Budgeting for food is something I bang on about a lot. I am constantly amazed by how much people tell me they spend on their food shopping. I know a couple of people how profess to spend very little on food but this is really because they are away a lot and don’t really keep track of what they do spend when they are at home. I found that cutting my food budget was an easy way to save some money. While other bills, such as council tax, remain much the same from month to month, the food budget is something that can be adjusted from week to week. Comparing my 2009 weekly budget to that in 2008 I have spent at least £20 a week less. This means that, even on a conservative estimate, I have been able to save around £1000 during the year. No wonder my bank balance has been looking so much healthier! Believe it or not, we’ve actually eaten better this year too – much more fruit and veg and many more meals cooked from scratch. All it has cost is a bit of time to make a plan. Over the past year I’ve talked about how I’ve cut my food budget in half and so on but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to pool all of my ideas in one place for the sake of this series:
- Make packed lunches: Everyone says this is a good idea because, well, it really is. There are occasions where I run out of time, or my planning has gone off track and I pick up a sandwich, but it happens very rarely. Also, one of the things I asked for at Christmas was a flask. I’m really pleased with it and love the fact that I don’t have to pick up take-outs on the run. I know a few people who always manage to make sure that they have a snack in their bag (such as a small pack of dried fruit or nuts) so they don’t end up stopping at corner shops and buying junk food. This seems like a great idea to me though I’m not quite that organised yet!
- Make batches of food for the freezer: Sometimes I have cooking sessions specifically to stock up. Other times I make up 4 or 6 portions of whatever I am making (such as lasagne) so the rest can go in the freezer. Per portion, it costs a lot less to cook in bulk and also saves a lot of time in the long run.
- Make a meal plan: I say this a lot – with good reason. It stops things from going to waste and saves buying things that aren’t really needed. I make a plan for a week at a time and check my diary while I’m doing it. There is no point planning a meal for each night if checking your diary reminds you that you aren’t going to be in. This is also handy if you realise you might need a packed snack as you’ll be on the move rather than sitting down to a proper meal. Since we often eat with friends, checking my diary when I’m meal planning also reminds me if I need to get things to make a dessert to take with us etc. I also check my cupboards to see if anything is coming towards the end of its use by date to make sure it gets used up in time.
- Make a store-cupboard list: I have a store-cupboard list of dry or tinned goods such as pasta, chopped tomatoes etc and also for non-food items such as binliners, tin foil, washing-up liquid. I do a big shop at a cheaper supermarket once a month to stock up on all of these things (to make sure I get the lowest price possible) after checking the contents of my cupbaords and freezer against this list.
- Set a budget: I adjust my food budget slightly each month depending on how much money I have and what my general plans are. While I can be flexible, I try to stick to this budget as much as possible. If I over-spend one week, I’ll try to cut back the next to make up for it. However, if I come in below budget then I might buy a few extra treats the next.
- Don’t pick up extras: This really is key. I’m not talking about the times where you run out of milk or realise you have forgotten to buy something essential for making a meal. I’m talking about nipping into a shop for a packet of biscuits or buying a ready meal because cooking something from scratch seems too much hassle. Speaking of which…
- Cook from scratch!: I’m no great cook – really. But I have made the effort to learn to cook or bake as much as I can. It is an ongoing thing. I have a gorgeous recipe folder and I try to regularly add new entries to it. When I’m stuck for ideas I know exactly where to turn. There are some things I just can’t seem to crack (like white sauce for the top of lasagne – I am resigned to buying it in a jar if I want the dish to taste any good) but I’ll give anything a go.
- Left-overs: Find ways to use up left overs. Soup, stock, bubble and squeak are all easy things that spring to mind.
- Marked down food: I rarely seem to be in the supermarket at the right time to pick up marked down food but I do find the occasional bargain (yesterday I bought a quiche marked down to 40p!). Bread and baked goods, such as scones, are often marked down and can be popped into the freezer until they are required.
Everyone is going to have slightly different needs when it comes to food shopping, so no-one’s food budget is going to be exactly the same. I’ve struggled the past few months because, due to my pregnancy, I can’t really predict what I’m going to be able to eat and what will suddenly turn my stomach! Similarly, some people are on their own, some people have large families, some people have to spend more on some things due to food allergies etc. The one thing that I think is true to say of anyone is that a bit of planning should mean at least a few pounds can be saved!