Nov 3 2011

Living Leaner

Posted by     48 Comments    Posted under: Kitchen

Growing your own can save you A LOT of money on your grocery bill each week.

Do you spend a lot of money on food? Do you keep a real tally of it every week? Do you break it down to the penny and make sure that six pack of beer and the packet of batteries is not part of your ‘food’ total?

We do. My husband, the Chef, is a nerd. Now you know.  He has a mathematicians brain for numbers and because he works in the food industry he has always had to purchase his food within a budget. Old habits die hard.

During the summer months we spend considerably less on food because we grow A LOT of vegetables and even when we are between plantings we steal from Granny’s backgarden and barter or trade with other growers. Once the cooler months hit (now in November) we always notice a spike in our spending and I always feel it happens at the ‘wrong’ time of the year. November is the month where you want to stash a few extra pennies away for Christmas presents or a few days mini-break over the holidays with the children.

Our system is simple here at Chez Wise. The Chef carries a certain amount of cash in his pocket when he does our weekly grocery shopping. He is a hater of all things plastic so no fear of him ever flashing a credit card. Before he trundles out the door he devises a weekly menu plan, so to speak. He thinks about what he might cook during the week to follow and then drafts a food-only grocery list. Sometimes, I might have started a list earlier in the week with essentials on it like milk, butter, cheese etc. and he will take this on board when devising his menu and shopping list.

All other household items needed like booze, toilet paper and laundry detergent etc. is on my list (this makes me a little sad-sounding doesn’t it? Picture me all washed up in Tide or Persil with unravelled damp toilet paper strewn all over the place and a few empty bottles of wine at my feet. Do you see how easy it is to distract me??). I take my list and head to Musgraves (like Costco) and purchase in bulk when possible because this does save a bundle.

End of summer squash blossoms …. still blooming.

Our weekly food budget fluctuates between €60 and €100 per week, to feed a family of six and sometimes seven if my Mum joins us for dinner. This covers breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and the occasional dessert. We do bake all our own bread, cakes, etc. And when I say ‘we’ you should know by now that I am referring to the Chef. I can’t bake.

Sometimes, I feel like (especially when it teeters on the €100 side) we spend A LOT of money on food but then I started looking in to it, and am kind of shocked to find out that we don’t. A few weeks ago, on of my friends wrote a blog post on ‘What Irish People are spending their money on‘ and the statistics are staggering. On the flip side, one of my favourite Irish Journalists has written a few blog posts, and a book on the caliber of food that Irish people are eating. The results of this fine body of work is disturbing.

We sat down a few weeks ago and devised a plan to see if we could feed our family (dinner) for under €10 per day for a few weeks. Does this sound like a lot, or too litte? Do you think that the quality or caliber of food would suffer or be stretched because of the Chef having to stick to a budget and not let his stomach be guided by everything green and glossy at the market. Can you feed your family of six (or seven) for less? Are you wondering why on earth you are even reading this blog post and have half fallen asleep waiting for it to end?

If you have answers and can contribute to any of my questions, then jump in and blog along side me as I start a series of ‘Living Leaner’. I am going to showcase eight or ten dinners over the next two weeks that will feed our family (dinner) for a tenner a day. I realise that all familes are different sizes and ages and have different appetites, so the recipes might have to be tweaked a little to suit your family, but the exercise of carrying ‘cash only’ and a planned weekly menu and shopping list is a great idea, and it works.

The first item on the menu is Turkey Lasagne and you can find it right here!

Jump in and start counting those pennies.

I would love to know how much you are spending on food every week.

Those are all the WiseWords I have for today!


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48 Comments + Add Comment

  • Oooh what an interesting project Móna! I really must organise myself a little better to manage the food budget more for this house (but I prefer to spend money on food than other life’s luxuries). I’ll put the thinking cap on to see what I can do. Already this week the Halloween pumpkin has been upcycled into spiced pumpkin soup (enough for 6) with about another 4 portions chopped in the freezer to roast for other dinners and toasted pumpkin seeds to snack (soooo addictive) – all this from a EUR 2 pumpkin, ham stock, half tin of coconut milk and some spices.

