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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The 'perfume wardrobe' con

Every now and again, The Bargain Queen encounters the idea of a 'perfume wardrobe' in a magazine or on a fashion web site. The idea goes a little like this: instead of having a signature scent you wear all the time, you should have a 'wardrobe' of perfumes and choose one to suit your mood each day.

While perfume is always a lovely thing to have, The Bargain Queen is unconvinced about the perfume wardrobe idea and suspects it might be a marketing ploy to increase perfume sales. She has two reasons for this.

Firstly, perfume has a very limited shelf life. Usually it's estimated at about a year; in The Bargain Queen's experience it's a little more if you protect it from heat and direct sunlight. So what happens when perfume goes off? It doesn't look any different or have mould growing on it, but the stale perfume smell is pretty distinctive and really not attractive. If you don't know the smell, check Grandma's dressing table - older people are usually a reliable source of beauty products that have been hoarded too long.

While perfume's shelf life wouldn't be an issue if we used it quickly, The Bargain Queen finds it hard to use a whole bottle of perfume before it starts to deteriorate, even though she wears 2-3 squirts of her signature scent most days. So having more perfumes is likely to result in either throwing out expensive scent that's past its prime, or continuing to wear it until it smells like cat urine. Ew!

Secondly, The Bargain Queen doesn't think wearing a different scent each day makes sense from an affective point of view. Smells are tightly connected to our feelings and have long been used to shape our perceptions and influence our behaviour (e.g. that irresistable bakery smell, aromatherapy, Cleopatra's barge of rose petals on the fetid Nile). Perfume is a way to unconsciously help people associate you with lovely things like flowers, spices and delicious food smells. Maybe there's some logic in smelling like a different lovely thing each day, but it also makes it more noticeable that it's not you that smells great, just the bottled stuff you splash on. Plus wearing a different scent each day means you never build up 'your smell' in anyone's mind, so you lose perfume's evocative effect where people think of you when they smell that fragrance.

So The Bargain Queen's unconvinced about buying a wardrobe of perfumes. If having a few fragrances works for you, fantastic... just try to buy smaller bottles or keep them in the fridge so you don't end up smelling like Eau de Stale Cat. But unless you're a perfume afficionado, The Bargain Queen thinks that one perfume at a time is probably enough.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Super-impressive dinner party dessert, $10

This is The Bargain Queen's favourite dinner party dessert. It's super impressive, irresistably yummy and costs about $10 for four generous serves.

1 litre (2 pints) fresh gelati, from a specialist gelati store like Gelatissimo in Sydney (about $8)
1/2 pack Sara Lee Bake at Home cookie dough (about $4/pack but half can go in the freezer 'til later)

The Bargain Queen's favourite is White Choc Chunk cookies with Veronese Chocolate gelato - yum!

The trick to making two store-bought ingredients into an impressive dessert is getting the timing right. For the gelati to taste its best, it should be bought the day of the dinner party. Also, it saves a lot of fuss later if you have the cookies on the baking sheet ready to be cooked before guests arrive.

Then the timing works a bit like this:
  1. When you serve the main course (entree for everyone States-side), turn the oven on to pre-heat to the correct temperature
  2. When you clear dishes away after the main course (entree), take the cookies from the fridge and stick them in the oven. Set a timer to tell you when they're done, especially if you've had a few glasses of wine!
  3. Pull out the cookies when they're browned around the edges, still a bit squishy in the centre
  4. Stick a couple of cookies in each bowl while they're still hot, add a couple of scoops of icecream, pour some Grand Marnier over the top if you want to be really fancy
  5. Serve!
If it still sounds too simple to be impressive, just think of the fresh cookie smell wafting through your house...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Rental decorating on a budget

The Bargain Queen's about to embark on an exciting new adventure, renovating she and Mr Bargain Queen's new apartment. So before she completely loses her rental decorating mojo in favour of ripping out walls and replacing the tiling, she's going to share her tips.

In Australia, you can't paint walls or replace flooring in your rental place unless you have written permission from the owner, which is pretty hard to get. The general rule is, the place must look exactly the same when you leave as it did when you arrive, barring normal wear and tear. So everything The Bargain Queen's done to make the places she's rented look nicer are completely reversible.

Here's some of her favourites:
  • Clean really thoroughly. This possibly sounds obvious, but you might be surprised by some of the places where grime accumulates. Window sills, the tops of skirting boards, electric outlets and door handles are some of the things previous tenants may never have thought to clean. Taking these from 'ugh' to sparkling clean makes a huge difference to the overall appearance of the place.

  • Have nice furniture. If you're lucky enough to buy furniture when you move into your rental (rather than making do with family cast-offs and milk crates), it can be tempting to buy everything you need at Ikea or a discount furniture outlet. While everything you buy this way will match, it will also be lower quality and often doesn't wear well. If you can hold out a little longer and scour op (thrift) shops, garage (yard) sales, auctions, small furniture stores and outlet warehouses for the better furniture retailers, there's well constructed pieces to be had for the same price as a flat-packed one elsewhere. You might need to clean them up a little yourself, but the net result will be much nicer-looking decor than if you'd bought the cheap starter set. (This also works well if you can only fork out a little money at a time to make your place nicer!)

  • Add plants. If The Bargain Queen had decorating rules, #1 would be 'all homes look better with plants'. She's already written about cutting the cost of gardening, and most of these tips are equally applicable to finding and caring for indoor plants.

  • Cover ugly floors with rugs. You might luck out and get great floor coverings in your rental; if not, they're easily covered with rugs. Attractive rugs sometimes turn up in op (thrift) shops and garage (yard) sales; occasionally dollar stores will have something nice too. Alternatively, The Bargain Queen has found nice cheap rugs in Sydney at Spotlight, Woolworths / Big W, Kmart, Target and Ikea. None of them have great stuff all the time, but with a little persistance you can usually find something suitable for a good price.

  • Hide it behind a plant, a screen, a piece of furniture. It can be harder to hide the other ugly features in your rental (awful tiles, cracked walls, exposed pipes) but arranging your things to hide them can help. If you absolutely can't put a huge bookcase in front of your place's worst feature, try drawing attention away from it instead. This can be done by organising the room so people will face away from it (especially in lounge or dining rooms), or by putting something eye-catching like a nice artwork in a spot where it draws the eye away from the ugly feature.

  • Change the light shades. Ugly light fittings can spoil an otherwise nicely-decorated room. If your lights consist of a hanging light bulb with a shade over it, you can usually take out the light bulb, unscrew the piece that sits around it, take off the existing shade and replace it with something you like more. The Bargain Queen's favourite sources of light shades are dollar stores, Target and Kmart.

