Grow your own and shrink your food bill
The cost of the weekly food bill has rocketed in the past year and families are having to cut back dramatically to afford the necessities.
To combat this, many people are looking at new ways to cut their weekly grocery bill, with research from Which? showing that 24% of Brits have started to grow their own fruit and vegetables. But can this really save you money?
"The recession has encouraged people to return to the process of making do and although not everyone can or wants to emulate the good life, it is possible for everyone to grow at least one variety of edible produce and enjoy a sense of satisfaction," says author of the blog Girl With a Spade and grow-your-own enthusiast Bianca Rowland.
"Potatoes are good for beginners, they need minimal upkeep if planted in a grow bag and you just need to ensure you top up the green shoots with soil and eventually you'll have a treasure chest of potatoes to dig up," she says.
SHORT ON SPACE?
If you don't have much space, a balcony, patio or even a windowsill can be used to grow pots of fruit and vegetables or a herb garden. Renting an allotment could also be an option. Liz Mcinally, spokesperson for the National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners, says:
"Prices depend on both your location and the facilities available, for example, a plot may be more expensive if it is near to running water or fenced off."
But while you have to pay for an allotment, Rowland says: "After the initial time and effort spent, you will reap the rewards and ultimately save money." To apply for one, you need to speak to your local council to find out if it has any available. You might have to sign up to a waiting list - in urban areas, the wait can be up to two years. More information can be found at nsalg.org.uk.
If you can't get hold of an allotment, there may be a local community gardening scheme available. It should be listed on your council's website. If not, you could try the nationwide scheme Landshare (landshare.net). This works by matching spare land with people who want to grow their own fruit and vegetables and it has nearly 70,000 members.
To join, sign up on the website and post a listing saying where you are and what you're looking for. Once you've found a match, you will need to fill out an agreement form between you, the renter and the landowner, which is provided on the website. There are also local group listings on the site where people can swap skills, seeds and food.
BUY DIRECT FROM LOCAL PRODUCERS
If you don't fancy growing your own, another way to cut costs is to buy direct from local producers - bypassing the extra costs added by the supermarket. Fifth-generation farmer Anthony Davison set up Big Barn (bigbarn.co.uk) 12 years ago. His website connects customers to local producers.
"Essentially, the website gets people out of the supermarket and shopping locally, where food is fresher, cheaper and better," he says. The website shows you the closest local producers to you. It also lists local farmers markets and there's even an online marketplace where you can buy direct from the producer for food to be delivered to your door.
And prices remain low. For example, the website advertises six free-range eggs for £1 - much cheaper than Tesco's free-range eggs that cost £1.66. There's also the opportunity for people to use the ‘Crop for the Shop' scheme on the website, which allows consumers to become producers and find local shops to sell what they have grown using a live map.
REAR YOUR OWN
Growing or buying locally produced fruit and veg is not the only way you can cut that food bill. Celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsay both reared their own chickens and pigs – and if you've got enough outdoor space and time this is something you could do.
For example, for a small donation of around £4 you can adopt an ex-battery farmed hen from the British Hen Welfare Trust, which will then provide you with fresh eggs. However, this does take a lot of work and you need to have enough space to house the hens and be able to afford their food and maintenance. More information can be found on the website bhwt.org.uk.
It's practically impossible to avoid the supermarket completely. However, with some careful planning and organisation, it is possible to cut out some of the supermarket costs and gain the satisfaction of enjoying your own produce.
FIVE TIPS ON LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
1. Swap produce with neighbours
If you end up with an abundance of one type of product but nothing else, you could try food swapping with your neighbours. Alternatively, vegswap.co.uk helps you to swap your homegrown or homemade produce.
2. Plan your gardening
For every month in the year, there is something you can be doing in your garden to help get the best possible harvest of food. Check out gardenadvice.co.uk for expert advice through the seasons.
3. Swap seeds online
Seeds are cheaper if you buy them on offer at the end of the planting season. You can also try seedswaps.com, which is a free seed-trading website that puts you in touch with other gardeners.
4. Start small
Herbs such as mint or lavender are easy to grow, will spread quickly and can be grown on a balcony or sunny windowsill.
5. Buy second-hand
Cheap plants and seeds can be picked up at school fairs, car boot sales and farmers' markets in your local area where you can get your hands on a bargain