Stretching the Food Budget

Bowl of tomato stew
Make easy meals that you can put in the freezer
do a monthly shop

As you know from this previous post, in an effort to help with the food budget and meal planning I am ordering our staples once a month from Tesco. This includes items such as butter, cheese, juice, milk, flour, oil, beer and crisps. Then I top up each week with perishables.

When I first started doing this I was still buying foods such as milk and juice every week. I have since realised that juice lasts for about a month and milk is perfectly fine even after its been frozen. My weekly shop is therefore pretty much confined to fruit and veg, along with cold meats for Mr Simple. I have to say that this arrangement is going really well and has completely taken the stress-factor out of the weekly shop. I usually whizz around the supermarket in about 15 minutes every week.

meal plan for a whole month

The second tactic that I am using to reduce the food budget is by meal planning for a whole month. Almost all of the articles that I read about meal planning recommend doing it on a weekly basis, but I think that it only takes a little longer to plan meals for a month as it does for a week.

Having a plan for dinner is particularly good when I am going to be late home. For me late is 6pm, which I know for many of you is early. We have dinner about 7pm and so 6pm is the latest time when I like to start thinking about cooking. It’s so much easier when I know what I am going to cook. Throughout the month I include recipes where I can make double the quantity and freeze the left overs. If you want some ideas of the type of meals that I freeze you can find a few here.

the food budget

I allow £140 for my part of the food budget. We don’t split it 50:50 as Mr Simple eats chicken and ham in his sandwiches, which tend to be expensive, as well as he drinks more alcohol than I do. Therefore most of the bill gets divided in half and then we each pay for the specific items that only we eat. For me it’s avocados – I did give them up for a while as they are expensive, but I do really like some with my eggs for breakfast.

Doing the monthly shop obviously means we spend the majority of the budget in one lump sum, so when you shop this way it can feel like you’ve spent all of the food budget at the beginning of the month. There’s no need to panic though, because if you’ve planned well, all the meals you have in the freezer will carry you through until the end of the month.

pot of ice cream in an empty freezer
You should have more than this in your freezer
making the most of your freezer

We have two freezers. One is the bottom half of the fridge freezer and the other one is just a small upright freezer that belonged to my great aunt before she died. During the first half of the month I spend time filling the freezer with the meals that I cook. Most recipes are for four people and so I cook the whole amount and then as we are only two people, half of the meal gets put in the freezer. I used to use freezer bags, but now I mainly put food into old spreadable butter tubs. This is a trick that my mother uses, which I stupidly ignored until I discovered frugality.

repeating meals

Although I say that I meal plan for a whole month at a time, really you only have to think up ideas for half the month. This is because you will cook double the amount that you need and put the rest in the freezer. You therefore have to be prepared to eat something twice in a month. Not all meals lend themselves to being frozen, so you’ll probably need to come up with recipes for slightly more than half the month. In an emergency we have frozen pizzas, something that I’ve mentioned before and an idea which I took from Mrs Frugalwoods. Unlike the other items these are not homemade, but useful in an emergency.

maximise your freezer space

I have suggested to Mr Simple that we buy another freezer which we could put in the garage. He has agreed, but needs to do some work on tidying up the garage. With all of the work on the house that he is doing the garage is being used to store materials. Maybe we might get around to purchasing one by next summer. 

Hopefully has given you some ideas. How do you organize your shopping and meal planning? Please let me know your ideas for reducing your food budget, meal planning and taking the stress out of cooking and shopping.

5 Replies to “Stretching the Food Budget”

  1. Hi Sam

    We go to the shops far too often and probably need to be more organised in that respect. However, one thing that we do have is a master list for each type of shop that shows the things we prefer in each, e.g. yoghurt and fruit juice in Lidl, hummus and sausages in Morrisons. This means we are prompted to buy those items if we happen to be in that type of shop, rather than forgetting them and having to go back again. This works particularly well for store cupboard or freezer things, or things with long dates like feta. We also include things that are cheapest in that shop but that could theoretically be bought anywhere, e.g. Heinz baked beans. I don’t know whether I’ve explained that very well but it works for us.

    1. Katrina, that sounds like a great idea. I need to start making a list of where items are cheapest. Have you ever used mySupermarket? I thought that I had signed up for alerts when items are on sale, but for some reason it isn’t working. Your comment has prompted me to go back and try again.

  2. Hi Sam, it sounds like you are very well organised, fresh produce from your garden, frozen and stored. I love our home grown produce it tastes so good. Do you have an Aldi store near you? I find it provides all of our shopping apart from dog food. I’ve tried Lidl but they are more expensive than Aldi and don’t carry the choice of stock. I’ve just started a… Where to find the cheapest items list. I keep it in a small notebook in my bag so that if I find a product cheaper at a different store I pop it into my notebook for future reference. I’m amazed by price variations across the shops, it makes me quiet frustrated that one store can charge anything from 5p to 70p difference for the same item! Anyway rant over, thanks for another interesting blog, keep up the good work.

    1. Susan, I haven’t yet explore Aldi as the nearest one to us doesn’t have any parking. I should though make the effort to go in there at some point. The notebook also sounds a great idea which I need to make time to do. Many thanks for the tips.

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