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Zapping food to save pounds

Microwaves are often scorned in cook books and recipes but I’m a huge fan – I got my first one when I was 19 as a grown up, but I’d grown up with one in the house. My dad was keen, cooking meat, fish, and egg dishes (seperately, not combined) and his favourite dish was hollandaise sauce – it took seconds but made fish dishes complete.

I bought a fish kettle for the microwave when I was 25, which gave such good results that when it died (a tragic accident involving a short height and a very hard floor), I bought another. A trout steamed for 2 minutes and 30 seconds with boiled jersey potatoes, horse raddish sauce, peas and sweetcorn is a brilliant and low effort meal that tastes out of this world. A tiny glass of wine and it’s a meal worth setting the table for.

You’ve heard me wax lyrical about using the zapper for Sunday roasts and using the bones to make stock. I did this today and have enough stock for the next week or two of meals. Indeed the main oven isn’t in use today: a cooking apple and some flour, sugar, and butter will be made into a crumble for this evening’s meal in 12 minutes of cooking time. Served with ice-cream, it will be lovely, nutritious meal, for very little cost or effort.

It was great to see microwave ovens featured in this week’s Waitrose Food magazine. Wish they’d had more recipes though.

Welcome back to the show

Sorry for the delay since my last post but it has been an exciting few weeks. Our son dropped out of university but made a good go at things in Newcastle but as his flat mates have moved away, he had no home so has returned.

We were not unhappy empty nesters but having an adult return and having found a job he starts tomorrow, be a sharer in the load is quite nice. If I’m missing anything, it’s having some quiet time, but I will adjust.

Is that interesting?

Cheeky! Probably not, but like I say things have been busy. We’ve just had our last Sunday lunch cooked on the halogen hob – from Wednesday, we’ll be induction.

It’s quite nerve racking – we’ve had some experience with a single plug in hob, but I do like a halogen for things like soups – the constant radiant heat does have it’s uses but while you can get a mixed fuel hob in terms of induction and gas, induction and halogen hobs are not an option.

It will make pasta cooking amazing. For our first meal I’m thinking of Pasta alla Genovese. Should be a dream on the new machine. Which means getting my arse in gear for making the pasta.

In my cooking adventures the past 2 years, the learning of making fresh pasta is an real eye opener. It is true that start off costs are much higher than buying a packet of dried pasta but of course, your costs go down each set you make. Pasta flour is roughly equivalent to a kilogram of dried pasta. Of course that’s ignoring the time, washing up, pasta maker, eggs, etc.

But of course, the idea is to try to reduce consumption. Electrical consumption. Hobs can never be 100% efficient because pots and pans radiate heat as they get hot. It’s why an efficient oven cooking many things at once or cooking cakes and puddings afterwards is a better way to cook in terms of making the most of your bought electricity or gas.

We’ve turned off our boiler this summer for a variety of reasons but mostly because our supply is being re-piped. New gas mains being replaced across the town and following the success last year of just running the hot water tank off the emersion heater, that’s what we’ve been doing instead.

As well as reducing our carbon footprint and reducing the load on the grid, it’s a lot cheaper. Reducing our water usage by using showers thanks to the drought has meant we’ve saved a great deal on our energy consumption.

Of course, it’s been an amazing year for solar generation – so that’s allowed us to reduce our billed electricity use while having plenty of hot water. While prices for gas have driven up the price of electricity, that cost has been off-set by having enough generated energy to cope.

Which beggars the question why this year has seen energy prices soar? The arguement is demand has gone up – air conditioners, fans, etc. But ever since COP 21, hasn’t the drive been to reduce demand? Do what you can?


A lesson learnt and reused

During lockdown, I started to make fresh pasta.  Which is great from a taste and cooking point of view, but not great from a food waste point of view unless you make use of this handy tip.

Oh yeah, one word from the wise, eh?

Hey, enough of that.  Collect knowledge.

