigging cafe!' he grimaced, 'I spent like $30 there yesterday'.  'You did WHAT?  What the hell did you buy?' I asked him.  'Well it's $5 each for a large coffee and then I shouted two of my mates something as well'... he went on.  That explains why he didn't eat any of his lunch yesterday, I had to throw that away this morning too, even more unnecessary waste!  'Oh Ali we've been through this before - you DON'T have to spend all your money on your mates!  That is not what you work for!  I thought you learned this last month when you complained you spent all your wages on Red Bull and Indian food!' I reminded him.  'Ugh, yeah I forgot about that', he sighed.  'I can't believe I spent $60 at the Indian restaurant!'  'So when you put it like that, you worked four hours at the fishing shop to buy you and your friends lunch.  Is that what you slog your guts out heaving gas bottles and ice around for at work, to spend it on coffee and lunch?'  I went on.  'They have jobs too, they can bloody well pay for their own stuff if they want it!'

I didn't want to go on any more about it so left it there and drove him to school.  Normally he drives himself but as he didn't have money to put petrol in his car I offered to drive him in mine.  We hadn't long left home when we got a text.  'It's my friend, she says can I bring her and Hayley a coffee and a hot chocolate to school' he said.  'No you bloody well can't because you don't have any money and you can text her right back and tell her that!' I growled.  'Three coffees at $5 - that's $15 before you even get to school!  That is INSANE!  I don't even spend that on a bottle of wine! Don't get me wrong, everyone likes a treat and I know you like making your friends happy but YOU are the one losing out here.  You guys are making these things a staple and it's you who is footing most of the bill!' God I was angry.  I still am.  I hope he's learned his lesson, I really do but it's one I'm going to keep on at him AND his friends about until it sinks in.  You don't have to spend money on other people for them to like you.  You don't have to spend money on people just to be nice.

I probably sound like a right grumpy old cow but heaven knows I sabotaged myself for long enough to know how financially damaging it can be.  On the one hand Ali is doing really well and trying to focus on paying off his commitments so that he can be independent and afford to buy the things he needs.  On the other he is sabotaging himself big time and letting others do it too by throwing even more money away on absolute shite.  Stuff which at the end of the day has an instant gratification value of all of five minutes yet can put him behind for a good couple of weeks.  Just like I said to his class recently, from the moment you start earning your own money you have to make choices with it and one of the things which is hardest for teenagers to master is being able to think any longer term than today.  When a 17-year-old boy has money in his wallet and has a passing whim for a Red Bull and a Subway NOW, he doesn't think 'Now if I spend this now, I'm not going to be able to put petrol in my car next week'.  But he'll learn.

And let's face it, a lot of us have the same problems in our adult lives too!  Many of us have people in our household or social circle who constantly drain our bank accounts and sabotage our efforts to save.  Even more of us are our own worst enemies, saving hard all week only to think 'Ugh, what a horrible day, I just can't be bothered cooking tonight' and go and blow all the money we just saved on takeaways.  The only ones who can put an end to either of these scenarios is our own sweet selves! We all have those friends or loved ones who 'lead us astray' and if it's a problem, it's up to us to grow a pair and pull them into line instead.  No point complaining about it if we never do anything about it! The one good thing about teaching this lesson to Ali is at least I am able to lead by example; for many years I didn't.

This week is NZ Money Week and if there is one lesson I would really love for parents to teach their kids this week it's this - Friends Don't Let Friends Go Broke.  Don't take advantage of your friends and don't let them do it to you.  Stop throwing your money away on meaningless rubbish and go and find something else to do together instead.  Look after yourselves and each other and nobody ever has to miss out.  Save your money for all the amazing stuff you still have ahead of you because you will not BELIEVE the cool things will be able to do in the future if you just stay strong and hang onto it. Here endeth today's lesson :)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pulling rabbits out of hats

Remember how I said in a recent blog that we couldn't afford to have someone else live with us?  As it turns out it's pretty much ended up happening anyway!  After years of living in a male dominated household, Nawtypoo Cottage has recently become the second home to a little pocket rocket called Hayley - Ali's girlfriend.  She lives over half an hour away but they both go to the same school in the same town and she does a lot of after-school activities here so a lot of the time it just makes sense both logically and economically for her to stay.  She loves our dogs and cats (which is a huge bonus because they are 'eccentric' to say the least) and nicer still, she loves my food.  Which I'm extremely thankful for as on the one hand it's a pleasure to have someone to cook for who really appreciates it - however on the other hand I have to be even more creative than ever at making delicious and filling meals which are made out of next to nothing!  But it's a good thing, it's got me brushing up on my skills and digging out long forgotten recipes as well as trying out new things.  I thought I would share a few favourites from the past week which have all been given the Ali and Hayley stamp of approval!

