Not buying the cook book – step one of not buying it in 2014

Most of us, even those of us who don’t make resolutions at the beginning of the year are looking to find ways to cut back on spending at this time of year. For some of us it is because we spent a lot at Christmas,  for others it is because we are facing higher fuel bill and the last few winters have been very cold.

My cook book collection

I am cutting back for two reasons, I want to save up for more holidays and short breaks, and I want an uncluttered home. I am in the process of re reading Not Buying It and planning to incorporate some of the principles into my life. I am continuing my mission to clear the clutter in my house and mind. I have also been inspired by Team Pugh, the guys behind A Year Without Supermarkets, who plan that 2014 is their Year with Less and will be following their progress with interest. The first rule of decluttering, for me, is to stop bringing more stuff into the house. I am hoping that by not buying things I do not need will not only save me money but also reduce the amount of stuff crap we seem to have accumulated over 30 odd years.

I think I passed my first test of temptation earlier this week when I popped into a local supermarket. Those of you who read my posts will know that I am not a big fan of supermarkets, especially the ones who offer bogofs and other such marketing ploy that tempt you to buy things you really did not plan to buy or more than you need. And it is so easy to get sucked into the lair, with jolly background music, amazing offers at the end of every aisle and heavy discounts on my weakness, books. This week I had to visit the big green supermarket to return an unsuitable Christmas gift, and as I did not have a receipt  I was refunded via their store card. I decided there and then that this was going to be my only visit in 2014 so I would need to spend the £5 today. I was also very keen to avoid making another trip there in the car, hunting for a parking space and negotiating zombie like shoppers mindlessly filling up oversized trolleys with food and bargains and stuff. So I had a mindless wonder around the shelves (a rooky mistake, no list) and then I saw it. It was a cookery book that had been recommended, and it was reduced from £14.99 to £5. Bargain! And somehow it found its way into my basket and before I knew it I was heading to the tills, giddy with the notion that I had bagged myself a bargain.

Just in time I remembered where I was and realised that I had fallen under the retail spell. I then gave myself a good talking to reminding myself that I had reduced my hoard of books at home by about 50% in 2013. And I really did not need another cook book. And I put it back. I did manage to spend the £5 (on some rather good wine from New Zealand) and now I have no reason to shop there again. Later today I am going to the Birmingham Markets, to see if it is cheaper to shop there than the discount supermarket I usually buy most of my food from. The Super Six fruit and veg offers are good value but I am finding it a struggle to get through a kilo of carrots or sprouts (made soup, frozen the sprouts) especially now we don’t have the chickens who used to get a lot of the excess veg.

Join me on the Not Buying It journey and see how I get on.

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.