  • Replace the doorknobs. Changing knobs is another easy, reversible change that can make a huge difference to the appearance of your place. Most cupboard doorknobs are held by a screw that goes all the way through the door and can be unscrewed easily from the back (inside). eBay is The Bargain Queen's favourite source of cheap doorknobs and is great for buying big sets to make an outdated kitchen or bathroom look a little newer. She's also splurged on some lovely cut glass knobs from a cute little homewares store to dress up wardrobe doors and anything else where only a pair are needed.

  • Make (or buy) more attractive curtains. The Bargain Queen can't work out why so many houses are rented with ugly, stained curtains and blinds. It seems like these curtains have never seen a washing machine, with dozens of years of dust caked into them. Sometimes these will clean up well, other times they're better hidden away somewhere until you leave. Curtains are surprisingly easy to make - even if you can't sew at all, you can use iron-on tape to make the necessary seams for a professional finish, or make artistic use of unfinished edges instead - and cheap fabrics can look great. If you'd like more instructions on how to make curtains, try this article.

  • Buy a nicer shower curtain - and hooks. In a dingy bathroom, a bright shower curtain can make a big difference. These are another item you can usually find cheaply in discount stores.

  • Use lamps and candles to light it nicely. Lastly, no matter what your place is like, nice lighting makes a big difference. Great lighting doesn't have to be expensive, just carefully thought out. Candles, lamps, shades, coloured globes... these can all make your home a lot more atmospheric quickly. The experts all seem to recommend dim ambient lighting with bright task lighting where it's needed and/or feature lighting to highlight anything really great in the room (like artwork), but The Bargain Queen just moves stuff around 'til it looks nice.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fabulous things for (almost) free!

The Bargain Queen's original motto was 'high style on a low budget', because she loves to prove that you don't have to spend stacks of money to have fabulous things. Whenever she reads fashion or decorating mags, she sees the price tags and starts to feel discouraged - but the reality of the taste that money can buy is more Posh and Becks than Cate Blanchett.

So today The Bargain Queen's going to prove that highbrow doesn't have to be high cost. To get you started, here's some ideas of fabulous things you can have for (or almost free):

  • Coffee table (library) books. Most libraries have a selection of big, glossy books on interior design, fine art, haute couture and travel for loan - and they're often unpopular because they're so heavy to lug home. Borrow one and you can have a taste of the finer things in life right in your home for free. Ditto for glossy magazines - borrow them from the library and at least you're not paying to drool over $40,000 dining tables!
  • Art galleries. In Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW are both free to look around. Gallery openings at the commercial galleries are also free, and they'll give you a glass of wine while you look at the work. (Plus on opening night you're inconspicuous so it doesn't matter as much if you can't afford even the smallest work on offer.)
  • Fabulous vintage (op/thrift shop) clothing. If you have the patience to hunt through all the fascinating kitsch on offer, there are still wonderful vintage finds in op (thrift) shops occasionally. And nothing makes you feel as glamourous as a fantastic 50s find with intricate beading, that's better quality than most designer fashion in stores now but cost only a few dollars.
  • Super-fresh produce. Any chef will tell you that the best produce is always what's in season. Luckily for us, that's also usually what's cheapest. Buying at a farmer's market will get you much fresher produce than many supermarkets and they're a lot of fun too. In Sydney, Paddy's Markets or the farmer's market at Fox Studios are both worth a look; in Melbourne we love the Queen Vic markets and Prahran Markets; and in Adelaide Central Market is brilliant. Add a famous chef's cookbook from the library and you can have your own version of a fancy restaurant meal for a lot less cash.
  • A tidy home. OK, buying fancy furnishings on a tiny budget is a challenge - but making the most of what you've got is a lot easier. Any home will look better if it's tidy, and you can clean, organise, cull and style for free. You can even create some of those nifty still-lifes they always have in magazines (a vase of flowers with a glass ball and some shells of the same colour, a carefully chosen arrangement of ancient cutlery, that kind of thing) using your own nick-nacks. Just keep re-arranging them; they don't look nearly as arty when they've been there for months and are covered in dust!
  • Great lighting. Have you ever noticed how often interiors magazines use the words 'sun drenched', 'natural light' or 'custom lighting'? Sunshine doesn't cost a cent and good artifical lighting needn't be expensive either. In our house, lamps accumulate but are rarely used as well as they could be. If we went to the trouble of plugging them in we could have task lighting, feature lights, soft puddles of ambience and a glowing magazine-style home whenever we bothered to switch them on. Maybe The Bargain Queen should go do that...

So that's some of the 'highbrow' stuff we do for free. If you've got some more ideas, leave a comment and share!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Our new challenge: renovation

The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen are about to take on a new challenge: renovating.

We suddenly, unexpectedly have to move (ugh!) and the rental market right now is extremely tough. So after a fruitless search for another rental, we're moving into Mr Bargain Queen's investment property. He bought the place with his brother years ago and never intended to live there himself. Living there will be $100+ per week cheaper than renting another place would cost us, or $60/week cheaper than our current expenses. More importantly, it will mean The Bargain Queen can direct her considerable design talents to renovating the place.

Ideally, at the end of this adventure we'll sell the place for a decent profit. However, since the Sydney property market is pretty flat, it might be harder to sell than we'd like. So we're hedging our bets a little and only making improvements that would improve the rental return as well as the sale price, just in case.

So how does The Bargain Queen start a project like this? Poring over the gorgeous pics in decorating magazines? Choosing colours? Heading to a showroom to buy a bunch of great stuff?

Nope, none of the above. The Bargain Queen's starting this adventure with a whole lot of research. She's in new territory here, so before she spends a single cent she's building up her knowledge so she knows exactly what's involved, can pick a good deal when she sees it, and hopefully avoids all the pitfalls.

So far this has involved:
  • Checking the place over. The Bargain Queen's biggest concern right now is that she's yet to see in inside of the apartment she's agreed to live in for the next few months. She's had a really thorough look at the outside but because the tenants live there for a few more weeks, she hasn't been able to go inside. All she has is a roughly drawn sketch, showing that the place has a bedroom, loungeroom, kitchen, bathroom, external laundry and car space. Mr Bargain Queen is in the process of arranging a visit through the real estate agent but these things take time and until then, The Bargain Queen's working blind...

