plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

September 23, 2009

food frugality

Filed under: frugal — Tags: , — plonkee @ 10:08 pm

My eating habits are pretty much indefensible. At the moment, my weekly grocery shop as posted on the GRS forums looks like this:

  • 600g speciality cheese ~ £4.50
  • 1/2 french stick ~ £0.40
  • bag apples or bananas (about 7) ~ £1.25
  • 12 flapjacks / cereal bars ~ £4
  • 5 500 ml bottles diet pepsi ~ £5
  • 1 bottle concentrated fruit drink ~ £1
  • special offers for dinner <£2 per meal (around 6 meals)

The dinners are things like couscous, pizza, soup, ready meals, etc. Not exactly the healthiest diet one has ever seen.

Unsurprisingly I was called out. You can eat much better for a similar amount of money, apparently. I probably shouldn’t have been quite so detailed, now I feel the need to attempt to defend my food purchases.

frugal lunches?

DoingHomework said

When I look at your food budget I see that about half of it is spent on cheese, cereal bars and soda. There is nothing wrong with that if that is what you like. But replacing the ceral bars with bulk whole grain mix, the pepsi with water, and stretching the cheese out would save an enormous amount per year.

Yeah, it looks bad because it’s unhealthy. In reality, cheese, fruit, soda and cereal bars are my breakfast/lunch every day at work. They cost me £2.65 a day (which is about US$4). That’s boring, but I don’t think I can do it cheaper whilst also eating food that I like and having to do no preparation whatsoever.

I’m lazy. I’m too lazy to make sandwiches every day (or even one day a week). I’m too lazy to chop vegetables and make carrot or cucumber sticks. I’m a little bit fussy. I don’t like milk, so don’t eat cereal. I could stretch out the cheese, but what with? If I used half the amount, I’d save 32p on the cheese, which I’d need to replace with something. I can’t think of anything that would be any better from a laziness/money point of view (but I’m not particularly imaginative).

The cereal bars are expensive and I’m paying for the convenience. The only cheaper item I can think of that is equally as convenient is maybe biscuits/cookies? They come in larger packets, I guess. The pepsi is definitely unnecessary. It’s my latte factor. If I could cut it out, I would save around £220 a year. I’m not motivated to do so consistently, but from time to time I stop buying it.

Aside from the soda, I don’t think my lunches are too expensive, although I’ll admit that I should aim for more fruit/veg. I can’t think of ideas that are as cheap and convenient which are actually better for me, and ensure that I cant get through the day without being ridiculously hungry.

I think lunch at work is the hardest to make frugal, healthy and easy. What do you guys do?

frugal dinners

I was less specific about the dinners that I eat. I put convenience and price ahead of healthiness. Whenever I see frugal tips on food, they always involve cooking from scratch. I enjoy cooking from scratch, but only for other people – it feels like a waste of time to spend 30 minutes cooking something just for me, when it’ll take me 10 minutes to eat it.

Otherwise, if you want something quick, usually stirfry is suggested. Although I happily eat stirfry other people make, it’s never something that I choose to have for dinner. But I accept it could be a good way of eating quickly, cheaply and healthily – I’ve never bothered to price it up myself.

Actual ways of eating frugally for dinner when you’re a family of one or two (and willing to cook) include:

  • having a small range of staple foods that you use all the time to make a larger number of meals. Normally includes:
    • rice
    • pasta
    • tinned tomatoes
  • cooking in batches and freezing the extras for lazy days
  • planning meals in advance so that you can use up leftovers
  • keeping a reasonably stocked store cupboard so you can wait for sales
  • taking advantage of coupons and special offers
  • buying produce when it’s in season
  • eating primarily vegetarian-ly
  • downgrading brands (generic rather than branded, value rather than generic, etc)
  • shopping at discount supermarkets
  • keep a price book, so that you know when an offer is worthwhile

Many of these ideas are attempts to create economies of scale so that you can take advantage of usually cheaper unit prices on larger quantities. It’s also about gaming supermarkets – they have plenty of loss leaders, so if you can exploit your opportunities you can save money that way.

What they tend to have in common is time. For pretty much anything, you can generally have 2 out of 3 from the following list:

  • budget – cheaper food
  • quality – healthier / better quality food
  • timescale – more convenient food

but the most important is time. It takes time to make decent food, and it takes time to shop cleverly for frugal food. The more time you’re willing to devote, the better luck you’re likely to have in finding good frugal food.

What are your favourite tips for frugal dinners? Bonus points for suggestions that are quick or convenient.

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