Several sites spoke of “freezing the pasta” instead of popping in the fridge during the “resting phase”.  This is great but when thawed, the pasta can go a little grey – which isn’t confidence inspiring and a similar thing happens in the fridge, even within the recommended three to four days.

Vacuum packing is the answer, or rather getting as much air out of the bag of pasta as humanly possible.

Now, this kind of device was in short supply during lockdown (great minds and the like), and we’re doing small scale.  How to get the effect without the cost, another gadget in the kitchen and having to buy tough plastic sheets to use in the device?

Pressure is the answer.  Atmospheric pressure, actually.  Have you ever noticed when you put an empty plastic bottle in the bath, it can actually crumple a little bit more, before the water starts to rush it?

We’re going to make use of this.  Put your item to be “packed” in a normal plastic *zip-lock bag and “roll the bottom up to the top” to push out as much air before putting in the water.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s just make the process a little quicker.  Seal up most of the zip-lock hold tight.

* I have tried this with non-zip-lock plastic bags and it does work, it’s just a little bit fiddlier and harder to get an air tight seal.

Now, place into a bowl, jug or box of water and push the bag in as far as you can without covering the hole in the top of the zip-lock.  Ease any remaining gas out and close the zip-lock completely.  Dry off the excess water clinging to the bag and place in the freezer.  When you get your pasta out up to a month later, it will be as golden as the day you made it.

This process works well for any type of food for home freezing, especially in “frost free freezers”.

Vacuum packed storage without running any motors or buying special bags.

Keeping it low while the heat is rising

Today is likely to be one of the hottest days in the UK and at 11:28 the temperature in my lounge is around 24.8°C, and that’s with the south facing windows protected by closed curtains.  I know as while the boiler is off, if it’s not burning gas it’s not getting hot, the room thermostats are cheerfully reporting back the temperature and humity.  It’s warm and only going to get hotter this summer.

Our modern houses in the UK are foraciously protected from losing heat, but that can be used to your advantage at the moment.

Fight the urge to open windows during the day.

This may seem insane, but if it’s hotter outside than in, all you will be doing is letting in that hot air.

As you keep your curtains closed (that’s official advice from HM Gov), keep those south facing windows shut too.

Of course, that can feel like you’re sitting in the dark, but if you can, take the opportunity to cover up and take a book under a tree or beside a north facing wall?

Of course, the night is coming later this time of year, but as the temperature drops outside, throw open the shades and let in cooler air.

Keep hydrated.

Water is your friend, though make sure you keep your salt levels up too.  Sweating is how humans keep cool and during the summer, our water requirements can dramatically rise.

Try to siesta or at least not to do anything that can raise your body temperature.  In the summer, in the UK, peak heat is between 1pm and 4pm, this time of year.  If you cannot nap, try sitting down.  Raising your legs and feet can help reduce swelling.

Do not use electric fans if the temperature gets above 37°C in a dry room.  There are a few theories about this but the easiest comparison is the idea of a fan oven, the hot dry air passing over your body can make the situation worse!  If you are in a dry area, wetting your body (having a shower for example) before switching on the fan may help you work around this issue.

Why not just buy an air con unit and keep your cool?

Great idea, but as with the fan, they only work well if properly installed and I’m guessing that isn’t your situation right this minute.

If you do get a unit, ensure the vent is facing north – they work significantly better if you can do that.  If not, consider about when you want to use them.  In a bedroom, venting east when you are using to chill the room before sleep can get similar performance to venting north.

Turn off anything you are not using and I mean at the wall.  Anything with a fan or AC-DC converter will be dumping heat out into your room: now is not the time to watch a movie.

We’re not there yet, but some ideas.

If it’s yellow let it mellow was advice given during Cape Town’s draught a couple of years ago, preventing the waste of water by flushing away urine only toilet visits!

