Bargain Betty

Bargain Betty’s money savvy tips

Baked Bean cassoulet


Finally had the baked bean cassoulet last night, that was recommended by Virgil Evetts over at

for my pantry project. You can read more about my experiences of not shopping for four weeks here:

It was a budget meal to say the least. Only expensive ingredients were bacon and four small chorizo.  I do have to say that chorizos are pretty reasonably priced in the deli at Third World Devonport.

The dish was a real hit. Even with me – the great baked bean hater.  Definitely worth doing again. And I might cook some regular cassoulets in the near future. Bean-based meals usually go down reasonably well in this household.

Feeding our Families


I’ve just discovered the Feeding our Families website.  Lots of great ideas for cheap, healthy meals.  I loved the one with grated vegetables added to pot noodles for an afternoon tea snack:

There is a real Kiwi/Pacific flavour to these recipes.

Lateral thinking


I was just over at and saw a wonderful tip.  That was to use empty tuna tins, with both ends cut out, as crumpet rings.

So often there’s a free alternative to buying expensive equipment. This is a great one.  I’ve got some silicone rings that I picked up in a garage sale. But the tuna tin idea is even better, being free.

Cheesed off at the price of feta


Here’s a tip.  My local Foodtown sells cow’s feta in the deli section for $14.50 a kilogramme.  I’m always astounded at the price of feta in New Zealand’s supermarkets.  We’ve done a bit of cheese making at home and feta is one of the easiest and quickest cheeses there is to make. Much quicker and cheaper to make than cheddar. Yet our supermarkets charge a premium for it. I’ve often thought about this because I buy feta for $9.99 at times from the Indian shop that lives in what to be Sandringham’s old cinema. That’s more like the price it should be everywhere. It’s not a premium cheese.

I won’t get onto the price of cheddar, but Chris Barton wrote an interesting article on the topic in 2008, which can be found here:

What I’ve been up to.


It looks like I’ve not been posting. But I’ve been adding nuggets of information every few days to my pantry challenge entry in this blog.  Take a look here:

I’m still going strong and have avoided spending at least $600 in the past four weeks.

New Zealand: 100 per cent pure rip-off


This morning’s NZ Herald has an interesting article about New Zealand being 100 per cent pure rip-off by international journlist Peter Bills.  It reminds me of an article I wrote on my return to New Zealand after 12 years away:

Godzone: where ripoffs rule – Personal Finance – NZ Herald News

Most of the things I said in that article five years ago still stand:

Life is perfect and sweet in good old Godzone. People are friendly and rip-offs are non-existent. Never mind the tourist literature, this is the New Zealand I viewed through rose-tinted glasses during my extended OE.

In the UK, meanwhile, where consumers believe they’re hard done by, the slogan “Rip Off Britain” scream the newspaper headlines. The phrase is so embedded in the UK psyche that when I searched Google I found it mentioned 11,600 times.

But a year back in New Zealand and I’ve come to the conclusion that British consumers aren’t hard done by. Looking at my own spending patterns, it’s easy to collate a “dirty dozen” where Kiwis just don’t get a fair deal……

Last year I updated these thoughts following a huge amount of feedback to my weekly MSN article:

More of New Zealand’s biggest rip-offs

If ever something gets Kiwis foaming at the mouth, it’s rip-offs. Looking back at all the blog posts I have written in the past year, “Rip-offs rule in New Zealand” got more response than any other.

Over the past few months I’ve thought of more rip-offs that bug me personally and 200 comments from MSN NZ Money readers have opened my eyes to others.

Here are some rip-offs that rile me:……..

Bargain Betty’s pantry project


One of the best ways to cut your grocery bill, at least in the short term is to simply not go shopping.  As an exercise I’m doing just that. I’m going to miss my next two shopping excursions and eat the food from my cupboards and freezer.  I’m feeling quite nervous about it and keep worrying about running out of all sorts of things.

Most of us hoard food – it’s natural human behaviour. In reality most of us wouldn’t starve if we cut out the weekly shop for a couple of weeks.  I spend around $180 – $200 a week on food.  I don’t know exactly because I do one weekly shop at the supermarket, but buy meat and vegetables elsewhere.

