Well, we did it! I’ll admit, this wasn’t exactly the most challenging, er, challenge, but it has been an interesting exercise in understanding where we can actually save money if we really needed to. The ‘laissez-faire’ days of food shopping have been and gone in the Andrews household, we’re all about planning, meal preps and sticking to a shopping list from here on out.
I used to roll my eyes at Gregg Wallace’s ‘Eat Well for Less?’ TV show, he tells people that if they stop eating Heinz baked beans they can suddenly afford to go to Disney World. But u’know there’s some truth to it, we absolutely used to buy name brand stuff in the supermarket and where only the supermarket option existed, would default to the ‘extra special’ or ‘finest’ version without even thinking about it. Over the past month we purchased virtually everything store-brand, with a couple of exceptions where is either cheaper or the cost difference is incredibly negligible (e.g. Bread) or where we know the difference is worth the cost (e.g Mayonnaise). The biggest impact with this is not just buying store-brand, but buying ingredients and scratch cooking as much as possible, but we tend to do that anyway.
We did three shops over the month, all with Asda. We debated going to Aldi, but we don’t have the time and call me spoilt, but I just can’t deal with the whole checkout procedure. In experience, we don’t see a very big difference in cost between Aldi and Asda. Our first shop on the 4th Jan was a complete failure, we planned an online delivery which unfortunately got delayed and then eventually cancelled, apparently COVID-related. We instead printed the online order out and went and picked everything up, sticking meticulously to the list, which actually worked out quite well as we could substitute sensibly. The second shop on the 16th was very successful, we did a click & collect for 8am on Saturday morning, basically no subs, in and out in 10 minutes; we had to put everything in bags though, which was kinda annoying. The third on the 26th was also successful, we did another online delivery order which turned up on time and with only minor substitutions. The online delivery, which you can get for £1 if you find the right time (and so only 50p more than a click & collect) is certainly worthwhile. Asda’s online shopping experience is actually very good, better than Tesco and on-par with Ocado although they have differing strengths and weaknesses.
Reducing the duration between food shops has actually been a lot easier than I anticipated, before this experiment we would go to the shop multiple times a week and not even think about it. The most important change we made is to freeze milk and bread, we never used to do this and now that we do it has changed everything. It’s now essentially impossible to run out of bread between shops, I simply get the next loaf out and leave it defrost in the garage, same with the milk. No more milk that might be on it’s last legs, no more bread which is going to go mouldy unless we eat it quickly enough. Not all fruit and veg lasts more than a week, but to tackle this we simply eat meals that require the freshest salad/veg before those that don’t, which means the longer we go between shops, the more ‘cheat’ dinners we get. For fruits like pineapple and melon, we leave it until it’s ripe, chop it up and it’ll last several more days in the fridge. Bananas is the one thing that we do run out of, some shops do a mixed bag of some now, some later, but not Asda. Not the end of the world though and actually it’s a bit of a treat getting new bananas in.
Having a really good pantry has been a huge help to us and to be honest, we’ve eaten that down along with a bunch of stuff we had in the freezer while doing this (partly because we need to for the move!), so it’s not like we lived completely on £221 quid. We had cheese, pasta, rice, chickpeas, beans, tomatoes, snacks, etc so didn’t need to spend there. I don’t know if buying in bulk is always cheaper, but it is certainly worth it for the ease and knowing we generally always have enough. some things are undoubtedly cheaper in bulk, for example buying a big bag of dried chickpeas, batch cooking them and then freezing - it’s also easier because I don’t have to sod about opening tins. There are some pricier bits we keep in the freezer, a bulk pack of beyond burgers and fancy chicken nuggets which we buy from Costco and are probably more expensive than supermarket equivalents, but worth the money.
Some other things of note… buying cheap coffee is a false economy, I tried and failed. Ended up buying Asda Extra Special Nicaraguan which for £2.50/227g is a pretty good deal and really quite nice (I’m not brave enough to bulk buy coffee at Costco). Way cheaper than the £7/227g I used to pay at M&S. We stopped buying Cravendale milk, we used to buy it because it’d last longer in the fridge, not an issue now we freeze. We still buy proper butter, but also now buy spreadable equivalent, it’s cheaper and during colder months is easier too since the butter we leave out is rock hard in the morning and useless for spreading (kitchen doesn’t have a radiator). Buying Medium Eggs seems to be marginally cheaper than simply defaulting to large, a medium sized egg is negligibly smaller, we still buy free-range no longer buy the fanciest eggs available.
Planning meals, both dinner and lunch has been important for success, we drew up a menu which lives on the fridge door so that we know what options we have when thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner. We don’t plan what we’re having on what day, but pick based on mood and time available. Options are categorised as ‘Proper’, ‘Easy’ and ‘Lazy’. Below is what’s normally on the menu.
Charlotte (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
We could definitely save more money. We’ve done this challenge and haven’t really gone without anything or really even planned around making meals particularly inexpensively, some meals are actually quite expensive to prepare. We have been careful about what fruit to buy, not spending on a £4 punnet of berries or expensive exotic fruit. Fresh vegetables and salad are all generally pretty inexpensive, but buying frozen veg is probably even cheaper still, but not something we feel is too necessary (except peas, of course!).
The £221 was based on grocery food only, so excluding household cleaning, cosmetics and personal hygiene, baby formula, nappies, alcohol, take away food, etc. We include soft drinks, snacks, baking, etc as food. Coffee out, food while eating out, beer at the pub is counted in separate categories. Across all, we did relatively well, incredibly well compared to most months. We had one take away (£56! for three of us), two trips to the pub (£27.20), various visits to cafes and a breakfast out (£62), we also drastically cut down our non-pub alcohol spend (£40.38). So all those are additional to the £221.
For those that read to the end, over the past two years, our average food spend has been £530 a month. Peaked at £970 not too long ago, which is actually quite disgraceful. We’ll see how we go in February, but there shouldn’t be a reason we can’t keep up.