The Tesco Footprint

When large retail is valued higher than the arts by a local council, the electorate need to start to think about how they use their vote. Market traders, family run businesses will all feel the impact by the bogof culture that Tesco brings, contributing to food waste and more plastic bags fluttering in the trees.

travellingcoral

I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here.  The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.

The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tescovanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is…

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The Tesco Footprint

I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here.  The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.

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The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tesco vanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is also adjacent to The Public which when built caused much controversy as it was bringing art to a community who wanted a cinema and a swimming pool.  West Bromwich didn’t want art. It seems the council doesn’t either. Indeed one of my tweets about the matter was

@_the_public @tom_watson sandwell doesn’ t value the arts, it might create aspiration

I may have been a little bit harsh. Or I may have hit the nail on the head. Either way the reaction to the announcement of its closure has made the local MP wade in

News: MP Tom Watson calls on council to find solution for The Public http://bit.ly/148pJG0  #Sandwell

And this from The Leader of the Council http://sandwellleader.org/

After a lot of hard work, a change of management and apparently a 30k subsidy per week (what can that be spent on?) Sandwell Council have now said they will not subsidise The Public after November 2013. The Public struggled to get visitors in the past, and one of the main reasons was that it had very little footfall due to its location. It introduced a range of activities for the whole community, including Tea Dances, a film club, some unique exhibitions and has featured work by Tracy Emin. It has a cafe which on the day I was there was full of people of all ages.

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Footfall is no longer an issue as it is now on New Square opposite the cinema, coffee shops and restaurants. After years of subsidy, it is now the council want to close it and turn it into a sixth form centre. This makes no sense to me and many others, finally The Public is bang in the centre of a well marketed ‘entertainment destination’. A multi million pound investment has been made in West Bromwich for Sandwell College, so why do they need to convert The Public into a sixth form?

That aside, this new development has effectively shifted the town centre to gravitate around New Square which is good for The Public yet look at this Tesco footprint.

Tesco footprint

Like many high streets West Bromwich has its fair share of empty shops. It also has a thriving indoor and outdoor market, most of which are run by independent family businesses. What impact will Tesco and the other multiples have on them? There is some refurbishment work going on in the pedestrianised part of the high street and in one of the older shopping centres, Queens Square. Only time will tell if Tesco rips the heart out of this high street and community too.

I don’t like big supermarkets for a number of reasons, and while I would like to avoid them completely, it is not really a viable option for me when I can only buy what I can carry and within walking distance. I have touched on my shopping preferences here in my April Shopping Challenge post.

Supermarkets appear to be cheap yet with the bogof offers and bulk buys most people are buying more than they really need which leads to food waste. They are designed to tempt the consumer to buy things they don’t really need, and spend money they can ill afford.(Sandwell has high levels of deprivation, unemployment and a high proportion of NEETS).

Talking to the local butcher, who after the last veg shop in Bearwood closed down was forced out by an unscruplious landlord who had their palms crossed by a multiple who sells every thing for a £1, has been very enterprising and started to offer a range of loose fresh veg, I asked him how sales were going. Customers have complained that his prices are too high. They would rather go to Iceland and get a bag of carrots for a quid than buy three from him for 40p. Then he added, ‘what they haven’t thought is that they will end up throwing away most of the bag as they have gone off’. Of course they will. It is false economy buying veg  in bulk if you are not going to cook it in a couple of days. Carrots that have been shipped across the county then wrapped in sweaty plastic bags that will go to landfill, will go off quite quickly so they need to be used within a couple of days.  I do by bags from Aldi as that kilo of carrots will be in at least two meals, a soup and a breakfast juice. If they go past their best, and to be honest when we had the heat wave it was a battle to keep anything fresh, I have a compost heap, so eventually it will go back into the land, and a chicken who will eat most other stuff. New potatoes are dinner one night and potato salad the next. Cabbage and carrots are made into coleslaw and a stirfry.

As Team Pugh at  A Year without Supermarkets have found they have saved huge amounts of money and have almost no waste by only shopping at independents and cooking from scratch. The bulk of my shopping is done at Aldi because it has what I want at the price I can afford. It doesn’t have bogof offers that tempt me to buy more than I need and the quality is good. Each week it has the Super 6, offering seasonal fruit and veg, unlike other chains that seem to have offers on  fizzy drinks and fast food, hardly encouraging healthy choices. I don’t need to buy 2 for £5 scrawny pumped full chemicals chickens from Tesco as I can buy a Free Range chicken from Aldi for £5 and stretch it over 3 meals.

Of course Sandwell Council are over excited at having a shiny New Square in the ‘capital’ of Sandwell. Creating oh so many jobs. Of course most of the jobs will be minimum wage or Zero Hours contracts, and what will happen to the staff who will lose their jobs at the Public? 2000 people applied for the 30 jobs at the cinema. All of the folding t-shirts jobs have gone at Primark and it hasn’t opened yet.

