As a working mum to an active 18-month-old and another on the way, time is precious. When it comes to food shopping, the need to be organised and plan ahead is vital, not only for the health and wellbeing of my little one but also the health of my bank balance!
So how can we all spend less on food while still producing yummy meals? Well, it’ll take some organisation and practice, but trust me…if I can do it, anyone can!
1. Assess your current expenditure and waste
This will give you a good basis to know where you can start saving some money. It’ll also highlight where you’ve been wasting money – I don’t know about you but I often find myself throwing away food that I had good intentions of using but has gone off without me realising (funny how it’s always fruit or veg and never chocolate!).
If you end up wasting the same thing each week, is it worth buying? Can you buy a smaller portion instead? And check out this handy infographic which gives you 10 things to do with stale bread. Particularly useful for me as I can no longer use it to feed the ducks – my little boy insists on eating it himself!
2. Do a weekly food plan
Once you’ve assessed your current spending habits you can start to plan better. This doesn’t need to be a detailed, colour-coordinated Excel spreadsheet; it can be as simple as a list of meals in the order you’ll cook them.
Think about your busiest days and plan the easiest meals for then. For example, I know that Tuesdays are usually busy at work and my little boy is tired after a full day at nursery – the last thing I need is to be slaving over the cooker! Something simple like pasta works best for me so I can feed him quickly and still get the chance to relax.
Find out what’s in season when you’re planning as it’s cheaper. Also, think about whether it’s possible to buy less expensive brands on some of your essential items. Take a list when you go shopping and don’t forget to take note of use-by dates and what you already have in the cupboards/fridge/freezer. Cutting down on processed foods (and obviously fast-food and takeaways) will also help your bank balance (and your waistline!).
3. Can you buy it cheaper elsewhere?
It can really pay to do your research and shop at different places for the best value. Bear in mind that this can be time-consuming and it’s not always possible when you have a busy family life.
I have, however, managed to save a lot of money and hassle on baby essentials such as nappies and wipes. If you buy them at full price at the supermarket, the amount soon tots up. I now subscribe and save through Amazon so they’re delivered to my door, free of charge at intervals that suit me. If that’s not a suitable option for you, or you simply prefer to shop in the supermarket, then look out for offers, or try buying supermarket brands.
4. Use coupons wisely
We recently asked our Facebook audience whether they thought using coupons can be a waste of money.
Abi said, “I think they tempt you into buying things you do not need. Coupons for brands and items I regularly purchase are always appreciated though”.
And Laurel made a good point: “I use useful coupons but not on something I wouldn’t usually buy. Being on a very tight budget they sometimes make all the difference or sometimes allow a treat with the savings”.
Simone only keeps them for things she normally buys: “It may seem like a small saving sometimes, but they add up over a year”.
The overall opinion seemed to be that you shouldn’t go out of your way to spend a coupon, but if it’s for something you regularly buy anyway then it’s worth using, even if it’s only for a small amount. Nobody mentioned that they’d be ashamed to use one – we’re all grateful for that little bit of extra help!
5. Go veggie
Or if you prefer, just eat less meat. We all know that meat is expensive compared to vegetables, pulses and grains and you can still get as much, if not more, nutrition and taste from a vegetarian dish. If you struggle for ideas, there are plenty of recipe ideas on the web and it’s a good way to get more of your five-a-day (or seven-a-day or whatever it is this week!)
If you can’t go without, meat can sometimes be better value and quality if you shop at a local butchers or farm shop. You could try the cheaper cuts of meat such as stewing steak or turkey. Mackerel and hake tend to be cheaper than most types of fish too (they’re easy to cook, taste great and are healthy for you as well).
6. Bulk-buy offers
Offers can help to save you money but, like coupons, they can also make you spend on things you don’t need. If they’re things you often use (don’t forget to check the use-by dates) it’s worth paying extra to bulk-buy and stock up as it’ll cut your costs in the long term.
If you’re passing a pound shop it can be worth stocking up on things like tinned items and toiletries too. You can often find branded items at a fraction of the cost – but remember to think before you spend as some items are more expensive.
7. Think about the kids
Some people think this means pandering to them but I say there’s no point in spending money on food they won’t eat. So we asked for voices of experience on Facebook. They all seemed to agree that only one meal gets cooked, so it’s best if their kids like it, but they also had to learn to compromise!
Ultimately they get what they’re given but if everyone eats up there’s less waste and more enjoyment!
8. Avoid the clothes and toys aisles
Most supermarkets sell clothes and toys, I try to avoid these aisles completely as there’s always a ‘bargain’ that catches my eye and I end up spending more than I intended. Most people budget for clothes separately so your entire budget can be thrown out if you’re not careful.
If the grandparents sometimes take the kids shopping make sure you warn them to do the same too. They don’t seem to have the same ‘filter’ when it comes to treats and will pander to them a lot more quickly. Nip it in the bud before it starts so the kids don’t expect you to buy them something every time you shop.
9. Is your child eligible for free school meals?
From September 2014, every child in Reception, Year One and Two in England will be entitled to receive a free school meal (money is being provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it’s up to the schools to decide whether to spend the money on free lunches). If you have an older child you can apply for free school meals if you or your child receives any of the following:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- The Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income of £16,190 or less
- Working Tax Credit ‘run-on’ – the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.
Contact your school to get your child signed up. It doesn’t affect any other benefits and no one needs to know you’ve registered. It could save you around £400 a year per child and it might also get you extra help towards extras like music lessons or school trips.
For your own meals at work, remember that it’s always cheaper to take your own from home.
10. Maximise your leftovers
Never waste leftovers – they could cut your food bill by half! When thinking about your food plan, you could even decide to make a larger portion so that you don’t have to cook on one of your busy days. If you’ve got older kids (or a husband like mine!) that have bottomless stomachs make sure you make enough if you plan to spread the meal over two days.
Some basic tips to make the most of your leftovers:
- Don’t leave cooked food out for longer than it takes to cool down – bacteria can multiply, especially if it’s warm
- Put the food in airtight storage containers, preferably in the fridge or freezer
- Don’t reheat more than once and ensure it’s piping hot before eating
- If it’s been in the fridge, eat within a day or two.
Food for thought
Hopefully these ideas have given you some ‘food for thought’ on how to cut your costs. It’s important to review your budget regularly and be realistic – there’s no point in setting yourself a goal to save money if it’s unachievable.
I’m sure there are plenty more ideas that I haven’t mentioned, and it’s always useful to make some extra savings; so if you have any tried and tested tips please let us know by commenting below. Or are there any useful websites that you swear by with cheap and cheerful recipe ideas?
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Quotes from Facebook, April 2014