The government in South Africa also advised collectinig water during showers for flushing away solids.  Baths were banned but if you really must, one bath can be enjoyed more than once and the waste water used via buckets for toilet…

Don’t wash loads in the washing machine unless a full load.  Same with the dishwasher.  Can it wait for another few items?

Don’t water your lawn or ornamental beds – if it’s not food, it really should recover when the rains do come.  The car doesn’t need to be ultra shiny, just the external mirrors and the windows for visibility.

All great advice (not), I’m still hot!

Now is not the time to work from home.  Go into your office (many have aircon already in place) or if it’s the weekend, many shops have air con.  Sainsbury’s for example, is your friend.  As is cineworld.  Watching a movie in a windowless, air conditioned room is heaven – hence the summer blockbuster.  It makes your cinema subscription worth its weight in gold.

If you walk to those venues, remember your camelpak or bottle of water to keep cool and you’re hitting two goals at once – exercise and keeping your cool.  Enjoy the dry weather while it lasts.

Living with V2G

That’s vehicle to grid to you and me. When we’re not driving, our car is plugged in to a charger which is controlled by our energy supplier.

This is key – our supplier, Ovo, do not have ANY means of generating electricity but they are a supplier.  Well, technically, a value added reseller.

That’s the key part of why they approached us in 2019 and asked, as we had an “old Leaf”, whether we’d be interested in a vehicle to grid trial?

The good thing about it was they would supply our electricity at normal cost  but they would “buy stored energy from our battery and/or solar cells” at a much higher rate.

We said, “yes please”.

Of course, then Covid-19 struck.  Which made installation of a new DC charger much more complicated.

ACDC?

Our car has two ways of charging, a type 2 charger which takes an AC feed at 3.2kWh and a DC one which can take upto 50kW – called a CHAdeMO port, it has the ability to pull power out of the battery as well as feed power into the car.

 

Big charger to give and take from waiting Leaf

The install took about an hour – it did need an extra fuse as it runs at a high current but what it gives us is the means to charge the car from empty to 100% full in 270 minutes or two and half hours.

Or take from the car almost as quickly. Teamed with the Kaluza app, we can set schedules to ensure the car is ready for the commute to work or the trip to see the family. It also allows us to see whether we’re charging or exporting and to do a “boost” or charge up to 100% at a moments notice.

Kaluza in action

We can also set mins and maxs, to both protect the battery and ensure we can use the car for a local journey any time of the day. In fact, it won’t let you go below 20% which can seriously degrade the battery performance.

I have to say, having done this since 12 March 2020, I can’t believe how well it’s worked for us.

Ovo buy the electricity from us when the wholesale electricity price is at a premium, so it wins by not buying “fossil fuel produced electricity” and charges the car when electricity is cheap – it can afford to give us quite a mark-up as a result. In 2020 and 2021, this meant that we didn’t pay for any electricity or gas. It looks like it might work out that way this year too.

If we use the donated electricity – we don’t get that benefit but of course, we’re not paying for that electricity twice. If that makes any sense.

Teaming this with energy efficient lights, cookers, and other appliances gives us the means to cook an oven meal and still donate over 6kW as seen below. That means we’re being paid while using electricity.

Modifying our behaviour and consumption a little makes our solar charging pay in too. The UK gets a source of battery back up for the grid, reduces it need for fossil fuels, and reduces its carbon footprint.

I see an elephant! What about your battery?

Good question. We’ve had the electric car since January 2014 and do still drive it around. Its battery is doing brilliantly – still at 99% efficiency. There aren’t many ICEs you can say that for, and it still drives like a new car.

When the battery does get to the point where we need to replace it, we can get one three times the size and use the old one as a house battery for the V2G – why wouldn’t we after all? It saves land fill and disposal and means we can help the grid.