  • Researching sale and rental prices. Before she redraws any money from the mortgage to pay for the reno, The Bargain Queen is making sure each improvement will pay off financially. That means knowing what different types of places in the area sell for, and what features put apartments at the top - and bottom - of the price range. The state government in Sydney releases official sales and rental figures which give average price and price range for apartments in the area, but they're always a few months out of date. For more detailed information, she found sold property details on which include the full listing for each property as well as the sale price. This is great for figuring out the features that more and less expensive properties in the area have, but since it doesn't list every property that's sold in the area, she's also going to visit some open inspections to get more of a feel for the market in the area.

  • Talking to people who've lived there. The Bargain Queen would ideally live in the place for a while before she starts doing anything, to get a feel for what it's like in each month of the year, but to finish renovating by the end of the year that just won't be possible. So she's really lucky that her mother-in-law and brother-in-law have both lived there! She's starting picking their brains about what it's like to live there (way too hot in summer), who's who in the owner's corporation and a whole lot of other things you only know if you've lived there.

  • Reading up on council regulations. The apartment is in a heritage-listed building, so there are a lot of regulations around what can be done to it. A lot of this information is on the council web site in long, boring policy documents; the rest depends on calling the council, speaking to the right person and asking the right questions. It's a lot of work to make sure everything is bureaucratically correct but considering they can order that unapproved building work be reversed, it's worth making them happy!

  • Learning more about heating and cooling. One of the most important improvements will be installing a reverse-cycle airconditioner, or some other heating and cooling solution(s). Since The Bargain Queen has never done this before, she's learning as much as she can beforehand. The most helpful web site she found is the government's energysmart site. So far, she's determined that a full ducted system will be out of her price range, but that a split system might be feasible; and that the whole 50sqm (500 square foot) will need a 4-5kW airconditioner to keep the whole place cool. (Or 4kW to just cool the bedroom, lounge room and kitchen.)

  • Researching the cheapest sources of materials. To find great bargains, you need to know where to look - and when it comes to building materials, The Bargain Queen doesn't know this... yet. So she's been comparing prices from the comfort of her computer and has already found some hot tips. eBay is a great source of doorkobs - there are a lot listed at half the hardware store price or less - and also has a few listings of other people's left-over building materials. For bigger materials like tiles, basins, taps etc. she'll be checking out Laws Auctions for surplus supplies. She's also pored over the Ikea catalogue to see what they offer and establish some benchmark low prices, and she picked up a hot tip while reading the newspaper articles on some people in ritzy suburbs re-do their kitchen every five years and get rid of top-quality cabinetry, stone benchtops, designer tapwear and great appliances cheaply when they do. The Trading Post has a few of these listed so The Bargain Queen's investigating what would be involved in retro-fitting a kitchen into the apartment. Fingers crossed all this research will lead to some great bargains! (PS: While these links are Sydney- and Australia-specific, most cities will have similar resources if you take a look.)

  • Hunting out contacts. Talking to a pro can provide an enormous amount of useful information in just a few minutes, but good advice can be expensive. So The Bargain Queen's been taking stock of the pros in her life with a view to casually discussing her renovation with them as necessary! A couple of The Bargain Queen's brothers have worked in the building trades, so even though they're in another city, hopefully she'll still be able to ask them a few questions. Two of her closest friends are lawyers who are used to her begging them to look at contracts occasionally. Mr Bargain Queen's best friend has been renovating his house - and his wife's an architect. Plus Mr Bargain Queen's cousin is also a builder, albeit on huge commercial projects. And Mr Bargain Queen's brother (joint owner of the apartment) knows a couple of handymen and most of the people in the owner's corporation. So with any luck, if The Bargain Queen can't find some information she needs, there'll be someone she can ask... and if she remembers to discuss the project with some of these people when/if it seems appropriate (being careful not to wear out the friendships because they're much more important than a house!) they'll tell her when she's getting things really, really wrong.
  • Reading a home improvements book. Which home improvments are a DIY job and which are best left to the pros? And more importantly, which DIY jobs are actually within The Bargain Queen's reach and when should she bring in a handyman instead? There are lots of books with step-by-step pictures showing how to carry out various DIY home improvement jobs. The Bargain Queen's reading one of them, not only to answer the questions above, but also so that she understands what she's paying others to do to help make sure she doesn't get ripped off.

  • Salivating over the decorating mags. OK, The Bargain Queen's not just sticking to the serious stuff - she's allowed to drool just like everyone else. Home decorating mags are a great source of ideas and the pictures are so beautiful! There's just two things she's keeping in mind when she reads them: firstly, she's choosing things that will impress future tenants or buyers so her own taste is irrelevant; and secondly, her budget is nowhere near a typical magazine home budget so there's no point falling in love with anything 'til she's checked how much it costs. With those things in mind, she can enjoy those gorgeous photos, make note of some good ideas, and still not succumb to decorator fever... we hope!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Showing off: $20 of new clothes

The response to The Bargain Queen's first show-off post was really positive, so she's decided to share some more of her bargains with you.

A couple of weeks ago, The Bargain Queen went op shopping - which is what us Aussies call thrift shopping. For a grand total of $20 she bought all of the following:

Vintage belt, $8

The Bargain Queen wears a belt almost every day, but she's really picky and rarely finds anything she likes when she goes shopping. This one looks fantastic with jeans and can also finish a black dress nicely, so she had to snap it up.

Black evening dress, $5

The Bargain Queen snaps up cheap evening dresses for a completely different reason. Although she has few occasions to wear a dress, keeping a few on hand works because they're SO expensive if you have to buy one in a hurry. For someone as picky as The Bargain Queen, it's hard to find good evening wear at retail for under $500 - and then it'll only be worn once. Madness!

So when The Bargain Queen finds a cheap dress that looks great on her she buys it, even if she doesn't know when she'll wear it. Buying three ten-dollar dresses but only wearing one is still cheaper than buying a single new dress... over ten times cheaper!

And best of all, it takes all the anxiety out of dressing for a formal event, since The Bargain Queen usually has something to wear hanging in her wardrobe so she only has to buy shoes. (Don't tell Mr Bargain Queen that new shoes aren't strictly necessary for all formal occasions. There are things it's best he doesn't know...)

Shiny shirt, $2

This shirt really hasn't come up well in the photo, but in real life it's shiny and a bit sexy looking. One more shirt option fits in well with The Bargain Queen's wardrobe. She buys few bottoms as she spends more money on them, but fills out her wardrobe with lots of inexpensive tops in the hope that noone will notice she wears the same jeans every day ;)

Cute summer top, $2

The Australian summer has just ended, so it'll be a few months before The Bargain Queen has a chance to wear this. But it's cute, a little bit different and pure cotton so it'll be great on really hot days - a no-sunburn alternative to the Aussie singlet in summer.

