Well, the Smalls went back to nursery this morning, so I dashed to the shops afterwards on an empty stomach, clutching my fiver for this year’s Live Below The Line challenge.

I no longer live in Southend on Sea next to the big orange supermarket that was my lifeline when I was living on an excruciatingly tight (and often non existent) budget. I now live in London, and my nearest large supermarket is a 20 minute walk away.

I darted into the two supermarket shops closest to me, a Tesco Express and a Sainsburys Local – and found that the T.E. had nothing from the Value range except a jar of coffee, at 57p. Nope, I definitely don’t need that, but I bought a bag of oats (68p, annoyingly I knew that the larger bags were 75p in the bigger shops), and 6 free range eggs for £1 – a pleasant surprise!

But woman cannot live on oats and eggs alone, so I wandered into the Sainsburys Local. And wandered out again with a large pot of Basics yoghurt, 45p. Almost half my budget gone already and hardly anything useful in either store.

I walked past a greengrocers selling bananas two for £1 and decided to give it a miss, but clocked the loose green and red chillies, and figured if there were any pennies left from my budget, I might be able to go and haggle for just one later on in the week.

So, I took my oats, eggs and yoghurt home, gulped down a glass of water and some yoghurt, and trekked back out to the bigger supermarket 20 minutes away.

I came back with this:

Not what I planned for – I was originally thinking of baked beans, kidney beans and sardines, but the veg bag is 25p more expensive than last year’s one, and the stock cubes are twice the price. There wasn’t any fish paste, so I got chicken, and no mixed fresh veg bag of carrots and parsnips and potatoes and onions. I toyed with the idea of getting a 45p bag of flour and trying to make a sort of soda bread out of the flour and yoghurt, but didn’t want to risk it in case it didn’t work and I was left with no real breakfast option for the week. The trouble with doing this challenge on an annual basis, is that you notice and can compare the prices of things as they were, and how they are now. Food prices ARE going up, especially on the value branded goods – which is exactly where food doesn’t need to be getting more expensive…

So my fiver bought me less this year than last year – visibly less. I’ve spent half an hour juggling bits around the kitchen table, into groups of protein, carbs and veg, trying to plan some rough meals for the week and making some notes.

First, I diced and smashed those 10 stock cubes up with a sharp knife and a bit of bashing, and tipped them into a jar. 10 stock cubes makes a good half a jar of what I’ve christened ‘Live Below The Line Veg Rub Stuff’, and I’ll use it as the base for soups, rice dishes, and to season things as I go along. I used to do it a lot, finding I would get 15 servings out of 10 stock cubes, instead of the 10 I’d get from using one at a time. Plus they dissolve easier, not leaving that sludgy bit at the bottom of the pan to go to waste. It takes less than five minutes and is surprisingly satisfying, as well as better value for money.

On a roll, I decided to sort my 1.3kg bag of mixed frozen vegetables into four separate bags of veg, to have some variety this week instead of just eating handfuls of the same finely diced vegetables. The second biggest thing on the table is a kilo of rice (40p), so rice-and-veg based dinners are going to be the order of the day… or night.

Fifteen minutes and some numb hands later, I ended up with this:

…558g diced frozen carrots, 285g of peas, 315g of cauliflower, and 123g of broccoli, which by the way Tesco, makes 1.28kg of mixed frozen vegetables, NOT 1.3kg! Feeling slightly cheated and a little bit peckish, I slung a handful of carrots in a saucepan with some water and a heaped teaspoon of the vegetable stock to make a basic carrot soup, and added a tablespoon of yoghurt to serve. Surprisingly delicious, and worth the effort of separating it all out.

So, my list for the five days, from a mixture of Tesco and Sainsburys:

500g oats, 68p
500ml yoghurt, 45p
75g chicken paste, 25p
1kg long grain white rice, 40p
Tomato puree, 40p
Lemon curd, 22p
6 free range eggs, £1
400g chickpeas, 39p
10 vegetable stock cubes (repurposed as ‘veg rub stuff’), 20p
1.28kg frozen mixed veg, split into 558g diced frozen carrots, 285g frozen peas, 315g frozen cauliflower and 123g frozen broccoli, £1.

Dinner to follow, I’ve got some planning to do…

To sponsor me for this year’s Live Below The Line challenge, see

Jack Monroe.
Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Fundraising for Oxfam at

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