Some conversation appeared on twitter today about how much we all spend on our food shopping. Apparently I was declared the "winner" as I spend between £40 and £45 each week and for that I feed my husband, myself and my (incredibly hungry) toddler!! It was suggested that I should blog about it and so here are some of my thoughts on frugal cooking!
First though some general thoughts about finances and money in general as it all has a part to play in keeping our food costs down.
My husband and I have reasonable money coming in, not great money but not terrible. We have quite high outgoings for some things we would rather not, many of these are things that almost everyone has, so we need to pay back my husband's student loan, I recently worked out that at it's current rate we will be paying that back until hubby is approximately 45! We are paying back a loan we had to take out when our previous car was stolen, we chose to take the loan over a shorter time but this means the payments each month are a little more.
Another obvious outgoing is on our rent, this is slightly complicated for us, we own a house that we rent out in Scotland and rent a home here in the Midlands where we live. However, I would rather make cut backs in other areas of spending to improve the environment in which I live.
Another thing that we do is that we give away (to charity, to individuals we want to support financially and to our church) approximately a tenth of our total income. It might seem backwards to give away money but generosity is important to our family and it is a Christian principle that we live by, we would rather have 90% that is blessed by God than 100% that wasn't. We regularly look at how much and where we give to make sure we are making the best use of the money we pass to others and more to the point that we are allowing God to make the best use of the money we pass to others.
Oh, and save. Save, save, save! It's how you'll stay out of debt when those rainy days come, and that is good!
Anyway, food! If I try and sum it all up here are my "techniques" for keeping (food) spending down.
1. Budget! We have a budget for almost everything! We have a "dating" budget for spending on the odd take-away, going to the cinema or going to the pub or a cafe. We have a "luxuries" budget for things like chocolate, fizzy pop, booze or such like. We obviously have a food budget and we try and budget for things like fuel and holidays too.
2. Shop around. Don't assume that a place will be more expensive just because it has an expensive reputation. Being gluten free limits the food I can eat but you might think I am bonkers for buying my sausages in Marks and Spencers, they are by far the cheapest (and nicest) gluten free sausages I've found, £3 for 16 sausages! Another one that sometimes seems a bit backwards is that I buy my bananas in Sainsburys, I will only buy fair trade bananas and they are significantly cheaper there than in Tesco (I can't speak for asda, I don't have access to one!
3. Think about how to make meat go further. Makes sense, doesn't it? Meat is expensive, so how can you use less? When I make a bolognaise I add as much celery and carrot and onion as I can, it makes the meal as a whole go further and means that it's healthier as it has more veg in it! I add tinned beans to many things too, butter beans or caneloni beans make almost any casserole better! You can go even further and eat vegetarian a couple of times a week, 3 bean chilli is a firm favourite in this house and anything turned into a curry will go down a treat!
4. Vegetables. Another of the counter intuitive things I do is that I buy an organic vegbox each week. The one I buy is from Riverford though I'm sure other veg box providers are good too. The veg might be a little more expensive than supermarket stuff but it is definitely cheaper than supermarket organic and it just lasts longer and is better quality. I can keep a veg box cabbage for a couple of weeks with no major issues (though it is nicer eaten fresher), a shop bought one would never last that long! Nothing to do with money but I also like that because I am sent things I wouldn't necessarily choose to buy in the shops I am forced to look for new recipes, it helps reduce that stuck in a rut-ness that we can all suffer from in the kitchen!
5. Supermarket own brand is your friend. The value range is your better friend! (Although remember to look for short term offers that change this!). Now there are some things that I won't settle for less on, for example my hubby *only* eats Kelloggs cornflakes and I only eat Heinz baked beans but generally I buy the value range of almost everything. Even if you don't want to do that it is worth thinking about why you buy the level of anything you do? Most things can be bought at 4 levels - value, supermarket own brand, branded, supermarket "best" range. Why not think about moving down one level? One time when you go shopping you could try reducing everything you buy by one level. If people complain then at least you got one shop cheaper, if they don't then keep going! It is unlikely people will notice for everything.
6. Cook. Cook everything! Make your own stock, use leftovers, do everything. If you are busy working people and you have a freezer then make a weekend a month your cooking weekend and just stock the freezer to the brim! If you make something and have a portion then think about how much it is, is it a lunch portion? Put it in the fridge for lunch over the next day or two. Is it a dinner portion? Put it in the freezer, it is one less meal to make later on!
I'm sorry this has turned into such a long post, each point I've made could be a blog post on its own, perhaps one day they will be!