The £53 test results are in!

At the beginning of April I decided to track our spending for the month. Like many others I was pretty angry after Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 per week ‘if he had to’. Lots of other people did the experiment for a week, journos mainly, to sell papers. They boasted how they blagged meals from friends and relatives to make ends meet and how tough it was not to have a pint after work. They didn’t do it for a month, or take into account all the other things most of us have to pay for, such as heat, light, council tax, rent or a mortgage. I did, and I kept a record for 30 days.

I also pledged to buy local for all my groceries. I don’t have access to a car most of the week, I therefore walk to my local high street, buying only what I can carry. I like to support independent traders yet as we do not have a green grocers, I buy most of my vegetables from the Aldi Super 6 to keep down costs.

Sad person that I am I entered everything we spent on food, pet food (we have two cats and two chickens) toiletries, cleaning products, fuel for the car, clothes and incidentals such as the overwhelming need my husband had for a new sat nav!

This was not an experiment to see if it was possible to live on £53 a week. I just wanted to see what we spent and on what.

On food shopping (excluding any eating out but including the traditional Friday chips) I spent £290. That works out at £3.23 per person per day for three adults. I haven’t factored in that I have also been providing half board for the French Student for 16 days, that sometimes The Lodger eats with us (once or twice a week), my daughter was here for a weekend and that the Bulgarian Student joined us in homemade pizza night once this month. I could go back to my spread sheet and do the math but I am not that sad. A guesstimate therefore is that the average spend on food per person is £2.70 per day.


Our other essentials, such as mortgage, bills, and diesel for the car I calculated at £170. Pet food is £30. There were other bits and bobs I bought such as some pillows, a jug and some weighing scales, the sat nav and some clothes totalling £30. All in all my rounded up figure for April is £510. For 3 people that is just under £170 per week per person. And I have just realised that I haven’t counted the big spend last weekend on going to the cinema, lunch afterwards and the take out curry! 

It seems that this family cannot live on £53 per week. Taking out the spending on luxuries such as the sat nav, clothes and the bits and bobs reduces living costs to £116. We would have to drastically change our eating habits, not have an open fire, turn off the heating and lose the cable and internet if, like IDS, we had to. 

I consider myself lucky, I don’t have to. I hope I never will have to. This blog by A Girl Called Jack was recommended to me. Read it. Have some tissues ready. And count your blessings.

The April Shopping Challenge Continues

 Shopping List for Friday 5 April

Friday is chippy day in this household. Sometimes we have fish, occasionally a kebab, but today as we have a guest joining us for supper I have pushed the boat out and treated ourselves to some steak. This does push up the food spend significantly, however it is actually cheaper than buying the fish or a kebab. And possibly much healthier. I fancied some mushrooms with the steak, and these are quite expensive vegetables. The steak was bought from a local independent butcher, Dave Patrick. Everything else I got from Aldi. The milk is cheap here and I do have concerns that the cheap prices mean that farmers are not getting a fair price, yet Aldi state that they have increased what they pay to their suppliers. Also much of their produce is British. So I am shopping locally and buying British. Tick. Tick. And used one independent butcher. Tick.

4 pints milk  £          1.00
Still Water (12*5 ml  £          1.99
Refuse sacks  £          1.49
 £       0.33 3 large flat mushrooms  £          0.99
 £       2.49 3 Hip bone steaks  £          7.47
 £        12.94

Cost of the chips

We usually use a local chippy, the Thimblemill Fish Bar or Chamberlains although they don’t sell Pukka pies. If I had been thinking, I could have bought the pie from the butchers and saved a bit of money. I am using this price list as a guide to the cost of the chips etc.

Keeping it local

Using a local independent chip shop, and not sure who it will be yet, one is within walking distance the other is on the way home from work for my husband. Either way we are not making an additional car journey to buy the chips, so while not keeping with the totally locally ethos, Chamberlains is relatively local. I am going to give my self a big tick there then, too.

So what is the damage today?

Breakfast was a banana 16p. I have not even had a cup of tea as I have been drinking water or hot lemon with honey since I have had this cold flu.

Lunch was one slice of bread with some beans, cheese and scrambled eggs. Beans were left over from dinner last night, the cheese was the last of some I found lurking in the fridge and the eggs were from the chooks. I am guessing the total cost of lunch was 35p.

Am I staying within the challenge amount?

