How I cut my food budget in half

4/17/2015

Here's the thing - To go travelling, you need money.  Not as much as we all think, but still,  it costs more than we had sitting in our dusty savings account at the time.  We had to start getting serious about saving some dough.  Or else we'd be in a pickle.  We couldn't just turnip to these places with no money.

See what you get with me?  Food Puns & money saving tips.  The fun never stops here folks.

Anyway, I started to do the dreaded "look through the finances" to see where we could scrape together some savings each month.

I became someone who kept receipts & actually read them, someone who made notes of what she bought, and went through old bank statements.  It was horrible.  The good part was I made spreadsheets and everything looks better when properly presented onto a spreadsheet.  Extra cool points if you can make a power point presentation with cool effects and music.

I didn't do that.  This time.

It was from this that I started to realise our food budget was out of control.  We are two people, how on earth are we spending SO MUCH MONEY ON FOOD.  It was our second biggest expense every month.  More than 4 of our other bills combined!



So I got researching.  I realised it was going to take a bit of work to do this and still eat the food we liked.  It would involve some serious planning.

It was then I was started making the excuses for myself:

"I like to make food from scratch, and husband hates structured & pre-planned meals"
"The ingredients I like are a bomb at the supermarket!  Plus, I'm so busy!"
"Vegetables are expensive, I have no idea how I'm going to cut back!"

"You know what I hear?"  My subconscious said.  "I hear someone who just doesn't want to do the hard work.  They just want all the results for nothing.  Shame on you."



Damn it, when I'm right, I'm right.  I can't complain about my budget being too high and then not do anything.  That's why it's bloody high in the first place.  So I got to work.

 I read multiple budgeting tips,  I completely re-arranged our finances.   I watched a programme where old ladies gave their money saving tips and made everything themselves.  I read old recipe books, scrounged blogs, I worked out where it would be better to plan and save money, and where it would be better just to spend a little extra and eventually, after two months, I had managed to cut our food budget by half, without cutting out anything we had before.

How much by?  I hear you ask.

From over £450 to just under £200 every month.

You fecking what?!


So, how did I do it?  Did I make a sacrifice to the supermarket lords?  Am I eating out of bins?  Am I on the streets holding "Will dance for food" signs?  Is it witchcraft?!

Nope.  All it took, was the implementation of my research, which I have kindly collated into this post, just for you.

REALISE NOT EVERYTHING CAN WORK FOR YOU

Whilst doing my research I started to realise that a lot of the advice I was reading was completely unusable in my situation.  For instance, one woman claimed the cost of keeping chickens cut down her budget dramatically, and then every couple of months they would slaughter one for dinner and that was that.

Yeah, that wouldn't work for me.  I would get too attached.  I would give them all names, personalities and yorkshire accents.



Another guy grew all his own potatoes.  I can't grow my own potatoes right now.  I can't even keep a mint plant alive.

So, I'm aware that some of you might read this and not have the time to do some of the things that I do,  or have fussy eaters in your household and not have the resources I have.  Every household situation is different.

That's why my first piece of advice on creating a food budget, is to get your research from different sources.  Use what works for you from each one, and don't feel bad if something that works brilliantly for one person, is completely useless for you.  That's the brilliant diversity of life.  Or something like that.

I'm childless, with my own house, I work a structured week, with weekends off, so I have time to do a bit of shopping around at the weekends and I don't have to worry about anyone nicking my food out the fridge.  I only feed two of us, with a few dinner parties a week, so I'm aware my numbers won't match those with families, room mates or weird work hours.  But hopefully, you will find something to help you here.

BE SMART ABOUT WHERE YOU SHOP

One of my close friends lives near a Lidl.  For months she kept telling me how amazing it was, and for months I waved it off as something to check out at some point in the future.  I mean, they probably wouldn't have all the vegetables I like anyway, and I get vouchers from Tesco, plus how much cheaper can it be?

The answer is that I'm an Idiot.  Lidl is amazing.

ALL THE FRUITS.  ALL THE VEGETABLES.

