How I halved my food budget

This year I’ve made big cuts to my previous spending budgets so that I can save more and be less wasteful. I’ve made changes here and there but one of the biggest things I’ve done is halve our food budget. This equates to around £120 extra in the savings account each month and much, much more if I include how much I used to spend on going out for lunch and buying sandwiches. I know most readers and bloggers are pretty savvy in these days of economic doom and gloom but in case there are any newbies out there, this is how I’ve done it.

CLEARING OUT THE CUPBOARDS: One of the first things I did was to go through all of my food cupboards. I threw out anything out of date and then put anything nearing expiry right at the front to make sure I used it up in time.

MAKING A MEAL PLAN: Every week I make a meal plan before I go shopping. I know a lot of people that do this and then don’t stick to it. This is madness if you really want to stick to your budget. Work out which days you will be in/out and plan accordingly, then write a list based on what you will actually need.

SET A BUDGET: It might take a few weeks of trial and error to figure out your ideal budget. The best way is to stick to your list (what you need) and try not to buy too many extras. For me, it turned out that about £30 a week is plenty for both Husband and I for all of our meals, though I often use a bit extra from my general spending fund at weekends, particularly if we have friends coming over.

SHOPPING: I am very good at sticking to the list based on my meal plan. However, I’ll break away from it for a good deal, like buy-one-get-one-free,  but only if I know I will actually use the items and if buying them won’t take me over budget.

WRITING A STORE CUPBOARD LIST: I have a list of basic items (it is quite long!) which I keep in my filofax. I read about someone who has a similar list taped to the inside of their cupboard door. Whatever works for you best – as long as you can find it easily and it won’t get thrown away by accident. The list includes things like olive oil, butter, pasta etc and also non-food items like tin foil and loo roll. Basically, if I use it a lot and it comes dried, tinned, in a jar or in a packet then it goes on the list.

WORKING OUT WHEN TO SHOP: I get paid monthly and my preferred supermarket is a 22 mile round-trip away so I don’t want to waste time and money going there every week. Instead, I use up a large chunk of my monthly food budget doing a ‘big’ shop when I’ve been paid. I prepare for this by going around the kitchen with my storecupboard list and checking how much of everything I have left and what is likely to run out over the next month. This means that, on a weekly basis, I only need to stock up on fresh produce like dairy, fruit, veg and meat.

COOKING IN BATCHES: I really have saved a fortune by cooking up big batches of lasagne, casserole and so on. Not only is it much, much cheaper cooking like this but, after a long day at work, I love sitting down to a home-cooked meal that involves minimal preparation followed by minimal washing-up.

USING THE FREEZER: Not everyone has a freezer I know. Mine isn’t massive – just 4 drawers but I use it all the time now, not only for my batch cooking but also for those handy BOGOFs on everything from bread to salmon.

MARKED-DOWN GOODS: Lurk around in supermarkets and bakeries at the end of the day. There are bound to be some marked down goods. I don’t do this very often as, like I said, I tend to stick to the list. But there are some great bargains to be had on everything from meat to cheesecake.

PACKED LUNCHES: We all know it but I’m convinced that buying lunch instead of taking something with you can almost double your food spending. And how much better does a home-made egg sandwich taste than one from a supermarket?  Also, a colleague of mine bought a multi-pack of crisps today – 8 packets for £1. Sold seperately in the same supermarket, each bag of the same brand was priced at 47p. When I did my food shop on Friday I got some great deals on fruit – 10 apples for £1.50. All good packed lunch stuff, depending on what you like. Personally, I don’t buy multi-packs of crisps, biscuits or chocolate bars because neither Husband or I have any self-control. If I brought it home we would eat it all in one sitting. I wish this were a joke but it really isn’t…

What advice would you give someone trying to cut their food budget?

