How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half – The Final Word

How-to-cut-your-grocery-bill-in-half-healthily

As you know, we recently did several weeks’ of ThriftyLesley meal plans in a self-imposed ‘how to cut your grocery bill in half’ challenge. We found the majority of the meals were tasty, and they saved us an IMMENSE amount of money – in fact our grocery bill for an entire month was just under £52 (this does not include the non-dairy milk and a few foods I have to my for Baby TV #1). Overall, we enjoyed the experience, and would recommend anyone wanting to save money on their groceries to check out Lesley’s site and incorporate some of her ideas into your own cooking and shopping.

However, all is not rosy. There were some significant downsides to following the meal plans (almost) exclusively, which is what I wanted to share with you today. The downsides are not Lesley’s doing though, so please don’t be discouraged about trying out her recipes, because we found most of them to be great.

Time Management and Food Preparation

One of the main things that was difficult about following these meal plans was being organised enough in committing to the time needed to shop, prepare, cook, and store the food. I already cook pretty much everything from scratch at home, largely due to various allergies in our family, as well as wanting to know what goes into our food. The other benefits of this are having nice, freshly prepared meals and saving a lot of money vs. buying prepared or packaged goods, so I’m prepared to devote significant time to it… plus I do generally love cooking. However, when following the meal plans, it seemed like I was cooking non-stop. Some of the recipes take quite a lot of prep (anything with the flatbreads!), and if you’re busy or disorganised, you just won’t have time to do them. It’s only because I work part-time and skipped/changed a few of Lesley’s exact plans that I was able to get everything done that was needed. Ideally, you’d need to be at home a LOT e.g. you may work from home, be a stay-at-home mum, be retired, etc.

If you’re a very organised person, you might not have a problem with this, but if we did this experiment in our house again, I’d probably just make larger batches of our favourite recipes and freeze them. The plans do incorporate making extra on a regular basis, but only to use later in the week, rather than to store for longer periods. Of course, part of the point of the plans is that they represent eating on around £1 per adult, per day so there is no room for buying twenty packets of flour for example, when you should only be spending up to about £15 for two people. Thankfully, we are not in the situation where we only have £15 to spend on food every week, so we did actually buy in bulk at the beginning of the experiment. This bulk-buying had saved us quite a lot by week 4, as we could see that after a month we’d only spent just under £52 as opposed to ~£60 if we’d have bought the exact amounts of food required every week.

Eating Healthily on an Extreme Budget

The major downfall of following these plans was the nutritional qualities we consumed during the experiment. Whilst the meals did have plenty of fruit and especially plenty of veg, there was way too much reliance on white carbs, as someone asked me about on Twitter during the challenge. Clearly, if you’re living on such a low amount of money, you will be restricted in what you can afford. However, if it were me in such a situation, I’d probably spend a bit more and buy some brown rice or better yet, some quality fats, and cut back the money off the fruit or something. There was also a large amount of sugar to be purchased on the meal plans, something which is neither healthy nor particularly desirable as a source of cheap calories.

It’s pretty difficult to imagine how the plans could be changed to incorporate a healthier diet on such a restricted amount of money. I am so utterly thankful that we don’t live on the poverty line, or anywhere near it, because this kind of diet would not be good for you even in the short-term, let alone the long-term. We suffered with a worsening of eczema and my skin in general got a LOT worse after just 2 weeks on these meal plans. I had spots, itchiness, and lumpy reddening which was in addition to the worsening of the eczema. These plans might not affect the next person at all, but I certainly noticed the difference. I was also more sluggish and tired – probably down to the sheer amount of white carbs.

Frugal, Yet Healthy Budget Hacks

One way of doing the plans which would make them healthier, and yet still save money is to buy the majority of the food in one go, in bulk – obviously only if you can afford to do so. Perhaps you are on a very low salary and get paid monthly – that would be perfect, because you could afford to buy larger packets and tins of food.

