Start your FIRE part III – Chopping your food bill in half
Chopping your food bill is another key area where most folk could save bundles of cash, and no I’m not talking about pinching pennies here or there by coupon hunting or the like, I am talking hundreds of pounds. Let’s forget about even eating out for the moment, the”typical” household in Britain apparently spends £5,000 per year on grocery shopping according to this recent article. It’s hard to gauge exactly where this stat came from and exactly what it includes (washing powder, toothpaste, other toiletries etc?) but we are currently spending around £100 per person per month, for everything. This works out to £2400 a year, which might not even be that great seeing as there is only 2 people in our house, but on the whole, I would say it’s less than the average bear. We also eat a pretty lavish and varied diet, and could easily cut this down if necessary if we, or our circumstances, deemed it necessary.
Without further ado, in the classical blog “top 10 ways to do x, y and z” style, here are my top tips for cutting down on your food shopping:
1. Stop being a shop snob
The most obvious place to start it find a cheaper shop to shop in. So this means ditching. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and god forbid – Waitrose, for Lidl, Aldi, or your local Asian or Eastern European run shop (no, not the rip-off premier stores / co-op franchise, the one of a kind independent shop where all the savvy Asian and Eastern European folk shop). If you turn your nose up at this idea, or think that the produce is somehow inferior, you need a firm reality check my friend. My shop of choice is Lidl and the fruit, veg and meat are at least as good as, if not better than Tesco et al, yet it is consistently 30-40% cheaper on most of these items. To sum this point up, Lidl is simply f**cking amazing. 🙂
2. Buy fresh food
It is a myth that healthy food is expensive. Buy fresh fruit and veg that is in season or just simply on offer. Then go and say hello to #4.
3. Ditch the shopping list
Shopping lists are for dummies. You should know roughly what makes up the basis for a decent meal and even if not, just get whatever meat, fruit, and veggies are on offer and when you get home look up some recipes that contain what you just bought.
4. Buy in bulk
All dry goods, pasta, rice, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t keeps for a long time should be bought in bulk when on offer. Obviously don’t buy so much that you have no storage space you have for these items, or 5 years worth of supplies if the sell by date is in 3.
5. Learn how to cook
This is probably the hardest “tip” to follow if you are starting out from the level of take-away pizza ordering, pot noodle munching heathen, but is quite clearly the biggest rewarding long term if you put a bit of effort into it. To learn 5-6 cheap, easy and tasty meals really does not take long and once you have done this, you can then move up the gears and start getting fancy. If you think you haven’t got time to do this because of the kids, get them involved as well, they usually find cooking extremely fun in my experience!
6. Cook in bulk
Not only a cost saver but a huge time saver as well (and we all know time is money). Taking the classic business trick of economies of scale and applying it to the kitchen is one of the best things I have ever done. It’s simple, if you cook a lasagne don’t do it for 2 people, do it for 4 or even 8 and freeze the leftovers. You now have a home cooked ready meal. Small cuts of meat are sometimes nice but cooking a whole chicken or joint usually works out much cheaper pound (lb) for pound (£) – and is usually nicer, in my humble opinion of course.*
7. Ditch the pre-made packaged food
Anything that is pre-made, pre-packaged, pre-cut, pre-marinaded or pre-mixed usually comes with a pre-mium on the price. You can take this as far as you like; to save a modest amount just avoid chicken breast that has been cut up into “stir fry chunks”, avoid things that are on the verge of being ready meals, with sauces and what not already included and stuff chopped up. To go further you could make all of your own sauces, marinades and what not from scratch. Combine this with the bulk cooking above and you get such wonderful gastronomic delights such as a big fat batch of tomato / pasta sauce, which you can freeze into little portions. That is one of my faves… yum!
8. Eat less meat
Meat is a more expensive way of getting protein than, say, cheese or eggs. So eat less of the former and more of the latter! A pretty simple tip but one that a lot of red blooded carnivores will no doubt scoff at. I love my meat as much as the next man, but really if you cook the right meals (A slab of steak every night is out, chicken stir fry with more veg and less chicken is in) then you don’t actually need so much meat to make you think you are eating “a meat dish”. I would try these sort of dishes initially with half the amount of meat you’d normally add, I bet you won’t even notice the difference.
9. Don’t chuck stuff away. EVER**
This is not a tip to get you to eat manky food, but it serves two purposes with great utility. The first is that you become more creative in your food preperation skills, in combining random ingredients into something edible and more importantly, tasty. The second is that you will slowly start to buy less stuff, as you will quickly realise that you are most probably already buying way too much food. If you never chuck anything away, it means your food pantry is extremely efficient, which is what we are aiming for, and you will be saving £480 per year (£40 per month!) just on this tip alone compared to the average household***
10. Keep a tab
As always, I’d recommend tracking what you spend each month. If you over spent one month, don’t fret, it may just be because you bought a few items on offer in bulk. This is absolutely ok. Fine tuning your strategies month on month will bring you down to an optimal spending level within 3-4 months.
Every little helps
What’s the bottom line then? You may think this is all a lot of effort for saving a few pounds or dollars here and there each week. But follow the above guidance and it adds up ridiculously fast.
To ram it home here is an excellent recent example I noticed in whilst on a forced trip to Tesco, of how a regular consumer sucker may have been tempted into buying a premixed sauce pot, maybe thinking that this somehow constitutes home cooking? 😉
Enter the Schwartz Flavour Shot – a tempting package promising exotic tastes from far flung places, and only 99p while on introductory offer, “a steal” you might think! These are essentially some oil (Sunflower after having a quick look), with some cheaply available herbs and spices mixed in. You could mix up a near enough equivalent sauce yourself, made from a few individual spices and a bottle of (much nicer) olive oil, for a generous estimate of about 10p, and in approximately 1 minute.
DIY your flavour shot and you are earning yourself an effective rate of £53.40 per hour.
And that is tax free remember!!!
I can only imagine the delighted surprise on your face as you look at these figures and realise this could be the best paying job you ever had, and let’s face it, it is probably a lot more fun and less monotonous than your day job.
Simply rinse and repeat the above figures over the 100’s of food based products you buy each month and you can see that this quickly adds up to, unsurprisingly, hundreds of pounds.
Happy shopping all!
Have you got any red hot tips for dropping the monthly food bill that I’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments section!
*Note: This generally relies on having a freezer, which I am assuming all but the most extreme frugalists will have access to. Back ↑
**Ok… if something is blue and furry you are allowed. I really need to get a disclaimer in place in case someone takes some of this stuff literally! Back ↑
***Overall 15% of edible food and drink purchases are wasted at
an estimated cost of £480 per year for an average household. Back ↑
Update: Our mutual frugal friend Andrew @ Living Rich Cheaply has provided a fitting reminder in the comments section that the FIREstarter may not necessarily the be all and end all when it comes to frugality on the internet, so without further ado here are some links to some more handy tips to chop your food bill in half: