Alongside the cost of gas and electricity (which I shared my tips for in an article here), another area of concern for our household economies is the rising cost of the weekly shop. Prices were already increasing, but higher energy costs and the unprecedented cost of petrol and diesel, as well as the international situation can only mean that they will continue on their upward path. How can we maintain an acceptable standard of living when incomes are pegged below inflation?
Here are a few suggestions for stretching our budgets. None of them dredge the bottom of the barrel. I’m saving that for the “When the proverbial hits the fan” article.
Work out a menu and make a shopping list.
It minimises waste and allows for economies in cooking. For example, when the oven is used for the main course, choose a treacle sponge or an apple crumble for dessert and a nutritious homemade lentil soup can ‘borrow’ a few vegetables from the previous evening’s meal.
My supermarket delivery costs £6 per month. It’s more convenient and driving to the shop would cost me more. Additionally, there is no temptation from the wonderful aromas around the bakery counter, and other supermarket ruses to get into our purses. Also, never shop on an empty stomach, even online. Research has shown that we spend more when we do.
A tin of corned beef (£1.50- £2.00) will make a tastebud-tantalising corned beef and potato pie as well as sandwiches for lunch the next day. If you are particularly frugal, it could even stretch to a hash (north-easterners will recognise this as Panackelty). Another dish I have returned to in recent months is good old bangers and mash with baked beans. Mmmm!
Sometimes, a ready meal will cost much the same, but your own is more likely to satisfy your hunger, taste better and you will know exactly what went into it.
Eat less meat.
I admit I would find a vegetarian diet difficult, but I happily enjoy a couple of meat-free meals a week. Substituting mince for beans in a lasagne is a very acceptable alternative. In addition, the size of meat portions can be reduced, filling up the plate with vegetables. I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy a meal in which the vegetables are allowed to be the star of the show.
Close of day bargains.
Shops often reduce products nearing their sell-by date at the end of the day. Bread, fruit, and vegetables are regularly available at ridiculous prices.
These bananas were just 17p!
Grow your own.
A recent article on this blog introduced square foot gardening so you don’t need a lot of space to supplement your vegetable basket. Even without outdoor space, a lot of foods can be grown on windowsills, for example, herbs and salad leaves. Every year I raise tomatoes and peppers inside until it’s warm enough for their summer home. However, although they are delightfully sweet straight from the plant, they are ready when they are dirt cheap in the shops. This year I am growing unusual varieties which will be unavailable locally. I look forward to salads with black or striped tomatoes.
Another tip is to buy growing supermarket herbs and repot them when you get home. In this way, you can increase their life by up to two months.
Don’t shun “own brand” products.
Some are at least as good as the branded goods. In some cases, identical. Remember,
“There’s no such thing as a Basics factory.”
It really is a case of trial and error. I’m happy with own-brand baked beans, breakfast cereals and pasta, less so with budget bread (though I did use it when my children went through a loaf a day). If you’re catering for the fussy, throw the packaging in the recycling. They’ll probably never notice the difference.
Blackberries in the summer are readily available in most areas but foraging doesn’t end there. Nettles make a very nutritious soup, an interesting wine or an addition to omelettes. Nasturtium leaves add a peppery taste to salads and dandelions produce a coffee substitute or beer (this time of the year leave them for the bees, their need is greater). There is a lot of information online, and this is an excellent starting guide.
Bulk buying can cut costs but exercise caution.
Always look for the unit price since smaller portions might be better value. Last week my favourite butter was cheaper per unit in the smaller tub. On the other hand, a Shades toilet roll that costs 32p in a pack of 24, is 46p as one of 4. If you work out a rotation system, you can offset the extra expenditure. Almost any dried food will keep for quite a long time but check the use-by date. Flour, for example, has a relatively short shelf life.
Batch cook and freeze.
Fresh bulk buys can be processed in this way with the added advantage that you will always have a tasty, wholesome ready meal for those days you just don’t have time to cook.
You can also freeze leftover raw vegetables (blanch them first) and other foods, if they are likely to go off before you can use them.
There are many, many more tips and we Joy Club members have a combined wealth of information. Please share yours so that we can build up a bank of ideas to encourage and enable one another in these challenging times.
Do you have any tips you would like to share? You can write them in the comment section below or send your own article to us at email@example.com.