Living frugally and trying to save money usually involves making cuts to our budget, and can often mean making changes in how we spend money on food. But living (and eating!) on a budget doesn’t mean you have to compromise on having good, tasty meals. The post below is written by Araminta from Financially Mint, sharing these great tips on how to eat well even when you’re on a tight budget.
It’s easy to eat on a budget. It’s easy to eat healthy. It’s easy to eat deliciously. But is it easy to combine all three?
Well, my friends, it is. But it does require a lil’ bit of preparation. Here are some simple and easy steps to eat delicious, healthy and of course, cheap food. Oh, and if you want fast, you can get that too.
First of all, calculate your budget: how much can you allocate to food? How much would you like to allocate to food? You see, if you start with a number in mind, it’s easier to work your way down and find ingredients that meet your number
Then, make a list of cheap healthy food you would enjoy. Here are some examples:
- Frozen veggies
- Pepper + onions
- Canned goods
- Yoghurt and cheese
- Sweet potatoes and potatoes
So now you’ve got your magic budget number and ingredients. Now you need a recipe. Not sure where to start? I simply type in ‘recipe with x’ into Google. ‘Oh look I’ve got a pumpkin but have no idea what to do with it’. ‘Pumpkin recipe’ recipe in Google should do the trick. Make sure you can use this for the amount of people you’ll be cooking for and then write down the ingredients you need.
Now you know what you’re doing, so time to get to the next step: shopping!
2. The shopping
The hardest part about the shopping is keeping within the budget. This is why you bring your fancy list of ingredients and STICK TO IT. No you don’t need chocolate. You don’t need more wine. And least of all, a muffin mould.
Some extra tips:
- Don’t go when you’re hungry, it’ll make you buy more
- Do one big shopping trip a week, with little ones now and then.
Whether you’re a busy mum, student or simply don’t have much time, buying everything once a week saves A LOT OF TIME. Just the basics. The little snacks and extras can be bought during the week. But the large meals, all in one go. Plus it’s much easier to budget and manage. Try and budget week per week, this way you know what you can spend in your shopping trip.
3. The cooking
Ahhh now we get to the most interesting part. After batch shopping, it’s time to batch cook – you save a lot of time, trust me.
Pick a day for cooking, and spend an afternoon on it (typically Sundays). Cook several different ingredients and then freeze them to be combined with others during the week. Here are some examples:
- Rice + pasta
- Cooked veggies
- Salad (could be potato, normal, etc)
Careful with meat, potatoes and eggs, as they don’t do well in the fridge.
You prepare these and then get to mix them up during the week. At the beginning this may seem a little bland to you: soup and rice? Sounds boring. But as you cook more and more you’ll get better and you’ll try new recipes. With some fancy spices you can create a curry with your rice, with your eggs and mushrooms you can cook a quiche, with your ratatouille you can do some meat or fish now and then.
If you really want to have it all sorted out: plan out the cooking with recipes. Print out the recipes you want to try out and the days you’ll be cooking them. Then you know when you’ll have time to cook and what ingredients to buy at every shopping trip. Google Calendar is a friend.
Of course, you don’t have to cook only on Sunday – that’s pretty impossible for people with families and large meals to prepare. But the basic ingredients; batch cooking them and storing them away can save a lot of time, and is always very useful.
I find the best part about cooking is experimenting. Trying new ingredients, new recipes and weird spices. It may be disgusting at first, but it won’t be next time you do it (e.g. my extra peppery tomato soup). The best to get started is to check out websites full of healthy budget meals and trying some of them out. My favourites are BBC Good Food and Eating Well. Notice a recipe that seems a lil’ risky but interesting? Try it out! Family members will be intrigued, and every recipe is an exercise.
Some great simple, yummy, healthy, budget meals:
- Soup – mushroom soup, pumpkin, lentil, tomato
- Curry – could be vegetarian
- Jacket potatoes
- Fried rice – literally just veggies, eggs and rice
- Omelettes/scrambled eggs
If you think you have no skills or are a little overwhelmed, start simple and slowly work your way up.
5. Discounts and sales
If you’re very serious about being on a budget and squeezing out as much food as you can out if it, try shopping with discounts and sales. Supermarkets are always handing out fancy flyers with coupons and interesting sales going on – try to incorporate what’s on sale into your recipe/menu. You’ll be flexing the creative cooking mind and saving money (!).
- The best sites to find discounts are: Money Saving Expert, Super Savvy Me and supermarket magazines (which you find at the supermarkets).
- If you want to take it a step further, you can use cashback apps such as CheckoutSmart and Shopitize.
- Shop at supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda and Lidl. They’re the cheapest and they have a huge variety of products. M&S are great, but it hurts the wallet.
So there you go! 5 steps to eat delicious, home-cooked, cheap and healthy food. Of course, it does take practice to be able to produce amazing meals every time. Since I always buy the same base ingredients I already know what I’m buying every time I enter the supermarket. But then – I see a weird looking vegetable or an interesting fish, and I decide to experiment. If I like it, I’ll do it again – if not, I’ve learnt my lesson (and so have some of my friends hehe).
What cool recipes have you tried out? Comment below!
Araminta is creator of Financially Mint, a personal finance blog for university students written by an actual student. She interviews experts, does weird experiments and a ton of research to help her and others graduate financially intelligent.