The big secret to eating frugally - and to not spending, especially now, in Stoptober - is keeping a good storecupboard. The storecupboard means that you buy non-perishables (and freezable perishables, as the freezer is, in our house, considered an essential part of the storecupboard) when they are cheap, and only when they are cheap. It does not matter if you haven't got much money to go out and buy a month's, a season's, or a year's worth of staples - a single pound kept back from your regular weekly shop could buy you, say, six packs of supermarket value noodles (15p); the next week's pound will buy you three cartons of "SmartPrice" passata, the following week it could be 2kg of value rice.... And pound by pound, your storecupboard grows.
Okay, you might say, but how does that save you money ? In fact, isn't it really rather a nuisance - all this stockpiled food needs storing, so why not let the supermarket take care of the storage issues, and just buy things as you need ?
Sure, you can do that. But how many times have you been to the supermarket over the last year or so, only to find your usual buys costing more than they did last week ? Even if you buy them just at the ordinary price, buying up a small stock of staples will save you money against these price rises; and once you have built up a small stock of basic foodstuffs, you should be able to have a week or two off from "normal shopping" and buy just, say, a few pints of milk and some fresh fruit and veg - the rest of your grocery budget can be saved against such a time when a favourite item is on an unmissable sale. Half price beans, or meat, or whatever can be stored or frozen - and instead of buying just one or two, you can buy a year's supply; meaning that, over the course of the year, that portion of your meal will have cost you half of what it would have been otherwise.
So, that's where the big savings come in. Five years ago, my shopping went like this - once a week, usually on a Saturday, a big shop costing about £80. Come Friday, there'd often not be enough in the house to even make a meal, so that would mean popping into Asda and spending another £10 on that night's meal. Monthly grocery spend - £390 on average, plus at least one meal out every week, usually Saturday lunchtime (to recover from our mammoth, list-less shopping trip), and in addition to that, there were probably at least two dinners out, or takeaways, every month.
Now, this was not a problem for us - we could afford it, we had no debt other than the mortgage, and the idea of living below our means had not crossed our minds at that stage - so if someone suggested I started "storecupboarding" in order to save money, I'd have probably just smiled and told them thanks, but I don't need those savings.
The reason I started making sure I had more in than was necessary for our immediate needs had nothing to do with saving money, in fact - but everything to do with rabbits and water pipes.
See, it would appear that a rabbit somehow got into a mains water pipe in our area, drowned and started decomposing, thus polluting our water supply. The water coming out of our taps - this essential of modern living that most of us living in the developed West take for granted - became undrinkable.
I was at work when I heard the news, and on leaving my half-day shift, I did the same as most other people and made a beeline for the supermarket in order to buy some bottled water. Only, by the time I got there, the shelves were bare. Same with the other supermarket next to it; and the newsagents down the road. A call to the other half, working in a different part of town, eventually resulted in some bottles of fizzy flavoured water. Which was fine overnight, and by the next day the supermarkets would have restocked on water, or the water problem have been resolved.
Except that neither of those happened. We made do with boiled and purified tap water as best as we could, but those supermarket shelves remained bare. We drank ghastly aspartame-flavoured fizzy water and fruit juice.... And got an unexpected and really rather scary insight into supermarket supply chain.
At this stage, my "what if" writer's brain kicked in, and I started asking myself what would happen if, at that exact moment, there was a problem in, say, petrol supply, making it impossible for the lorries to bring new deliveries to local stores. Or if the weather got really bad. How long could we last without the ability to pop into the shops and restock ? The answer was, about three meals.
The shock was. well, pretty darn tremendous. I remember that, as soon as the realisation hit, I hot-footed it to Asda and bought, for some bizarre reason, a big bag of yellow split peas. It made me feel better, as it meant a few more meals between us and starvation - and that Saturday's food shop was little short of ma-ga-hoosive - because I had to, no matter what the cost, put the makings of a few more meals between our family and the unforeseen.
The money-saving aspect of this did not take long to make itself apparent. In order to maximise our food security, I - working on a sort of auto-pilot - went back to the skills I picked up when I was 14 and the war in my country started and suddenly getting enough to eat became a challenge - so instead of baking a loaf of bread once in a blue moon, I stocked up on flour and yeast and got to baking all our bread. Passata was cheaper than Dolmio sauce, so I could buy more and feel more secure - and of course, that saved us masses of money.
The upshot of that rabbit in the pipe is that today, good five years later, and with most of the staples now costing a great deal more than they did back then, our grocery budget is £250 a month. About £150 of this I'd say goes on what we actually eat in any given month, and the rest on maintaining the storecupboard, toiletries, household supplies, homebrew stuff (mostly sugar), and garden supplies (counted as grocery as most of what we grow in the garden gets eaten). We give food away, we support the food banks, we eat better than ever.....
....and the best bit is, that if the push came to shove, we'd be okay for a good six months.
And this, boys and girls, is why you should keep a good storecupboard.
So, where do we store all this stuff, bearing in mind that we have no larder, no massive converted garage or cellars, and live in a teeny-tiny bungalow ?
We store it in lidded plastic crates under the bed:
(That's our homebrew supplies above - wine kits bought at quarter price and masses of sugar bought at the best price we could find at the time)
A huge sack of chappati flour kept safe from bugs in a fermentation barrel (normally the lid is tightly on)
In a bookcase in the kitchen:
In two rows !
We keep our most-used spices on the kitchen counter (the light makes them deteriorate, so the little used spices, as well as the rest of the big bags that I buy them in, are kept in dark cupboards)
In kitchen cupboards (duh):
And the shed is home to the wine rack:
The overflow of tins and pickles:
And the booze still at fermentation stage:
At the moment, our booze supplies consist of 8 litres of beer, 5 bottles of elderberry wine, 4 bottles of Merlot, 18 bottles of Chardonnay, 6 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 litre of elderflower champagne, a gallon of Elderflower Rose, and half a barrel of elderflower white.
And then, of course, the grandmother of them all, the chest freezer :
More on how to make the best of the freezer another time. In the meantime, if you haven't already got a storecupboard, put aside a pound, or a couple of euros, or dollars.... And buy a few tins to start your own storecupboard. If you store and use it wisely, I promise you'll never regret it.