Update: Monday 19th July: It’s astounding how scary the idea of not shopping for food is. I keep worrying I’m not going to be able to find something to eat for dinner. Yet my cupboard and freezer is still packed with food.  That natural human urge to hoard food is really hard to fight against. I’m still wondering about what “basics” are and whether I should stock up on them. I’ve decided that fruit and milk are necessities. But I can’t get my head around whether eggs are.  I can make cakes and biscuits with eggs for the kids lunchboxes.

Update: Tuesday 20th July: My cupboards are full enough to survive a nuclear winter. I’m not one to throw food away. But when non-perishables are on sale I tend to buy up large.  At the moment this exercise is more about eating down the oversupply of various foods. Having said that, I keep having a panic about not going shopping. Tonight is my usual supermarket night. I’m only going to get milk.  I originally decided that milk and fruit were the only basics I would top up during this exercise. I don’t want my children going without fruit.  I realise having seen the first comment from a reader that toilet paper is an essential.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I remember using newspaper when toilet paper ran out at home. Perhaps my mother didn’t want to go shopping. I’m not sure how 21st century children would cope if given newspaper. I’m still toying with the idea of whether eggs are basics.  I can do without them. But as we run out of snacks, I might need them for baking.  Butter is also an essential for baking, so may be replaced. I don’t, however, want to fool myself.  I came across this:

Mastercheap: the $25 shopping list

As the exercise unfolds, I’ll add more to this blog. All comments appreciated.

Wednesday July 21: I’m not going to update this every day. But last night was shopping night (Tuesdays).  It was great to nip into the supermarket and only come out with milk and bananas.  There were only two of us for dinner last night, so I didn’t “cook”.  Maia had instant noodles (despite my fears that I might be causing her long term nutruitional damage by feeding her something like that 🙂 ).  I steamed some vegetables and pulled out a Gits brand Paneer Tikka Masala package from the pantry. I often buy Gits brand products from Moshims one of my regular grocery shopping haunts.  That reduced the pantry food by a minute amount.

Thursday July 22: My neighbour just turned up with some parsley and eggs (both from his garden/free range chickens). I was a little concerned that this is cheating. But he reckons it’s “foraging” which is okay. I would usually have parsley in the garden, but my guinea pigs ate it – along with anything except for the Rosemary in my veggie/herb garden. Must fence it off….

Friday July 22: Came across my first real problem last night.  I was baking a “plate” for an event I was going to and found to my horror that I had less than 1 cup of icing sugar for the chocolate icing.  My initial reaction was to send Maia across the road to “borrow” a cup of icing sugar. But I stopped and thought and managed to extend the icing by adding Nutella.  I was wondering later if it’s possible to make a peanut butter icing by adding sugar syrup and cocoa. I discover this morning that there are plenty of such recipes. See I have two containers of peanut butter, so could have done this.  It just shows how easy it is to be resourceful.
Monday July 26: We’re six days overdue for shopping and there is remarkably very little on the shopping list. I always write things on when we run out of them. Currently the list is:

  • Chocolate Whiz (the kids like it and the last bottle lasted months  – although it definitely isn’t an “essential”)
  • Icing sugar
  • Puy Lentils (to make mince go further)
  • Lamb neck chops (for a recipe recommended by a friend)
  • Miso soup (I often have this for a snack when I’m working from home)
  • Paprika
  • Tinned tomatoes (Yikes. But I still have tins of Watties tomato soup, which could be used in place of tinned tomatoes, and also tomato paste – lots of it)
  • Cheese.

It’s this last item cheese, which is vexing me. I still have 1/3rd of a block of Parmesan, which can be used in place of cheddar. But I’m not sure what’s going to happen on Friday.  Friday is pizza night in our household.

I’m wondering whether I’m allowed to buy one semi-essential item a week – such as cheese, butter, or vegetables? Is this cheating I ask myself?  I’m not sure.

