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Best great budget recipes for 50% or less: Cottage Smallholder 2009 Challenge

Photo: Home grown potatoes

Photo: Home grown potatoes

2008 was an eye opener for me. We set a challenge to save 25% on our over the counter spending. It was tough at first but by the end of the year we were almost enjoying the test. And the savings meant that sometimes we could afford real treats, visit the organic butcher and still save way beyond our original budget.

We actually managed to achieve an average of approximately 50% savings each month over the year. How did we achieve this level of saving? The secret was to try and ignore all the old strategies that haven’t worked for me in the past, such as:

  • Menu Plans
  • Drifting into the butcher shop and being seduced by meat, without being able to think practically on the spot
  • Buying irrelevant offers without planning a future for them
  • Shopping with a friend (it’s easy to return home with goods and treats that you just don’t need)
  • Having a ceiling on the weekly spend. This is lethal. On some weeks you need to stock up on expensive items. Often people tend to set their average budget based on these higher spend weeks. Last year I’d take £25 out of the ATM before stepping into the supermarket. Often I could feed us both for a week with that amount (breakfast, lunch and supper for 7 days). The next week it wouldn’t work at all as we might need washing powder, a large jar of coffee or friends were coming round for supper. A budget just needs to be  viewed  across a month rather than on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile we’ve developed a strategy that works for us. The secret of every guerrilla shopper is to hunt for bargains and think on your feet.

Apart from essentials such as milk (I’ve discovered that there generally seem to be offers on  this), we are shopping and meal planning like supermarket hunter gatherers. We tend to focus on offers and ‘condemned’ soon to be out of date food. This isn’t targeting cheaper items at reduced prices. It’s choosing best ingredients when they are on cut-price offer. There are a lot of organic offers out there too. If this food isn’t snapped up it is tossed into skips and eventually landfill. It is not offered to the homeless. It’s just trashed in the UK. ( Health and Safety have a lot to answer for). In the past, communities received this food. Now  most corporations are frightened of litigation.

We often buy and cook in bulk. This means that we have a freezer that is crammed with tempting home cooked dishes and a swathe of ingredients waiting in the wings to star in their own opera, when the time comes.

Our 2009 challenge is to develop more recipes for this sort of cut price top quality food. Cutting back doesn’t need to be a life of ‘value’ food and food packed with preservatives. With a bit of luck and imagination anyone could be eating better and cutting back on food being wasted. We are spending less and eating far better than we have for years.

The 2008 task to save 25% on our over the counter spending challenged our small repertoire of recipes. It expanded rapidly. It had to.
“What can we make with ham, fennel root, cabbage and cream?”
“I reckon that we use the cabbage for the pheasant.” Fingers then fly across the keyboard.
“If we’ve got cayenne, we’re in with a chance.”
Danny peers over my shoulder at the recipe on the screen.
“I’d definitely add garlic to that.”
Adapting a recipe can be fun

I hated the 2008 challenge for the first three months even though I’d set it myself! It was way outside my comfort zone. But as the months flew by I twigged that with a few essential ingredients we could transform most ‘bargain buys’ into delicious meals.

We disagreed about this year’s challenge.
“I want us to spend 75% of our new food budget on discounted / offer / condemned  food.”
“We need some slack here. What about vegetables and my potatoes?”
“A challenge should be a challenge!”
“Let’s start with a realistic level. We could up the ante later.”
So this year’s challenge is to spend at least 50% of our food budget on discounted food and try to transform these ingredients into easy, delicious recipes. The percentage saving may be increased if it’s too easy but I suspect that D is right. Finding great discounted food takes time and we may find that we don’t have the time to hunt every day.

We will also continue last year’s challenge, now aptly renamed ‘How to save money in 2009’ and are delighted to announce that we are just edging into our third year of not buying supermarket flowers for the house.

We will be posting these new recipes regularly on our blog and giving a monthly update on our new challenge. And this year our savings are going to be given the respect that they deserve and put into a piggy bank so that we can physically see them. They might be swapped for IOUs but we’ll enjoy the relationship with both, however fleeting.

  Leave a reply


  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Jane

    Great to hear from you.

    I didn’t know about the vouchers from moneysavingexpert so thanks very much, I’ll check these out 🙂

    Half legs of lamb for £1.20?!! Lucky you.

    We buy a lot of discounted fish from Tesco and have never keeled over. In Newmarket they are always put on the bottom shelf so you have to crouch down to spot them. Not quite the same quality as the chunky fish from Waitrose but still pretty good. And most people can’t e bothered tto crouch down.

    The book sounds great. I’m going to order this tomorrow!

    This week we feasted on sirloin steaks, two meals for £1.00 a head. In the past we’ve spent over ten quid on just one steak meal!

    Danny shops each evening after the post run so we are in with a chance every night.

    Please email me with any ideas. Even though I post most days I need suggestions 😉

  2. Wow Fiona, I continue to be impressed by this. I do my weekly shop online from Tesco using discount vouchers from moneysavingexpert so I don’t have to pay for delivery. I find that this way I save time and effort and only buy what I need – or increasingly, what is on special offer…so it saves money as well. The bulk of the shop is delivered on Sunday, BUT on Mondays, on my way home from Rainbows, I always pop into the local Tesco and hit the markdown bread, veg, chilled and meat counters. And I don’t buy anything else. I know it sounds extravagant to buy ready-made sandwiches, but when the finest goats cheese and roasted pepper (mmmmmmmm…!!!!!) sandwich is reduced from £2.50 to 50p it becomes more inviting! Buying sandwiches on their sell-by date (which is usually the same day) for 20 or 30p can be actually cheaper than making them, and they keep perfectly fresh for four or five days. Similarly, last week I bought four half legs of lamb reduced to £1.20 each (got to be a mistake, I thought, as I loaded them into my basket). I have to say, I am not so brave as you on the subject of fish – I might risk it from Waitrose but not from Tesco – fish only has to be 15 minutes past its sell-by date to have me sick as a dog. I am just reading How I Lived A Year On Just A Pound A Day which is fascinating and shows what can be done with mark-downs. You come up with the gorgeous recipes, and I’ll be happy to copy you shamelessly! Meanwhile, I’ll email you any I think of…

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi KarenO

    Broad beans, purple sprouting brocolli and courgettes are fairly straight forward too. The bro is planted in July for an April harvest.

    Hello Nicky

    Thanks for a great idea! Increasingly the cost of entertaining puts me off. So this would be perfect.

    Hi Natasha


  4. great idea! the challenge commence:

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