This January I managed to cut our grocery spending by over one third. After the mortgage our grocery spending is our second biggest outgoing and one that can fluctuate wildly if left unmonitored. I have been trying to cut our weekly food shop for several years but with limited success.
I have become a lot more mindful about my grocery shopping over the last few years and have managed to get some control over it, at least by checking my spending on our bank statement at the end of each month. This has regulated my spending to some extent and meant my spending has become more consistent whereas in the past there were massive (shocking) variations each month. Like many people with an all consuming job and busy family life there were times when I lost track of my spending and I overspent on food and threw some of it away. A desire to limit such shameful waste and to eat well on a reduced income has become a growing desire (and necessity) over the last few years since I started my yen for minimalism and simple living. Having enough food in the cupboards and eating and a good quality diet but without excessive expense or waste fits in perfectly with this philosophy.
Since the end of December with a change in lifestyle (giving up my permanent job), a smaller budget and more time on my hands I have been able to focus on reducing my grocery spending. It has taken up a lot of my time but already I have cut it by one third and think I could do even better if I stick to my new habits. I'm quite excited by my progress in this area (you can probably tell by the length of this post!). Getting our family weekly shop (2 adults and 1 or 2 teenagers) from well over £100 to well under the same figure is some achievement!
How have I done this?
Mostly by being very disciplined which has meant spending a lot of time planning meals and recording every little bit of spending. Here is a detailed list of other habits that have helped reduce our grocery spending this month.
Weekly thorough stock-takes of cupboards, fridge and freezer (as opposed to occasional). It's so easy to forget how many items you have in stock (especially when items have been bought in bulk months before). I'm amazed how I can buy something one week and then completely forget that I haven't used it. Taking everything out of cupboards can result in some unexpected foodie treasures!
Completely cleaning out the fridge each week. This also reveals food items that would otherwise get forgotten about. It doesn't take as long as you think.
Weekly menu planning. This comes before writing the shopping list. After stock-taking I plan some of our meals from what's already stored. This is saving us a fortune. We have family favourites that appear regularly on our menu and we also try to cook something new once or twice a month - often on a Friday night. Our menu runs from Friday to Thursday and a simple menu plan is displayed on a chalkboard in the kitchen.
Less food waste. If I buy an item such as a large pack of bacon or a savoy cabbage I plan different meals that use this ingredient and incorporate them into that week's menu plan. In the past I would have thrown away half used items.
Pre preparing veg. I often prepare veg on a Sunday and use half that day and the other half is ready prepared for later in the week. Cooking from scratch is hard work so you have to think of ways to lighten the load.
Online shopping. I spend about £40 a week on one online shop - usually a Saturday. Online shopping gives me more control over my shopping as I can see the price (and adjust it if necessary) before I actually pay. I book my slot at the beginning of the week giving me lots of time to edit the list during the week as we run out of things or my menu ideas change. Keeping my online orders to just over £40 means I qualify for the delivery saver option which means I pay upfront for delivery but don't have to pay the £6 plus peak charges I used to pay. Online shopping suits me at the moment although I know I could save more money if I went without this luxury. Keeping out of big supermarkets keeps me away from the temptations of homewares, clothes and magazines as well!
A weekly shop at Aldi (or Lidl) to supplement my online shop. These shops are great for lots of things but especially fresh fruit and veg (Super 6), meat, cheese and cheap but good quality wine.
Trying to keep weekly shopping spending consistent. I buy food for the week ahead but with a little bulk buying on the side if it makes economic sense.
Recording all grocery spending in my main diary. I keep this diary in my handbag. Every grocery shop is recorded and I tot up each week's total in the same diary.
Flexibility. Our menu plan isn't rigid. If there are left-overs or we go out, meals will be carried over into the following week.
Knowing the price of my regular purchases. I'm becoming much more price savvy. This helps me to spot a genuine bargain.
Avoiding going out to buy one missing ingredient. Instead I think can it be left out or is there an alternative/similar ingredient? I also celebrate no spend days and try and limit my number of food shops to two a week.
Buying less snack foods (and no diet coke - last year's bad habit!)
Cooking extra portions. Friday night's curry will give us enough for a left-over meal at Saturday lunchtime. A big batch of chilli can be eaten with rice as a main meal one day and in wraps or with tortilla crisps another night. Left-over rice can be turned into egg fried rice for a second meal (I always cook too much rice). A Sunday roast cooked with extra veg will leave us with enough to feast on for Monday's tea.
Finding new inspiration. Reading and re-reading cookery books for new ideas plus blog reading and tearing out recipes from free magazines from supermarkets. There are so many wonderful recipes out there but simply not enough time to try them all. However, I'm getting better at trying new recipes these days.
Celebrating running out of things. It's good to run out of things - it means we're using what we've got in our cupboards and it can lead to some creative meal ideas. It's also good for teenagers to know there isn't a bottomless pit of snacks in the house.
Recording each week's menu in a separate notebook. I started this at the beginning of January and it's already providing a useful reference and source for meal ideas when inspiration is lacking. It will be good to look at old week's menu plans as the year progresses.
Saying yes to cheap ingredients. Using lentils for dhal, white potatoes to make home made wedges, roast potatoes and oven chips, pasta once or twice a week (no pasta dish needs to be the same) and porridge oats for breakfast several times a week are all yummy but cheap.
Keeping my store cupboard well stocked with basics. Some of my favourite items to have in stock include chopped tomatoes, white and red onions, chilli flakes, dried herbs and dried milk
Simple meals. When it's just the two of us we often indulge in simple meals. Soup and bread, scrambled eggs or beans on toast are sometimes better than many fancy meals out.
Filling up with simple carbs. Bread, potatoes and rice are the cheapest way to fill up our growing teenage boys.
Making our own version of takeaways. Yuk sung is no longer a takeaway treat. Instead we make our own and have takeaways less often. We are also developing a range of favourite curry dishes.
Not taking too much notice of best before dates on food. We use our common sense to decide if it will be OK to eat an item past its best before date. However, we are careful with use by dates as these are important for food safety.
Buying less ready meals. Friday night is often curry night in our house and once upon a time this meal would have consisted of various microwavable ready meals. Now all the dishes are home cooked – some are fresh others are frozen and then reheated. It takes a while to practise and perfect a recipe but once mastered the rewards are great.
Looking out for offers. As I do some of my grocery shopping online I find there are fabulous offers each week which are heavily promoted (especially when new or improved products are launched). I still buy some convenience food such as pizzas if they are on offer but balance this with plenty of cooking from scratch.
Not being loyal to brands. I have favourite brands but can be tempted by another if there is a decent offer and I'm no snob when it comes to using own brands. Often the quality of own brand products is the same if you look beyond the fancy packaging and seductive advertising.
Running down our food stocks from time to time. This can mean everyone eating something different at the occasional mealtime. This can be quite fun!
Buying less wine. We have cut down this month but not completely!
This is an extensive list I know, but it's a useful record of my current food shopping habits. There's more I can do to further reduce our spending (shopping for yellow sticker reductions, using Approved Foods more, more vegetarian cooking) and I will post occasionally on this topic with my progress or setbacks.
How do you control your grocery shopping? Have you any tips? I'd love to hear.