Why cheap is false economy and frugal is the way forward

We’ve all been there: standing in the kitchen with a split bin bag dripping smelly liquid and dropping rubbish and food waste all over the floor…

It’s not pretty. 

And it costs us precious time in clearing up the mess.

It’s no different with cheap toilet paper, socks and sticky tape; invariably we use twice as much or need to replace the item twice as fast.

Today’s society has become wasteful. We buy endless amounts of cheap ‘stuff’ with no regard to how we’ll dispose of it when we’re done. 

Frugality is different. 

It’s not about being cheap or mean. It’s about buying the things you need but with the conscious decision to buy items that will last or that bring true value to our lives.

It’s not about cost, but about value for money.

If you’ve got a favourite item of clothing that you wear hundreds of times a year – maybe a pair of jeans, a jacket or a trusty pair of boots – you can work out your average cost per wear

If one of those items cost £100 and you wear it a hundred times, thats £1 per wear. 

Compare that to the cheap Christmas novelty jumper that was a bargain at £9.99 but you only wore it once – that’s almost £10 for that one wear. The cheap jumper is ten times more expensive per wear than the designer jeans or cashmere jumper. 

Plus, the novelty jumper will inevitably get passed on to charity in January while the high quality clothes can be resold, giving you money back on what were already great value items. 

If you’re looking to do something to help climate change and the environment, changing how you buy your clothes is a great place to start. Buy less, buy better quality, buy pre-loved items and look after the items you own.

Now let’s look at this from the perspective of the food we eat…

Cheap food is big business. For many supermarkets, frozen food stores and fast food chains this is their main selling point. Not good nutrition or delicious tasting meals, just cheap food. 

And we bought into it.

We got lazy and started buying ready meals, packets of pre-chopped vegetables and somewhere along the way we decided we needed to eat on the run in our cars, on the way to work or at our desks. Hey, there was even a time we apparently needed a coffee to get round the supermarket!

We forgot how to cook, budget and run a home in the way our parents, grandparents and great grandparents did.

Home cooking in 2020 needs a makeover!

And that starts with us switching our mindset from cost to value.

And in order to get better value from the food you eat you need to start looking at the payback on your health and well-being. 

This is about both the short term and long term benefits for you and your family. 

If you’re struggling with low energy, poor sleep, bad skin, excess weight (or severely underweight), mood swings and irritability, constant headaches or migraines, joint pain, auto immune disease, heart disease, high cholesterol or many other common 21st century conditions, then switching your diet to one rich in whole foods, with more vegetables and fruit, more essential fats, more beans and lentils, less meat and dairy, less sugar, salt, saturated fat and alcohol, will improve your symptoms, improve your quality of life, potentially extend your lifespan and reduce the money you’ll inevitably need to spend on health care costs down the line. 

What if I could show you how to save money on your food costs AND eat more healthily?

(Scroll straight to the bottom if you want to skip the money part and jump straight to plant-based cooking ideas.)

I promise you it isn’t difficult, but it may take time to adapt depending on how much time and effort you’re willing to commit and how quickly you embrace new ways of living. 

(Oh, and you’ll also produce less waste, use less resources from fossil fuels and plastic and help the environment too! Sounds good, right?)

Note: You don’t need to make all the changes in one go. See what feels best to you and your family. Remember, you can try new habits for 30, 60 or 90 days to see if they feel good. You always have a choice and are free to re-introduce old habits and luxuries any time you wish. 

Here are my household financial top tips to get you started:

