If you’re the type to splurge on a takeaway with all the extras on payday and be left counting the pennies at the end of the month, you’re not alone.
Many of us struggle to stick to a budget for food – and when you’re busy, it’s easy to forget about how much you should be spending each week.
With some small changes and careful planning, though, it’s possible to eat well without breaking the bank. So what can you do to reduce your food spend and eat healthily?
Plan meals ahead
We’ve all had to dash to the supermarket on the way home from work to pick up something for dinner at some point. More often than not, though, we end up filling our baskets with extra, unnecessary items – especially if we shop when we’re hungry. And after a long day at work and there’s nothing in the fridge, it’s tempting to whip out your phone and order UberEats.
Not only does this lead to us spending more than we need, but it also leads to food waste. During a typical year, we waste an average of £2,026 on food and drinks - including on take away meals, bottled water or items left in the fridge or cupboards.
Scribbling a quick meal plan for the week and making sure you have the right ingredients can really help cut down on spending and stress. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a quick pasta dish is a good idea for a weeknight. A slow cooker – which costs about £15 – is a great investment for people who want to meal prep with minimal effort. Just throw in the ingredients, switch it on and leave it to do its job.
It’s boring, yes, but planning ahead really is the key to saving money on food. Before you go shopping, make sure to create a list of all the ingredients you need to get and try to stick to it. Importantly, don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry – as you’ll be more likely to spend more, especially on less healthy foods.
Do your research
When you’re scraping together cash at the end of the month, it’s worth taking the time to compare prices in supermarkets. Some are notoriously more expensive, so giving these a miss – even if they’re below your flat – can help save a lot.
The mySupermarket app makes it easy to work out which shop is the cheapest to find all the things on your shopping list. You can also scan items at your supermarket to see how they compare elsewhere. It’s time-consuming, but worth it if you’re struggling with overspending.
Cut down on meat
Meat and fish are usually the most expensive food ingredients on a shopping list, but it’s easy to create satisfying, healthy dishes without them. Try adding pulses or vegetables to meat dishes like chilli or casseroles to make your meals go further, or give meat-substitute products a go. Quorn mince is a good alternative to beef – and it tastes good too. Even just cutting down on meat a few days a week by having vegetarian days can help.
If you’re prepared to spend more time on your cooking, it can pay off to buy cheaper cuts of meat. Slow cooking cuts like shoulder or braising steak can take longer, but it’s worth it for the flavour.
Head down the frozen food aisle
Frozen food has a bit of a bad reputation, but it can be great when you’re in a pinch and you’ve not got much in the cupboards. Frozen vegetables like onions, peppers and garlic can be thrown together with tinned tomatoes to make a quick pasta sauce.
Often far cheaper than fresh varieties, they are seriously underrated and really handy for busy people as they come pre-chopped and ready to use.
Shop at the end of the day
It can be worth doing a bit of snooping to work out when your supermarket prices up the reduced items so you can grab a bargain – but most do this at the end of the day. The “reduced to clear shelves” can save you money on otherwise expensive items, like meat and fish.
A “sell-by” date is when a product has to be sold from a shop, but it may well be fine to eat. “Best before” dates refer to food quality – but “use-by” dates are about food safety. It’s not worth risking your health if you’re unsure about a product.