Photo: Flickr / mhaithaca
Last weekend I had some guests to stay. I simmered, sautéed, stirred and steamed everything from soups and salads to pastries, puddings and cakes. In the past I would have popped to Waitrose for some upmarket treats and wine, but a trolley-load of goodies isn’t an option now I’ve pledged to avoid supermarkets.Generally, my bank account seems much healthier since the experiment began. Since I started shopping at wholesalers, independent shops and discount stores, my grocery bill has dropped from nearly £90 a week to less than £40 (this includes all food for meals for a family of four, as well as lunches at school and work, occasional trips to cafes, toiletries and cleaning products).
If I manage to keep this up we’ll be more than £2,500 better off over the year. I’m surprised at how much I’ve saved. Or to put it another way, I can’t believe how much I’ve been overspending for years.
So far, the single biggest saving has come from joining a wholesaler. I’ve only been twice in six months, but the half-price deals on catering-size packs of marmalade, tea, coffee, rice, beans, pasta, fruit juice, tinned tomatoes and pulses have slashed my shopping bill.
Buying toiletries and domestic cleaning products online and from discount shops has worked out at nearly a third cheaper. This is partly because I’ve also laid off the chemical-laden products: I now throw soda crystals round the sink and shine the bathroom mirror with vinegar, thanks to the suggestions from PeekingDuck and Vancouverite following my last blog.
The grow-your-own bit has also worked well, despite an amateur approach. My children helped plant things, throwing the seeds around in a fit of excitement and randomly sticking the labels in the earth. At first only the purple sprouting broccoli came up, and I thought we’d be self-sufficient in that and nothing else. But, amazingly, lots of lettuces then appeared and we’ve even had a few beans. The tomatoes in bags look set to ripen and I’ve finally planted pots of herbs instead of buying cut bunches.
All this has helped to change my habits. The weekly shop only takes about 10 minutes, at the local greengrocers on Saturdays, for fruit, vegetables, eggs and milk (and I love the fact there are no sweets or comics artfully placed at children’s eye-level).
My last piece prompted lots of practical suggestions. One tip from Jazzactivist particularly caught my eye: this was to plan for the cheapest ingredient in a meal to be the main one. The example Jazzactivist gave was to have patatas bravas with chops rather than chops accompanied by patatas bravas. I’ve tried to put the emphasis more on vegetables and less on the protein element of a meal – if anyone’s looking for inspiration, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day! is brilliant.
I’ve also asked my local independent health food stores to order me a couple of extra boxes of healthy snacks (thanks to advice from EsculentEtc). I didn’t even need to ask for a discount, the shop readily offered me 15% off.
Another thing I’ve tried is a loyalty scheme that rewards customers for shopping sustainably. Loyalty points are a big part of supermarket shopping, so I signed up at Ice to get some supermarket-free rewards. If you buy from scheme members (mainly farm shops, small producers and independent bakeries) you can get up to 15 Ice points for every £2 you spend. The points can either knock money off future orders or be spent online at places like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
Ice works well and it seems easy to stack up points, so it may be worth it for those who want a delivery service (particularly veg and fruit boxes). I tried a vegetable box from Northern Harvest with a few extras like cheese and bread. The quality was high and the service friendly. As I live close to decent greengrocers, a delivery service won’t save me money but I may still occasionally use the site.
The other thing is wine and beer. I used to head for anything on offer at the supermarket. Then a friend mentioned that she went to Bargain Booze. It sells exactly the same labels but they are usually about a quid cheaper a bottle than the supermarket deals.
So, now I know I’m saving money, I’d like to expand my food-buying horizons a bit more. My next plan is to find a local food-co-op or an online supplier – of flour, dried foods and snacks – that doesn’t require a huge minimum order. Has anyone come across a website that helps you find people to bulk order food with?
Also, the space in my garden is minimal, but once the salad leaves are finished I’d like to plant something to eat in autumn or winter. Do you know of any easy to grow vegetables that can be planted this late in the summer?
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk