Thursday, 26 June 2008

Poor But Happy; getting the shopping in.

You can save loads if you’re canny about what you buy, where you buy it and what you do with it.
Where you get it.
Supermarkets are, on average, 30% more expensive for fruit and veg than small greengrocers(5). I find that apart from a few things like spuds, cheapest of all are street markets. Stalls selling stuff at £1 a scoop are best. This year I’ve had £1 scoops containing; 7 heads of celery, 23 satsumas, 7lb carrots, 5lb bananas, 17 avocadoes, 5lb apples, 3 marrows, 5lb courgettes, 3 ½ lb pears, 2lb peppers. Have a look at this site; ; it’s aimed at traders but has a useful searchable list of markets.
Allotments. It involves some time and effort, but growing your own veg will save you money. You can rent an allotment from your local council. There are also some independently run allotments and Railtrack has a limited number of plots for rent. Council-run allotments cost about £30 per year for a plot the size of two living rooms, more than big enough to grow all the food for one person. Waiting lists are terrible, especially in London. I’m on a 3 ½ year waiting list with Lewisham. Sometimes neighbouring councils let you rent from them if they’ve got surplus plots, or you can offer to share a plot, which might mean a shorter wait. See , or which has info on allotments and gardening tips.

If you’ve only got a windowsill you can still grow a few herbs. Use old margarine tubs or make your own plant pots by cutting old washing-up liquid bottles to size.

Herbs like parsley will freeze well if you put them in water and pour the liquid into ice cube trays.

Supermarkets. Like lots of people, I’m uncomfortable about the power and impact of supermarkets on local economies and the environment. Read Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence (4) to find out more. I’m not together enough to boycott supermarkets completely, but I try to give them as little money as I can. These tips for how you shop at supermarkets will save you money and mean you give them a minimum of your cash.
Make a list. Know what you need before you go so you aren’t tempted to buy expensive extras. You’ll also avoid buying more than you need of the essentials, which is a good move seeing as many UK households throw away 40% of the food they buy, contributing to a total of £16 billion worth of food that’s thrown away in Britain each year.
Shop at the right time. Don’t go when you’re tired, hungry or depressed - you’ll buy more stuff to comfort yourself. A survey by Somerfields showed people spent 20% more when hungry.
Bulk buy. Buy as much as possible of stuff you know you need, in one trip. The fewer trips you make, the less you’ll spend on fares and unplanned extras. I tend to stock up on tinned tomatoes, jumbo boxes of washing powder, and toiletries - stuff I know I’ll use, that won’t go off. If you can face the shame, it’s worth getting one of those trolleys that pensioners drag round, because they let you do a bigger shop. On the way to the shop I carry mine to make it look like it’s a present for somebody that I haven’t bothered to wrap.
Pay cash. You’ll be more conscious of what you’re spending. If you know how much the stuff on your list should cost you can take the right amount to avoid temptation. This also hits the supermarkets in the pocket because it’s expensive for them to handle cash – that’s why they offer you cash back at the tills.
Avoid meat. I occasionally eat fish, and meat in rare moments of weakness, but a veggie diet is miles cheaper and better for the environment.
Avoid mineral water. 40% of all mineral water is processed tap water.
Compare prices online. It’s now dead easy to compare prices. Asda and Tesco both have this facility on their websites; or . Which brings me on to…
What you get. Only 20% of supermarket shoppers are really price sensitive in their choices. Supermarkets’ big profits depend on the other non-thrifty 80%. The easiest way to save in supermarkets is buying the stores’ own value brands. These are often ‘loss leaders’, sold at little or no profit to lure people into stores. Although supermarkets are cagey about how many of their products sell at a loss, if you only buy value brands, you’ll at least limit the amount you’re adding to their profits. You’ll also be putting two fingers up to the advertising pricks who make millions persuading people to buy name brands.
I’ve bought value brands for almost everything during and since the year of the experiment and rarely noticed a difference in quality. An exception was Tesco’s value deodorant, which left me stinking like a stoat by mid-afternoon, so I switched to their ordinary own brand, which was still £1.90 less than Sure.
Weekly shopping budget.
Buying supermarket value brands and buying fruit and veg on the market, my weekly shop averaged out at £7.98. If I’d bought fruit and veg at normal supermarket prices and bought name brand products for everything else it would have cost £18.47, a saving of £10.49 per week (1 hour 20 minutes). That takes no account of savings from home cooking against the cost of ready meals detailed below.
What you do with it.
Packed lunch and a flask. If you work at a job, getting lunch can be pricy. On the two long days I work I now take sandwiches and a flask instead of eating at the canteen or buying sarnies in a shop. This saves £5.30 a week (40 minutes).
Learn to cook.. Ready meals are a rip-off which waste resources used in refrigeration, production and transportation before they even reach you, the punter. Home-cooking is tons cheaper. You don’t need to buy cookery books as there’s loads of websites with recipes. Check the food section of Kitty Chronic’s site; Other favourites are , , , and . People think cooking’s time-consuming but if you’ve got access to a freezer it actually saves you time. Once a month I do a big veg shop on the pound a scoop stalls, cook enough meals for a month, bag and freeze them. Then when I’m ready, I just microwave them and cook any accompanying veg. When freezing your own cooking, let it cool first so your fridge doesn’t waste power working harder than necessary. Don’t defrost meals in the microwave - save electricity by taking them out of the freezer in the morning. I find this also lessens the temptation to get a takeaway after work as I know the food’s already defrosted waiting for me indoors. You can rinse out any used freezer bags and use them for rubbish to save buying bin bags. If you’re cooking veg for one use a small milk saucepan – it’ll hold just the right amount. Here’s a few not very original recipes for the sake of comparison.