It has a couple of marks on the front, but for $2 it's worth the effort of soaking it in bleach for a few hours to see if they disappear (and if they don't, it goes back to the op shop and that $2 is a donation to a good cause).

Designer evening top, $3

Last but not least, The Bargain Queen's best find this time was a Zimmerman evening top for $3! It's got a draped, ruched front (which hasn't shown up very well in the photo) and is made from a slightly shimmery spandex. Zimmerman is one of The Bargain Queen's favourite Australian designers so she's thrilled to find this top so cheaply!

Hooray for bargains!!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Alternative healthcare: worth the money?

While this blog is generally pretty fun, sometimes The Bargain Queen just has to talk about the serious stuff. Today, healthcare... (tomorrow, back to the fun stuff!)

The Bargain Queen has an incurable medical condition that hasn't responded to conventional treatment, so she's become a guinea pig for everything else on offer: alternative therapies, complementary therapies and a few other things besides. There's so much controversy about whether they work and many 'miracle cure' claims (plus potentially huge expenses trying them all) that The Bargain Queen's going to weigh in with a little about her own experiences.

But first, a warning. If you want to believe that alternative therapies are a miracle cure, don't bother reading on. The Bargain Queen has tried a few and none of them delivered all they promised. Likewise, if you want to believe that all alternative therapies are useless quack stuff, you'll also be disappointed - some of this stuff has proven useful.

So what's The Bargain Queen tried?

The Bargain Queen saw a naturopath with training in nutrition, herbalism and homeopathy (more info about each of these below) for about a year. The overall treatment was effective, providing a reduction in pain and other symptoms plus more energy. However, it didn't live up to the practitioner's own belief that she could provide a cure. The Bargain Queen would have happily continued treatment indefinitely despite the expense ($150ish/month) because it was working, but her naturopath became frustrated with the symptoms that remained and basically told her to go away. Quite a comical outcome!

Making dietary changes to control a serious illness seems silly at first - how will giving up junk food fix all that? Better nutrition and avoiding allergy/intolerance foods has made a huge difference for The Bargain Queen though, reducing her pain levels considerably and alleviating her gut problems considerably.

After various blood tests and an elimination diet, The Bargain Queen found she is allergic or intolerant of sugar, lactose, wheat, soy, vanilla, ginger, caffeine and some additives. Avoiding all these is challenging, but well worth it considering how effective it is. It's also surprisingly cost-effective since it forces her and Mr Bargain Queen to cook their own meals at home from fresh ingredients, which is SO much cheaper than eating out or buying TV dinners!

Apart from watching what she eats, she also takes a multivitamin and some fish oil capsules most days, just to make sure she's getting the right nutrients. She's also learnt to recognise when her iron, zinc or magnesium levels are low and tops them up with supplements occasionally. None of these supplements are expensive - all up it works out to about $20/month - and all except the multivitamin (which is just insurance) deliver a noticeable effect when she takes them.

The Bargain Queen has tried a few different herbs for her condition, mostly under the supervision of a naturopath. The majority did what they claimed and the only one with negative side effects was an experimental concoction. The down side is that their effects are much gentler than conventional medications so the improvement is less dramatic than you might like. None of the 'miracle' herbs deserve quite the hype they get, but they can give gentle, side-effect-free improvement if you pick the right one.

Whenever The Bargain Queen hears anything about homeopathy, her undergraduate (college) science training kicks in and she has a great deal of trouble taking it seriously. However, when a naturopath gave her some homeopathic stuff for one of her allergies, it settled down shortly afterwards and hasn't flared up since. Coincidence? Placebo effect? The Bargain Queen's still not quite ready to try more of it, but maybe it's not completely useless...

The Bargain Queen has tried accupuncture twice and reacted really badly each time. The needles hurt a lot and afterwards she felt like she'd been hit by a bus. Pre-treatment she thought "what harm can it do?"; now she thinks it's really dangerous in the wrong hands - and with every second quack taking it up, there are a lot of wrong hands out there.

The Bargain Queen already did yoga to improve her fitness and flexibility before she got sick, so when she found a book of yoga exercises for her condition she tried it immediately. As with all the alternative treatments she's tried, they don't provide a miracle cure. They do reduce her pain level significantly though, if only because they relax muscles that clench due to the pain. This gives her a feeling of more control, because she can ramp it down a little (as long as it's not too severe when she starts). Even a mild reduction in pain is well worth the cost of the book ($20), and the exercises can be done almost anywhere in 5-15 minutes.

Gentle exercise
As well as doing exercises specifically for her illness, The Bargain Queen also heard that any gentle exercise can help manage pain. This works really well for her, so she takes a stroll, rides her bike or tinkers in the garden whenever she has the energy. Again, it's no miracle cure, but it does make the pain less intense.

Heat therapy
The therapeutic benefits of a hot water bottle are well established both anecdotally and scientifically - but it's easy to forget that something so easy works when the medical approaches (drugs and operations) are so complicated. It's possibly too obvious to state that a hot water bottle doesn't cure anything except chilly feet, but it is worth remembering that it provides as much pain relief as a mild analgesic and works more quickly too. Also, at under $5 for the bottle and neglible ongoing costs, it's the most cost-effective pain relief around.

Psychological techniques
The Bargain Queen has also read up on psychological techniques for making pain more bearable, from meditation to distraction to using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) techniques to change her thinking about the illness. She found meditating while in severe pain a really strange idea. How the hell do you relax while clenching your teeth and clutching your tummy? Distraction is a powerful tool though, as anything that stops you thinking about the pain makes it less intense, so books, DVDs and the internet are always handy ;)

But of all the treatments she's tried, the most effective technique by far has been to look at things differently. The Bargain Queen's illness won't kill her, and thanks to Mr Bargain Queen's excellent care, she will neither starve nor go broke because of it. So instead of seeing it as something that's taken away her career, social life and favourite foods, The Bargain Queen has finally learnt to see her illness as an opportunity and make the best of the situation. She spends her days reading, writing this blog, creating embroidery, having friends over for meals, making her new favourite foods and spending quantity time with her husband - a surprising amount for someone who's in bed 16+ hours a days! But with all that to enjoy, she rarely feels sorry for herself any more.

