1. Shop with intent
The first thing to accept when it comes to sticking to a budget is that you’re going to have to spend some money, so when you do that, make sure you do it properly. Writing a shopping list is a great first step, even before you set foot into the shops. Write your list so that you have something to stick to, but also so that you can make sure everything on that list is versatile and can be used in more than one recipe. Canned tomatoes, for example, can become pasta sauces, soups and stew bases, while beans and chickpeas can stand in for one another to bulk up dishes. Noodles can be used in any kind of dish, too, so don’t feel like you need to have a specific kind to make a certain recipe. In these cases, don’t just buy two cans or one packet, buy a few extra so you don’t have to go to the shops every few days. Look out for package deals that allow you to buy a few at a good price. While you’re at it, keep a look out for deals on bulk meat. When you get home, divide the packet into portions that work for your cooking needs and freeze them separately. Buying bulk might feel like it only applies to dried goods, but it also applies here and it’s worth spending that little bit extra upfront so that you know you’re stocked up for at least a full week, if not more. The fewer trips to the shops, the less risk of spending unnecessarily.
2. Stock your pantry properly
In addition to buying in bulk, cleverly, make sure you’re stocking your pantry with necessary, well-priced items. With items such as olive oils, vinegars and mustards on hand, you’ll always be able to knock out a salad dressing to make fridge raids that much more interesting. But also consider stocking up on things like long-life cream so that you can make comforting creamy dishes on the cheap, too.
3. Don’t be afraid of the bargain bin
We all know that grocery stores play it safe with expiry dates and often something will be in great condition for a few days after its supposed sell-by date. When shopping, keep an eye out for anything marked down because it’s still going to be safe to cook. Look for things that are freezer-friendly in particular so you can pop them into the freezer as soon as you get home.
4. Reduce your food and money waste
Reducing food waste has always been important but when you’re cooking on a budget, it’s even more so. The freezer really is your best friend here as you’ll be able to preserve the life of some foods to cook at a later stage. Here’s a comprehensive guide to freezing food, but essentially bits of cheese, bread and dough, and even herbs, all freeze very well – especially if the alternative is letting them go bad and chucking them out.
Do you remember way back at the start of SA’s Covid-19 lockdown when it was difficult to get to the shops and you had to get creative when cooking? Well, it’s time to harness that creativity once again. Remember that most recipes are a well-written guideline and you don’t have to have the exact spice mix, cheese or even vegetables for it to taste good. Remember that collection of random cheeses in the freezer? It’s their time to shine, as most cheeses can be replaced with another. If you’re unsure whether something will work, think of the texture and/or cooking time. Anything with similarities will be good to go, such as swapping ricotta for feta or cauliflower for broccoli. Don’t be scared to play around here, and the more you experiment, the easier it will become. If in doubt, just keep an eye on anything in the oven and taste as you go.
Here are our favourite budget-friendly recipes (that you can still make your own with whatever you’ve got at home).
1. Four-bean curry
Beans will always be our go-to budget ingredient and this curry proves why. Feel free to use whatever beans you’ve got in the cupboard – even chickpeas would work just as well. Swap the green beans for any other quick-cooking greens, too.
Get the recipe for four-bean curry here.
2. Thai peanut noodles
Dry pantry goods do most of the work here, meaning this is not only a cheap meal but also one you can make when there’s nothing in the fridge. Use any noodles you’ve got to hand and top with any veggies – shredded carrots and cabbage, for example.
Get the recipe for Thai peanut noodles here.
3. Broccoli frittata
Frittatas are the ultimate vehicle for clearing out the fridge and freezer. Swap the broccoli for cauliflower, peas or even roast butternut and use any combination of cheese. Leave out the anchovies if you don’t have them.
Get the recipe for broccoli frittata here.
4. Minestrone with scarpetta
Minestrone, with its humble peasant origins, is a wonderfully filling dish that you can tweak to suit whatever you’ve got available. Use any pasta or beans you’ve got in the pantry and don’t feel like you need to use the exact vegetables listed.
Get the recipe for minestrone with scarpetta here.
5. Lamb stew with pasta
Lamb knuckles are a great value cut and a good way to satisfy a meaty craving on a budget. You could in theory swap the knuckle for any other braising cut, such as beef shin or lamb shoulder, just keep an eye on the cooking time.
Get the recipe for lamb stew with pasta here.
6. Sausage, butter bean and tomato tray bake with crispy röstis
Sausages and beans are great friends and here they come together to make an insanely delicious meal that won’t break the bank. Use any sausages you like or maybe have in the freezer, as well as any beans. Omit the röstis and serve with crusty bread.
Get the recipe for sausage. butter bean and tomato tray bake with crispy rostis here.
7. Pilchard crispy rice
Rice is a great thing to have in the pantry, as it’s easy to cook, cheap and filling. Here it’s gussied up with pilchards and a bit of spice to create a delicious, interesting pantry-based dinner. Use whichever spices you’ve got and swap the pilchards for sardines, or leave them out entirely.
Get the recipe for pilchard crispy rice here.