  • Start by assessing where you are now in terms of weekly / monthly spend. Check your receipts, bank or credit card statements or track your cash spend over the month. If you don’t know where you are today, then you won’t appreciate quite how much you could save. And if, like many people, you have credit card debts, a mortgage, children approaching university age or have dreams of a round the world trip or retiring early, then every penny you save today can help you save or the future you want. 
  • Look at how much food waste and packaging you create each week. Unless you’ve been living off grid in the rainforest for the last three years you’ll be aware that the oceans are choking on our plastic waste and planet Earth is heating up from a rise in CO2 emissions caused by many aspects of human life including transport, power, agriculture and deforestation. Making a decision to produce less waste starts with your personal mindset and being aware of the consequences of your decisions.
  • Look at your overall monthly and annual income and expenditure. Whether you’re a single parent family on a low income or a wealthy family with two professional, full time working parents, three children, two dogs and a nanny – or anywhere in between – there are always ways you can make savings and leave more cash for the things that are really important to you. Your mindset around money and the things you value in life is more important than your actual income. This blog isn’t the place for a complete financial makeover, but the things I’ve found most important are (a) Tracking your money – both money IN and money OUT. (b) Creating a budget. Start with all your essential expenses (your home and utilities) and then look at what you currently spend on food, leisure, entertainment, clothes, subscriptions, gym memberships etc. Use a notebook or a spreadsheet, whichever you prefer. Where can you make savings? Remember that every penny saved now counts towards freedom and security in the future. What are you willing to sacrifice? Again, this isn’t about depriving yourself of any luxuries, but about deciding which habits are unnecessary and not bringing you joy or value. Write down all the ways you can cut down your expenses. 
  • From these exercises, create a budget. How much are you willing (or able) to spend on food each week? Trimming £50 a week off the average UK family’s food shop is so easy you’d hardly notice any difference on your plate. And that £50 a week is a whopping £2600 a year! That money could be used to pay extra off your mortgage so you can retire years earlier than planned. Or it could be saved for your child’s future to enable them to get through university debt free. Or maybe you would love to have a cleaner, a weekend trip away for your birthday and a massage every month? The choice is yours. And those big dreams can happen easily with a little short term planning. 

Now you know where you stand financially, and are committed to making a difference to your health and lifestyle, let’s look at the shopping, food prep and cooking:

  • Weekly Meal Planning. If you’re a brilliant home cook who can always whizz meals together in minutes from seemingly random ingredients, then you can skip this step. If you’re not, then taking some time to plan family meals for the week will save you time, energy and money, not to mention less food waste. Remember to plan all your meals and snacks, not just dinners. Use a spread sheet, a notebook or an app then create a shopping list. (Just remember to take the list to the supermarket with you!)
  • Food preparation. When we bring food home from the supermarket, most of us simply pop it all in the cupboards and fridge as quickly as possible (before proceeding to eat all the treats within 24 hours!) But a little preparation here can again save you time and give you the best possible chance of eating the healthy snacks rather than the crisps or biscuits. For example, fruit and veg that needs to go into morning smoothies can be chopped up and stored in the fridge or freezer in portion sized containers or reusable bags. Slice carrots, cucumber and pepper into snack sized strips for the next day. If you’re using the oven to cook dinner, add in a tray of chopped vegetables to roast for tomorrow’s lunch. Think about all the ways a little effort today can help you tomorrow. 
  • Batch cooking. We used to think that multitasking was a badge of honour but now we know that batching our time and activities actually brings us increased productivity and a calmer mind. Laundry day wasn’t quite such a silly idea for our grandmothers after all! When it comes to batch cooking, this is a great way to keep your health and weight loss goals on track as well as saving energy in the home. Think about the meals you eat frequently and those which can be easily frozen in portion sizes (or family sized containers if you know you’ll be reheating it all in one go). Curry, chilli, bolognese, pasta sauces, lasagne, shepherd’s pie and casseroles all lend themselves well to being frozen and reheated. *Interesting fact – freezers are more efficient when they’re filled up. (I only learnt this recently!)*

There’s one HUGE area we haven’t covered yet when it comes to saving money and increasing the amount of nutrients in your diet: Plant-based food.

With so much in the press every day about climate change, animal agriculture and vegan diets, you’d be forgiven for being utterly confused about what to eat and why. 

FACT: Animal agriculture does play a part in global warming due to methane emissions of the animals (i.e. cow burps), deforestation (Cutting down trees to make land for grazing or for growing crops such as soy to feed the animals. Less trees = more CO2 in the atmosphere.), transport emissions (export of meat to other countries and in different stages of its processing) and, as a side note, animal agriculture uses a lot more water than growing plants for human consumption. Water shortage will be a massive problem across the whole world in the future so its well worth changing our habits today for a better world tomorrow. 

FACT: There is more than adequate protein available in a plant-based (vegan) diet so long as you eat a variety of whole foods (i.e. not toast and pasta every day) and eat adequate calories. The protein argument simply isn’t viable for the vast majority of the population.