So that's The Bargain Queen's experience of alternative healthcare: sometimes worth the money, sometime not. If you approach it as a gentle helper rather than a miracle cure and spend accordingly, it can be really helpful. That said, if The Bargain Queen was cured tomorrow, she'd instantly ditch everything except exercise, eating well and positive thinking.

If you've had some experience with alternative healthcare, whether similar or different to The Bargain Queen's, she'd love to hear from you - please leave a comment below!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Showing off: walking shoes

The Bargain Queen has been contemplating whether she ought to show off her bargains for a while now. On the one hand, getting a great deal on something you need should always be celebrated. On the other hand, it's so frustrating to hear about someone else's brilliant bargain and realise you've missed out. In the end, she's decided that showing how far money can go with a little effort and creativity will hopefully inspire you, not annoy you. (If I'm wrong, leave a comment and I'll stop showing off.)

So on to the bargains.

Last weekend, The Bargain Queen's sister told her about a sale that Myer (one of Australia's biggest department store chains) are having, with discounts on pretty much every category of merchandise. The Bargain Queen went looking for sports shoes because she walks a LOT but can't bring herself to spend a lot of money on shoes she finds ugly no matter how practical they are. So she bought:

1. Trail running sneakers. $41.23 down from $159.95

The Bargain Queen's hiking boots are quickly wearing out and probably irreplacable. They're also way too hot for walking in Australia in summer. Hence these ones: they're kind of ugly, but when only koalas, kangaroos and outdoors-y types will see her, even The Bargain Queen relaxes her stylistic standards a little.

2. Reasonably attractive sneakers. $26.23 down from $99.95

Here's a quandary: say you often walk 10 km (6 miles) in a day around the city, but don't want to resort to wearing ugly sneakers to do it. Is there a stylish shoe for serious walking? The Bargain Queen has tried Converse and Birkenstocks, but their comfort wears out at 2km (1.2 miles) and 6km (3.5 miles) respectively. This is her latest attempt at looking stylish while keeping her feet comfy, soon to be taken out for their first test-walk. Fingers crossed they'll succeed where the others have failed; if not, they're not too expensive a mistake.

PS: If you're in Australia, the sale's still on for another couple of weeks and last season's stock is now 75% off the marked-down price! (It was 50% off reduced prices when I bought these, so if there's any of them left, they'll be even cheaper.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

My bags

Since Designer Ella asked to see them, The Bargain Queen's decided it's OK to show off her bags just this once.

If you haven't been reading long, The Bargain Queen is obsessed with Longchamp bags. They're one of her few splurges, and she makes a whole bunch of budget trade-offs to afford them. She's a tightwad about things that are no fun so she can buy things that are - life's too short not to have some luxuries.

But enough talk, on to the bags!

Firstly, this is the whole collection - a whopping three bags. The Bargain Queen's on a budget :)

Her first Longchamp bag was the one below. She was a finallist for an industry award and had to look nice for the ceremony just in case. Instead of spending her budget on a dress she'd wear once, she bought this bag ($225) and some nice heels to dress up something she already owned. She didn't get the award but she's still got the bag!

The Bargain Queen's second Longchamp bag was a great sale find. She'd been using the one above every day for a year and it's fantastic. It's great for both day and evening, and the perfect size for a wallet, phone, PDA, makeup and keys. The only downside is that A4 papers only fit in it if they're folded.

So, The Bargain Queen spent a year carrying a daggy plastic file envelope in her hand all day when she needed to take papers with her. The obvious solution was to buy a cheap disposable tote, but with her newly-developed taste for Longchamp, no cheapie was worthy of her arm. Then she found the one below, reduced from $500 to $200. Due to all her other budget finds, she had the money to grab it on the spot. Fantastic!

Finally, less than a month after she bought bag #2, Mr Bargain Queen decided to buy his lovely wife a super-nice Christmas present. He took her to a duty-free store in Noumea which has a WHOLE WALL of Longchamp bags and said she could choose anything she wanted. In a mere hour - a record for a Libran - she picked the one below. She's carried it practically every day since. It was about $500 duty free, which was able to come from Mr Bargain Queen's clothes budget because The Bargain Queen is an outlet shopping maven and saves him a lot on his jackets, pants, shirts, underwear etc

It's also the only one she knows the name of: it's a Longchamp 4x4 in chocolate.

The photo doesn't really do it justice - the leather is gorgeously soft, not plasticy like it looks here. (For that matter, all the photos are a bit crappy. Sorry about that!)

So yes, The Bargain Queen is human, she has vices and she REALLY likes Longchamp bags. If you want more Longchamp porn, they have a fantastic web site with pics of their whole range. Yummo!

Or if bags aren't your thing, no problem. Everyone has different priorities and as long as your spending reflects yours, you're doing great.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

If you like it so much...

...why don't you buy the company?

Remember that cheesy 1970's Remington ad where Mr Remington (Victor Kayam) 'bought the company' that sold the razors he so adored? You don't? Well then you must be much younger and hipper than me.

But either way, Victor was onto one of the biggest bargain ideas around: Invest in stuff you like and are knowledgeable about.

You're about to learn some secrets that even The Bargain Queen doesn't know. (That's mostly because she falls asleep whenever I start talking finance.)

But let me ask you this: Are holidays in the Bahamas boring? Is skiing in Europe boring? Are your future life ambitions, achievements and ideas boring? Of course not. And that's why investing isn't boring, because it's what will make all those other things possible!

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share with you some investing strategies that have worked for me throughout my adult life. I am not a qualified advisor, and I have no specific advice to offer for your specific situation. However, I'm happy to share my experience and ideas that have worked for me and which, if you apply them to your situation, I hope might renew your enthusiasm for the idea that the only thing better than making money is letting your money make more of itself for you!

(To illustrate how important this is, right now The Bargain Queen and I are only earning enough to cover our daily living expenses. We're unable to increase our savings by squirrelling some of our hard-earned away, because there's nothing left after paying the bills and buying handbags. But luckily, I have some investments which are earning money all by themselves - so they're our de-facto savings plan!)

Think about various goods and services you have particular specialist knowledge of. Can you spot a fake purse at 50 paces? Do you know why this year's colour is more popular than last year's? Can you say why some shops make you feel like spending more than you should, and others make you want to clear out as fast as possible? Well, not many people do know these things (I sure don't) - but if you do, then congratulations, you have some specialised knowledge!

But what can you do with your specialised knowledge besides saving at the annual sales? If you believe a particular label, shop or 'look' is going to really take off, then why not make some enquiries and see if they are looking for ground-floor investors? You might not exactly 'buy the company', but you could buy a little piece of it. In a more general sense, if you know that designs and garments from a particular part of the world or a particular material will be in hot demand, why not put your money where your fashion sense is?