Which again, looks like something that’s hard to do with a non-EV. On a “green day” like today has been (i.e. very little gas has been burnt to power the grid), of course, we come out ahead…

Giving as much as we’ve taken today

Some days we don’t: but it has helped off-set our cost of living crisis. And Ovo are keen enough to keep the deal up to date – as wholesale prices go up, so does the money Ovo pay us.

Weird science

I started a new job on Tuesday, which has meant I am working in a different, swanky, office.

Swanky?

It’s been recently refurbed and thanks to lockdown, largely unsoiled since the work was done. Of course that means you try many new things. One of my learning points today was a different type of charging socket.

Charging socket? What’s that got to do with work?

Well, it was a new socket near my new office building. It was a connectedkerb socket which was a novel design – or at least one I hadn’t seen before. Following the instructions on AtAdastral, I downloaded the app and signed up my card.

So far so good. Tried to get the app to open the port for our charge cable. Only to find “Socket xxxx not found in our network”. I phoned the help desk, two resets and some rebooting of the app and I finally realised I was inadvertantly in a network blind spot – walking away from the socket adn things started going much better. Still the socket did not open!

I’m looking at the front and the helpful person on the end of the phone line didn’t seem to know why it wasn’t just working. I finally thought, why don’t I just try introducing my cable and see what happens?

Introduce cable, twist the socket then push all the way in. Ta’da!

It wasn’t obvious, but that’s what needed to happen. Once there, it is then easy to start the charge. Charge normally, then end the charge and pull out the cable.

Now, I should say, this is not a free charge which is what’s currently available in my home town. The help desk requirement didn’t mean it was quick that time either but at least I didn’t have to doubly register anywhere unlike many of the other sockets on site. It works out a little cheaper at home, so definitely makes V2G cost in for us and all while taking the car in to work, reducing our carbon footprint.

Win-win?

As it is a sunny day, I am lazing my days away

What? That’s not practising what you preach!

You’re right and I’m not: in fact I’m multitasking.  Well, I hope.

I thought I’d share my first go at microwaving (or at least partially microwaving) a roast chicken.

What on earth for?

Well, I hear many people saying they cannot afford to cook given how high energy prices are, especially on the radio. Part of me thinks that’s because they aren’t in a position to see what can be done for very little money. This is an experiment.

Whatever!

A raw chicken, 1.626kg. Half a packet of paxo stuffing, three potatoes and half a courgette came to:

  • Chicken: £5.
  • Potatoes: £0.30.
  • Stuffing: £0.50
  • Courgette: £0.52.
  • Gravy: £0.20.
  • Carrot: £0.10 (a big carrot).
  • Leek: £0.46.
  • Baby corn: £0.80.

Now, some of these I am going to cook together in my combination microwave. I slice up the courgette, make up the stuffing (225ml of boiling water), quarter the potatoes (I don’t bother peeling them but next time I will), and put a little fat (about 15ml of oil) in the bottom of a glass roasting tray. I stuff the chicken and put that on top of the veg, upside down.

According to the instruction book, my chicken should take 45 minutes to cook at 190C for the convection oven and a simmer for the microwave power. 45 minutes to cook half a meal at a power rating of about 1.5kW, so that’s 31p or £0.31 to cook half the meal, plus £0.07 to make the stuffing: if I were just doing that, the meal would cost £0.38 to cook. I set the timer and a 20 minute timer to remind me to flip the chicken half way through the cycle.

So I can have cheap gravy, I’m doing a few veg on the hob – the left over water will be used to make the gravy. I need 250ml for that, so after 40 minutes I boil up 300ml of water to cook the vegetables, the carrot, leek, and baby corn. I measure out two teaspoons of gravy and put that in a pyrex jug and place it in the sink. Once the pinger goes on the microwave, the water used to cook the vegetables will go onto the bisto gravy and make a tasty and nutritious gravy.

