Sunday, 28 April 2013

Live Below the Line ~ Doing the Shopping

The eve of the Live Below the Line challenge has arrived and I'm feeling prepared for the week ahead, even though I'm suffering with a horrible cold and had to drag myself out of bed today to do the rounds of the big supermarkets and make the most of my £5 budget for the next 5 days' meals. Shopping with just £5 to spend, alongside what felt like hundreds of people chucking whatever they fancied into overflowing trolleys without even a glance at the price, felt strangely liberating. I had planned and researched the items I needed to buy and so all I had to worry about was comparing prices and sticking to my very short list. As I don't usually shop in big supermarkets, the experience wasn't very enjoyable but it was entirely essential. I had to shop around the budget ranges of Asda and Tesco; my usual local shops and convenient mini-supermarkets didn't have the variety or the low prices I needed.

A few things struck me during my shopping trip. Supermarkets can be cheaper for many things but I wasn't surprised to note that any so-called special offers encouraged people to spend even more money on non-essential items rather than help them spend less. Some £1 bargains in Co-op and Asda offer booklets (my whole budget for one day) didn't even make up a whole meal and usually bought a fairly unhealthy snack or ready meal. When I was browsing the reduced items in the supermarkets, I quickly realised I was wasting my time. None of the items on offer would have stretched far enough to make it worth spending my precious budget on them. Sandwiches, cakes, oven pizzas and other "quick eats" with little nutritional benefit and shelf life dominated the bargain shelf.

All in all, I was quite pleased with my £5 haul. In fact, I only spent £4.30 and planned to scour the local shops for last minute bargains to add some flavour and bulk to my evening meals throughout the week. Supermarket shopping brought with it some difficulties, however, and I did feel very conspicuous constantly referring to my lists, phone calculator and revisiting the same aisles a dozen times to compare prices. I did some of my research online and was dismayed to find that the items differed considerably. I was forced to settle for a more expensive brand of lentils, for example, because there was not as much choice in store. I was also banking on buying individual items from the vegetable aisle - onions, garlic, potato, maybe a single chilli - but it was difficult to weigh single items prior to going to the checkout because the scales provided didn't register for items below 250g. The whole experience meant the small things really mattered: I was hugely excited about finding non-value chickpeas on offer for less than the budget ranges. 

It may seem obvious that minimising waste will be crucial to the challenge but I really had to think about it whilst making my shopping decisions. I'm sure many people are tempted to go for cheaper items regardless of their nutritional value but I couldn't bring myself to choose the economy white sliced bread that doesn't fill me up and goes stale really quickly. On the flip side I had to give up the luxury of a tin of mixed bean salad to add to my lunches because, at 68p a tin, it was too expensive a treat when I could get the same effect from my smart price kidney beans and bargain chickpeas. I'm looking forward to making the most of the carefully chosen items I could afford with my £5 budget. Daily updates and recipes to follow!

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