Live Below The Line: My £5 Shop, crying in the supermarket, and the dreaded mushy peas.

This morning I went shopping for Live Below The Line, having spent well over an hour last night researching the nearest cheapest supermarket to me, their ranges and products, and making a list of potential contenders for ingredients by food group. 

Anyone thinking this looks like an extraneous amount of effort? It’s how I used to shop all the time. Organising foods into categories to make sure I had something approaching a reasonably balanced diet for me and SB, and the passive-aggressive headlines gently reminding me to try to buy as much fruit and veg as possible.

So this morning, decisions made and list in hand, I hit my local Sainsburys. There isn’t an ASDA, Aldi or Lidl in reasonable walking distance, and only a very small Iceland. Besides, Sains is familiar, and familiarity is comforting under pressure.
The first hurdle came with a swing round into the frozen aisle, to find no Basics frozen mixed vegetables that were supposed to be there, supposed to provide me with a kilo of veg for 80p. There wasn’t even a hole where they should be. For some reason my local quite large Sainsburys has decided that the community of Hammersmith doesn’t need basics mixed frozen veg. I quietly despaired at the cost of their cheapest bag, at £1.40 it was nearly twice the price, and sloped back to the fresh fruit and veg at the start of the store to try to make a kilo of vegetables out of my alloted 80p. On the way out of the freezer department I spied a large 65p frozen pizza, and almost had a ‘fuck it’ moment and picked it up. But, remembering previous years, I’m a person who definitely NEEDS vegetables, I notice the difference in my energy level and personality after a day with no fruit or veg in it, and I’m not going to put myself or my family through it. I push on….
…and find myself on my knees palming my way through every carrot in the loose carrot basket. Good people of Hammersmith I can assure you I am fastidious about hand washing so your carrots are all fine, but I just needed to find the smallest ones as they are sold by weight, and I’ll be damned if my budget is blown by a fat carrot. Ditto the onions, raking through for the runt of the litter and surreptitiously palming off the loose outer layer of skin – if I can’t eat it, I thought to myself, I’m not bloody paying for it.
Ditto bananas, I pull three babies out of bunches and note with some pleasure that they’re still Fairtrade, and at 68p a kilo my little banana will be far cheaper than the ’20p each FOR THE SAME BANANA at my Sainsburys Local.
Ditto mushrooms, and now I’m really not sticking to my list any more, but it’s all the fault of the mixed frozen veg (or lack thereof). I pick the two smallest mushrooms from the box, and pop them in their little brown bag. By now I’m a little bit cross that there’s no scales in the veg section, when did that stop? I used to be able to weigh my veg to calculate what I was spending, when did supermarkets take for granted that nobody needed to know that stuff any more? Of course we do, and some of us more than others…
I leapt for joy at the 45p broccoli and spring onion offers, and threw them in my basket. Maybe I should put some back. I can discard one or the other at the checkout if I go over budget. Nervous now, that looks like a lot of veg. I try to mentally calculate it but without the scales I have no idea how much my carrot or onion or mushroom would cost. 

The best part of the trip was finding mixed weight free range eggs reduced from their recent price of £1 to 85p, rare that prices go backwards at this end of the economic scale (in fact many products have gone up since last years challenge, or disappeared altogether). I feel a bit better about my veg haul with the extra 15p to play with, but still eyeing it nervously.

I swap 55p pilchards for 40p sardines, clawing back another 15p for my veg budget, and scowl at 55p yoghurt that was 45p this time last year.

More disappointment awaits at the tinned fruit aisle as the grapefruit I was planning on having is notably absent and I flail at the pineapple and peaches trying to work out which would be better suited to the rest of my ingredients. I settle for peaches, grouchy that they’re the same price as the grapefruit but 120g less. So much for careful planning.

Next up, while I’m in tins, a cursory glance over the tinned veg with a fond longing for sweetcorn. Maybe a corn pancake, I think, or a creamy corn soup…..but it’s victim of another price hike at 30p a can, and I very very reluctantly pick up a can of mushy peas instead. I hate mushy peas. The scourge of my childhood memories as they sidled up to my mashed potatoes and pea’d all up the side of them. But at 20p, they were the cheapest veg there, and I had a few in my food bank boxes over those months, and always managed to force them down. You do, when you’re hungry. You’re suddenly a lot less fussy about what you eat. 

