Food bills have rapidly risen in recent years, leaving many out of pocket. According to the Trussel Trust, food prices increased by 43.5% between 2005 and 2013, squeezing household budgets already hit by stalling wages, austerity, and the ongoing consequences of the recession. Wasted food is a big budgetary problem too – the charity, WRAP, estimates that the average family with children will throw away £60 worth of food every month, amounting to £700 a year!
We all need to eat, and simply cutting down on the number of meals we eat per day is by no means a healthy choice. Luckily, though, there's a number of great ways that those feeling the pinch can drastically cut down on the cost of their weekly food bills, all of which can help to pay the bills – freeing up a fair lot of cash in the process.
Set yourself a budget
This is perhaps the most important step, and the one that will have the biggest effect on your family finances. Take into account the amount you usually spend every week, subtract 15% off the total, and then use this number as a limit on what you can spend – this is by no means a figure set in stone, but it's one that allows you to save a little cash aside for emergencies.
When you're out purchasing your groceries, do your entire shop for the week in one go. If there are offers available, think carefully before you purchase and check both the price per kg and individual item price before committing. Finding it hard to tot up those totals in your head? Use your phone or bring along a pocket calculator to make sure you're staying within budget.
Plan your meals
Once you've got in to the swing of sticking to your budget, draw up a meal plan for the week and follow it! This doesn't mean you have to stick to the same breakfasts, lunches and dinners, week-in, week-out, but by having a list of individually-costed meals you can have mealtime variety throughout the week, all without breaking the bank.
Learn to cook from scratch
As ready meals, frozen dinners, and takeaways have grown in popularity, our collective cooking habits have suffered, and weekly food spends have increased as a result. Instead of going for the quick and easy option, buy fresh meat and vegetables and rustle up your own creations. Frozen meats and vegetables are also very good for cutting down on costs, as well as time spent cooking.
By looking at recipes online and having a bank of non-perishables, herbs and spices to call on, you'll soon be making healthier, cheaper – and let's face it – more rewarding meals in no time. Cooking a meal for the family doesn't take as long as many might think, and the process will definitely speed up as you get more practice.
Being loyal to one particular shop or supermarket is a sure-fire way to increase your food bills, so make sure you visit a variety of shops when getting your groceries for the week.
Markets, independent grocers and butchers are all great choices for the money-conscious shopper, although low-cost supermarkets are also a sound option, especially when combined with deals you can only access when shopping online. After a few weeks of shopping around you'll soon be aware which stores sell foods for the cheapest price.
Always remember that buying by weight is often a better idea than buying multipacks – especially fruits and vegetables – and if you ditch the branded goods and opt for the own-brand products you'll also save a bundle. Regarding meat and fish, don't always go for the least-expensive option – fat and salt-heavy items are often the cheapest available in stores, and probably won't leave you feeling full.
Every time you throw away food, you're throwing away money – it's that simple. To tackle this expensive source of waste, take note of your habits and either cut down on the amount of food you cook every mealtime, or alternatively cook meals that can be frozen, or alternatively eaten as leftovers the next day.
If you find that you're throwing away foods due to them spoiling, then beware: use-by and best-before dates shouldn't always be followed to the letter. Many are based upon estimates provided by manufacturers and supermarkets, and, especially in the case of best-before and sell-by dates, are basically guides to when foods are perfectly fresh. Instead, use your nose and eyes – if it looks fine to eat, isn't mouldy, and doesn't smell, it's good to eat!
Not sure what foods have gone bad? When you're picking out items at the shop, choose the ones that have farthest use-by dates to give yourself more time to eat them, and more time to think of delicious recipes to put them in!