Is it getting harder to eat frugally?

I’d be inclined to say yes. I saw a programme on TV last week that said that many of us are earning less (pay/hour cuts, no pay increases in spite of inflation etc) while the price of food has gone up. No surprises there then. And the trend, sometimes verging on pressure, towards organic/ free range / high quality food continues to increase. Add it all together and I, for one, feel that it isn’t as easy to stick to a frugal food budget as it was a couple of years ago.

I always feel a bit guilty about not shopping in the butchers more often. I know I should. I just can’t get out of the mindset of doing my shopping all in one go at the supermarket. Also, I can never really work out if it is cheaper or not (I must train myself to be able to understand how much things cost by looking at the cost/weight in the butchers counter. I hate being unsure about how much to ask for and how much it will come to). My Mum finds that, largely, our local butcher is cheaper (or at least comparable) on most things. However, even she said that she had to buy chicken at the supermarket today because a single chicken breast at the butchers cost £3. £3! I bought a pack of three from Co-op for £3.75 earlier. I genuinely feel bad for not supporting local businesses but we really don’t have much income right now. That said, my local greengrocer had an offer on avocados last week – 28p each or 3 for £1. Amazing considering that I saw single ones being sold for 99p in Tesco just this morning.

Here’s another thing. Co-op (not generally known for being the cheapest of the supermarkets) often has an offer where you can get 3 packets of sauce (cheese, white, onion etc) for £1. The other week I was making my own cheese sauce and realised I had used nearly half a block of cheese to get the sauce, well, ‘cheesy’ enough. This was 75p just on the cheese alone – to work out the full cost of the sauce I’d have to factor in the butter, flour and milk (though the packet sauce would also have required milk to be added). The price difference might only be pence but if you look at it as a percentage, the difference is huge. And while it is ‘only’ pence, the truly thrifty know that this is what can really swing your fiances either way.

It is all very well to say that you should spend on food or that savings should be made elsewhere. But what if you really can’t spend much? What if there aren’t really any other funds you can eek a few pounds out of? There’s a big difference between being budget conscious (while having a good enough income to have savings in the bank, nice holidays etc) and being backed into a corner by a low income.

I hope this isn’t coming across as a big build up to a tidy conclusion. I don’t have one – this is just me having a ponder. What do you think? Are you finding it harder to stick to your food budget? Has it had to be increased? Should we spend more on ‘better’ ingredients even if it means we have to make genuine sacrifices elsewhere? I’d be really interested to hear what other people have to say on this subject!

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Categories: Budgeting, Frugal food | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Is it getting harder to eat frugally?

  1. Laura

    Yes, Yes and perhaps! Somethings cost so much to make that I buy the packet mix (like your cheese sauce example). I make sacrifices on everything apart from meat..who knows if this is right or not. Food rules blow my mind!

    • shoestringalley

      Ha – I know what you mean about food rules! I always buy free range eggs but then I go and buy other stuff (like pasta or a dessert) which almost certainly isn’t made with free range eggs. It seems so hypocritical. I may never get to the bottom of the best way to shop on a budget!

  2. Alison B43

    I think you must be able to read my mind as I had this same discussion with my husband about a week ago. I almost always buy free range eggs, and usually free range chicken, except when there is an offer/reduction in the flavoured chicken that makes lovely sandwiches or salad meat for lunch – this cannot be free range. Having almost decided to extend this philosophy to pork (I find the mass produced a bit tasteless) I was totally seduced by some pork mince reduced to £1 this week!!
    I think if you are extremely short of money, or need to make short-term economies then cost must be a priority but if you can afford to indulge a little then you should too, otherwise life becomes very tedious. Having just moved into a village, a week or so ago when I wanted some steak for a celebration dinner, I decided to support the local butcher. The meat was very nice, but cost nearly £14 for 2 steaks!! Cannot do that every day, but you can balance out this kind of outlay by buying some stewing meat/sausages/offal for day to day meals. I am hoping to do this with our local butcher – for me a complete change, but people who use their butchers regularly would agree with your mum, and I do think the meat is perhaps a better quality. Well, I guess we will all have to keep pondering …

  3. We have pretty much gone Vegetarian as the price of meat seems so expensive. Luckily the only meat I eat is Beef and Gammon. We have become Jacket potato obsessed as I can buy 5 in a bag for £1.50. We don’t buy much bread now as that seems to get more and more pricey for anything decent and also cakes are always near bread in shops so we avoid that aisle! But our freezer is packed out with Quorn as it’s cheaper and a bit healthier as well.

    • shoestringalley

      I never think of Quorn – I don’t think I’ve had any for years. Thanks for giving me the idea! Long live the jacket potato 🙂

  4. thefrenchchick

    For us, the price is the deciding factor in what food to buy. When I was little, my parents had a hobby farm. 5 acres, nothing big enough to get lost on. Just big enough for 3 cows, several pigs, about a half dozen cats and a dog. Well, the cats came and went but I think a half dozen was about what we averaged over the years. With that and a large garden, we never spent much on groceries. It’s been a real shock over the years that I’ve lived away from home just how much money has to be spent on food.

    And I agree that it is getting much more expensive lately than it used to be. What used to be regular price for pork chops, as an example, $2.99 for boneless center cut is now a hoped for sale price. We’re going to have to get our backyard “victory” garden going again just to offset the meat bill somewhat.

    • thefrenchchick

      I should also probably mention that the cats and dog were pets only. The cats were true farm cats and would walk out to the farm that fed them best. And sometimes the kittens had to be given away so the group wouldn’t starve.

    • shoestringalley

      Am facinated by the victory garden idea – brilliant!

  5. It is very difficult to stay within a food budget now a days. We are considered low income and as our income stays the same but the price of fuel and food rise it becomes increasingly difficult to make ends meet. I do find that using coupons and pre-planning helps us each month.

    • shoestringalley

      Yes, this is exactly the problem. I also find that pre-planning is the only way to get it under control but it is still tough!

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