When you’re on a tight budget

Years ago, in another country and before I met my amazing husband and before I got my second job, I lived for several weeks in a hostel (I was homeless for a month or two) and the state gave me an allowance, I can’t remember exactly how much but it was enough to pay for the cheapest but relatively safe lodgings I can find in that area, fuel for my scooter and some €15 a week on food. My room had a small fridge so it was a bit more difficult but if you have a bigger freezer, then you’ll do just fine.

So, if I’m in that situation now, with a roof over my head and just by myself, here’s what I’d shop first. It will be a bit difficult when starting but it gets better if you stick to the plan.

I need the food, so I get what I can afford. But that shouldn’t stop me from making something nice out of these. Do not blow the £15 food allowance. Have something left to buy fresh vegetables/fruits. If you go to the green grocers, you can get a lot for £1. I hand washed my laundry those days – it’s a pain to dry them but it’s doable.

So I’ve got breakfast with porridge, tea or pancakes covered. To make this shopping work, I’d have to repack the chicken drumsticks – one each, the pork sausages – 2 each and freeze them. That’s 4days meal if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I only eat two meals a day then so this is more than enough for me. At my greengrocers, you’d get 3 aubergines for £1. That would make a dish or two with eggs. As a matter of fact, I also cooked -string beans and eggs,  carrots and eggs, bittergourd and eggs, etc. Now the rice. 1/2 cup of uncooked rice is equal to 1 cup of cooked rice. When I was little, we’d scramble some eggs & cook rice and have instant coffee and that’s what we’d have for a meal. The pork sausages can be cooked as is or you can make it into something else. The chicken drumsticks can be fried or for healthier option, make a stew! My dad loved to make runny stew (more like soup really), it is really filling and you have a bit of everything in it.

The following week, you don’t have to buy the detergent, washing liquid, tea, flour, rice, sugar, salt and pepper.
I’d buy these…
I can cook 3 pasta dish for the next week, then 2 chicken soup dishes and one fried chicken, the one-vegetable omelette, one casserole. Breakfast is still the same. I used to freeze the bread as well – it lasted longer specially when you don’t want to eat bread everyday. You just need to keep the basic idea for the following weeks whenever you have some cash to buy a condiment. Keep planning, keep an eye on it. It is not easy, but it’s doable. I’ve done it.

I still do my shopping like this even now… stripping to what we need, planning way ahead, dividing the meat to how much I’d need to cook and so on. With four of us, eating breakfast and dinner at home, my budget is between £20 to £25 and since I’m already doing this for a while, I already have some dry ingredients bought. It works and it also means that it’s not a stretch if we want to treat ourselves to a rare takeaway or a restaurant trip. Also, we don’t waste a lot of food. The big fridge looks empty most of the time (the freezer is chuck full of food though).

Last summer, we collected blackberries from the forest and I made them into jams. I’ve got enough jars until next summer. That saves us between 40p to £1.25 per jar.

The plan – keep it simple.

M – porridge/toast/pancakes | rice & chicken casserole (buy the mix 40p, use only half & add frozen vegetables)
T -porridge/toast/pancakes | spaghetti bolognese (use sausage for mince, frozen carrots & peas and half pasta sauce)
W -porridge/toast/pancakes | rice & sausages out of the casing sauteed with frozen stir fried vegetables and soy sauce/hoisin sauce will work.

TH -porridge/toast/pancakes | rice & string beans or aubergine with 1 or 2 eggs
F -porridge/toast/pancakes | couscous & chicken wings adobo
SA -porridge/toast/pancakes | rice & sausage casserole (use the other half of the mix)
SU -porridge/toast/pancakes | Couscous with leftover vegetables

For the evenings, you can make a dish for 1 person with leftovers. Left over rice can be made into egg fried rice, just add crushed garlic and fried eggs. You can make soup with leftover vegetables. Couscous can be made into a salad. You can make Omelette!

There are cheaper places to shop other than Sainsburys, so if you are close to one, much better, you can add other things like butter, more vegetables or fruits. The important thing is to keep on budget and stick to the plan. If after a week, you’ve got a spare vegetable or meat left, make sure to add that meal for the current week. This way, you don’t waste. Do not be afraid to try something new and be creative.

An example of my dinner plan for my family of four with our £20-£25 weekly budget is:

M – 500g of 45p/kilo rice with Pork Chop Suey stir fry (I use what available vegetables I can get. Meat is 1/2 pack of the pork rashers. If on really tight budget, cook with 3 carrots and 1/4 Chinese cabbage)
T – Risotto
W – 400g of 35p pasta and  80p sausages added to 95p pasta sauce
Th – 500g of 45p/kilo rice with 3 aubergines & two eggs plus soy sauce or 500g rice 45p pack of chicken wings adobo £1.98
F – Lasagna , usually kids help or they cook it. Or Mushroom Risotto
Sa – 500g of 45p/kilo rice and half a pack of quorn pieces and korma (or any asian sauce) plus some frozen vegetables
Su – 500g of 45p/kilo rice and (80p) sausages, casserole mix at 40p with onion and 1/3rd pack of frozen vegetables (£1)

The good thing is my kids love to eat anything except perhaps liver. Breakfast is cereal, porridge or toast. No fuzzy drinks. We have some fruits (mostly apples and bananas).

If bananas are neglected, they become banana cake…