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Oily Rag column: from coffee and tea to self sufficiency

Readers’ tips: from coffee and tea to self sufficiency

by Frank and Muriel Newman
Week of 4 August 2014

Here are some of the many tips we have received recently.

Greenfingers from Wellsford says coffee grounds are a good growing medium for mushrooms.

Meg from Te Puke says, “Set aside part of your garden to grow flowers with long stems. This could save you a fortune in florist bills.”

Anita from Whangarei writes, “Some of us with fireplaces enjoy cosy evenings in front of a warm fire. Not too many of us are good at starting fires so I hope this tip will be a winner in many households. I save and dry used teabags. I peg them next to the fire to dry, then put 10 to 20 into a jar, add methylated spirits, screw the lid on tight and shake. Use one soaked teabag each time you light your fire. Why spend money on fire starters, when it’s that easy! Thanks for your column. I always read it and it brings a smile to my face.” We have tried Anita’s tip and can say it works a treat! You don’t need much meths - just some dribbles over the top and a really good shake!

Joyce has this water saving tip. “I have four small plastic containers I use to catch the first water from the hot tap. It's cold and good for pot plants and special garden plants. It saves a surprising amount.”

Fred from Northland has this tasty tip. “I have this dead simple recipe for Yorkshire pudding. I saw it on TV - it's so simple that we now make it regularly. I use 2 eggs, 100 ml of skim milk, 100gm of flour, and a pinch of salt. Mix it all up into a thin batter. Place cooking oil in the bottom of each recess of a muffin tin, then put into a hot oven at 250 degrees Celsius. Once heated through, take the tin out and quickly pour in the batter. Place in the oven and leave 5-10 minutes until they rise. The trick is to have the tin really hot to start with – and NOT to open the door while they are cooking! We have them with a meat roast - yum!”

RM from Christchurch has some suggested winter reading. “I would like to recommend to your readers a non-fiction book called ‘A Secret Gift’ by Ted Gup (published 2010). It's the secret stories of people who were obliged to learn to live off the smell of an oily rag during the Great Depression, particularly Christmas of 1933. It doesn't exactly list frugal hints, but the reader absorbs them in these life stores. Your column is my Poor People's Vade Mecum (a reference book or manual]. Thank you.”

WWG from Waipu has this shopping tip. “I agree one has to check prices per kg when buying from bulk bins. Craisins (dried cranberries) bought from a supermarket bin were $13 a kg dearer than packaged ones from the same shop! I was informed it was because they came in fresh from the suppler.”

PJN from Auckland has this tip for our reader from the UK who asked for suggestions on using mature broad beans. “Shell the beans, gently cook them, then make into a pesto which can be frozen in small containers. Tastes very good.”

JB from Whangarei is enjoying the good life. “Living cheaply has been a 20 year preoccupation which we call self-sufficiency and it all began with planning. We moved to a piece of land where we can grow all our food - vegies, fruit, meat, eggs – as well as make hay for the animals and have firewood trees for the woodstove. We thought about all our needs so we are not having to produce a high income to live well. We now have our own homemade wine from our grapevine, jars of sauce, and preserves, and enough surplus to take to the markets or trade with friends. It has taken planning but we can now live very cheaply without having to cope with fulltime work as we age.” Well done JB!

We have received too many tips to include them all in this column - see the oily rag website for more.

Don’t forget to send your money-saving tips to us so we can share them with others, by visiting or by writing to Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.


Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips by email at

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