Necessary budgeting

Like many of you we’ve been increasingly having to juggle our finances as the cost of living increases, pay freezes continue to bite and in addition I’ve had a huge cut in salary since I got made redundant in February.  I was fortunate enough to get another job within days but my hours are a lot less than the previous job. We are already very careful with money –  cautious with the heating, don’t use a tumble dryer, have replaced windows and our front door, share one car which neither of us use to commute to work and don’t go out very often, etc etc so don’t have many areas we can cut back on.

One extravagence that we have is that all 3 of us have gym memberships but for both my husband and I exercise is helping us overcome injuries and without the monthly gym fee individual classes would be a lot more expensive.  After my knee injury in December 2009 my mobility has massively improved in the past two years that I’ve been going to the gym and I go most days. I haven’t had to use a walking stick for 2 years and recently started running again and also cycling which is a significant improvement so we both decided that the gym memberships were essential for us.

Having 4 animals isn’t cheap but again I source their food as cheaply as I can and my dog Oscar is a blood donor at the vets so we get his annual injections free of charge. I groom him myself which saves a lot.  I am also a firm believer that you get an animal for life, so even though money is tight at the moment, I would never consider re-homing our pets unless things got really bad and we’re nowhere near there yet.

So I had to look to our food budget in order to save some money. I use a separate bank account for food and the money is transferred on the 1st of the month so it’s pretty easy for me to keep track of our budget.  Both myself and our daughter are vegetarian and my husband doesn’t eat a lot of meat so straight away that probably saves us money compared to others but I wanted to reduce the actual amount we were spending every month. I was already shopping in the discount supermarkets and often cooked in bulk and froze meals to use fresh ingredients up but still thought that there was room for improvement.

My husband, when bored whilst recovering from his Discetomy surgery went through our kitchen cupboards and freezer, organising and sorting which made us realise just what we already had in ‘stock’ so to speak so I’m aiming to use these things up rather than keep buying more of the same.

And then I found A Girl Called Jack.  I started off by reading her blog from start to finish and really admire her strength and determination to improve her situation for both herself and her son.  Her recipes are born out the necessity to feed herself as cheaply as possible but are healthy and very tasty. They are priced up per single portion and everyone that we’ve tried so far has been gorgeous. We’ve enjoyed Mumma Jacks Best Ever Chilli, Courgette Sultana and Lemon Bread (very nice toasted), Chocolate Tea Bread (again nice toasted and I prefer to make it with plain bread flour. I slice it up and freeze. DD likes it spread with Nutella.), Jardaloo Ma Murghi (apricot curry), Mixed Bean Goulash and Carrot Cumin & Kidney Burgers (I make these Slimming World friendly by leaving out the flour).   I also have some Courgette, Tomato & Philadelphia Gratin (I didn’t have any Brie) in the freezer.

Where as previous attempts at meal planning involved us all choosing favourite meals and shopping accordingly, this time I’ve been planning our meals around whatever fresh ingredients we have in the fridge – hence the Gratin in the freezer as I was trying to use up some reduced price courgettes before they went off.

I’ve also been making a note of food prices and was shocked by the differences charged between supermarkets for the same item – I always looked at own brands for comparison.  Now I aim to shop at a number of different shops and always use MySupermarket to check prices but unfortunately the discount supermarkets aren’t listed at the moment. I’ve been planning shopping trips around other things so I don’t waste fuel or time.  Staple items that we use all the time are logged on a spreadsheet with prices so I know to stock up on kidney beans if I’m going near Sainsburys for example as Morrisons is 6p a tin more expensive which adds up over the month as we use a lot of them.  Or that a 500g pack of red lentils is 69p in Homebargains but £1.28 in ASDA so I make sure to buy more at Homebargains (which I visit twice a month) before I run out.

So in May 2013 by employing the above methods I managed to save 10% on our food bill. In addition out of the food budget I bought a foodie gift for a friend and stocked up the cupboards with tinned foods at the end of the month; whereas normally we have almost run out of money by the end of the month and have some ‘odd’ meals.  Plus I have to do a big shop as soon as the following months money hits the account. I haven’t had to do that so far and am hoping to save more money in June…

What are you doing to cope with rising prices?  Have you got any more tips?