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?

Ideas to Save Time and Money at Christmas

Stuffed toy reindeer sitting on a sofa

Christmas is fast approaching – that time of year when it is expected that you spend money you haven’t got to buy gifts that other people don’t need or want. I can hear the booing and calls of ‘Baa Humbug!’, but I honestly believe that this is true. I am not a religious person, but I feel that we have moved a long way from the real meaning of this time of year. There is so much pressure on us to go mad, spend lots of money and eat until we pop. But I truly believe that Christmas is optional or at least all of this excess is.

If I ruled the world I would make Christmas like the Olympics – just once every four years. I am not against the time that we are given off over the festive period, as this enables families to spend time together, but often the weather isn’t good and we all just eat too much and then slump in front of the TV for hours. I would rather have the time off when the weather is better, but as I don’t make the rules here are some ideas for moderating the excess that is shortly to come…

Just buy for the children

This is what we have done in my family for years. Once we all got jobs my mum suggested that we stopped giving presents to each other as we could all buy something for ourselves whenever we wanted to do so. I first met Mr Simple, fifteen years ago and he and his parents were still buying presents for each other. When his mother learnt that we no longer did that in my family she agreed that it was a good idea and so now they are ‘present-less’ at Christmas as well.

Keep the cost of each present to under £5 or £10

If you can’t survive the festive season without having several beautifully wrapped packages to open then keep the budget low by limiting spending on each present. There are Secret Santa schemes for several groups that I belong to and there is always a limit to cost of the gift.

Pick one adult, like Secret Santa, and buy for them

My physiotherapist mentioned this to me recently. He is part of a large sibling group, so instead of everyone buying for everyone else, they just buy a present for one of their brothers or sisters and obviously only receive one present. In this way it could be that although you get one present, it may be of more value and therefore something nicer than the several pairs of socks or smellies.

Give the money you would have spent to a charity

If you decide not to do presents, but still want to give something to someone, then give some money to your chosen charity. Find something close to your heart or maybe linked to Christmas, such as one that provides food or shelter to homeless people during this time.

Invest the money

As you won’t be spending as much money as you usually do, put the savings into a high interest savings account or even better, your ISA, in true financial independence style.

Prepare for Christmas 2020

Once the madness is over go shopping and buy cards, wrapping paper, etc. for next year as it will all be on sale at discount prices.

Share the cooking

Instead of one person taking all the responsibility for cooking, share it around and get someone to bring the starter, someone else the dessert, others mince pies, cakes, etc. Just let the host cook the main course, which will be the hardest meal to transport. There may be people who aren’t so good at cooking, but give them something simple to make, or maybe they can just bring the treats such as chocolates, crisps, nuts, etc.

So there we are, a few ways to save time and money at Christmas and hopefully make it all a bit less stressful and a bit less expensive. Whatever you’re planning to do over the festive season I hope have a lovely break.

How to Save Time and Money Everyday

In this modern and hectic world everyone seems to be so busy, but there are easy ways to save time, along with making some financial savings as well. This is particularly important if like me you are interested in the financial independence/retire early movement. Making small savings every day can help you to increase your savings and having more time might just help you find a few hours each week to work on a side hustle. Therefore, here are some ideas how you can save time and money every single day.

Do less washing – you won’t be smelly – I promise!

Laundry

Wash items less

Washing clothes is time-consuming, costs money and is bad for the environment. The first way to save time and money on laundry is to hang up your clothes after wearing them once, instead of washing them. Now I don’t mean underwear, just items like trousers, skirts and jumpers. I wear those several times before washing them. I also wear blouses and t-shirts twice. In between the first and second wear I put them on a hanger on the front of the wardrobe door. This stops them from getting creased, allows them to air and reminds me that I have already worn them once.

Use an airer

If you use a tumble dryer the cost of electricity can be astronomical. To dry our clothes we have a washing line outside, which in our lovely British weather is only useful so many months of the year. When it’s too cold or wet outside, in order to save money I use airers to dry our clothes. I don’t think that hanging clothes on radiators is a good idea.

For a start, I think that it restricts the heat coming into the room and I find it’s too hot for many of the clothes and they can go a little crispy. A much better idea is to just hang them on the airer and stand it next to the radiator. It may sound a bit pedantic, but made sure each item is laying flat. I used to have a flatmate that would hang her knickers on the airer whilst they were still crumpled up. This meant that they took longer to dry and again seemed to have a ‘crispy’ feel once they were dry.

Reduce the ironing pile

As well as putting clothes in the washing machine and hanging them up to dry there is also ironing. Fortunately since Mr Simple got made redundant a couple of years ago I have saved hours of my life as I no longer have to iron his work shirts very often. He spends most of his time working from home and just shoves on a t-shirt and jogging bottoms. About once a fortnight he wears a shirt and like me, he will wear it more than once, so now it’s only one shirt a month that I have to iron.

