Meal Planning to Reduce Your Food Budget

I just saw on the news today that September saw the UK’s key inflation rate hit its highest for more than five years. For people like us, this means a hike in already expensive living costs. And more than likely, we’ll see a rise in the food shopping bills. Frugal, thrifty meal planning is going to become even more important than ever, if we don’t want to be out of pocket!

Spicy autumn soup recipe with butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot

Why Meal Planning is Important

Why is meal planning such a good idea? There are several reasons. Let me explain why it’s been a revelation for me.

Before I had my daughter, I was a bad shopper. I mean, I ate fairly well when I cooked my own meals, and enjoy hearty home-cooked food. And of course, I grow a little fruit and veg on the side to supplement us too. But I never really did any kind of meal planning – I just ate what I fancied or what was easiest. I didn’t budget for the weekly food shop, and didn’t really have any idea of what we were collectively spending on food shopping, takeaways and treats every month.

This meant that we often spent way more than we should have done on groceries – each “quick stop” at the supermarket led to getting “a few extras” which soon mounted up. We couldn’t seem to spend less then between £20-40 several times a week.

We were also overeating with huge portion sizes, and were indulging way too much in takeaways. It’s so easy to give in and say “let’s just get a takeaway” when you’re tired, it’s late and you’re not sure there’s anything in the cupboards that you fancy eating.

It’s a really bad attitude – bad for our wallets, and bad for our bellies!

After another month of Rich complaining about the amount of supermarket shops appearing on his bank statements, we decided to collect all the receipts from our grocery shopping and see how much we were spending. After just two weeks, it was clear to see that we were doing it all wrong. 

So I started meal planning, to help us swap to a frugal shopping budget, and encourage us to eat more healthily, more often. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Patatas a lo Pobre vegan Spanish tapas


Thrifty Shopping – How to Get Started with Meal Planning

Meal planning starts before you hit the shops or do your online shop. 

Do a Stock Check
My first tip is to do a “stock check” of what’s in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer. You might be surprised at what you’ve squirrelled away. When I did this, I found that I actually had a week’s worth of meals, bar a couple of bits of fresh vegetables. Consider the likes of flour, sugar and baking goodies – could you throw together a wholesome pie or make a delicious fruity crumble that’ll last you at least three days? See how many meals you make from what you’ve got, and try to organise your cupboards so that you can easily see what’s in there. No hiding tins of butterbeans at the back! 


Organise your cupboards, fridge and freezer
Having done a Marie Kondo declutter in my house (check her out, she’s a bit left field but amazing), I’ve learned that being able to see what I have, and have it in reach, is vital to living a thrifty but happy life. Marie Kondo is the master of finding joy from decluttering in terms of clothes, books, paperwork etc… but her philosophy applies to food too! 

Ask yourself – does this food bring me joy? Yes? Keep it. No? Give it away. No more unwanted jars, tins and boxes of food will lurk in a dark, forgotten corner of your cupboard or freezer. You’ll always have something on hand that you fancy and that you can work with. 

At this point you’ll be able to organise your cupboards so that you can see exactly what you have, and how many items you might have of a particular product. In the long run, this will help make meal planning a doddle. 


Vegan Shepherd's Pie Recipe

Start with meals that you know you love
It would be lovely to try a new and exciting dish every night to expand your culinary endeavours, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have days when frankly, my dear, you don’t give a damn. You just want food in your belly, and for that food to taste good and fill you up. 

So when doing your first few meal plans, make a list of your favourite go-to meals, and just make sure you vary them throughout the week. Remember, leftovers can be used for lunch the day after next too. As I’m vegan, I’m already thinking about things like my protein, fibre and iron intake for each day, and meal planning definitely helps me to see whether I’m ticking all the nutritional boxes for both me and my non-vegan toddler each day. 

Once you’ve got the hang of meal planning and even have some bulk-made meals in the freezer (see next point), maybe it’s time to start planning for those new recipes you’ve been thinking about trying out. You can also get yourself a nifty meal planner, so that you can keep track of your daily dishes and shopping lists. 


Bulk/batch cook for easy, wholesome meals on busy days
I’m a huge fan of soups, stews, curries and chillies (basically, anything you can eat out of a bowl!), all of which are incredibly easy to batch cook and freeze. These have been so incredibly useful for me on busy days when I need a healthy, tasty meal for me and my daughter, and I’ve been rushed off my feet. I also like to take a frozen portion of chilli or stew into work, let it gently defrost all morning and then just ping it in the microwave for lunch. Saves me having to buy in lunch specially at work and definitely helps with the meal planning, when I know I can just whip something out of the freezer! 