So far my food total is 51p and I have had some water at 17p a bottle which is a bit of a luxury. The truth is I could drink water from the tap but the water in Birmingham has fluoride and I try to avoid it.

At 68p so far I am within the Live Below the Line £1 a day so far, yet I know supper tonight will take me way above this.

 Chips  £          1.20
mushroom  £          0.33
onion  £          0.03
 steak  £          2.49
 ketchup  £          0.01
 £               –  £          4.06

Total food spend today is £4.74 and as it is Friday I suspect the OH will bring some drinkies too. Beer and some wine, which will add to the total spend today.

Is this all you are spending you may ask?

Since noting down all my spending it certainly makes me think twice before buying. I make a list and stick to it. Not always a good thing as I failed to buy a pie at the butcher so losing out on a saving there. However, I looked at some seeds for the garden, and even got tempted by one of the weirder offers you get in Aldi, a branch lopper, but if they are not on the list they don’t get bought.

We have a white board in the kitchen and all the family have to write things on the board as we run out so this is always checked before a shop. And because I am a control freak,  I have also written ‘we don’t buy things just because they are on offer‘ as a reminder to those shoppers who bring back things we don’t need. The spend so far has been just over £27 for food and other sundries for a family of three. I think  it has been a low spending week, which is why I will do this for all of April to see how it averages out, and I need to check what the OH has spent on fuel for the car or snacks.

What about waste?

I love food and hate waste. Today it grieved me to discover that some of the bread in the bread bin had gone mouldy. This was some nasty white sliced bread. That has gone to the birds. The lovely Ubuntu bread was intact so my poor son was forced to eat handmade rather than plastic bread for lunch. It’s a hard life. It is also interesting that this bread had gone mouldy, despite all those nasty additives and the handmade loaf has not.

I also found some peppers in the fridge that had gone mouldy, and some apples are a bit soft too. We have a compost heap and chickens, so the apples go to the chickens and the peppers on the compost. I would rather not be throwing any of it away so will continue to monitor any such waste. I think it was stuff bought without a meal plan, or perhaps they were on offer, yet now they are waste. Having a house of sick people for three weeks has had an impact on meal planning and shopping. Yet is money spent on food that has not gone into our bellies and that is wrong. I am hoping the message on the white board will stop this. I am certain that blogging about what I spend and cook has made me more aware of shopping frugally and only buying what I need.

I also had an impulse purchase of some fennel and celeriac at the MAC market last Sunday and have yet to use them. They were not cheap and I really don’t want them on the compost. I think I will make some soup with them, and maybe some celeriac mash for Sunday lunch. Any other suggestions how to prepare these lovely vegetables would be very welcome. So please post them in the comments, together with any other tips on how to eat well on a budget.

The IDS challenge aka ‘I can live on £53 a week if I had to’

There has been a lot of chatter via social media about Ian Duncan Smith claiming he could live on £53 a week. The ‘if I had to’ throw away phrase was the sting in the tail of course and now many thousands have signed a petition requesting that IDS does indeed try and live on such a small amount. Like IDS I too have lived on benefits, in one case for a whole year my family of then two adults and two children lived on income support. There were times I had to choose between heat and eat and I recall breaking down in tears when the school refused to give my child a free school dinner as I had’t got the right letter from the DHSS. So yes, I have been there and got the tee shirt.

I also follow a lot of foodie blogs and love the ones where people are only buying British goods or are avoiding supermarkets and/or shopping locally, as that is what I endeavour to do. This is one of my favourites A Year Without Supermarkets but there are others just as good. The Pugh family have not only challenged themselves to not shop at supermarkets but have limited themselves to £50 a week to feed two adults and one toddler, and cleaning items and nappies are included in the budget. Which makes the IDS challenge seem doable. The Pugh family do seem to have a lot of lovely local shops and markets to buy good quality food from on a budget and I have the limited choice that Bearwood offers and no lovely market to visit to banter and barter. I guess I could bus it to the markets in Birmingham which would give me access to a wider range of affordable food but this would add £3.90 to my expenses, so it has to bought locally.

I truly believe if we are to save what is left of our local high street we have to stop getting in to our cars and driving to the big supermarkets and filling our trolleys with BOGOF deals. We had no intention of buying two pizzas when we planned our trip so probably didn’t need them. The supermarket encourages to super size our purchases and get two chickens for a fiver and buy more than we can eat (or afford) so we will then probably end up throwing food away as it goes past the sell by date.

