How to spend less on your food or grocery shopping

How to Spend less on your Food or Grocery Shopping

Just a few years ago, our grocery bill used to be below the average spend for a family of our size. Gradually though, our grocery spends have crept up frighteningly fast.

Ok, some of the increase can be attributed to to the increase in the number of people we have in our household and the corresponding spends on nappies, fruit, snacks etc. But if I’m honest, we have become a bit lazy and allowed convenience foods to sneak into the trolley far more than they ever used to and those convenience foods obviously cost more. We don’t buy a ridiculous number of takeaways, but even these have been happening more frequently than they used to.

There’s no excuse for this really, other than perhaps for a few months when our youngest was a newborn and I was recovering from surgery. Bad habits snuck in and products that we bought as a one-off due to a promotional price became regular purchases at the standard price.

Anyway, it’s time to rectify the situation. Here are the steps I intend to follow:

Carry out a stock take 

Our freezer is pretty full right now. I need to grab a pen and paper and jot down everything contained within the drawers of it. There is quite a bit of meat and fish I suspect, plus some Quorn (a meat substitute that is vegetarian but we like despite being omnivores ourselves).

Our cupboards also contain a fair amount of canned vegetables, beans, packets of couscous and rice.

Meal plan

I need to sit down and plan which meals can be put together from the freezer and cupboard ingredients. To be honest, I suspect there are quite a few! Hopefully this will have a positive effect on our grocery bill for the next month as we eat out of the freezer and cupboards so buy less new stuff.

Although I usually meal plan a whole week, the dinners for different days often get switched around depending on what we feel like eating or if unexpected events crop up.

Use the slow cooker (AKA crockpots)

I have been a fan of slow cookers ever since buying our first one in 2004, the year that I first moved in with my now-husband. They are wonderful for several reasons.

Firstly, you can bung in all your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before if you like (just refrigerate the ceramic pot overnight to keep chilled if you do so). Switch it on before you leave the house, then return from work at the end of the day to the scent of a delicious, cooked meal ready to tuck into. What could be better?

Secondly, slow cookers are economical because they use a similar amount of energy to a light bulb. They can be used to cook cheaper cuts of meat which, due to the lengthy cooking time, turn from tough to tender and meat literally falls off the bone.

Lastly, the nature of one-pot cooking means less clearing up to do after dinner. That can only be a good thing in my book!

Try out new recipes 

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. Yet we seem to eat the same meals over and over again. So, I intend to flick through some of the books and mark the most appealing recipes to try. There are lots I still intend to try in my newest purchase, 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver. It makes sense that if I use fewer ingredients in a recipe (as long as they aren’t ridiculously expensive ones, such as caviar and saffron ;)) the cost will hopefully be brought down, too.

Let’s hope that following these steps results in us saving money, eating more healthily and enjoying our food more.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share on reducing your grocery bill? I would love to hear them.

My favourite Budget Beauty Buys

Over the years, I have sampled a huge range of different brands of cosmetic and toiletry products. Often, these purchases came about as a result of being persuaded by a product review in a magazine that a particular product would solve whichever beauty woe I was experiencing, or even, dare I admit it, because a particular advert was so appealing. I guess companies don’t spend millions of pounds on marketing for no reason, after all!

Are the high-end products worth the extra cost?

These days, I’m generally not convinced that most high-end (or even mid-range) beauty products justify their price tags. When you turn to peruse the ingredients label of any pot of cream or lotion, the first ingredient listed (as having the highest volume percentage)  is invariably aqua (ie, plain old water). The second and third ingredients are often similar in both budget and high-end products, too. It seems hard to believe that the amounts used in the lowest volume ingredients are going to be enough to make a significant difference to my hair, skin or whatever, most of the time.

So, these days I tend to try low-cost ranges first, and only if I dislike them do I upgrade to costlier ones. I am pleased to say that I have found some firm favourites amongst the budget brands, which I shall reveal here.

Shower creams and gels

I used to love treating myself to Molton Brown shower gels (or asking for them for Christmas and birthday gifts). The scents used in them are distinctive and delicious, it’s true. But one day I decided that literally washing £20 down the shower drain for ONE bottle of shower gel was bordering on obscene. A couple of years ago we went on a summer holiday the the Vendee region of France and I picked up a few bottles of French shower creams to try from the local supermarche.

There is a French company called Les petit Marseillais which produce a lovely range of different types of toiletries with beautiful scents, all at a good value price. After sniffing dozens of different bottles before deciding on just a few to purchase (this habit drives my husband crazy; he can’t for the life of him understand why I don’t just glance at the fronts of the bottles to choose between them then hurriedly toss a bottle in the trolley), I found one with a ‘black orchid’ scent which smelled divine. That was the shower cream I used for the entire holiday and when we arrived home in England I was delighted to discover that Palmolive make their own ‘black orchid’ scent shower cream. I’ve been using it ever since, apart from using ones that I’ve been gifted. I think it smells far more luxurious and high-end than the price of it suggests. Recently I saw it was on sale in Wilkinsons store at only 90p a bottle and couldn’t resist stocking up.

Hair care

For hair, I tend to find that it’s better to keep switching the shampoos and conditioners that I use regularly. As soon as I wash it with a different one it seems to become squeaky-clean, as though residue from the old product has been removed. Or perhaps I just imagine that. I like Alberto Balsam’s tea tree and mint shampoo for the super fresh smell (usually not costing much more than £1). Conditioner-wise, I like Tresemme or even the imitation versions of it (in an almost identical size and white-coloured bottle) from Aldi and Lidl. Also Gliss conditioner is great for colour-treated hair and widely available in pound shops).