I wait to turn the chicken and I have to say it’s all looking good. Once I have 12 minutes left of the times, I heat the water for the vegetables and add the carrots. I wait until the timer says 7 minutes and add the corn and the leek goes in with 4 minutes left on the clock. I’ve had the plates warming on top of the microwave to ensure I have hot plates for no extra cost. The vegetables are being cooked on a halogen hob: so not the most efficient but I’m not heating much water and I keep the lid on. I’m guessing £0.21 and my smart meter confirms that.

The cost of cooking my meal for three adults has been:

  • chicken, potatoes, stuffing, and courgette: £0.38.
  • Vegetables and gravy: £0.21.

That’s £0.51 to cook a roast meal plus the £7.88 to buy the food: I could have sourced the food from somewhere cheaper rather than Waitrose – at Aldi, the same meal would have cost £3 from Aldi, but cooking the meal is not the expensive part. For three people, the meal I cooked at £8.39 works out at £2.80 per plate.

It would have cost at least twice that to cook in a conventional oven, but then I could have cooked the vegetables in the oven at the same time and still had the boiling water for the gravy, the cost then would be around £9 or £3 a plate.

A delicious meal for £2.80, half eaten. If we’d been careful, it would have cost £1.60.

Now, we have meat left over for two to three meals if I’m careful about measuring it out.

Left overs for other meals.

And I use the bones to make my own chicken stock – again in the microwave, from the bones and a few left over veg from the meal. Materials wise, it’s about £0.25 extra on top of the leftovers and cooking in the microwave is about £0.07. It tastes great and makes a really cheap soup for two or three people.

A cheap home made chicken stock for home made soup.

Food is more expensive, electricity, and fossil fuels are more expensive, but nutritious cooked food to sustain life is not that expensive, if you can make your own food at home. A microwave that would do this at this cost is £125 from Argos, if you don’t have one already.

If you’re game, you don’t need the combination one – my family cooked whole chickens by microwave in the 1980s. Not quite the same crispy skin but extremely cheap cooking, which is why we were having it. Instead of 12 minutes per 450g, you are looking at 4-5 minutes per 450g. That’s dropping the cost of cooking down again. Of course, you are not going to get roast potatoes done at the same time, and vegetables places in the mircowave will add to the time. But that is cheap cooking for many people.

A single function microwave costs £45, which is a generous Christmas present from a parent.

I want to know what the other meals are?!

Oh, sorry. The three meals are: chicken and mushroom risotto (can be done cheaper with just basmati rice), chicken pie – a chicken stew with a puff pastry top, and either chicken curry (tikka masala) or chicken pasta a la Genovese.

The stock I’ll use for a stilton and celery soup.

Am I understanding this bill in the right way?

We buy our gas and electricity from Ovo and our water from Anglian Water.

Nothing unusual about that, but like many, I am paying close attention to our bills as they come through. Many are struggling and all my energy company seems to want to do is put me on a fixed tarrif that is so much more expensive than the floating rate.

Having come of a good fixed rate last March, we had already made the decision to let our bills float. That does mean the price is going up each month (or so it seems) though not by more than a few pence an unit. We’d ended our fixed rate with a credit balance (i.e. we’d over paid) with our supplier which seemed to indicate we could ride out the next 18 months or so. Having made that decision, we stuck to our guns.

Now, like many, our supplier is feeling a bit twitchy and keeps suggesting we up our £100 direct debit to £375!!! That’s quite a hike, bearing in mind before Christmas last year, our monthly energy payments were £5 a month. We put it up voluntarily to hedge against energy inflation.

So we waited for this month’s bill with a little bit of caution – had we done it all OK?

So far, so good. We paid £5 for our electricity usage (largely thanks to a dull April, but that covers our EV, cooking, some water heating (again dull April), entertainment, lighting, fridge/freezer, vacuum cleaner, floor steamer, iron, lawn mower, hedge trimmer, washer, dryer, and electric garage doors and toilet (don’t ask)) and £67 for our gas (heating and hot water), all in, VAT and everything. Which means with our £100, our credit has increased by £30 ish.

