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The Oily Rag Mailbox

  Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

“Quick, come and clear your mail box” was the call from our local postie. The oily rag mailbox has been bursting at the rivets again. Living off the smell of an oily rag is one of the few growth industries at the moment as more and more people are appreciating the virtues of thrift and the merits of eliminating waste. The Oily Rag Club now has 2192 members (wait, another one has just joined, 2193!) and judging by the number of tips received, the oily rag rage has just reached Christchurch.

Trixie shares a way to making a cheap "glasshouse". “I made mine by purchasing clear plastic shower curtains and attaching them to the inside of my balcony with curtain hooks. Apart from the easterly breeze which blows them around, have managed to keep my plants warm and sprouting nicely.”

Patio gardener Trixie also has advice about growing seeds. “Making a seed propagator is quite easy – use any container with drainage. Just sow seeds in soil, water and bend some wire in a hoop, then cover with gladwrap. This should act like a mini glasshouse.”

Cantab’ Alice writes, “I am 60 and my red hair is loosing its colour with some grey coming through.  I buy cheap Henna powder at the Trade Aid shop and make a paste with a heaped table spoon. I wash my hair normally and use the paste as a conditioner. I leave it in for a few minutes and rinse out. My red hair restored! Looks natural, and is good for the hair and the environment. A NZ$6 bag lasts a whole year. I usually do this after a hair cut so every 6 weeks. There is also black Henna for those with a different colour at some Chinese markets.”

Y.W. has a tip about soup. “To make very cheap stock for soup and other dishes, keep a 3-4 litre tub in the freezer to which you progressively add onion, garlic, carrot and celery trimmings and peelings as you make them. Don't add too much of the brown outer skin of onions as it is bitter, go for the ends and inner skins. Spring onion trimmings and leek trimmings also work. Also add chicken bones, whether raw or cooked. When the tub is full, add the contents of the tub and 2 tablespoons salt, 10 peppercorns, 4-6 bay leaves a big handful of parsley, and lots of water, into a big pot. Simmer it for 4 hours. Allow to cool, lift out most of the solid stuff with tongs, and sieve the liquid. Taste for salt and add a little more if needed. You can do the same with other meat bones, e.g. beef and lamb and venison. You can mix all red meat bones together but don't mix red meat and chicken.”

Not to be outdone, tips are also flooding in from the rest of the country!

L. Dustin from Oamaru writes, “When my hubby & I were on a tight budget, we came up with the idea that we would not spend over $29 without receiving the other person's approval first.  We usually gave permission when asked by the other, but it gave us time to think if we really needed the item before getting it…..a sanity check.  We saved a lot of money in this way.”

Lorraine from Te Awamutu says, “In the supermarket, park your trolley at the end of the aisle & walk down the aisle choosing what you need then return to trolley. What you can't carry, you either can't have or you will have to go back for if REALLY needed.”

Kurt from Auckland has a cheap fish smoker. “Jamie Oliver uses an old biscuit tin with chicken wire mesh to raise the fish up from the sawdust. Just place the whole thing over a gas burner or meths in a small tin.” And Kurt gets to eat the biscuits!

If you have some favourite money-saving or money-making tips, share them with others by visiting the oily rag website ( or write 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 on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at