Behind the headlines: Can you spend less and still eat better?

Too many people waste money because they make poor choices when buying food and drink, says investigative journalist Joanna Blythman

Behind the headlines: Can you spend less and still eat better?

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.
 

Spending strategy

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.

Do you agree with Joanna? Let us know in the comments section below...

Comments, questions and tips

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katrinaridout's picture
katrinaridout
14th Jun, 2016
Totally agree! Think about great quality food at home, it's all about planning ahead. I have never spent £10 on a litre of olive oil though lol! Aldi and lidl supply very good raw ingredients to get cooking with. We are a family of 6 that enjoy good food. It is also nice to get out and grab some food and feel part of the planet, get the balance right and get the family cooking!!
hrhpod
14th Jun, 2016
I do agree with Joanna but this article lacks a bit of detail. I buy good ingredients, cook almost everything from scratch and try not to waste anything. My favourite tip for skinflints is to do something restaurants all do - I keep the vast majority of my vegetable trimmings and make stock with them when I need it. I keep a freezer bag accessible at the front of the fridge freezer and whenever a recipe calls for 'stock', I bang a couple of good handfuls of them into my pressure cooker and make some. Onion skins, garlic paper, ropey bits of leeks, carrot tops - inedible celery bottoms - they're all great for flavour. Everything tastes better with home made stock instead of water and it takes next to no time to make. Another good, even more instant tip is to use a tea bag instead of stock. Red bush is very good here because it's smokey - even if you think yo don't like it, it's good in food. So if you have a small amount of veggies, or a bit of stew left over from a meal and it's not quite enough to be useful, it may well make a portion of soup for your lunch if you wizz it in your blender with some stock or tea. You can always add some butter and seasoning to taste, or thicken it with a handful of cooked red lentils. These are my skinflint tips.
blackbird17's picture
blackbird17
14th Jun, 2016
This is just about not eating out or having treats. There are just two of us. We eat out maybe three/four times a month but never have takeaways. I like to cook from scratch most days but this needn't be expensive. I have a small weekly veg box delivered by local growers and then top up if neccessary from local farm shop. We also are fortunate enough to have enough back garden space to allow us to grow quite a lot of veg ourselves. We also have five back garden hens, but these are not necessarily money saving, although fresh eggs are delicious. I only ever buy locally produced meat. It tastes better but costs more so I choose to eat meat less often. We eat vegetarian at least three times a week and this can be incredibly cheap and really nice. Fish is also on the menu once or twice weekly. I like baking so never buy shop bought cakes. I'm not saying my way is the only way, but it suits us. I used to work in a supermarket and was astonished at how much money can be swallowed up by convenience foods and fatty sugary snacks.
katrinaridout's picture
katrinaridout
14th Jun, 2016
Sound really pleasing! Food and home grown makes a lot of us feel happy!
bryonyann
14th Jun, 2016
I wish my weekly food bill was as low as yours. We only eat out probably once a month and very rarely have takeout. I like to cook from scratch and try to make sure as many of the products I buy are either local or (if they aren't) they don't come from the other side of the world. I think your headline is a bit misleading as all your saying is, don't have the odd treat and you will save money. Well surely that is fairly obvious.
heather askew
14th Jun, 2016
Most of this article is not about eating better more cheaply but telling us to do without the luxury eating etc. we can't afford anyway! I read this to try and find proper tips on how to eat better for less.
katrinaridout's picture
katrinaridout
14th Jun, 2016
Actually, I agree with your point too. The headline drew me in for the same reason!
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