After Christmas, our food bills were running at just over £60 a week for our family of four, but I was keen to cut them further.
In the end, after scribbling shopping lists, looking up recipes, making meal plans, staring at cupboard contents, ekeing out ingredients and plenty of half term picnics, our food bills came down to just under £43 a week.
So cutting food bills during February worked well for us, and I've put my top 10 tips from the frugal food challenge at the end of this post.
The key to cutting costs was trying to use as much as possible of the food we already had in our cupboards, fridge and freezer.
I made a big effort to use up odd and abandoned ingredients shoved to the back of shelves and forgotten in the freezer. I had a go at using up stocks last July, but there was still some stuff left (post about the storecupboard stock check challenge here).
Here's some fascinating photos of what our kitchen looked like before and afterwards:
|Main food cupboard - before|
|Main food cupboard afterwards - a lot lighter on tins, rice and pasta|
|Big fridge before|
|Big fridge afterwards- barer shelves,more boxes of leftovers|
|Freezer afterwards - very little left|
|Small fridge before|
|Small fridge afterwards - even fewer bottles and cans|
|Top of the green cupboard before|
|Top of the green cupboard afterwards - less cereal, no onions, still some potatoes and fruit|
|Mantelpiece afterwards - finally, the spaghetti is finished!|
After checking the contents of our kitchen, and plugging it into my whizzy spreadsheet, here's the summary of what we bought during February, and what we had left.
Food bought: £68.55
Food left at end Feb: £2.68
Food bought: £28.37
Food left at end Feb: £0.11
Food bought: £38.59
Food left at end Feb: £2.02
Food bought: £41.48
Food left at end Feb: £8.42
Total for whole of February
Food bought: £176.99
Food left at end Feb: £13.24
Food bought & used during Feb: £163.75
Food bought / week: £42.72
Food bought & used / week: £39.53
So during the month of February we spent £177 to feed our family of four, which averages out at just under £43 a week. Compared to the £60 a week we spent during January, we have cut our food bills by nearly 30%.
Of that, we've actually eaten just under £40 worth a week in addition to the food we already had in the house.
I had hoped to cut costs further using supermarket vouchers, but fate intervened.
Somehow Morrisons, the Co-op and Sainsbury's all held back on any money-off vouchers during February.
Then of course at the beginning of March I got sent a set of "£2 off a £20 spend" offers from both the Co-op and Sainsbury's - just too late to be of any use for February's food spending challenge. Pah.
TOP 10 TIPS FROM FEBRUARY'S FRUGAL FOOD CHALLENGE
Here's what I learnt from our efforts to cut our food bills during February:
1) Cut back, but keep cooking
Making a concerted effort to shop and cook for less really did make a dent in our food spending, even though I kept on with pretty normal family meals with plenty of fruit and veg.
However, it did take time. I think one of the main reasons are food costs are so low is because I do a lot of cooking, rather than relying on ready meals.
2) Switch to cheaper options
When shopping, I kept an eye on the price per kilo, and focused on buying cheaper options.
So with fruit and veg for example, I bought things like carrots, onions, apples and plums rather than more exotic offerings, and included some tinned fruit. That's why I was particularly glad to find some yellow-stickered strawberries and avocadoes in the last week, as I'd been avoiding the expense earlier.
We also cut costs by eating several vegetarian meals each week, and bulking out smaller quantities of fish and meat with plenty of veg.
3) Combine different odds and ends
Some stuff was stuck at the back of the storecupboard because there wasn't quite enough for a meal.
I did things like cooking two different kinds of pasta in the same pan, to make enough for everyone, or serving each person different leftovers at a single meal.
If we ran out of one ingredient, I tried to use something else instead, rather than simply replacing it - so I used granulated sugar when baking some favourite biscuits, rather than my standard soft brown sugar, and they tasted crunchy but fine.
We ended up with some slightly odd combinations, in attempts to consume less favoured ingredients, and not all experiments were successful.
Using up leftover mincemeat in flapjack was delicious, but my attempt at dahl with yellow split peas was not.
4) Take the time to use up abandoned ingredients
Planning meals made a big difference to both costs and using up assorted abandoned ingredients. Surprise, surprise, if there's stuff lingering too long in your kitchen, there's usually a reason. Typically either we didn't really like it, or I didn't really know how to cook it, or we needed to buy something specific to make it edible.
During February, I finally took the time to look up suitable recipes.
Making a list of my top 10 abandoned ingredients (see the end of this post) worked well, and helped focus my efforts at the end of the month.
5) Be prepared and plan ahead
In fact planning in general made our food bills less expensive. On occasions when I can see food will be expensive, I try to plan ahead. So for example we took picnics with us when heading out for half term, to eat in an assortment of cars, trains, buses and museum picnic rooms when weather was too cold.
I know the kids will be ravenous after swimming lessons, so I pack some multi-pack crisps and drinks in the swimming bag, rather than resorting to the vending machines.
When a whole horde of cousins descended for Saturday lunch half way through February, I wondered if was going to scupper my attempts to keep costs low.
However, we have visitors on a regular basis, so I tend to stock up on suitable food when shopping.
I planned a meal round ingredients we already had, including a bargain bit of roast beef stashed at the back of the freezer for just such occasions, and finished with bread & butter pudding made from the left over panettone on my hit list.
6) Buy what you need, not what's run out
We only made inroads into the unwanted ingredients once I switched to buying specific extras to make the most of the food in the house, rather than automatically restocking stuff that ran out.
(For more on how (not) to shop for a frugal food challenge, read about my bumbling efforts in the first few days of February here.)
Sticking to a shopping list and buying limited amounts also meant we didn't waste much, because it all got eaten.
7) Stop shopping!
The other revelation that is hardly-earth shattering was that if I wanted to stop spending so much on food, I really did need to stop going to the shops. Even cut-price yellow-stickered bargains add up.
8) Clearing space, getting rid of guilt
Now I can open the cupboards, fridge and freezer without getting glimpses of food that makes me feel guilty, because we really should get round to doing something with it.
Throwing away half-used packets and frozen remnants would have seemed a waste of money and resources, so I'm glad we were able to eat them instead.
Also, we no longer risk life and limb when stuff falls out of overstocked cupboards!
Now I have much more space to fill with food we actually like to eat. Recently I was able to bag a bargain leg of lamb, safe in the knowledge there was space in the freezer to keep it for a special occasion.
9) Blogging saves money
No, really. Writing about my attempts to cut our food bills made me hesitate before putting extra items in my shopping trolley, especially later in the challenge. So I suppose you could say the blog itself helped save money!
However, it did create some pent up demand. I rushed out on March 1 to buy some celebratory ice cream, safe in the knowledge I wouldn't have to post a picture of it...
10) Short term benefits
Making a big effort in February made a dent in our food costs, but some of the food used up will now need replacing. (But only some - I won't be buying any more dried borlotti beans in a hurry, after it took 7 years to use up the last packet.)
Although I did fork out for essential ingredients like flour, cereal and stock cubes when we ran out, I put off buying other staples like tomato puree, vinegar, sugar and soy sauce until after the end of the month. Our food bills in March will definitely be higher, but hopefully I can continue with some of our cost-saving measures.
Anyone else have any top tips for a storecupboard challenge, using up the odd and abandoned ingredients stashed at the back of your kitchen?
Anyone else willing to give it a whirl?