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

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