Batch cooking does take planning, because you don’t want to use up all your fresh produce and ingredients for one big bulk cooking session! So best to know exactly when you’re going to make up those batch meals and plan accordingly.

This is also a great approach for when illness hits! As parents with a young daughter, we’re no strangers to a house-full of lurgy several times a year. When we don’t feel like cooking, we know there are a few meal options waiting for us in the freezer. 


Black bean and sweet potato spicy stew


Make a shopping list as you go
If I run out of something vital, I write it down straight away. This means that we don’t forget to buy things and have to make another shopping trip a day after our main shop. Inevitably this leads to less spending! I’ll also re-check the cupboards, fridge and freezer before heading out for the main shop, just to make sure I have everything I need for my planned meals.


Aim for one main shop a week… and stick to your list!
I aim to do one main shop a week and just stick to what’s on the list. No being swayed by treats, or offers and multi-buys… unless they’re something I was going to get anyway. 

If I know in the back of my mind I can go somewhere else and get a few extra bits a lot cheaper, I will do another shop. For instance, I find Poundstretcher and Wilko (virtually next door to each other in my local retail park) often have great half price or less deals on things like shampoo and baby products. Staples like tins of soup, sugar, tinned tomatoes and the like are also often significantly cheaper at Poundstretcher (but sometimes have short use by dates). And Aldi and Lidl are great for products like dried pasta, frozen veggie products, personal care products and more baby bits. It’s about planning and trying to do the most in the least amount of shopping trips. 

I’ve yet to see whether our local markets or farm shops are significantly cheaper than the supermarkets, but if I find that they are, I’ll combine them on the same day as my supermarket shop to ensure that I’m sticking to my budget and meal planning. Watch this space!


Vegetable Trug Gardening


Grow Your Own & Buy in Bulk
Eating seasonally is a great way to reduce your shopping budget, and will help you shake up your meal plans from time to time. We have enough space to grow a little of our own fruit and veg, so I can often add my own produce to the store cupboards and incorporate into our meal plan. For instance, in autumn I know we can batch cook lots of stew and soups as pumpkins and squashes are in abundance! These can be kept in the freezer for a good few months. 

From time to time, we also buy some items in bulk. My favourite bulk buy foods are onions, shallots and potatoes, as these work out massively cheaper when bought in bulk from local suppliers, and are great basic staples for many dishes throughout the week. And it also stops me running out of vital supplies and having to run to the shop, inevitably spending another £10 or £20 by the time I’ve finished!


Need to buy a meal planner?
If you want to invest in a meal planner, I would suggest going for one that incorporates a shopping list – that way, you can plan your meals and plan your shopping around your meals! You can purchase a meal planner on Amazon, or if you want to keep your budget a bit tighter, I love this custom printable PDF meal planner from Etsy. 

Got any meal planning tips to share? Let me know in the comments!

5 Cheap Ways to Brighten Your Garden for Autumn & Winter

Now that Autumn has really set in, the bright annuals of summer have faded and it’s time to look at where we can fill the gaps with some winter colour. Of course, as I’m living on a tight budget I’ve got to be very thrifty about the plants that I purchase. If you’re looking to brighten your front garden with cheap plants this winter, this is the post for you!


Let’s admit it – when it comes to the kerb appeal of our houses, many of us feel compelled to “keep up with the Joneses”! I hate to admit that the older I’ve got, the more I’ve wanted to feel a sense of pride when considering how my little tumbledown semi-detached cottage looks to the rest of the world! And in our case, there are a fair few “Joneses” down our road who have beautiful front gardens. It’s a good thing really, as I think many front gardens are so utilitarian and sterile these days. I love seeing a tiny patch of garden that really makes an impact – it’s like a little lift that brightens your day, especially when it’s buzzing with wildlife. This year I’d like to brighten our front garden in winter too, so that it serves as a little beacon of colour and fun in our street. 

Here are my recommendations for 5 Cheap Ways to Brighten Your Front Garden for Autumn & Winter – get planting now and you can enjoy colour through until next Spring, without spending a fortune:

1. Pansies & Violas
The number of pansy and viola varieties now available is stunning! Whatever your colour scheme, there’s a cultivar for you. If you’re a fan of frills and like a splash of frou-frou, there are also frilly and frizzle pansies to enjoy in a selection of heady mixes and colour combinations. And if the budget allows, they also make great hanging basket plants, when teamed with the likes of cascading, trailing ivy and variegated euonymus and skimmia. 

