This month’s grocery challenge: eating on a budget

Grocery challengeAre you spending too much on food? Do you set a budget? When you need to start cutting back on your living expenses your food shop can be an easy place to start. How about a grocery challenge?

I love a grocery challenge – I set myself a lower than usual budget and use every means to stick to it. Using up what I have in the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer and the garden, I am confident we can eat well and healthily for just £35 per week for the three of us. I am not including cat food, cleaning products or toiletries in this budget, although I intend to keep spending on everything else to a minimum too.

Friday was my start day as that is payday for me, and I will continue through until 23rd August. So that is 4.5 weeks of food for around £155. Can I stick with my grocery challenge? We shall see!

Although it helps that we have some produce in the garden,  I don’t want every meal to be based around courgettes. I love them but there are limits! Most people won’t have home grown produce available, but it is still possible to eat cheaply. If you have a bit of garden and spare time, I really recommend growing a few bits. It is cheap and pretty easy to do.

Essential steps on your grocery challenge

The first thing to do when you are setting yourself a grocery challenge is to audit your food stores.  We have plenty of rice, pasta, tins of tomatoes, cereal, veg (fresh and frozen), tinned tuna, etc.

The next step is to plan meals for at least a week. I find this is long enough, but I know people who plan the whole month in one go. Aim to use as many of your stores as you can. This focusses your attention on those unused and unloved ingredients that have been hanging around a while. Set yourself a challenge to find a recipe that will use a can of coconut milk or bag of walnuts, for example. I write a detailed plan for dinners but lunches and breakfasts are a little more fluid. We tend to eat porridge and raisins, or fruit and yogurt for breakfast with sandwiches, salads of soups for lunch. I also build in a few snacks. If not, I risk breaking the budget by going to the machine at work for chocolate or the expensive corner shop for crisps and wine!

Finally, write a shopping list. Think about where you need to go to get the best deals on the food on your list. I do the bulk of my shopping in Lidl or Aldi and pop to Asda or Sainsbury’s for the cat food and Lactofree milk.  The latter can be expensive, varying from £1 a litre when it is on special offer up to around £1.50, depending on where I buy it. As I want to stick to my challenge I will check online to find the cheapest price for this before heading out to buy it. I will also water it down a bit as my daughter guzzles it!

Other ways to save money

If you really want to save money, forget expensive branded items, at least for the duration of the challenge. You don’t have to buy the cheapest, but supermarket own brands are usually pretty good.

I mentioned we grow some of our own food. We also have gluts so are happy to give the excess away. If you have friends who have a veggie patch or an allotment you are likely to find they are willing to do the same. You could offer to do a bit of weeding in exchange! We don’t grow apricots but were lucky enough to be given a load the other day. I stewed half for puddings all week and put the rest in the freezer for later.

If you can easily get to a supermarket later in the day you can find some good yellow sticker bargains from time to time. Only buy what you know you can eat quickly or freeze. If you get a real bargain be prepared to change your meal plan to fit it in.

Think about doing some batch cooking. I will be making a large pot of ratatouille and another of courgette soup. The ratatouille will be a meal with some brown rice and cheese one night, and an accompaniment to meat another night. The soup will be good for lunches and I will freeze some for next week too.

We aren’t vegetarians, but will definitely be eating some meat free meals to save money.  I also bought a pack of bacon lardons in Lidl, which will be good for adding a little meaty flavour to a couple of meals.

Grocery Challenge Meal Plan

This week’s meal plan is as follows:

Friday:  Risotto made with vegetables and lardons

Saturday: courgette stuffed with turkey mince and mini roasties

Sunday: Chicken casserole, rice and vegetables

Monday: Cheese omelette with home made chips and salad

Tuesday: Ratatouille with rice and cheese

Wednesday: Fish in breadcrumbs, potatoes and vegetables

Thursday: Tuna pasta bake with vegetables

Do you want to join me on my grocery challenge? If so, what figure will you set for your weekly budget? Do you have ideas for some meals to use up the food you have in the stores?


21 thoughts on “This month’s grocery challenge: eating on a budget

  1. I love a grocery challenge! I recently did my own (May and June) and documented my success (overspent by £1 in May) and not-quite-success (£31 deficit in June) on my blog, though I could have made more effort in posting details of what we actually ate. My cupboards and freezer were over-full and I really wanted to make an effort to use up what we had. I allowed £100 a month for two of us, so your challenge to feed four on £135 really is a stretch. Brave you!
    The only thing I don’t quite agree with is the shopping list. I do have a list but mine is a list of days/meal times. e.g. Monday Dinner, Tuesday lunch etc. This allows me to make the most of offers and reductions. I tick off each meal as I find something suitable. Obviously there are always a few things which I need to buy so those are on my list too.
    I have a new challenge for August – try at least two new recipes per week.

