The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to save money in 2008: January review

making stock in the slow cookerWe have done the last shop for January. The challenge is to save 25% of our weekly household bills in 2008. Food, loo rolls, dog food, chicken food, consumables, fish food, grog and anything that we actually buy over the counter.

I have been trying to shave our budget for quite some time now so I knew that it was going to be tricky. We have cooked from scratch for years. We don’t buy biscuits or cakes or even plump butter croissants anymore.

If we were not going to spend miserable, on the wagon evenings, huddled beside the heat of a single light bulb I needed to look at our food (cost and wastage) and find a cheaper source of grog.

I didn’t want to cut down on the quality of animal feed but I’ve been investigating our pet food. The Contessa can’t eat anything that contains chicken derivatives. Our choice is small on that front but I finally researched buying in bulk. This would give us an instant 25%+ saving. Cha Ching.

The human food required a bit more lateral thinking. Some vegetarian meals could be a great option with the protein coming from beans and pulses. These do not deteriorate quickly like meat. In the olden days, 2007 and before, I would buy a selection of meat. Anything that was liable to go over after a couple of days was tossed in the freezer. A badly managed receptacle. In fact, more of a meat morgue. I am ashamed to admit that little was ever retrieved and cooked before it began to suffer badly from freezer burn.

The change of diet was has been an immense culture change. When I mooted the point with D he was as tentative as an unbroken colt. Danny had lived a short while in a house where the regular veggie experience was less than mouth watering. Since moving into the cottage, he has muttered intermittently about the horrors of nut roasts.

The major problem was that I knew nothing about good vegetarian cooking. When I appealed for help on this site, loads of suggestions flooded in. Thank you so much. One Saturday night I produced my first vegetarian dish (Delia’s lentil and egg curry). D fell asleep waiting for the meal to cook and had his share for breakfast. He loved it. I woke to his beaming face, very close to mine.
“It tastes good!”
His spicy, curry breath was overpowering at seven in the morning. But the relief was enormous. We began to amble along a different path every other day. An undiscovered world of tasty cut price meals.

Veggie food is a long seven league stride compared to banging a couple of marinated chicken breasts under a hot grill. We are now starting to work out how to cook in advance, freeze essential elements that will be eaten quickly. Apart from that first curry, all our other dishes are not purely vegetarian. We follow Joanna’s advice and use a good chicken stock when we simmer beans and pulses. Our vegetarian style meals have to satisfy an off the wall carnivore with a capital K. We have christened them Veggievore meals.

We have not given up meat. We are just eating less and when we eat it, the pleasure is wonderful.

I haven’t saved 25% in January. Totting up the figures it’s a saving of just 19% this month. A bit disappointing especially when Amanda has cut her food bill in half, over at Little Foodies. But I do have a larder bursting at the seams with beans and pulses. I bought a lot from Daily Bread, thinking that they wouldn’t stretch very far. In fact I now reckon that these packs will last a good three months.

Perhaps I’ll be able balance the shortfall in February, this is a year’s project after all, and these are our first tentative steps.

There is an extra unforeseen bonus, we are loosing weight without dieting. Even though this has no impact on the bank balance, we are delighted.

Top tips:

Joanna’s idea for simmering any beans/split peas/lentils in decent stock

Kay’s suggestion of adding Frankfurter sausages, cut into coins, to split pea soup. We have tried these with a flagging bean soup that I wanted to jettison down the loo. Suddenly it was edible. Actually it was delicious.

Top January recipes and cheap foodie ideas on this site:

Emma’s vegetarian moussaka (excellent – we’ve savoured this 4 times in a month).
Skinflint soup
Spicy Creole bean and summery vegetable soup recipe
Polly Bathe’s tip – Broccoli stalk matchsticks as an appetiser (comment on Skinflint soup and delicious!)

Top January discoveries:

Angela’s suggestion of the benefits of a slow cooker. A godsend (especially for Veggievore dishes). Lentils and pulses can be cooked in advance and we are eating at 8 rather than 10 in the evening. We also cooked a heavenly steak and kidney.

Bart’s Creole spice (in a silver tin). Wonderful for pulling round a flagging Veggievore dish. Pricey but well worth the investment as there is loads in the tin.