Now think about oil. Black gold. Texas tea. Everybody knows that there's squillions to be made in burning non-renewable fossil fuels, right? But do you know how it comes out of the ground? Do you know how to find oil? Do you know how it is refined, stored, shipped and made into petroleum? If you don't, or if your eyes glaze over even thinking about it, then how on earth will you be able to tell a good oil investment from a bad one? Why would you hand your hard-earned money to someone when you don't understand what they are going to do with it?

That's the thing about investing. There's no 'rules' or 'formula' for success. It comes down to your individual judgement about what you think will work. Victor Kayam knew that Remington had something special in razors based on his daily knowledge & understanding of what made a good razor. So what do YOU know about, and what special opportunities could that open up for you?

Now, put your checkbook away. Don't ever make investment decisions impulsively or on the spur of the moment. You can bet that before Victor 'bought the company', he spent an awful long time getting to know Remington really well first. So just for now, spend some time thinking and reflecting about different industries where you think you could spot a winner more accurately than the average joe. Next week, I'll have some more ideas to share about making the bold moves (with a safety-net built-in!).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Insider shopping tips: retail

The Bargain Queen has been running a series on using insider information to get the best deals. So far, there are posts on how to get insider info and insider op shopping tips. Today, we'll add some tips for retail.

But first, a disclaimer: The Bargain Queen has never personally worked in retail, but as an avid bargain-hunter she's picked up a lot from friends on the inside, shop assistants she's talked to and things she's noticed while prowling the shoe displays. If you've got more retail experience than The Bargain Queen, please leave a comment with some tips!

Now on to the tips:
  • Take advantage of employee discounts. If a friend or family member works in a store whose stock you like, ask them nicely if you can use their employee discount occasionally. Sometimes this even extends to other stores owned by the same company too, and if you're really lucky they might issue extra cards to other family members. (In Australia, Coles Myer do this.)

  • Hedge your bets. The Bargain Queen keeps a sorted folder of receipts, and usually has a few swing tags sitting on her dressing table. The receipts make it easy to return things that break, even if they were purchased months beforehand. The swing tags are for clothes that look just-right on the rack and in the changeroom, but reveal their problems the first time they're worn. Itchy, uncomfortable, rides up, static, just-not-me... these issues all take a few hours' wear to reveal themselves and potentially consign a new purchase to the back of the wardrobe forever. While these could turn into expensive fashion blunders, if you have the tags and the garment has no signs of wear yet, you can air it and take it back... so long as the return policy includes change of mind refunds. For this reason alone, The Bargain Queen favours big department stores for some items. While you might get a lower price elsewhere, if you change your mind and can't return your mistake, it works out considerably more expensive.

  • Don't buy full-price extras. Most stores are arranged with tantalising displays of full-price merchandise out the front, a sale rack out the back and extras or accessories next to the register. The sale racks aren't just there to get rid of merchandise that hasn't sold at full price; they also help cost-conscious customers decide to buy from the store. And once you've decided to buy, it's much easier for them to up-sell to you. If you buy full-priced items with your bargain the store makes great money, and you can easily over-pay for the convenience of buying the extras at the same time. If you're aware of this, it's easier to leave the other stuff on the shelf.

  • Find out how they clear stock. Some bigger department or chain stores run discount outlets to clear their excess stock; some send their stock to third-party clearance outlets; others clear the lot on the shop floor. In The Bargain Queen's experience, if the store runs their own outlets, it's barely worth attending the sales in their regular stores. The discounts are often puny because they don't care whether they sell their discounted stock. In fact, a cynical observer might speculate that they have an incentive not to sell deeply discounted stock in their regular stores - better to keep the customers who'll pay full price in those stores and direct people interested in discounts to the clearance outlets. In Australia, since David Jones opened their outlets, there's been no point attending in-store sales - the outlet always has better deals. By contrast, David Jones' main competition, Myer, clears most of their stock in-store and sells a small quantity of leftovers as auction lots. They have a strong incentive to discount, and 75% off is common towards the end of their sales. And you don't have to trek to an outlet or endure discount outlet service to get it.

  • Shop before the sales. When department stores hold their big sales, the sales assistants have a lot of extra work marking everything down. In many stores, they start on it the afternoon before the sale starts. So if you're after something in particular in the post-Christmas sales, try going in just before the store closes on Christmas Eve to see if it's marked down already. That it, unless you're too busy drinking eggnog...

  • Know which sale days to attend. Some big retailers discounts popular items during the first day of their sale to entice people in - for example, fashion items like designer jeans, shoes and sunglasses. They don't need to discount this stock as it would sell at full price, but offering it half-price attracts lots of customers. If you want this stuff you'd better buy it then - some of the deals are one-day only. For example, in the post-Christmas sales, The Bargain Queen bought only two things: Seven For All Mankind jeans at 50% off and Marc Jacobs shoes at 75% off. Both were first-day-only deals, and in the case of the shoes, the deal ran for one hour out of the whole day. There was nothing else worth buying though, as The Bargain Queen is unimpressed by 20% off last season's trendy top. If you're are looking for more run-of-the-mill items, you're better off waiting til late in the sale. The less-popular stuff makes it through to later rounds of discounting, which happens after the initial spending frenzy. That's when they're trying to get rid of EVERYTHING at 75% off, so you get the best deals.
If you have any other tips to share, leave a comment!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bargain-friendly links

The Bargain Queen usually steers away bunch-o-links post, as she has much more to say than just 'go look at this site' (or maybe she just likes the sound of her own authorial voice :). But she's found so much great stuff lately that she couldn't resist:

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fashion confession: my splurges

Designer Ella is hosting this week's Carnivale of Couture. Since she's once of The Bargain Queen's favourite bloggers and the topic is great (fashion confessions), it seemed like time to start participating.

So today, The Bargain Queen's going to confess her fashion splurges.

As a quick aside, 'splurge' doesn't have to mean 'things you pay off your credit card just before they wear out' as fashion magazines sometimes imply. To The Bargain Queen, splurges are things that are worth spending more on, so she economises on everything else to afford them. She buys things like t-shirts at op (thrift) shops, cheap chain stores and sales so she can afford a few insane expenses like:
  • Designer jeans. In Sydney, denim is the prefered apparel for going to the opera, hitting the town for a big night out, meeting friends for coffee, going shopping, even working if your boss will permit it. Jeans have become such an important wardrobe staple that finding a pair which make your bum / saddlebags / love handles look great can turn into some sort of unholy quest. The Bargain Queen has tried to love chainstore jeans but ended up looking like a dumpy dwarf, and in the last five years she's found only two great pairs in her size in thrift stores. So about once a year she splurges on a pair of designer jeans in the sales. She'd rather have two great pairs than a dozen that make her butt look bad. The things we do for vanity.