Far from being the barren wasteland, with shitty discount veg, they had everything my previous supermarket had, just alot cheaper.  We came out of our first shop, with as much food as before, but almost half the price.   They even had Sharon fruit.  And the brand of potatoes Husband loves.  AND KALE.  The stupidly overpriced leafy green is not stupidly overpriced there.  Life is good.

We talked about it endlessly for hours.  We were so pleased that budget shopping wasn't crap that I could have cried.  I kept shoving my receipt in people's faces and saying "LOOK.  LOOK HOW MUCH STUFF I GOT FOR £30!"

I now do my weekly fresh stuff shop at Lidl, I'm not buying less food, or cutting anything out.  The fact that there isn't a coffee shop to tempt me, or excessive choice over cheeses and cans means I don't spend as much time in there, or spend any extras on stuff I don't need.   Lidl kicks actual ass, me and my clever friends are actually in love with it.

No, they don't do some of the things I use, like coconut oil, or the dog food my fussy pooch likes, but I'll get to that part later on...

So for now, I've cut my fresh weekly shop down from £75 - £90 to an average of £30 - £40.

So stop being a snob and check out some of your local discount supermarkets, yes some of them will be pants, but some might just be that lifeline you need.


DEALS EXIST

Have you ever walked into a supermarket and seen that something was on offer, and you thought "What a fricken bargain, I'm glad I came in here today!"

You can pre-plan that feeling of elation!  With science!

Okay, not with science.  But I've got you excited for my next tip, right?

We get bombarded with supermarket "deals" magazines.  These used to go in the recycling bin, now they are perused, noted and THEN put in the recycling bin.  They contain the the insider knowledge to these amazing bargains.






So I see it, and I plan a meal around it, sometimes that will be our treat  (like if they are selling off cider cheap, or squash)  Sometimes, it's a lifesaver, as they have household essentials like loo roll, washing up liquid and washing powder too.  It really pays to check.



Here's my favourite bit.  Sometimes those magazines even have coupons in them, and I love coupons / vouchers.  So have a snoop and you can cut your 'expensive taste' portion of your food budget by half.



MAKE A PLAN

I meal plan for the week, but it's not stringent, I have a husband who decides what he wants to eat on a whim and hates structured meal plans.  So it works out like this:

- Breakfast stuff (oats, milk, fruits etc)
- Lunch stuff (Decided based on deals - usually veggies to make soup and bread for sandwiches)

Dinner food get split into five categories.
- One big meal on a Sunday using whatever meat / veg are in the reduced / offer sections.
- Two meat meals a week after that, usually two different meats each week.
- 2 veggie meals (from blogs, recipe books etc etc)
- One pantry meal (More on that later...)
- One freezer meal (made from leftover foods from the week before, more on that in a moment as well)

Obligatory stock photo of a pen and paper.  That's how professional this post is.

If we're going out that week, or have someone over, I make amendments to it, but generally, this works out for me.  If there's a certain recipe I want to make one week, I write down the ingredients I don't have so I don't forget them.  Apart from that, it's a bit of a free-for-all, but gives me the flexibility to make what I like, whilst keeping my food waste to a minimum.  All leftover food (if there is any, is bagged up, frozen and used for the freezer meals)

KEEP A STOCKED PANTRY / CUPBOARD / FREEZER

I'm going to tell you a little story.  You know, to keep the passion alive in this blogger/reader relationship.

When we were searching for our house, I would hate a house if I hated the kitchen.  It became the thing we were known for.  So, after months of vetoing places, I knew we had a winner when the estate agent bypassed all the rooms in our house and took me straight to the kitchen, told me to hold onto my knickers and opened up A PANTRY.

I was so excited I could've crapped myself.  I didn't, because I'm a lady and whatnot, but still.  Excitement aplenty.



Pantries ARE AWESOME.  They are also lifesavers.

