Hints, tips and good ideas

  • Are you a bit confused as to when it is safe to eat frozen food? This article may help.
  • I have been reading in several places now about how much cheaper tinned potatoes are. I have never used them, but may give them a go to see what I think of them. Froogs, on Frugal Queen, also recommends instant mashed potato, which I associate with appalling 1970’s meals, so again, time to try it and see if I agree. I’ll let you know how I get on.
  • Well I’ve now tried dried mashed potato and was amazed on the quality of it. I made some lovely gnocchi with it that worked out to just 15p a portion, and I would even use it as just mash if I had something to go with it, like gravy or something
  • I have always meal planned. When I was a child, it revolved around a weekly shop on Wednesdays, because that was the day you got double Green Shield stamps – remember those? If you do you must be as old as me! For those that don’t know what on earth I am talking about, they were little green stamps that you collected at the checkout and stuck them in a book (my job!) and when you had enough, you redeemed them for something. It was the forerunner of todays loyalty cards. A weekly meal plan rationalises your shop – there is no point in getting that 2for1 offer on xyz as there is nowhere in your mealplan where you will use xyz.
  • When I was working on www-cheap-family-recipes.org.uk, that principle was taken even further, and the meal plans were for a month at a time. I had never done a meal plan as long as a month before, but it did seem to work, and I saved a lot from the grocery bill. Conversely, my current challenge is DP. He does like a wander round the shops and spends £10-£20 a time. His current favourites are Sainsbury’s store baked granola biscuits. We are fortunate in that I don’t need to have such a strict budget at the moment, but I do resent how very much it all adds up to at the end of the month.

Free Money

Almost. One of the things I have tried in the past is to extend the amount of time a week lasted. So I would do a normal weeks shop and make it last 8 days. It’s a bit awkward remembering which day you are supposed to be on each week, and you need to keep to the normal weeks budget. But if you can keep it up, it does mean that you get a week every couple of months that you can use the normal housekeeping money for something else entirely. Almost like free money.


Have you ever actually priced up any of your meals so you know exactly how many pence each portion costs? When I first started doing this, I had a few surprises. Things I thought were cheap added up to more than I thought, and things I thought would blow a 50p a portion allowance were within it. So worth trying if you don’t already. It also gets your eye in for what are the expensive ingredients, and they might not be the things you think they are. When I see a recipe that I think I can do for sub 50p, I cost it out as it is, then have a look to see what I can do with it. Fish and meat are the obvious first expensive things, then dairy and fresh fruit and veg. Frozen or tinned fruit and veg can often be substituted for fresh in a recipe. The very first thing I do however is cost it out using the basics range, that usually drops the price a lot. Then I have a look at what can be left out. I might use half the amount of eggs, or 1 whole one instead of 2 yolks, cream is usually changed to milk, or even water. Can I use a tiny amount of the meat/fish, would the dish work that way, can I substitute smoked salmon trimmings at 98p/150g for fresh salmon at goodness knows what, can I leave out the fish/meat altogether and still make something that tastes good? Can I use the cooking bacon that seems to be used so much because it has so much flavour for so little cost? Sometimes I start from the other end with some cheap ingredients and think what could I make with them. That’s when I tend to Google, and it’s amazing what comes up, real food for thought if you forgive the pun.

Something completely new to me was Froog’s tip on not eating meat in the summer as it is BBQ season and all the meat goes up in price. Knowledge like that is invaluable.

Shop your cupboards first. It’s amazing what we all stockpile, so using up any packets, tins and frozen stuff is a great way to stretch the budget this month. Couscous kept in the cupboard until it is rancid and inedible isn’t such a great bargain buy

If you have kids of an appropriate age, they might be interested in pricing up a meal they like. So if their favourite food is pizza say, they could try and price one at your current budget level. You never know, they might come up with something worth trying – don’t know if I fancy trying Nuttela and banana pizza tho!

If you are seriously restricted in your food budget, it is possible your calcium intake will be too low. Eggs, cheese and milk, the most commonly quoted good sources of calcium, are among the most expensive grocery items and may well not feature very much in your grocery shop. If this is the case for you, then this old fashioned tip may help. When you do have an egg or two, keep the shells. Then make some soup and pop the shells in when you simmer it. They need to be boiled in case they have salmonella on them, and obviously, you need to make sure the outside of the shells don’t have any muck on them.

Egg shells are made primarily of calcium, and boiling them leaches some of the calcium out. Some people even grind them up finely and add them to their food.

Froogs has posted another post with such basic, good advice, I felt I must link to it here. These are her 10 entries:-

  • The money in and the money out.
  • There’s no such thing as disposable income!
  • Some things happen every year!
  • Plan your spending every month.
  • You have to make cut backs – we all do.
  • The **** WILL hit the fan and you have to be financially prepared for it.
  • What do we need to save for?
  • What do you not need?
  • What do you need?
  • What is the biggest changes you can make to ensure you have financial well being?

It makes such absolute sense what she is saying, it seems too obvious to be said, but sometimes, it is just those things that we need to remind ourselves of.