  • Well-cut work pants. Staying on the theme of The Bargain Queen not liking her butt much, her next splurge category is well-cut work pants. Again, a long exploration of every cheap option available convinced her that she'd have to spend more to look better. It's still a search to find flattering, attractive, professional-looking trousers that don't need constant ironing, but with a budget of a couple of hundred dollars it becomes much more possible. (Tip 1: MaxMara's Max & Co. stores have pants that emerge from a suitcase looking perfectly ironed - LOVE them! Tip 2: buying a cheaper coordinating jacket saves money and is less stuffy than a 'proper' suit if your workplace allows it.)

  • One nice watch. The Bargain Queen is currently saving up for one really nice watch. No Chanel chronographs will make it into the budget this time around, but if her winter fashion expenses are sensible, a gorgeous Michael Kors one looks realistic...

  • Nice dressy shoes. The Bargain Queen owns a total of three pairs of heels, none of which would meet Carrie Bradshaw's Manolos-all-the-way standards. Still, one pair of Marc Jacobs at 75% off is a big enough splurge to keep The Bargain Queen swooning every time she dons formal wear.

  • Longchamp! The Bargain Queen's only true fashion obsession is Longchamp bags. Over a few years she's accumulated three (one on sale, one a gift, one a present-to-self for winning an award), which she LOVES. They're as classic and (mostly) really cute, and since they're not big on branding, they're cheaper than others of similar quality. OK, spending $200 on a handbag is still excessive but it's never going to become a regular expense, but one expensive obsession in a wardrobe of bargain purchases feels alright.
The important points about all these things is they're occasional purchases: no weekly shoe-shopping for The Bargain Queen. They're not trendy so they don't date quickly; they're good quality so they last for years; and they're versatile enough that they're used all the time. The Bargain Queen only commits to the initial outlay if she's sure the cost-per-wear is going to end up in the single-figure range!

Still, as The Bargain Queen's mentioned previously, she does have a pretty generous wardrobe budget, which is the result of a whole bunch of trade-offs. Looking nice makes her far happier than a car would, but it's not a trade-off everyone could make. If you put your money into a mortgage, kids, investments or anything else that's important to you instead of fashion, you're doing great! Don't let the ravings of a confessed fashion tragic like myself make you feel bad - it's possible there are more important things in the world than handbags ;)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Big fat fashion fibs

If you read fashion magazines, this article on big fat fashion fibs is well worth checking out.
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Friday, April 07, 2006

The fake debate: the Australian story

The Bargain Queen is a guest poster on The Budget Fashionista while Kathryn is away on holidays. Today, she's written about the Australian perspective on the fake designer goods debate.

If you're interested, go take a look!

PS: You might also like David Weinberger's post about Louis Vuitton, which says a lot about why they cost so much and what you get for your money.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We're in this week's Festival of Frugality!

This week's Festival of Frugality includes a link to The Bargain Queen's post entitled Do sweat the small stuff. If you haven't checked out the Festival of Frugality before, they gather together some great blog posts on living well for less money each week. Go take a look!

Be a crafty saver

The Bargain Queen LOVES crafting. She's a nut for making things with her very own hands, but boy can it get expensive! There's so much stuff to buy: materials, tools, magazines, books, storage containers, extra bookshelves, a special desk and chair to leave half-finished projects on... if you become as enthusiastic about craft as The Bargain Queen is, it could easily become a source of finacial ruination.

So The Bargain Queen's going to share her tips for crafting on less money - but first a brief disclaimer. Embroidery, sewing, painting, beadwork and stuff that goes through the printer are The Bargain Queen's favourite crafting pursuits, so these tips will be skewed a little bit that-a-way. If you have a different favourite and have some tips to share, leave a comment! :)

Now for the tips:
  • Use materials frugally. The people who manufacture craft kits really don't want you to run out of materials before you finish the kit, so they put a heap more stuff in there than you'll use. After all, a few extra strands of thread cost a lot less than a cranky customer! If you use them sparingly, you will often have enough left over to make a little something else later. For example, The Bargain Queen is still using pretty shiny pink beads that came in an especially generous kit... four years ago!

  • Take extra-good care of your tools. When The Bargain Queen was a wee lass, she was the lone scholarship kid at a ritzy private school. There she saw some heinous crimes against beautiful sable paint brushes. Since the brushes were 'only' $20 each, there were many girls who didn't bother to clean them - ever. Why bother when Daddy can always buy you more, and shouldn't they have a cleaner to do that anyway? But The Bargain Queen lacks rich parents, so she learnt to wash her brushes thoroughly and lay them flat to dry after every use. She now uses the same technique for keeping makeup brushes in fantastic shape (still uses the set her mother bought 25 years ago) and applies the same principle to all her other tools too. While she doesn't oil her pliers or service her sewing machine as often as she really ought, she does make the effort just often enough to keep everything running, so she rarely has to buy the same thing twice.

  • Save all your excess materials... You never know when you'll need a couple of meters (yards for my American readers ;) of mid-green floss for a piece of embroidery, or just one sheet of shiny printer paper, that last bit of really dark yellow paint. If you have a good stock of leftovers on hand you don't have to head down to the craft store to buy those last bits and pieces. Not only do you save money on your current project; you also avoid a trip to Alladin's Cave and if you're anything like The Bargain Queen, that means less chance of impulse buying more pretty stuff.

  • ...within reason. There is definitely such a thing as too many craft supplies and some of them really won't get used, ever. If your supplies are so disorganised you can't find the things you need when you need them, it's time to have a cull. Ditto if your nearest and dearest are complaining about all the 'junk'. If you don't know where to start, getting rid of supplies for any craft you don't enjoy doing is a no-brainer. Then start to remove anything that's neither practical nor gorgeous and inspiring.

