Cooking on a budget

The Momentum UK Team 23 January 2014

Half a million people are reportedly using food banks because they’re struggling to find the money for one of life’s basic requirements: food.

If you want to eat healthily, but don’t have much money to throw around, or you just want to tighten the purse strings a little, then our hints and tips for cooking on a budget could help you save money, whether you’re cooking for yourself or your whole family:

Planning ahead

Planning meals in advance can be the key to getting the most from your budget, as well as helping ensure that you don’t end up buying food that you don’t need. It can be really useful to have a list that you stick to in the supermarket. Following recipes can be a vital part of sticking to a budget too, as well as helping you organise the ingredients you will need. Cookbooks can be picked up cheaply second hand, and, and recipes can also be found on the internet.

Shop efficiently

Try not to go shopping on an empty stomach, as it’s possible you’ll end up buying things you don’t need! Buying in bulk can also be a good way to save in some cases. especially if you’re buying the same items each week- as long as you make sure that the best-before and use-by dates aren’t going to pass by before you’ve used the food! Store-hopping for items that are cheaper in other places can also save you a bundle, although it’s important to make sure that you aren’t spending more on petrol than you’ve saving overall. Buying supermarket own-brand products can also save you money if you don’t mind the cheaper alternatives.

Cutting back on luxuries

Fruit can provide an alternative to more expensive ready-made desserts. Drinking water can replace soft drinks, and cutting back on alcohol can also lower your costs. If you’re on a budget, look for lower cost ingredients that could help you flesh out a meal. Packaged and processed foods such as microwave meals can also sometimes end up costing you more.

Reducing waste

It's estimated that the UK throws away 6.7 million tonnes of food each year, and reducing food waste can be an important part of cooking on a budget. Whether this is by scouring the reduced aisles of the supermarket every day or just making sure that your portions are a smaller size, this could save you a bundle. Weighing and measuring ingredients while cooking can help to make sure that you get the right portion size and don’t end up with more than you need. Investing in a set of storage containers for leftovers that can then be frozen can be a great way to save if you want to cook food in bulk to save cash.

Make sure you use items you already have before going out and buying fresh ingredients. It’s not just food waste that could be costing you money, but energy waste too- so look for ways to make your cooking cheaper. For example, could you benefit from using a slow cooker?

Cheap fruit ‘n’ veg

Fruit and vegetables can prove to be a pricey part of meals, especially if it’s bought at the last minute. Veg boxes from your local greengrocers can be a simple but effective way to get the five-a-day you need. Supermarkets often do offers on fruit and veg, so if you don’t have anything in particular in mind, then this can be a useful way of getting them on a budget. Fruit and vegetable markets and farmers’ markets can also be a really effective way to snap up veggies with a low price tag. Using seasonal fruit and vegetables in dishes can also save you money, as in-season produce is usually cheaper in the shops. Cultivating your own herb garden can be a great way to save money on herbs and add flavour to your meal at the same time.

Special offers

Taking advantage of discounts and offers can be a great way to save money. Discounted items in supermarkets are nearly always perishable items such as vegetables and refrigerated microwave meals. Extreme discounting often happens to bakery items and fruit late in the day, but different shops may have different patterns. If you spot a pattern emerging, it can make sense to go regularly at this time to get these foods for less. However it’s vital to make sure that you’re making a genuine saving rather than getting carried away with any offers and buying things that you don’t actually need.