Forging a new path

It’s Day One of my latest spending challenge and already, the goal posts have been moved. The Friday night takeaway is no longer applicable and I added the remaining change from my purse to the pot. So I set off to go shopping yesterday afternoon with £17.37 for the week.

I have become increasingly aware of the damaging nature of the meat industry and fear for the ecological future. I have decided to live as sustainably as I can, within my means. A book has triggered my new mindset, more about which in a future post. Even though my budget is minimal, I will be buying local, free-range, sustainable, organic produce where I can. Also, I’m avoiding waste like the plague. I’m making the most of every scrap, so I can make the most of higher quality products.

In Sainsbury’s on Sunday, I bought:

  • SO caramelised onion chutney
  • Tin foil
  • Reduced Black Farmer’s Daughter chipolata sausages
  • SO bananas (6)
  • Reduced Free From Gingerbread man (a snack for me and the chap whilst shopping)
  • Toothbrushes

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The reduced sausages were a great buy. The label reads “British Outdoor Bred Freedom Food Pork.” What more could one ask for? I bought foil, which is not environmentally friendly, but I’m not perfect, goodness no, I’m just trying to do my bit to help the planet. And yes, organic Fairtrade bananas are more expensive than regular Fairtrade, but not by much, and the whole idea is less food of a higher quality.

I then visited Waitrose to get my free coffee (Fairtrade!) and pick up supremely delicious milk. Less than 20p extra compared to Essentials, but I think the flavour is noticeable. Plus, it’s a donation to charity as Duchy is affiliated with the Prince’s Trust.

You might think I’m mad (the chap does!) spending more on food when I could get similar items cheaper. But it’s not just about the money. Personally, I would rather cut out television and instant internet access than nourishing food. It’s starting to feel illogical to live any other way.

I spent a total of £10.77 on my Sunday afternoon trip, as I also purchased a Basic chopping board with the intention of using it solely for meat. I have £6.60 in my purse to last until next Sunday.

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PS This is why eating up the stores is so much fun – my Sunday lunch; GF ciabatta from the freezer, drizzled with garlic oil, topped with the last of the Cornish cheddar, accompanied by carrot batons with the last of my previous jar of chutney and cucumber. Pudding was the last of the packs of finger cakes from last week’s afternoon tea. All raided from the stores but felt very decadent!

PPS: Today, Monday, I have spent £4.40 in the greengrocers and local co-operative. I have £2.20 left.

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Pros and cons

The best thing about living near the high street is the vast array of shops and not having to rely on one supermarket. The worst thing about living near the high street is the vast array of shops and not being able to rely on one supermarket.

            In my past life in Winchester, I would make a weekly pilgrimage to the giant Sainsbury’s nearby. I also knew what to expect, I could plan accordingly and I had to take or leave what was there. Occasionally, I would purchase items from stores in town or the farmer’s market, but most weeks, a single trip to Sainsbury’s was all I needed.

            Imagine my delight when I ventured into my new playground. That’s the best thing about living in a multicultural area, you get to purchase great food! There is also a charity shop every few paces and fantastic independent retailers selling everything under the sun. Stock changes on a daily basis and you’ll never know what’s going to be on offer at the greengrocer’s next. All of this is just a mere stone’s throw away, but that is where the conundrum lies. It’s far too tempting to pop into the shops when essentially, I don’t really need to. Products may be cheaper here, but I still have a budget.

            The first strategy I have employed is to stop carrying money. I had a snack, a water bottle and a fully charged mobile phone in my bag for work – there was no need for cash. This will stop me darting into shops at that perilous time of the day when I’ve just finished a shift and my tummy is rumbling.

            The next technique I plan to try is getting my cash out for the week and when it’s gone, it’s gone! I know several thrifty people who use this idea, and I’m going to try it out myself. That way, I can still enjoy touring the high street a couple of times a week, without overspending.

            It’s the balance of want and need and spend and save that I need to get accustomed to in this new environment. Got any tips? I would love to hear them.

Frugal Fridays #18 – Online Grocery Shopping

I would deem my recent online shop with Asda to have been a success. I stayed within my budget, I selected a range of good value products and everything arrived without a hitch. After this experience, I would say that a large, online shop at the start of each month is beneficial to those of us living a thrifty lifestyle. I’ve compiled a post featuring my top five reasons for this. I do hope someone out there finds it useful.

Efficiency; You get what you need and only what you need. As long as you can resist clicking onto certain sections, the lure of temptation is far less. It’s a lot easier to ignore the siren song of unnecessary products when there are out of sight, compared to being blindingly apparent throughout conventional supermarkets.

