Eating on a budget

May 5, 2020

At Tully, we’re aware that many households were already living paycheck to paycheck before the Covid-19 crisis hit.

We want to be able to help you and you family manage in the turbulent times we’re living through. Here are some simple steps for figuring out how to budget for food and make a meal plan, so food shopping is more manageable.

Your Food Budget

  1. What is my new income?

    Lots of us are dealing with reduced incomes right now, so make sure you’re also aware of any benefits you may be entitled to and make an application. You can see our breakdown of financial support available from the government here.

    2. What are my bills?

      This involves your mortgage or rent, along with your household utility bills, car finance, phone bill, and subscription packages. You may have come to payment agreements with some priority costs, so take this into account. Travel and care costs would also normally be included here, but with the new restrictions on movement and interaction these may not be relevant to your current circumstances any more.

      3. How much do I have left over?

        Usually, we would use our remaining income for leisure and socialising, things like clothes shopping, going to the cinema, or getting a take away. However, with many restaurants closed, and it almost impossible to go to public spaces, it’s likely you’ll be spending less in these areas right now. It’s worth noting that if your future employment is uncertain, it may be worth trying to put some money aside each month for when the crisis is “over”, so that you have some funds if you need to spend time finding a new job.

        4. How much can I spend on food shopping?

          This of course varies with every household situation, and depends on income and how many mouths there are to feed. Try to be realistic about how much you need to spend to make sure everyone is taken care of, but also, especially if your income is uncertain, encourage yourself to give yourself a limited amount to spend at the grocery store, build a meal plan, and see how it goes in the first week. Take note of which recipes worked for you, which items you ended up not using or using a lot of, and what it’s useful to have in your pantry.

          For more money saving tips, please see Tully's post here.

          Meal Plan

          1. Make a list of meals your family likes.

          If you’re working from home or on reduced hours, there’s some extra time in the day now. This means you can experiment with dishes you maybe haven’t made before, so ask your flatmates, partner, or kids what they enjoy eating, and try to build a weekly meal plan that allows everyone either a favourite or something they’re curious about.

          2. Which meals share ingredients?

            Once you have a list of everything people like, try to build the weekly meal plan by picking out which meals share ingredients, which will limit how much you have to buy. This can include herbs, vegetables, or starch elements. You can also then choose which meals get made on which days based on whether certain shared ingredients are perishable, or which flavours and ingredients you’d rather mix up over the days instead of having all in a row.

            3. Which meals can be altered to share ingredients?

              If you’re planning to make a curry one night and a lasagna the other, what ingredients could be bought to be used in both? This most often refers to perishable ingredients like vegetable or meat, so that you don’t double up on ingredients and end up wasting things that don’t get eaten. You can also substitute ingredients that aren’t available for things in the fridge or pantry.

              4. Include your five a day

                Nutrition is really important right now, not just for physical wellbeing, but mental and emotional as well. Try to make sure you’re including protein, vitamins, and minerals in your meals.

                5. Reduce your meat purchases

                  Meat is often a default, but it’s not the only way to access protein, and is usually the most expensive part of our weekly shop. If you want to make a chili con carne, think of subbing in lentils for beef. Chickpea curries have all the flavour and nutrients of a meat curry. As a general rule, pulses and legumes are a great staple to have in the pantry, as they’re cheap, long-lasting, and versatile.

                  6. Limit Shopping on Unnecessary Items

                    Although crisps, sweets, and fizzy drinks can be very comforting right now, they hold little nutritional value and are expensive. Coming up with new snacks to make with your household can be a fun activity, like baking or making your own granola, but simple snacks like fruit, nuts and seeds are cheaper and more filling.

                    7. Make sure to account for leftovers

                      Whether this means planning to eat leftovers for lunch, or planning out meals so that you use leftovers in other meals, make sure you take this into account while making your meal plan. Roasting a chicken on a Sunday is a great example of this, as your can use any leftover meat in a casserole, pasta, or salad on the second day, and have the bones for stock to make soup or stew on the third.


                      Making large batches of meals and eating them over several days is a great way to save money on a week's groceries. You can also find discounts on food if you go shopping later in the day, when products that are going out of date are price reduced.

                      For more ideas on eating on a budget, please click on one of the following links:

                      The NHS

                      Sky News

                      Forks Over Knives

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