    Looking forward to this and thanks for the link,
    Karen xx

    • I will be honest, it was after reading your blog post for Blog Action Day that inspired this. I was totally disgusted to see the statistics showing people are spending SO MUCH
      money on alcohol and tobacco. We, like you Karen, will spend the extra penny freely on good wholesome quality foods. The challenge is to see if by really sticking to a tight budget will we have to sacrifice quality….because we have quite a few hungry mouths to feed :0)
      We have lots of Pumpkin ‘saved’ too and I know that initially, you can get bored with it, but freezing it and rescuing it some cold wintry night with your coconut milk and stock sounds like something right up my alley :0). I will keep an eye out for your efforts if you join in and link back to you.

  • I have to admit we probably spend too much on chocolate and I do keep meaning to go to the Cash and Carry to stock up on those multiples. But €100 for a family of 6 sounds good to me, I don’t keep tabs on it but I guess I spend about €600 a month but that would include the washing powder etc etc

    • I hear you on the ‘keeping tabs’ on it Lorna. I know what we spend weekly because Ron is a cash n carry kinda guy. If it were me
      doing the shopping we would not be so successful with our efforts. I do find going to Musgraves helps a whole ton especially with laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.
      Thanks for popping in for a visit. I am playing ‘catch up’ today as my Mum has the kids for a few hours and it is like stealing GOLD!

  • This has really got me thinking, Móna. I cook for just the two of us and I’d say I spend close to the amount you stretch to feed 6! I’m not an extravagant shopper (I think!) – the bulk of my shopping is done in Lidl and Aldi, stocking up on some branded items in other supermarkets a couple of times a month, but I’m am terrible meal planner. I tend to call into Lidl and Aldi a couple of times a week, and those extra trips (instead of one trip for the week) definitely ups the bill! Then including alcohol and cat food (which we buy in bulk online) adds on even more. For the next few weeks I am going to try to plan our meals, minimising any extra shopping trips, and see what difference I can make with the overall grocery spend. Thanks for getting my ass in gear! 🙂

    • Hey Arlene,
      I always love it when I get someones ass in gear :0)
      You know, we would fall into the same trap here, running in and out of shops on the way home
      from school and work etc. but my husband is a hard-core-shopper. So I find it is easier to just let him do it
      and that way I do not get blamed for not buying the right stuff.
      Let me know how you get on and thanks for commenting Arlene!

  • For years now, I’ve been sitting down once a week and planning out a week’s worth of meals and then shopping for groceries accordingly. When I tell people about my method, some of them are kind of horrified, and true, there are plenty of times when planning the meals is the last thing I want to be doing. But I can’t imagine just throwing stuff into the trolley and then standing in front of the fridge every night, wondering what to cook for dinner. Planning ahead and organisation are the key to an easy life in the kitchen! I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

    • Kristen,
      I know it seems a little stifling sometimes to live of lists and plans etc. but I think with our family (and yours by the sounds of it)
      we need the structure of it all so we are not faced with ‘not that again Mom’ or ‘I’m starving, why do you NOT know what is for dinner?’
      The nice thing about it is we have very few complaints from the peanut gallery :0) and we can keep tabs on the cost of it all too.
      Did you ever work in the restaurant industry Kristen?

      • Not unless you count my time as a barista and my summer as a waitress in college! 🙂

        • Well, it does kind of count. I am wondering where the correlation lies with those that meal plan and shop accordingly?
          I know Ron does it because he ‘works’ that way in his line of business. You do it because you are incredibly organised?
          Because you have a grá for all things good food related and are unwilling to leave your evening meal to haste or chance?

  • Mona,
    I shop for a family of two – that sometimes stretches to four – and I would usually spend about €80 a week, sometimes up to €100. I can’t believe you can feed a family of six for the same amount!
    I’m going to follow your example and go to Musgraves from now on to stock up on the staples you mentioned.
    And I do try to plan my meals before going shopping. I didn’t work in the restaurant industry (well, I did as a waitress every summer when I was a student but that doesn’t count!) but I find that it saves time and money. I work most days and I also do the cooking and I would hate to have to stand in front of the fridge every day wondering how I was going to combine motley ingredients! I also HATE waste!

    • Hey Sharon, thanks for the comment! I think having had a restaurant we are tuned in to food cost ‘a lot’ around here,
      and that is a good thing because it forces us to shop carefully. The waste is the bigger issue for sure. We are lucky in that the food waste around here all goes in the compost pile or to the well-fed hens!
      We do not have time to sit and stare at the fridge either. The kids – once done with their homework- are like savages so we have to be ready!
      Musgraves is great for buying in bulk and even things like butter and cheese can be a lot cheaper if you watch the prices fluctuate on dairy.

