Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How to Stretch the Frugal Grocery Budget

Rural Living and No Supermarkets

I'm often asked how I manage to keep the grocery budget so low when we have no easy access to supermarkets and, therefore, no access to all those lovely yellow stickers and 'reduced' items everyone seems to always be boasting about online.

First of all, I have a small budget, so it has to stretch much further than one set in a more urban location. You very rarely get the opportunity to buy 'cheap' groceries when living in a rural area, so growing your own fruit and vegetables of any description is always a good idea. We also keep hens, ducks and quail for eggs.

Until recently, we were a household of three, but we're mostly down to two, nowadays, with occasional fluctuations. Previously, the grocery budget had been set at £1 per person per day for everything but I have increasef that to £1.25 per person per day, to add a bit of luxury. For a household of 2, that's going to be £912.50 for 2013

.If you can buy vegetables in bulk cheaply, there's no real need to grow vast quantites of, say, potatoes, carrots or onions when you could be growing or rearing something a little more exotic (or expensive) in your garden. This winter, I have bought bulk sacks of potatoes (£9 for 25kg), carrots (£1.99 for 10kg) and onions (99p for 4kg), so these should see us right through until spring. Meanwhile, we have all sorts of fresh herbs, quail eggs and even saffron being produced in the garden.

When prepping the veggies, I can boil a huge pot of potatoes then mash and freeze the surplus into margarine tubs. Adding a bit of milk powder to the mash means that it doesn't go watery once defrosted, it tends to be more creamy. I sometimes do carrots or swede in my mash, too, as they boil well together. Excess carrots can be washed, chopped and blanched for freezing or else stored in crates of sand. I have to admit to never having tried over-wintering them in sand, as I prefer to have them at the ready for using in stews, soups and casseroles.

Food miles - do they matter?

I would love to be able to grow, buy or trade everything locally, as in within cycling distance of the house, but that's never going to happen. 'Local', for me, needs to mean 'buy British', which is what I try to do as much as possible. I grow what I can in the garden and we have a local store in the village, which is about 7 miles round trip from here, but prices can be unaffordably high on a frugal budget.

We no longer have a car, so home deliveries are now paramount - but no supermarkets deliver within our area. Solving this problem is what led me to the' frugal four', although they have, since, reduced to the 'thrifty three': Approved Food*, Food Bargains* and ROSSPA.

The above sites offer rural frugalers every opportunity to save money on grocery shopping. The first two sell close to sell-by and/or past BBE date foodstuffs, often in bulk, with a fairly reliable and economical delivery service. The latter is an ever diversifying farm shop that sells fresh produce, including British meat, fruit and vegetables online and delivers overnight. Let's face it, for someone without a car who lives at least 20 miles round trip from their nearest small Co-op, the £5.50 delivery option is excellent value. It would cost me more than double that for a taxi, as I'd never manage to haul 25kg of foodstuffs in a shopper on the bus. Apart from that, there is no bus!

This afternoon, I took delivery of both a ROSSPA and an Approved Food order, but I'll start with ROSSPA, as that's where the 10kg of carrots and 4kg of onions originate. I ordered the following:
  • Kitchen towels x 4
  • 750g unsmoked gammon joint
  • 1.2kg fresh Cumberland sausages
  • 1.2kg fresh Scottish beef mince
  • 1.3kg fresh British pork chops
  • 2 x 5lb bacon (approx 4.55kg)
  • 10kg carrots
  • 4kg onions
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Pickling spices
The boxes always arrive overnight with meats packed in polystyrene boxes (complete with chill packs) and everything else bubble wrapped and surounded by egg cartons... now yoy know where I get all my packaging and where I store the eggs when all the birds are laying! The above order came to a grand total of £36.90 including postage and packaging and arrived within 24 hours of ordering, despite this being a very busy week for all concerned.

The first thing I do is work out how many meals are among the order, to gauge the price. Everything gets split up into alternative packaging and then straight into the freezer. (I double checked with ROSSPA and all their butcher meat is fresh, none pre-frozen.)

Here I have to admit to falling foul of plastic freezer bags, but I do reuse any containers I have available, including those saved by my less frugal friends and relatives, from takeaways.

From my £36.90 order, I easily have sufficient meat for at least 35 meals for two, plus several pots of soup. Even the bones from the pork chops can be boiled to make stock for a decent pot of broth and each pot is enough to feed two of us for several lunches, especially when cooked up with plenty of vegetables and some rice, grains or pulses.

