Monday, 24 January 2011

The art of living frugally #1 - food shopping

I don't pretend to have any hard and fast rules for a magical fix, just what I've done myself to help stretch the money in these lean times.*
Keep awareness of your options - try to remember a few key points when out shopping. It's my golden rule to always ask myself 'Do I need it?' Particularly where food is concerned. If you're a bit of a foody like me then your eye will be drawn constantly in the shop by the exciting lovely things [lovely things sweetie darling, lovely things] on display, cunningly designed to attract you and make you buy them. With food costs ever rising and the higher VAT making its presence felt we could all potentially do with a little more awareness of our actual needs when entering the shop as opposed to what we'd like. Obviously whilst it is theoretically possible to live off oats and the occasional lime to stave off scurvy; you really wouldn't want to. I'd imagine it'd make you fairly ill after any length of time as well - even with the lime! [ We are not advocating this diet btw. Or any in particular - just offering a few common sense tips on saving some pennies here and there.] So use your common sense and strike a balance.
So - golden rules of food shopping.
1.) Check the CFC - always! Whilst entering the store knowing what you need is a good plan you can be flexible if items on offer are those you'd otherwise buy at a higher price another time. In particular fresh veg, bread and for me - cheese, are things to look out for. Next - is the discount worth it? If it's a pack of crumpets that's now 60p instead of 65p then the answer's a pretty clear No! [A real 'reduction' I've seen btw!] Will you eat it before it becomes inedible? [Applicable to both CFC and full price purchases - we throw some hideous amounts of food away annually in this country alone - let's not add to that when you've just spent your hard earned cash on it.] Now I'm not too rigid about 'best before' dates [helped by the fact that I don't eat meat] but there really is no point buying something only to eat maybe a quarter of it and throw the rest away. (Bear in mind that the product does not magically know when the clock ticks over to midnight of the day after its' 'best before' date so will not therefore through concerted effort turn green and illness-making on you.) The freezer is your friend. If it can't be frozen 'as is' can it be cooked - either prepared ready for use (eg tomatoes into passata) or made into a big batch of soup etc and frozen that way? Then you have the added advantage of several 'ready meals' [but homemade therefore correspondingly nicer] on hand ready to go. [I will mention that I freeze stuff that's supposedly 'not suitable for home freezing' using my common sense and have had no probs so far. This is your choice though.]
2.) Home cook/make - almost all of the time this works out cheaper than buying premade. [Unless the CFC has any startlingly good bargains - see pic!] Even more so if you do this then take a frozen pack to work for lunch rather then spending £2-3 a day on a lacklustre sandwich. Or make your own sandwiches if that's your preference- it'll still work out cheaper and you can have the filling exactly how you want; not how some overpaid ad-exec/marketing/nutitionist bod thinks it should be.
3.) Buy in bulk / loose - but always work out if it's a better price. I have a loose food shop near me and some stuff can be much cheaper from here. Then I can get as much as I want too - so if needed I can bulk buy or if I only need a small quantity I'm not tied to buying a whole pack at an inflated cost as I might be in the supermarket. Things like herbs and spices are way cheaper in here too, as well as in the local health food shop. Which neatly brings me onto the next point -
4.) Shop around. I know locally which shop is best for washing powder, which for gravy granules, which for frozen sweetcorn. Not owning a car I walk everywhere anyway so am not tempted to get everything in one massive shop at a supermarket. If you want to save some pences you need to be prepared to trail around a bit - but on foot or by bike. It doesn't work if you spend all your savings on petrol driving around!
5.) Get what you pay for - sounds silly I know but a lot of the time people can't be bothered or are too self concious to open their mouths and point out when something isn't right. Recently I had 2 seperate instances where packs of items didn't contain the stated number. One was a pack of 6 pitta breads - it only had 5 in. I phoned Co-op and they sent me a £1 voucher in the post. As these were the value pitta breads costing 26p that's nearly 4 packs back - not bad! The other was an Aldi pack of 15 yorkshire puddings - only contained 13. They gave me a full refund and we'd already eaten the 13 yorkies. :-D
Now I'm most deffo not suggesting we turn into whinging bastard customers [yes - I've worked in retail before - can you tell] but if you've paid for something and not received it then point it out. Companies should be happy to put it right.
6.) Don't be a snob. There's nowt wrong with most 'value' ranges. Most of them are exactly the same thing from the same factory as the supermarkets own brand 'regular' item. When it comes to things like pasta and rice how different can they be? Yes - some value items may be less than great - S'bury's veg stock cubes being a case in point [incredibly salty; inedibly so] but stick with the basics and you'll be safe enough, or learn which are worth buying as I have. If there's no 'value' option available the store's own line will nearly always be cheaper then a brand name.
7.) Grow some food. You'll have to have been taking a sabbatical on the moon to have not seen all the GYO stuff about recently. I think there's enough out there on the subject that I really don't need to add much to it. Suffice to say you don't need an allotment - any bit of garden, patio, pots, hanging basket, sunny windowsill could yield anything from some runners in a pot up a wigwam of canes - doesn't need a lot of floor space, or just some herbs on your windowsill. Seeds are cheap as chips compared with what we pay for the end product in the shops. Try it.
Also don't forget the potential for free food growing in our hedgerows and coastlines - get some proper foraging guides if you want to do this though. I take no responsibility for any self poisoning incidents!
*This was shaping up to be a monster post so I've split it into this predominantly food orientated one and the next thrilling installment - non-food orientated stuff. Woop eh??!

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