I keep that bad boy full.  Because when your fridge is empty, your pantry is your best friend.  I'm aware that not everyone has one of these, and space is limited in most kitchens, but keeping a good stock of dried foods, cans & jarred goods will save you butt-loads of money because it lasts, it's flexible and best of all, can be bought in bulk.

But as usual, I only bulk buy things I will actually use.  None of us are innocent, we all have weird cans and packets stored away  (I have jars of pickled things, and poached pears in mine)

For creating my pantry meals,  I use "search by ingredients" websites, like these and either follow them, or get enough of an idea to make a meal by inspiration.



As for freezer meals, My mother in law will sometimes bring us meats that were down to about 10p in the reduced section and we freeze it.  A reduced section is a gold mine, because 9 / 10 you can freeze what's in there and use it for meals (for next to nothing).

If I make too much of something (which is most of the time) I'll freeze the leftovers.  If a recipe calls for half an quantity of vegetables, I'll cut it all up and pop the rest in the freezer.

If there is stuff left on my plate at the end of a meal, I add it to my "stock box" which is quite simply, a lunchbox of frozen veggies & meats that I turn into stock when it gets full.


We also go to 'pick your own' farms in the summer, and for a quarter of supermarket price, bulk buy fruits and veggies and keep them in the freezer for defrosting in the winter.

 Also, there are so many recipes you can make in bulk and freeze the leftover.  Here's a some links to wet your appetite,  you might even be surprised.





USE WHAT'S ON OFFER, BUT USE IT WISELY

This kind of calls back to tip number two, but I'm going to expand on it.


I'll only buy things on offer if I think I'll use it.

I don't buy my normal list and THEN what's on offer either, I'll sub it for something I would have bought instead.  For instance, I have pork joint on my shopping list, but I see a whole chicken for half the price in the reduced section.  I'll swap the chicken for the pork.  I'll only buy both if I think I'll use both in the week ahead.

As I said above, I'll buy things in the reduced section and freeze them too, but only if I can see myself using them within the month ahead.  Deals are only a good offer if you think you can use it.  If I think I'll be throwing things away in a months time during a freezer purge, I don't buy it.

SNACK YO'SELF

So, here's an example.  One of my favourite snacks is popcorn.  Big bags of popcorn are about £1.50 and full of crap.  The tiny healthy snack packs of popcorn are nearly a quid each.  But a bag of kernels, costs £1.20 and makes enough popcorn to last a year.  Pop that in some coconut oil, sprinkle on a bit of sugar or salt and you've got yourself cheap snack right there.  Another example:  The other night Kris wanted flapjacks, they were out and cooling on the side less than half an hour later because of my well stocked pantry.  I have a simple, small quantity cake mix for 'spur of the moment' cake making too.  There's nothing wrong with splashing out on a chocolate bar, or a biscuit, but it's much nicer, cheaper and better to just do some research, get a baking cupboard together and make it yourself.

THE INCREDIBLE BULK

I bulk buy things I used to buy weekly.  I get my (usually quite expensive) cooking things, like special vinegars, smoked garlic, nice cheese & free range eggs (my goodness, the sentence made me sound like a bit of a dick) from local farm shops & delis.

Don't think you have any near you?  Seriously, give it a Google.  I did and I found over 10 within a 20 minute drive from me.  The drive to them is beautiful as well.  And those extras, the things that usually cost a bomb in supermarkets are usually (I say usually, because some take the piss and charge for being twee) much cheaper in farm shops.  A smoked garlic in my supermarket, came packaged all fancy and cost me £3 a bulb.  In a farm shop, it's £1.80 and it's bigger.  BOOM.  SAVINGS.  Plus your helping out a local business.  Get in.



I get things like lentils, grains, herbs, noodles and other specialty ingredients (soy sauce, weird oils, spices) from the market, foreign food shops (there's a little local Indian one near me that does BAGS of spices for about 50p) or a little local wholefoods shop in my home town.  It sounds like a hassle, but I go so rarely, that it becomes a little monthly adventure.

Here's just one price difference:  One weekly shop of 500g bag of lentils in Tesco: £1.50.  One 2kg bag of lentils from my local world food shop - £2.50.