I finally grab a bag of pearl barley and head for the self service checkout, self service to avoid the humiliation of having to ask someone to take something off the conveyer belt when I can just discreetly abandon it in my basket instead. And discreetly abandon I do; the brown paper bag the mushrooms are wrapped in. If I can’t eat it, I’m not paying for it, I think for the second time.

With a bag of nerves and a stroke of luck, it all comes to exactly a fiver, thanks to the puny vegetables. And I’m off. You can follow the challenge here, and sponsor me at https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack


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56 Comments »

      • I noticed this as well. If they offer by-weight at all you’re going to have to take a guess! Tesco had scales but they weren’t all zeroed and I couldn’t see a way to fix it. Very odd. I miss the scales that would print a label off for you. Cabbage seems the best value veg in terms of vitamins to cost ratio – usually 80p or less a kilo and 100g gets you 50-90% rda of vitamin C plus a load more good stuff.

  1. Great to hear your exploits. We have just done the same for our Livebelowtheline effort – we are lucky to have an Asda that seemed to stock what they promised when I was researching online. I have also embraced foraging – dandelion leaf salad with sprigs of garden mint, and nettle soup and wild garlic are featuring this year – also dandelion root tea. Your recipes are a fantastic inspiration for cheap eating – my new favourite is the taramasalata style one with pressed cod roe, and I also learned about pearl barley from you. Thanks and good luck!

    • Foraging can be very useful. Lots of garden weeds can be eaten as “spinach-alikes” and can be found in public parks (google them for pictures): Hairy Bittercress, Cleavers/Clivvors/Goosegrass, dandelion of course (but it’s a diuretic), Fat Hen, Nettles (wear gloves!), Chickweed, various Docks, Garlic Mustard/Jack-by-the-Hedge, Shepherd’s-Purse, tea from dried flowers of Heather, even the young shoots of Rosebay Willowherb, though, it says, “They are very bitter”. I’m getting this list from the marvellous “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey, the ISBN is 978-0-00-724768-4.

  2. Turn your mushy peas into a soup, I’m sure you can wangle that with the help of half a stock cube and some mint from the garden 🙂

  3. Such a shame you don’t have an Aldi close by – veg and fruit so cheap and such good quality there, especially their chosen 6 that are all 49p. Bag of sweet potatoes, a butternut squash and a bag of green beans all in that section yesterday. Still too much for £1 a day probably, and I admire anyone who can budget on that. Love your recipes.

  4. Hi Jack Just to let you know that the link at the end of your article to the living below the line site doesn’t work.

    Good luck with your challenge – I’ll be reading with interest.

    Lucy

    On Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 3:32 PM, JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST, MOTHER, AUTHOR, ETC. wrote:

    > Jack Monroe (MsJackMonroe) posted: “This morning I went shopping for > Live Below The Line, having spent well over an hour last night researching > the nearest cheapest supermarket to me, their ranges and products, and > making a list of potential contenders for ingredients by food group. Anyone > “

  5. When you go into Sainsbury’s on two different days in two different weeks, and find all the Basic Cornflakes have been stripped from the shelves (annoying as they’re only 25p, cheaper than Tesco basic flakes at 31p and also better tasting) you realise that things aren’t as rosy as our leaders make out. Austerity bites everyone it seems. I try to live on a £1 a day, not that I’m that hard up, just mean. Hang around the deli section in the local Morrison’s at the end of the day, they reduce the cooked chicken bits to a fraction of the original price. ditto for the baked stuff. Well, I’m no cook, and don’t have a cooker at the moment, so have become rather a scavenger.

  6. Sounds all too familiar, though I’m grateful we have a little more than £5 to spend these days. My children still hear “sorry, it’s not on special offer so we can’t afford it this week” more than I’d like.

    The scales have recently disappeared from our Sainsburys too, and when I asked a staff member whether they’d moved he had no idea what I was talking about and said that they don’t sell anything like that in that store.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do with the ingredients, we’ll have a go at your barley pancakes. Good luck, you’re a fantastic inspiration.

  7. My local market will make up a mixed tray of veg or fruit for a round £1 or £2, incremented up or down. They will do a carrot/onion/garlic/half swede/parsnip and an orange/apple/plum/gage type mix.

    So useful when you are short on cash or vannot plough through a large amount of one type of veg.

    Worth asking at your local market if they’ll do it, especially towards the end of the day.

  8. Me thinks it’s time to email the chief executive about the lack of things in stores your not shopping at the lower end of the market, ALDI & LIDL, but supposedly at one of the big 4.
    mike.coupe@sainsburys.co.uk Get on to them to see if you can shame them into putting weighing scales back in the stores! Where one leads the others follow.