Wednesday July 28: Missed my second week’s shop last night. I only bought the essentials of: 5L of milk and a bag of apples ($2.99 for 2kg, which wasn’t bad. I rarely buy fruit in the supermarket as it is much cheaper at Simply Fresh and other such fruit marts).  I made the decision to buy one “semi-essential”.  That was cheese.  I only bought this because Friday night is pizza night and it’s pretty difficult to have pizza without cheese. I know it’s possible. But I’m not sure what the children would think.  Maybe this Friday I’ll make one of the pizzas with no cheese and find out.

Late last week food writer Virgil Evetts came over and we emptied my cupboards, fridge and freezer of food and took an inventory. He will be writing next week on about the food in my pantry and what could be done with it.  Virgil has promised me his Baked Bean Cassoulet recipe. Personally I view baked beans (and yoghurt as well) as kiddie-food and don’t particularly like them.  But this is a great way to make them into a family meal.

I’ve actually been pretty creative myself.  We have a cup-cake maker (lots of fun for the kids and I bought it with Fly Buys points) and I’ve been making cup cakes for afternoon tea.  On the first day instead of using milk, I use the rest of a chocolate mousse that the kids wouldn’t eat.  I’m running short of butter and decided to weigh out oil, instead of using up the precious butter.

Friday July 30: I’ve now missed three weeks of shopping.   Cooking  is starting to get a little challenging. I wanted to make some ginger icing last night for my Weetbix ginger slice, which we had for pudding last night. I ran out of icing sugar last week. Instead I used the remainder of my brown sugar.  That worked well. One of the challenges that I hadn’t mentioned previously is that I have a member of the extended whanau living with me. I don’t feel that she should suffer from my challenge. So I’ve been trying to ensure she is well fed – hence the dessert last night. We’re long out of ice cream, which is the usual dessert around here. I’m also baking bread – although we still have Vogels in the freezer. I will be out of vegetables (fresh and frozen) by week 4, which might mean a mini shop on Tuesday. Even so, I can see the experiment lasting another two to three weeks.

Monday August 2: it’s hard to believe that I’m still going strong – having missed 3 weeks grocery shopping. I’ve been adapting well to my creative dinners.  On Saturday I cooked up some yellow split peas I had. Three-quarters of the cooked split peas went into the freezer to make dahl sometime this week. The remainder were cooked into one of my home-made lasagnes (I make the pasta myself, it’s easy) along with the very last of the premium mince.  I made ricotta cheese from1L of milk, and used a pottle of Greek Yoghurt instead of white sauce.  It went down well. Out of salad – except for a very small amount of mesculin in the garden, I grated carrot as an accompaniment.

Last night we had pasta again. I still had one pack of bought fresh Tortellini.  It wasn’t enough for three adults and I poked around the fridge/freezer for a little while wondering what extras I could put in (eg bacon, chorizo, hot dog sausages).  In the end I chopped up two onions, and added some Aria brand lamb strips, grated cheese and almost the last of my sour cream.  It was a little of an odd mix – Chicken Tortellini with lamb strips.   It tasted quite good.   I nearly added half a can of pineapple, which was in the freezer. But my friend the chef called just as I was about to defrost it and completely freaked out. Ironically my dinner guests said they would have liked pineapple in it.

I’ve been knocking all sorts of deserts together – using whatever ingredients I still have in the baking cupboard. Sometimes it’s biscuits or slices. I’ve also managed to make some hot desserts.  I’ve got the ingredients to make this (with a little chopping and changing) :  We also have a recipe for “little puddings” from the Edmonds Children’s Cook Box, which we’ll make sometime this week.

Supermarket night is tomorrow night. I’ve decided to add a couple of extra items to this week’s absolute essentials. Otherwise I’ll be missing yet another supermarket shop. My 4th. Tomorrow I’m going to buy milk, eggs, one green veg (I’m out of fresh and frozen), and something to make salad with. That’s double what I have been buying.  If it was only me I’d do without the veg and eggs, for the sake of the experiment.  Said chef is emailing me a recipe for egg free cake (for either lunch boxes or dessert). But I’m actually starting to run short of cooking oil, which could prove a problem.