Looking at savings with an annual perspective rather than a weekly one. ?2.50 a week is equivalent to around ?120 a year. It’s very easy to dismiss a saving of a few pounds each week. Added together over a year these savings could finance something really special or just keep you happily afloat especially if you add these to a handful of other shaved savings.

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  1. Just a quick one – here in Spain they use pressure cookers all the time – it seems to cut down cooking times by at least half, and keeps all the goodness in.
    Now it is turning cold here, we are into winter root stews – which take about 45 mins to cook.
    That is frugal! and tastes good into the bargain

  2. 1 Button To WiFi Review Gal

    My way to save $$$ on cutting back on meat with more veg. meals was to go slowly. Once I found at least 7 recipes that my family liked I started to switch. We save about $160.00/month on our grocery bill now:-)

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Natasha

    Thanks so much for sharing your veggie tips for vegetable mousskka, and the book and your general enthusiasm!

    Danny seems to be sold on veggie meals (just every other day) so we are going in the right direction veggievore wise, I hope. Any suggestions are more than welcme as the is unchartered territory for me.

  4. Hi, great site – really enojying it.

    I’m also a fellow person who is trying to cut down on shopping bills this year. I find growing my own salad leaf helps (rocket was thriving all year, I planted it in June and still have a regular crop!) Beetroot are great as you can eat the baby leaf then the beet itself!! And try cutting up carrot tops in a salad.

    With regards to veggie food Simon Rimmer’s “The Accidental Vegetarian” is amazing for a carnivore attempting veggie foods. I LOVE the veggie mousakka I have so many version of this, but the best I have uses courgettes, potatoes, aubergines, puy lentils and Kefalotyri cheese, lentils are also great at bulking out lentils.

    I hope to be able to share some great ideas on tis site with people.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cat,

    Good idea to look at insurance and direct debits as they can slowly creep up without you really noticing.

    I cook in batches too. I am gradually clearing out the freezer and we are eating up the ‘someday’ stuff.

    Good luck with the new butcher. Thanks for leaving a comment.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    I did a larder spring clean a few weeks ago and was appalled by the shelves of stuff just sitting there. There are a lot of hidden areas in ours as the larder also houses the fridge freezer. I’ve discovered that knowing what is actually in the larder has helped enormously with budjet meal planning and created a bit more space.

  6. Kate(uk)

    After reading of your food money saving I sat down and totted up how I was doing and was quite pleasantly surprised. My goal for February is to tackle the nuclear winter stocks lurking in the back of the larder, all those things bought because they might come in handy or might be nice to cook with one day: that day has now come- before the use by dates get any further in the past…

  7. Hi – Great website by the way! I’ve done exactly the same at the beginning of 2008 – started to to look at every direct debit, and insurance, and started to shop around for EVERYTHING, including food! Found that the local farm shops are much better this time of year. I’ve also started to cook in batches and make 5-6 meals in one go, as a full time worker with a hatred for ready meals and canned sauces! Homemade soup is a must every week with anything that is left over – pepper and tomato soup in my fave! I’ve just found a local butcher that rears his own meat. Thats the trip for next week….

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Emma

    We have Leith’s vegetarian bible. Bought a few years ago. I’m just getting into it now. We use her carnivore bible a lot. We also have Delia’s vegetarian selection, not nearly as comprehensive but lots of lush photographs.

    Poor you with your husband not eating beans or lentils. D is willing to try anything if it saves money and he looses weight without dieting!

    Hi Amanda

    I think I must have a go at this online shopping idea, thanks for the nudge!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    We are enjoying the soup for lunch each day. Especially the soup that cooks itself overnight in the slow cooker!

    Hi Mildred

    This is all such a new departure for us that I know I’m going to find the review handy.

    Hi Joanna

    The curry is fabulous. It doesn’t look great but tastes out of this world. A decent fresh coriander garnish would add a lot to the look and the taste of this dish.

    Thanks again for your tips.

    Hi Rosemary

    Your situation sounds very hard indeed. I was worried that D wouldn’t want to go down the veggie route happily so asked for suggestions of great dishes. Emma’s vegetarian moussaka was initially nibbled tentatively by D and then woolfed down. I now divide the lentil base in 2 and use half the mixture with half the aubergines and the full pint of topping. Nothing is ever leftover.

    Hi Sara

    Good thinking. Danny is still a bit iffy about eating them but I am sure that he’ll come round in time. He loves the eggs though!

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