What equipment do you have in your kitchen that is really, seriously, worth buying. If you had to start again, and you could only get hold of the bare minimum, what would it be? I would need one good small knife, and one larger one. Something to chop things on. A big saucepan and two smaller ones. I could probably manage with one ring, but would find it very difficult with no oven. I could give up the oven if I was allowed a Remoska. I got one of these from Lakeland, the only UK distributer. They cost a lot, but they only cost the same as a 100W bulb to run, so save lots and lots of gas/electricity. I would need a baking sheet (not if I had the Remoska) and a small Pyrex dish, and I would probably be good to go. Many years ago, Mum took me and the girls to stay in a caravan on the coast for a holiday. It had virtually no equipment in it and we were amazed by just how much we managed to do. We had a large tin that had had orange juice in it, so that became the kettle and the saucepan! I have many other bits and pieces accumulated over the years, some expensive, others not. Many I use often, some rarely make it out of the cupboard. Every day this year I have weeded at least one thing from our possessions and given it away, or thrown it away if it wasn’t good enough to give away. I haven’t really tackled anything in the kitchen yet, maybe that’s next. I have literally hundreds of cookery books. When we moved to Heathfield, it was during a difficult time for us and we moved from a large four bedroom house to a two bed bungalow and of the many many things that had to go to be able to squeeze ourselves in, the 1000 books hurt the most. Not one of them was a cookery book, and to be honest, I haven’t missed any of them. So now, I make it a point to read books from the libary, or the proliferation of charity shops, then pass them on/take them back. We have been here six years now, and there are even more resources on the web than there were then, and it has been nagging at me for ages now, so I really must try to weed through the cookery books.

A Notebook

Due to my many cookery books, oftentimes, I would decide to cook a particular recipe, and could I find it? NO! So frustrating. So I started to keep a notebook of what I had cooked, and where the recipe was. This worked very well for a year or so, and then I started to do something else. I was given a beautiful, suede covered notebook (I LOVE stationery) and in that, every time I cooked something that I made often, I wrote down the recipe, or scanned it and printed it and stuck it in. This has now built up into a lovely reference for all my favourite stuff. I do still use the other notebook now and again to note down a successful variation or something that doesn’t fit into the other one. I recommend the use of a notebook to keep your good ideas, favourite meals, etc, and as you build it up, you will have a handy source of inspiration. Sometimes I put calorie counts or cost in, sometimes not. I also have, yet another, small notebook, that I try to keep with me all the time, as it is where I jot down the cost of things. So when I pop into an Indian supply store unexpectedly, I have some idea if the ten kilos of lentils or big bag of spice are a bargain and worth humping home or not. I also have various bits of paper with lists of recipes I want to try, often with rough costings attached.

This website latestfreestuff.co.uk lists literally hundreds of things to be had for free. Pop over and have a look to see if there is anything that would be useful


Rice can be cooked with the minimum of fuel by putting 1 cup of rice in two cups of cold water, bring to the boil in a pan with a very tight lid, turn the heat off and leave it alone. This came from http://theoryofboots.blogspot.co.uk/ thanks to Allegra for her great tip, and the link goes to her post for an excellent curry that can be varied to whatever you have in. Woops, just noticed that Rita gave this tip in the comments below – memory like a sieve!

When cooking anything in a saucepan that needs draining, I try to drain the hot water into something else that I have used, or fish out the contents without draining the water. The objective is to keep the heat of that hot water in the kitchen and not throw it down the drain. For the same reason, I also leave the saucepan on the side until it’s cool and leave the oven door open while it is cooling down

I read somewhere that someone leaves the bath water in the bath until it has given up all its heat. Can’t do that one, I use a shower!

Slow cookers are very energy efficient, using the same amount of power as an old fashioned light bulb while they are on. I got one from the local Freegle group, or Facebay would be a good hunting ground. You can cook casseroles in them, soups, slow cook cheaper cuts of meat, leave chicken pieces in them for hours to cook long and tender, and lots of other things. I often cook beans in them, make sure you give them a boil for 10 minutes beforehand to get rid of any nasties that some of them have.

If you have an open fireplace, scrap wood can be had from all kinds of places if you can get it home. Industrial estates are good hunting grounds, there are pallets galore there, and many places would be glad to get rid of them. I know it may be a bit cringe making, but just pop in to a place or two and ask, they can only say no. You could then have a regular supply from there.  Pallet wood tends to spit a lot when it’s burning, so you’ll need a fireguard.

Local builders may be glad for someone to take away their scrap wood. We once got absolutely loads from a friend of a friend who was doing up a place. He had to replace ALL the timbers over two stories; floors, ceiling joists, roof timbers, the whole lot. He was glad that we took as much as we could as it saved him the expense of several skips, which is another good hunting place for scrap wood. Once you start thinking about it, all sorts of possibilities come up.  People ask for it on my local Freegle site every now and then

If you can afford the capital outlay, and you have a reasonable supply of wood, it may be worth getting a wood burner. They are very efficient and keep most of the warmth generated by the wood in the room rather than sending it up the chimney. We got ours from Machine Mart, which was the cheapest place we could find with a reasonable design of fire. I have just had a look, and they have several models for less than £300. Mike was able to fit ours, and we didn’t fit a chimney lining as we were confident it was fine. You would need to make your own decisions for your circumstances. And don’t forget the carbon monoxide alarm, essential if you are burning fuel on a fire.

Tea Leaves

Because tea absorbs moisture and odors, you can place dry tea bags in shoes and other unpleasant smelling places to remove odors. Infused tea leaves can be placed in your refrigerator to help keep food odours in check

Clean Your Mirrors

Leftover brewed tea can be cooled and used to get mirrors squeaky clean. Use a soft cloth to buff away the tea after cleaning

Sharpen Your Knives

Use the unglazed part on the bottom of a ceramic mug / cup / pot to sharpen your knives