Interestingly, even with no shopping I’ve managed to give food away twice in the past week- to people/organisations that needed it.  I couldn’t have imagined being able to do that after three weeks of no shopping.  As an aside, even well off areas such as the one I live in have food banks, which rely on ordinary people to make donations.

Thursday August 5.

My challenge is still going strong – although I’ve topped up on a few fresh items (salad and one head of broccoli).  My friend Virgil Evetts has written his take on my pantry challenge over at  Take a look and please come back and post here. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m actually starting to get over the psychological need to food shop.  I realise that I can still cook from what I have. I’ve only bought fruit and  veg (small amounts) so that we remain healthy. To be honest, if an earthquake hit we could do without these for a few weeks if need be. But I’m not taking the challenge to that extreme.

I should have added that I had a brainwave a few nights back and mixed the lamb strips in with some chicken tortellini, along with sour cream and a few other ingredients. It turned out to be a real hit – even if it was a strange mix. I was about to put some tinned pineapple in it when my friend the chef called by coincidence and persuaded me against it. Oddly enough my two guests for dinner that night said they would have quite liked pineapple in the mix.

Update:  Wednesday August 11. The experiment is over.  I’ve done half a shop.  We got down to the point where I had no flour (incl wholemeal and rye), no butter, no veg, no baking powder, no tomato (fresh or canned), no potatoes, and no meat.  I can honestly say that we could have survived another two weeks with no shopping and had it just been me and the kids (not a boarder as well) I may well have continued eating our way through bland pasta and baked beans.  It astounded me that I could miss four scheduled supermarket shops four weeks in a row and still produce well rounded meals. In fact in some ways we ate better because I did a lot of baking.  It’s also liberating not to have my cupboards and freezer so packed full of food.  I’m going to start shopping fortnightly instead of weekly (that was an improvement made two years ago, before which I went when I felt like it). I may even move my main shop to monthly and do it online.  It will be interesting over the next week to see how the small amount of supplies I’ve bought affect the way we eat.  I’d still like to finish eating down the remainder of the basics, which I haven’t replenished for five weeks, such as: oats, dried spaghetti and a small amount of Rizzoni, tinned baked beans and tinned tomato soup, two maggi soup packets, and about eight two litre plastic packs of home pickled olives. 🙂

I still have to try out Virgil Evetts baked-bean cassoulet recipe, which I’m really looking forward to. I haven’t been able to because we ate the chorizo and bacon up before he gave me the recipe.  Here’s the recipe:

Virgil’s baked bean cassoulet recipe:

2 tins baked beans
4 cups hot stock (chicken/beef)
Kransky-roughly chopped
Chorizo- roughly chopped
1 onion-finely chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed
2 tablespoon butter/margarine
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried sage Or 3 fresh sage leaves
Vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 200c
Sauté the bacon and sausages in 1 tablespoon of the butter/margarine and a little oil until browned. Add onion garlic and herbs, sauté until soft and fragrant. Add beans and stir until simmering.
Now add the stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a low simmer. Stir frequently until reduced and thickened. Use a wooden spoon or potato masher to crush some of the beans. This greatly improves the texture of the sauce.
Adjust seasoning to taste.
Transfer to a suitable oven dish, sprinkle liberally with breadcrumbs and stud with little knobs of butter/margarine. Bake until golden and sizzling or stir in crust and add more breadcrumbs and butter/margarine and bake again.
Serve with crusty bread and plenty of rough wine.

The cost of alcohol


Alcohol eats through people’s money far more than takeaways.  The average bottle of wine costs $15 and many families buy several a week.  I used‘s calculator to see how that adds up.  Two bottles a week at $30  came to $17,000 over 10 years or $20,000 at a 3% interest rate. Add a glass of wine or pint or two every week at a bar and you’re looking at big bucks.

I mentioned this to friends yesterday, who told me they were saving money by buying wine by the case from a discount company.  They failed to realise just how much they were spending on their alcohol habit in total.

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