Here's the second part of my Top Tips (for me, anyway). The first part was about planning and shopping, this part is about what happens after that!
Some of this relates to choices and behaviours. I'd like to quote something I have only just read from 'Family Feasts for a Fiver':
'Disciplined household management is a bit like going to the gym and keeping fit; it's tough at the beginning but, if you stick at it, it becomes habit and then, ultimately, a lifestyle.'
I think that really hits the nail on the head for me. I'm more or less at the 'habit' stage, I think, having started this at the end of January.
Some of these tips are specific and some are general. Some relate to choices and some to behaviours. So I'd better stop rambling and start!
This first one might not work for some. Don't experiment too much unless you are prepared to eat any disasters. I've eaten some 'interesting' meals in the last two months or so! Food in the bin is money down the drain. The more you cook from scratch, the more likely you are to know what will work and the less 'risky' an experiment becomes. It's like any skill in that way. So build up the skills first.
Bake your own bread. I know it takes time and many of us are time poor but it can be done. It's nicer than shop bought and, for the same quality, very, very much cheaper (those brioche buns in the photo cost me around 5p each). When I was working my socks off as a senior teacher, I made my bread on Saturday or Sunday, enough for the week, cooled it, sliced it, wrapped it and froze it so I could get out just what I needed when I needed it.
I still do. I ring the changes - wholemeal, white, granary, a mixture of flours. I also keep a sourdough for the occasional times when I fancy a longer baking 'experience'.
Use any leftovers - bread and butter pudding, croutons, breadcrumbs, toast. Don't throw your money away! Bread is one of the most wasted foods in this country and, with a bit of forethought, it doesn't have to be.
Relating to the above, make just about everything from scratch. Yes, I know it takes more time and effort than bunging a ready meal in the oven or microwave (although there's a way round that) but, oh, the saving! I didn't realise quite how much I could save until I started costing everything out.
If you are time poor, batch cook/bake and freeze in portions so you only have to do a construction job at the end of the day or prepare your own ready meals and freeze them. A few hours spent doing this now and again pays dividends. Just think of the skills you are acquiring too.
But remember to keep that freezer list up to date.
Make a collection of frugal recipes. There's oodles of them around on the internet. Save them on your PC or to a memory stick. Adapt them to work for you. If you're stuck for ideas and don't have time to explore your cookery books, you have a single source of ideas that have taken your fancy - much quicker.
There's some great places for ideas online. Find Jack Monroe's site, Thrifty Lesley's site, if you're on Facebook, join Feed Yourself for a Pound A Day
(brilliant group), Take time now and again to Google something like 'very frugal recipes' and I then use Tools: Country: the UK because there are loads of US sites that are no earthly use to me in the UK - different ingredients and, to be honest, different ideas about what 'frugal food' actually means. Anything that starts 'make up a packet of Betty Whatshername's Make Your Own Thingummyjig' goes straight in the virtual bin!
Know your amounts. Use your scales to weigh and measure rather than guesstimate, especially at first. If you do get it wrong and make too much, set it aside and either use it next day or wrap it and freeze it (update the list!). Don't have extra that day or you are likely to wander outside what is, after all, a very strict budget and most certainly don't just chuck it!
Know your portion size - which might be the same as above, if you live alone. To be honest, I had to make a decision to reduce my portions when I started this. I was having too much.
I think we are now conditioned to 'need' a loaded plate. Look at the adverts, look at what you're given in a pub or restaurant. The food is almost falling off the side! If you find it hard to reduce portions sizes, use a smaller plate so there aren't so many gaps. The eye most certainly deceives the mind and the same amount on a smaller plate can look and feel so much more filling.
Leading on from that, I use two tricks that really help. Small mouthfuls and eating slowly. Putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls helps a lot, as does chewing properly and not gobbling. It takes a while for those 'satisfied' messages to reach the brain and after a while you can tell when it happens. It means you have to allow yourself enough time to eat mindfully but it really works.
It sounds a bit like slimming advice, doesn't it? It works the same way and I can promise you that if you are wanting to lose weight, forget the calories and focus on eating healthily and in a balanced way on a fairly strict budget and you WILL lose weight.
A lot of it boils down to the choices you make. Yes, I could fill up (temporarily) on home made fries and wedges or pig out on delicious bread and stay within budget, but that wouldn't satisfy, nor would it be good for me.
You could go vegetarian - not necessarily all the time, but for some meals. Vegetarian protein can be so much more frugal, especially beans and lentils if you soak and cook them yourself and there are some wonderful recipes around. I eat meat because I like it but I use it carefully and have chosen to significantly reduce the amount I have.
Fruit and veg can be expensive but not if you go seasonal and think about the source of your produce. I go for bags of wonky veg (heartfelt thanks to Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall for his input here) and if something is beyond my budget, I choose not to buy it. It's as simple as that. When courgettes and broccoli were scarce (snow in Spain) and therefore appallingly expensive, I had wonky carrots instead. When fresh is dear, I have frozen. I unit price apples, etc, in bags. Why pay 26p for an apple when you can get a banana for 12p or use up some of the stewed rhubarb from last year's garden?
Leftovers. With the best will in the world there will be leftovers from time to time. You can reuse the next day for lunch or dinner, turn it into something else (like veg into soup) or you can wrap and freeze (don't forget to label - I never remember otherwise!). Just don't throw your money away
And last of all, there's nothing wrong with the occasional splurge if you can afford it and are not going into debt for it. It's jolly nice to eat a meal you haven't prepared from time to time. However, I am finding more and more that actually I prefer my own cooking, I enjoy it more and feel better afterwards. The craving for a takeaway has very much reduced as I have come to realise that the anticipation tasted an awful lot better than the actual food!!!
So there you go. All these have helped me to turn a wish into a habit and will take me on into a lifestyle. All I am doing is taking control and making changes that I am happy with and I'm enjoying the bonuses by (as someone on Pound a Day said) saving £s as I lose lbs.
Thanks for reading.