I have always been fairly frugal with food shopping. Always happy with the supermarket own brand when given the choice. However, in September 2020 I realised that I'd been ordering weekly shops throughout the pandemic to 'ensure we had enough in'. When I compared this to the same April through August period in 2019 I got a shock. I'd spent twice as much on groceries as we usually do. That's £1000 we would never get back.
I spent the next few months cutting back our spending and at our family yearly budget review in December, I decided to go a little more radical. January was to be a no spend month for food.
We used up the freezer and food cupboards, but our biggest resource was an app I'd been using for a while, Olio. The treasures I could find on there, food people did not want, many of them pantry staples, oats, pasta, rice...
We made it, 31 days and no groceries bought.
Fast-forward 4 months and although we do spend money on food, our monthly food bill is only £40 for a family of three.
Here is a small snapshot into a week of (just my) food. I've separated out money spent and money saved:
Monday Spent Saved
As soon as I get to work on Monday, I use the bean to cup coffee machine in the teachers lounge for a flat white. This pairs beautifully with my Olio chocolate éclairs that my spouse picked up as a Tesco Food Waste Hero (FWH) on Saturday - we get to keep 10% of the haul and these éclairs were in date, but the box was slightly bashed. Result! Most of the free items came from Olio, but there were a few paid items, these tend to be snacks that I get in bulk at Aldi on a monthly basis.
Tuesday Spent Saved
Another day, another flat white. I make my porridge in my classroom, the school invested in a microwave for my department 4 years ago, and we use it daily. Again, Olio is doing the heavy lifting, but the brownies lovingly made by my spouse and son yesterday are still going strong.
Wednesday Spent Saved
Tuesday night is my Olio FWH collection. Over 100 items picked up and 94 of them distributed by 10am Wednesday. Leaving a couple of sandwiches each for breakfast/dinner (and a couple of plain ham sandwiches frozen for later on in the week). Wednesday is my lunch duty at work, so I get my lunch for free. I get a prepared salad, and feeling virtuous from the greenery, a sticky toffee pudding with cream. I take a thumbprint biscuit and 7 bananas from the food hall to have later. After last break, I return to my desk to find a piece of rocky road in tinfoil from a pupil. While a little melted from the heat of my tropical classroom, it eats just the same.
Thursday Spent Saved
Thursday is weigh day at Weight Watchers. Yes, free food is diet friendly. Returning to school after weighing in 1lb lighter, I treat myself to the now defrosted home-made pancakes, with maple syrup and one of yesterday's bananas. I batch cook these pancakes whenever I find yoghurt on Olio, usually making enough for five or six portions. This portion is too big, so I save some for Friday morning. I find stir-fry and bean sprouts on Olio, so dinner is sorted.
Friday Spent Saved
Friday's are long for me, so I pre-order a pizza and garlic bread from our favourite pizza place. It's an oven in the back of a Land Rover and looks like it belongs at a festival, but my goodness the pizza is good. Because I tutor every evening, dinner has to be a fairly quick affair and some weeks we get into the habit of having lots of little take-outs, rather than one big one like this.
Saturday Spent Saved
Yes, Saturday is a teaching day so flat white and defrosted Tesco sandwich al desko. I get home at midday and add some of my (Olio) Pizza Express salad dressing to my (Olio) prepared salad. On a Saturday we head across to the in laws bakery and collect cookies, cake, and bread for next week. After an evening of tutoring, the sausage and mash ready meal does not really hit the spot, so I help myself to a cookie, and an apple to even it out. The apples were an amazing Olio find weeks ago, and in the fridge they last for weeks/months.
Sunday Spent Saved
No school on Sunday so I eat my almond croissant (spouses Tesco FWH collection from Saturday) in bed while mini T2FI watches Hey Duggee. Sunday isn't the healthiest day but all tasty choices that I enjoy, and are completely free!
So in a week, my personal food spend totalled £8.83. As most of this was the take-out pizza on Friday night, I'm not too upset with it. MxT2FI's total was slightly less as he was happy to have porridge rather than pancakes on Thursday/Friday. Mini T2FI had very little food at home and ate off my plate all week, so his total was built into mine (and the childcare cost).
The £8.83 total for all meals this week is equivalent to less than one meal when we go to Disney World this August (fingers crossed) but as life is about balance, that's something I am not going to stress over.
If you have any frugal food tips or ideas, please let me know in the comments below.
I, like many other people, have a fear of losing my job. For us anxious employees, whether this is a rational fear or not depends on lots of factors, including our employment history. Redundancy plagues the independent school sector more than state school, and is used to downsize departments depending on pupil intake to the subject. As a non-core subject teacher, I have felt the impact of redundancies in my department and across the schools I have worked in. The thought of being made redundant or losing my job strikes fear into my heart. I have a mortgage, a family, and a 15-year plan to FIRE.
I have been job hunting recently, looking for the next step in my career. After applying for several roles (school tours, informal chats with headteachers, and long tedious application forms) I have now passed the deadline for leaving this academic year. So that’s it, too late, try again for January. The feedback each time was the same, ‘you have a strong application, but we found x number of candidates who were better qualified.’ Will a new role (more responsibility, higher salary) reduce my fear of losing my job? No, probably not. But I don’t know if I want to do 15 more September INSET days in the position I am in now.
So, if like me, you are anxious about job loss, how do we fix our fear? Well after a solid few hours of Googling this is what I have to offer you.
1. Acknowledge and accept your fear.
2020 was a mess. Jobs were lost, jobs were at risk, and it is absolutely okay to feel scared. Don’t bury your feelings, acknowledge them. Find a trusted friend, colleague or partner, and talk to them. It is reassuring to realise that we are not alone in this fear. In talking about this anxiety at work, I found that many of my colleagues feel exactly the same way. Finances are uncertain for many businesses right now, but it won’t always be this way.
2. Can you offer more to your role (without increasing your workload?)
Do you have a particular set of responsibilities in your role? Can you swap out some of your easier duties for those that might be in your specialism? What are you particularly good at? Are you being utilised in your role? Teaching is about a third of my workload. The remainder of my day is spent on administrative tasks, most of which I do every year and can do in my sleep. Ever summer term we receive an email detailing what will be added to our role from September. I’ve always just accepted these but this year I asked to meet the senior management to discuss what I could offer, in exchange for some of the new tasks that can be delegated to those in my department.
3. Tick something off your to-do list every day.
Whether it is a physical or mental list, there is always a couple of tasks we put off. It takes too long, it’s boring, we all have excuses for these jobs. Try to tick one off each day. Not only will you feel more productive, but you will be actively ensuring your jobs is as complete as it can be. For me, this is appraisal target reviews. I dread this term as I have 15 meetings with already overworked colleagues (especially this year) who want nothing more than to go home early and instead have to sit through a 30-minute review of targets they didn’t get to pick themselves. However, if I try and make this a positive experience for them and me, and talk through the things they are proud of this year (like actually just getting through this year) then maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
4. Take time for yourself.
We’re all guilty of not taking time for ourselves, family, friends, and work all have their own priorities, and we tend to take a back seat. Carve out at least 15 minutes for yourself each day. Read a book, watch Netflix, journal, whatever, just focus on you. For me, I need to take my lunch break. Almost every day I work through my break. So, I’m going to go for a walk and take some time for me.
For now, I’ll keep working on my fear. If you know any other ways to reduce this fear, let me know in the comments below.
This post was written for the May Sovereign Quest challenge, more posts like this can be found here.