The concerns that New Square will have a negative impact on the rest of the town has not been lost by the media, according to a BBC report there will be investment elsewhere in the town. What about those for whom West Bromwich is £3.90 bus ride away. Where is the investment in the rest of the Borough? New Square for West Bromwich. Old litter bins for the rest of Sandwell.DSCN5591

Tesco give us credit!

I saw this today and wondered what it was all about.

Tesoc Trussell Trickery

Then I saw this post on the Facebook Page of the Trussell Trust. And the penny dropped.

This is what the post says on their page.

Tesco Express‘ across the UK have food collection points for the next 4 weeks. Could you have a look at our ‘shopping list’ for foodbanks and add a few bits to your own?
This the conversation I had with them on their Facebook Page.
I then sent them a private message as I do not want to damage any fundraising effort of The Trussell Trust. I don’t. I did however tell them I was still going to blog about it. Please be clear this is not an attack on The Trussell Trust. It is also not an attack on Tesco although my cynicism is off the scale.
If I were to blame/attack anyone it would be this government. Seems like I am not alone as I found a link to this post on the Trussell Trust Page too. This is one quote from it.
I have news for Mr Davey. The number of people coming to my local Foodbank for help doubled overnight when the government’s latest ‘reforms’ kicked in at the beginning of April, including the cancellation of the ‘crisis loan’ programme.

Read more here, go on, it is good stuff. Foodbanks are not Big Society in action. They are the fingers in the dam plugging the hole, hoping the floodgates won’t open.

So back to the reasons why Tesco are doing this. Which phrase most closely matches your view?
How kind of Tesco to set up a collection point in their stores.
How clever of Tesco to set up a collection point in their stores.
This is food for people who are struggling to afford to feed families. Not in war torn, drought ridden countries but in the UK. People with jobs. People without jobs. People living in your town or village. And Tesco will profit from it. Despite what the Trussell Trust say.
Are people really only going to buy a tin of soup for a donation when they pop into Tesco Express?
What Tesco are hoping for IMHO is that they will get more customers going to Tesco Express and spending their money there. Even the post suggests, subliminally ‘do your shopping at Tesco and add a few of the items on our shopping list to yours…..’ yup, cynical me.
Horsemeatgate damaged a lot of supermarkets reputation and according to this article in The Guardian, Tesco, was the supermarket most heavily hit by the revelations of horsemeat scandal.
So what’s a marketing department to do when something like this happens? Say sorry, well they did that, now they have to re build the reputation. Oh, let’s look around and see what we can do, ah, let’s help a food bank and lots of nice middle class customers who have never bought a ready meal in their life may pop in and buy a tin for a poor person. And if we are lucky, the ‘while I ‘m here’ syndrome will kick in and they will pick up overpriced vegetables and a bottle of wine. Yay, more money for Tesco.
Result? Tesco and foodbanks are doing the job of the government. David Cameron can claim that Big Society is working.
At G8 delegates can tuck into violet artichokes, while others go hungry. The best blog you can read right now is A Girl Called Jack. She is currently reporting from the G8 conference for the Enough Food IF campaign.
Not much more to say really.
Apart from adding this.
Food Waste
food waste

Spendy Saturday

Not been a good day for budgeting

May well have blasted the budget for this week. A combination of tempting bargains in the GAP outlet store and the charity shops meant that my husband now has 4 brand new tops. However in his defence the Gap tops were dramatically reduced at £4.88 for a long sleeved tee and £8.74 for a more formal shirt. The OH does like his shirts so when he saw the ‘perfect work shirt’ in Barnardos for £3.99 he obviously had to have it, as a man cannot have enough shirts, apparently. Then I spotted a YSL 100% wool, lightweight sweater for £6.99 and it wasn’t hard to persuade him to have that too.

Or for shopping locally

I also broke my only buy from shops within walking distance pledge today. I had an appointment in West Bromwich which is about a 15 minute drive from here. After the appointment the OH and I decided to mooch around the Astle Retail Outlet Park where there are a number of outlet stores including a Next, a Marks and Spencers and a Gap. Which explains the purchases referred to earlier. And then because it was sunny we strolled up to the outdoor market and bought some vegetables. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Bearwood doesn’t have a market or a vegetable shop so this sort of shopping is a bit of a treat. Look at me, getting all excited about being able to buy fresh veg at a market!

A special journey was not made

Which is my only excuse for not shopping locally. I would not drive just to shop in West Bromwich, although the market is a temptation. To be honest if I were to drive to a market to shop, it would probably be Birmingham as it has a bigger and better market and West Brom, well isn’t the most attractive place to be.

