How I eat on a budget
Planning and shopping online are the keys to frugal living, says our star columnist.
I am very bad at saving money. I need to put that out there now. My other half is the pro where saving is concerned but somehow, he manages to be flash all at the same time. When I was at home with the kids, I had to find ways of feeding the family, but also saving, so I, like my husband could be flash too. When I say flash, I don’t mean extravagant food or days out. He just never seemed fazed with an unexpected spend; when a boiler broke, or fence fell over in the wind, he always had something saved up. If he could do it, so could I.
I worked out that we spend £40 on food a week. Nine years ago, that didn’t include nappies. They had their own budget! But today we are really strict about not going over that £40 budget. I love the challenge every week of seeing how far under I can get from that final total of £40. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen occasionally. I quite literally do a celebratory dance!
On a Sunday night I have a rough plan of what we will eat through the week up to Wednesday. This time of year, when it’s cold, it’s all the recipes that keep us warm: chillis, lasagnes, pies, curries and always pasta. Anyone with kids – or swimmers – in the family will know that is a must! I base my recipes around the bargains that I can find too, so while I try to stick to the plan, it can all change if there is an unexpected deal to be had.
I mostly shop online on a Sunday night, to be delivered Monday morning. The first thing on the list is always light soy milk – five cartons is enough to get us through the week along with three big bags of fresh spinach. I pretty much give the kids handfuls of spinach with every meal instead of lettuce.
Because I mainly shop online, I avoid all the seasonal adverts. If it’s big, bright and intermittently flashing, then it’s trying to entice me into a world of unnecessary overspend. My budget has never got time for that! Best thing about shopping online is that when you type something in, you get all the options, starting with the most expensive. So I scroll all the way down and look for the cheapest. Often that means that it is a supermarket brand but that does not bother me one bit. If it does the same job and has the same nutritional value, I don’t care what it’s wrapped in.
During the holiday I even get the kids to sit down and do the shopping with me. They love it! They love finding a bargain. I know I’m creating monsters when I see the look of glee in their eyes at a buy-one-get-one-free offer. The best kind of monsters are the frugal kind!
Top tips for thrifty cooking
- Become good friends with your freezer. I always make more then I need so I can freeze the rest for another day. It can become a hot lunch on a day when you thought you had nothing at home. Stock up on freezer bags!
- Eat more vegetable-based meals during the week. I think it is what keeps my shopping budget low. Meat and fish are far more expensive. If you can crack that, you will be saving a few pennies at the end of the week.
- Buy frozen veg and canned fruit. Frozen veg is often frozen at source, so retains all its goodness and it is cheaper then fresh. With canned fruit, avoid the kind in syrup – canned fruit is already sweeter, and can make amazing puddings!
Find more cheap eats in our guide on 10 easy budget family meals.