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Big Budget Challenge – what I learned Part 2

Posted Sep 28 2010 8:27am

In Part 1 I looked at some of the things I had learned from carrying out my three month Big Budget Challenge. In Part 2 I want to focus on grocery shopping as this was the area that I found the most challenging!

Tips for making the most of your grocery budget

Invest in healthy eating

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After I’d been doing the challenge for a few weeks I was getting really frustrated that I couldn’t seem to find healthy food as cheaply as you often see unhealthy processed foods (for example 2 ready meals for £1). Accepting that eating healthy is going to cost more (although it doesn’t have to be that much more) is the first step in being able to save money in the long run. I’ve had to accept that eating healthy, tasty, good quality food is a high priority for me and worth investing in because it makes me feel healthy and happy. I am also aware that I buy quite a few unusual food items that aren’t exactly cheap. For me this comes back to the fact that I enjoy cooking with these ingredients and having them as part of my diet and therefore I am prepared to spend more of my ‘disposable’ income on them.

Shop around

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During my challenge I did a lot of shopping around to try and find the best places to purchase my food. I tried different supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Waitrose etc. I also tried ‘discount’ supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi. I shopped at fruit, veg and meat wholesalers, the market, ethnic grocery stores and more recently found a fantastic community food coop project.

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What I discovered was knowing what your staples are (see next point) would determine the most economical place to shop. As I eat a mountain of fruits and veggies I often found that the market, wholesalers and discount super markets were the best (and now the food co op). However, we don’t always have time to travel to three different places for our food each week so convenience plays a big part. My future plans are to continue getting my food co op box once a week and doing regular shopping at my nearest local supermarket – Sainsbury’s, but once a month I will go to Waitrose for tofu, 2% greek yoghurt and other hard to find items, ethnic grocery store for pulses and grains, health food shop for nuts, dried fruit and nut butters and the wholesalers for meat and poultry.

Know your staples

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In this post I identified what my regular food staple items are. I think that having a list of your staple items makes it easier to decide the most economical place to shop for you, as well as ensuring that you always have a selection of ingredients to hand that can easily be assembled into a quick and healthy meal. Knowing your staples also means that when you see those ever so tempting BOGOF deals you know if its something that is worth buying. For example I know that me and the hubby like our tuna so when its on offer I bulk buy it as I know it will get eaten eventually!

Eat with the seasons

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If you eat foods that are in season you almost automatically save money as these are always the products that are on offer or are sold cheaper. Asparagus was only £1 a bunch a few months ago, now its out of season its £2.99. The Eat The Seasons website has been the best one I’ve found to tell you what is currently at its best.

Meal Plan meal plan

This one for me is huge, I always meal plan! I know meal planning doesn’t work for everyone, but I have found that having at least a rough menu (you can always change things up as you go) for the week means that we waste very little food, save lots of time and eat healthily. It also means I go to the supermarket with a list so its easier not to be taken in by money wasting special offers. Using my meal plan also helps me make the most of my ingredients, so if I’m buying some feta cheese which once opened needs to be eaten within a few days then I can plan out a selection of meals that will put it to good use throughout the week.

Eat less meat

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Meat is by far the most expensive food item I buy. I don’t particularly like buying cheap meat and would prefer to buy free range and organic when possible but my budget just doesn’t stretch that far! I have started to eat more beans, lentils and tofu instead. I love salmon too but again it can be quite expensive, so trout, mackerel and sardines are good oily fish alternatives that I’m planning to try out. Eating less meat is not only going to save you money but is much better for the environment too.

Cook from scratch

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I think that preparing and cooking food from scratch can save you loads of money. All you have to do is be prepared to invest some time. I see it as a scale, at one end you could make everything from scratch – your own nut butters, bread, snack bars, granola and muesli, pasta sauces etc and at the other end you may make a few soups now and again. I see myself somewhere in the middle. Its a time trade off, I will always make my own soups, stews and curries however I sometimes like the convenience of ready jarred pasta sauces, muesli, snack bars etc. Obviously you could save a lot of money this way but it depends on how much time you have to prepare everything!

Make use of the freezer

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Oh how I wish I had a bigger freezer! I have saved loads of money making best use of it including saving over ripe bananas from the bin by freezing them for smoothies, freezing slices of home made bread and muffins when they otherwise would have went stale (or pigged out on by me!), freezing home made soups and curries, buying organic meat from the reduced section and freezing it, stocking up on cheap strawberries over the summer and freezing them to eat in the winter. I think the freezer is the healthy thrifty shoppers best friend.

Grow your own

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All I have the space and time to grow at the moment is herbs on my windowsill, but this has saved me money as I do not have to purchase packets of fresh herbs which always seem to cost a fortune and not last very long. Anything that you can grow yourself is going to save you money in the long run.

Over to you – do you have any top tips for saving money on groceries? Do you spend a lot on unusual or expensive ingredients? Are you willing to spend more on healthy foods?

Don’t forget – I’ll be posting the details of my mega blog GIVEAWAY very soon so watch this space!

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