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Categories: Frugal food, Home Economics | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “How I halved my food budget

  1. I just don’t see how you can manage on £30 a week!! Do you sometimes not eat meat? Then again, I just don’t quite understand how we spend so much…..

    it is probably planning, but I find if I do a weekly plan, then something happens and we dont eat in, or the left overs last longer than I expected, and la la la. anyway, am very impressed.

    I used to manage £25 a week for just me. But that was years ago and I mostly ate noodle soup (with prawns and veggies in btw) or museli. or a vegetable dish that was delicious but have forgotten how to make as my husband wont eat cous cous.

    • shoestringalley

      To be fair, no we don’t eat meat every day and Husband has more than me because I’m not quite as keen on it! I tend to use quite a bit of mince beef or lamb in things like lasagne, bolognese sauce, cottage pie, shepherd’s pie and so on. It isn’t expensive (even though I never buy the cheap stuff) and goes a long way. I also tend to buy meat when I see it on offer. On friday I saw a half price chicken so I bought it and put it in the freezer. I only buy things like a joint of meat or chicken breasts now and then as they are quite expensive.

      We have own-brand cereal for breakfast so nothing particularly exciting there. Fruit for snacks (I love soft fruit like nectarines and raspberries) though I always veer towards what is on offer. If I want extras like chocolate then it has to come out of my ‘pocket money’.

      Lunches vary a bit – sometimes it might be sandwiches, sometimes ryvittas with different toppings, leftovers from the night before, a big batch of home-made soup, pasta. That kind of thing.

      Once a week we have jacket potatoes with something like tuna mayo or beans and cheese, which might well not be enough for everyone (Husband has 2 but 1 is enough for me!).

      Maybe I’ll do a couple of weeks of a food diary so you can what I mean! Everyone is so different in their preferences. I know some people who like a cooked lunch whereas others don’t each much during the day and make up for it later. It really does depend on the individual.

      The things that have made the biggest difference to me have been sticking to the meal plan as much as possible, making packed lunches and cooking things in massive batches. And it is just the two of us!

      Admittedly, people think I’m bonkers if food budgets ever come up in conversation – it seems we are spending at least half of what most other couples do. I could spend more if I wanted to, I’d just rather squirrel it away at the moment – it’s an extra £1440 a year in savings!!

  2. It’s amazing how planning can go a long way. One thing to add to your packed lunches, is to keep snacks or little things at your desk. Every Monday during my lunch break I go to the grocery store just to pick up little lunch stuff for the week: yogurt, carrots, bread, jelly and peanut butter and I keep it in my desk or in the company refrigerator. It helps me when I forget to bring my lunch or want a snack but don’t want to spend money at the vending machine.

    • shoestringalley

      This is such a good point PP! I keep a couple of tins of soup and a packet of ryvittas in my desk drawers. Not exactly exciting stuff but a real life saver when you forget to bring your lunch! I like idea of buying a little stash at the beginning of the week too.

  3. apieceofwood

    We’ve seriously cut our food bill since planning. You’re so right in that you have to stick to it.. we’re sitting about £40 a week… and rarely eat out at the moment.. like you would rather save it!

  4. I guess I am just not very good at planning then. I do all of the same things apart from that.

    • shoestringalley

      Don’t forget that there’s three of you and only two of us though. I think it’s much easier to stick to a plan when you don’t have little ones – you only have to think about what you want to do at any one time! x

  5. Pingback: Menu Planning and The Grocery Budget

  6. I’m seriously impressed that your weekly food spend is £30. Mine varies quite widely but probably averages out at between £50 – £60 per week. Mind you, we are a chunky pair who do both dearly love their food.

  7. Pingback: ‘Spend Less, Save More’ Part 2: Food shopping « Shoestring Alley

  8. I am so inspired, even though I meal plan we (just my Husband and I ) spend £80 plus a week! We do buy dog food once every 2 weeks . I am going to seriously re think my meal plans and make use of my freezer and slow cooker , I brought a breadmaker and have used it once? I think we are just wasteful. I can’t wait to get started.
    thank you for your ideas. dawn

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