How we save money on food
Slashing the food budget is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s one of the areas where we can make big savings as it’s not a fixed monthly expense like the mortgage or car insurance. However, it’s also easy to take the scrimping too far and feel like we are sacrificing our present for the sake of our future. This is how we save on food bills while still catering to our love of food.
Eat a (more) plant-based/vegetarian diet
Over the last few months we’ve drastically cut down on our intake of meat and dairy to reduce our environmental impact and unintended side effect has been that our grocery bill is much lower now. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. If you eat meat then even cutting down will be good for the planet and your wallet.
Potential saving: According to a survey by Think Money, a meat-free diet can save £600 a year.
Take packed lunches to work
I take both my breakfast and lunch to work. It takes less than a minute to make some overnight oats in the evening and my lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. I also have a jar of trail mix on my desk for elevensies/mid-afternoon snacks (to keep me away from the vending machine). Now it’s a habit that saves me time at work and because I’m bringing everything from home I’m also not using single-use plastic packaging.
Potential saving: I could easily spend about £9 on breakfast, coffee, lunch and a snack. Based on a survey by the New York Bakery Co, the average brit spends £6.08 on lunch a day, and £15 in London. Based on the average amount and 215 working days a year this works out to £1307.20.
Plan your meals
Now we don’t always do this, and when we do it’s more for dinners than for every meal. However, if we do plan our meals we have much less waste and get much more value from our meals together. This is how we do it…
Step one: We take stock of what we have already that needs eating. Usually we will check the fridge but if we have time we’ll check the freezer and pantry too. Anything that needs to be eaten will be written down in the Use Up section.
Step two: If we had social lives we would then put in the meals we are having out – but we have small children so we skip this step.
Step three: We think of meals to make with the Use Up ingredients. If they require new ingredients, we add those to the Shopping section.
Step three: If there are still spaces in our week, we fill those with either easy stalwarts or fill in where we will be having leftovers from our evening meals. If we want to save extra that week – just fancy it – we will make at least one big batch of pinto beans, red lentil dahl or lentil bolognese. If we have the time and energy to try some new recipes we will put those in too and add any new ingredients to the Shopping list.
Step four: We tear off the shopping list and get our ingredients. Whether we shop in one store or several we will write the price of the shop(s) in the budget tracker section. This is handy for when we are doing extra shops throughout the week too. Although I use My Money Dashboard to track spending my partner doesn’t so this helps to get an idea of our total spend.
This works for us when we have a lot to use up or need to be really strict with our budget.
Eat leftovers first
My new rule (I love a good rule) is that before I make something new to eat I will check if there are any leftovers to eat. It makes for some interesting “fusion” meals sometimes when I’m having some curry with the last chunks of marinated tempeh but it’s better than throwing things away and there’s hardly any washing up.
Have some super cheap store cupboard recipes
We usually have red lentil dahl once a week which costs pennies and is all from store cupboard ingredients unless you chuck in a fresh tomato or some ginger. We use Chetna Makan’s recipe. It always makes me smile because when we met my partner said a girlfriend being a vegetarian would be a deal breaker and even got me a dahl recipe book so that I could indulge my penchant for pulses alone. Now he is not only serving up dahl but has given up meat too.
Learn some “fakeaway’ versions of favourite take away meals
If there’s a favourite meal that you can’t resist at the end of a long week, try making your own version of it. We use curry pastes to make this easier. Grilled paneer kebabs are my favourite at the moment and go so well with the dahl above. They also heat up so nicely in the microwave at work…
Buy in bulk
We always buy our basmati and Japanese rice in big bags. As a comparison, a 10kg bag of Tilda basmati rice was £19 from a major supermarket online at the time of writing this blog. In contrast a 1kg bag was £4.75, more than twice as expensive per kg, while a 250 bag of cooked rice was £1.30 – almost three times as much as the 10kg bag.
Potential saving: On basmati rice alone, assuming you ate two 10kg bags a year that’s a saving of £57 if you buy the 10kg bag instead of the 1kg one.
We’ve tried shopping at other shops and supermarkets and now have an idea of where to go for different things. The app My Supermarket tells you prices of favourite items at different major shops. Last year I discovered The Good Club which offers decent discounts on wholefood and plant-based staples such as Oatly oat milk, biona tinned pulses etc. They are also trialling a waste free service where you pay a deposit for packaging but then return it which should significantly cut down on waste.
Shop from a zero waste shop (you can buy exactly how much you need)
We are lucky enough to have a briliant waste free shop near us in Edinburgh which means we can pop in for items regularly and are not dependent on large supermarkets for our staples. All of the items are organic and while you could find cheaper by weight if you bought non-organic from another shop, the fact that you can shop for exactly what you need means we end up spending less.
Register for personalised vouchers from your favourite supermarket (if they do them)
I was a bit slow on the uptake for this one…my partner often receives vouchers for his commonly bought items at his favourite supermarket and I never did, until I realised I wasn’t signed up for them in my “marketing preferences”. This is one time that I actually want to receive marketing!
If you are gluttonous foodies like us, these are all changes you can make without giving up on the pleasure of eating a varied diet with good quality ingredients. I haven’t even included changes like not eating at restaurants and the changes above could still save you thousands of pounds a year.
I’d love to hear other ways that you save money…
What are your go-to store cupboard or “fakeaway” meals?
Have your food budget or ways of eating changed over the years?