If you do a lot of ironing, in order to save money I would suggest trying to do a large pile in one go. Heating the iron up several times a week to iron a few items will cost you more money than putting it on once and keeping it at that temperature until you’ve finished the whole pile.

Colouring your hair yourself is easier than you think

Personal care

Dye your own hair

Since discovering the financial independence/retire early movement I have significantly cut the amount of services that I purchase and even before that I wasn’t a great consumer of the beauty industry. Through this I am able to save both time and money on trying to fight back the signs of ageing. When you get to the ripe old age of 50 (and for me long before that) grey hair is a fact of life. Some people choose to embrace this and are happy to go grey, but I just think that I would look so much older, so I choose to dye my hair.

This used to involve going to the hairdressers once every six weeks and paying about £60 for a colour, cut and blow dry. I’d never really considered dying it myself, but after reading about Mrs Frugalwoods cutting her own hair I thought that I would give it a go. It is a bit messy, but it saves me so much money. A pack of ‘Nice and Easy’ Dye is just £6. I then just go for a wet cut every few months, i.e. I turn up with wet hair, the hairdresser cuts it, gives it a quick blow with the hairdryer to get out the worst of the moisture and I’m off. That only costs me £20.

Make fewer trips to the salon

So how does this save me time? When I went to the salon to have my hair dyed I would be there for about two hours. By the time they had put the dye on, left it a bit, washed my hair, cut it, dried it and then straightened it, most of the morning would be gone. My hairdresser would often ask me what I was doing later, expecting me to say that I was going out somewhere nice to show off my new haircut. In fact most of the time as soon as I got home my hair went up in a clip and I got on with some household chores or gardening. All that drying and straightening, which I can do perfectly well myself, was a complete waste of time and money. On top of the time and money spent at the salon there was the travel time and if I took the car, the cost of petrol. It’s only a mile away, but it all adds up.

As well as my hair I am now plucking my own eyebrows instead of getting them waxed and using hair removal cream on my other facial hair. Each task only takes a few minutes, saving another trek into town and yet more money.

Cleaning

Be tidy

One of the best ways to save time on cleaning is not to make a mess in the first place. When you’ve finished with something, put it away. When you pick up the junk mail on the way in the door put it straight into the recycling bin rather than leaving it on the side to pile up. Eventually you’ll have to sort through it.

Ban ornaments

I’ve never been a great fan of ornaments, but I think that if you want to save time on cleaning it’s really important to keep your environment simple. I can never understand ‘collectors’ – shelves and shelves of figurines or fancy teapots. To my mind these are just dust collectors which you have to spend hours of your life keeping clean. So, save time and money – by not buying them and therefore not having to dust them. If you really must have something, keep it simple and buy just a couple of things that will be easy to move when you need to dust that shelf.

So there we are, just a few simple ways to make life easier, giving you more time and saving you a few pennies.

Simple and Healthy Meals for the Freezer

Bowls of rice and vegetables
Make healthy meals that you can freeze and eat later in the month when you need something quickly

I have mentioned several times that in a bid to save money, we often eat out of the freezer. For Mr Simple and I this means making healthy meals for the freezer and keeping them for those evenings when you are short on time. As a rule, we tend to eat these in the second half of the month. They are particularly useful if I am going to be home late or if Mr Simple has to cook. This often happens on a Tuesday when I have a Pilates class. It isn’t that he can’t cook, in fact he is a better cook than I am, but he is reluctant to spend too much time on meal preparation when he’s got a lot of DIY to do.

I find that there are many benefits to eating this way and it takes a lot of the stress out of meal planning and preparation. I believe that there are several benefits to eating this way.

Cheap

Many of our healthy meals for the freezer are made with inexpensive ingredients such as vegetables and beans. We mainly used tinned beans e.g. chick peas, kidneys beans, but you can use dried as well. The dried versions are cheaper, but they take more preparation. You need to soak them overnight and boil them for over an hour. Another frugal ingredient is lentils, which sometimes need soaking, but a lot less than the dried beans. I find pouring on boiling water instead of cold water when soaking speeds up the process. Red split lentils don’t need any soaking at all and are especially good at thickening stews and curries. During autumn and winter you can use root vegetables which are very cheap, such as carrots and potatoes.

Carrots – cheap, good for you and they last in the fridge for ages

Easy to make

You don’t need to possess amazing culinary skills to make many of these meals. It just takes a bit of peeling and chopping and opening a tin or a packet. Food such as curry or vegetable stew can be made in one pot. Then you can make some rice on the side. You can make it even easier and have some crusty bread with it instead. Keeping it simple means that there won’t be a lot of washing up afterwards.

Healthy

It’s easy to get in your five a day as the meals are heavy on vegetables. The beans provide that much-needed protein. To make it even healthier stick to accompaniments of brown rice, quinoa or mashed sweet potato.