FACT: A plant-based diet will save you money. Comparing a home cooked diet containing meat versus a home cooked diet without meat. We’re not including takeaway treats and packaged ready meals in this statement because the same can be true for both vegan and omnivorous diets. 

FACT: Switching to a plant-based diet means you’ll naturally eat more vegetables, more fruit, more whole grains and more beans and lentils than on a standard western diet. Therefore your daily intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants will increase and your body will become healthier at cellular level. 

So, where do we start with a plant-based diet if we want to save money and improve our health? The two main factors are:

  • Education. Use all the resources available to you to find recipes, and learn how to cook and prepare simple plant-based dishes. Pinterest and Instagram are great visual sources for recipes and food presentation. YouTube is brilliant if you’re a beginner level home cook. TEDx talks are great for learning about climate change and diet choices. Cookery books are widely (and cheaply) available at libraries, 2nd hand stores and charity book events. Plus you can download many direct to your iPad or Kindle. 
  • Practice. Whatever we want to achieve in life, we all start out at that beginner level. Olympic sprinters started out as babies learning to walk. Billionaires started out as school children eager to learn. Mountain climbers started with hill hikes. So stop worrying about how little you can do and start learning, practicing and, most importantly, failing! I’ve cooked from scratch almost every day of my life since I was a teenager and yet I still occasionally burn food, make bean burgers that fall apart and forget to put baking powder in cakes. We’re all human but what sets the winners apart from the losers is that resilience and determination to keep trying after failure. Anyone can cook, I promise you. And anyone can successfully switch to a plant-based diet and make it work for them. 

What are the cheapest food sources that deliver the most nutritional value?

(Hint: These are the ones you need to eat most of the time, even if you still eat meat, dairy and sweet treats a few times a week. Remember, it’s what you do 80% of the time that is the most important.)

  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole grains
  • Root vegetables
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Brightly coloured vegetables
  • Berries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Water (filtered tap water)

Fruit and vegetables are cheapest (and most tasty) when they’re grown locally and are in season.

Of course, it’s not always possible in some areas and climates to have an abundant supply of fresh produce all year round, which is where preserving, freezing and food prep comes into play. For example: 

  • Grow lots of tomatoes every summer that you turn into tomato sauce to use on pasta dishes or in curries, stews and bolognese.
  • Pick lots of local apples at the end of summer and turn them into apple chutney or apple compote for use over the winter.
  • Pick lots of local berries in the summer and freeze for smoothies and breakfast dishes or turn into jam.
  • Buy lots of brown speckled ripe bananas, peel, chop and freeze in containers or reusable bags to use in smoothies. Overripe bananas are also great in banana bread or cake that can also be frozen in slices. 

If I haven’t yet managed to persuade you to give a plant-based diet a try (for at least 30 days) then maybe these meal planning ideas will get your taste buds tingling!

Breakfast Ideas:

  • Porridge with chopped banana, crushed toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate chips.
  • Overnight oats with blueberries, chia seeds and coconut yogurt.
  • Banana pancakes with maple syrup and raspberries
  • Scrambled tofu with roasted tomatoes and mushrooms
  • Avocado on toast with sea salt and chilli flakes
  • Power smoothie with pineapple, spinach, avocado, banana, dates and almonds.
  • Fruit salad and carrot cake energy balls (yes, really!)

Lunch and dinner ideas:

  • Black bean chilli with brown rice and guacamole.
  • Chick pea, spinach and potato korma with basmati rice.
  • Vegetable and cashew nut stir fry with noodles.
  • Lentil shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping.
  • Mediterranean butter bean and tomato stew with quinoa.
  • Moroccan couscous with almonds, apricots and spiced tofu.
  • Tagliatelle with a creamy coconut, squash and rosemary sauce.

Snack ideas:

  • Homemade hummus and carrot sticks.
  • Homemade avocado dip and toasted pitta bread.
  • Homemade sea salt kale chips.
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana.
  • Fresh fruit and/or nuts and seeds
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Chocolate smoothie with banana, cinnamon, cacao, dates and almond milk.

For over 50 pages of plant-based recipes, store cupboard basics, nutrition information and more, grab yourself a copy of my Eat More Plants e-book for just £15, available as an instant download. 

Click here to buy your copy of EAT MORE PLANTS today. 

Eat More Plants e-book (digital download) by Lorraine Pannetier