  • Great project, Mona. It is a wonderful challenge to set yourself as it will stretch your already-creative cooking brain to new heights in an effort to keep the food interesting and nutritious. I will be following closely as this is a subject dear to my heart.

    • Thanks Hester! It will stretch the thinking around here but I do not think it will afford too much off-the-wall items.
      I think seeing how far you can stretch a tenner to feed a family at home makes me want to eat out less and less because
      of the extortion a lot of places are charging for very sub standard food. We hope to keep it all nutritious and delicious!
      Thanks for popping in for a visit!

  • This is a great project Mona and I am gonna join here too! See how far I get. I’m one of those people that – even while we are with just two – we sometimes get over the € 100,= a week line. And let’s not even go into the amount of waste we produce. It’s ridiculous really and we were already thinking of cutting it down and getting better at planning so this seems to be the perfect opportunity to do so. Is it still ok to use 10 euro even if we are with just two?
    PS. Is it just me or are your feeds not showing up? It shows zero new posts but when I checked your site there were obviously a few… Hmm, weird…

    • Simone,
      Of course you can join in. I think it will be very interesting to see what everyone comes up with.
      I thought that ten euros a day would be easy – but it is not. We are lucky to still have a bit coming in from the
      poly tunnel (tomatoes/salad/carrots) so it can supplement our supper a little – but this is the main ‘meal’ of the day so
      we need to make sure the kids are getting enough of the right stuff! now, about that RSS . . . I know that when I publish with wordpress
      the email notifications do not go out until the day after around 9:00am. If you have an RSS feed then I am not sure why it is not showing up – because I know
      that a few other readers and commenters got their notice fairly instantly upon publication yesterday. Leave it with me, and I will do a bit of digging around to
      see where the gap is and sorry and thanks for stopping in for a peek Simone.

  • I’m a Musgraves gal as well – cat food, giant box of washing powder, toilet paper and booze – we have lucky to have tones of storage space and being so rural I hate having to drive to get just one or two items, I have a carbon footprint bee in my bonnet not to mention the price of running a car.

    The weekly menu is largely unplanned after that. The usual stuff finds it’s way into the trolly, I have a well stocked larder so there is always the makings of a hot meal that will take less than 20 mins, but I like the challenge making something from random ingredients sometimes and usually have some recipes in my head that I want to try out.

    I do make sure that every thing gets used and my first concern is ticking all the nutritional boxes, for the kids especially. I’m a firm believer that money saved now on buying poor quality food is money that will be spent ten times over on doctors and medicine in later years.

    • I hear you on the running around to just get a few items Amee. Even with running a diesel van we try to limit the in and out of town trips
      and we are only five miles out! I also agree on the nutrition aspect of feeding the kids. I think the challenge will shed light on a few interesting
      topics, one being that a limited budget makes it harder to eat a healthful diet. Thanks for the comment!

  • I am the organiser in the family, and I still manage to spend at least double your bill for the same size family…. and never have a clue what we will eat until I feel it jumping out at me about 10 minutes before the evening panic… we tried in September to get into a “prepare at the weekend” mentality…and failed miserably….but I don’t have a Chef…nor a hubby that is any good in the supermarket..its either “I’m hungry” and fills trolley with junk, or “I’m not hungry ..let’s just go home …”
    And he is also a “I don’t like turkey” guy…so work to be done here I think.
    I wish we had a cash and carry system like you would be so practical and save all the little trips… oh well…in another life :o)

    • Ha ha ha – in another life we could live in one house and let the lads live in the other ;0)
      This weekend, he is going to give me his shopping list, his menu plan and his receipts.
      I will try to scan/share them on a post next week so ye can see his method and how it works.
      He does not always ‘stick’ to the meal plan, like if he thinks ‘Turkey Lasagne’ he might end up making
      burgers or meatballs with it – it all depends on his mood that day, but he has an idea of what or how it should be used.
      And TRACY – DOUBLE? Can you shop online? I think that is a sane way to shop with no stress over throwing things in the trolley
      …………. Miss you. Will try to phone Sunday. Going to a Mexican cooking class tomorrow. I am very excited!

    • And one more thing on the ‘I do not like Turkey’ you really need to use ground turkey to make burgers or meatballs.
      Something he likes made with ground beef. Do not tell him, just give it to him. It is an excellent source of protein,
      has a lot less fat but fab flavour. And if he is reading this then ‘Hi Tom. You will eat it, you will like it and you will come back for more!’

