A thrifty shopper has cut her weekly food bill to half the national average by batch cooking two weeks’ worth of dinners at a time.
Retail worker Liane Wells, 32, often spends just £5 on the ingredients needed to make 14 meals.
Wells first started saving money on food when she and her husband, Ashley, moved to a house near a retail park in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, four years ago.
The home has a large M&S supermarket on its doorstep, which has meant Wells has been able to scoop up cut-price stock.
Wells now creates 14 portions of food at a time, or seven dinners for two, at less than £5 for the lot.
“Now I’m working longer hours, I batch cook more, but it’s been a life-saver. It’s such an inexpensive, easy way to eat. I’ll make 10 to 14 portions of a curry, chilli or stew for around £4 to £5,” Wells says.
Initially, Wells would just buy the cut-price food but said she couldn’t plan her meals too far ahead. “I soon learnt that if I went into the shop at around 5:30pm, staff were just starting to put out the reduced items. I was amazed by how much was on offer. I started timing my shops especially.
“While it meant I couldn’t plan ahead too much, as dinner would depend on what was on offer, I found it fun to challenge myself by thinking outside the box when deciding on a recipe.”
Then Wells found an entire community of fellow bargain-hunters online, who shared tips and hints about the latest deals.
She continues: “I learnt so much through other people. I’m not the chattiest person online, but everybody was lovely and friendly.
“I found out that supermarkets reduce their stock at different times. Some do it first thing, while others leave it to the end of the day when they have more of an idea of what will and won’t sell. It’s a bit of a fine art and took a fair bit of hanging around different shops to see what was going on – supermarket stalking, as I called it – but I soon worked it all out.”
According to eagle-eyed shoppers on MoneySavingExpert forums, most Asda stores put out their final reductions at 9pm, while Aldi and Co-op do so at 8pm and Sainsbury’s at 7pm.
Watch: How to make easy three ingredient pizzas
Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco start much earlier, slashing prices from the morning onwards – although the larger discounts materialise later on.
“Of course, it all depends on the closing time of your local store and what their managers choose to do,” explains Wells.
“That’s why it’s good to do a bit of research, so you aren’t wasting a trip to the supermarket.”
Since changing jobs to a role with longer hours this summer, Wells has relied less on supermarket bargains and more on batch cooking to keep costs down.
Timing her shops carefully, she still picks up reduced stock – only paying full price when she absolutely must – then rustles up a recipe to see her through the next fortnight.
Her favourite dishes are chilli con carne, Bolognaise, chicken curry and cottage pie with mustard mash.
Although her precise weekly food bill depends on what bargains she has bagged, it is usually around £25 to £30 – less than half the UK average which, according to recent figures from the Office of National Statistics, is £61.90 for a household of 2.4 people, without alcohol or restaurant bills.
“Sometimes we’ll spend more if we’re treating ourselves. I work to quite a strict budget,” she says. “I know some people get their shops cheaper, but Ashley and I are foodies.”
Now Wells wants to encourage more people to follow in her footsteps, which she hopes will, in turn, make them more mindful of food waste.
She said: “The amount of perfectly good produce that’s thrown away every single day is really sad. I wish supermarkets could at least give it away to homeless people or those struggling, so it doesn’t just end up in the bin.”
“There’s a whole community of us online who love bargain cooking and are more than willing to share hints and tips about where to find the latest deal. So, to anyone wanting to get involved, I’d say go for it.”
Watch: How to safely store your food