  • Make crafty friends so you can borrow tools, swap patterns, donate leftover materials to one another, discuss your project ideas and most importantly, trade tips on the best (and cheapest) places to buy your supplies. If you don't know where to make crafty friends... well, The Bargain Queen doesn't know either. None of her friends share her zest for cross stitch unfortunately. (Awwwww)

  • Shop around. Craft stores are great for finding exactly what you need but they can be very expensive. Finding the cheapest craft store in your area is good for starters, but to really save money on your supplies, look in other places as well. The Bargain Queen has picked up great kits, books, magazines and other supplies in op (thrift) shops. Post-Christmas is the best time because most of these start life as unwanted gifts, although unappreciated birthday presents are donated all year round. A serious art supplies store is also a great place to check; many of them have selected craft supplies at good prices. Just beware of the trendy art supplies store, where nothing at all will be cheap. Hardware stores, office supply stores and dollar stores are worth a look too. And if your city has a garment district, look carefully for fabric sales there, where designers offload amazing fabrics cheaply.

  • Don't buy too quickly. When The Bargain Queen is feeling fired up about a new project, she's always tempted to buy everything she needs to complete it immediately. Depending on the project though, it can be years before it's finished - and in the meantime she's lost the grout and tile sealer she bought when she started it. She now tries to buy the bare minimum to start each project, then commit more funds as her progress justifies the extra spending.

  • Ignore crafting fashion. Fashions in craft can be as fickle as shoe trends. But really, who cares if gingham ribbon is so last year? If you like it keep using it! And if the craft fashion police get you, tell them The Bargain Queen said it's OK ;)
Now that I've shared a few of my tips, how about some of yours?

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Big indulgences on little money

The Bargain Queen likes a treat every now and then, but not all treats are created equal. One fashionable impulse buy - a trendy jacket, a new tech toy, even a couple of cocktails - can completely break the budget. And while everyone deserves something special occasionally, if it goes on the credit card, it'll be making you miserable months after you would've otherwise forgotten about it.

So, here's some of The Bargain Queen's favourite budget-friendly treats:
  • Fresh air and sunshine. There's a certain type of frustrating experience that can quickly drain your will to live: say, being locked in a meeting room with certain managers for a few hours. Or writing graduate school papers. The Bargain Queen's favourite remedy is to get outside, breath the fresh air, bask in the sunshine, stretch your legs and come back renewed. While not all regions or neighbourhoods offer a reliable supply of either fresh air or sunshine, if yours has either, make use of it! A few minutes of enjoying the great outdoors can put the day's trials and tribulations back into perspective, for absolutely no financial outlay.

  • Time to yourself. Next on the free-but-brilliant list is to take some time out to do something you really enjoy. It could be anything from meditating to reading the paper to going for a jog to giving yourself a home pedicure - whatever feels most like a treat. The Bargain Queen can't tell you much about how to do this though, because she's pretty hopeless at taking time off.

  • Sleep. There's a reason why sleeping in is such a cliched luxury: even a little extra sleep can make a huge difference, and to time-poor people it's the ultimate treat. (The Bargain Queen is extra spoilt: when she sleeps in, but Mr Bargain Queen has her breakfast ready by the time she wakes. Brilliant!)

  • Chocolate. OK, if you've ever watched television, you've heard about what a great indulgence chocolate is. But like most indulgences, it's best when you only have it occasionally. A daily chocolate bar quickly becomes routine... and leads to further expenditure on a gym membership. The Bargain Queen's strategy is to trade quality for quantity. She can only justify a $13 box of Lindt Petite Desserts once or twice a year, but those are the happiest days of her year. Even if she can only manage 2 or 3 chocolates before she feels seedy...

  • A nice hot bath. This is a treat The Bargain Queen often forgets all about: hopping in a nice hot bath and soaking until she feels all floppy and relaxed. When she gets organised with bubble bath and candles kept in the bathroom, it quickly becomes a favourite thing to do. Then she runs out of bubble bath, forgets to buy more, leaves the candles burning til they're misshapen puddles of wax, forgets to clean the tub for a few weeks, and it's back to showers-only. Oops.

  • A stiff drink, mixed at home. When no other form of 'relaxation' will do, The Bargain Queen mixes herself a nice stiff drink at home. While it's not the recommended way to make yourself feel better after a tough day, keeping a spirit and a mixer at home is much cheaper than buying drinks at a bar. That is, as long as you don't drink more because it's right in front of you.
So now that you've heard The Bargain Queen's favourite ways to unwind after a tough day, how about you? What are your favourite cheap treats? How do you make yourself feel better when life's treating you rough? Add a comment below...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gourmet Japanese, take-out prices

Just wanted to share with you a recipe that combines the elegance and refinement of Japanese-style cooking with the all-round yumminess and bargainity of french fries!

These are great for cocktail parties or as an appetiser. Their impressiveness is matched only by their quickness and simplicity.

Although not a traditional Japanese dish, they remind me of the hearty teppan-fried okonomiyaki (Japanese "Pizza") that is a signature of chefs in Hiroshima...

...So, I give you:

Hiroshima Fries!

Peeled & washed potatoes - suitable for french-frying.
- Several sheets of sushi nori (the square flat sheets of seaweed you roll sushi in)
- Sesame oil, enough to shallow-fry. To save cost, you can use a half-and-half blend of soya and sesame oil. Corn oil + sesame oil would also work well.

1. Puree the potatoes in a food processor (bargain food processor article coming soon!).
2. Strain the puree in paper towel or cheesecloth to remove as much excess moisture as possible. You can skip this step if you're in a hurry, but the fries turn out crisper if you drain prior to cooking.
3. Cut the sushi nori into 2-inch squares and put enough potatoe puree on each square to completely cover them and over-run the edges. They will naturally assume a round shape but you can shape them with your fingers if need be.
4. In a large fry-pan, heat the oil until the aroma of sesame is strong. Lift the fries with an egg-flip and shallow-fry, 6-8 at a time, seaweed-side down. 3 minutes per-side. Turn once to complete cooking - when they're golden-brown, they're done

Can be eaten hot or at room tempurature. Do not refrigerate. A suitable dressing is a half-and-half blend of soy sauce + mirin (sweet cooking rice wine), or they're delicious plain.

otanoshinde kudasai (Enjoy!)
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New site design!

The Bargain Queen has been quiet for a couple of days (but Mr Bargain Queen says she never shuts up...) and now you can see why: she's been busy re-designing the site.

The Bargain Queen loves having things noone else has, so an off-the-rack site template simply wasn't cutting it. Dan Rubin's Thisaway Rose is a great design, it just doesn't scream 'The Bargain Queen' quite loud enough.

While she was changing over the design, the site template was broken, so no posts for a couple of days. Sorry about that!

Feedback on the new design would be very much appreciated. Or if you find anything that's broken, send The Bargain Queen an email.

Now back to the regular posting schedule...

  Want more? Visit The Bargain Queen's new site.