Can you still feed a family for £55 a week?
Last January I found that it was possible to feed your family for £55, but the grim contents of the shopping basket meant you would only do it if you desperately needed to, perhaps because you've got little money left till payday.
I'm going to look at this again today, but this article isn't just for the desperate. This exercise teaches all of us some useful things about food and the price we pay for it.
What's in my basket?
It's not easy to choose a sensible basket of food on such a tight budget, but I got surprisingly few complaints last time, so I'm going to use the same basket to see whether the bare minimum could still be bought for the same amount. This gives us the added bonus of seeing how much food prices have gone up over one year.
You can see everything I put in my shopping basket in the table at the end of this article. You can also take a look at a seven-day meal plan for these groceries by checking out my original article from last year.
You can't do it for £55 any more
Adding up the items in my grocery basket for January 2013, it now costs £59, showing that we can no longer support a small family for less than £55. (Although some readers have already suggested dandelion leaves instead of lettuce. There is always a way.) Food inflation appears to have been around 7% over the past 12 months.
Which supermarket is cheapest?
There is less than £1 difference between Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco, with all three being within a few dozen pennies of £59. Supermarkets compete very keenly on price for all of these basic foodstuffs.
The only way to know which is cheapest for your own shopping basket is to compare for yourself, which you could do through mySupermarket.co.uk.
What do you get for a cheap diet?
You only have to glance through the shopping list to see the dire diet of mince meat and pasta that you might have to confine yourself to. It's pretty clear it wouldn't be much fun.
However, it could form the basis of anyone's diet, since it has pretty much all the nutrition you need, even if it's on the meagre side for a small family. The table demonstrates that, by buying the basics from the budget ranges, you might only need another £10-£15 to make the basket quite tasty and varied.
Unfortunately, the cheapest food is often the unhealthiest, particularly in terms of salt. Some of the cheese spreads, for example, have four times as much salt as other cheese spreads, with an absolutely massive 2g of salt per 100g of cheese spread. Say hello to an early death (or read what the NHS has to say in Salt: the facts).
You probably have to buy foodstuffs that aren't to your tastes too. I chose Dutch Gouda and Edam to keep the cheese price down, but these cheeses taste just like I imagine plastic does (I am not even joking when I say I'd rather eat the non-toxic wax wrapper on Mini Babybels than that brand of Edam cheese itself, given a choice).
What we can all learn from this
Whether you really need to cut back on spending or not, it always makes sense to at least take a look at the budget items. I thought I always did, but writing this article has shown me that I sometimes still unthinkingly go for well-known brands.
The cheapest tea bags from these three supermarkets cost around 1/8th the price of leading brands, for example. All three supermarkets' budget ranges cost 27p per 80 tea bags. With Sainsbury's even being Fairtrade, I won't be paying £2 for 80 PG Tips again.
Buying in bulk
It was very clear when comparing all these prices that you can make savings by buying in bulk, although occasionally the smaller packets were cheaper.
To see what value you're getting, don't just look at the headline prices. Look at the price per litre, price per 100g or price per kg. Sometimes you might instead be shown the price per item, e.g. per egg if it is a box of eggs.
Our austere shopping basket
Our austere shopping basket
*Last year's prices are based on Sainsbury's only
Data from MySupermarket
Aldi and Lidl were asked for their help with this article but failed to respond in time