Oily Rag questions and suggestions

Low petrol prices are good news for frugal motorists, but an oily ragger has asked why, given the collapse in crude prices, petrol pump prices are not a lot lower. The answer is actually quite simple.

At US$27 a barrel, crude oil prices are at their lowest level since 2003 – and a long way from the $100 a barrel it was about 18 months ago. Most oil market watchers think its going to go lower still due to lower demand from China and more oil coming on tap.

The reason why pump prices have not fallen as dramatically is because about half of the price you pay is not for the petrol at all – it’s tax. Another quarter is the actual cost of the refined product and the remaining quarter covers the overheads and retail margin.

In other words, only 25% of the final price is made up of the variable price of the oil itself, and that is also affected by changes in the exchange rate. The other costs are either fixed or are not affected by the oil price itself. As it happens, in recent years the government has upped the tax on fuel and got its sticky fingers on more of your dollars.

Still on matters to do with the cost of stuff, a reader recently wrote to us all wound up about the cost of a spring washer. The problem was that he was being charged $6 for a washer on a mower repair job and he was not at all happy about it – especially when he checked out the price elsewhere and found another company selling the same washer for 15 cents! As a result, although he’d been dealing with the repair company for over a decade, after being charged $6 for the washer he vowed never to deal with them again.

The message to businesses is clear – don’t overcharge customers, and treat your good customers well. That business should have given the customer the washer and said, “With our compliments – and is there anything else we can help you with”. Instead they have gained $6 but lost a good customer and no doubt thousands of dollars worth of future business.

Silvana from Wellington is asking for help. “My home smells dirty and musty – the smell never goes away even when I eliminate rubbish bins, compost buckets etc. Yes it could be damp or rot but there are no signs of this so I have concluded that it must be the carpets. Do fellow oily raggers have any tips for cleaning carpets without going to the expense of hiring a carpet cleaning machine? I prefer to use natural products having developed an aversion to the smell of chemical cleaning products.”

Kathleen from Tauranga has asked if anyone has a good dog biscuit recipe. If so please let us know so we can help Kathleen keep her dog happy!

Lorraine from Hamilton has this handy kitchen hint. “To soften hard sugar in your pantry, place a slice of bread in the jar and seal it up overnight. The moisture in the bread softens the sugar. Mine was so hard I couldn’t chip it out with a knife so I put a slice from the deep freeze in the jar. The next morning I had free flowing brown sugar!”

Lorraine also has this tip for making low cost buttermilk. “Buttermilk costs approx $4 for 600 mls. Here’s how to make your own. To 1 cup of whole milk add 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice (acid). Stir in and let stand for 5-10 mins. It will thicken. Other buttermilk substitutes are 3/4 cup plain yoghurt and 1/4 cup water mixed together or sour cream thinned with milk until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk.”

Jaysee from Waikouaiti has replied to a tip from Cole about how broccoli plants will continue to produce new florets if you leave them in the ground. She says it also applies to cabbages. “When you harvest a cabbage head, cut a cross with a sharp knife in the top of the stem and you will find small cabbages grow from the cut.”

Lofty from the Kapiti Coast makes the most of their fruit trees. “We have 2 feijoa trees, 2 crab apple trees, 1 pear tree, an apple tree, and 1 loquat tree. To use these with minimum waste, we harvest the loquat in Nov-Dec. We skin and clean then stew for eating, make jam, or freeze. With feijoas we scoop and eat fresh or freeze. We save the skins in bread bags and freeze until we have enough to boil, strain and make jelly from the juice, or we freeze the juice to use instead of water when cooking other fruit. We boil up windfall apples and pears, strain and freeze to use as above. Any leftovers are fed to the chooks.”