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.