Cooking on a budget. Or, do you buy economy?
I read with interest posts by both Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Ren at Fabulious Food about a cake off. The same recipe, baked in exactly the same way but using ingredients from differently priced supermarkets. The idea came from Vanessa, who posed the question of whether more expensive ingredients make for a better tasting cake. The results were interesting so please do pop over and see which supermarket came in first place, you may be surprised.
We’re on a tight budget. Our weekly grocery shop is usually around £60-£70 but that has to include all the household ‘stuff’as well as food. It can be hard but we don’t go without. Mainly because a lot of the things that we buy are from the economy ranges.
There used to be quite a large stigma attached to buying the economy, or basic, ranges but that is lessening all the time. Certainly both Morrisons and Tesco have revamped and repackaged their economy ranges, perhaps to step away from that stigma and encourage the already increasing sales.
For ingredients such as flour I see little point in buying anything but economy unless you need one of the speciality ranges. The price difference is really quite significant – 52p for 1.5kg on economy compared to up to £1.99 for branded, often for only 1kg.
And does a more expensive ingredient really make that much difference? Certainly in some cases it does but take digestive biscuits bashed up for a cheesecake base. Does it really matter if you spent 30p on a pack or closer to a pound? I can’t taste any difference and I think even the pickiest of eater would be hard pushed to do the same.
I mainly shop at Sainsbury’s and can vouch for a lot of their range, though I have also found fantastic products in other supermarkets. It is trial and error and of course some items do turn out to be a false economy through either having to use more or just not delivering on taste but on the whole we are satisfied.
Of course shopping and cooking on a budget has more to it than just buying economy or cheaper ranges. Here are my tips to getting the most for your money.
Shop around if you can. I pick up a lot of things from discount stores such as B&M, Home Bargains and Poundland. They all carry branded items and the price differences can be substantial
I tend to bake with Stork or the supermarket equivalent. Unless it’s a recipe that calls for a real butter taste, such as shortbread, then you’re unlikely to notice a difference. Butter is expensive, baking doesn’t have to be.
Check out your local market. I buy my herbs, spices and dried fruit from a fantastic stall at a very much lower price. There’s also an abundance of fruit and veg stalls, all trying to grab your business and offering £1 bowls.
We eat quite a few vegetarian dishes as we prefer to buy less meat but better quality. Again, our local market has some great buys and the farmers market is even better.
One of the few things that I won’t compromise on is eggs. I will only buy free range but the supermarket prices do make me hesitate sometimes, especially as we get through rather a lot each week. However, at the market (again, it really is a great place to pick up some bargains) I can buy a dozen large free range eggs for £1.90.
Use your leftovers. It can be tempting to leave leftovers hanging around in the fridge until you end up throwing them out anyway. Get creative. Turn them into something else. I used up some leftover shepard’s pie to make some rather yummy Hot Water Crust pies. Blitz those last couple of slices of bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs and pop them in the freezer.
Check those offers. Are you really getting a bargain? Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy two of a smaller size than one larger item even on offer. Would you be better splitting an offer with a friend? And if you have time, check out the reduced section in supermarkets. You can make some substantial savings, especially near closing time, and a lot of things can be chucked in the freezer for another day.
A lot of people find meal planning helps keep them on track, I don’t personally but that’s just me. You can find lots of meal planning inspiration over at Mrs M’s weekly meal planning linky. Michelle from Utterly Scrummy also does a fantastic weekly meal plan post with costs too.
There’s so much more you can do to make the pennies stretch that little bit further. How about you? What works for you? Do you use economy ranges? What do you think?