January 2, 2024

Living on a low food budget

People often ask how I feed the two of us on such a low food budget.  I don’t have a weekly or a monthly food budget, but have an amount I am able to spend over a year.  This last 8 years it has been £750.  I am going to try to stick to that this year as well, even though prices have been rising.  Last year I just adapted how I shopped and what I ate.  When I retired in 2015 I did have a full freezer and some high price items in my cupboard to give me a head start. I was not sure how long I would last with out having to go back to work. I now have two freezers full of food, a cupboard full of items, and an extra stash of food for emergencies.  This has all been done within budget (the chest freezer was given to me for free). We have lovely, nutritious meals that are varied, and most are cooked from scratch.  So how do we do it on what most people spend in a couple of months?

  1. In my head I have a zero budget for food each week.  If I knew that I had a certain amount to spend, I would spend it.
  2. I  rarely go to the supermarket now, and when I do, I am intentional with my buying.  I have a list of what I know I need and only buy at the best price.  In the old days I would go regularly to the supermarkets to buy yellow sticker, reduced items, but I only really do this after bank holidays now, or if they are there on the day I visit a supermarket.  Studies show that the more we visit supermarkets, the more we are likely to spend.
  3. I give myself a head start each year by buying meat joints, fish and vegetables when they are on offer before Christmas.  This year we bought a joint of gammon, a beef joint and two whole salmon, all on a half price offer.  We also stocked up on the 15p vegetables.  The vegetables are stored and should last us at least a couple of months, the meat has been cut up and frozen.  I will later make mince with some of the beef and use the rest in stews, and the gammon will be cooked and used in a variety of dishes, for example quiche, in a pasta sauce, on pizza, instead of bacon, or in sandwiches.  The salmon has been cut into portions sizes, and the bits will be used for fish cakes, salmon pasta, fish pie or fish stew.  One whole salmon will provide about 16 to 18 meals for us.  Easter is another good time to find high cost items at half price.
  4. We now only eat meat or fish 3 or 4 times a week.  We enjoy vegetarian or vegan curries, veggie chilli or enchiladas, meatless pizzas or quiches etc.  I sometimes prefer the vegetarian meals now.  We don’t eat any of those processed items that are made to look like meat, but just use vegetables and pulses.
  5. After Christmas we stock up on reduced cheese (I  got some cheese in wax today for 9p each) to grate and freeze, cream to make butter, Christmas puddings and mincemeat for the following Christmas.  Some years I have bought cheap nuts which I have frozen and they have lasted me a year.
  6. We forage to supplement our food.  The main things we forage are wild garlic to make pesto and garlic butter, blackberries for pies, crumbles, compote, leathers and smoothies, apples for apple sauce, compote, cider, pies and to use in sausages and burgers, rosehips to make syrup, elderflowers to make cordial.  These all add nutrition, flavour and variety to our food, and best of all they are free.
  7. We cook from scratch using up what ever needs eating.  Playing ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ with a few ingredients makes it fun and some of our best meals have been made that way.
  8. We shop as much as possible from what we have in and adapt our meals to that.  If an ingredient is missing we will substitute it with something else.
  9. We have no waste.  Any small portions of meals left are frozen to have on baked potatoes or to be made in to pasties or ravioli. Crisps are made out of potato peelings, broccoli stalks are chopped and frozen for casseroles, vegetable peelings are used to make stock, etc.
  10. We grow a lot of food.  I have very little soil in my garden as it is mainly paved, and so I grow in containers.  We have fruit bushes as hedges and both of our freezers have lots of berries and vegetables stored to use during the winter.  The garden also provides a lot of fresh vegetables and salad during the summer. This helps our health as well as our purse.  Did you know that a home grown tomato has 7 times more vitamins in it compared to one from the supermarket?
  11. We buy some items in bulk.  This last year I have bought coconut milk powder (cheaper than tinned for curries etc), milk powder (I use for sauces and custard and emergency milk), spices and pulses (can buy from World food aisles in supermarkets)  and dried fruit.
  12. We make a lot of things that people would normally buy from a supermarket.  This includes yoghurt, wraps, bread, pork pies, cakes, stock, biscuits, peanut butter, pesto, pasta sauce, ice cream, flavoured essences, washing powder from conkers etc.  I also dry herbs and teas.
  13. We preserve food grown or foraged by pickling, freezing, dehydrating and bottling.
  14. We buy loss leaders or stock up when things are on offer.  Loss leaders are things that supermarkets sell at a loss to entice you into the store.  If you walk in and leave with only those things, you are getting a good deal.  They are only worth buying if you use them, though.
  15. We sometimes get free food from Olio or cheap food from a food waste project (items are 20p each).  This involves travelling, though, and so we only do this if we are already travelling that way.
  16. We have a card to the Company shop.  This saves us a lot of money if we shop wisely, but it is tempting to buy some of the luxury bargains.  All food here is short dated and some are at silly prices.  The icing for our Christmas cake was from there and only cost us 25p.
  17. We stretch our food so that we have full stomachs.  This involves putting things in sauces, padding mince out with vegetables and lentils, putting things in pastry, and using Yorkshire puddings, or potato as a topping.  Stale bread can also be used as a savoury crumble. In the old days we always had bread and butter on the table to fill us up.  I now make wild garlic bread as a side sometimes, or flat breads with vegetables in them.
  18. Meals are planned to make the best use of the ingredients we have already, and to make sure that there is no waste.  I don’t just decide on the day what I am going to eat. My meal plan is very flexible and I will often give Mr S options of what I can do with the ingredients.
  19. Most of our meals have few ingredients in them.  The more ingredients a recipe has, the more it costs.
  20. We love cooking and spend time looking on Pinterest for ideas and things to make with the ingredients we have. We especially like making ordinary food seem special for special occasions.  There are apps that allow you to enter in the ingredients that you have, and they will give you ideas of things that you can make.
  21. We eat seasonally. If we do buy vegetables we will buy them in season as they are cheaper.  This is also good for our bodies.  Have you noticed that a lot of autumn fruit and vegetables are orange or red eg pumpkins, sweet potatoes, swede, blackberries etc?  This is because they boost your immune system ready for the winter bugs.
  22. I barter.  Sometimes I will swop a homemade cake or preserve for a baking item that we do not have, for instance, cocoa or ground almonds.
  23. I accept left overs from family and friends.  At first I was too proud, but now it is fashionable to save waste.  I have made so many stews from the ends of joints that I have been given.  When ever my daughter goes on a diet she always gives me a carrier bag of things that she wants out of the house.
  24. I am always learning new skills and new ways to stretch my food.  This could be from the internet, historical books or foraging websites.  Although I have always been frugal, I shop, eat and use my food budget totally differently to the way I did in the past, even from a couple of years ago.  Being able to adapt and think outside of the box really help me.

