After exhaustively polling family, friends, colleagues and PlayPennies parents I can now give you the definitive top five tips for saving money on food. Well, OK, by exhaustively polling I mean having a chat while watching the kids run around the adventure playground, and over a glass of wine on girls night out. But honest, a bit more research went into it than that.
The important thing though is that every time you chat to people about subjects like this, you find out something new. There were a number of tips that I'd simply either never thought of, or had no idea about. All in, it was a very informative experience.
It seemed like most of us tended to avoid the own brands. There's a bit of an assumption that these simply aren't going to taste good enough, or be of as good a quality as known brands. But on talking about this, nearly all of us had found one or two of the supermarket basic products that were just as good as the branded stuff.
All of the big supermarket's have these back to basics type of ranges, selling discounted products in plain wrapping. There's the Sainsbury's Basics, Tesco's Value and Morrison's Economy. Even Waitrose has one - its Essentials range.
I love the Sainsbury's Basics teabags. They make a lovely brew, at least I think so. However, for me the Basics hot chocolate is simply too yuck to bother buying. Whereas my son's best friend's mum has a secret addiction to the stuff.
The only way you're going to know if you can ditch the expensive brands for the cheap basics is to try. So go ahead, take a risk.
Tip 2: eat in season
I have always found this the most annoying piece of advice. Every time there's an article or a program on cutting back your food bill is to eat food that's in season. It's also a good idea to do this if you're trying to be environmentally aware.
It's not the eating seasonal food bit that annoys me. It is that no-one ever says HOW you do this! Am I alone in just not really knowing which fruit and vegetable belongs to which season? I know that I should really know this, but until this year when I went to plant a vegetable patch I had no idea that different types of potatoes had different growing seasons.
Which is a shame as food that is in season is generally cheaper. Buying out of season is more expensive as the produce has to either come from overseas or is grown in hot houses (which costs more).
But now I've found this website. Eat the Seasons will tell you what's in season, what is at its best, and what the seasons are for various types of fruit and veg.
Tip 3: look for alternatives to the supermarket
You can get a bargain in the supermarket, and it is convenient. But is it always cheaper?
The fruit and veg at the local market might not look as good, but chances are it tastes the same. Plus, it is often cheaper too. Although if you live in London you may find that the farmer's markets that spring up on odd weekends are actually a lot more expensive. My local bakery makes a gorgeous fresh loaf of bread for £2.50. A loaf the same size at the closest farmer's market to us costs £3.50. I couldn't really work out what the difference was to be honest. Neither of the loaves was organic.
My friend works in the city, and near her office a stall pops up on Friday of every week selling discounted cuts of meat. The cuts vary each week, as does the type, but it is always good meat and the stall is clean and certified.
There are also butchers and fishmongers that sell good quality meats and fish for less than you'd get at a supermarket. There's a fishmongers around here that nearly everyone I know goes to. The quality of the fish is well worth going that little bit of extra distance, and you get a lot more for your money than you do at the supermarket.
Tip 4: buy sensibly at the supermarket
When you do go to the supermarket it pays to be aware of the ways that these stores try to make you spend more than you intend to. Fellow PlayPennies writer Tamsin Oxford covered this in her feature Don't Let Your Supermarket Fool You.
The main thing to keep in mind is that supermarkets tend to put the stuff they want you to buy - which is the more expensive stuff - at eye level. So look at the higher and lower shelves for cheaper options and good deals and offers.
Know the prices of what you're buying. It sounds daft, but honestly it is surprising how many don't know how much a four pint bottle of milk costs. This is where the online sites of supermarkets come in handy. Even if you don't buy online, you can use it to build up a shopping list.
One thing to try is the comparison site My Supermarket. This gives you the prices for a particular item for each of the four big supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda and Waitrose.
Tip 5: do it yourself
Learn to grow your own food. Even if it is just a pot on the windowsill. It can save you a lot, especially if you want to go organic. Which is why I'm trying to grow potatoes. I'm quite concerned about the sorts of pesticides and chemicals that can get into our food, especially root vegetables like potatoes and carrots.
The Grow Organic Food site covers all the basics you need to know. I've used it to try and work out what the soil in my garden is best for.
Who knows, if it takes off I may be able to go self sufficient and never have a food bill again.
TOPICS: Fitness and Diet