'Algud Pizza'

This is what I make when I have bugger all meat in the house and not much more than a tin of spaghetti in the pantry but don't have the time or the budget to go to the supermarket.  It's super easy (the scone dough contains no yeast so no mucking around waiting for it to rise) super cheap and surprisingly tasty considering you can actually make it contain so little.  Or in Ali's words 'This pizza is algud!' (teenage speak for 'all good' - high praise indeed) - hence the name!  The recipe below makes one large pizza so multiply the quantity to make however many you need.  I managed to stretch three rashers of bacon, a single onion and two tins of spaghetti into three huge pizzas for Ali, Hayley and me and we could all only eat half each, oops!  Fortunately they refrigerate and reheat really well!


1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup cheese, grated
1 tsp mixed herbs (or whatever you have; basil, oregano, sage and marjoram all work well)
Approximately 1/4 cup of milk 
Toppings of your choice, whatever you would normally use to make pizza or just chuck on a tin of spaghetti for a kid friendly version (which incidentally adults love too!)


Mix together the flour and herbs in a large bowl.  Slowly add the milk and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until you have a firm scone dough (feel free to add a little more milk or flour as necessary until you get a consistency you're happy with).  Roll out on a floured surface to around 25cm, then pinch all around the edges to make a 'lip'.  Preheat your oven to 220C and carefully place your pizza base onto a greased baking sheet.  Put all your toppings on however you want them, then sprinkle with the cheese and pop into the oven for around 10 minutes until the toppings are cooked and the base is golden brown.  

Sausage Casserole

Apologies for not having a picture to go with this, we ate it all before I thought of sharing the recipe! But as far as recipes for sausages go, this one is actually quite posh and respectable and certainly 'good enough' to serve to guests. My mum came home from work one day when I was a youngster to find I had gone through her recipe books to find something I could make for dinner with the sausages she had left out to defrost.  I thought I was helping, she thought I'd gone mad!  Fortunately my brave experiment paid off and the result is a dish which is really economical and simple, yet full of flavour. Don't leave out the sage though, it really makes it!


6 sausages (or thereabouts) I like the pre-cooked ones but any will do
Splash of oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 - 4 sliced potatoes (or more, enough to cover the top of your dish)
Salt and pepper
Large pinch sage


First preheat the oven to 200C.  Heat the splash of oil in a frying pan and brown the sausages.  Leave to cool a little, then cut each one in half and place in the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Scatter the carrots and onions on top of the sausages, then layer the sliced potatoes on top of that.  Pour your tin of tomatoes over the potatoes and sprinkle with the salt, pepper and sage.  Cover and bake in the oven for around 45 minutes to 1 hour until the potatoes are cooked through.

*Note - Sometimes when I'm feeling lazy and want the dish to cook faster I leave out the sliced potatoes and just cook and mash them separately then serve with the rest.  Either way it's yum!

French Shepherd's Pie   

I made this for dinner last night and was chuffed to bits when Hayley presented me with her empty plate and said 'That was AMAZING!  Honestly it was SO good!'  And, I have to say it is, this is one of Liam's favourites from way back but I definitely can't take credit for the recipe.  As many Simple Savings members will know, this was originally shared by much-loved and very savvy member Poppet.  As you can see it makes a BIG pie! It’s the perfect example of how far you can make a little meat stretch and is also a wonderful way to use up any leftover sour cream or cream cheese in the fridge.  I haven't met anyone who doesn't love it!


500g minced beef or lamb (or thereabouts)
6 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
Splash of oil 
1 onion, chopped 
2 cloves (or 2 tsp) garlic, crushed 
250g sour cream (or cream cheese – or however much you have, less is fine) 
Handful of grated cheese 
Large pinch mixed herbs

First, bring a large pot of potatoes to the boil and cook until tender. Drain and mash and set aside. Next, preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the oil over medium heat in a separate saucepan. Throw in your onions and garlic and fry gently for a few minutes until softened. Add your mince and brown all over, stirring frequently. Then add the mince and onion mixture to your cooked, mashed potatoes. Mix together well, then add your sour cream (or cream cheese) and mix well again – don’t worry if it looks a bit runny! Pour everything into a large, rectangular dish and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top. Scatter your mixed herbs over the top to finish, if using. Pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden on the top. Serve with vegetables or salad. Too easy!

I think that's enough recipes for one day, we all know I'm no talented food photographer!  But I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!  And for those of you who missed my Facebook post the other day, you can see a photo of Liam and his gorgeous girlfriend here at their recent uni ball.  I have to take my hat off to Tiana; in just a few months she has succeeded where I failed for 18 years - getting my beloved eldest to cook!