How do you stay within your food budget?  Please share your tips.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Lynn Cooke January 2, 2024 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Thank you Toni for all your tips.
    I am quite pleased my yearly budget has come in better than expected.
    I live alone. Occasionally my two daughters and children visit from the South, I’m in the north of England. I allow myself £50 a month for food, cleaning items, toiletries and additional stuff like hair colour.
    This year I have spent £363.18p to be precise. I follow a lot of your routines to avoid waste.
    However I am extremely fortunate to live in an area where Olio is prolific. Most volunteers are within walking distance from me, which I am eternally grateful. If I have made jams, chutneys etc I always list as a way of sharing with other Olio users. The week before Christmas I collected packs of pork steaks, fresh pineapple pieces, chicken portions, veg and so much more. I rarely buy vegetables, bread and more often than not milk, to which I freeze. I make a lot of soup, veg chilli, chickpea/squash/spinach curry, Dahl, cheese based pizza’s. I do tend to eat a lot more veggie dishes and pulse based meals than ever before. I think having a freezer is crucial to food economy I would be lost without mine.

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      That is brilliant. Well done. Thanks for sharing,

  2. Laura Holland January 2, 2024 at 11:58 pm - Reply

    Hi Toni, interesting post- our food budget is around £950 a year, but we cannot grow anything more than a few herbs and maybe a couple of pounds of tomatoes. Foraging is also very limited since the Olympics- much of the local brambles were cut back uprooted or paraquatted, I still get some elder (flowers and berries) and some rosehips- but no blackberries or apples anymore. I buy in bulk, but don’t do much with yellow stickers-it’s mostly ready meals here in London, or stuff that was so expensive to start with it still isn’t attractive. To this day i have never seen cream reduced by more than 20p. I did an online order(our local sainsbury’s is too small to have offers) for the salmon at Sainsbury’s -but it didn’t arrive, so I missed out on that one.
    We are unrepentant meat eaters though, we eat meat or fish most days-but for years I’ve slimmed down the amount. We were vegetarian when we were students, but we didn’t enjoy it, so there are a handful of trusty vegetarian recipes in my repetoire that we enjoyed then, but that’s it.
    My budget has fallen a little in the last year because we use Olio (free TFL travel) and the community fridge.
    I do preserve, stock up, buy in bulk and bake- but I haven’t been making bread so much lately, because there is so much on Olio. I also couldn’t imagine the frugal life without a freezer.
    We have always eaten seasonally, because it’s cheaper and I have always taken leftovers from friends and family- I don’t think I’ve ever made sweet and sour pork except from the end of someone’s joint.
    I don’t feel pride comes into it-it’s simply wicked to throw good food away, and I have never condoned it.
    I’ve never tried swopping- I don’t really live in that kind of community, but I might try it with preserves on Olio.