  2. I’m in! I was only looking at my stocks before going shopping yesterday and was surprised by what was there! At morrisons we caught them reducing the sandwiches,19p,29p and wraps 39p,scotch eggs 12p! I chose the ones with no salad as I have unwrapped them, re wrapped in cling film and frozen them, now when husband goes to the allotment( just got one ) he can just take one out of the freezer grab some fruit and go! I made spinach and pea soup for supper, we had that followed by the wraps and scotch eggs for the men,meal done for under a pound each, whoopie! I too have meal planned which is new for me and am quite relieved that the weeks meals are sorted.I am veggie and the two chaps find they actually like my veggie meals , if they are desperate for a bit of meat I can throw them a sausage ! Challenges are fun,I have even found I don’t need to use as much detergent, I put a little powder in a dosing ball mix in water to dissolve and put it straight in the drum, no messy detergent drawer, sometimes I add a little softener with it and that’s fine too!

  3. Why have I not done a food budget before?. No idea think because it’s just me not much!.Erm just thrown out half a watermelon , whole mouldy pineapple, 2 cucumbers, lettuce, 2 peppers, bag of salad, sick onions, mouldy olives. Cheese also mouldy.
    Sure I,m on budget to pay off mortgage in 5 weeks but just reolised I throw so much food out!!.
    Sadly think I throw about £100 a month in the bin at least!. That needs to change!.
    Think I got in to the I don’t buy anything else trap so will food, but there is only me,
    Yep will try £35 a week for just me.

    • Yikes! Yes, that is madness but you’re not alone. Definitely plan better so you don’t chuck food away

      • Just done Tesco run. Admit was difficult. Hard to buy1 person portions of anything really. Just about everything is pre packed veg fruit included. Able to get single fish portions from fish counter, butcher department is no more, pre packed only. Only packs 4 chicken breasts , lamb chops etc. Got some yellow sticker fruit n veg again all big packs .Shopping came to £26.70. So a start!. Note to self there is enough food do not go in to co op and buy more, habit get off bus buy more no reason apart from shop is at bus stop!. Yikes!

        • Kirrie, what about doing a monthly shop for things like meat? You could easily divide up a four pack of chicken breasts, for example, and it is cheaper to buy bigger packs

          • Yes ideally, but I only have a tiny fridge freezer, 3 drawers in the freezer. 1.5 for me and same for lodger. Once house paid for soon will save for a new kitchen , big fridge freezer, until then a bit limited..

  4. I’m in! I normally plan £400/month for 7 of us, but it’s been a lot less whilst I’ve had 2 away at uni and a husband away on work.
    Back up to 5-6 of us now and have spent almost £330 this month with a week still to go, so a bit over the budget.
    Next month sees 6 at home all the time, plus a birthday, so I’m going to stick to the £400. We usually eat out for a birthday, but I have a separate budget for that.

    We have virtually no food waste though, with 4 hungry males in the house! 😀

    • Haha Julia, I remember hungry teenagers! I used to make lots of Yorkshire puddings to bulk out meals as they were cheap and the children loved them. I think £400 for 7 of you seems pretty fair – you must be a good manager!
      We are just two nowadays – cheaper but sometimes I do miss having a family to cook for.

      • Eloise – I’ve continued to make the same amount of food – it’s just automatic, plus I can never remember how many are home now!!
        When my second went off to uni, the third (another boy!) was happy as his portion size increased! He used to joke in the holidays about when his brother was going back again, as he was still hungry, and how the youngest will be so stuffed when he’s the last one left!
        Now he’s off to uni himself in September and trying to get used to eating less in preparation for the “student diet”!!

        • I found it really hard to adjust too, but now I can’t believe how much food I used to have to buy!

  5. An interesting post, Jane. I don’t tend to meal plan, after almost 53 years of marriage and catering, I know automatically what’s in the larder, fridge and freezer and what we need to buy for the week’s meal, but the one thing I do is ALWAYS TAKE A SHOPPING LIST. I’m the person Mr Supermarket doesn’t like, I have a list! What they want are shoppers who don’t know what they have in their cupboards at home or what they intend cooking for the week, and simply gaze around the throw things in the trolley as they have been tempted by pretty packaging. The shortest time you spend in the shops, the less money you will spend (usually.) Make a list and stick to it is what we try and do. Of course, if there is something that we’ve overlooked on the list that should be there, that will be bought, but not impromptu purchases. I won’t be taking up the challenge, Jane,as we buy much the same amount (but not always the same items) each week (perhaps over-priced by your wonderful standards, but now we’re retired we haven’t always the energy to shop in several supermarkets and shops to save a few pennies, lovely though that would be. We are just careful not to overspend on our particular budget which, happily, is a reasonably generous one.
    Margaret P

    • Totally agree about the shopping list. It saves time as well as money. I don’t enjoy food shopping so I’m and put works for me!

  6. I am up for the challenge. I want to use up all the bits in the cupboard that have been in there an age to then start afresh and only buy the things we are going to eat as our diet has changed over the last few months. I love to meal plan too and have done a list of what’s in the cupboards and freezer’s to use. This coming month is a bit different as I’ve taken on a second job so working more and I’m away for a few days but sure with planning I can keep on track. I’m not going to give us a budget to stick to just aiming for less than last month. Good luck everyone 🙂

    • When you are working a lot is when you are in danger of giving into the takeaway, so planning will be essential I would say

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