What do I mean by cooking? Well, we have a bread maker, toaster, kettle, coffee maker, and a food processor so we make much of our food from scratc, either on the hob, in the oven or microwave. Where possible, if we’re doing something small, I use the microwave.

Cooking with radio waves

Let’s run the numbers. For lunch today, I had a salmon fillet. I could bake that in an oven at 200C for 20 minutes or so, plus the 10 minutes to warm up the oven. Let’s say our oven is efficent at 5kW and once it gets to temperature, doesn’t use very much energy to keep it warm (an A+ oven). 10*5/60 to give us kWh or electrical units or 0.83 kWh, at 27.48p a unit, that fish dish has cost me £0.23p to cook.

In the microwave, the same fish takes 1 minute 40 seconds – it was perfect by the way.

Now, the microwave is running 1000W (1kW) for 100 seconds, that’s approx. 0.02kWh or units or £0.01p to cook. That a factor of 23 times more efficient and that was assuming our cooker was god like in its efficiency – most are not.

Now, over cooking in a microwave leads to horrible tasting food, so you have to get it perfect. But I love it for fish and fresh vegetables. If you can afford it, a combination microwave and oven gives the best of both worlds. Quickly cooked foods that are charred. I personally like a microwaved baked potatoe (about £0.05p to cook) though my husband prefers the combination (about £0.10p to cook) in about 12 minutes for two potatoes. That still beats the oven’s hour and shall we say conservatively £1.29p to cook?

Scrambled eggs are no brainers, asparagus from the garden in seconds, done to perfection. I even do a chocolate sauce in the microwave.

A roast chicken can be put with carrots, leeks, peppers, potatoes. Some microwaves have a “whole roast chicken” setting, so just set the weight or following the instruction book. If I do a 1.5kg chicken, I’d do it at 190C convection cooker and microwave power simmer for 40 minutes, no preheat, as I’d cook it for 12 minutes per 0.45kg. With the veggies done at the same time! I would need to flip the chicken half way through but at £0.50p to cook the bird, it would be worth the effort.

Happy zapping 🙂

Actually, I’ve just been made redundant, how does this help me?

You’re in the UK, so if you’ve got 2 months redundancy pay coming, this is your strategy.

One: sign on for job seekers allowance (JSA) – and put the redundancy money in the bank. That’s going to cover your mortgage for 3 months. Job seekers allowence can be claimed even if your partner has a job – you have paid national insurance, so you’ll get £77 a week if you’re over 25 years old, £61.05 if you’re less than that. Once that’s sorted, look for another job.

Your £61.05 a week is to pay bills and buy food – you can’t go crazy on it, but if you’re the only wage earner it is enough to feed a family of 3 and pay for water, electricity, and gas. Your redundancy money will pay the rent. It’s summer, so you can afford to watch the TV if you share the experience. Mobiles are luxuries, can you cut down to one or two in the family, please? If not, can you switch to a cheaper plan?

If you don’t have a microwave, and can afford it, get a combination one. £200 if you shop around – get one which you can fit a roast chicken for your immediate family. You’re not looking for fancy features, just something that will allow you to all have one hot meal a day without breaking the bank.

Job hunt, cut any direct debits you can, but keep life insurance, car insurance, and house insurance. You need them more than ever right now. Your rent then heat, light, and water come next. Then food from JSA – it will cover the first 3 months, so with your 2 months of savings (you should be sitting on two months worth of savings for each wage earner), you should be able to ride out this lean time.

Look at your car and other motor vehicles. Can you put them off road? Public transport is expensive but less pricy than petrol, road tax, servicing, and insurance.

Good luck x

A complex picture when it comes to determining insulin doses

Being a type 1 diabetic for 44 years and 8 months has given me a unique view on how insulin works in the body. But it’s not the same as studying the subject in a lab.

