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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. 

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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 shop for food 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 include 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 them on your phone to get a discount. As with all special offers, only use coupons on items that you know you need

  • 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 off 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 off. 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.


How can I save money on having a BBQ in the summer?

There are few pleasures in life much like having a barbeque on a summer's day. Barbecues can be expensive when you factor in costs such as coal and different types of food for the grill. Below are some tips to help you save money:

  • If you need to purchase a barbecue set, try buying it 'off peak' when barbecues aren't in such high demand. This would usually be in the colder months.
  • Consider saving up for a proper barbecue set if possible. Disposable barbecues can end up costing you more in the long run. Calculate how many times you'd need to buy a disposable barbecue over a typical summer. You might find that this is around the same cost as a decent barbecue set.
  • Buy food in advance and freeze it. A well planned barbecue shouldn’t mean rushing out and buying everything at once. If you see some mince on special offer in your local supermarket, consider buying it and freezing it before your BBQ party. 
  • Avoid wasting food and money by opening one or two items of food at a time. If you open too many too quickly, you’ll be throwing away stale or forgotten food at the end of the day.
  • Get creative to save money on food. When it comes to the food itself, making your hamburgers out of mince meat can work out cheaper than buying them pre-made. Chicken drumsticks and wings are also cheap and can be marinated for flavour. As for vegetarian options, try jacket potatoes, corn on the cob and cauliflower steaks. You can find lots of great ideas for budget BBQ food on YouTube. 
  • Where possible, encourage guests to bring their own food, even if it's a side-dish such as crisps, dips or potato salad. It all helps, and it's fun to have some variety. The same goes for beverages. Juice cordials go a long way. For the adults, consider making Punch or Sangria (you can find recipes on how to make party drinks on a budget online). 
  • If you’re only hosting a small barbecue then use the utensils, cutlery and plates you’ve already got rather than buy the paper or plastic stuff. If you've done all of the cooking, then you can ask your guests to wash up. 

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