Tuesday, 23 February 2010

No! Money

This morning I was sitting with Hubby in a VAT (Sales Tax) For Small Business Owners workshop. I know, you're thinking "My God, so that's how the other half live!" What can I say, mine is a glamourous life. As lunch time and the end of the class approached, I slipped a note to my husband asking him out for lunch. Here's how it went:

Me: "How about we go out for a cheap lunch after this?"
Him: "For us, there's no such thing as a cheap lunch."
Me:" Yo! Sushi" (a chain of conveyor belt sushi places)
Him: "No! Money"

As funny as I thought that was, I also knew that it was true. We came home and I cooked (a tasty) lunch on the cheap and started thinking again about our food budget.
Like millions of other women around the globe, I am responsible for keeping the family fed well, and the grocery bill as low as possible. The cost of most foods have gone up over the past couple of years, while incomes have tended to go down and packages have got smaller (sneaky f@&*ers)
I thought it might be fun to have an exchange of money-saving ideas here. I have listed a few of the things I do regularly that really help me and I'd r
eally welcome your comments and ideas so that I can try those too.

Here are my top tips for trimming the food bill:

Make a menu every week and then use this to make you shopping list. It sounds more tedious than it is I promise. The tim
e you take to sit down and think the week through will more than make up for several visits to the store and trying to think "what shall I cook tonight??" Also, think about all those separate trips to the store. How often do you only get what you went in for? How much money do you spend on impulse buys? If you make a list and stick to it you'll save money and reduce waste, because you wont be buying things that sit in the fridge unused until they go bad. BEST of all, you'll be beating the grocery stores out of the money they try to make off you with their clever marketing and store layouts.
Don't be afraid to go off-plan though. If you get to the grocery store or farmers' market and discover that they have a special on lamb chops when you have pork chops on the menu, if it will save you money, swap! Sometimes Buy-One-Get One offers can be useful
if they're on products you regularly use. If you see something on sale that you can't work into this week's menu, maybe get it anyway and work it in next week. You'll spend a bit more this week but that much less the following.

And buy locally. When you buy produce that is in season locally, you will almost always spend less on it because it's plentiful, hasn't had to travel far and hasn't had to be refrigerated or packaged to protect it on a long journey. Buying this way helps the environment, local farmers and your family's health, because you tend to eat a more varied diet.
Building relationships with local producers
will usually ensure fresher foods at better prices than grocery stores offer for similar products. You can often get great deals on buying in quantity from small meat producers, so it's worth investing a little in a well-stocked freezer.
Every bit of processing a piece of food goes through before it gets to you costs money. Buying carrots that have already been peeled and cut, as opposed to whole and loose cost so much more than they should. Buying a chicken whole and jointing it yourself will save you so much money and once you have the knack will only take a few minutes. The left over bones can be used to make stock, which can be used to make soups, risottos and s
auces. Buying larger joints of meat or whole fish can often save you a lot of money per kilo, as long as you're willing and able to take it home, portion it and store it appropriately.
This can be a treasure trove of healthy bulk and flavour. Dried beans and pulses are a brilliant, super inexpensive way to include huge amounts of protein and fibre to a meal. Keeping a well-stocked store cupboard means that you can turn a few fresh ingredients into a hearty, nourishing supper without spending more than a pound or two per head.
I tend to keep a variety of dried beans, lentils, pastas, rices, vinegars, tinned tomatoes, chick peas, coconut milk, and dried mushrooms. It will largely depend on what you like to cook and what your family will eat. Things like chillies, ginger root and garlic store well in the fridge, so it's great to have those around, while tins of anchovies and jars of capers and olives do incredible things to stews and pasta sauces. Having these kinds of thing as permanent residents means you can whip up something incredible even with the most basic fresh ingredients.

Whenever I make Bolognese sauce, Chilli, Stews or anything else that I cook for hours, I will make at least three whole meals' worth, store two lots in air-tight containers and stick them in the freezer. Whenever you can say "It tastes even better the next day" you can usually make this work. It's a brilliant plan for days when you have very little time to cook. All you have to do is defrost a container, re-heat it and maybe boil some rice or pasta. It's wonderful to have slow-cooked comfort in such a hurry.
This might seem extreme or miserly, but things like carrot peelings, celery tops and bottoms, mushroom stems etc are brilliant for stocks. Odd bits of veg can be used up in soups, risotto or fried rice dishes like this one. These are
like free meals, if all you were going to do was throw them away once they get too gross to look at.

Seems impossible to think about at this time of the year, when the weather is so miserable, but even if you don't have much of a (or any) garden, you can grow tons of stuff in containers. Potatoes, carrots, salad leaves and herbs grow brilliantly in bags and pots, while tomatoes and chillies can be bought in their own pre-fertilized bags. If you DO have a garden and room for a compost bin, any scraps of veg and egg shells you have, along with fallen leaves and grass clippings make the most incredible free compost. In the peak of summer, with just a few square metres of dirt, you might find that you're hardly buying any veggies at all.
A £1 family-sized lasagne is £1 for a reason and it's not because the manufacturer is feeling generous. In fact, 'manufacturer' isn't really a word we should want associated with our food.
If you make it from scratch, you can control what goes into your food (and what doesn't!) and again, not pay for processes you can easily do at home and additives you don't want.


  1. Also, if possible, "go-in" on large purchases of meat with other families. A side of beef split between two or three families equals about $300 American -- but equals enough beef to double, or even triple it's value. Pigs and lamb can also be bought in bulk. To do this you need a deep freezer -- but they are not as expensive as one might think. Also -- I have found local organic/free-range chicken farmers who have sales two or three times a year. Chickens are $5 a piece. Not bad for organic. Keep an eye out for adverts, or even call local farms.

    I am joining a co-op and growing my own vegetables (and a few fruits) this year. The fact that you are in England means smaller gardens and smaller yield if you do garden. However, indoor herb gardens, and even a small potted lemon and/or lime tree can save you a substantial amount of money -- as these basic ingredients are in a LOT of dishes.

    My two-cents.

  2. The side of beef/pig/lamb etc is brilliant and I totally agree about keeping an eye on your local farms. I must admit that yeah, only a tiny portion of our garden is flowers anymore, as we're giving more and more space over to the fruit and veg, but since we're out in the country it's not too bad. It is really hard in built-up areas to Hubby's got chicken coop plans for the spring, should be fun/interesting!