BUDGET IT: Food shopping & a meal planner

2014 is all about budgeting. Budgeting in a good way - not in a 'eating baked beans every day' way. I've already shared a few money saving tips & tricks with you (read here), however I thought that 2014 deserves something better, something a bit more complex - maybe a budgeting series with each post focusing on one particular area of your life where you can save up by making just the smallest changes to your lifestyle. Today's post is all about savvy food shopping & meal planning.  

have a meal planner: I've never had the urge to write down a list of things to buy or a list of meal that I'd be cooking the following week. BIG MISTAKE. And an expensive one, too. Even though you might feel like all the lists are safely stored in your head, you come home with a box of Snickers, a few pizzas, some random roasties, two Ben & Jerry ice creams, a pot of noodles, maybe a bottle of olive oil. The rule of a thumb is that as soon as you enter a supermarket, your brain becomes fatally blocked. It turns into a 'Oh, I want this!' beast and although you'll be stocked up on cookies & custard, you won't have much to eat - and it will cost you a lot of money. The easiest way to avoid this is to have a meal planner. Ours is a wall calendar from TinyMe (they have the cutest wall calendars with beautiful quotes which you can later turn into DIY wall art - click here to see them all) - you simply sit down with your family/partner/even flatmates and write down what you would like to cook for next, let's say, 7 days. Then take a piece of paper and write down ALL ingredients. Make your way into the kitchen and cross out the ingredients you can find in your fridge, freezer & cupboards. DONE - off to the supermarket!    
choose the right supermarket: This depends on your budget - if you have the means to spend a grand on your food every month, then go for Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Morrisons. If not - go for Asda or Aldi. I'm obviously an instance of the latter type of budgeter. In addition to the knowledge of different supermarket prices, you also want to know what supermarket is the closest to where you live. Depending on the size of your shopping it might be worth going to a slightly more expensive supermarket, but paying less or none for transport rather than making an hour long trip on bus to Aldi. Common sense, people! We live really close to both Asda & Aldi. They are literally across the road from each other. This way we pop into Aldi first - grab meat & fruit which is on offer at the time, and then go to Asda and buy the rest. This way (in addition to the meal planner) we managed to cut down by more than £50 a week! 

brand awareness: Supermarket work on a basis of brand levels. There are 4 levels - extra/selected/premium (=special occasion products, usually in extra pretty packaging), branded (=products with their own branding, anything from Special K to Heinz), own brand & value (=these two are easy to differentiate - own brand is anything that will have the supermarket's logo on it, value is the logo plus typical 'value' packaging - Tesco has blue/red, Asda green etc). It's always worth checking out how much you're buying of each category - sometimes you might be better off going a category up or down (some things actually do taste better when branded, some of them make no difference at all). You can read more about this system here.

be aware of supermarkets' evil tactics: Tesco is especially famous for their offer antics - 1 product will cost you £1, 2 will cost you £2 - IT'S ON OFFER! OH EHM GEE! No. It's not. It's just maths. And even if the offer is legit - buy 2 for 3 - then ask yourself - do you really need it?! Also - red stickers do not necessarily stand for offer. Asda, for instance, labels most £1 items with a red £1 sticker, even though they cost £1 all year round.  

put food money into a separate account: Finally - give yourself a food allowance. This may sound harsh and a bit.. childish, but it's definitely worth it. Our food allowance is £80 per shopping - which we do once a week, sometimes we go a week & a half without another shopping trip. And because Justin's super competitive, he tries to beat the allowance every single time - last week we only spent about £60 (including a strudel, ice cream & chocolate!), wohooo!

What are your best food budgeting tips?

Disclaimer: The planner was provided by TinyMe, the ideas are from my own head - really! Thank you TinyMe for the planner!

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