One thing I learnt 4 years ago was that insulin binds to potassium. I was aware insulin was used in the treatment of hyperkalemia or high potassium levels in the blood as a vague background piece of information but it never occurred to me until I described how some of my hypos (low blood sugar) were making me feel: my heart would speed up and feel jittery for want of a better term. It wasn’t a heart attack or anything but definitely, things were not happening they way they had been.

Insulin binds to glucose and helps it pass through cell walls to provide energy. It also binds to potassium: but potassium is the mineral that helps the heart to function well – so if insulin binds to potassium in the blood, it is depriving the heart of the fuel it needs to keep its rhythm.

But that explains a few things – why bananas, despite not being hugely sweet have such a large insulin requirement. Insulin is not clever, it will bind to glucose but it doesn’t do that in preference to anything else, so if there is potassium, it’s 50:50 where the action is happening. Potatoes have a similar issue.

Cut the potassium then?

No, as I said, this is a vital mineral, not just for the heart. Nerves like to be bathed in it to help repair them and keep them healthy. Bones are stronger and muscles repair better – the heart is effectively a muscle. Many foods with potassium have other useful vitamins and minerals, promoting great nutrition.

However, for the type 1 diabetic body, insulin doses possibly need to include consideration of the potassium in the food.

The Micawber Principle

I don’t normally use capitals in titles, this isn’t a tabloid newspaper, after all, but proper nouns need that distinction…

Eh? What?

The Micawber Principle is this: expenditure less than income gives happiness, expenditure greater than income is penurary, as per https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Micawber_principle.

This is a universal truth no matter religion, upbringing or income. Living within your means is a peaceful way to live. Some religions and philosophies say you should never, ever borrow. Everything should be done by saving up and then buying. Great to do, if you can, but that assumes you have somewhere to live already that doesn’t need a big deposit and furniture and linens etc.

So, some debt at some points of your life are unavoidable. The trick, according to many, is to sort out your debt as quickly as you can. The only debt you should ever, really have is for your mortgage. Given that focus, let’s do some basic sums.

Expensive debt

Some debts are more expensive than others. Anything that is more than 2% over the Bank of England base rate is by its nature, expensive debt.

Day to day, we encounter this debt through (in no particular order): store cards, credit cards, and of course, overdrafts, and car loans.

Any of these you are paying interest in need to be “prioritised”, i.e. make savings to pay these off (also called settling the debt). Most of these you can agree an amount to pay them off or potentially consolidate in a single loan.

Luxuries

OK, this is the depressing bit when you have debt. Little treats are expensive: alcohol, cigarettes, petrol not for work, an adults clothes, adults shoes, cinema tickets, chocolate, any food cooked by a business, any ready meals, sugary or diet drinks, sugar, crisps, snacks, etc. The best bit about these savings though are the fact that you can live without them. Tea and coffee made at home is a fraction of the cost of the same drink in a cafe. When you have a little spare money, buy a flask. Biscuits are not nutritially useful, so are luxuries.

Swap alcohol at home for fruit juices: still pricy but with vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy. Squash is less beneficial than fruit juice but way better than carbonated drinks in terms of cost. Limit the use for during meals. Water is cheap out of a tap between meals.

Crisps are expensive for the nutrition you get. Nuts are expensive but way cheaper than meat. If you’re having a couple of vegetarian days a week, nuts can make up for the protein you are potentially missing.

You are unlikely to need a bath or shower every day. You need shampoo and soap – these are not luxuries but there are different price points for these and you don’t need to wash hair everyday. Don’t blow dry – wash hair in the morning and let the air dry it. A longer style only needs cutting every 3-4 months as opposed to 8 weeks.

You need deodourant and toothpaste. These are essential.

Spending strategies

This works wonders and after I graduated and was buying my first house, this is what I did with my wages – I was paid monthly, but I used to do this when I was paid weekly too.