  • Being totally less serious…. I see turnip envy still prevails! 🙂


    • I am not leaving without a Turnip this time. Yes, green with envy. You know we eat the greens too
      cooked with smoked pork and hot sauce and vinegar. To.Die.For.

  • I’m with Trace! I’ve tried the whole meal plan & it worked for month ’cause we all got fed up with eating the same stuff! I have an accountant husband so yes I do the weekly cash thing it really is the only way to go. I just wish I was better at the meal planning and cooking! Looking forward to the rest of this blog! Good one Móna!

    • I hear you Lorna. I know it is frustrating and it is easy to get stuck in a food-rut.
      We will share as much information as we have on hand and see if it helps.
      Thanks for the comment!

  • Sorry for spelling mistakes, iPhone makes up it’s own words!!

    • Don’t I know it! No worries. I hold the title for the worlds worst speller for sure.

  • Interesting blog and ideal Mona, I am the shopper for food only products in my household…there are two of us. I try to plan my meals before I shop and stick to a budget. However, I am Krogers’ dream customer…impulse buying…it needs to stop. I look foreword to your budget meals. signed:Broke in Newport:)

    • Hey Robert,
      Yes, you do sound like Korgers dream customer :0)
      I hope you try some of the recipes and are less broke in Newport next time you check back in with us!

  • I so needed to read this blog!! I must be the worst shopper out there, with only 2 of us and a little one to feed, i easily spend the same if not 50% more!! It has definelty prompted me to try the cash system which does make me nervous in case i get got out with more stuff in my trolley than i have the cash for. I am forever popping in for milk and coming out with 50-70euros worth thinking how did that happen. But i’ll face my fear and plan the shop ahead and go and do a cash shop for the week. Would love if this works for me. Thanks

    • I think that the cash system makes you plan and list more. As you are walking around the shop you have to have your
      mental calculator working to make sure you do not end up running short at the register.
      Best of luck and let me know how you fair out :0)

  • I believe the amount of dollars used to feed your family prior to this new ‘test budget’ was a job well done. Whatever the results, I’m sure it will help many families. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Dianne,
      The weekly grocery budget fluctuates between 60 and 100 euros before, during and after this test.
      I think the challenge is to see how easy or difficult it is to provide a healthful meal for our family on a restricted amount.
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting Dianne.

  • If I was going to do something like this I’d pretty much have to go vegetarian because I couldn’t in good conscience buy ultracheap meat knowing the conditions the animals have been raised in; lentils, beans and all that sort of stuff is nice and cheap and with a pressure cooker you can eaily do them midweek without messing around with presoaking etc.

    • We try to go meat free once or twice a week here Stef but honestly we source our meat and fish carefully and are finding it is
      not impossible at all to stick to the budget. It is a lesson in portion control and quality. We eat larger portions of salads and veggies,
      plenty of rice/potatoes/pasta and they, with the protein take up one third each on the plate. We do not have a pressure cooker
      but I am hearing it is en-vogue to have one so maybe a Christmas splurge on that one. In the mean time we just soak our bens over night!

  • Great blog and it certainly got me thinking. I should make more things at home. I used to years ago but never seem to have as much time these days.

    • I think time is the hardest thing to wrangle with when it comes to cooking at home on a regular basis.
      We have a ‘rule’ here at the house that when one or other of us start complaining about not having enough time
      to get something done we have to give up one hour of TV (or messing about on Facebook in my case as I do not watch TV)
      and this always works. The chef is a telly addict so this forces him to be very organised in his dinner making efforts!
      Thanks very much for popping in for a read. Good luck with your own efforts and let me know how you fair out.

  • Yeah, it makes sense to stretch the meat out with other ingredients, sure that’s what people used to do when it was a luxury; I guess there’s a lot to be learned from previous generations when it comes to thrift! A pressure cooker is a great investment, I use it far more than I thought I would: originally it was just for stocks and when you think that it cuts the cooking time from ten hours to two for beef stock that’s a significant energy saving on a gas hob but it’s my default for braising meat now as well as all beans and lentils.

    • I think I will have a look around this week. It seems that a lot of people have and use one.
      We use our rice cooker three times a week for rice and lentils but cooking beans and not
      needing the overnight soak is very appealing. Thanks for the response Stef ;0)

      • Make sure to let us all know how ya get on if you do take the plunge and get one!

        • I will indeed. T’is the season for soups n’ stews so I will let you know for sure.