Homemade soup can cost less than 5p per portion to make - see homemade soup recipes for costings - so you can see how the items listed in today's post could feed us for many weeks. I'll probably stretch it much further than 35 meals by adding extra carrots and onions to the mince and making spaghetti bolognese, lasagne and chilli. Cue the pasta maker, as egg pasta is really cheap to make when you have your own garden hens laying eggs. (Little 'Bernice' started laying again just a couple of mornings ago.)

As 2013 will be the first year the household will be without a car, it will be a huge learning curve. I'm sure we will manage, especially after having had this month to practice on the bikes. Thankfully, a friend has offered to deliver me a Christmas turkey at the weekend, when I can pay her for her troubles. I just hope she finds me a little one, as the 2012 grocery budget has almost been depleted.

The homemade 'pink fizz' is fizzing away in the kitchen. I gave a friend away a bottle of it this afternoon, so let's hope it tastes as good as it looks.

Back to the kitchen for me - I still have almost 20kg of cooked chicken to organise from my Approved Food order. I was a bit dubious of ordering this in bulk but, having tried one bag last order, I opted for 10 x 1.95kg bags this order, at a total cost of just over £35. The cooked chicken is boned and chopped - looks to be all white meat - vacuum packed in its own juice and past BBE. It is brilliant for chicken curry, sweet and sour, pies, hot pots, in wraps and even served with gravy as part of a frugal Sunday dinner. It also appears to be safe to freeze after opening the pack - I am living testament to that, as is Scruffy cat. :) It looks like I'll get at least 6 meals for two out of each pack, so a cost of less than 30p per serving and no need to cook.


*Refer a friend affiliated links.


  1. I hold you in awe! Well done. I think you are right to only grow in your garden what you want to eat and/or the more expensive items. I don't grow potatoes or usually onions (but got given some onion sets so grew them). I do grow a few carrots as I love the taste of them fresh.

    1. Hi Dc, I'm rather excited by the prospect of hving a whole £1.25 per person for 2013 but I do enjoy a good challenge, as everyone knows. :) I should be able to start off some early veggies for 2013 as we now have the recycled plastic greenhouse to help. I've already got salad leaves seeds sown in there and my all year round cauliflower seeds, long with some onions, in a little raised bed.

      The cost of growing anything from seed is minimal, it's the phenomenal cost of turning rough land into a garden that's the drain - can't make compost fast enough! With luck, the new wormery (Christmas treat bought with a year's worth of change from the savings pot) will pay its keep in 2013.

  2. we don't have that sort of thing in Canada...well none that I know of. It would be handy though if we did.

    You did very well though.


    1. I'm not sure I'd succeed in my grocery budget challenges if it wasn't for the likes of App Fods, Food Bargains and ROSSPA. When I was living only 5 miles from shops, I was already buying stores' own basic brands and choice was limited unless you wasted cash running in and out of town every few days - not very frugal, in my book.

      Not only am I excited about the new grocery challenge starting, I'm looking forward to 'acclimatizing' myself to doing without a car. I'm enjoying the bike, just need a little basket for the front and a rack for the back. The hi-vizibility vests arrived today (eBay bargains, 2 for £3.72 less cashback via TCB and the CC and Nectar points, into the bargain!).

  3. Nyk are you north scotland like me? I find the extra delivery cost off-putting - shall have to crunch the numbers and see if I can make it work. At the minute I use "click and collect" whenever anyone is coming to visit with room in the car but it isn't often.
    Pauline :-)

    1. HI Pauline, I used to be north of Aberdeen but moved some time ago and am now in the very opposite corner, in the southwest. This area of Dumfries & Galloway region is fairly sparse, as far as supermarkets are concerned, so the national delivery rates of around £5.50 are actually less than the amount of petrol it would take me to drive to the nearest main supermarket (if I still had a car).

      How far north are you? I have friends & rellies in the northeast who have rellies in Thurso, perhaps there could be a chain set up somehow? LOL

  4. Hi, I'm on the west coast south of Forth William but we're considered Highlands and Islands - shall just have to do my sums! Must head back to the forums also - want to join the 2013 challenge!! see you there,

  5. That's great that you're joining us for 2013 challenge. All the details are at

    See you there. :)


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