This is just a little composition of tricks and tips that I’ve come to rely on during my time on a student budget that allow me to NOT eat noodles for every meal/skip dinner in order to save alcohol money/stare into empty cupboards on a Sunday night in hope that something will magically materialise/forget about that expensive cheese you bought on a whim and end up having to scrape it out of the corner of the fridge 3 months later…
I am a big advocator of planning your food ahead if you can. It stops you over-buying and having to throw food away because it went bad before you could use it, and above all it stops impulse buying (my weakness is expensive world foods in pretty jars… oooooh…)
If I want to eat a fruit or vegetable on Monday that needs ripening, I can’t really expect to buy it on that Monday and expect it to be edible. And there is nothing more heartbreaking than prematurely slicing an avocado and finding it tough and plastic-y. By planning on Friday for next week, I can pop out on Friday ahead of my Monday shop and get an avocado or a banana that will hopefully be good to eat by the time I want to eat it. I often find they take longer to ripen than it says on the packet; even the ‘ready-ripe’ ones take at least a couple of days to be properly tasty.
Check the reduced section for things you know you’re likely to need
Bread that’s nearing its sell-by date (you can freeze it), slightly wrinkled cereal boxes or tins of beans that have a dent in them. It’s good to have beans stashed at the back of your cupboard and some bread in your freezer for when times get rough or you’re caught short for dinner.
However: don’t get tempted to buy stuff you don’t need just because it’s cheap, and make sure that you are indeed saving by checking the price; sometimes the little yellow sticker is temptation enough when really the reduction on it is negligible. And if you wouldn’t buy it, or at least a version of it, at full price, don’t buy it reduced. You don’t need it. I had an instance with the reduced section once where there were lots and lots of jars of chocolate spread with orange flavouring, reduced because they all had broken lids. NOBODY NEEDS THIS IN THEIR LIFE. End of. (Although I did have to be dragged away.)
Make big batches for freezing
Everybody does this (and if you don’t, where have you been ?!). Invest in some Tupperware. A package of chopped tomatoes, 1 onion, clove of garlic, 1 courgette, and a tin of kidney beans can be chucked into a pot to simmer for about 20 minutes, separated into plastic dishes (save the ones from your Chinese takeaway if you don’t want to shell out) and frozen for when you need something to put over pasta or lentils. This whole lot serves me for 6 meals. You can do it with pretty much any sauce you make, as well as obviously veggie burgers/sausages, fish and meat fillets that you pick up but don’t want to use immediately too. And cheese ! I never knew you could freeze cheese, but you can. Awesome.
Beware ‘packaged’ items
Let me illustrate something for you: a conveniently packaged net of 3 onions in my local supermarket costs 85p. Pick up 3 loose onions from the basket and put them in a slightly less pretty cellophane bag yourself and it will cost you 46p. You do the maths…
HOWEVER, this is not always the case. For example, 3 peppers in a packet is £1.50. 3 separate ones cost £1.89. But how can you tell this pre-checkout in the supermarket ? I often check online (most supermarkets have online shopping now) before I do my shop (my supermarket is close enough to not have to pay for it to be delivered, and deliveries often call for a minimum spend that is more than I would ever dream of spending on a weekly shop) to check whether it will be financially beneficial to buy packet or loose.
Know your prices
There’s a farmer’s fruit and vegetable market that comes onto Sussex university campus every Tuesday which is often referred to as a “rip off.” In some instances, it is, as well as sometimes being a total bargain.
For example: you can get 2 avocados from the market for £1.50. In my supermarket you won’t get 2 for less than £1.95 (I don’t count the economy ones as they are awful and NEVER seem to ripen).
4 figs at the market cost £1, as opposed to £2.50 in the supermarket !
Tofu is often much cheaper in farm shops or (my new favourite place in Brighton) Chinese supermarkets.
Conversely, a packet of rocket at the market costs £1.20. In my supermarket it costs £1. Swings and roundabouts.
I know this sounds mental but I do keep these prices at the back of my mind, they seem to become ingrained in there for when I’m doing my shopping. This may mean you have to do some of your shopping in one place and the rest in the other, but all the shop-hopping will keep you fit and your bank balance will thank you !
A few other tips…
Don’t rely so much on sell-by dates. Most of these dates correspond to appearance rather than edibility; it may look a little brown, but if it smells and tastes okay and doesn’t have mould on it, it’s probably fine. So many people jump straight to the bin if the date is anywhere near the one on the packet when they don’t need to and this annoys me. At least sniff it first !
Quality matters sometimes, as mentioned above with the avocado. Most of the time I buy economy at my supermarket – there really is not much difference, apart from a few exceptions. Budget brand cheese is usually a no-go for me, as well as eggs and tuna for moral reasons. However, with regards to fruit and veg, the farmer’s market’s are often a lot bigger, juicier and tastier than that of the supermarket despite being occasionally slightly more expensive. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you can afford the difference.
In those fleeting times of financial prosperity, take time out of your busy celebratory drinking schedule to buy stock of cupboard items. By this I mean big packets of pasta, lentils, oats, tinned tomatoes, tinned soup, salt, pepper and herbs; flour and baking soda are especially important if you often get the baking urge like me, most recipes will call for these, along with white and brown sugar, yeast, honey, oils etc.