Time saving

Once you’ve cooked, and eaten what you want, the rest can go in the freezer. The next time you want to eat it you just have to remember to take your dinner out of the freezer in the morning or the night before. Then you can have your evening meal ready quickly. Just heat up your defrosted food and add a grain or other carb of your choice.

Make courgette and feta cakes – they freeze really well and are delicious

Below are some examples of the healthy meals for the freezer that we eat regularly, along with where to go for examples of recipes. Hopefully they will give you some ideas if you want to save time and money on what you eat.

Veggie chilli

This is a staple in our household. Usually it is made by Mr Simple. He would say that I am too tame with the chilli and he likes it a bit hotter than I do. We have several of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s books and the recipe comes from one of those. . Instead of the usual kidney beans he uses pinto beans, but I am sure you can use whatever you have in stock.

Black bean curry

I currently have the ‘Curry Guy Veg’ out of the library and he has a recipe for black-eyed bean curry. I used black beans instead. He doesn’t appear to have a website, but here is a similar recipe for you to try.

Courgette and feta cakes

These are something slightly different as they are a bit fiddly to make, but delicious and they freeze really well. It is a Delia Smith recipe and they are a good way to use up a glut of courgettes.

Veggie burgers

I find that most, if not all, vegetarian burger recipes freeze well. This month I found we had four different types in the freezer so got them all out and Mr Simple and I had them with polenta chips and a salad.

So there we go, I hope you feel inspired to start filling your freezer with healthy and delicious meals which will save you time and money. After a long day driving to work and back, sometimes in the dark, it is good to come home to something warm and comforting which you haven’t had to spend a lot of time cooking.

How do you use your freezer? I’d love to me know about any meals you regularly make for the freezer.

Bank Holiday Savings

We all enjoyed some warm and sunny weather this weekend

It’s coming to the end of the bank holiday weekend and I hope that you’ve had the chance to enjoy some sunshine. After what seems like weeks of rain it was good to feel that summer was back again. Mr Simple and I have spent most of our time painting the outside of the house; we wanted to make the most of the dry weather. As well as being a productive weekend it has also been a frugal one and so, having not had a ‘Frugal Friday’ post for a while, I thought that I would let you know how I managed to save some money over the last couple of days.

When I popped into Boots on Saturday morning I noticed that they were selling ‘Nice and Easy’ hair dye at two for £10, instead of £6.79 each. I therefore bought a couple as I will definitely use them over the coming months.

Whilst I was in town I also picked up some CDs that I had reserved in the library. I am off to Italy next week with my mother and in a bid to refresh the few words of Italian that I know I decided to listen again to ‘Learn Italian with Paul Noble’. I did an evening class in Italian a few years ago and took the same CDs out of the library before I started the course. I ended up learning more from the CDs than I did from the teacher as he was absolutely hopeless. Audio courses as well as evening classes can be really expensive, so getting CDS out of the library is a great way to learn a language and it doesn’t cost you anything. I plan to listen to them in the car instead of my usual podcasts up until the holiday.

We were lucky enough to be invited to a neighbour’s birthday party in the village hall. We don’t know her very well, but decided that we would go along anyway, knowing that there would be other people there who we do know. I thought that we couldn’t go emptyhanded, but fortunately I had some toiletries that I had received for my birthday, but hadn’t yet used. I therefore wrapped them up and hey presto, a present. Some of you may think that it’s ungrateful to give a present away, but as I hadn’t got around to using them and they may have ended up being forgotten in a drawer, I though this was a good idea.

It was nice to share a bottle of sparking wine at the party

As well as the present we also took along a bottle of wine. We buy most of our wine when we go on holiday to France and even though we haven’t been this year, we still have loads left. This was a bottle of sparkling rosé that we bought in the Loire some years ago. We are not great drinkers and so only usually drink half a bottle of an evening. Unfortunately with sparkling wine that is not a possibility. This gave us the chance to share it with others so it didn’t go to waste.

When it comes to dressing up I am not a great one for fancy clothes, make up and jewellery. In a bid to make more of an effort I actually painted my toe nails and plucked my eyebrows, which did need a bit of attention as although I am still having them waxed it is only occasionally. I felt quite feminine for a change. I haven’t painted my toenails for a couple of years now and it always feels a bit frivolous, but they looked nice and it felt good to treat myself. I am hoping that they will last until we go to Italy as I am sure my feet will be on show in the warm weather. It’s amazing how many tasks we have got used to ‘outsourcing’ nowadays, whereas with a little bit of practice you can do them perfectly well yourself.

Finally, in an attempt to diversify my income I tried selling a few courgettes on a table in front of the house. I made a grand total of £1.52. It was money for nothing, as otherwise they would have gone on the compost heap, but I don’t think I can give up my day job just yet.

So that’s it. A few frugal ideas. How did your bank holiday weekend go? Did you manage to save any money, or better still, did you make any?