The Food Budget

wicker basket of vegetables
We certainly ate plenty of veg this month – the good thing is that they’re fairly cheap
one of the big three

The food budget is one of the big three spending categories that those of us who are aiming for FI/RE try to reduce. The challenge is to get a balance between still being able to eat meals that you enjoy whilst keeping your spending fairly modest.

keeping track

So that we could have a closer look at how I’m spending my money last month I kept every receipt for all of the food items that I bought. I then planned to have a look at where I was using these ingredients, but the trouble is that some of the items that I used were purchased in January and this week I bought groceries that we won’t be eating until next week or later on in March.

Problems aside, February was an average month though and has given me an idea about where my hard-earned cash is going, so let’s have a look at my spending and some meals that we ate. The amounts below are how much I personally have spent. If something seems cheap it’s because most of the items are split 50:50 with Mr Simple.

Beer in a stem glass on the beach
I have a non-alcoholic one of these every Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Treats for the weekend £13.90

Every month I purchase a few treats which we usually eat on the weekend. Although I regard them as treats, I have to say that they are fairly modest and I am certainly in no danger of blowing the food budget if I continue to buy them:

  • 15 bottles Beck’s Blue £8, so 53p per bottle. I drink one on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night
  • Four packets salt and vinegar crisps £4 – each pack lasts me for three portions i.e. I eat one pack per weekend, so about 34p a portion
  • Hot cross buns £1.35 – a treat with a cup of tea at the weekend
  • Biscuits 55p – another occasional weekend treat

As I’ve mentioned before I make a monthly Tesco order online. Even though I have to pay £2/1.50 for the delivery, which comes out of the food budget, it saves me a lot of time and stress doing it this way. For the most part this is made up of the alcohol and crisps noted above and store cupboard, fridge and freezer items, which this month were:

a black teapot
Making tea with leaves in a pot as opposed to using tea bags saves quite a bit of money
Staples £23.89
Butter £4.50 – used in cooking and on toast if we remember to get it out to soften. Not easy in this weather and we don’t have a microwave.   Tea bags £1.50 – only used when making single cups of tea. Otherwise I use leaves in the tea pot.  
Milk £3.02 Coconut milk 1 can 45p. Not used it yet.  
Spreadable butter £3.30. It’s not cheap, but we prefer a butter-based one rather than margarine. Sunflower oil 55p – for general cooking e.g. frying my mushrooms in the morning.
Cheddar cheese £1.50. Mr Simple eats most of this, although I do use it in cooking. Loose tea 65p – lasts us for at least a month and I make at least one pot of tea a day and sometimes two.  
Juice 69p – It’s high in sugar so we only drink this on Saturday and Sunday mornings.   Tomato puree 25p  
Root ginger 37p – for curry.   Ketchup £1.15 – chose to buy a more expensive brand, but we don’t use that much.  
Garlic – 3 bulbs 24p for curry.   Greek style yogurt – £1.20 – I used to buy proper Greek yogurt, but have managed to find Greek style which doesn’t contain thickeners e.g. corn starch, just milk.
Almond milk x 3 £4.50. Much more expensive than cow’s milk. It is twice the price. Should I just drink cow juice?   Bread £2.94 – during the week we use the bread maker to make bread for toast and sandwiches. On the weekend I usually buy a baguette to go with soup at lunch time. Most months I buy strong bread flour, but we had plenty left last month.
Tinned tomatoes 84p – used in butterbean jalfrezi and curry. Cream 33p – this was to eat with an apple crumble I made.
Smoked paprika 45p   Chocolate £2.50 – on non-fast days we have a square of chocolate each after dinner. We don’t often eat dessert and it’s nice to have a small sweet treat after our meal.
peas in a sieve
Frozen peas are a great addition to lots of meals
Frozen vegetables £1.59

Spinach 75p – not used. I use it to add to dal.

Peas 31p – always good for adding to curry for some extra veg.

