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Saving money and increasing income

How do I save money on food and meals?

Your living costs are as important as any priority bills you may have. Unsurprisingly, one of your most important living costs is food.

If you’re dealing with debt or have a limited income, you may be tempted to drastically reduce your food costs. Please don’t do this. Whatever your financial situation, your wellbeing always come first.

You should never have to worry about regular meals for you and your family. If you do find yourself struggling, emergency help with money and food is available. 

Why is it important to save money on food?

Your food shopping is one of the biggest costs you have to budget for. By looking for ways to save money, you may find increased food costs easier to deal with.

Plan your meals in advance

By planning your meals, you can save yourself time and stress as well as money. Cooking ‘from scratch’ tends to be healthier than eating ready-made meals, which are often high in salt and sugar.

One trick that can help you plan your meals in advance is ‘batch cooking’. This is where you cook enough food to cover meals over a number of days, and freeze it for when you need it. This can save you time as well as money. 

In order to batch cook your meals, you’ll need: 

  • At least one staple food (e.g. rice or pasta)  
  • At least one type of vegetable for nutrition
  • A calendar or diary to write down the meals you’ve planned 
  • A simple recipe to follow 
  • At least an hour’s free time to cook the food, sort it into batches for each day of the week, and freeze if necessary (Sunday’s traditionally seen as a good day for batch cooking

You don’t need to be an expert chef to plan and batch cook your meals. Commit to learning two or three recipes to get you started. You can find lots of easy-to-follow recipes online. Some examples of meals that work great for batch cooking are:

  • Stews/soups 
  • Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Cottage pie
  • Bean and sausage hotpot

If possible, get the whole family involved in meal planning. After you’ve checked what you’ve got in, ask what each person would like to eat over the next few days. Doing this will make everyone feel like they have input. It’s also a great opportunity to teach children how to save money and eat healthier food.

Regularly check what food you have in stock

The best way to save money on food is to base your meals around what you have already. It can help you spend less on food shopping, because you’ll only buy the items you need.

Take note of any tinned foods you have, as well as any dried foods such as rice and pasta. It also helps to know what seasoning and sauces you already have. Keep your cupboards tidy so you can see what you have in stock quicker. Don’t forget to check your freezer as well.

Look at ways to use up fresh food first

If you have fresh food such as fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy, focus on including these in your meals over the next couple of days. Check the ‘use by’ dates on your fresh food and try to use them up in order of which date is sooner.

Don’t be put off if a food item’s ‘best before’ date is today. This date is different to the ‘use by’ date. It only indicates when the food is in its best condition, and is usually fine to eat. Don’t eat items past their ‘use by’ date.

How can I save money when buying food at the supermarket?

When you go food shopping at the supermarket, you may find that you spend more than you planned to. One possible reason is that supermarkets are specifically designed to tempt you into buying items you may not necessarily need.

These simple tips can help keep your food costs down:

  • Write a list: This can keep you from buying items on impulse. Once you’ve checked what you have in stock, write down what you need and do your best to stick to this list while you’re shopping. If you don’t want to write a list out by hand, you can use a phone app instead. Most of them are free, and some have alerts to remind you when you need to restock an item.

When considering a special offer, make sure to check the item’s ‘price per weight’ on the price ticket rather than how much the price has been reduced. That way, you know exactly how much you’re getting for your money and can compare with similar products.

  • Visit the ‘reduced section’: Supermarkets must get rid of food items by the ‘best before’ date. However, these items are often perfectly good to eat for some time afterwards. The best before date indicates when the food is at its best condition to eat. The ‘use by’ date is different, and tells you the absolute latest date for eating or using the item.
  • Find out if there are more than one reduced sections in the store, for example on the fresh produce, chilled, and ‘stock cupboard’ aisles. Make sure you check all three 
  • Only buy fruit and vegetables that you’ll use within the next two days (or freeze them), otherwise, you’ll end up with food wastage 
  • Freeze meat or fish as soon as you get home, if you’re not using them straight away, and including them in your next meal plan 
  • Use supermarket coupons: Before you go shopping, check the supermarket’s or product’s website to see if there are any coupons available. You can then print them off at home or, in some cases, use on your phone to get a discount. As with all special offers, only use coupons on items that you know you need.

Looking for more thrifty food ideas?

MoneyAware is packed with great tips and hints for saving money on meals, including:

Make sure to sign up to our MoneyAware newsletter for even more great tips sent straight to your inbox every month!

  • Make a note of what everything costs: When you get home, look at the receipt and make a note of what you spent on each item. Over time, you’ll become familiar with these costs, which will help you when you plan your meals.
  • Downshift to a cheaper supermarket: If you haven’t already, consider switching to a cheaper supermarket. Doing this could save you hundreds of pounds a year. Try looking for websites that compare prices between different supermarkets.
  • Have a ‘meat free’ day: Popular meat cuts such as chicken breast and lean mince can be expensive. By having at least one meat free day each week, you could save a considerable amount of money over time.
  • Add more vegetables to bulk up your meals. Pulses such as beans and lentils can make you feel full for longer, and are a good source of protein and other nutrients.

How can I save money on fruit and vegetables?

The NHS recommends that we eat at least five 80 gram portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Vegetables add bulk to your meal, and because they contain a lot of water, they help you stay hydrated. However, fruit and vegetables tend to go bad quickly, which can be both frustrating and costly if you don’t use them up in time.

Studies have shown that frozen fruit and veg are just as nutritious as fresh fruit and veg, if not more. The frozen variety is often cheaper and can last much longer.

Buy frozen fruit and veg where you can. If you have fresh fruit and veg, try freezing it before it goes bad. Fruit and veg can usually be kept in the freezer for up to a year, so there’s plenty of opportunity to use them up.

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