  9. I thought fruit and veggies were expensive in the U.K? Our bananas start at about $4.50 a kilo here and mushrooms are about $12 a kilo. We would be lucky to get hold of broccoli for anything less than $3 a kilo and everything else was much more than you mentioned here. Thank goodness we don’t have to live on the poverty line here in Tasmania Australia as we would likely starve 😦

    • I think it depends a) where you’re shopping and b) how much you can travel and shop around. I have a wonderful greengrocers in walking distance from my flat where I can get a fortnight’s worth of fruit and veg for £5, but if it weren’t for that shop then I’d have to go to the Cooperative where I could spend £5 on three items. I guess Australia might suffer from being further away from other countries which can grow veg – a lot of our produce comes from Spain if it’s not grown here, and thanks to the EU trading agreements it’s not expensive to import. Not great for the planet, though.

      • We produce more than enough fruit and veggies to feed ourselves but there is a lot of price gouging going on, especially in places like Tasmania where things need to be imported. A single small avocado costs us $4 but we can buy a 10kg (20lb) sack of potatoes for $10 and the same sized bag of onions for $6 so its really a matter of shopping for whats local and knowing who to buy from. I am attempting to grow my own avocado trees, macadamia nuts etc. If I can’t source them at a reasonable price and want to eat them, I am going to try growing them. I guess that’s the liberation point 🙂

    • HI Narf! Yes I live in Australia too and couldn’t believe my eyes at the prices mentioned in this article. Holy cow! I’ve been told London is a super expensive place to live but even if you triple these numbers to account for the exchange rate these things are unbelievably cheap compared to here. Good luck finding eggs for under $5 a dozen here, the cheapest is nearly $7 at my local store and most fruit and veg are $8-18 a kilo unless it’s something like grapes which sometimes we get oversupplied with in the summer and can be as slow as $2.50 a kilo but that’s on special that week and quite rare. I saw pears for $3 a kilo a few weeks ago and couldn’t believe my luck at seeing fruit so cheap! I felt like having some nice bread (a rye or something) last week and headed off to buy some thinking I’d be willing to pay up to $3.50. Man am I out of touch because there wasn’t anything good at that price, the one I would have wanted was over $7 a loaf. It’s insane. Of course you can buy a loaf of worthless white for $1-2 depending on where you shop. There’s a reason why people eat rubbish here, it’s because the decent stuff is overpriced! Seriously thinking about moving to the UK now… if I could just find a way to manage the cold!

      • Do you live in Tassie as well Amelia? I guess the best way to get cheap fruit etc. is to buy it from people who have a glut or grow it yourself. One day we are going to have produced so much food here we are going to have plenty to share around. We aren’t quite there yet. I guess the alternative for the bread etc. is to make it yourself. As penniless student hippies, we tend to make just about everything that we want ourselves. It’s much cheaper and you can customise what you make to your taste and you get the added bonus of the satisfaction that you have made it all by yourself. We are pretty much held captive over prices for food in Australia. As an island state, Tasmania is particularly bad. I can understand a bit of a price rise because of costs of transportation but we pay exorbitant prices for things like avocados. I saw them at (a single fruit) $4 in Coles yesterday for a small one. There are gluts of things like oranges and avocado’s in some areas on the mainland but not here! Again, I am attempting to grow my own. I guess that’s the only real way that we can take back our food futures from “the man”.

    • In the same way that there are regional differences here in the UK in what the supermarkets stock, there must be even greater differences between countries.

      I’m genuinely interested to see what the differences would be for people in other countries doing the same challenge.

      I believe that £5 sterling is around $9.65 (Australian) – looking at Jack’s shopping list, it would be interesting to know what could be bought with that amount where you live.