Unsure of where to start looking for these bargains?  Google is a start, but it's not the only place. Ask around on Twitter, or ask your friends.  Even just taking a walk about your home town can provide results.  On a drive towards the countryside, There were loads of homemade signs saying "Free eggs, help yourself, or veggies for a £1 a box"

I found a lot of these places by going on local Facebook pages, blogs or looking in my towns 'shopping guide' that they hand out in the independent shops.  It literally took me five minutes and saves me buttloads of money every month.

LOOK TO HISTORY

I have a few wartime recipe books, including my nanna's handwritten ones, because they are fantastic at making things s t r e t c h.  I learnt how to make a chicken last for several meals, and use it's carcass to make stock.  It was in a 50's freezer guide that I found the tip about keeping a "Stock box" of leftovers to make soups.  I learnt how to make bread, mock cream and stretch out a small amount of vegetables, grains and eggs into a filling tasty meal.  Have a look on eBay, or down your local charity shop and seriously be amazed and what they can teach you about making the most of what you buy.

Here's a few newer editions with the same principle:



Now I'm not saying I'm perfect, and you know what, sometimes I can't be bothered to check the magazines for deals so i wing it, sometimes I forget to defrost what's in my freezer to eat it that day and sometimes, you just want to buy a piece of cake.

But by occasionally, not stringently following these, is how I keep those bills low.

What do you use to keep your food budget low?  Share below and give me some more ideas, you can never have too many, right?


Fiona: 
Lidl is my budgeting tip!  Don't mock it until you've tried it!

Laura
I only ever write lists, plan meals for the week beforehand usually going by what's already in and whatever else we need goes on the list as does whatever we're running out of, rice, pasta, spices etc
and if anything's on offer usually stock up on it.  I'd also say, it's worth going to different shops
like we get a lot of stuff from sains/tesco  but there's the odd bit of meat, veg, stock cubes, ketchup, salt etc that we get from lidl/aldi  I had a receipt from lidl, and worked out how much it would have cost if I'd have bought the same things from sainsburys, there was a massive difference.

Laura (Day Dreaming Foodie)
I'm terrible at budgeting.... take today for example. I've just impulse bought a cow... *had to go in, this was my favourite*

Vegan Budgeter
My local shop deliver fresh veg every few days, I market bulk buy my stock food, like lentils and pulses.  I make everything else from scratch.  If I can't make it, we don't have it.  Simple saving technique.  As a vegan, I find it easier and cheaper to do it this way, even though it might cost more than some families shops.  I save by not having meat, so it balances out.

Gemma
We shop as a house, get a food shop delivered once a week, on a Thurs, so all the yum stuff is fresh for the weekend, we all suggest things we fancy for dinner and anything else I buy general ingredients to create dinners from for the other nights.  The bits we run out of we get from the local shop ie. milk - I usually get a few treats from whole foods for weekends and generally get my fruit n veg from the market.  Oh and I try and spread 'household' items out so I don't need to be buying toilet roll, kitchen roll and cleaning products the same week each month if that makes sense?  Like spread the cost out to an item a week?

Rachel
When I cook in the evenings I try to make my lunch at the same time but change it slightly so if I'm having pasta bake for tea I'll use the remaining pasta in a salad over the next couple of days.

Anon
I shop wherever the bargains that week are!  It's easy to get into a habit of buying things out of habit, so shopping somewhere different means I never get in a shopping rut.

Here's some helpful links:

31 Insanely Smart Ways To Save Money When You Cook
Budget menu: Tips to cooking well for £1 a portion
How little money can a person live on?
'We're trying to stick to £50 a week for our food budget – but it's tough'
How to Plan Your Meals When You’re on a Tight Budget



14 comments:

  1. I recently discovered how amazing Lidl is, BUT I don't drive and its not nearby so I can't really do big shops there. Shopping online actually works well for me, you don't get any of the amazing discounts but I also don't buy anything I didn't plan because I can't get distracted in the aisles, and I can actually see the basket price rather than being shocked at the till.

