Anyone who does grocery shopping regularly will have noticed that things are more expensive, with prices rising at their fastest rate for eight years. If you are on a tight budget, you may be wondering how you can still eat well, heat your home, and simply live without spending too much money.
With careful planning and by changing some spending habits, it is possible to slash your grocery bill. We asked blogger Jane Berry, aka Shoestring Jane, how to cut down your food bill. You can find Jane at www.shoestringcottage.com and also on her YouTube channel. Here are her top tips.
Do a pantry audit
The best way to save money on food is to start with what you have. How many of us have cupboards and freezers crammed with food items lurking at the back we have forgotten about?
Go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer and write down what you find. You will need this for your next step.
Meal plans can help in cutting your food bill
Once you know what you have, you can create a weekly meal plan, aiming to use up the ingredients near the end of their use-by or best-before dates first.
Consider your activities for the week ahead. Are there any days when you will be home late and will need something quick and easy? Do you have planned days out, or guests coming?
Decide on a main meal for each day. I tend not to slavishly plan breakfasts and lunches, but I make sure we have enough food to cover these meals too.
Write a shopping list
Once you have planned your meals using your existing ingredients , write a shopping list of all the extra items you will need. If you are inclined to go for expensive takeaways when you are tired, add in a few ready meals for the freezer. They are more expensive than cooking from scratch, but still cheaper than Deliveroo!
Check out the discount supermarkets
If you have never tried the discount supermarkets, such as Aldi, Lidl and Farm Foods, now is the time to give them a go. You can usually save 20-30% on your overall grocery bill. I find that they sell good quality food and have a much wider range of items than they used to.
If you have a good market in your town, they usually offer excellent prices for fresh produce, so are also worth checking out.
Eat less meat
There is no doubt that meat or fish are usually the most expensive components of any dinner. By eating vegetarian food some of the time, you can save some money. There are some good recipe ideas on the Vegetarian Society website.
You can also use small amounts of meat as a garnish or flavouring rather than the main event. For example, you could make a pasta dish with peppers, tomatoes and onions with some bacon or chorizo for extra flavour.
Try supermarket own brands
When you need to save money, it pays not to be a brand snob. Try the supermarket’s own brands when you buy breakfast cereal, bread, beans and other basics. If you truly hate your switches, you can always trade up again. However, most of the time I bet that neither you nor the rest of your family will notice the difference!
It is also worth looking for the retailer’s wonky fruit and veg ranges. A wonky potato or carrot may be smaller and imperfect, but it will taste just the same.
Shop from the bottom shelves
Retailers arrange their shelves with premium priced items at eye level. To find cheaper brands, check out the bottom shelves.
Learn to cook
Without basic cooking skills, you will have no option but to buy expensive ready-made meals and takeouts. TV chefs might make it look complicated, but it’s really not that difficult to create a standard dish such as spaghetti bolognese, cottage pie or an omelette.
The thing is to have a go! You will wonder why you never cooked before. The internet is awash with inspiration for beginner cooks. I like the BBC Good Food website for easy recipes.
Cooking from scratch will save you money and means you know exactly what is going into your food.
Once you have mastered some cooking skills, it is worth cooking more than you need and freezing some meals to save time later.
Batch cooking also means that you can buy cheaper, large packs of meat, fish and vegetables, which will be cheaper. And having meals ready prepared for the evenings when you find yourself too exhausted to cook will be a godsend.
Reduce food waste
WRAP – Action on Food Waste – estimates that 15 million meals could be made from the food thrown away by individuals and businesses in the UK each year. Not only is that terrible for the environment and immoral when people are hungry, it is a massive waste of money.
By planning your meals, you will buy only what you are likely to use. But if you do find you have items near the end of their use-by dates, either eat them, give them away or freeze them.
Olio is a brilliant little app aimed at reducing food waste and will save you money too. Supermarkets and other food retailers, as well as individual householders, offer food that would otherwise go to waste for free. Much of this is collected by Food Waste Heroes – volunteers who list the food on the app and arrange for the recipients to come and get it.
It is also worth checking to see if you have a ‘food pantry’ in your area. The food isn’t entirely free – you usually have to pay a small weekly subscription of around £3-4 – but after that you can help yourself to what you need for no extra cost. You can check to see if you have a pantry here. However, many organisations run food pantries, so if you don’t find one in your area it is worth doing an internet search.
Reduced price food
Another way to save money is to search out the yellow stickers! Most supermarkets will start to reduce items on or near their use by dates late afternoon or early evening.
Finding reduced food is not an exact science, as retailers don’t all get their yellow sticker price guns out at the same time. I have found around 3pm on a Sunday and early Monday morning to be good times, but I have also come across amazing bargains in the middle of the day.
Make friends with staff on the floor and ask them the best time to come. If you get to Lidl early in the day you can often find one of their ‘Too Good To Waste’ boxes, full of fruit and vegetables that need using quickly. These cost £1.50 and are excellent value.
Grow your own
Even if you have only a small garden, or even a windowsill you can sow a few seeds and grow some of your own food. Easy things to start with are herbs, courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans.
Once you get your confidence, you can grow all sorts: from potatoes, onions, salad vegetables, soft fruit, kale and broccoli, to cabbage and beetroot.
There is plenty of advice online; the RHS site is very helpful. With a little organisation and planning, you can reduce your grocery bill and save money.