      • I was talking to my partner when we were walking the dog (after I posted this comment) and he said that perhaps the price was per pound and not per kilo, which would bring the cost to around about what we pay here for fresh veggies etc. We get apples very cheap as we live near an orchard. We can also get a 10kg bag of fresh potatoes for $6 (about 3 pounds) and carrots and onions are very cheap here because they grow them here. We only have 2 supermarket choices here in Tasmania (aside from the “little guys”) and so the prices tend to be higher than the mainland where they also have Aldi. My partner is from the U.K. and we visited back in 2005 and for the 6 weeks that we were there we lived out of iceland and other “frozen food” warehouses because the prices were cheapest there. Fresh meat was incredibly expensive in the U.K. so the family ate imported frozen food. Here in Tasmania, meat is cheaper. I am vegan and my partner doesn’t eat a lot of meat so that makes it cheaper for us but we both live on student benefits so could hardly be considered “rich” in anyone’s books. I, too, am most interested to see what the differences would be for people in other countries. I would stick to buying lentils (red most probably) as the protein source for the week. A kilo costs $3. 45. I would buy a kilo and would use them to make falafel, an enormous pot of soup with a kilo of carrots ($1) and a head of celery ($2) that could be eaten for many meals through the week and dhal with rice ($1 for half a kilo bag). With the remaining $2.25 I would try to get as many fresh veggies as I could to bulk it out so would be doing the same as Jack and measuring everything to the n’th degree. If I was being really clever, I would say that half a 10kg bag of potatoes was $3 and that potatoes were going to be my staple food for the week. That would give me 5kg of “bulk” and the remaining $6. 65 could be veggies and spices etc. that would complement the spuds. You can make a LOT of things from potatoes from bread through to dessert. I just changed my mind. I would buy the potatoes and use them. It certainly makes you think doesn’t it! 🙂

      • Having lived in both Sydney and London, food is more expensive in Sydney but wages are much much higher. The minimum wage in the UK is £6.70 per hour, which is about $13.05 AUD per hour. The minimum wage in Australia is $16.87 AUD but most people on that are casual employees and get a 20% loading on top, so it’s really $20.24 AUD or £10.40 per hour.
        Rent is more expensive in London than Sydney, as is public transport and eating out. By more expensive I mean both converted back to AUD and also calculating how long you would need to work to earn something.
        Food is interesting.
        Cheese is cheaper in the UK, meat is cheaper in Australia.
        Spirits are cheaper in the UK, wine is cheaper in Australia.
        The UK also has really really cheap frozen food. Frozen pizzas and microwave meals. Really bad for you but really cheap. Think £1.00 dinners.

        I suppose if you were replicating the £5 challenge, you would give someone about $16?

      • In Australia, the equivalent is $2 per person per day. I actually think for my family of four this would be achievable being very clever about purchases. I’d like to do this challenge one day. Maybe next year.

  10. Jack, you’re brilliant.. You will never get compacent about food and spending. You are an inspiration to people who never had to live through a war or experience rationing. Good on ya!

  11. Well done you! The planning has taken me days for me & my daughter. £9.92 spent between Tesco, Sainsbury’s & the local veg market. So grateful to your excellent cook book!

  12. I can never believe people buy the bags bananas instead of the loose ones when I see how much the price is different! some people shop with their eyes closed I think!
    Great shopping trip you’ve had there though. I’m looking forward to what you come up with.

  13. Go Jack! Best wishes for your Live Below the Line challenge! PS You can grow your own spring onions by pushing the chopped off root end into a pot of soil – they sprout in a few weeks, and keep on doing it, so you can potentially avoid ever having to buy a spring onion again! Cheers from Australia (New South Wales)

  14. Now I feel almost guilty with my bargain bag of stew vegetables, knock down price of 20p at closing time in Asda yesterday.

    I was very lucky they had everything on my list AND some bargains too …. they also had scales to weigh my bananas on !!

    Looking forward to seeing what meals you come up with. Good luck. Xx

  15. Last week at S I was searching for my value shampoo when a man asked an assistant in front of me for another item and she said (since they ‘extended the store and added clothes) we have a reduced product line at this store now. I went to a big S and could only find 1 of the value range I’ve bought in the past.

  16. Is it £1 per person per day? Does it include toiletries like nappies etc? Really interesting following what you are doing. I am a chef and a mum of two and living on maternity allowance at the moment so am often trying to find ways of making food go further whilst staying healthy. It’s so hard, even if you do know how to cook. Knowing how to prep a hand dived scallop for a £25 starter at work is very different to feeding a family who get through £10 worth of of apples in two days on £50 a week spent at the local supermarket.

    Very inspired by what you write and it’s a great cause for people who are facing poverty on a whole different scale in other parts of the world.

    Ps glad I’m not the only one who has ever cried in a supermarket!

