Stretching Your Budget

Savoury PancakesWhen times are tough often the first place people look to cut back is the food budget. For us is actually comes in about third down the line when it comes to budgeting.

Checking Your Utility & Insurance Prices

Firstly I look at where I can make savings. I diarise end dates on utility deals. So recently we reached the end of our fixed price Electricity deal and on moving we have saved in the region of £150 a year – £12.50 less a month going out on our direct debits.

For oil I shop around four or five places before buying to make sure we get the best deal. The price of heating oil has dropped so much in 12 months – more than halved! There is some discussion that this price will continue to drop through the year, no matter what though we are grateful for it as it has meant substantial savings compared to last year.

Some bills you can’t get lower, but you can spread out more for free. Council tax can be spread over 12 months if paying by direct debit. Helping keep each month’s income and outgoings steady. There are exceptions to this, insurances if you can pay up front are cheaper that way – they charge a premium to pay by monthly direct debit.

Also, be sure to check through your direct debits to make sure you aren’t paying for anything you no longer use. Old insurances that have automatically renewed often catch people out.

Slow Down Social Budget

The next place we cut back is paid for social activities. So no eating out, or paid for activities. If things are really tight you can have fun for free – check out my blog on Free Children’s Activities. I find that if we have a small social budget each month it stops any feelings of deprivation, whilst also keeping us accountable for the money going out – coffee and cake, cinema trips, soft play centres, drinks at the pub – as it all adds up fast.

Frugal FoodEasy Bread Loaf

Next I tackle the food budget. This really does depend for many on what they have left each month, but it should always be prioritised in my opinion above social activities. You can eat well on a very frugal budget, but if you cut back to nothing but noodles and toast (this may have happened as a student many moons ago, when I prioritised the pub first!) your health will soon suffer.

We’ve got lots of frugal food recipes and tips up on the site, and more added each week. I love tumble down meals to keep the food budget in check. One whole chicken can feed us for 3 or 4 days if I plan well. Whether buying a basics range bird (1.65kg £3.29 – Aldi Feb 2016) or free range (1.5kg £4.99 – Aldi Feb 2016) this really can make meals more low cost if you eat meat.

Roast chicken, chicken risotto, chicken & mushroom pie, then a soup from the bones (with some home made bread) means over half the evening meals for the week are planned already. Remember that you don’t need to load the plate with meat, eek it out with vegetables, pulses, and grains to stretch both meat and budget further.

Try having the other three evening meals all vegetarian or vegan, animal protein is relatively expensive – spicy rice and beans (not of the baked bean variety!) is our favourite budget meal when the cupboards are really bare before payday.

Make your own pies, pastries, cakes, pizzas, and bread. This really helps. You can pick up plain flour for as little as 45p and bread flour for 75p. A 100g tub of yeast is under a £1 and lasts a month of baking easily. Not only are these all value added products when bought in the shops, that have huge uplifts compared to the actual cost to make, they are also chocked full of unnecessary additives and never taste as good as home made.

I realised on Tuesday as we tucked into pancakes just what a cheap meal they are. They don’t have to be sweet, and we loaded ours with sardines (tinned ones I mashed with lemon and pepper), salad, and olives and then had a desert pancake with either stewed fruit or sugar and lemon. Flour, eggs, milk, a little oil to fry, plus fillings. I may make pancakes a more regular occurrence as a main meal instead of brunch.

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