Interest rates will rise for the first time in 10 years, and reports suggest this is only the start. House buyers who are on the verge of getting their deposit together are groaning because they know they’ll be getting even less for their money. It’s tough and what makes it harder, as I’ve learnt having just gone through the long and stressful ordeal of buying a house, is that we all expect to have everything. Now. And share it with everyone.
Facebook made it bad. Instagram has made it worse. Going on holiday once a year is a must just so you have enough photos to populate your Instagram for that particular week, and for all of the #TBTs and #MondayMemories thereafter. The same is true of food, especially for those who love it.
If we aren’t Instagramming lightly peppered eggs benedict in an overpriced cafe on a Sunday morning, then what are we even doing with our lives? Eating out and eating well are so part and parcel of everyday life now, that it’s extremely difficult to cut back. Especially when your phone is filled with photos of friends having cocktails just because, and just generally showing off how great their culinary life is.
Despite this (first world) hardship, we’ve proved it’s possible to buy a house, without starving and eating pretty well. It’s taken us years of saving, but with a frugal and thrifty mindset, you can still eat well while cutting back:
1. Go #veggie: Or better still, #vegan. In terms of social media kudos, the below hashtags say it all. It’s astonishing just how much money can be taken off your shopping bill by cutting out meat and dairy. And it doesn’t mean having to buy fancy vegetarian or vegan substitutes. Ingredients like lentils (used in this sweet potato and dhal pie), chickpeas or kidney beans (used in this tostada recipe) cost pennies and go a long way.
2. Cook with bony or fatty cuts: If, like me, you can’t quite stomach abandoning meat altogether, try cooking with cheaper and less commonly desirable alternatives. I’ve discovered some of my favourite recipes this way, such as breaded lamb breast goujons and thai chicken thigh bake. To put it into perspective, in Tesco you get 162.5g of chicken breast for £1 compared to 400g of chicken drum sticks for £1.
3. Make one meal stretch to two: Using your leftovers effectively means happy days for your bank balance. Plus you can Insta-story two meals for the price of one. Using leftovers forced me to get creative with recipes cobbled together from substitutes at the back of my cupboard. And if you’re not feeling inspired, there are few ingredients that can’t make it into a soup, such as the spiced cauliflower from this turnip puree recipe.
4. Make lunch at home… or in work: Spending £3.50 on lunch every day sounds meagre doesn’t it? But it adds up to £17.50 a week, £70 a month, £910 a year. If you can get it down to £2 a day, you could save £400 annually. Working full time and long hours means the last thing I want to do every night is prepare the next day’s lunch. So usually I buy the ingredients on my lunch hour: a bag of salad leaves, cooked prawns, potato salad, croutons, bunged onto a plate and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and garlic oil. Costs £11 a week and presented on a pretty plate it’s almost ‘gram worthy.
5. Don’t let food porn arouse your hunger: Seeing gorgeous photos of filtered food on a daily basis doesn’t help when you’re trying to save. But, actually, training my brain to know the difference between being hungry and simply fancying something, stopped me from making unnecessary and impulse purchases. It took a bit of time and willpower, but now I’m in a good place where I speak my stomach’s language. Helped me lose weight, too!
6. Say goodbye to snacks: We buy them in case you get hungry. But if you’re meal planning correctly, you shouldn’t need to buy them at all. We stopped buying snacks when we were saving and, eventually, we didn’t even realise they weren’t making it into our shopping basket. That is until we had visitors, who wanted snacks. We felt like bad hosts, but it was worth it to save dollar.
7. Shop local: Shopping at independents doesn’t always seem to be the cheapest option, but sometimes you can get far more for your money. We used to buy our veg at Canton Fruit Market. Once I bought a bouquet of coriander for a fraction of the price of the measley off-cuts you find in most supermarkets. The local butcher had a regular six steaks for £10 deal, too. In the words of my mum, in an extreme Swansea accent, go local and “ew can’t go wrong.”
8. Be supermarket savvy: Since discovering how much I can save off my food bill at budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl, it pains me to venture into any of the alternatives. In our saving hay-day (discounting the odd pint of milk, bread and bag of salad) James and I would spend £110 a month on an Aldi food shop. Some people moan that they don’t have ‘the variety’. When you’re on a budget, that’s kind of the point. You don’t get blinded by choice, tempted by two-for-one offers or distracted by the convenient placement of premium brands. You learn how to shop the Aldi way.
10. Earmark economical eateries: It’s never been easier to find places serving low cost but decent food for the odd occasion you can justify eating out. My top budget recommendations in Cardiff are 3Bs Cafe, where almost everything on the menu is £5 or less, or The Hashery where everything is under a tenner and two for one cocktails are served all day, every day.
10. Budget for birthday meals: No matter how much you want to avoid splashing the cash while you’re saving, there are always going to be days when dining out is unavoidable – family birthday meals and Mother’s Day. And, in those instances, you’re often unable to influence the restaurant choice either. So there’s all the more reason to keep a calendar of predestined meals out, and budget for them.
11. Say no: When you really want something (like a house), sometimes you have to be selfish and just say no to wining and dining invites from family and friends. It’s tough saying no, even embarrassing sometimes, because you’re admitting that you’re putting something else first. But eventually, if you stick to your guns, those that matter will understand and appreciate that you’re serious about saving.
12. Treat yourself: Setting yourself up to achieve your saving goal requires focus and determination. But, a bit like dieting, you’re more likely to quit if you don’t give yourself a break once in a while. About once a year we tried to go somewhere a little more upmarket to keep ourselves sane, like the gorgeous meal we had at Arbennig to celebrate my new job.
So, what then? If you commit to saving, and actually reach your goal? Then you’ll have learnt some worthwhile eating and spending habits which will put you in good stead as you start paying off your massive mortgage!