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    1. That's my problem with the big supermarket Hannah, I get so easily distracted by homewares, magazines and bloody DVDS! Never even thought about the shopping online thing, so handy to have the total in front of you, I imagine it can stop you overspending as well!

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  2. I love how you managed to make a how-to so bloody funny! I laughed quite a lot!! thank you for sharing your tips, there is some actual usable advice in it unlike some I have read before! Glad you are out of your blogging rut !!! Katie (ww) xxxx

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  3. I tried this late last year in a frenzied attempt to save up for Christmas since an Aldi has recently opened, and failed... BIG TIME!

    Or maybe I'm just the biggest food snob in the history of food snobs because I bought mince meat from Aldi to make a homemade lasagne. The mince meat sucked balls, big hairy balls! Loads of of those awful chewy bits - just inferior in quality in general. I haven't been back since.

    Oh, and the fact that the cake, desserts, snacks section sucked me in soooooo badly, I ended up coming home with more 'junk' food than real food! Ha.

    I need to get back into the swing of meal planning again as it definitely saves money when you stick to it. And since a new Lidl just opened nearby too (in addition to the Aldi, Sainsbury's and Asda all nearby), I guess I'll have to sharpen up my ways and buy certain things from certain supermarkets and others [which I know will be good] from the main supermarkets.

    And girl, our food bills are at around the £600-700 mark at the mo. Don't even get me started on that darn £10 piece of topside beef I bought for our Sunday roast which pretty much shrivelled up to a size of a 2-pence-piece after cooking... Gahhhhh!

    Lisa // Sweet 2 Eat Baking

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    1. That sucks about your trip to Aldi! I must say I prefer Lidl to Aldi because the veg in my local Aldi was a bit restricted, but I think each regions is different because the one I went to in Coventry was amazing! Keep searching!

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  4. I love shopping in LIDL and ALDI too. Today 500 grams of strawberries just cost 85 cents, and I bought 5 packs of them and going to freeze some to make ice cream later.
    Thanks for all the tips, Emma, and have a lovely weekend!
    Angie

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    1. That's amazing!! Strawberry ice cream sounds lush, have a great weekend too!

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  5. These are all EXCELLENT tips and while we have different stores, I can totally rock those!

    But it's allll worth it to do to ROME!

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  6. Hey!!

    Brilliant post!! Good to see you back on top form with your blog!!

    TFIF!!

    :-)

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  7. I totally get the Lidl thing, I scoffed it for a long time but its cheap! And the fruit is half the price of the other supermarkets. Why pay 3 quid for fresh blueberries when I only have to pay half that in Lidl? Same with dried fruit and nuts, its so much cheaper. I also buy frozen fruit its really cheap and yes it may not be as pretty once defrosted but it tastes the same and if its being put in a cake or muffin then hey they are perfect! I am all for cutting down food budgets, like you there are only 2 of us in my household and food is one of our most expensive lay outs! Loved this post :D

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  8. Thanks for this!!...when you say you bulk but fruit/veg, do you have to do anything to it! (Ie blanching) or just chop it up and bung it in? Thanks. x

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  9. I really enjoyed this post and I am glad you have had so much success in saving some cash. We love to shop in Aldi, I just love the feeling when you get to the till and they ring it up and ask for £30. I can quite easily spend £30 on one basket when I visit Waitrose. I am yet to sample the delights of Lidl, we have an Aldi in our local town and I would have to drive to Lidl, I'm just too damn lazy.

    I meal plan too and I am a sucker for a bulk buy. We are still working our way through a 3kg bag of penne pasta which I couldn't resist because it was the cheapest way to buy it. I am so rock and roll!

    And you just cannot beat a store cupboard supper when you are strapped for cash!

    I genuinely enjoy saving cash where I can, and so I treat it like a challenge. Glad you are back on form and over your case of bloggers block.

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  10. Nice experience. Very useful for a travel blogger like me. Tks for making this article.

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