We’re not going to join the ranks of patronising politicians telling you that the cost of living crisis is no big deal, and that you just need to cook meals at home or cut down on takeaway coffess.
We know that’s simply not the case. Calling this is a crisis is no hyperbole – the rising costs of bills puts many in a perilous position, both financially and mentally – and we need those at the top to take action.
But while we wait for change, the truth is that we’ll have to cut curb spending wherever we can.
One place to focus? The big weekly food shop.
Shopping savvier isn’t a magical fix that can replace governmental action, but it’s still a wise thing to do.
With all this in mind, here are some tips for cutting down on costs when it comes to food.
Make a plan
Planning out your meals for a week is an excellent way to cut the costs of the weekly shop. It helps to ensure that you only buy what you need and aren’t tempted by other products.
There are many resources available to help you make a plan that works for your family. Try Tesco’s website for a selection of ideas, while blogger Skint Dad has a guide including a free template.
The Cooking on A Bootstrap website from campaigner Jack Monroe contains a selection of recipes for inspiration. Don’t forget to factor in snacks and drinks as well as meals when making your plan.
Cut down on meat
Switching to cheaper ingredients or changing recipes so that they cut out some of the more expensive elements can save money.
A recent study from Oxford University showed that going vegan, vegetarian or even flexitarian, can reduce food costs.
The study, which compared the cost of seven sustainable diets to the current typical diet in 150 countries, using food prices from the World Bank’s, concluded that vegan diets could be a third cheaper than more standard fare, with vegetarian diets a close second. Even flexitarian diets, where lower amounts of meat and dairy are consumed, reduced costs by 14%.
However, when deciding how to replace expensive meat in your diet, it is important to be savvy.
Becoming pescatarian – replacing meat with fish – actually increases your costs by 2%, according to the Oxford study, while the comparison did not include expensive ‘meat substitutes’ such as Beyond Meat burgers, which can cost more than real meat. Instead, it focused on home cooking using whole foods such as lentils.
Miguel Barclay, author of the One Pound Meals series of cook books, says that when he cuts out meat from recipes, they ‘consistently come in at a much lower price than recipes with meat’.
If you don’t want to cut meat out completely, though, you can replace some of the mince in your meals with cheaper lentils or decide to have a certain number of meat-free days in a week to save money.
Grow your own
It might be tempting to turn to The Good Life to save money, but if you are a novice gardener it is best to pick easy crops to start with.
Chris Bonnett, from gardening supplies website Gardening Express says that potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes are some of the easiest things to start with.
Salad leaves are also a ‘great investment’, he says, they are ‘expensive in shops and go out of date fast’. In summer, he suggests sowing them outside, and on a windowsill between Autumn and Spring.
Growing your own herbs can also save money, he says.
‘Basil, chives, parsley, and sage will grow happily in a sunny window box or in a plant pot by the window, and oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary will all do well indoors and outside in a garden.’
Avoid food waste
One major way to avoid spending too much on food is to avoid food waste. A new survey by Tesco reveals that the average British family is wasting approximately £800 worth of edible food a year.
Three quarters of households say they throw away unopened or unused food, with more than a third doing so on at least a monthly basis. The food that is most often thrown away includes chicken breasts; potatoes; sliced bread; lettuce; milk and bananas.
Planning meals in advance is a great way to avoid food waste, as you only shop for what you need. If you do find yourself with food to use up, the Love Food Hate Waste website allows you to input the food stuffs you have into a recipe finder for meal ideas. It also contains advice on how to store food so it does not go off quite so quickly.
Making a list of what is in your fridge and freezer will help to ensure you use it all up, rather than wasting it and restocking.
Take stock regularly
Saving money on food can start with good intentions, and it is easy to slip over time. By keeping track of food bills over several months, you will be able to see whether your bills are rising, how they are changing and whether there are other ways you can successfully save.
Apps such as Emma, Chip or Money Dashboard that have access to your bank account will allow you to see the proportion of your outgoings assigned to food and how this compares over time, while regular reviews of your supermarket receipts will also help you to keep saving.
Food price inflation is not expected to fall any time soon, with events in the Ukraine as well as rising transport costs continuing to push up prices, so it is vital to keep on top of costs.
For those who are really struggling with the cost of food, external help may be available in the short term from a local food bank.
These charities give out food, but you may need a referral from a GP, school or other agency.
Find out more through the The Trussell Trust, and make sure to check in Citizens Advice or Turn2Us to check whether you are getting all the help that you are entitled to.
If you want more tips and tricks on saving money, as well as chat about cash and alerts on deals and discounts, join our Facebook Group, Money Pot.
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