The April Shopping Challenge

Following on from my post yesterday, about living on a low budget, here is my spend today. All bought in Aldi. I am going to make toad in the hole, working out at £1.11 per portion including mashed potatoes and vegetables and baked beans. This again takes me over the £1 Live Below the Line budget so I can see that I need to some serious re thinking if I decide to take on that challenge.

 £       0.18 potatoes  £          1.99
broccoli  £          0.49
 £       0.31 baked beans  £          1.25
 £       0.33 Sausages  £          1.99
toothpaste  £          0.69
toilet cleaner  £          0.85
Handwash  £          0.75
 £          8.01

After all the comments about how IDS can live on £53 per week (not if he eats a £39 breakfast, he can’t) I am continuing to track my spending for a month. I am also using ingredients from my store cupboard and discovering what lurks in the freezer, and costing out all meals. At the end of April I should have a pretty good picture as to what it actually costs to feed 3 adults and to keep a house relatively clean. If we eat out, I will also add that to the spend.

And because I rant on all the time about how shopping locally is the only way to keep what is left of our high street alive, I am only using shops withing walking distance of my home. Which means shopping only in Bearwood.

Bearwood is in Smethwick, predominately in the Abbey Ward of Sandwell. It is bordered on three sides by the Harborne Ward in Birmingham. The high street like many others has a number of empty shops.  Arguably, a major contribution to the decline of this particular high street was when Morrisons took over and then closed the Safeway store, in which the post office was located, so we lost a post office as well as a large supermarket. For quite a while the lot stood vacant. Eventually Aldi and Argos took over the space and bit by bit some shoppers returned. Yet shopping habits had changed, a big retail park including a new indoor market and a huge Asda had opened at Cape Hill, and Bearwood really was never the same.

Shopping locally has it challenges due to lack of good independents or a market selling fresh produce. Bearwood has numerous charity shops, a handful of pawnbrokers and betting shops. Poundland wanted the prime space that was occupied by a green grocer and the big boys won so we lost that too. In addition to Aldi, Bearwood has a small Co Op (limited range and quite expensive), a Tesco Express at the other end of the high street and an Iceland. There are 4 butchers, yet not one supplies organic or free range meat.

International Food and Atlantic Grocers are independents that migrants have opened and are gems for ethnic food and some vegetables. Two African/Caribbean shops have also recently opened, again selling items not found in most supermarkets. There are no independent bakers, Firkins has just closed which leaves us Greggs if we want anything approaching fresh bread.

About a year ago I took part in the 4 week Shopping in Bearwood Challenge, an inspired experiment of one of the founding members of The Bearwood Pantry. We were all involved in the Portas Pilot bid and we took part, as an evidence base to find out what the local high street needed and what it already had. It was a useful and interesting experiment that led to the formation of a food cooperative, Bearwood Pantry who source meat and vegetables direct from the farm and handmade bread from Ubuntu. Membership has grown, they have recently received a pot of funding, which is marvelous news. And perhaps this is the future for people who want good quality food and want to avoid the supermarkets.

Through the Portas Pilot bid I got in touch with some of the other towns going through the process, one of which was Warwick and started to follow @WarwickTweetUp on Twitter. This week I discovered that Todd who is @WarwickTweetUp  is carrying out a similar challenge, Todd Buys Local in April. His experience in Warwick will be different to shopping in Bearwood I am sure. Nonetheless an interesting one that I will follow. His is more about what he can source in Warwick and not about how much one spends to live in the UK today. Warwick also seems that have lot of lovely independents and some good coffee shops. And a decent pub.

Coffee shops (and pubs) are a blog subject for another day. However, if you want to trawl back over past posts you will see I have written about coffee shops too. Well once you have had Melbourne coffee, the bar is set high and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

Live Below the Line Lentils

Day 3 of Live below the Line Week started really well. I made a lentil curry. Using fresh vegetables and lentils and coconut mil from a local independent store this was a very cheap and nutritious meal. It was also really tasty. I am not a vegetarian and I don’t think I ever will be, yet, having no meat days is a the way to eat well on a low budget.

I ate a lot of vegetarian food when I was a volunteer at Lentil as Anything in St Kilda, Melbourne. I really enjoyed my time working there, they are a great team and the philosophy of this social enterprise is amazing. There are no prices on the menu. Instead customers are invited to give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to donate to the philosophy.

The food there is so tasty and filling, you do not miss meat. I had one customer, who had never eaten in a vegetarian cafe before. He was a retried man from Yorkshire. Now Yorkshire men are weaned on roast beef! If there is no meat on the plate, it isn’t considered a meal. Needless to say he loved his Moroccan Hot Pot. He was cool guy actually, taken early retirement and was visiting his children who lived in the USA, Melbourne and New Zealand. Living life not watching it from afar.

Working there had inspired me to make more vegetarian meals. this was from a Weight Watchers cook book and the ingredients were very cheap.

Lentils £0.80 as used half a bag

Coconut milk £0.25 as use 1/4 of a tin

Carrots (6) £0.18

Potato (1) £0.06

Onion (3) £0.09

Curry Powder £0.10

Garlic £0.03

Organic Vegetable stock £0.10

Total £1.60 and it made 5 lunches so that is about 32p per portion. I had egg on toast for breakfast. Home made bread and an egg from my chickens comes to about 10p.

So far so good. I can live below the line if I eat like this. Only 42p of the £1 allowance per day gone and I have had two meals.

So here comes the #fail. I went out that evening to a Social Media Surgery. I also had to go to the Apple Store to fix a problem on my iPad, so I was in Birmingham most of the afternoon and evening. I was hungry. I bought a pasty from Gregg’s at 91p. One pasty and that would break the budget for those living below the line.

It doesn’t stop there. A friend had come to the surgery and we had arranged to eat out and try out beer at a pub I had been recommended. Dinner at Bodega was £10 and the real ale at the wonderful Post Office Vaults was £3.40.

Definitely went over the budget then. I don’t regret the money spent on a really good meal at Bodega, but the 91p for a vegetable pasty, I do. For those who have to live on a limited budget in the UK every day, a 91p pasty may seem a cheap and filling option.

Learning to cook is one of the most important life skills. Headlines like this Our Hidden Poor and the growing number of food banks is worrying and are not a solution. They are a band aid. I hope that those taking part in Live Below the Line will continue to consider the cost of the food on their plate, reduce waste and whenever they can, share cooking and shopping skills to help those who live below the line, not from choice for 5 days but from necessity. Every day.