  17. Nearly 40 years ago ( another life time) I was a lone parent with two children. I knew the price of everything in the shops, but could afford very little. Hard times with bare cupboards. I guess if you’ve not been through it it’s hard to understand. Keep up the good work. Best wishes. On 27 Apr 2015 15:32, “JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST, MOTHER, AUTHOR, ETC.” wrote:

    > Jack Monroe (MsJackMonroe) posted: “This morning I went shopping for > Live Below The Line, having spent well over an hour last night researching > the nearest cheapest supermarket to me, their ranges and products, and > making a list of potential contenders for ingredients by food group. Anyone > “

  18. Waitrose still have scales in their veg section! invaluable when trying to stay on a budget (My depressed brain can cope with doing without certain foods*, but cannot cope with putting something in my basket, when I’m uncertain about the price). I am extremely lucky to have local grocers who sell things (eg. ginger for feisty soup) in small pieces, individually (The soup is the only thing I use ginger in at the moment)
    *Actually, my depressed brain might be a little less depressed if I didn’t..)

  19. Dear Jack,The tone and some of the language of your latest blog suggests that you are stressed out.It’s definitely not worth letting it get to you when you are just doing some careful shopping. Try to take good care of yourself.

    • Dear Lola Davis, are you genuine and have you simply misunderstood? Or are you a troll? Either way, try it yourself – yes! you! honey-bunny! Do what she’s doing … and then let me know your point. Actually, don’t bother; grow up … or grow a pair. Just don’t let it get to you. Please forgive my tone and/or language, sweetums, I can get quite honest when I’m hungry and/or tired and/or stressed and I’m looking at faces full of dependence on me. Take good care of you too.

  20. I get all my fruit and veg for free, you could too, tonnes goes to waste every day, but I’m nor telling you how cause your lefty bigots, and I don’t like you.

    • Dear Rich,What makes you think we are all “lefty bigots”? Please don’t generalise.I quite definitely don’t come into that category,so am I eligible for your secrets? I am sure that there are lots of Tories or Ukippers who are struggling financially or have reason to choose to be careful with money,so are following these blogs and finding them helpful.Don’t let our politics divide us. We may disagree with other people’s political stance but need to respect other people’s opinions without being rude or unkind.The truth is,no one political group has got all the right answers,unfortunately.Personally I think we should keep politics out of these blogs.

  21. Jack, do you know there are now Energy Banks as well as Food Banks? Look, they’ve launched them in the Spring … no one is fooled by that … but if people need fuel now then families who are forced to switch off their gas and electricity supply because they are unable to afford spiralling energy bills will be offered fuel vouchers under a pilot scheme. They will provide a £49 credit for struggling families who use prepayment meters in a move designed to address the austerity-era dilemma of “heat or eat”. It is being run by energy firm nPower and poverty charities including the food bank network Trussell trust.

  22. My family were supposed to be getting my Live Below The Line shopping for me (I have NO supermarket in walking distance and no transport) and they let me down at the 11th hour making it painfully clear they didn’t support my efforts for charity. I’ve not spoken to them since.

    So instead I resorted to an online order scraping in the min £25 you have to spend to get it delivered.

    The actual foods I bought for the challenge were all there bar the rice which of course would mean I couldn’t fully complete the challenge given how much I relied on the rice for many of the meals.

    With a lot of online protests to Asda and one rude Asda staff at the delivery store, Asda HQ got involved as did their branch online manager. Not only did I get my rice specially delivered, Asda gave me a five pound online voucher (which I’ll donate from my own money towards The Hunger Project UK). My own LBtL came in at £4.99 in the end.

    I’m on day three and it’s been tough. I’ve had three stable meals but I find value food to be very devoid of nutrition and energy.

    I live on a tight budget already so I’m no stranger to tight living and in fact early last year was unable to buy food (I was refused a food bank referral by my then social worker despite having no way to feed myself) so I know what its like to live on a tiny income. I had only £5 to buy food and a smattering of food cupboard store left and all that had to last a week.

    It’s a constant juggle but I eat healthy and organic on a tight budget. I gave up the TV, I literally got rid of it and save money on the license I no longer need to buy. I decided less really is more. I wanted to eat better so as you know sacrifices need to be made.

    So it was bye-bye TV hello local veg box scheme. Best move I ever made. I don’t miss TV it’s mostly repeats and rubbish but I do enjoy eating healthy organic food.

    Being vegan also makes it a lot cheaper.

  23. Congratulations on your effort so far and thank you for all the recipes and tips. It’s a bit late for this year but it did occur to me that swapsies should be allowed in this challenge. I don’t like mushy peas either but you can make them into a reasonable soup especially if you happen to have ham stock cubes, which I do because I got them from Approved Food ages ago. and I would be happy to swap you a couple for all the recipes I’ve got from you, but a) that might be cheating and b) I’ve left it a bit late. But would it be legitimate for you to swap some of your hand ground barley flour (for instance) or bottom of the fridge pickle for a stock cube from a friend? Or am I really missing the point?

