What would you do if you had a spare £100? How about £1000? Have a nice meal? Buy a new piece of furniture for your house? Some new clothes? Have a family holiday? Imagine if you could save £100s throughout the year – without even noticing!
Well, I’m here to show you how.
By making some (or all) of these very easy swaps to your eating habits, you can save hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds on your food bill throughout the year. You won’t even notice the difference in products and taste and you’ll have all that extra cash to splurge or save as you choose.
Small Swaps; Big Savings
My husband is affectionately known as ‘the cheapest man around’ because he hates wasting money. Ok, that’s a brilliant thing, not a bad thing, but I do like to tease him about it. He wouldn’t ever miss the chance to shop around for a product (electronics, utilities), use a cash-back website (clothes, holidays), or even buy in bulk when an item is on offer (wine!). So it was only a matter of time before he turned his attention to our shopping and eating habits.
Whether you are the main shopper and cook in the household or not, it’s important that you look at how you can maximise your gain for your spending and, luckily, there are lots of easy ways to do this with food. Before you know it you will be saving money without even realising and planning that bonus holiday. I did it, and you can too!
#1 Downgrade your groceries
I always suggest this first to people who come to me for meal-planning advice: if you want to make quick savings, then don’t be a food snob! Downgrade a supermarket level or two or trade your premium products for supermarket ‘own brands’ or even budget ingredients. If it’s something generic like rice, then you’ll never tell the difference anyway – but your wallet will.
#2 Switch meat for beans/pulses
If you’re cooking a dish that’s heavily flavoured and has a lot going on, like chilli, do you really need all that premium-quality beef? Sure, it’s delicious, but why not swap out the beef for a few tins of beans or pulses or up the quantity of red kidney beans? They’re cheaper, better for you, and the dish will still be delicious thanks to all those wonderful flavours you’ve added!
#3 Bulk out meals with lentils
Similarly to the chilli above, if you’re making a soup or stew and want it to go further, then bulk it out with some lentils, bulgar wheat, minestrone etc. and serve more people for less.
#4 Buy frozen veg, not fresh
If you’re going to be putting your vegetables into a casserole then it’s fine to use frozen rather than fresh. The only issue with freezing vegetables is that sometimes you lose a bit of the texture but that won’t matter if you’re slow cooking. Plus, you have the added bonus of the prep having been done for you! So next time you want to add vegetables to a fish pie, pasta bake or chicken casserole, then just grab a bag straight from the freezer instead.
#5 Buy tinned fruit, not fresh
Tinned fruit is marvellous in fruit salads and baked pies and crumbles. It’s also easier to add to oatmeal or smoothies as, again, the prep has been done for you. Just watch that you buy fruit preserved in water and not syrup, otherwise you’ll have your daily sugar allowance to worry about instead!
#6 Ugly vegetables
It’s a big thing in Europe for supermarkets to display all their ‘ugly’ fruit in the fruit/veg aisles too. It used to be that we only wanted the most perfectly coloured, shaped fruits and vegetables but now we’re savvy enough about our food to realise that it’s the taste that matters! If you’re not doing anything that requires beautiful produce then switch to the uglies!
#7 Try flavouring your water instead of buying the fancy bottled variety
Bottled water is SO expensive. And in the UK, our water is of a fantastic quality and tastes lovely. If you find plain water too dull, then why not slice up a few of your favourite fruits and drop the slices into your glass or flask? You could even get one of those flasks with the fruit infuser designed for this exact purpose. You’ll get the goodness from the fruit and save on the bottled drinks too.
#8 Bagged salads and bottled dressings
Pre-prepared salads are expensive too and so are bottles of salad dressing. I always find that the very best salad dressings also have quite a short shelf life as they tend to be fresh and so sometimes – shock horror! – I don’t even finish it in time and end up throwing it out.
We can’t have that!
So next time you want a salad, buy the basics (ugly, of course) and chop them up yourself. Then mix up a simple vinaigrette or pesto and voila! Home-made salad and dressing.
