I mentioned on Twitter that I had written my budget for 2013 and was met with cries of “can you help me?” And “can you advise how to feed a family of four for less?” So I thought writing a blog post about what works for us, may inspire some of you to write your own budgets.
Times are hard, for those earning as well as those who aren’t. Energy bills are crippling (they have risen 700% in just two years) and food shopping has risen by 77% so you aren’t getting as much in your trolley for the same amount of money! There’s quite a lot to consider so I thought I’d break up the categories and start with food shopping. Most of us spend a fortune in supermarkets and then end up throwing away excess after buying “deals”. I vowed this year to boycott my main supermarket Tesco and aim to shop locally. This isn’t always a cheaper option, especially if you collect points and fuel discount vouchers. However after I calculated what I spent in Tesco for December alone (£693.56 not including gifts) I figured I could save more by shopping elsewhere, even after factoring in the points. The problem with supermarkets is that we all fall for the £30 newspaper; you pop in for a newspaper and end up spending £30 quite easily. Frightfully easily. Then online shopping and home delivery became available and we thought “oh it’ll be cheaper because we only buy what we need”. It isn’t just a coincidence that items you often spend money on become on sale, especially if you use a club card. Big Brother is indeed watching you. They offer you money off and vouchers so you go in for a discounted pack of toilet rolls, and end up spending £30. I’d like to share some tips before we get into meal planning secrets.
1) Take your weekly shop budget out in cash. Leave your debit card at home. My personal budget for this year is £70 a week. This is for two adults, a two year old and a one year old. This is to cover household items (toilet roll, washing powder and dog food etc) as well as food. You may need to tweak the calculation depending on mouths to feed. I have four bathrooms so will probably use more bleach than someone who doesn’t. Perhaps you have four dogs to my one? Taking cash means you can only spend what you have in your hand.
2) Packed lunches. My husband takes a packed lunch to work everyday. There are two ways to manage the rising cost of meat and cheese:
i) Alternate, do cheese salad one day and ham salad/coleslaw the next to ensure the cheese and ham last longer by not being eaten together.
ii) Buy a frozen chicken and cook it on a Sunday (or use leftovers if you have any). Shred the cooked chicken and freeze in freezer bags in sandwich filler amounts. Take out each late afternoon to defrost for the next day, mix with mayonnaise and salt and pepper and you’ll find it lasts the whole week. (Some supermarkets do three whole chickens for £10).
3) Go to www.mysupermarket.co.uk. This website allows you to shop for the items as you usually would but calculates what the main supermarkets would charge you. It’ll give you the full amounts at the end and you’ll be surprised what the difference is.
I’m well aware of supermarket snobbery. I try my hardest to avoid Asda and Lidl. However, this new budget is inviting me to try different stores, including local. For example a Tesco bag of Braeburn apples (six pre-packed) costs around £1.73, my local green grocers charge 40 pence for a bag of mixed apples (for six pre-packed). There is just no competition. Some people are under the influence that butchers are too pricey, some people are too intimidated to ask about the different weights (kilos and pounds can be frightening if you have grown up in supermarket culture where everything is pre-packed and priced). Don’t be scared! Butchers are desperate for the custom now the supermarkets have taken over. Perhaps go in and say, “I have £50 for my meat allowance this month, what cuts of meat can you give me?” Then take it home and freeze it.
4) Mix your meat. Minced beef isn’t all too cheap unless you buy the value brand, which is ok, however it’s usually poor quality meat and it filled with so much water the weight has substantially gone by the time you’re ready to add your onions! If you can’t stretch to minced beef, buy some minced turkey and half and half them. For a bolognese, lasagne or cottage pie, you won’t taste the difference and you’re spreading the extortionate cost to twice the amount of meals. Consider quorn. If it is being used in a meal like lasagne it is very hard to tell the difference. You can buy it bagged and frozen for less than half the cost of beef. It’ll also make you slimmer without you even noticing. Bargain if I ever saw one.
I used to sigh, reading those words. Sitting down on a Sunday evening writing down meals for a day by day menu, only to forget half the ingredients, return to Tesco and spend double the amount I had intended to. Meal planning is now done like this:
I choose 25 meat-based meals and six without. I write them down in four rows, seven in each. I shop weekly so just buy what I need for the week. If say carrots are used in week one, try and use them in a meal in week two to prevent you buying more in week four. Don’t do a DAY BY DAY MENU!! This is what happens:
Tuesday – Chilli. You don’t feel like chilli, you feel lazy, you order in and spend more money. Or, you make something that isn’t on the menu and use two of the ingredients for two different meals so they now go out of the window, you have to return to the supermarket and weep. Real tears.
Write seven meals and choose them how you fancy them through the week. Does Charlotte have swimming on Thursday evening? Save the slow cooker meal for then!
Make a bit of extra chilli, or curry, and have it on a baked potato for lunch the next day, or save it for a weaning baby/toddler’s supper. Or even freeze it.
I write lists of what is in my cupboards and stick it to the inside, so I can see what is there and to ensure I don’t buy yet another tin of new potatoes merely because the seven I have were hiding behind all the sweetcorn I didn’t know we had. Cross off each item as you take it. This stock taking system works well for meal planning and shopping; “oh we don’t need bolognese sauce this week we have some in the cupboard”, that has saved you around £2.20.
There is a website called http://www.myfridgefood.com and you basically select the random items you have in your fridge and it compiles a recipe of something edible. Super for emptying the fridge before you do the shop. Don’t fall into the trap of “oh look, we don’t need cheese this week we have some left” and then frantically shopping on a non designated shopping day and spending £30.
Buy enough milk for the week and freeze it! Take it out the night before you need it and leave it to defrost in the sink, it’ll be ready for your morning coffee, and it prevents you “popping to get some” and spending £30. Remember cheese freezes so if there is a BOGOF and you can afford to take advantage then do so, it’ll freeze perfectly well.
Some women I know by a week’s worth of food and batch cook it on a Saturday. This is for several super reasons.
1) There are guaranteed hot meals all week regardless of activities and working late.
2) All the ingredients needed are used the day they are bought; and you can’t “run out” of cheese because you ate most of it the other night after a glass of wine.
3) It saves money on their energy costs. The oven being full of four trays of fish pie, lasagne, shepherd’s pie and roast chicken, ensures the oven isn’t on for the rest of the week. Electric fan ovens use on average 50 pence a day plus the electricity for the extractor fan. Microwaves use a lot less. Take the lasagne out in the morning and leave it to defrost (whole or in portions depending on how you have frozen it!) and zap it before serving. I don’t want to dwell on this as my next blog is about energy savings.
Remember that washing powder and washing up liquid has to be factored. £1 and 99p shops are brilliant for this. Absolutely brilliant. Just stay away from the scented candles and the 30 other items of crap you buy because it’s only a pound!
Feel free to grill me for ideas and tips and even meal ideas.
Let me know how this works out for you!