    • I believe the issue with swap & storecupboard staples is that they assume you’ve had a chance in the past to build up stocks or that you have friends to swap with.
      If you’re living on this much every week then your budget is taken out providing the food you need now. Even if you did manage to buy salt once there’s no guarantee you can again when the first lot runs out.

  24. Keep up the great work Jack 🙂

    I’ve just made the mushy pea soup, it’s fab, cheap, easy, filling & i found it very tasty (used 1/2 chick stock cube, mint from the garden & couple of grinds of black pepper) At 16p a tin in Aldi, it’s a winner for me.

  25. Firstly,I have to say,untroll-like, I have only respect and admiration for so many people writing in the forum. What comes through is that there are many who clearly have financial problems but are tackling their situation with courage and resoucefulness. How can anyone not approve of that?

    Secondly,may I reply to EssAyeOh,who has suggested that I am writing under a pseudonym,am a troll,need “to grow up “,don’t understand what’s going on etc.(which I presume means that I can’t understand the strains of managing to eat on little money etc. First of all, I am writing under my own name. Anything I write or say I am prepared to hold my hands up to.Moral cowardice is something I’ve never been accused of.

    Unfortunately,at nearly 80,I haven’t got much time left to “grow up now “. However, although I am an old lady,I do think I am still open- minded and mentally with it – still in full-time work! Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be interested enough to read these blogs and comments.However,one thing I am ignorant about. I am not sure what this “pair” is that I am supposed to “grow.” Perhaps you will have the kindness to enlighten me.

    I have tried to decide if I am a troll. The word originally comes from Norse mythology meaning “an ugly cave-dwelling creature depicted as either a giant or a dwarf”. Well,I’m no beauty,but the rest does not apply,fortunately. Modern usage of the term seems to apply to someone who uses the internet to write ,generally anonymously,insulting,threatening,intimidating, hateful and destructive comments with the intention of insulting,frightening,wounding others.Apparently,they do it so frequently that it amounts to a kind of verbal “stalking”. Well,I don’t recognise that in the few comments I have made,so I think I am in danger of being the one “trolled”! It does not seem appropriate to me to bandy the term “troll” about ,in relation to any one who merely expresses politely a criticism or contrary opinion. What’s happened to free speech – civil,of course? So I stand by what I said. I don’t think it is normal or necessary for people to go around using “f” words or “c” words or “b” words or “s” words. or whatever.In my experience,people tend to use swear words when they are pressured or stressed.I guess most of us have had an experience when we’ve let rip verbally out of anger or frustration. But I honestly think it is not a good idea to allow that to translate into the written word. Some people find swear words offensive or distasteful.

