Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
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Welcome to the Frugal Column, where I aim to inspire you to live your best life without breaking the bank. You can follow my award-winning blog Shoestring Cottage and don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel. I am also the author of Extreme Frugality: Save Money Like Your Grandma.
How is organising your kitchen going to save you money, I hear you wonder? For a start, if your cupboards are heaving and you can’t see the flour from the baked beans, how can you plan what you are going to eat? How can you stop food from being wasted? Here are some tips to get organised in the kitchen to save money on food.
The big advantage of sorting out your kitchen store cupboards is that you will reduce food waste. This is good for your bank balance and the planet. WRAP estimates that in the UK alone we “throw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year….almost three quarters is food we could have eaten”.
You need to know what you have and which items need using first. I suggest doing a food audit to get you started. Go through your fridge, bread bin, freezer, larder and anywhere else you store food and note down exactly what is in there.
Once you have done your audit, you can make a shopping list of what you really need and not buy duplicates of items already lurking. I find that facing the expensive impulse purchases I have made in the past helps me avoid making the same mistakes.
Keep a memo board or chalkboard on the wall to write an ongoing shopping list. This way you won’t forget what you need to buy.
Another way to use the provisions you already have and avoid buying too much food is to plan your meals. I spend 10 minutes the evening before I go to the supermarket meal planning. It is a good idea to take into account what is going to be happening during the week ahead. For example, there is no point deciding on a casserole on an evening when time is short.
I invested in a magnetic planner for this task, which is situated on the fridge door, but a piece of paper on your wall will do the job as well.
Sometimes, no matter how carefully we plan, there are leftovers after a meal. To prevent waste, make a point of using them up. I enjoy having last night’s dinner for my lunch the following day, but if you leave the house for work and don’t have access to a microwave this might not be appropriate for you.
If you can’t use leftovers immediately, store them properly for later use. Keep a handy stash of plastic containers for this purpose. If you freeze leftovers, make sure they are labelled. When you need to keep them in the fridge, a clear plastic box is useful. Don’t let them get shoved to the back and forgotten about though – plan to use them within a few days.
It’s helpful to have a ‘use me first’ shelf in your fridge where leftovers can live, alongside short date items. Train your household to eat them first!
Be flexible with your meal plan to incorporate leftover food. You could also have a leftovers night each week or fortnight on your meal plan to make sure they aren’t forgotten about.
Before your next grocery shop, get creative with the odds and ends still in your fridge. Can you make soup or stew? Can those wrinkled peppers or carrots be chopped up and frozen to use later? How about making a bread pudding with that half a stale loaf?
I keep a scraps container in my freezer for my regular soup-making sessions. Any small amounts of things like mashed potato, rice and cooked vegetables are chucked in there. I also keep another container for vegetable trimmings, such as cauli and broccoli stalks.
Time your shopping trips to get the best reductions. Supermarkets begin discounting early afternoon, with the biggest markdowns a couple of hours before closing. It is worth noting the times you come across yellow stickers so that you can revisit when you know they are likely to be there.
If you shop at Aldi and Lidl, check out their weekly specials (both change on Thursdays) and plan your meals based on what’s on offer each week. Aldi’s Super Six Fruit and Veg specials and Super Weekly Offers on meat and fish are great value, as are Lidl’s Pick of the Week offers.
Your local market will sell fresh produce off very cheaply at the end of the day, so it can be a great time to visit for bargains.
If your cupboards and pantry are in a big mess, invest in clear boxes of various sizes to help you get organised. You can spend quite a lot on storage boxes if you look online, but I found some in Asda that are excellent value for just a few pounds each.
Consider purchasing some adjustable storage racks to give you an extra shelf in your cupboard – or stepped shelves – so that you can see what’s at the back more easily.
Whilst you are sorting your food stores, go through all of the other drawers and cupboards to see what is taking up space unnecessarily. Dust off the slow cooker and start using it! The same with your air fryer and pressure cooker. All provide energy efficient ways to cook that will save you money.
Vertical plate bowl racks can help to keep your cupboards tidy and allow you to fit more in.
Decluttering your kitchen equipment and utensils means you are more likely to get regular use from them. Sell or donate those you are never going to use.
Getting organised in the kitchen will help you save money on food, but knowing where everything is will save you time too and prevent food waste.