Surviving on £20 a Week in London
Recently I’ve wanted to save money. I’m not entirely poor – typically poor, maybe – but after rent, bills, travel and food I’m usually left with enough money to go out, get presents, treat myself and travel. But not enough to save alongside that.
So I set myself a challenge by cutting down on the things I spend the most money on food.
Whenever I get paid I always do a ‘monthly’ shop from Tesco’s which usually comes to £40-£50 and actually only ever lasts me 1-2 weeks. That’s not including the food I buy out, which for a while, was every day at lunchtime Monday-Friday.
When you factor in London prices with living costs I was actually spending at least £200 a month on food and drink. Probably more like £300 after you factor in snacking on the go and the odd drink now and then.
I don’t do takeaways because I’m yet to find a takeaway worth the money for one person or actually be good food. But that doesn’t stop me from buying the most expensive ready meals on my way home from work, even when I have a fridge full of salad or a cupboard full of tinned goods like soup and baked beans.
Having recently paid to move flats, get birthday presents, go to the spa and go on holiday I’m a bit broke right now. I want to stop going into my overdraft every month and also to save money in general.
I’ve decided to try and limit my food spending costs to £20 a week.
Harder than it sounds.
I’ve exchanged Tesco’s for the local Lidl and fresh fruit and vegetable markets. I’m allergic to nuts – which is one food group every website and blog suggests I stock up on – and I’m a bit fussy when it comes to fruit and vegetable. Namely, I don’t eat fruit, besides the odd apple and a handful cherries.
So, not only to keep the costs down I also need to find ways to eat healthily on the cheap.
Step 1: Plan my meals
Something in my soul rebels against this idea, mostly because I’ve never done it before. At home, my mum used to decide what we were eating for dinner in the morning because our house was always stocked with food and we had a large freezer. I don’t have a freezer – or I do, but it’s tiny and only fits a small amount – so everything I eat is either fresh or canned.
This being said I’ve been looking for simple 3-5 ingredients recipes which I can make meals in 20-45 minutes, as I don’t want to cook for ages after work. Plus I want to cook things I can take into work the following day.
Here are some of my go-to recipes:
- Potato and Leek soup: I have a blender, and this meal is easy you chop it all up, throw it in a saucepan with vegetable stock and then blend it down to a consistency that you want. I can freeze it (if I have room) or simply take the remaining soup to work the next day.
- Leek and Bacon Risotto: I like leeks – can you tell? – this is a great, almost healthy meal. Much like the soup you chop everything up and throw it in a pan with some vegetable stock (although it tastes great with chicken stock too – I discovered this after using the wrong stock cube. Doh!) and then stir until the risotto rice is cooked. I’ve been told not to re-heat rice so this is a quick dinner rather than a lunch prep meal.
- Chicken Paella: My version of a paella is really simple. Cook some chicken breast with some diced onion, turmeric and paprika, add half a can of chopped tomatoes and then add paella rice and cook for 15-20 minutes. Add a lemon wedge and some Tabasco sauce and you’re set. As I said above, I’ve been told not to re-heat rice so this is a quick dinner rather than a lunch prep meal.
- Potato Salad: Boil some new potatoes and then add to mayonnaise, with a touch of paprika, and some sliced spring onion. Lovely. Perfect for dinner, as a lunch snack or to take to work with you.
- Salad: Throw some tuna, lettuce, celery, red onion, spring onion, tomatoes, hard boiled egg and some potato salad together and you’ve got yourself a hearty salad. For work or lunch.
With all of these recipes in mind, I make a shopping list.
Step 2: make a shopping list
- New potatoes
- Red onion
- Spring onion
- Chopped tomatoes
- Chicken breast
- Paella rice
- Risotto rice
- Vegetable stock
The above is a list of ingredients I would need for the above recipes which I don’t have a dry store of already. I have a lot of spices so I don’t need to purchase any of those for a while. Spices can really lift a meal though so I advise you get some.
All of the above comes to about £12-£15 in Lidl depending on how much I buy and if I buy branded goods.
I also need to consider drinks and snacks. I drink a lot of orange juice (more when I have less sugary snacks in my diet) and I need to have something to snack on at weekends, be it biscuits, hummus and pitta bread, or celery sticks and salad cream.
In my cupboard I already have tinned goods like baked beans, tomato soup, sweetcorn, tuna and pasta so worst comes to worst over the week I’ll use them and then stock up on whatever I used the following week when my budget renews.
Step 3: Meal prep
No one wants to spend every evening cooking food to take to work with them the next day. You’ll get sick of it and you’ll get lazy. You need to bulk make or prepare in advance.
If I had a salad on Tuesday, make it on Monday, but take a tin of tomato soup and some bread the following Wednesday so I don’t have to worry about coming home and making more lunch.
Have what you’re having for dinner for lunch the next day. Potato salad, spaghetti bolognese, soup etc.
Pack it all up, stick it in the fridge and then leave a note on your door, or wherever you’ll see it, so you don’t forget it the next day. When I first started this challenge I would often get to work and realise that I didn’t have my lunch on me and have to buy something. Which is not going to help me save money, or do meal prep that evening.
Step 4: Monitor your spending
To make this easier on myself, I only take £20 in cash with me when I go to a shop.
Keep your receipts from your shop. Compare the price to what you use in the week. If you spend £1.50 on three tins of soup and only £1 on ingredients to make three days worth of soup, why bother buying the soup cans? Buy more ingredients instead, it’s healthier, cheaper and you’re more likely to actually eat it.
Step 5: Save money
If I was spending £200 a month on food and drink originally, now I am only spending £80 a month. That means there should be at least £120 going into savings.
I want to take the £20 out and put that in a separate account to save for things that I want to treat myself to in the future. Expensive things like a new laptop, a holiday, more bookcases etc. The £100 goes into an account which helps me save for things like moving, emergencies and possibly, one day, a mortgage.
Not only am I curating my spending habits, my food intake and adding to my savings. I’m not depleting any money from my regular paycheck. I can continue going out, visit friends, go home for a long weekend or go to the spa with my mum. But without the guilt of knowing I am going to be entering my overdraft soon and dipping into my savings.