    EssAyeOH,thinks I need to do the £1 a day challenge.I suppose the idea would be that I would soon be swearing in sympathy. I think we need to conduct a poll. How many times a day have you used this,that or the other swear-word while you are taking the £1 a day challenge? Do you think people in the Third World are swearing right ,left and centre because they don’t have enough food? I don’t think so. Probably haven’t got the energy for starters.What has often struck me is that these people in real poverty often show great fortitude,even cheerfulness and are willing to share the little they have. As for the suggestion that I need to learn how to cope with want myself,well,that old saying comes to mind:”Don’t try to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.” I’ve done the austerity/economy thing for year,more years than some of you youngsters have been around: living through the austerity imposed by the last war and of the years of rationing after the war,till the early 50s;living in two rooms,when first married ,with no bath/shower or hot water,no kitchen and few items of kitchen equipment,no phone,no radio (though eventually a rented TV) ,certainly no car, and years of scrimping and saving to get the 30% deposit required to get a mortgage @ around 6% interest.Then living without curtains,carpets,lamp-shades.Still without a washing machine or even a blender or electric whisk,still no phone,no radio, no music centre,no car,few clothes though reasonable quality from M&S,the cheapest of make-up,nothing spent on personal adornment eg hair,nails,tattoos,jewellery. I have had years of opportunity to live/eat frugally and can assure you that working hard and being sensible with whatever money you have pays off. I am still working,full-time,self-employed, so am not in poverty – having never stopped working since the age of 24 – but I still save,I am still very careful for some of the time and have 3 frugal days a week when I am on my own and enjoy using up leftovers and scraps in the fridge from other meals.A lot of the “tips” I now read in the blogs have been long known to me,largely because I have quite a good collection of books written for budget/economy/austerity cookery and have read and used them well over the years.At one time I was asked to give a talk on Economy Cooking to several social groups I belonged to and systematically prepared for it by going through all my books.This forced me to analyse the main elements of cooking economically ,including fuel economy, and reminded me of all kinds of good ideas. A lot of these old books can still be found second-hand on Amazon.I recently bought copies of several of mine which were falling to pieces through use.Jocasta Innes ‘s ‘”The Pauper’s Cookbook” has long been a favourite.Her chapter on “Padding” was an early inspiration.
    One idea that particularly helped me when I needed to keep to a tight budget was found in Shirley Goode’s book.She put all her staples in jars,labelled them with the costing per ounce or whatever,so she could more easily get the cost of each meal under control.I also liked her idea of saving all her “brown coins” (I still do it) and making a week’s food budget last 8 days.I also try not to spend much in January,after the excesses of Xmas. I get a kick out of trying to live on whatever is left over,plus my brown coins,plus anything I find in hand-bags or pockets or in the car.I used also to go down the back of the chairs and sofas,since money used to fall out of my husband’s pockets. Sadly,not now!
    So I have done most things to economise in the kitchen: everything under the sun with bread,with rendered fats,rinds, skins, vegetable trimmings, left-overs,cheap cuts,food in season,market and supermarket reductions etc . I’ve cooked pigs’ head or trotters,stripped a sheep’s head, cleaned out and stuffed hearts, cooked oxtail and tripe, (I skipped brains or sweetbread ,by the way .),used ham bones or fish heads or pieces.I tried Pauper’s Soup made from onion skins,potato peelings,carrot tops,tomato puree and water saved from cooked vegetables etc. (not very tasty ! ), pea soup made from the shucks , Poor Man’s Asparagus made from boiled cabbage stalks in white sauce,marmalade made from the orange peels only. I experimented with soya and Quorn. I bought mushroom stalks,not mushrooms. I always gathered : rowan berries and crab-apples to make jelly and nettles to make soup. I still wash out containers of sauce,pickles or jam and added the jammy liquid to add sweetness to a curry or to a gravy. I have used pilchards to make fish-cakes (still love them!) ,pasties,curry. I also made, and occasionally still do,”lemonade” from apple peel,or rhubarb or lemon drinks. I made beer(not very successfully) and wine ( for years the only type we drank at home),some from kits and some from fruit. And,of course, all our jams( especially apple and rhubarb or free blackberry or whenever I could buy cheap fruit,also lemon curd and different types of marmalade. I still grow my own herbs,apples,plums and pears in the garden,tomatoes on the patio or green house with peppers ; strawberries ,raspberries and rhubarb plus masses of vegetables in an allotment plot (Had two up to about 5 years ago). I won’t bore you by going on.But many women of my age have done this kind of thing.If there are any other old dears reading this,I bet they will relate to a lot of this. So I hope you get the point that I do understand what it’s like to be hard up or need to be as economical and resourceful as possible. I’ve done it for years. The secret is not to feel sorry for yourself or feel deprived,otherwise you will be miserable.Try to see it as a kind of challenge of your cleverness and resourcefulness. For four years I went without any increase in house-keeping,in order to cope with the increased mortgage,because interest rates went up shockingly high, but felt very proud of myself for also saving enough money to buy a large chest freezer. Food prices were going up all the time,so by year 4 it was a really tight challenge to be honest. I only put an exact sum in my purse,so,yes by the end of the week there were literally only a few shillings for the last day or two and I would walk round the shops,trying to work out how best to spend it.I always walked from shop to shop along the high street pricing up – no one – shop shop! A much harder job than today. But bad times won’t last for ever.There are a number of bloggers who have some money but are frugal so that they can direct their resources to achieve some particular objective. Mine was to buy a house and to go on paying the mortgage. As for actually being starving,I regret to say that I have experience of that far more than most people, throughout my life,not because I could not put some food on the table at all,but because I’ve often needed to resort to fasting in order to lose weight,unfortunately. Miserable,of course ,and hard to do and,of course ,not very good for you. However, we can all learn from others and I can certainly still learn a lot from bloggers like Jack and Thrifty Lesley,because they are both very creative,use some ingredients which I don’t often use or suggest food combinations or methods which I don’t normally think of .There are also useful suggestions from forum contributions.I also enjoy Frugal in Derbyshire and Frugal Queen and admire how Skint Dad is making such a success of his blogging and writing and turning his life round into the bargain.
    It distresses me that there seem to be so many people struggling financially. Many because they lack the skills to manage their money well or/and have not been taught to cook well and economically. How do we get all this expertise across to them? I find that very frustrating.Do they not know that there are all these helpful blogs around ? If they don’t have personal computers the Libraries have them.There are cheap books to buy.Could more of the Food Banks pass on tips and recipes? How can we spread the word?

