For most families, the weekly shop is a key factor when keeping track of financial outgoings. However, as well as focusing on the cost of food, there are other aspects to consider. What will the kids actually eat without complaints? Which meals can can be cooked quickly after a busy day at work? How do I make sure that the whole family are getting sufficient fruit and vegetables on a daily basis? With all these different aspects playing a part in our food shopping habits, it can be difficult to find a successful and manageable balance.
Reduced Price Items
Many supermarkets reduce prices on foodstuffs which are reaching towards their sell-by date but which are still perfectly OK to eat. Bread and other bakery goods are often sold off at the end of a day to clear the shelves for the fresh stock. Buying these can save you a lot of money but it's important to only buy the food that you'll be eating pretty well right away. Otherwise there can be risk that it can go 'off' if you keep it a while longer. The problem is that is often a lot of demand for price-reduced goods but some supermarkets have particular times of day when they put them out. The customer service department probably won't tell you what these times are but the assistant on the checkout, or the person filling the shelves, may do if you ask in friendly way.
Co-operate With a Neighbour
Buy one and get one free offers can temp buyers to waste a lot of money on produce that subsequently gets wasted. However, if you have a friendly neighbour who can share them with you it could benefit you both.
Weekly Shopping Versus Daily Shopping
For many of us, the weekly shop has become a ritual that is enjoyed by some and dreaded by others. When working to a budget, a 'big shop' can be cost effective, as it allows us to buy items in larger quantities, which can often save money. It also enables us to plan out meals for the week and also saves time for busy families who haven't got time to keep visiting the shops on a regular basis. So what are the drawbacks? Sometimes it can seem a bargain to buy items in bulk to save money, but this only works if the food is actually going to get eaten. All too often, we buy food, don't end up eating it and it ends up getting thrown away. This is where daily shopping comes in. It allows us to buy things as we need them, thus avoiding waste. However, as well as the additional time that this takes, a drawback to visiting the shops on a regular basis is the temptation to buy things that we don't necessarily need. How many times do we nip into the local shop for a pint of milk and come out with a bag full of shopping that we hadn't planned to buy?
A faithful friend to busy families, online shopping allows us to carry out a big weekly shop from the comfort of our own home. With the facility to quickly select items from our 'favourites' list, this enables busy families to complete the shopping with ease. Furthermore, the ability to amend our orders, allows us to add things in or take things out, ensuring that we stay within the all important budget. Many of the supermarkets also offer cheaper delivery times or 'click and collect' options, which help to make this method of shopping even more affordable. So are there any drawbacks here? The main downside to online shopping is that it is very easy to fall into the trap of ordering exactly the same things each week because they are on your 'favourites' list and ending up eating the same foods week after week. You also may end up with produce which is older than the goods you would pick yourself; the staff who gather you're order won't rummage for the fresher food at the back in the same way that you can.
Finding A Balance
All of the methods of shopping above have their pros and cons, so in order to become a savvy shopper a combination maybe the answer. Weekly visits or online orders are a great way to keep costs down, save time and ensure that you have all the necessary essentials that you know you will need each week. It also allows families to create a flexible overview of meals for the week and ensure a healthy balance of fruit and vegetables. Therefore, the solution maybe to allocate a proportion of the food budget on a weekly supermarket visit or online shop. A recent TV documentary suggested that the average family of four spends around £80 per week on food. If 50-75 percent of the weekly budget was allocated to the 'main shop', a smaller amount would then be left for popping into the smaller shops throughout the week. This would then provide opportunities to spot bargains that wouldn't necessarily otherwise be seen or to pick up some new ingredients and try something a little bit different.
Many of us are guilty of throwing away far too much perfectly good food without necessarily realising. Imagine you've just finished your Sunday roast. What would you do with those last few veggies, potatoes and half a jug of gravy? Rather than wasting these nutritious left overs, they can simply be tipped back into the roaster with a bit of stock and blended to create a delicious soup, which can then provide a further one or two meals. Another absolute gem for providing healthy, wholesome meals on a budget is the turkey leg. People often only associate eating turkey with the festive season, but turkey legs can be obtained throughout the year from local farm shops for as little as £3 or £4. For this relatively small amount of money, you will get emough meat to provide the average family with at least two or three meals. After your initial roast dinner, the possibilities are endless with this versatile beauty. Stew, soup, curry, fajitas, hot sandwiches - the options are endless! A useful tip is to ask for the leg to be cut in half as you buy it, as otherwise you may well find that it is so big that it won't fit in your roaster or slow cooker!
Make It Yourself
There is definitely a balance to be found between the financial benefits of making things yourself, compared to the ease of buying something when you're busy. However, there are times when a bit of food DIY can be well worth it. As mentioned earlier, soup made from left overs literally takes minutes, doesn't create much extra washing up and often tastes even better than bought soups. Homemade 'cafe lunches' are another way of giving yourself a little treat on a budget. Rather than buying a pricey panini in a cafe, simply buy a pack of panini rolls, a pack of budget brie a jar of cranberry sauce (or whatever flavour combination appeals) and pop it under the grill. Voila!
With a little bit of creative thinking, food shopping on a budget can still provide a range of delicious and healthy meals, as well as the occasional treats that we all deserve. The key is finding the right balance for your family between the frequency that you shop, the types of shop you use, convenience and homemade hacks.