Having just been away for three weeks, the proverbial (can I say that if I actually mean nursery rhyme rather than proverb?) Mother Hubbard in our household truly did find the cupboard bare, and had to hot-foot it down to the local store to replenish food supplies. This hit the purse strings this week in our supermarket of choice (i.e. out of a choice of two- not many options in this little piece of the back of beyond) to a total of £128, which filled up the fridge and freezer, and a few bits to add into the store cupboard. This doesn’t compare too badly, given that the fridge was indeed empty, with the weekly national average spending on food according to BBC’s ‘Eat Well for Less (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0520lz9) ringing in at £81.40 for a family of four. This doesn’t include eating out, take-away coffees etc, as is just the weekly spend on food for the home, so the vast majority of us will actually be spending far more than that on food and drink per week by the time we factor in those emergency chocolate bars at the petrol station and the quintessential beer quaffing in your local pub of choice on a Friday night.
So the question for Thrifter has to be how long will our £128 worth last us? I’m not likely to do another large shop for another couple of weeks, though we will buy perishables as we need them, and of course other ‘unidentified items’ sneak their way into the baskets while you are a captive audience in the church of gluttony. Our £128 was reduced by £7.50 in loyalty vouchers, and a further £10 was on nappies, so if we consider £110.50 as our starting point, and lets see what happens over the next few weeks – I’ll follow it up in a later post.
The programme itself, Eat well for Less, now into series 3 so is clearly hitting home with the viewing public, who love to do the following things: 1. Save money, and 2. Gawp in amazement at the apparent lack of common sense in our fellow shoppers. The skinflint philosopher falls into both categories, ‘nuf said. This series includes for our viewing pleasure, a family who only buy pre-cut fruit and vegetables and a family who throw away fruit once it’s past it’s best before date, and to paraphrase Greg Wallace, the show’s bespectacled ‘man on the street’, “I don’t know why anyone would need a date on a bag of fruit to tell us whether it’s ok to eat. Has it gone soft? Is it mouldy? It’s very, very obvious”. The Haynes family (episode 4) were throwing away a whopping £60 worth of food each week. When we factor in the consequences on the environment of mass food production, transportation and packaging, all for it to end up going in the bin, the financial cost to the family is a final cherry on the top of the Skinflinter’s take on criminality.
It would be unfair to dismiss other’s actions without highlighting what works for us, so here are Thrifter’s key pieces of advice regarding food thrift.
1. We never throw food away, by actually going against the advice given on the programme, by never having meal plans. Instead we eat what needs to be eaten, and design and create meals and dishes to facilitate that. It may mean that they are a little unusual on the odd occasion, but variety is the spice of life of course.
2. Leftovers become lunches for the following day, or make friends with your freezer and put back in for another time.
3. Avoid branded products where the quality doesn’t always justify the cost.
4. Cook from scratch whenever possible, and therefore minimise your paying to a middleman for their handling of what you are about to receive.
5. We are also now almost completely meat-free. Thrifter has not partaken for around twenty-five years but Digger has recently been watching ‘Things on the Internet’ (note the doom-laden capital letters, in the voice of he-who-shall-be-obeyed) which has put him off processed meat for the time being, though he still manages to sneak Italian salami into his repertoire. It will be interesting to see how our spending changes as a result.
Finally as always, we all have different tastes and priorities, so go spend on food in a way that suits you. If every morsel you put into your mouth fills you with guilt, then something is wrong. But as Paul Prudhomme said, with a great sense of skinflintery, “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food”.