Sticking to a budget; When I did my Asda shop, I was pleased to see a running total as I added each item into my electronic trolley. After I factored in the delivery cost, I had a clear view of my budget and how close I was to reaching it with each purchase. It was also easy to remove any items I no longer required, instead of walking across the store to return them.

Comparing items; I always want to get the best deals possible. By seeing the items on screen, I could judge which ones where the best value. I didn’t have to traipse up and down the aisles, squinting to see the £ per kg labels. For me, it also helps that I could see the ingredients list at a glance, rather than scouring the packet for the information I need.

Time-saving; All of the above points help to save time. Now, I’m normally willing to sacrifice a couple of hours to get a good job done. But by having access to all of the information, alongside a running total, my shop took less time than browsing a supermarket with a calculator in hand.

Also, it would have taken me two trips to my local supermarket to buy the same amount of groceries I did online. I don’t drive and I couldn’t physically carry £30 worth of produce. No time was spent travelling to and from the supermarket.

Variety; Like I mentioned, I don’t drive, so I’m somewhat limited to my choice of supermarkets. There is the big Sainsbury’s and . . . well, that’s it in practical walking distance. I could get a bus to get to Waitrose or Tesco, but by the time I’ve paid for a return bus fare, it’s more than the delivery cost from Asda.

By shopping online, I was able to get a variety of products. I’ve mostly relied on Sainsbury’s for the past two years, so it was pleasant to get some different items. I was delighted to see how reasonable Asda’s vast range of Free From products is. I’ve never had gluten-free cous cous before!

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There are, naturally, downsides to online shopping.

  • At Asda, you have to spend a minimum of £25 plus delivery, which is a considerable outlay.
  • You don’t get to browse reduced stock.
  • You don’t get to choose your own loose fruit or veg, so you are reliant on the integrity of the shopper.
  • Substitutions are offered in place of certain unavailable items. I was lucky this week, receiving 4 pints of milk instead of the 2 I ordered. But I have seen this go the other way.

Overall, I think a substantial top-up shop at the beginning of the month is a good idea. It gives you a chance to fill the cupboards with supplies you can fall back on towards the end of the month. Shopping online every week is out of my price range and my needs. I don’t get through £25 groceries every week. But I can see how this would be a valid option for families.

What do you think of online shopping? Yay, or nay?

The art of eating

I’ve been really impressed with the latest series of Food and Drink. It’s the only cookery show extolling the virtues of budget cuisine. And they mean what they say. Not declaring a meal as purse-friendly, and then pulling out crabmeat or sirloin or the like. Too many TV chefs do this, in my opinion. But Food and Drink has been refreshingly different so far this series. For example, guest chef Tom Kerridge served a lamb dish that was accompanied by broccoli stalks. Frugal cookery at its finest.

Later on in Episode 2, Arabella Weir raised an interesting debate about poverty and healthy eating. She made some very matter-of-fact points that I personally agree with. On the other hand, Kerridge came across as out of touch. He said, regardless of budget, we all care about where our food comes from. I’m not making a personal comment when I say that this sounds like the chef has never felt true hunger. If you’re only having one meal of the day, I doubt you give two hoots about where in the world your supper came from. Naturally, we’d all like to make the right choices, but if it’s a decision between dinner on the table or not, there is ultimately one answer. As Arabella argued, what keeps you full for longest at the cheapest price? The sad truth is junk food. But education and knowledge is pivotal, and I think Food and Drink is doing a grand job at providing such information.

One of the best ways, I think, to eat well on a budget is to bulk buy. Thanks to my recent boost of funds, I have ventured down a new path. For the very first time, I’ve completed an online shop. And I must say, it was awfully exciting. ASDA provided some competitive prices where their gluten-free produce was concerned. It was also nice to get some variety after being mostly dependant on Sainsbury’s for these past three years. £30 worth of groceries will be whizzing its way to me on Monday. I shall inform you what I bought and my first experience of online shopping then. It will be wonderful to have the cupboards full once more.

Priorities

After my research last week led me to new realms, such as vegetarianism and veganism, my taste buds were altered. I was experiencing major fruit cravings. The odd apple every so often wasn’t enough to quench my appetite. I needed a serious fruit kick.

I took some of my precious allowance to the produce section of the supermarket and filled my basket. Over the past week, I’ve dramatically increased my fresh fruit intake and my body has responded wonderfully. I have more energy and more readiness to go outside to run. My skin doesn’t look as pale as it once did. And after a day where fruit featured heavily, I felt satiated. This was something I had previously been struggling with; never quite feeling full.

