Too many people waste money because they make poor choices when buying food and drink, says investigative journalist Joanna Blythman
Spending on a budget
There have been times in my life when I was so hard up that I had to watch food prices like a hawk. Nowadays, I can afford to be less vigilant. My food bill works out at around £100 a week. This is more than most, and might seem positively profligate to some people. The average British household spends £58.80 on food and non-alcoholic drinks each week, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics. That’s just over 10 per cent of our total household budget. But that same household also pays out £16.60 on meals in restaurants and cafés, while a further £10.50 goes on takeaway and canteen food. In this latter respect, my equivalent outlay is much less, so forgive me for feeling a little smug in this department.
Spending on what matters
This just goes to show that we all have different spending priorities. For instance, because animal welfare is important to me, I’m prepared to pay £12 to £14 every three weeks for an organic chicken (as opposed to £8 for free range, £4 for factory farmed). ‘All very well for those who can afford it,’ I’m told. Yet many of those people who would typecast me in the role of a modern Marie Antoinette would stump up £8 to £12 without a murmur for a simple pizza in a chain restaurant. An organic chicken, used well, makes the basis for two meals and a pot of stock, while the pizza – which is less nutritious and worse value for money – will be eaten in a flash. To my mind, the organic bird is the better deal.
When I was stony broke, I automatically dismissed a one-litre bottle of extra virgin olive oil costing £10 as an unaffordable purchase. Belatedly, I figured out that all I was doing instead was spending more money over time for the privilege of buying inferior oil in dribs and drabs. This illustrates how easy it is to settle into a fairly fixed list of what we do or don’t buy, based on earlier decisions about what we can or can’t afford. Often this calculation isn’t based on true value for money but pick-up price – and, as a result, not that financially savvy.
The way I see it, we could all be quids in if we revisited our spending strategy once in a while. Are we frittering away cash on what food market analysts call ‘small affordable luxuries’? Could we live without that now daily 8.30am coffee shop cappuccino (£2.50), or 4pm cupcake (£3)? Did we really mean to clock up a £40 bill for a couple of pastas and two glasses of wine, just because we felt too tired to cook? A financial audit of this kind can be hugely revealing. We might even conclude that potentially we have more money to spend on better quality food to eat at home than we had ever thought possible.
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