Times are tough, as we all know. As food prices continue to rise, many are beginning to feel the pinch, including the student population. With student accommodation in Central London regularly highlighted as being some of the most expensive student accommodation within the UK, most students find themselves having to live on extremely tight budgets. So, if you want to "ease the squeeze" without starving to death, follow my Student Guide to Eating on a Budget.
Planning your meals in advance can greatly reduce your food cost, and it's really simple. Benefits include, reducing waste, accurately budgeting cost, and ultimately helping you eliminate the desire to reach for the takeaway menu.
Create a Shopping List
Let's face facts, supermarkets, convenience stores and independent retailers are interested in two things, foot-fall and customers parting with their cash. Large companies spend millions on in-store advertising and invest heavily in "supermarket psychology". Everything that the big chains do is about creating a captive audience and tempting them with offers, treats, and convenience to encourage spending. Do not be fooled; create yourself a shopping list! A shopping list is a fantastic way to save money, yet so often we forget to do it.
After you have planned all of your meals, check your ingredients against your plan. Then, it's time to visit the shops. The humble shopping list will allow you to focus on the task in hand, as well as enable you to source all of your goods at the best possible prices, saving you time and money.
Making the Savers Switch
Switching to cheaper brands is an excellent idea, although there may be a stigma attached, but it's well worth it in the end. Fear not, there are plenty of people making the switch. Experts in consumer purchasing at Mintel carried out research into the field of own brand labels. They found that 54% of consumers had made the switch to own brand labels. Interestingly, 52% highlighted that they actually preferred the own brand goods. Switching to cheaper brands will make a considerable difference to your wallet. Take Tetley for example, 80 tea bags averages £2.35; whereas Sainsbury's own brand 80 pack retail at just 35p!
Cheaper Cuts Make Cheaper Prices
For all of you meat-eaters out there - meat can be an expensive product and high quality meat equals high prices. There are plenty of excellent cuts of meat without the inflated price tag. Chuck Eye Steak for example; great beef flavour, not too much fat and just the right thickness. Chuck Eye is best cooked slowly, but throw it in a stew with a few vegetables and you will have a fantastic (healthy) meal.
Chicken is a big favourite, but the common mistake is that the breast is the best part. I disagree; I say that the dark meat on a chicken is simply superb. The dark meat contains a higher fat content, and thus contains lots of flavour. When buying chicken don't reach straight for the pre-cut chicken breast, buy the whole chicken. You will end up with lots of fantastic meat and of course you can make soup-stock with the carcass.
For cheaper cuts, ask your butcher. Butchers are a fantastic resource and growing in popularity, especially with the recent horse meat scandal, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. Most butchers know a thing or two about cooking!
Buying online is another excellent tool in your arsenal of budgeting whilst at uni. Purchasing online decreases your propensity to spend on needless items, and again, you tend to be more focused on what you need. Most supermarkets offer free delivery on goods over a certain value so it's worthwhile checking out your options. This is great if you share a flat with friends, students or colleagues, as you can all just pitch-in.
Don't let your food perish. Perishable goods are, indeed, perishable. They have a short lifespan and don't store well for long periods. To make sure that your goods last that little bit longer, or even 'til the "use by date", check that your fridge is at the correct temperature. Try to avoid overcrowding goods in your fridge, and ensure that there is optimal circulation; this helps to reduce the spread of any bacteria.
Hunger is the Enemy
NEVER shop when you are hungry - the reasons why are obvious!