Frugal Living

I was shocked to read an article in The Guardian (of all places) this morning about how a couple who went bankrupt are left with ‘only’ £35,000 to live on with a family of four. They say they have £100 a week for groceries. Shocked because I have had to feed a family of five with a fair bit less and shocked because that’s about the same as we currently spend on our groceries for all five of us, and I consider us anything but poor or struggling! It certainly never occurred to me, even when I was a single mother of three with a low income (certainly far lower than this family), that I could only afford to buy ready-meals because ‘healthy’ food was too expensive.

‘I don’t cut back on the food I need. We cut back on quality instead. We substitute Quorn for meat, frozen vegetables for fresh. I use to get price comparisons before deciding where to do the monthly shop, which costs about £400, including nappies and special dairy-free milk for one of the kids.’

I read the above with a puzzled expression. What’s wrong with, or is being careful with money only something you do when it doesn’t grow on trees? I used to use until I realised that Asda is, nine times out of ten, cheaper. Frozen quorn pieces cost about the same as frozen chicken pieces. Personally, I choose the quorn because eating too much meat is not good for you. When I was really budgeting, I would not have bought quorn because I considered it too expensive. Frozen vegetables often have more nutrients than fresh, because of the amount of time the ‘fresh’ vegetables have taken to get from the farm (or another country) to the supermarket, and eventually to your plate. It’s not ‘unhealthy’ to eat frozen veg.

I have long had to buy pyjama pants for two of my children who have weak bladders. It used to be three until one of them suddenly became able to wake up with the urge to urinate and not just sleep through it. With an ASD child, and now my own lactose intolerance, we’ve had a dairy-free diet in our house for years, even when we had a much lower income.

‘I only buy basic range stuff and food that’s on offer, which means we end up eating a lot of fish fingers and chicken nuggets. I’m not stupid: I know this is going to have a detrimental effect on my children’s health.

I always put them before myself – I very often miss lunch so that they can have something for theirs – and it upsets me that I can’t buy them the best of everything but I don’t have that choice. It’s a concern, especially with obesity. I’m so worried about them coming home with a letter saying they’re overweight but if I can’t afford to fill them up with healthy food, I have to fill them up with unhealthy food. I can’t let my kids go hungry, can I?

I have never had to go without food so that the kids could eat. Because unless you’re very poor, it’s just a matter of knowledge and budgeting. ‘Not being able to buy the best’ is a very different thing to being poor. I recall a time when I couldn’t afford cheese because it was too expensive.

I have probably fed my children chicken nuggets about twice. Because they’re disgusting. Fish fingers and the occasional sausage have graced our table, but the majority of what I cook, and have always cooked through those former very frugal years, is cheap and nutritious. Lentil or chickpea stew. Pasta with homemade tomato and tuna sauce.  Homemade pizzas.

So then I thought, maybe the problem in that situation isn’t actually money. It’s:

a) expectations

b) lack of knowledge

We are bombarded in our consumer culture with advertising that transforms ‘desire’ to ‘need’. I guess that includes food. It is sad. And totally unnecessary, as shown in this article about German frugality. The Germans have the healthiest economy in Europe (if it wasn’t for them, the EU would have splintered already), so an emphasis on frugality can’t be bad for capitalism.

I currently have a tomato and lentil soup bubbling away on the hob. It will serve five people with the bread that I will make when I finish this post, and cost ≈£1.26. I could have made it thicker, so that it was a stew and more filling as a main meal, and it would maybe increase the cost to £2. A homemade loaf of bread costs about 60p. Less than £3 to feed a family of five, all homemade and all delicious. And supremely easy ‘cos I can’t be bothered with too much faffing about.

This is the recipe (which I made up as I went along, as all good cooks do lol):

On the Hop Ad Hoc Tomato and Lentil Soup

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

500g carton of passata

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

100g brown lentils

dash of Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp dried basil

2 x stock cubes

1 tsp of olive oil

After heating the olive oil and softening the onion and garlic, I added the passata and tin of tomatoes. I then stirred in some stock, about 1.5 litres, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I decided it needed a little extra something so added 2 tsp of dried basil (though dried mixed herbs would suffice). I shall let it bubble away until the lentils are cooked and soft. I have left mine on low for a couple of hours so they’ve almost melted. And Bob’s your uncle.

I wonder if community ‘cooking on a budget’ classes would be useful to anyone? I wonder how many would-be pastors know anything about living on a small budget? Maybe it’s a skill I have overlooked?