You could also then use some of the savings in this way to swap the white carbs for their healthier brown cousins. On this note, Sainsbury’s are now selling a type of pasta which is very similar to normal, white pasta but it is made with wheat and oats. This boosts the fibre content as well as having other better nutritional qualities. We tried this for the last few weeks and it tastes almost the same as regular pasta. But brown pasta sucks, so I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it! I think it’s also more expensive than the wheat-oat Sainsbury’s pasta.

Fats – you should also buy better quality fats. ‘Spread’ is not a healthy fat, and neither is vegetable oil, although it’s not as bad as the nebulous ‘spread’ found in the plans. If you can afford to buy in bulk, then you may as well order some organic coconut oil from Amazon, which is one of the best fats you can consume. We found this one* you can buy in bulk, the more you buy, the more you save.

You could also incorporate more fish into the diet – a great source of protein, easy to digest, and if you buy the right ones then also full of good fats like Omega 3. You can get pretty cheap tinned mackerel in olive oil or even tinned salmon at Aldi, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco. The Aldi tinned mackerel is actually a brand name, pretty decent quality one.

When I was a student, I was living on less than £15 per week for food (I usually spent much less) and the best way I found to save money was to buy discounted meats/fish and then freeze them. If there were three loaves of bread going for 20p each, I’d buy them all. I’d especially buy the quality meats and fish (e.g. organic, free-range, and grass-fed) when they were in the ‘to clear’ section (yellow stickers). Check out this page for money-saving tips on grocery shopping – scroll down to tip #22 to see what times the supermarket slash their prices.

Use the savings from buying in bulk to buy some high quality booster items e.g. ground flaxseed, others nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.) or some high quality supplements e.g. these. Our western diet is pretty bad sometimes, and the environmental pollution and other sources of toxins can wreak havoc on our bodies. Eating high quality fats and nutritionally dense foods e.g. kale, quality meats, and various other veggies in combination with good fats is really important. These are way more important than grains which often cause more harm than good. Grains are more difficult for your body to process and the white carbs in particular are the worst offenders. They spike your blood sugar and do not provide much nutrition.

Final Verdict

Give these plans a go, but if you can afford it, swap what you can for healthier versions. Take note of the time commitment needed to make all 3 of your meals PLUS snacks every day, even if you cook in larger quantities and freeze it down.

Mostly, be crafty about your shopping habits (don’t go when you’re hungry, shop when the discounts are happening) and buy the highest quality items you can afford i.e nutritionally dense – they will serve you well in the long run, and if we’re shooting for financial independence/early retirement then we want to be fit and healthy enough to enjoy it!

Let me know your thoughts – do you have any favourite shopping hacks, frugal recipes, or nutritional supplements that are great? Let me know, leave a comment below.

12 Comments

  1. Some awesome figures on the cost front M. I would never go that extreme as it’s just not really necessary and for the reasons you point out regarding nutrition etc… but it’s great that you followed the plan fairly religiously to show what can be done when you put your mind to it! I’m going to peruse Thrifty Leslie for some good ideas over the coming weeks to see what we can do 😉
    theFIREstarter recently posted…how to get free business bankingMy Profile

    1. Absolutely. It was super interesting to see that eating reasonably well for <£1 per day, per adult is possible... And gets easier after a couple of weeks of buying in bulk.Pretty sure I'm gonna go Thrifty Lesley

  2. Hi M,

    Interesting to read your comments on the ThrifyLesley meal plans. I haven’t actually stuck to any of her plans to the letter. I have mixed them up and used them as a basis to vary my meals. The soup ideas are useful and I make a whole batch and freeze it for easy meals. I wasn’t too keen on having raisin pancakes for breakfast! I have cut my food bills down quite a bit and I don’t buy bread. So the meal plans with lots of “X” on toast really didn’t cut it for me, so I would either go without the bread or find a substitute such as salad (I buy the cheap 49p salad offer items). If my garden was better situated I would grow my own, only home-grown tomatoes this year!

    I do make flatbreads , using a different recipe to the one that TL details. I too was somewhat worried at the amount of sugar used in recipes and either tried to cut down, cut out or substitute the sugar where possible in the recipe.
    I was also concerned at the limited food combos but if money is tight then you have no choice. I try to save on some items and buy good quality ones when I can and bulk buy! Which is always harder when you are only cooking for one. Anything and everything that can be frozen to give it as much shelf life as possible without losing the nutrients is key.