Sliced green beans 53p – went with stuffed mushrooms, cottage pie and with spices as a curry side dish.

buying local

Eggs £9.75 – I eat two eggs almost every day. We buy the eggs from a local farm. They aren’t as cheap as the supermarket, but it’s nice to support a small business and they are straight from the chickens. Works out at 34p a day. Not bad for a food that provides you with protein and so again not completely frugal, but it doesn’t blow the food budget.

The weekly shop is based on my menu planning and includes general fruit and vegetables as well as items I buy to make the recipes that I have chosen for that week.

veggie burge in a paper wrap
Made some great curry burgers from Jamie Oliver’s new book ‘Veg’
Items for certain meals £8.18
  • Paneer 65p to make eight bhaji burgers, a Jamie Oliver recipe where you grate the paneer and some butternut squash, then mix it with curry paste.
  • Seeded buns 35p for four buns – to put the burgers in. We also had them with wraps that I made on one occasion. The buns were an indulgence, but not that expensive.
  • Dried green lentils 58p to make stuffed mushroom wellingtons, a lentil and walnut loaf and cottage pie.
  • Walnuts for nut loaf and a mushroom and walnut pie I’ve yet to make – two packets £2. They were on special offer.
  • Tofu x 2 £2.00 – we use this a lot in fast day meals such as jerk tofu and tofu tikka masala – still have half a packet in the freezer.
  • Filo pastry 95p for the mushroom and walnut pie I’ve yet to make.
  • Blue cheese £1.00 to go in a risotto, which wasn’t actually that nice. We had some left over which we ate with leek and potato soup and bread at the weekend.
  • Fresh custard 65p – to go with apple crumble – we still have three bags of apple already peeled, cored and sliced in the freezer, which I am trying to use up.
three white onions with green stalks
A cheap staple which is the basis of most meals
Fresh Vegetables £27.03
Mushrooms 48p for stuffed mushroom wellingtons.Swede 40p – allotment cottage pie and as a side dish. I’ve found that diced boiled swede freezes well. Then just defrost it, mash it and warm it up.  
Sweet potatoes £1.44 for breakfast and soup Onions £1.16 – a good staple used in most dishes.  
Potatoes £1.64 – in soup and on the cottage pie   Mushrooms £6.14 – all for breakfast. I do seem to spend a lot on mushrooms.  
Cauliflower – 50p – cauliflower tikka masala – another recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Veg book.   Coriander £1.05 – to go on curry and a spicy soup that I made with sweet potato and a bit of butternut squash left over from last month  
Limes 30p   Lemons 45p  
Red peppers £1.39 – in Butter bean jalfrezi and the tofu tikka   Half a cucumber 23p  
Celeriac 62p – allotment cottage pie and added to the leek and potato soup   Spring onions 30p – for jerk tofu paste  
Leeks £1.50 – in soup   Salad leaves £1.71 – eaten with a frozen pizza we had to eat up, with risotto, bhaji burgers and jerk tofu steaks  
Calabrese 68p – as a side veg   Cabbage 40p – herby lentil savoy cabbage cobbler. Some left in freezer. Also shredded and cooked with grated carrot for thoran.  
Carrots 29p – allotment cottage pie and thoran. Will grate it to make salad as well.   Avocados £6.35 for breakfast. These are expensive and I do question whether I could forgo them.
bananas
A good snack when you’re out and about
Fruit £11.96
  • Grapes £3.00
  • Satsumas £4.05
  • Bananas £3.53
  • Pears 75p
  • Kiwi 63p
conclusion

There we are – my monthly food budget spending. I do feel that we don’t eat a lot of processed foods. As you can see the only ready-made foods are bread, hot cross buns and the filo pastry. Otherwise, everything is made fresh. I tend to take that for granted until I see what others are buying in the supermarket and realise that we do eat fairly healthily.

I know that we could spend less, but I think that we’ve about halved our food bill over the past year, so I don’t think we’re doing that bad. How does it compare to your food budget spending? Any ideas for where I could make cuts without living on rice and beans for the month?

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