Most of my disposable income goes on food. I love to eat and I love to eat well. Since giving up my waitressing job in November, money has been a lot tighter and I have to budget more carefully than before.
A few years ago, I found myself in a similar position and, having read an article at that time about ‘Living below the line’, I set a personal challenge to live on £1 a day for two weeks (I didn’t include the cost of basics I already had at home, such as salt, pepper, oil, and spices).
Examples of food I ate during my challenge included:
- Breakfast – fruit, toast, yoghurt
- Lunch – vegetable couscous, rice salad, tuna pasta
- Dinner – pasta Bolognese, cottage pie, mince and rice
- Snacks – biscuits, pretzels, crisps, fruit
The things I learnt from this challenge were:
- Planning is essential – I researched cheap and healthy recipes in magazines, online and asked friends and family. I had a spreadsheet detailing all meals and snacks that I could make a shopping list from. I also researched to see where I could buy the items I needed at the cheapest cost.
- Saving money doesn’t mean cutting out the things you love – I ate meals and snacks that I usually would – I just had to change a few ingredients here and there to make sure I kept the cost down.
- It can be done – I was surprised at how well I did with this challenge and that, with a bit of considered thought and planning, it really wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected it to be.
Although I haven’t tried this challenge again, the things I learned are definitely still useful and relevant when budgeting for food, along with these other key tips:
- Keep a ‘store cupboard’ – if you add one or two of these items to your weekly shopping list, it’ll keep the cupboard stocked without it seeming like you’ve spent loads and you’ll always be able to pull together a nice meal: tinned tomatoes, pasta, couscous, rice, tinned beans, dried herbs and spices, oil, salt and pepper.
- Minced beef goes a long way… – chilli con carne, Bolognese, cottage pie, stuffed peppers, mince and rice; the list goes on.
- …as does a whole chicken – cut it into different bits and make a number of meals with the meat. Also, you can make delicious stock with the bones – freeze it in ice cube trays and then you have ready-to-go stock cubes whenever you need them.
- Do one supermarket shop a week – don’t then stop in and pick up extras through the week. All the extra items add up quickly and it’s harder to monitor total spending on food if you’re adding to it a bit at a time.
- Communal/shared food – for items that you and your housemates buy (milk, butter, pasta etc.) set up a communal fund. This way everyone chips in a little bit of money and you can buy bigger items or in bulk (per serving it then usually works out cheaper). Also, use a spare shelf/cupboard for ‘free’ items – this becomes a ‘swap shop’ of sorts as you’ll get to leave things that you don’t want, and pick up things that others have put there.