2. Winter-Flowering Wallflowers (Erysimum)
There are many bold, bright and beautiful winter-flowering varieties of winter-flowering wallflowers to enjoy. Hardy and perennial (although they often need a good haircut once they’ve finished flowering, and should be replaced after about three years), wallflowers are really great value for money and should last through to spring time. October or a mild November is really your last chance to get them in for a winter display, though. And if you want to continue sharing the wallflower love, autumn is also a great time of year to plant wallflowers for a spring display. Buy them bare root in bunches, to save lots of pennies and pounds! But be sure to get the plants in the ground quickly and give them a good water once in situ.  

3. Sweet Williams
If you’re a fan of delicate cottage garden flowers but long for some bold colour, then try Sweet Williams. Strictly speaking, these hardy plants won’t provide colour over winter, as they can flower until late Autumn once established. But you’ll be rewarded when they give another burst of colour again in the spring. 

Pink heather in autumn

4. Winter Flowering Heather
Hardy winter heathers add delicate waves of colour in any garden, are hardy, relatively cheap to buy and pretty fuss-free. Purples, pinks and whites can be planted to complement a whole host of cottage winter-flowering plants. Fiery reds, oranges and yellow varieties can also create a striking display, and will stand up to some stark weather conditions. I implore you though – please, PLEASE don’t go for the day-glo bright heathers found on supermarket shelves!

5. Cyclamen
These will come back year after year – you can opt for Autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium, which will create pockets of colour and charm, as well as decorative foliage once the flowers die back. Just make sure you mulch well around the young plants when you put them in the ground. 

Want more winter colour? Check out this link for inspiration for winter planting flowers in containers!

Save Even More on Inexpensive Autumn and Winter Planting

Of course, truly the cheapest way of adding colour to your autumn and winter garden is to pre-plan, buy seed and sow your flowers months or weeks ahead of the season! But be sure to check the seed packets for best time to sow (so you don’t miss your window), and whether your chosen flowers and plants are annual, perennial or biennial. If they’re biennial, then you might have to wait a few more months to enjoy the spoils of your labour. But trust me – you’ll be glad you did. 

October Frugal Goals

October might just be one of my favourite months of the year. I can hide in big comfy cardigans, I can cook dozens of bowls of hearty soups, and we can start lighting the open fire once again, to keep us toasty and warm.

Autumn leaves in the sunshine

This month we’ve taken another little leap forward. We’re looking at a mortgage and I’ve been working hard on reducing my debts, as my finances have really been under the microscope. I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago as to the state of my finances and how I’d got to where I am (ie, less than ideal, need improvement, could do better etc), and realise now that nothing I earn can be classed as ‘profit’. Until I am debt free, every penny I can spare goes back into reducing my debt, paying my bills and looking after my child. I come second to all that.

I am now committed to really living frugally – no little shopping splurges here and there – and taking everything in hand. Some days it feels like a never-ending battle, other days more like a challenge that I feel I can rise to.

Autumn apple harvest

Luckily for me, October is also a great month because so many of my favourite foods are in season. We are still harvesting:

– Fresh raspberries
– Autumn King carrots
– Lettuce
– Strawberries!
– Apples

In the veg patch, that means FREE food to enjoy, and at the market and supermarket, that also means affordable, fresher, seasonal food is available. Cheap soups, stews, pies and bakes can be eaten in abundance.

Strawberries ripening in October

Here are a few of my fuss-free, go-to Autumn recipes:

Butternut Squash & Lentil Pie (Vegan)
Easy Apple Tart (Vegan)
Instant Pot Butternut Squash Soup (Vegan)
Pumpkin Bread Rolls
Spicy Parsnip Soup (Vegan)
Spicy Autumn Soup (Vegan)
Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Patatas a lo Pobre
Thrifty Veggie Slow Cooker Chickpea & Sweet Potato Curry
Easy Leek & Potato Soup (Vegan)
Crusty Bread Bloomer
Vegetarian/Vegan Lentil Bake

My daughter is now 13 and a half months old, and is eating three good meals a day, plus extras! So to keep up, and make sure we’re keeping on top of some sort of shopping budget, I’ve become a real fan of meal planning… more about that in my next post!

October Aims

I just wanted to summarise my October aims, in line with my focus on frugal living:

  • Earn at least £200 extra on top of my normal salary
  • Don’t put ANYTHING on credit cards this month
  • At least 15 no-spend days
  • Harvest the rest of the carrots in the veg patch
  • Make my own sloe gin in time for Christmas!
  • Batch cook more freezer meals
  • Spend no more than £60 at the supermarket each week (a tough one)

Let’s see how this month goes…