Take out the money you have for the month as cash. Never take out your plastic cards when shopping instead take a weeks’ worth of budgeted money and keep that in your wallet – this is what you are using for your groceries, etc. When the money for that week is gone, you can’t spend anymore. If you have any left, you can use that to put towards something for that month or as emergency money.

Physical money is very easy to keep track of: it’s immediately obvious when you are paying for something. It is slower, but if you are settling big debts, this is magic. It also allows you to protect the money for the rent/mortage, council tax, and of course, water, electricity, and gas bills. They sit in your bank account and do the work for you.

Kids clothing is the hard one, they grow and that can be unpredictable. Secondhand is a god send, school jumbles, charity shops. These are all great sources of cheap clothing. If you’re handy, knit childrens jumpers, gloves, and hats – an adults woolen jumper can be recycled when worn out into a child’s one. Every winter term, my mum would take a Sunday afternoon to make wooly hats and gloves. Mittens are significantly cheaper, simpler, and quicker than gloves. Use scraps to make pom-poms. If buying secondhand coats for the winter, ski gear is amazingly warm and you can often get trousers which can be a boon when the temperatures plumet. A secondhand coat and salopettes are around £8. If you are really lucky, they’ll match too.

Don’t be tempted to buy more than 2 sizes too big. Kids grow but not that quick. Young children may see two or three winters out of a coat, but teenagers might not.

Portion sizes

If I have one tip, it’s this. 50g of dried pasta or rice per person is a portion. Same with potatoes. Keep potatoes in the fridge, about 4C. Large bags from a grocer or supermarket are cheaper than buying for a day – depending on the size of the family, work out how many meals will be covered. A 5kg bag of rice lasts for 100 portions – how long that lasts depends on how many grown ups you have. Anyone over 12 is eating grown up portioons. Children 5-11 are eating half to three quarters, kids under that, about a quarter.

Don’t be tempted to cook then reheat food. You’re paying twice to cook it. Only make too much if it’s a cold item (like a salad) or you are storing it before cooking it. I do this with pasta.

Left-over meat is the exception, roast dinners are brilliant for providing protein for more than one meal.

Big pieces of meat are the way to buy and then follow the roast on Sunday, stir fry or stew Monday, mince on Tuesday. That’s three meals. A £8 joint is looking a bit more worthwhile. Apart from poultry (chicken), we separate out the meals before doing the roast. A set of scales and a knife and that’s cheap eating. Fresh veg are cheaper than frozen. Keep veg in the fridge and a bag of potatoes can last six weeks. Look out for offers, especially on a Friday or Saturday evening or Monday when things didn’t get sold on Sunday. Peel, wash, and process them yourself – loose veg are cheaper than prepackaged.

Don’t buy mince beef – quorn is incrediably cheap, tasty, and a source of protein. Chilli, bolognese, and pies (shepards and pastry) are very good with quorn. It does need freezing and typically cannot be bought in bulk but such a great way to make money spread further.

Shop once a week. Chips are expensive to cook, because you need to cover them in oil and oil is more expensive than water. Stews are amazing in terms of cost and only need 20 minutes or so to cook for a good bit of meat. A tougher cut may need a little more. With veg, 20-30g is enough per person. Rabbit is cheap but doesn’t contain much is the way of useable nutrients, so best avoided more than once a month, especially for children.

Milk is more expensive than petrol typically but essential for children – if you are eating meat, you can get all the calcium you need from other sources. Plain yogurt is much cheaper than sweetened yogurt. Buy some fruit for the kids and make you own from your supermarket’s own brand plain yogurt. From Tesco’s, 500g of plain yogurt costs £0.85p. Seasonal fruit or even jam can be used to flavour it: that’s a do it yourself Muller fruit corner for a bargin – strawberry jam is £0.90 for 454g for many portions where-as a Muller corner is £0.50p a pop.

500g of yogurt at £0.85 and a pot of jam for £0.90 and you have 10+ portions for less than two Muller corners…