This week I have been focusing on reducing our food budget & reducing our food waste, and I thought I would backtrack a few years and explain a bit more about our story. If you want to skip this part, our food tips are below!
Recession and Redundancy
Years ago, when we first married and bought our first house, we went on to have two babies just 16 months apart. Due to the cost of childcare, we quickly discovered we would be only pennies better off if I returned to work, and so I decided to take a career break and become a stay at home parent. The recession was biting and Mr T was made redundant. He went from a well-paid job to months of insecure agency work, and finally, he had to call offer him a job he loved. It was just minutes away from our home and fairly secure, but it paid minimum wage.
We went from two good salaries to one minimum wage salary. We had debt too, and like many young families, we had more outgoings than we had incoming. We also had a shiny new mortgage fixed at a ridiculously high-interest rate. After a few months of trying to manage, we decided to contact ‘CCCS’ or StepChange as they are known today. We sold our car & I joked that if anything in our house wasn’t screwed down it would be sold on eBay; it wasn’t a joke! StepChange went through our budgets and offered lower payments to our creditors on our behalf. They took a huge weight off our shoulders.
I will always remember StepChange telling me we were living in food poverty, spending just £100 a month on food for four of us. It was a tough time, family bought us food packages for Christmas and invited us for meals regularly. A neighbour gave us spare unwanted food from her freezer. we were really grateful for all the help.
Hours of searching the internet gave us a detailed list of what we could do to save money. I pragmatically went through the list and meticulously followed every single point. Some things saved us pennies, some pounds. Amongst hundreds of other things, the TV licence and subscriptions were cancelled, we stopped buying kitchen towel as it was classed as a luxury, and we put our name down for an allotment.
Somehow in the haze of raising four children, I found that I enjoyed having less ‘things’ and that I valued nature, enjoyed gardening and wanted our family to become more eco-friendly. The journey taught me a lot and shaped who I am today. I am still grateful. Recently we took our a car loan, and then moved house so are working to pay off our debts again!
Our food budget now
Some habits from that point in our lives are deeply ingrained. We aren’t brand loyal, and always choose to buy supermarket home brand products. We always have a full fruit bowl, but rarely buy expensive fruit like berries, melons, pineapple and nectarines. We are still human, and at different phases of our lives, the budgets have slipped out of control. I remember following the slimming world diet plan, and almost keeled over after adding up the supermarket spends and realizing we had spent over £700 one month just on food!
Our usual food budget is £400 for our family of six and includes cleaning & toiletries. I’ve been reluctant to lower this, as I didn’t really think I could reduce it any further & have a healthy balance. This month I have surprised myself! With the aim to pay off our debt I have reduced it by over £100! What’s more, we have eaten healthier & reduced our food waste at the same time. So this week my thriftyish things are all about food…
A Thriftyish Week
Lidl ‘Too Good To Waste’ box
Lidl has been offering these fab 5kg boxes of fruit and vegetables for £1.50. Then with a little bit of research and help, we found our first box! One member of staff told me these can be put out randomly during the day and I have heard mixed reports on whether they are made up in-store, or come in on a delivery. I found the best time to be in the mornings, from around an hour after the store opens to 10.30am
These are usually kept near the checkout area, but you might need to check at your local store. In our store they are sometimes kept behind the till point (at the very end till, where you pack after paying) and so I wouldn’t have spotted them without asking.
‘Too Good To Go’ app
Too Good To Go is an app dedicated to reducing food waste. They sell food that otherwise would be thrown away by supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. We don’t have many local businesses nearby that use Too Good To Go, but one is Morrisons. You get a huge box mixed with fruit, vegetables, bread and cakes, that are past their dates but still perfectly good to eat! You can’t predict what you will get, and one of our boxes was mostly bread / scones, but it’s normally a good mix in our last box we received all this for £3.09
2 full birthday cakes
A family pack of mixed peppers
A selection of crackers
3 bags of new potatoes
2 bags of clementines
When life gives you lemons but you don’t fancy lemonade, make lemon curd! We don’t usually buy lemons, but when I spotted a bag of 4 reduced to 20p, I couldn’t resist. Our go-to use for lemons is lemon drizzle cake, and we freeze the rest in slices to pop into drinks, you get a chilled drink & tiny hint of flavour which is delicious.
Beccy from Family Budgeting gave me this idea after reading this post ‘uses for a lemon’. I have been finding creative ways to use this lemon curd after my eldest daughter declared she didn’t really like it. Funnily enough, she had no complaints eating lemon curd cupcakes with lemon curd icing!
Broccoli and Stilton soup
I used the tenderstem broccoli from our ‘To Good To Go’ box, and whizzed up some delicious soup, using the remaining blue cheese that we tried for 50p with Shopmium* It made three portions, and cost pennies. (If you sign up to Shopmium with my link you receive some free pringles)
Pitta pizzas are a lovely, cheesy & filling alternative to sandwiches for lunches. These pitta bread were hiding in the freezer from a previous ‘To Good To Go’ box. For the pizza sauce;
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a tsp of sunflower oil, tsp of sugar, a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and herbs into a small saucepan. Simmer on medium heat until the sauce has reduced down, then mash with a potato masher to create a smoother consistency, before topping the pittas with the tomato sauce, then mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. I divide leftover pizza sauce into portion sizes and freeze for next time.
And some other thrifty meals.
Photography has been an afterthought this week, so I don’t have photos!
We have just harvested all our beetroot from our allotment and have around 5kg in total. We absolutely love beetroot and have plans to pickle it for use over the winter months. I decided to make a beetroot and orange relish as we had some oranges & apples that need to be used up too. It tastes delicious with cheese and crackers, or with a chicken salad or sandwich.
We made blackcurrant jam and cordial from some blackcurrants we were given from a neighbouring plot holder. We have one of our own blackcurrant bushes growing, but this is their first year and we only harvested a handful of berries. I cant wait to see what happens in the next few years. You can take cuttings in autumn, and place the cutting straight into the soil to create a new plant – so I am hoping for a few extra plants next year.
Plum hoisin sauce
We made plum hoisin sauce, with some leftover reduced plums, and had a stirfry with carrot, cabbage, aubergine and courgette. The plums add a delicious sweetness to the hoisin sauce that compliments flavour well, and we froze 3 other portions to eat up over the next few months.
This weekend Mr T took a huge joint of pork out of the freezer instead of chicken by mistake for our Sunday roast. We used half the leftovers to make a stirfry, but still had lots left to use up the following day. The internet had lots of ideas, but my favourite idea was to make shredded pork & salad flatbread wrap with chips. We used this flatbread recipe. They were really simple to put together and were a hit with the whole family.
We had a huge bag of spinach and basil that needed using up, so I whizzed up some delicious green pesto. We didn’t have pine nuts so substituted with walnuts and sesame seeds. It was an unexpected hit with the children and made two extra portions for the freezer
Courgette, almond and chocolate cake
We picked our first courgettes and made our first chocolate, almond and courgette cake of the season. We have 6 courgette plants with lots of baby courgettes on their way, so before long we will have a glut of courgettes to use up!
**If you are struggling to pay your debts, Stepchange are amazing. They offer free impartial advice and I 100% recommend them. Beware other payment plan /debt consolidation companies who charge for their services.
What thriftyish things have you done this week?
I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Frugal Friday’ linky.