  26. I know that the “Live below the line” challenge is meant to draw attention to the plight of those who are forced to live this way due to low incomes, miserly welfare benefits etc. but there does seem to be one drawback to this challenge. Depending on the numbers of people taking part in this challenge, this challenge could inadvertently be making things harder for the people the challenge is meant to assist.

    “How?” you ask. The challenge takers, who are not strapped for cash, are stripping the supermarket shelves bare of the cheaper products and fresh produce they require to meet this challenge.

    Michael Bartrum comment above mentions that Basic Cornflakes at 25p had been stripped from the shelves. Jack, you yourself mention you could not find the cheap mixed veg at your store, and I know you said that was more likely because they don’t stock it. But these two comments made me think. If all these people who can afford and purchase the more pricey food items on a regular basis are now picking the supermarket shelves clean of cheaper food items to meet the challenge, what is left for those people who desperately need these food items and can’t afford to purchase the more expensive items?

    It’s not like the stores are stocking more of the cheaper items to cover the increased demand for the cheaper products for the duration of the challenge. Is this challenge accidently making it harder for those who depend on these products day to day due to living on next to no money just to make a point?

    Just a thought.

    • I don’t think the uptake of the challenge is big enough to seriously affect stock levels – having worked in a supermarket (albeit a decade ago) items are on an electronic ‘auto replenish’ so if a larger amount than forecast is bought, the appropriate amount is ordered to replace them. In the meantime products are backed up from the warehouse, I don’t know what procedures are these days but we used to have nightly deliveries, and about 3x shelf fill in the warehouse to account for anomalies – i’m not sure I’m explaining it very clearly as it’s late and i’m tired!!

      • Good to know. Thanks. The two closest grocery stores available to me here don’t receive deliveries on a daily basis, except for fresh milk and bread, which can be frustrating when they run out of a staple item. Both stores are smaller suburban versions of our local grocers with limited stock available. Some items can be out of stock for up to a week. And on a couple of occasions items I purchase on a regular basis from the value lines remained unstocked for up to a month or more. Fortunately if I get desperate, there are larger supermarkets available in nearby suburbs.

        Obviously it is very different for the supermarkets in the UK.

  27. Somewhat behind the times, but also of historical interest! I was a student in London living on a grant in the mid-seventies. I believe grants are a thing of the past now, but bear with me. Most students used their grants for a 30 week year, but as a clinical medical student I had to stretch it to a 50 week year as I only had two weeks off a year (during which I was, presumably, not supposed to require any form of financial or nutritional support!) So I and a fellow med student (to whom I am still married today – hurray!) lived together and spent £5 a week each on food. We found that if we hung around street vegetable markets (Seven Sisters Road in my case) late on a Saturday afternoon we could buy vegetables for next to nothing. They might be discoloured and need some trimming, but there we were. Sprouts taste much the same when yellow as when green. For protein, we budgeted one egg, one piece of cheese the size of a thumb, or half a cup of pulses each per day. The cheapest cheese in the Sainsbury’s on the Holloway Road was some wretched stuff called either ‘German Loaf’ or ‘Irish Cheddar’. It was the same stuff and when cooked became supremely stringy and rubbery. But I’m glad to have had the experience, as eating habits formed then have persisted through the years. I’m cooking a dried pea soup tonight and I do love dried peas! I have become interested in basic protein requirements and over the last three years we have lived on a diet where protein is provided by rice, beans and corns.

  28. Hi Jack! This my first visit to your website and wow, I’m now filled with a new hope for the coming winter! I am a single parent with 3 children living on ESA at the moment due to chronic rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc disease – it’s a struggle at the mo, but it’s going to get worse when my oldest leaves for university in a few weeks and my benefits get cut by a ridiculous amount! The powers that be obviously think that my son eats £50 worth of food every week and showers ten times a day! With 2 much younger children at home with me I’ve been worrying so much about how I will keep them warm and fed but now I am beginning to think about food very differently – you have really given me a boost and helped me plan my budget different – almost like a personal challenge (how many meals can I get out of £10) so a big thank you from me – I’m very appreciative of your time in writing these blogs 😊

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