In terms of hair treatments, I adore Natural World’s Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment oil. It’s available from online retailers such as Fragrance Direct, Amazon and Ebay for just a few pounds plus postage and a small 100ml bottle lasts months because you literally only need a few drops each time, perhaps half a teaspoon. I only use it after every other hair wash (otherwise it gets too sticky and greasy) and by smoothing those few drops down the ends of my hair when it is just damp it gets less tangled and keeps the condition better.

Make up

I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but spending five minutes applying a little makes me feel a lot better about coming downstairs and facing the day. To even out my skin tone, I used to love Barbara Daly oil free foundation. Sadly it suddenly became discontinued last summer so I had to find a replacement. This replacement has been Max Factor’s Facefinity All Day Flawless 3-in-1 Foundation, which is ok but I don’t love as much as the Barbara Daly one.

Other days I use a loose powder foundation- a mineral one by Lily Lolo. This is nice and gives fair coverage but only works well if your face is well-moisturised- don’t make the mistake of applying it to dry skin or else every dry patch and line will be emphasised!

For mascara (which I don’t always wear), Maybelline Great Lash is a good budget one that I often come back to. Currently I’m using a Dior mascara called Diorshow, which my lovely sister treated me to for my birthday and it is great quality. Or perhaps it’s all in the wand, rather than the mascara itself, as some experts say.

Well, that’s most of mine. Do you have favourites that you would never switch from? I’d love to hear them.

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Hair colouring and styling on a modest budget

Nothing beats that wonderful feeling of just having had your hair done and walking out of the salon knowing that your hair looks its best, does it?

Every now and again I decide that I am bored with my hair colour. I can’t claim to have ever changed to particularly exciting or wacky shades, and the pattern seems to be that in the summer I enjoy my hair being a dark brown shade when my skin darkens a little. Then when my skin pales in the autumn, I find that going a lighter, blonde shade is more flattering and I look less ‘washed out’ than I do with dark hair over the winter.

When I used to get a full head of highlights in a hair salon, I was usually pleased with the end result but found it a less pleasurable experience to pay a huge sum at the end. When your hair is classed as ‘long’, which generally includes anything below shoulder-length, you generally get charged more (I guess due to extra long lengths of foils being used and it taking a little longer to carry out). I found that £80-£100 was pretty standard to be charged, especially if I was having a trim as well.

Now, I appreciate that hairdressers often do a great job and have to earn a living, and when I was earning a full time salary I didn’t mind paying that price (too much). However, now that I am a stay-at-home-mum only working a few hours a week in private tuition, we have less money coming into the house and it makes sense to cut back on discretionary spending such as hair and beauty treatments.

In our town, there is a further education college that runs hairdressing courses. There are two levels of study: NVQ2 and NVQ3. The NVQ2 is the basic level of hairdressing qualification and towards the end of it, from April-June, the students have almost qualified so I am happy by then to book in for a hair colour treatment. Even better though, the NVQ3 students have already passed the NVQ2 level of study and many of them already work in salons as hairdressers – they may have their sights set on becoming a salon manager or acquiring additional skills in hairdressing to add to their bows. I must admit that for something as skilled as highlighting, especially as I have long hair and sometimes ask for two or even three colours to be woven in at once, I tend to ask for an NVQ3 student to carry it out. When you call your local college hairdressing department you can ask when the NVQ3 classes are to ensure you book for one of those if it’s your preference.

The main benefit of having your hair done by a student is obviously the low price. On my below shoulder length hair, even with 2 different colours woven in I don’t pay more than £25. If the student who does my hair does a good job and/or has a friendly, pleasant manner, I make a point of slipping them a tip too, mindful that they are students (or recently qualified hairdressers).

Understandably, lots of people are rather horrified at the prospect of a lesser qualified person setting to work on their precious tresses. There’s no need to be afraid, though. Overseeing every class is a tutor, who I have found without exception to be very exacting and sets high expectations of the students. She checks over the initial consultation and will voice any concerns she has before the colour etc is mixed. I have to say that on a few occasions the tutors (who are themselves highly experienced hairdressers) have made some thoughtful and valuable suggestions about my hair, that I hadn’t considered previously and led to a better end result.

So this is all sounding great, right? Getting your hair coloured at a snip of the salon price, are you wondering what the downsides to be mindful of are?

The main one is the additional time to allow for the treatment to take. The nature of the student needing to consult with their tutor at every stage, often having to wait while the tutor is occupied with other students, means there is extra waiting around. Plus of course, the fact that the student is less experienced means that certain procedures such as foils can take them longer to do. Personally though, I am quite happy to sit and read a book or magazine and see it as a treat to get some time to myself!

The second thing to factor in is that colleges only open during term time and have long summer holidays. So from mid June to mid September you probably won’t be able to get yourself booked in there and will need to either wait it out or make alternative hair treatment arrangements.

Still, for myself, the benefits outweigh the inconveniences, especially considering the money I save each time. I enjoy speaking to different students as well, most of whom express gratitude that clients such as myself make the effort to attend the college to get my hair done, as they can’t pass the course without carrying out a certain number of treatments on real people.

Simple trims and cuts I usually ask my mother to do, as well as for simple home dye kids when I apply a whole-hair colour. I should mention that my mother did actually train as a hairdresser many years ago before her current career, but wouldn’t feel comfortable attempting foil highlights as it isn’t a procedure she was ever taught.

Do you spend a lot of money on your hair? Perhaps you would consider giving your local hair college a try, too? If you are a non-UK reader, I imagine that there are similar setups with hairdressing colleges needing members of the public to come in and work on. Perhaps you have your own moneysaving hair tips to share- I would love to hear them.