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:58 pm - Reply

      It sounds like you are doing really well. I wish Olio was good near us. That is a brilliant budget

  3. Julie Barton January 3, 2024 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Absolutely brilliant read and am taking inspiration as always thank you Toni for this information xx

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      No worries. Thanks for your comments

  4. Sasha Martin January 3, 2024 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Hi I have recently started fermenting again & after reading your words of wisdom will limit my use of supermarkets. I find these places are devoid of flavour & nutrients & are the reason people are so ill. You really inspire me so thank you & I wish you a happy new year.

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      I agree with you about supermarket food. I really need to try fermenting as I know it is good for you. I just find it a bit scary! Thanks

  5. Karan Fowler January 3, 2024 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Such a good read and lots of useful tips

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks. That is kind of you to say

  6. Hasan Jaffer January 3, 2024 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    A practical guide and a source of encouragement for many. The thoughtful tips and insights into budget-friendly living make it a valuable resource. Thanks for providing practical advice and fostering a positive perspective on navigating a low food budget!

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your lovely comments

  7. Eleri Norris January 3, 2024 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    A brilliant guide with plenty of food for thought (😁) – and a lot to learn from. I never waste food or impulse buy but you’ve made me realise I need to plan more, be open to bargain opportunities and think outside the box more often. Thank you Toni xx

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      It is a frugal journey. I believe and it is good to make tweaks. Good plan.

  8. Ali January 3, 2024 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Brilliant guide! Even though I think I’m doing well there’s always more to learn and more to do. We don’t have Olio here as we have an excellent community food project that takes all the surplus food from local supermarkets, cafes and individuals. I’ve never set an actual food budget but inspired by you I’m setting one this year of £1200 which is £100 per month. I’d love to spend less than that so the challenge is on for me :-)

  9. Sue January 3, 2024 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I have done most of your tips over the years and continue to do them, once you start on a frugal mindset there’s no going back is there. I usually do Challenges in the New Year giving myself a fixed budget for the weeks or months ahead, but this year for the first time I have relaxed all that and am simply allowing myself to buy what I NEED but it has to be proper food and in season. My first priority is to shop my own cupboard and freezer, and come Summer pick from my small raised beds, which are currently all full of over-wintering onions.

    • ToniG January 3, 2024 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      That sounds like a brilliant plan

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      I am doing the same. I am not doing low or no spend weeks. I have lots of food and so we are trying to live with what we have, buy small amounts of good quality food, and lower the UPF. Good luck with your plan

  10. Tracey January 3, 2024 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing – love all your tips & receipes.

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      No worries. Thanks for commenting x

  11. Kezzie January 3, 2024 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    These are excellent tips and plans. I’m ashamed to realise I don’t really have any sort of plan when it comes to eating and cooking though I do like foraging for wild garlic and nettles in the season as well as blackberries and we grow fruit and veg. We tend to buy store cupboard items from the refill/package free shop and I will grab items if they are a good reduction. If I go to town, there is an excellent vegetable shop where you can buy veg quite cheaply. Generally, we eat vegetarian. However, as I said, I don’t really have any idea what I spend or anything like that so I really should try to keep a track, particularly as our mortgage deal comes to an end next December and we’re on a 1.6% interest rate whereas all the new deals are all horrendously high in the interest stakes which is very depressing!
    Lovely to visit your blog! I came via ‘Less equals more’.

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      I need to utilise nettles more. I use a few leaves and put the seeds in bread, but not enough. As I use my stash of staples I want to refill from a package free shop like you. We have just found one where my daughter lives. I used to do this years ago when I was a single parent and the shops full of bins of items were popular (though probably not that hygienic which is why I think that they got closed down). Maybe you could start by keeping your receipts for a month to see what you are spending and on what and then trying to live out of your cupboards and pantry for a week to give you an idea of what you are spending and what you can live with out? You can then set yourself a budget and slowly try to reduce it. It must be hard with the increase in the mortgage. I have not heard of ‘less equals more’ I don’t think. Is it a website or FB group or something?

  12. Tricia January 3, 2024 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Excellent blog entry. May I ask, does your budget include cleaning materials: washing liquid, shampoo, soap, toilet rolls etc? I live alone and used to manage on £100 a month but that total has crept up this past year and I would like to get it down again. Since I downsized I don’t need to be as frugal as I once was but I hate wasting money on what often is sub-standard food offered by the supermarkets. I do shop at Lidl or Aldi as the prices elsewhere are terrifying, but since having covid my tastes have changed so I really need to rethink my eating and cooking habits. Will keep reading your blog. Thank you.