Veggie chilli. (6 portions)
2 onions, chopped (10p)
2 red biggish red peppers, chopped (65p)
3 big carrots, grated (24p)
3 410g cans kidney beans @ 17p each (51p)
3 410g cans chopped tomatoes @ 17p each (51p)
About 2 ½ tsp chilli powder (4p?)
2 tbsp oil. (1p)
= £2.07 ÷ 6 = 35p per portion vs Linda McCartney veg chilli £1 per portion. Saves 65p.
In a big saucepan, gently fry the carrot, peppers and onion with a lid on for 10-12 minutes until the veg have started to soften. Add beans and tomatoes. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes until it doesn’t look too runny. Add the chilli gradually to your taste, stir well and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Tomato pasta sauce. (4 portions)
1 onion, chopped. (5p)
1 squeeze garlic puree. (1p)
2 tbsp tomato puree (3p)
2 410g cans chopped tomatoes (34p)
1 tsp dried basil or oregano (2p)
½ tsp sugar
2 tbsp oil. (1p)
= 46p ÷ 4 = 12p per portion, vs Ragu pasta sauce 25p per portion. Saves 13p.
In the usual big saucepan, fry the onion until it’s soft. Add the tomato and garlic puree and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar and herbs. Simmer uncovered for about 20-25 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
Vegetable curry. (8 portions)
3 green peppers (99p)
4 courgettes, sliced (1.00)
1 ½ lb carrots, chopped (30p)
2 410g cans chickpeas (40p)
1 large onion (10p)
1 410g can of chopped tomatoes (17p)
2 tbsp oil (1p)
2 tsp curry powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp chilli powder. (3p)
=£3 ÷ 8 = 38p per portion vs Linda McCartney Veg balti £1 per portion. Saves 62p.
Big saucepan blah, blah, blah. Fry the onion and peppers until soft (about 5mins). Stir in all the spices and cook gently for 5 minutesmore, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Stir in all the veg and tomatoes and simmer with a lid on for 40 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and heat for another ten minutes.
Averaging out those sort of savings over a year, home cooking saves me £3.27 per week (25 minutes) which if anything is an underestimation.



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