Sorry West Brom

I don’t want to be mean about West Brom, but it isn’t the most attractive place in the world. I swear it is alway 5 degrees colder in West Brom than the rest of Sandwell. This is probably becuse it is so high up, indeed the local football stadium, The Hawthorns, is, or used to be he stadium above sea level, or something like that. Anyway it is cold and windy. And West Brom also has the threat of a massive Tesco development, on the edge of town whis could be a threat to the survival of retailers on the High Street. Yet it seems to be thriving for the time being. It certainly has wider range of shops than Bearwood, and the market is busy, all traders there are the independents I like to support. The veg stall seemed to have three generations of one family working there, which is great. I just hope they manage to survive once shiny Tesco sucks the life out of the high street.

But the councillors love West Brom (in my opinion)

More than they love Bearwood. Probably because Bearwood is in Smethwick Town yet not central Smethwick. So if there is any money floating around it goes to West Brom and the High Street and Cape Hill part of Smethwick, because apparently Bearwood doesn’t need it.  However, I think they see West Brom as the capital of Sandwell. Councillors are delighted that Tesco, Next and other retailers and food outlets are being built and will bring, oh hundreds of jobs to an area that has very high unemployment. I suppose this is a good thing. However, this development has effectively shifted the centre of town where both the indoor and outdoor markets are and shops along High Street are closing. It has a shiny new FE college locally known as the Ski Slope. This was built after many years of Sandwell College getting very poor OfSTED reports. Apparently building a shiny new campus will improve the quality of teaching. Then there is The Public. Depending on your point of view it is either a wonderful arts resource for Sandwell or a White (actually purple) Elephant. It does have very good toilets which is very handy, of course, when it is so cold in West Brom. And the West Brom Building Society is building its new Headquaters there (despite origallly planning to abandon its lovely art deco HQ in West Bromwich town centre for shiny offices in Merry Hell Hill). Merry Hill is in Dudley which doesn’t seem to be the right location for a building society called the West Brom. The council also thought this and were very vocal about the planned relocation. Almost overnight a piece of land, conveniently adjacent to all the new development, was found, so the West Brom is staying in West Brom after all. Handy that. There also seems to be work going on in the area where the market usually is, new paving and such. Hopefully the market will thrive even when the smaller Tesco relocates to the retail park and leaves a big empty unit in the old shopping centre. I hope so.

So what was the damage to the purse?

 £          0.08 onions 2kg  £          1.00
aubergine x3  £          1.00
grapes 1kg  £          1.00
petrol  £        15.00
Gap shirts  £        13.62
Charity shirt  £          3.99
Charity YSL jumper  £          6.99
Lamb  £          5.47
cat food  £          2.39
peppers  £          1.49
Cauli  £          0.89
Ketchup  £          0.69
3 tins tomatoes  £          0.93
bath mat  £          4.99
Steak mince 500g  £          3.59
6 sausages  £          1.99
fresh basil  £          0.65
Spagetti  £          0.24
Penne  £          0.29
Bet on the National  £        10.00
Beer and wine  £        25.00
 £      101.21

A massive dent to the budget. The betting and the alcohol were luxuries I guess and if we were on benefits we could not afford these. To add insult to injury we did not get a winner. Yet who is to say that poor people shouldn’t have a treat now and then? We are not exactly rich as we only have one wage, and a relatively low one at that that, coming into the house. But we choose to rent out rooms to English language students to supplement this. It is a lifestyle choice that not everyone could or would make.

Supper on Saturday cost £9.06 and there is plenty left over for lunches, so at 6 portions this is £1.51 per portion.

The lamb is for Sunday dinner and will be used as sandwiches in the week. so that will be five meals for around £1.40 each, three of which will be a big yummy Sunday roast using up all the vegetables I have bought this week.

How local did I do?

Apart from the Gap purchaces and the market stall purchases of grapes, aubergines and onions every thing was bought in Bearwood. I used Aldi for most of the shopping and the lamb was bought at another family butcher on Bearwood Road, Higgins. I like to share my indie love around!

The Mary Portas factor

West Bromwich also put in a bid for the Portas Pilot funding to improve the high street, and Bearwood was the other bid in Sandwell. Both were unsucessful. Which looking at some of the bids that were successful may not have been a bad thing. However it still smarts to be reminded that Sandwell Council could have had funding of 10k each for West Bromwich and Bearwood as subsequently all towns that submitted a bid were offered this amount to help build a town team to improve the local high street. The reason for refusing to accept this money? Well it was ‘political’. I do have an email from a Sandwell MP in response to my querying why they chose not to support local residents who wanted to improve where they lived, which I may just share with you one day. It wasn’t personal to Bearwood, so maybe they don’t love West Bromwich enough either. Who knows?

Do you live in Bearwood? Do you shop in Bearwood? Do you think Bearwood gets overlooked for investment? Did you town put in a bid for the Portas funding? I would love to see your comments? And please share tips on budgeting for food and in general.

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.

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.