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks. No. I have £120 for toiletries for the year and £100 for cleaning products. We have shopped less and less in the supermarkets, especially over the last 3 years. I use markets, butchers, and some times farm shops. The items are more expensive but we just use less of them and bulk with things from the garden or foraged. I am trying to reduce our UPF intake and eat more real food. Cooking from scratch reduces our budget a lot, especially making things like yoghurt and bread, but I am lucky that I have the time time. Good luck with the rethink. Thanks for commenting

    • Sarah January 6, 2024 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much for this Toni, so helpful. Silly question but how do you store the 15p veg for it to last a few months? I need to get wise and do that next year but don’t have loads of freezer space, or space for another freezer.

      • ToniG January 7, 2024 at 8:12 am - Reply

        I have done a blog about it on here but basically I put the potatoes in a covered cardboard box in my cool conservatory. The broccoli will keep a few weeks in the fridge if left in a jug of water but I usually blanch and freeze this. The onions or shallots I keep in a hessian sack, but have kept them hung in tights before with knots in between. The carrots I store in a box of sand in the shed, but Nancy Birtwhistle keeps them for months in the fridge in a damp tea towel (I have not tried this). The potatoes and carrots need to be checked regularly and any that are going off need to be used or thrown.

  13. Nelliegrace January 4, 2024 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    One result of eating frugally is that we are enjoying food which is good for us. I shop for basic ingredients, which excludes a lot of the ultra processed stuff, basic porridge oats instead of commercial breakfast cereals.
    The breadmaker has paid for itself in inexpensive, additive free, good bread. The kefir grains reproduce indefinitely, providing our daily glassful for just the price of the milk. We have half an orange each instead of orange juice at breakfast.
    The freezer has been such a help, I can make use of special offers, and yellow-stickered meat, fish and cheese, freezing them in portions. Plain meat and fish are better value than those with added ingredients, crumb coating or sauces.
    I have been using WW2 British ration quantities, and put out our butter and cheese for the week. If there was a large pack of cheese, DH would cut thick slabs for a sandwich, but cut it thinner from a smaller piece. I grate cheese for sandwiches, it goes further.
    I have been busy making butter from the pots of special thick cream Sainsbury’s sold off at 1p after Christmas. It doesn’t need any special equipment. I have a jug of leftover buttermilk flavoured with sugar, vanilla and vodka, for some fancy pancakes.
    I buy supermarket own labels, budget range, and wonky fruit and vegetables, and just what I need of loose vegetables, checking the price per kilo to make sure that I am getting the best price. I stock up when things are on offer, so long as nothing I buy will be wasted.

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Brilliant. You are doing well using war time rations. They are hard to stick to. Yes we have been lucky with the cheap cream to make butter this year too. I freeze mine in 50g portions so that we can take out just what we need the night before to reduce waste. Thanks for sharing

  14. Gilly Baker January 5, 2024 at 11:34 am - Reply

    I’m also in my sixties and live on a restricted income. Your ideas are inspiring me! I have spent this morning reading your articles and realise that I spend waaaaay too much on food and cleaning materials. This is going to change. Although I have a small garden it could be far more productive. My trips to the local supermarket must diminish, it’s far too easy to rely on convenience. Thank you forw riting such informative and inspiring articles in such a friendly style.

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      No worries. Thanks for the kind comments. Good luck with your changes. It does get easier once you build new habits. x

  15. Katie Naden January 6, 2024 at 10:09 am - Reply

    Thanks Toni you are my inspiration . I am back on it this year . To my credit we have been off track with spending in the house with big repairs & holiday travels . I’m back to writing everything down rather than tracking via Bank account as it doesn’t indicate in enough detail. The best find for us last year was the food club with £5 shops . I’ve missed going for the last few weeks as we were away so ate from freezer before going . I aim to only buy top up fruit & veg & toilet rolls & celebrate the positive choices I make rather than highlight shortfalls . With recently reading the Secret I’m very conscious for the first time how my thoughts influence me . Thank you for your kind support & inspiration . X

    • ToniG January 6, 2024 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      I remember reading the secret about 15 years ago and I do think we can manifest what we want to an extent. We all fall off the frugal wagon now and again, and sometimes I think it is good as it helps us re-focus with better intentions. Thanks for your kind comments x

  16. Karen January 9, 2024 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Great post Toni thank you .lots of tips to take on board.iv recently joined slimming world.but a bit at odds with it when they talk about get rid of this and that out of your cupboard.i live alone can’t afford just to throw thlngs out or Christmas things you have bought or been given…I like the idea of an allowance for the year for food.plenty to think about thank you

    • ToniG January 15, 2024 at 8:15 am - Reply

      Yes I couldn’t just throw food away. Mr S locks things in his car boot for me. Maybe a friend can keep them for you and give you a bit back each month?

Leave A Comment