  • Hello Mona.
    Relevant, on point with the times and something every household (well, very many) struggle with, including ours of two, like Simone mentioned above. The challenge is in the mix of cooking and eating in and eating out every week. Just yesterday, J looked very sadly at the money for the week that he withdrew, disappear on…petrol (gasoline) amongst other things. I want to join you here (even if I can’t blog about it) and my target is to incorporate many of the canned/jarred/tinned foods and spices that I always buy when we travel or shop, in with the fresh produce and actually eat from the inside up, if that makes sense. Instead of just growing a collection of tins.
    I’m yet to be ‘off’ meat (reading Safran Foer’s Eating Animals in increments) and until then, the grocery bill will remain high.
    Interestingly, I read this little bit today by our sleuth and wine guru Cathy Marston:

    • Hi lovely lady!
      I hear you on the gas prices Ishay. It does eat away at the weekly budget and your soul too!
      You know that is such a great idea to utilise all your goodies from your travels Ishay. You could really end up with an
      interesting cacauphony of flavours and tastes considering all the lovely places you were this past summer.
      I do not think that we will ever stop eating meat. I think it is the sourcing of ethically treated and proper fed animals
      we will stick to and that means eating less meat all round be it due to the price or the availability.
      Thanks for the link from Cathy Marston. Great article!

  • A post after my own heart. Food is a big expense in our house, but an expense I believe in wholeheartedly, however it does shock me when I tot up the expense. I am currently taking £150 in cash out each week and that has to cover all my expenses, a lot of which is food but also household things, pet food, etc. Apparantley we have never spent less on food in the West and the smallest percentage of our income ever goes on food – how sad when it is our greatest pleasure and so so so important in maintenance of health.
    Although our budget is quite big, I do still have lots of things that I do to make sure food lasts. A chicken is 3 or maybe 4 meals, first as a roast, then as a stir fry, a chicken salad, then a risotto using the stock which the children love. We don’t eat as much eat as we used to, which I find is cheaper, and if I make a meat stew like I did yesterday, I bulk it out with vegetables and lentils, pearl barley, beans and it lasts 3 days.
    I love the sound of your growing, we are not good growers, although we have some sprouts and purple sprouting going at the moment which aren’t doing badly.
    Looking forward to your economy posts. x

    I think you do really well to feed your family on the budget you have set,

    • You know Alex, the growing has given us so much ‘food’ from the garden. Keep up the good work on the sprouts!
      I think that here in ireland aslo people have less money to spend on food, so are buying cheaper product and this concerns us greatly.
      Whilst we are cutting it close to make a dinner for a family of six for €10 – it can be done. Bulking up, like you do, on extra veggies, barley and beans etc.
      really does stretch meals out. And yes, buying whole pieces of meat on the bone is like the gift that keeps on giving if you know how to handle it and use it economically.
      More on Living Leaner later this week xx

  • The price of food is quite sobering. I do our hosehold expenses to see who owes whom, usually a few months in arrears (!) and it is scary to chart how our food bill has risen. And it is not as if we are shopping anywhere fancier or buying more fillet steak – quite the opposite. And I realyl don’t see how to cut it down significantly! We have been on the waiting list for an allotment for over 2 years and although we valiantly try to grow our own stuff, other than herbs we struggle as the garden is shaded by the (SATANIC! EVIL!!) Leylandii trees in the neigbhour’s garden. The tomatoes get tomato blight, the chillies struggle to ripen and anything in the squash/cucumber family gets powdery mildew, shrivels and dies. V depressing… I love using things up, so leftovers are always inventively used and if fruit/veg seems teetering on the edge of decrepitude, I cook and freeze it (made some awesome spiced plum compote this weekend from geriatric plums!). Love the idea of your challenge – off to feed husband lentils now (which he does not classify as “real” food, LOL!

    • You know, we have learned A LOT over the last week about feeding a family of six for ten euros (for dinner).
      I think it does get cheaper as you ‘cook for more’ because you can stretch the dishes with extra veggies and steer clear of loading them up with
      huge portions of meat . One of our favourite dishes is french green lentils cooked with smoked pork and carmelised onions. I know they seem ‘healthy’
      but they do not taste that way!

  • Awesome post.

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About Móna
I am a native Galway girl that seems to be drawn to professions that rhyme with 'err'. Writer, Mother, Restauranteur, Wedding Planner, Dishwasher, Grass cutter, Cocktail maker. I suppose you could say I am a well rounded entrepreneur.
You can find me here
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You might as well just come visit.
He prefers face to face communication.

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