#9 Fresh herbs – grow your own
So many recipes call for a bunch of fresh herbs but a bunch of herbs is expensive to buy and use as a one-off. I keep my favourite herbs in pots on my kitchen windowsill and find I can keep them going throughout the whole year if I just give them a little TLC. The top rule when it comes to growing your own herbs is to water them FROM THE BOTTOM as so many herbs die from overwatering. Place their pots into little dishes and then water the dishes regularly so the plants can drink up as much as they want, and you’ll be rewarded with fresh herbs whenever you want them.
#10 Eat what’s in season
I love eating raspberries all year round, but let’s be honest, they’re only really any good in the UK in August and September. I’ve tried buying them in my local supermarket in the winter but not only do they cost at least DOUBLE the price but I find that they go off really easily because they’re either forced ahead of time or imported. That means they have to be thrown away.
But if you eat what’s in season, then you are always guaranteed the freshest produce with the longest life – and you’re helping out our local farming industry too.
#11 Lunchbox snacks for cooking ingredients
Have you ever bought those tiny packets of raisins for children’s lunch boxes? Have you seen how much they cost? But in the baking section of the supermarket, they do huge bags of raisins for cakes – and you can just decant some into a Tupperware every time you need them!
#12 Eat wholegrain rather than white and be full for longer
One of the worst things about buying/eating the wrong food is that you are always hungry. And so you buy and eat more! Make the switch to wholegrain produce that releases its energy slowly throughout the day and you’ll be able to cut down on the amount of food you eat and thus save money.
#13 Make your own coffee
How many times a week do you run to Starbucks? A coffee is at least £4 a go; one a day is £20 a week or £1000 over a year! Treat yourself instead to a beautiful travel mug and fill it with your favourite blend before you leave the house. Then plan how to spend your grand.
#14 Fakeaway night
Five years ago my husband and I made a decision: we cut out the Friday-night takeaway and hired a Cleaner with the cash! Now I cook on a Friday night and I never have to dust! It’s a win-win, really.
If you absolutely love your takeaways then why not make your own version of your favourite? You could even make the curry/Chinese and buy all the snacks to go with it; you’re still saving a fortune.
#15 Swap Pecorino/Grana Padana for Parmesan
This follows on from downgrading your produce – parmesan is one luxury I adore (and I put it on everything) but if I buy Grana Padana instead then we really can’t tell and it’s almost half the price.
What’s your favourite luxury item that could use a tweak?
#16 Cook double so you can buy bigger packs
This is one of my favourite meal-planning tricks: cook once, eat twice! Try it for yourself next time you shop; deliberately buy double the ingredients for your favourite dish, cook a bigger batch and then freeze the half you don’t eat. The next time you come to have a ‘ready meal’, it’ll be your own cooking instead!
The added benefit of cooking this way (other than the one-time cleanup!) is that you can buy bigger packs of meat which generally work out a lot cheaper than multiple small packs.
#17 Cheap cuts of meat
My grandmother always used to tell me about the strange cuts of meat she would cook during the war. I never liked them; I always thought they were fatty and flavourless. But then I learned the trick: slow cooking. Now belly pork is one of our favourite meals and the longer you leave it to cook, the better.
#18 Do the prep for yourself
Paying for someone else to do the prep for you is like throwing money away – you might as well pay them to come and cook! If you are on a strict budget then pre-packed fresh food is a luxury item. Save the money and grate the cheese or pull apart the cooked chicken for yourself.
#19 Switch your cut of meat: thighs instead of breast
If you want to use a chicken in your meal then rather than buying two chicken breasts, consider getting cheaper thighs instead. They actually have more flavour than breast and are great in anything slow cooked. Or you could go one further and buy a whole bird, roast it, use the breasts for your original plan and the rest of the meat for meals two and three and sandwiches. You could even make chicken stock from the carcass…
#20 Meal plan to minimise your waste.
Finally, the best advice I can give you is to only buy what you will need and to do that you need to have a meal plan. Sit down at the start of the week, choose your meals, check your cupboards/fridge/freezer to see what ingredients you already have and then just buy what’s left.