So how is it done? How do you feed a family of four (soon to be five) on a strict budget? We’re lucky enough to survive on one income without needing additional benefits. This allows me the time and energy to make plans and menus which allow us to shop wisely. I also have the time to shop around and hunt for the best offers. However, this post should give you some idea of how to afford a family of four without having to do too much leg work.
First, I set a budget and I stick to it. One easy way to do this is to shop at supermarkets that allow you to scan your food as you go round. You can then set yourself a budget, say £50, and watch as the items add up. This means if product prices change I can still buy them without a shock at checkout. Alternatively, take a calculator with you – you phone should have a good calculator function.
Second, don’t shop online. It seems like a great way to stick to a budget but by shopping online you can miss out on lots of in store offers and bargains. Also, delivery charges are getting out of hand.
Third, don’t be seduced by products you don’t need. My dad has always been a bargain corner shopper but his big mistake was always buying things that we would never eat. So while the product might have only been 20p, it was 20p we didn’t really need to spend. One time he bought sausages in a can – eurgh!
Four, plan your meals ahead. It is impossible to do this 100% of the time. Things will come up, people will get sick, you’ll get tired and not want to cook. You will NOT be able to stick to a strict meal plan, but have 5 or 6 recipes that you know inside and out and require pretty basic ingredients. This way you will always have the staple ingredients in the cupboard for the days where you do cook from scratch. Some of my favourite recipes are spaghetti (or any pasta) bolognese, lasagne, cottage pie and toad in the hole. They’re easy, don’t take too long and because I have cooked them so often it doesn’t take too much brain power to achieve them. They are all also really cheap to make and point five will explain how.
Five, don’t be snobbish about your ingredients. I once had a health visitor say to me that in an ideal world we would cook every meal from scratch, our children would eat excessive amounts of fruit and vegetables and we would never buy jars of baby food, but we do not live in an ideal world. We live in the real world, where life gets in the way. It may not be cool, trendy or even ethical all the time, but I buy cheap. I’m sorry, but I do. I would love to be able to ensure that all the meat my children ate came from grass fed, organic, free range farms but I can’t afford to spend £30 a week on meat alone. So I choose wisely. Sausages (as we all know but pretend we don’t) are made of the off cuts so I buy the ‘essential’ range of sausages. I mostly buy frozen meat, it lasts longer and goes further. I also mostly buy frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are in many ways better than fresh. Unless you intend to do top up shops of fresh produce, after a few days their nutrient goodness subsides and if you’re anything like my family, you’ll end up throwing away a lot. Frozen produce is frozen soon after harvesting which means their nutrients are locked in and I steam cook them to avoid nutrient loss in the cooking process. We now, very rarely have vegetable and fruit food waste and so while my meat choices are less than ideal, I feel better about the lack of food waste. As an aside, I have been able to grow raspberries in my own garden (a shock to me and everyone else who knows me) so we occasionally get a little fresh treat there. Staple foods like pasta and bread are often available cheaply, so buy them cheaply. A treat for us these days is buying a seeded loaf and branded peanut butter, which leads me to another point – AVOID BRAND NAMES. You don’t need them. They’re not better than supermarket own brands and in fact tend to match up on ingredients (check the back of products if you don’t believe me).
My kids are healthy, good eaters who have a varied diet (I switch up the frozen veg we have in stock) but we’re strict with ourselves and this in turn allows us to save up for holidays, weekends away, birthday parties and Christmas. Hopefully one day we won’t have to be this harsh on our budget but until we win the lottery, or they end austerity – this is what we have to do and I’m happy we’re able to do it.