Tuesday, 13 August 2013

7 Easy tips to save on your grocery bill

I usually get a extreme drawn-of-breath from some women when I mention my tips on how to cut your grocery spending in half. Let's face it - we all have to tighten our belts and pull up our socks as the world is in austerity right now and so are most people's budgets. Not even mentioning the big drive to not throw away food.

I am an extreme planner. I really mean extreme.

On the MBTI chart I am wayyy over towards preferring the 'Judging' dichotomy. Couple that with the 'Thinking' preference and you get an extreme event or holiday planner. I am not a type that would be able to easily set off on an unplanned holiday drifting from one place to the other and just enjoy the moment. I can if I have to but generally I would be so out of my comfort zone it would be dreadful rather than enjoyable.

A few years ago I stood at a local supermarket waiting for my queue to move forward towards the check-out when I leisurely glanced at my shopping piled into my trolley. I started counting and found about fifteen possible meals in there. You would probably think 'Ok - so what?'

Fact is that I do the shopping every week (supposedly to feed us for that particular coming week) so having fifteen meals in my trolley didn't quite make sense. And trust me; this happened every week.
This is where the 'throw-away' food culture comes from. It comes from NO meal planning.

I went home and my brain went into overdrive. I developed a system which is easy to follow and guaranteed to make you save money on food by following a few simple rules. Most people already do it either in this way or in a lesser way. If you are one of those, skip this post. If not - I hope you read on. You don't need to be super organised, just committed to start saving money.

1. Plan your meals in advance. I always start at the freezer/fridge to check what I still have available to eat. So if you still have chicken and mince in the freezer because you bought bulk the previous week, they can form part of your menu for this week.
Here is a sample menu:

Friday: Sausages and Mash with veg (usually peas or mixed veg)
Saturday: Pizza
Sunday: Roast Chicken with veg
Monday: Spaghetti Bolognaise
Tuesday: Pork chops with veg
Wednesday: Leftover chicken with pasta (lovely creamy chicken sauce with pasta)
Thursday: Fish and chips with peas

My shopping list will then have all the regulars on for the lunch boxes, the ingredients to make these meals and also the rest of the items e.g. cleaning materials, drinks etc. If you run out of ideas then there is also the option of consulting with your family to see which meals they like (and which not!). Compromise if they suggest something too expensive like steak.
I have also started to buy more frozen vegetables. I used to buy everything fresh but remember that comes at a premium so if you are going to use vegetables in e.g. a casserole, then frozen is just as good. Frozen veg has really moved on and there is not really a big difference in taste and quality.

2. Use a website to compare prices. I use to put all the things I need for the week in a shopping list. This website is really clever as it uses different providers to check prices e.g. Tesco, Waitrose, ASDA and Sainsburys. Once you get to the end, you can either send the list to your phone or print it (which I do). And here comes the clever part: it actually asks you if you want to split it between stores to get the most from the bargains available that week.
My Supermarket has a couple of tabs on the website which shows Offers and Savvy buys. Using those saves you a lot of time because all the offers from across those stores are at your fingertips.

3. Use the shopping list to drive down prices. My next step is to visit alternative low cost stores e.g. Aldi, Poundstretcher and Farmfoods. They sell a lot of groceries that you will find on your list for about half the price. Other stores which fall into that category are Lidl, Poundland and Iceland. I usually buy about 75% to 80% of my shopping now at these low cost stores without compromising on quality. The quality is excellent and the price of the shopping has dropped by about 50%!

4. Use cash to buy groceries. I used to buy my groceries with a credit card to get more 'points' which then converted into vouchers (yes you know which store is that!). It is just not worth it. The fact that you spend on a card doesn't really give you that 'saving' feeling because it is very psychological to see real money being paid over in exchange for the items you've put in your trolley. I now get an allowance which is meant to last for two weeks. This enables me to spend maybe that little bit extra in the first (or second) week on a savvy buy or offer which will stretch e.g. some bulk mince or chicken.
It really makes an impact if you use a little purse with your food cash in to go to the stores.  Trust me on this one!

5. Have some fun! Make it a challenge to see if you can make your money stretch further. If you decide on a food allowance and there is some leftover money after the two weeks are up, use that money for something nice e.g. a contribution to a night out or another treat. You don't have to but it is an incentive. Alternatively you can start building up a fund which you can spend at a bigger store like COSTCO or Macro where the buys are really in bulk!

6. Save your receipts and your shopping lists. I have stapled all my receipts of the week together with my printed shopping list. It reminds me of how much I spent that week as well as what I bought. It is a good record of your success!

7. When buying in bulk - talk to your friends and neighbours. If there is a good buy somewhere e.g. two bags of apples or bread for the price of one, talk to your friends to see if you can split the costs and the produce. That way it is cheaper for both of you and you won't sit with apples (or bread) that will go off if you don't eat it fast enough.

I hope this works for you as it works for me.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

TfL and valuable advice on cycling safety

Cycling in London isn't made for the faint hearted and you need to be vigilant at all times. I follow some golden rules when I am out and about on my Brompton in London.

Transport for London (TfL) recently published a very good video aiming to make the Capital's road safer for both cyclists and drivers. I am happy to share this as it is relevant to everyday cycling wherever you are.

Silly season for pedestrians?

The amount of times that I had to either ring my bike bell frantically or slam on the brakes to avoid pedestrian collisions are endless. I have definitely stopped counting.

The counting rocketed sky high when I started cycling in London but do also tick over when cycling closer to home. Mostly pedestrians do the safe thing and look left and right and then cross the road but I have find that a large percentage just cross without looking. Whatever happened to rules taught at a young age which say look left, then right and then left again before crossing? It is almost like those are made for the young generation and now that you are older - you are invincible. Searching for this via a search engine resulted in over 8,080,000 hits.

I recently admired a brand new electric car. As thoughts go, mine wandered from me being on my bike swerving to avoid a near collision with a non-looking pedestrian to wondering what will happen to these non-looking pedestrians when the electric car becomes more familiar on our busy roads, especially the city roads where it makes a lot of sense to drive (one of those)? I know there were talk about making the electric car more 'sounding like a car' because at the moment it is very quiet!

So if a pedestrian just walks off the pavement to cross the road, he or she might want to have a bicycle approaching them rather than an electric car as I think your chances of getting less hurt are better with a bike than with a noiseless electric car!