Eating on a budget: How I spend just £12 per week on food
I’m often asked by friends and family how I manage to spend so little on my food shopping every week. The answer is simple: I plan!
I initially started planning my meals because I had just moved to university and hadn’t ever cooked more than toast. It was far too much to think about learning to cook and deciding what I was going to eat every day.
So here’s how I do it.
I let my recipe book do the thinking
The Christmas before I moved to university, my parents bought me a student recipe book called Nosh for Students. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be without it. For a rookie cook, this book has everything. It tells you exactly which ingredients you will need, how many portions it will make, how much it will cost, and it measures everything in mugs so you don’t need to go and buy a proper measuring kit.
My plan saves time, money, and food
While planning takes a little more time, it saves so much stress and money later in the week. Each Sunday I sit down with my recipe book, and decide which night I’m going to make which meals. I then write the shopping list on my phone, so it’s easy to find when I’m at the supermarket. The other great thing is that most of the recipes in this book are enough for two meals. So, I only have to cook every second night, and keep the leftovers in the fridge to be reheated.
Planning everything out means that nothing goes to waste, neither food nor money. If I don’t need something for a recipe that week, then I won’t buy it. The only exceptions are frozen and non-perishable food - if they are on offer, then I might stock up on tinned tomatoes or frozen Quorn mince. Occasionally, if I’m planning on making, say, oven baked risotto on a Friday, I’ll wait and get the spinach later on in the week to make sure it doesn’t go off in the meantime.
The recipes I use are simple and cheap
The other great thing about my recipe book is that it doesn’t ask you to buy anything too over the top, and most of the staples I buy in bulk at the beginning of the year. So if I wanted to make sausage pasta, I already have the pasta and the tomato puree. So I only need to spend about 40p on a tin of tomatoes, 10p on an onion, and £1 on a pack of on-offer frozen veggie sausages. And that will last me two days!
I fully embrace ‘leftover’ meals
If you know you won’t be able to use all of the ingredients you have bought before they go off, you can work a meal into the end of your week that will use everything up. For example, a few weeks ago, I had an onion, a courgette, a pepper, and mushrooms that were all going to go to waste. So, I fried them all in a pan with the remainder of a bag of veggie mince and some rice, and had burritos for two nights!
I don’t buy breakfast, lunch, or snacks - I make my own instead
You can pack up leftovers or use spare ingredients for lunches, so you don’t spend an extra £4 in the uni cafeteria every day. I’m quite happy with a simple homemade sandwich and a banana, and I will sometimes buy a box of cereal bars if they’re on offer. I also try and buy the cheapest, healthy-ish cereal for breakfast. Along with a 70p Tesco’s own loaf of brown bread, and a £1.10 bottle of milk, I probably only spend about £4 for the whole week on breakfast and lunch.
I don’t tend to buy a lot of treats either as they are usually extortionately priced and not very good for you. But I still think I eat well, and I haven’t boycotted treats altogether. I have just found that it is cheaper to make my own. The other week, I made a batch of 16 cookies with flour I already had, eggs I was trying to use up, and brown sugar that I did have to buy but can now use in coffee. It’s also much less expensive to buy two bars of cheap chocolate instead of buying a bag of chocolate chips. Then you can chop the chocolate up yourself to be as chunky as you want and, once it’s melted a bit in the oven, you barely notice the difference.
Top tips for keeping your food budget down:
- Buy the supermarket’s own brand - Tesco’s brown bread is 50p cheaper than the branded stuff and, let’s be honest, you won’t notice the difference when making toast at 2am after a night out.
- Get your supermarket’s loyalty card - Points can usually be exchanged for vouchers, either for the supermarket or for things like cinema tickets and restaurant coupons.
- Keep an eye out for offers and bargains - A lot of shops will put them on lower shelves, so don’t forget to look below!
- Don’t buy ready meals - They’re not only really expensive but when you check the label, they’re normally quite bad for you too. It’s much cheaper to buy the raw ingredients and make it yourself.
- Buy in bulk and use your freezer - If you only need two pieces of chicken one week, buy a bag of frozen chicken and then you won’t have to buy any more for ages (and frozen costs less than fresh!).
- Raid the cupboards when you go home - My parents gave me a bag of quinoa one weekend, something that would normally be too expensive for me to buy. I made a great quinoa, feta, and roast veggie salad with it!