5 tips to make your monthly food budget go further
Food poverty is a huge problem in the UK. The issue of families struggling to put food on the table was brought to national attention recently by Marcus Rashford, who launched a campaign calling for the Government to extend free school meals to children in England outside term time.
We at Creditfix recently discovered the extent of the food poverty problem in our debt insights report, where we found that 32% of people would be likely to cut down on food shopping in order to save money.
While it is possible to save money on food, it should never come at the expense of a healthy, balanced diet. In this blog, we offer you some tips on how to make your food budget go further, saving you money while ensuring you continue to get all the nutrition you need from your diet.
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Make a monthly food budget
The first tip for making your monthly food budget go further is to figure out what that food budget is in the first place. It’s hard to find ways to make savings if you’re not sure how much you’re spending on as it is.
There are several factors you’ll need to consider when working out your monthly food budget, including:
– How much you earn
– How much disposable income you have
– How much you eat, and how often
– How much time you have to cook, and how likely you are to do it
– Any dietary requirements (for example if you’re vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free etc.)
Once you have considered the various factors that will impact your monthly food budget, there are a lot of helpful resources available to help you calculate what you’re spending now – like the Mint Grocery Calculator.
The Grocery Calculator allows you to input information like how many people are in your household, what kind of spender you are, and what you are prepared to spend on certain items, and calculates your weekly and monthly food budgets based on that information.
Mint is an American company so prices are in US dollars, but it’s easy enough to convert into pounds and pence.
By getting a rough idea of the kind of money you’re spending on food right now, you can use that information to build your ideal budget – the lowest amount you can realistically spend on food for the month while still enjoying a healthy, balanced diet.
Plan meals ahead of time
It’s no use making a monthly food budget if you aren’t thinking about how you are going to use it. You should pay close attention to the ingredients you buy, and every ingredient should be purchased with a meal in mind.
That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who purchase ingredients because they like them individually, without thinking about how they will use them as part of a meal.
Buying items without planning your meals first can leave you with wasted items at the end of the month, or might mean you have to go to the shops before the month is out to pick up ingredients you have run out of.
Meal planning has become extremely popular in recent years as a way of staying healthy while watching your budget. There are a number of helpful meal planning tools that will allow you to map out your meals for the month, and give you an idea of what ingredients you need to buy in order to create those meals – down to the nearest onion.
Cut down on (or cut out) meat
If you’re a passionate carnivore, this suggestion may have you running for the hills.
In the UK, we love our meat. For many of us, the idea of cutting down on it – or cutting it out of our diet entirely – just doesn’t wash.
The thing is, we eat more meat than we need. In the UK, the amount of meat we eat per person is more than double the global average. Eating that amount of meat isn’t just bad for our bodies, it’s also bad for our budgets.
There’s no denying that meat products are often the most expensive items on our shopping lists, whether it’s a free range chicken from the supermarket, or steaks from the butchers for a special occasion.
A study by The Beet in the US found that cutting out meat would save a person an average of $23 per week across an entire year – that’s £17.50 per week in the UK.
If cutting out meat altogether seems like a stretch, that’s understandable. It takes time to make that kind of lifestyle shift. But why not try cutting down? Maybe you could start with one meat-free day per week, and see what that does for your food budget?
Not only will it have a positive impact on your health, and the health of the environment, it might just save you a few quid.
Keep an eye out for a bargain
Every supermarket has a reduced section, and you shouldn’t be shy about taking advantage of the bargains you can find there.
The reduced section is often stocked with fresh produce, like meat, fish, and vegetables, that have been marked down in price because they are about to go out of date.
If you’re looking for something to cook right away, you can pick up an item from the reduced section and create a quick meal for a fraction of the normal price. Even if you’re not looking to cook something right away, you can grab a bargain from the reduced section and freeze it as soon as you get home – that way you can include it in your meal plan over the coming weeks.
Other than fresh produce, you might find longer lasting food with damaged packaging is also marked down in price – think tins of soup that have been bashed, or packs of biscuits that someone has broken.
As long as the packaging has not been compromised – you don’t want to take a risk with anything that’s been exposed to the air – you can pick up some good quality ingredients at much lower than the market rate.
Be smart when eating out – or in
The coronavirus pandemic has made eating out more difficult. Many restaurants and cafes up and down the country are closed as a result of coronavirus restrictions, and even if your favourite restaurant is open, you might not feel comfortable eating out just yet.
In normal circumstances, however, there are several tips you can take advantage of to save a bit of money when eating out – from making sure you ask for tap water rather than bottled water, to finding your local BYOB restaurant, where you can save on expensive alcohol markups.
There are savings to be found when eating in too. There’s nothing better on a Saturday night than an Indian or a Chinese, but you should try to keep takeaways as an occasional treat, rather than an alternative to cooking a healthy meal.
When you do treat yourself to a takeaway, you should avoid apps like Deliveroo or Uber Eats. It may be convenient to be able to scroll through all of your local takeaways on a single app, but you pay for that convenience with expensive delivery surcharges. If possible, you should avoid delivery altogether and collect your order yourself.
Lastly, one of the biggest pitfalls for overspending on a takeaway is people overpaying for things they can buy elsewhere for far cheaper. You might not be able recreate that katsu curry you love so much – but you can certainly buy a can of coke from your local supermarket at a quarter of the price of your favourite takeaway.