If we use the power of two feet, buy local and only what we can carry we may keep our butcher open. It seems it is too late for the baker and the green grocer in my particular high street, but there are a couple of independent shops, opened by entrepreneurial migrants that do sell some veggies so I have started to use them more. One lovely man gave me a chilli for nothing as I only wanted one for the soup I was making. Now this may not be the way to get rich, but now I use him nearly every day as he sells items not found in the chains. I am still on a limited budget so will always go for the Aldi super 6, a weekly choice of good value fruit and veg. Aldi are superstars in my humble opinion because they are loss leading on healthy food unlike the big 5 who seem to always run offers on fizzy drinks, alcohol or pizza. I also have very little food waste. Veg goes on the compost or feeds my chooks. Never have meat waste as I only every buy what I need that day and cook it. Leftovers are tomorrows lunch.

So where is this meandering going? After reading about the Pugh family and their £50 budget I began to wonder what I actually spent on food and household goods. So for April I am noting down every penny I spend, will only buy from a store I can walk to, and that will include supermarkets. I am time rich, so can shop around and find the best deal, but cash poor so have to spend wisely. I am breaking down the cost of my meals so I can have an accurate record of the amount this family needs to live on. We do have a reasonable good store cupboard (including herbs from a local grower) and lots of passata as Aldi keeps running out (no surprise as it is 29p in Aldi and 69p in the Co Op) so I stocked up on it when they had it.I also have a freezer full of….well I don’t actually know exactly, but I am raiding this as part of the plan.

I am also interested in the Live Below the Line challenge which I blogged about last year.The IDS challenge will help me decide whether I will officially join the campaign this year. I have my misgivings, as I really struggle with the suggested menu of plastic bread and value sausages. It is meant to raise awareness of what it is like to live on a limited budget of equivalent of a pound per day per person, yet I think it misses a trick as it could be about how to live healthily on a pound a day by avoiding the supermarkets and buying fresh locally produced food.

Anyway down to the nitty gritty and the spending. The challenge started on April 2nd and this is what I have spent so far. All Aldi.

per unit Item 02/04/2013 03/04/2013
Chopped Tomatoes  £          0.31  £               –
0.155 Bananas  £          0.93
0.049 Carrotts  £          0.49
0.07 Onions  £          0.49
butter  £          0.98
pizza  £          0.99
cat food  £          2.39
 £          6.58

Dinner on Tuesday was left overs from Sunday lunch. I bought a small piece of beef from Dave Patrick which provided dinner for three on Sunday and leftovers for two on Tuesday. Left over veg, all Aldi, so I reckon with the beef at just over £4 and the veg costing about £1 (potatoes, cauli broccoli and leeks) a cheese sauce, home made gravy and yorkies made with eggs from my chooks,a guestimate is that for under £7 I got five meals. £1.40 per person. Well above the LBL £1 a day but still good value.

Dinner today is chicken I found lurking in the freezer, the veg I bought yesterday with some herbs and a tin of tomatoes. Again a guestimate as I can’t say what the chicken cost as it was bought from a halal butcher (as we host students from all over the world) but never got used. I will say £5 for the chicken, 2 onions and 4 carrots, 19p and 31p for the tomatoes. Herbs, all from Andrew’s Plants and a stock cube. In the slow cooker with a left over potato I found hiding in the fridge. I will probably add some pasta, say another 10p as it is 29p for 500g in Aldi. For a generous £6 for I hope for 6 meals. Again above the LBL budget but withing the IDS budget. It is all cooking in the slow cooker so I am saving on fuel too.

So what about other meals, as this is not just about having one meal a day.

So far this week lunch for the boy child has been left over lasagna made last Saturday. One huge one has made 6 meals so far (one portion left) and I guess it cost about £5 to make, so about 72p per generous portion.The OH has had homemade soup made with all the left over veggies from last week at about 30p per portion and bread from Ubuntu who had a stall of hand made bread at the MAC market on Sunday. I also bought  quite a few of his hot cross buns which has been my staple food all week, together with a gift of homemade cake. I have been ill for 2 weeks now, so comfort food it is all the way. Breakfast for the two men is cereal. Need to cost that up. For me it has been hot lemon and honey drinks. Did I say I have been ill?

I haven’t planned tomorrows food yet. I have a lot of store cupboard items such as lentils, rice and pasta, and lots of veg. I may have some mutton mince in the freezer so watch this space.

What are your favourite meals, that cost very little? I need inspiration so please share.