Jersey’s cost of living is high, and food especially so. Hop to the U.K. and trawl round a mega-store, and you’ll be amazed at what you can get for your money. Being an island, the cost of import plays a part plus when it comes to food, we’re a captive market so we can’t vote with our feet and go to the next town and shop there instead. But, that’s economics for you and I’m not going to get all political (today anyway!). However, I’ve become increasingly annoyed at people complaining about the cost of living – indeed, according to the media a couple of weeks ago, not being able to afford a Costa coffee each day is apparently a sign of poverty. Really? Since when did having a daily mocha-chocca-capu-cortado become a necessity?! My late Nan would be shuddering at the thought.
Anyway, this isn’t a rant about what people see as important in their lives, that’s up to them. This is an admission on my part: my name’s George and I’m thrifty. Frugal. Tight. A penny-pincher. Call me what you will, but when it comes to food, I bag a bargain.
What do you spend on your weekly food shop? £100? £200? More?
I’ve just been to Co-op and bought food for my family of four for the week for £78. The picture above shows just a selection of my haul. I went at 8.30am on a Saturday. Yes, I get up early at the weekend and go to the supermarket to snaffle a bargain. Am I embarrassed to say this? Why the Hell should I be? Am I eating rubbish? Absolutely not.
For example, what are we having tonight? Why, that could be Cornish hake with chorizo butter, Jersey Royals and sun-dried tomato, quinoa and couscous stuffed red peppers. Not exactly nuggets and potato waffles, is it? And for pudding? Store-baked individual Bakewell tart and custard. For 60p. As for tomorrow, well that will be one of the four whole chickens I bought for £1.84 each. One is roasting in the oven now to have cold in sandwiches, one is in the fridge ready for the family roast tomorrow and two are in the freezer, for another day.
I get a lot of stick for shopping as I do. I’m a lawyer and am incredibly lucky because we’re certainly not on the breadline, we have an amazing lifestyle. But some people raise their eyebrows at the fact I don’t shop in M&S. They mock me if I’m seen ferreting through the reduced chiller cabinet. Why’s that? Because I should be projecting a ‘loadsamoney’ image? Because I should be embarrassed for finding pleasure in a bargain and being creative with my meal-planning? Who knows. Whatever, I chuckle as I’d much rather exercise food frugality and spend the surplus on family holidays, treats and experiences. A fortnight’s holiday in Florida versus a year’s worth of full-price ready-meals is an easy swap.
So, what’s my ‘secret’ to saving the pennies? It’s simple: eat non-branded and what’s available, use your freezer and get into Pinterest. I’ll explain.
I don’t often buy processed or branded products. Primarily because I’m careful about what we eat and don’t want to digest the additives (and worse) that go into processed food. But also because, along with branded products, they’re so expensive compared to making it yourself or buying supermarket own-brand or from local producers.
‘But I haven’t got time to make it myself’ or ‘I’m a rubbish cook’ are often thrown at me. Really? You haven’t got the time or ability to bung a whole chicken in the bag in the oven and leave it alone for just over an hour whilst you do something else? And seriously, if you can’t peel a carrot or wash a spud, how are you even able to get dressed in the morning? Brushing your hair is harder than preparing veg. And as for finding the time, well I guess it’s a matter of priorities. Is preparing a cheap and nutritious meal for your family more important than the other things that occupy your day? Get used to buying what’s on offer/reduced and be prepared to have to prepare it.
Secondly, snaffle up everything that’s good value and freeze it for later. Today’s whole chickens are an example of that. Putting the animal welfare arguments to one side, a whole chicken for £1.84 is incredibly cheap. That’s a meal right there for four people. Bingo. Stuff your freezer with bargains. Yes, you have to remember the night before to take something out to defrost, but again, is that really such a hardship?
And thirdly, eat what you have. If you open the fridge to a random selection of food that’s reaching its best before date (which often happens!), stick those foodstuffs into Pinterest and I’m pretty sure you’ll find a recipe that’ll involve most of them. Saves running out to the shop to spend more pennies…
Finally, use your nose. Best before and use-by dates really get my goat. Take my £1.84 chickens: the date stamp says 29th April. Does that really mean that at midnight tonight, that chicken is suddenly going to turn green and rancid? Course it’s not. It’ll be just fine at lunchtime tomorrow if stored properly. And how will I know? Well, I’ll use my hooter, just like our grandparents did. If it smells alright and it’s cooked properly, it’ll be fine. And the same goes with pretty-much everything else: if it doesn’t smell or look off, it’s probably okay. And a quick taste will soon tell you for sure. A finger dip into a past-it yoghurt tastes sour, but it hasn’t killed me yet!
So, yes, Jersey is expensive to live in and I guess it’s only going to get worse. But we’ve got some of the finest produce in the world and it is possible to feed a family here at a reasonable cost. Buy local. Buy reduced. Buy with a view to preparing it yourself. Don’t waste anything. And, please, let’s celebrate – not sneer – at thriftiness; I’m saving a fortune and eating like a Queen!