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I spent most of January surviving on whatever was cheap at the supermarket. I can see now that I wasn’t getting enough nutrients to remain healthy. I can’t go back to that, not after feeling such benefits. So, I’ve made a decision about increasing my budget. Dramatically. I have doubled my monthly budget to £200.

Of course, this will mean I won’t have a stash available to me after Uni. But, there will still be some left over. And I’ve realised that living now, and living healthily now, is a matter of high importance. My health should come before trying to save money. However, I’m not going to use my increased funds as an excuse to not be frugal. I’m still going to be hunting for bargains to the best of my ability. And this money is marked for fresh, healthy food. Not extras, like books and unnecessary clothes.

£50 a week is the sum I used to live on during first year. It feels apt that my finances have come full circle in this, my final semester at University. The relief I feel confirms to me that this is the right choice.

Money maths

For my final day at work experience, I was able to attend BETT 2014 in London. This is a national show held at the ExCel centre, which showcases technology in education. As the company I was working for publish e-books, we visited to suss out what is up and coming in this particular sector. I’m afraid I have no picture to share from the event. There wasn’t much time to spare! And also, my camera is still broken, so a bit of an embarrassment in public. I did snap a pic of my badge, which proves my attendance. I tell you, wearing this all day made me feel very much like a proper adult. The show was a wonderful opportunity to see the entire realm of educational publishing. I’m so grateful I had the chance to go.

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But alas, train travel to London Waterloo and back was not cheap. I flinched when the ticket man told me the total price. It was a worthy investment, no doubt about that. But February’s budget was in dire need of fixing.

I had already taken £20 out to cope with January, meaning before London, I had £80 set for February. But then came my £28 train ticket, along with a coffee out on the day itself, costing £2. So that left me with £50 in total. Or so I thought. I had forgotten the shopping spree I had on Thursday. I spent £10 on some washing up supplies, reduced gluten-free bread (wasn’t going to let that pass me by!) and other such foodstuffs. So, in fact, I had £40 left for the month of February. This was going to take some seriously planning.

I have a decent amount of stock in my cupboards at the moment though, so I knew my shopping budget wasn’t going to be large. After calculating the rest of my outgoings, I had £4 left for food for the month. I know how to be frugal, but I can’t work miracles! So I’ve moved £10 from March’s budget, giving me £14 for the month. I’m very aware that I’m spending March’s funds in what is still technically January, but needs must. It will all balance out in the end.

To give myself a decent £10 food shop mid-Feb, I took the £4 and the change in my purse off to Sainsbury’s this morning. This is what I came back with:

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Only the essentials for this shopping trip. The biggest treat was spending an extra 20p on proper syrup instead of jam. I much prefer golden syrup on my morning porridge.

Things are tight this month, but I think they will be for all of the months left ahead. The best I can do is to keep trying and keep focusing on my ultimate goal. When I have that in mind, there is no hardship to be found anywhere.

Frugal Fridays #17: Grocery shopping tip

No matter how much I squeezed it, the five pound note in my purse was only going to stretch so far. I did the normal scramble around my room in search of loose change, but as I’m always prudent with my money, this only yielded 20p. Then, I remembered Belle, of Beauty and the Beast fame.

In our first semester in this house, contributions were added to the Belle-shaped moneybox to purchase household items. Now we have a new system whereby each of us is responsible for a different item. My job, for example, is to maintain supplies of washing up liquid and sponges.

“Is there any money left in Belle?” I asked my house mate.

“No idea, no one’s checked for ages,” said she. “Have a look.”

The content of the moneybox was £1.20, all in silver and copper coins.

“Oh, that’s not real money.” The housemate said with a sigh.

“Do you mind if I have it then?”

Yes, it was cheeky, but if you don’t ask than you don’t get. And I do assist the household by buying washing up supplies. So my budget for my food shop soared to £6.40! I spent a grand total of £6.23 in the end and here’s what I got:

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I went into Sainsbury’s armed with a list, like I normally do. Next to each item is the corresponding price. That way, I have a rough idea of how much my grocery bill will be. But this trip, each time I made a saving on an item, I made a note of it. For example, I had written down 20p for onions, but they only came to 12p – 8p saved. They totted up as I was going round the shop. I had 90p allocated to buy butter, so when I saw the reduced posh Lurpak butter for 99p, I knew I could afford it because of the savings I made elsewhere. I’m sure most of you shop in this manner already, but it really did help me to stick to my budget, so I thought I’d share my new found knowledge.

It felt very satisfactory knowing that I was getting the most from each penny. Even the kind checkout lady commented on the amount of products I had managed to buy. It did feel good carrying home my heavy shopping bags, filled with my lovely bargains. I do believe I’ve caught the frugal living bug good and proper.