I am becoming meaner. Actually, that's not entirely true; as Si' will tell you, I am happy to part with my time, share my possessions and lend my ear. What I do begrudge these days, though, is paying over the odds for things and - in particular - for food. In fact it has become a matter of personal principal never to shell out for food that I could have got cheaper - or for better value - elsewhere. Hence I know that the cut-price supermarket chain, B&M, sell the cheapest milk and sugar in town and that my local greengrocer sells the most reasonably priced free-range eggs. This may sound like an awful lot of trekking around, visiting lots of different shops in order to save a few pennies here and there but really it has much more to do with timing. I have admitted in the past to shopping more than once a week for food but I never ever have to do the weekly shop I once loathed. Rather than planning a menu and accompanying shopping list in advance, what we eat each day is determined by what I can get for less. I actively hunt for special offers, 'BOGOFs', and store reductions and freeze what I can't use immediately for other days. Or I might buy a lot of something reduced - like tomatoes - that I'll make into pasta sauce and then freeze the surplus in portion-sized amounts (former plastic 'take-away' boxes are brilliant for this). So how do I go about bagging these bargains in the first place then? Well, the first two of my tried-and-tested methods involves supermarkets and getting to know their routine. Our Tesco branch begins reducing perishable products - fruit, veg, dairy - by about 25% on the morning of that products sell-by date. At about 4.00p.m. they will reduce them by another 25% or sometimes more. In our branch they do seem more likely to sell the fruit and veg at rock bottom prices than the meat but my maxim is that if you've saved on one you've got a bit more to spend on the other! In our Marks and Spencer, they only make one - quite significant - reduction at 4.00p.m. on weekdays and 1.00p.m. on Sundays. Whereas in Tesco all the reductions are in one or two central points, in M&S, staff spread the reduced items around the shop within the relevant sections. Last week, I bought bottles of fresh orange juice that normally retails at £2.43 a bottle for just a pound. I have also had beautiful lemon sole and smoked salmon pate for less than half price. But beware - competition is fierce, know that some shoppers do not exercise their good manners and make sure you get there on time as everything gets snapped up within minutes! If you can't go at 4.00p.m. in the week then go on Sunday; if you have a weekly shop to do then combine the trip. Even once in a while can deliver a basket of bargains that you did not pay full price for elsewhere! Sometimes there will be lots of stuff and other times very little but not knowing what will come up is what makes it exciting. Also, don't get carried away with the treats; it's easy to stack your trolley with cream cakes but they don't freeze, are not good for you in quantity and will undermine any savings you might hope to make.
My second idea is that instead of buying the same things week in, week out, get into the habit of stocking up on those items you use regularly that are on offer. This involves a little flexibility with your monthly budget. The first week you might stock up on toilet rolls, in addition to your normal shop. The following week it might be washing powder. The third week could be butter but since you don't have to buy any toilet rolls or washing powder this week you can stock up on butter with the money saved. I only buy Anchor Spreadable for general use and I only buy it when it's on offer. So I almost always have some stacked up in the fridge until the offer is on again and I very rarely run out. Likewise with Twining's Earl Grey tea and Ecover washing powder. Sometimes a supermarket offer might look good but it's always worth checking the price per 100 grams/per litre,etc which must be marked on the shelf with the price. Surprisingly, bulk is not always cheaper. I also make a note of the date the offer will finish so that I can buy more at that price if I need to. This is good with, say, double cream when I'm making ice cream; I can only make so much at once but may want to buy fresh stock for further batches. Currently - at our store, anyway - Tesco have pint pots of cream for £1.00 instead of the usual £1.68 until October 13th. Good news if you're entertaining or making ice cream yourself!
If you have a weekly market near to where you live it's worth buying your fruit and veg there. You always pay more for pre-bagged stuff in the supermarkets and market stalls are more likely to have good deals on seasonal produce which supermarkets rarely do. When my allotmenting colleagues and I are drowning in runner beans or in rhubarb the price remains firmly top whack in Morrisons and Tesco. From mid-day onwards stall holders often reduce more perishable fruit like bananas, nectarines or strawberries, especially on Saturdays when they might not be doing another market until the following Tuesday. If you buy regularly from the same place they might be prepared to get you bulk quantities - say of Seville oranges - at a considerable saving. Equally, at the end of the day after the stall has packed up, they are an excellent source of boxes, stackable mushroom baskets and even material for the compost heap. And if you were to come across 9lbs of apricots in good condition that would utimately end up in landfill then it would really be your environmental duty to bring them home and turn them into jam, wouldn't it?
Tomorrow I'm going to be picking apples from the orchard to take to Stamford Apple Day to be identified on Saturday. We took some of the cookers last year but many of the eating apples didn't fruit so this is our opportunity to find out just what varieties we have growing there. I'm really quite excited after all the work that's gone into getting them to this stage. I'm also looking forward to a few home-made apple pies in October accompanied by my own vanilla ice cream, made to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage recipe. Click here for the link, remembering that you can get your cream to make it from Tesco for £1.00 and your vanilla pods - currently on offer - from Julian Graves. Yum!