    1. Hey,

      Yes you’re absolutely right. The plans do involve so much sugar (and white stuff and bread, which are just sugar anyway), so we were getting a bit sick of it all after a couple of weeks… Think I’m going to re-write the plans in a healthier version… Watch this space!

  3. Thanks for the round-up to an informative series M.

    I was good to discuss all this food business with you in person this weekend. I think it’s clear where I can make some pretty immediate savings in my grocery budget. It’s definitely a case of targeting the “low-hanging meat” as I could see yours and everyone else’s eyes bulge when I said we eat meat with every meal!
    FIbrarian recently posted…I want to ride my bicycleMy Profile

    1. Yeah, that was a bit surprising to hear that from you! I think for me, it’s more important for nutritional reasons, saving money is not as important as your heath. So I’d probably just switch my pattern a bit e.g. 3x meat per week, but buy the quality, cheaper cuts e.g. beef skirt/ox cheek, free range/organic chicken thighs, Turkey mince. Fish is really important, so it’s great you’re already eating it regularly! There’s nothing like a bit of tinned mackerel on toast, sprinkled with a few herbs, Lemon juice and black pepper – seriously delicious, seriously frugal!

  4. Excellent round up there M – all too often, you only get to see the good side of eating on a budget, so thanks very much for your honesty on how it has affected your health. As a fellow eczema sufferer, I sincerely hope your skin condition is better now that you’ve switched your diet.

    I had said previously that I couldn’t keep to a strict meal plan as I prefer flexibility with my cooking. Or because I know I’m not a very organised person! However, I have picked a few of Thrifty Lesley’s recipe ideas and have been cooking in bulk again and also have an eye out for buying more things in bulk when I can, so I’m saving in the long run, both time and money.

    I’m not a huge fan of brown pasta either so I mix it with white – it does look a bit funny when cooked but when you mix in sauce, you can’t see (or taste) the difference.

    Thanks again for documenting your efforts.
    weenie recently posted…Shared ListeningMy Profile

    1. Thanks Weenie. I think you’re right, which is why I wanted to write this final round-up to speak about a few of the downsides. I always liked what Tawcan said once, which was about ‘what frugal is and what frugal isn’t’ e.g. he was saying it was more frugal to buy the quality that will last, rather than buy the cheapest of everything which will break after a short time and have to be replaced several times.

      The same applies to food, but we are putting it into our bodies – I don’t want the cheapest of everything, I know what it will do to my body if I eat poorly. Even if I didn’t have eczema and the like, I know that the fats and micronutrients etc. are also important in a diet, so if you’re going to follow a meal plan, you’d better make sure that you cover the important, smaller details as well as the main ideas.

      I think I’m probably going to move back to a low carb, or at least, very low refined carb diet i.e. no pasta, even the brown/oaty sainsbury’s one. I find that I have more energy and feel better by swapping that for brown rice, or brown rice noodles, or just for a higher, quality fat content.

      Thanks for stopping by, as always, I appreciate your comments. We’re missing you here at the FIRE Escape.

  5. Thanks for writing all this up M.

    I must admit I haven’t actually got round to targeting our food outlay as I’ve had bigger fish to fry regarding our spending habits 🙂 – this may change somewhat when I stop work and have more time. For the moment my husband does most of our food shopping and cooking. We do eat pretty healthily but probably not quite as cheaply as we could.

    You obviously really know your nutrition so it’s very interesting to read your thoughts on eating for health on a low budget and how to bring together all the current thinking on healthy eating into an actual meal-plan.
    Cerridwen recently posted…The IMF and Global Growth – Short-Termism and the MarketsMy Profile

    1. Yes, I remember we had a conversation on your blog quite a while ago about turmeric and how the capsules are better than just putting it into your food. I’m really into nutrition so it’s important for me to take that into account, whilst still trying to maximise our money in terms of good value products…

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