Cheap food: 7 ways to save on your food budget

posted by in Saving money

When you’re living on a budget, controlling your food spending is crucial.

However, with food prices increasing at the supermarkets, and some brands even reducing the size of their products (without reducing the price tag!), it can be a challenge making cheap food that tastes good.

As food inflation begins to bite, we’ve seen a steady increase every month on the amount of money that people are spending on food. By giving these easy tips a go, you might find it easier to keep your weekly food shopping on track…

cooking from scratch

Start making every meal from scratch

1. Cook everything from scratch to make food cheap

Do you sometimes pop to the supermarket to pick up an emergency ready meal? Do you find yourself tempted by a cheeky takeaway more often than you’d like? You probably don’t need us to tell you that this can cost quite a bit over time.

If you spent just £15 on a takeaway once a fortnight that’s a whopping £390 a year you could be saving instead. That could be money you set aside for an emergency.

There are several great benefits to learning how to cook staple meals from scratch. Not only is it often cheaper to cook your meals yourself, you’ll also get bigger portions for less money. You can then freeze these extra portions to eat another time.

Our pal Rickey Willis a.k.a money blogger Skint Dad got fed up of wasting money on takeaways, and set himself a ‘fakeaway challenge’ by cooking the meal himself. Food for thought?

2. Reduce your meat consumption

Lots of people are reducing how much meat they eat because of the health and environmental benefits, but it’s a great idea for your wallet too.

Popular meats such as chicken breast and lean mince can be expensive, so there’s significant savings to make by at least having a ‘Meat free Monday’.

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Ease yourself in by replacing the mince in bolognese or chilli con carne with frozen veggie mince or onions and peppers
  • Make stir fry with heaps of veggies instead of chicken
  • Try cooking curries using filling pulses such as lentils, or using potatoes instead of meat

A 500g packet of mince can be as much as £4 at the supermarket, but a few potatoes and a bag of lentils could be half the price.

Supermarket shopping list

Once a week try to plan your meals and shopping

3. Make a meal plan

Planning every meal sounds like a chore, but it’s a 15-minute job once a week, and it’s been shown to save money. Just follow these steps:

  • Decide what meals you’d like to cook
  • Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need
  • Check your store cupboard to see if you already have some ingredients (this will help avoid building up unused basics)
  • Shop for the ingredients you need
  • Batch cook what you can (freeze what you’d like to use later in the week)
  • Stick to the plan

This handy beginner’s guide to meal planning is a great place to give yourself a kick-start. There’s also Supercook, a fantastic online recipe database that tracks down recipes for you based on what you’ve got in the cupboard.

4. Use supermarket coupons

As part of your meal planning each week, check to see if there are any coupons available which you can print off at home or use on your phone to get discounts on your ingredients:

Stock up on cheap everyday essentials when you can

5. Stock up on cheap food basics

You’ll be amazed at what you can save on bulk buys and by picking up discount store basics:

  • Stock up on spices and dried herbs in the world foods aisle as they’re often better value for money
  • Store cupboard favourites such as rice can be bought in large 10kg bags for as little as £10, compared to 1kg bags for £2-£4
  • Chopped tomatoes can be as much as £1 per can at some supermarkets, but are as little as 25p in some discount stores.

Stock up on these cheap, everyday essentials.

6. Hit the reduced section

Everyone loves a cheeky discount don’t they? Don’t be afraid of checking out the reduced section and stocking up on useful items that are going out of date. You’ll sometimes find ‘dry goods’ with damaged packaging have discounts too – although these are often hidden away in a different area of the supermarket.

A few tips on visiting the reduced section to get cheap food:

  • Research what times of day your local supermarket stocks up the reduced section
  • Remember that there could be multiple reduced sections in a supermarket, for example on the fresh produce, chilled, and ‘stock cupboard’ aisles
  • It’s only a bargain if you’re going to use it, so don’t impulse buy items that you don’t really need
  • Only buy vegetables that you’ll use within the next two days, otherwise, you’ll end up with food wastage
  • Freeze meat or fish as soon as you get home, and include it in your next weekly meal plan
grocery brand downshift

Avoid paying over the odds for brands

7. Downshift your brands

If you’re trying to budget then you’ve probably already moved to a more better value supermarket, but if none are available locally try the MSE downshift challenge.

The concept is simple: it’s about dropping down one ‘brand level’ on a product, testing it, and if you can’t taste the difference – buying that in the future.

Can you really tell the difference between the branded dried spaghetti and the value one? Cheap food doesn’t mean losing out on taste!

Recipe resources

Need some inspiration to get you started? Find some recipes to suit your needs:

1. Big family to feed? Try Eat not spend – this blog will help you make family-sized meals for £1 per portion
2. Nervous in the kitchen? Hop over to £1 meals – top chef Miguel Barclay shares simple, £1 meals with handy YouTube videos to follow
3. Want to eat less meat? Try recipes from Cooking on a bootstrap – Jack Monroe has a library of cheap meal ideas with lots of veggie and vegan options
4. Feeling adventurous? Frugal Feeding is a super stylish food blog from Bristol with some gorgeous and modern dishes to try at home on a budget
5. Tiny budget? If you really want to get frugal with food Tiny Budget Cooking is a good place to get some recipe ideas from as little as £3.51 per day

We want to hear about your experiences! What food budgeting tips would you share? Comment below or tweet the MoneyAware team.

Rebecca Drury is the latest addition to the MoneyAware team joining in November 2016, with a background in ecommerce and social media management. She enjoys live music, travel (especially trying local delicacies) and loves reading vintage sci-fi novels. She's an excellent dancer and loves researching money-saving tips.

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