Keeping an eye on your shopping budget
General tips to keep the cost of your food shop down.
- Always check your cupboards before you go shopping and plan to use what you’ve got in already first.
- Plan out your meals for the week, use this to make a list and stick to it. You can use online comparison sites to work out where to shop to get the best deals.
- Don’t shop when hungry- you’re more likely to buy things you don’t need.
- Use supermarket own brand products as much as possible. They might not be on special offer but they’re usually still the cheapest option. As their prices fluctuate less and are often price matched between supermarkets, you’re more likely to be able to predict how much your shopping will cost week to week.
- Avoid being tempted by special offers if you weren’t planning on buying the items anyway. They’re designed to make you buy more than you normally would.
- Cooking from scratch often works out cheaper than buying individual ready meals.
- Tinned and frozen vegetables are cheaper and are easier to store than fresh and still count towards your 5 a day. They’re also usually ready chopped which cuts down on prep time.
- Consider eating meat free for a few days a week. Lentils, beans, chickpeas and eggs are cheap, healthy ways to make sure you still get enough protein.
- Look for meat in the reduced fridges and you can freeze at home to use at a future date. Remember to check that it’s suitable for home freezing and pop it in the freezer as soon as you can.
Food pantries and other affordable ways to get food
If you’re worried about being able to afford your weekly food shop, one alternative to the mainstream supermarkets is to become a member of your local food pantry. Some do have membership criteria, but others are open to anyone as they’re set up to prevent food waste as well as provide affordable food to those in need. They’re a great way of ensuring you can still purchase fresh heathy food.
The following are 3 websites that can help you access affordable food or prevent waste:
- Olio (external link) is an app that allows people to share surplus food for free as well as non-food household items. It alerts you when people in your area have food that they want to give away before it goes to waste.
- To Good To Go (external link) is an app that offers "magic bags" of food at a low cost from local shops, takeaways and restaurants. You can view what is available in your area and book to pick one up in advance at a fraction of their usual cost.
- Love Food Hate Waste (external link) is a website full of information on how to prevent waste and save money. You can search recipes by typing in any left-over ingredients you might have to make sure you’re always making the most of what you have in your cupboards.
Price of a takeaway
Takeaways can feel like a quick, inexpensive treat, but the cost of them quickly adds up and can eat away at your household budget, stopping you from being able to purchase healthy affordable food and other basics. However, we all know that life is busy, so it’s good to have a few standby ideas to reach for when it feels like there's nothing in the cupboards and no time to make anything. It’s also worth remembering that takeaways aren’t always that quick, and often take longer to arrive than cooking a quick, easy meal.
- Noodle pots (cooking time 10 minutes) - make your own healthy, cheap version of the famous instant noodles. Put some dried noodles, a stock cube, some left over fresh or frozen veg (peas, sliced peppers, diced carrots, and sweetcorn work well, but just use anything you have). Pour over some boiling water and leave for 5 minutes until the noodles are softened and the veg has defrosted. If you like you can add any left-over cooked meat you have, dried chillies / chilli sauce, herbs or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice
- Tomato pasta and vegetable pasta (cooking time 20 mins) - cook your pasta as instructed on the packet, you can add frozen or fresh veg with the pasta to cook (broccoli, peas, green beans, carrots, sweetcorn etc). After around 10 minutes drain the pasta and veg using a sieve. Return the pasta to the pan and tip in a tin of tomatoes and stir through. If you like you can add herbs, a tin of lentils, left-over cooked meat, dried chillies and garlic, and a sprinkling of cheese but it will be perfectly tasty without.
It's also good to get in the habit of making double every time you cook and then putting the spare meal in the freezer, that way you’ll always have something quick to fall back on.
Another way that you can quickly go through your food budget is by eating out. Getting in the habit of prepping your own food and snacks can make a huge impact on how much you spend and is often much healthier. It also makes your spending much more predictable as you know that once you’ve done your food shop for the week you won’t have any other surprises. Even if you’re only heading out for a couple of hours, filling up a water bottle and grabbing some fruit and supermarket bought snacks could save you up to £4 per person per outing.
Sandwiches are obviously a go to when it comes to lunch on the go, but here’s some alternatives that might be more appealing as the weather gets colder.
- Empty fridge pick and mix - rather than preparing individual sandwiches, grab odds and ends that you have in the fridge and cupboards pop in a box, cheese, vegetables and salads, left-over cooked meats, pasta, rice and jarred olives, pickles, chutneys, hummus and dips. Anything goes!
- Hot dogs in a flask - if you’re heading out as a family, warm a tin of hot dogs in the microwave before you go and pop them in a flask. Grab a pack of buns and a bottle of ketchup and you can feed up to 6 people for less than £2
- Soup, pasta and noodles - these can all be made at home and popped in a flask to eat while you’re out and about. You can use anything that you’ve prepared in the freezer or get in the habit of always having some tins in the cupboard.
If you do find yourself at mealtimes without any supplies with you try heading to a supermarket to buy their cheap sandwiches rather than heading to a café. You can usually get a sandwich and a drink for less than £3 whereas the same food in a café is likely to cost upwards of £8.
Thinking about your fuel use
As well as planning your grocery shopping more carefully you can also cut costs with how you cook your food. Here are some starter tips:
- Only boil as much water as you’re going to use.
- Put a lid on your pans whilst cooking. When simmering turn the hob down to the lowest possible setting.
- Batch cook. You’ll use the same amount of energy to cook a number of meals, rather than just one.
- Microwaves, slow cookers and air fryers can all be more efficient ways of cooking than heating up a conventional oven.
- Look for one pot / dish recipes. Using one hob ring uses a lot less energy than 3 hobs and the oven. And there’s less washing up to!
- Only pre-heat an oven for as long as it takes to get to the right temperature.
- Fill your oven - if you’re only using one shelf think about what you might be able to cook at the same time. You could warm up a dessert or pre-cook fillings for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Open the oven door when you’ve finished cooking so the remaining heat circulates around the room and isn’t wasted.
- Full freezers use less energy than empty ones. Even if you don’t have lots of food you can fill excess space with cardboard out of your recycling.
- If you’re boiling water to cook with, boil it in the kettle first and then pour into a pan, it will use less energy than a saucepan of water on the hob.
If you need further support
There is a chance that even with clever shopping and planning your meals carefully that you still might find yourself unable to afford healthy meals for your family. To access further support: