Wednesday, 8 January 2014

How to Reduce The Household Shopping Budget

Budgets, Food and Grocery Shopping

During a financial crisis, one of the few things that we can take immediate control of is our own grocery spending. I've pretty much always been vigilant with this but have, in the past, slipped into the bad habit of having a weekly takeaway. That, of course, was when I lived in a street that was home to a Chinese takeaway, an Asian Tandoori and a local chip shop.
Living on such a street could easily have led me on the rocky road to ruin, especially as there was, at that time, a village pub that served meals. During summer, we'd think nothing of popping in for a pub lunch or opting for a basket supper on a Friday night. We were certainly well catered for in the food department, even although they saw the need to take away our bank, post office and community hall.
Nowadays, things have got much worse for some! There is a plethora of supermarkets and even faster, fast food takeaways that allow people to drive through, buy food and never need to get out of their cars! The results are stunning!

Here we are in 2014 and we have otherwise 'normal' families collecting food from food banks...

How can this be possible when food is in such plentiful supply to the extent that it's being binned on a daily basis? 
I do realise that those of you reading this blog have probably already made some changes to your lifestyles with regards to debt-busting, moneysaving or living within your own means, but there are millions more who haven't - they simply do not know where to turn, nor do they have any idea how to find help in understanding or even recognising their own budgets.
In the simplest terms, a budget is made up of the money you know for sure you have coming in to pay for everything you need to pay. If you are paying out more than you have coming in then you need to stop right now and acknowledge there's a problem, then adjust the way you spend.

From experience, I have found it is much easier to cut down on unnecessary spending than it is to earn extra money in a hurry. If you don't know how to fight your corner in the money wars, there might never be enough to pay all the villains deceiving you into thinking you need whatever they are selling!
Frugaldom is about making things affordable, it is not about being deprived.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, fighting off debt or can't see your way through current financial difficulties, don't despair! It's alright to be overwhelmed by situations now and again and it's even OK to think life sucks! What isn't alright is to blame it on money, or lack of it, when all around there are ways and means of capitalising on a few basic skills, starting with mealtimes.
Let's play a game of 'Chicken'.
  • Buy one standard whole chicken - I checked a few places and know that £5 can buy a decent sized chicken here in UK.
  • Unwrap the chicken and let it sit for half an hour before cooking it. (Never sit uncooked meats above or beside cooked meats and don't splash water everywhere if you insist on washing your chicken first - I never bother washing mine.)
  • Cook the chicken - the general cooking rule used to be 20 minutes per pound weight and then another 20 minutes over, which roughly calculates to an hour and a half for a chicken weighing 1.5kg, but mine slow cooks on top of the pot-belly stove if it's lit.
  • Carefully pour off any juices for gravy making.
  • Remove the chicken skin carefully and set this aside in a stock pot.
  • Strip off every gram of cooked meat from the bones.
  • Keep the white meat separate and set aside all the other meat you strip from legs, wings and the underside - there can be enough hiding under there to make a pie!
  • Place whatever is left of your chicken carcase into the stock pot or large pan along with the skin and any other bits removed from the bird (giblets, if these were included).
  • Cover with boiling water then allow it to simmer vigorously for an hour or so, but much longer if you are using a slow cooker. This will produce stock for your soup, while any juices from the freshly cooked bird can be used to make gravy. You cannot over cook stock unless you boil the pan dry!
  • Strain the stock off into a separate pan, jug or bowl and allow it to cool.
Use excess pastry for decoration
  1. Use the white meat for roast dinner - one decent sized breast should be sufficient for 2 portions when served with all the trimmings, so there should be enough white meat for 4 tasty meals.
  2. Use the leg meat to make a curry, stir fry, sweet and sour or even add it to mixed vegetables with gravy and serve it as stew with something like suet dumplings.
  3. Use the remaining meat to make pie filling with any leftover veggies or gravy and then freeze it if you don't need to use it right away - it freezes just fine and should be sufficient to serve 4.
The above should equate to 12 meals if you are serving with plenty of vegetables etc.

IF YOU HAVE MEAT-EATING PETS - I have a cat, a friend has ferrets.
  • Leave the chicken carcase in the first pan and add some more boiling water.
  • Skim off the fat and any excess gelatine from your jug of cooled stock and add this to the stock pan.
  • Boil until the bones are soft enough that they crumble when rubbed between your fingers
  • Strain off the excess water - again, this is stock that can be used for cooking
  • Allow to cool and then blitz the entire contents of this pot with a blender - I use a stick blender.
  • You now have close to 100% chicken paste suitable for making your own pet food. A typical can of top brand cat food can contain less than 5% chicken so bulking this out isn't so difficult when feeding to your pets along with whatever else they like. I have mixed it with boiled eggs, rice, potatoes, pasta, porridge and any combination of safe leftovers for the frugal puss and she loves it! (Onions, garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes are not safe for adding to cat food.) It's like gourmet paté for pets. (I don't add salt when cooking it, just a sprinkle of herbs.)
Left - chicken paste for the cat. Tight - chicken stock for soup
Next, make your chicken soup.

Skim off any surface fat - this can be used for stir frying and I have also used it in place of oil when baking savoury sandwich bread.

Soup-making is a simple case of simmering the stock with some rice, any diced vegetables you have that need using up and a sprinkling of herbs or spices. Add extra water as required and season to taste - any seasoning from salt and pepper to spices can be used. You should get enough soup for up to 12 servings, again dependent on portion sizes. See the homemade soup section for some more ideas.

This is the basis of our 'Chicken' game and it shouldn't cost any more than £10 to get you started. Half of this should buy you a chicken and the other half should be sufficient for vegetables, rice, suet, flour and seasonings to put all the meals together and provide you with enough to feed a family of four a decent meal every day for the best part of a week if you count soup as a meal.

The game really comes into play when you start getting inventive with your ingredients and making sure that absolutely none of the food you buy goes into the bin - not one bit of it.

If you don't have pets, pop your gourmet pet food into a jar and give it to someone who can and will use it within a day or two; add a homemade label, I'll bet they'll appreciate it! Or else use a freezer-safe container and keep it until it's needed for feeding wildlife - our garden hedgehogs loved the stuff!

Please help spread the word that living on a tight budget needn't be awful. If you know of anyone struggling to the extent that they cannot afford food, send them to their nearest free Internet access point, which could be the library or even just a local Wi-Fi hotspot on a friend's laptop and point them in the direction of the Frugaldom forums at Better still, invite them into your life and share what you can with them while helping them along the path to frugaldom.
Don't be fooled! Join us in Frugaldom and play the game of living a big life on a small budget.

Frugal living has, for far too long, been passed off as a lifestyle for the poor, but the truth of the matter is, frugal living is the lifestyle that is supporting society in a very simple and honest way.

Yes, it is simple living - it's simple in as far as 1 + 1 = 2, but it takes a wise person to make £2 do the work of £5 and be happy with their lot.

NYK, Frugaldom


  1. I liked your comment about living on a tight budget needn't be awful. I agree, at least if you sren't in dire poverty, but your chicken example goes to show what can be done...and the cost of processed foods is high compared to what it costs to make any extras from scratch...I have to say, most of my favorite clothes are the ones I have gotten from charity shops, good quality ones that are normally expensive. Have to add these are just tops and jumpers worn with my old jeans..not fancy suits and dresses!
    Thanks for your helpful hints and reminders...

    1. Lynda, I can't see a single reason for feeling miserable about what you've not got when there are so many things to do, see, make or experience that need little or no money, plus so many more opportunities, nowadays, of cutting overheads without tearing apart a good lifestyle. :) I love rummaging in charity shops whenever I get the chance, too. We're very lucky to have a little community shop down in the village, just a few miles from here, so I do have a 'local'.

  2. We don't have a pet but I didn't realise you could cook chicken bones to a paste!

    1. If the bones are blended, it's not much different from adding extra bone meal to animal feed. Bone meal has to come from somewhere, right? :)

  3. Great post Frugaldom. Not only does it not have to be awful living on a tight budget it can be an enjoyable adventure. Its so satisfying knowing you have got the absolute most out of something.

    Cheap and Cheerful

    1. My thoughts exactly - life should always be an adventure and it's our jobs to ensure we can afford to make it fun without breaking our banks or breaking our spirits

  4. This was an excellent blog post. You mentioned that here we are in 2014 and we have otherwise 'normal' families collecting food from food banks and how could this be possible that it's being binned on a daily basis? I was monitoring students at in the school cafeteria one day last month and watch in disbelief at the staggering amount of food not eaten and simple thrown away. It was such a waste of good food. And the school has even switched to an alacart menu so that students can only take items they know they will eat and still the waste is huge. We need to teach our children not to be such picky eaters and eat what is placed in front of them. We do them a great injustice if we do not teach them this upfront.

    1. It is shocking no matter where we look, be it schools, nurseries, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels... rules and regs, health and safety, they all play their parts and it is a downright sin that it is frowned upon by so many and too embarrassing for so many more to be see recycling leftover food into perfectly acceptable, healthy meals.

  5. Great post and after trying desperately to live within our means for the last three years, I have finally started a blog to help others as I agree with you, some people really don't know where to start. I have added you to my blogroll and look forward to reading more in future.

    1. Best wishes for many more years of successful frugaling and many thanks for adding me to your blog roll. :)

  6. Fab post! I thought I was good at stretching a chicken but I've never used the bones to feed the dogs. Will DEF be trying that one :-)

    1. There's a thread in the forums about it, Ali, feel free to join us for further discussion there, too. :)

  7. Great post NYK! It is amazing how something as simple as cooking and avoiding food waste can work wonders on a budget (and give it some breathing room).
    ~ Pru

    1. It's all part of the fun, Pru, don't you think? :) Like a huge game of 'use it up' that results in money in your pocket rather than burned, binned or buried, which is what people are doing every time they throw out good food. Or anything else, for that matter.

  8. Great post, I have just started buying whole chickens to use, and now that I've started making my own stock will never go back to oxo cubes! ;) I had no idea you could make it into pet food though. Will try this for my cat next time!

    1. Hi Rachel, thank you for your comment. I do buy chicken fillets, as they can actually work out cheaper on a pence per gram basis for me when buying in for the freezer, but nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing absolute zero waste. The chicken I used in this case was one bought as part of a special festive meat pack deal from, so it was like getting it free. If you decide to give them a go, code SK5873 will get you 4 free chicken fillets added to your order plus a few friend referral points for me, too. :)

  9. I usually use all parts of the chicken for different meals, but when I got down to the cat food part I was hooked. I had no idea I could boil the bones and they would dissolve. This is definitely very helpful! Thanks for all the tips!


Many thanks for taking the time to comment. All comments are moderated to help prevent system abuse by spammers, time-wasters and chancers, so your comment will not appear until it has been manually accepted for publishing. This will be done as soon as possible - I check for updates regularly. We are on GMT - London times.