A carer who survived on just £5 per week for food has shared top tips on how to create cheap meals on a tiny budget.
Over a period of two years, Nicole James, 25, from Pembrokeshire, Wales, was left with at little as £24 a month for food shopping (around 80p per day) when she wasn’t able to pick up enough hours to cover the cost of living alone.
But despite having very little money at her disposal, Nicole was able to prepare easy and delicious meals from scratch and still have extra change to spare.
Nicole James (pictured) from Pembrokeshire, Wales, was left with just £24 a month for food shopping for herself and her cats
The thrifty shopper ditched pricey branded items for cheaper alternatives and opted for vegetables like carrots as well as lentils, beans, pasta and rice to help bulk up her meals.
She would batch cook and make large portions to freeze and eat during the week, whipping up a variety of meals including stews, casseroles, Shepherd’s pie, pasta bakes, potato pies, spaghetti bolognese and chilli.
‘I was living in that situation for about two years, it was not easy and I wouldn’t wish that stress on anybody,’ she told JamPress.
‘It’s really easy to fall into that kind of situation and super hard to get out, but it is possible.
The thrifty 25-year-old ditched pricey branded items and instead opted for cheaper alternatives (Nicole’s roast dinner pictured)
She said it was best to use vegetables like carrots as well as lentils, beans, pasta and rice to help bulk up her meals (Nicole’s lasagne pictured)
‘I was working as a carer at the time and would work as many hours as I could.
‘Due to living alone, all bills would rely on my wage, so I had to do a lot of hours to cover costs.
‘I adored my job and my customers made everything worth it, they were family – I miss them all so much.
‘Unfortunately, the hours were not consistent so this would leave me short some months.’
Her top tip is to always write up a grocery list before going to the store and look for bargains wherever possible.
She said: ‘My favourite place to shop is Lidl and occasionally I would shop around for good offers.
Nicole (pictured), who had less than £5 to spend every week, said she ‘wouldn’t wish that stress on anybody’
Nicole said her vegetable soup (pictured) can be served chunky or blended with a dash of cream and added that you can add small chunks of potato to thicken the soup as it boils
Nicole would batch cook and make large portions to freeze and eat during the week (her tomato garlic pasta pictured)
‘Most weeks, I had less than £5 to spend and roughly just £24 left to last the month after paying all my bills.
‘This would have to include my budget for my cats too.
‘I was able to survive on such a small budget by batch cooking meals, cooking from scratch and reducing food waste by bulking out food with added vegetables or lentils.
‘I added grated carrot or lentils to anything with a sauce as it bulks out a dish without changing the flavour.
‘I also ditched more expensive brands for cheaper alternatives and most of them taste way better anyway.
‘If I ever had some spare change I would stock up on beans, pasta, rice and a few other tins including herbs, spices and stock.
Her top tip is to always write up a grocery list before going to the store. Pictured: Nicole’s pizza toast (left) and chilli wraps (right)
Tuna pasta bake and corn beef hash (pictured) were both among Nicole’s favourite recipes to bulk cook when she was on a limited budget
‘You can make any meal delicious with the right herbs and spices.
‘A few of my low-price meals would be packed with vegetables to create a balanced diet.
‘Stew packs from Lidl are only 89p and a bag of potatoes is £1, with that I would be able to make a meal last four to five days using just these two items.
‘I make a lot of stews, casseroles, Shepherd’s pies, pasta bakes, potato pies, spaghetti bolognese and chillies.
‘These meals are easy to make large amounts for cheap, meaning I could freeze them or eat them through the week.
‘I would adapt meals so that I wouldn’t get fed up. A couple of days before payday I would rely on my tins and dry food that I had stocked up on with my spare change.
‘My favourite meals would be either a Shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese or stews.
‘These meals are super filling and tasty️.’
Nicole recommended buying stew packs from Lidl for 89p and bags of potatoes for £1 (pie pictured)
Nicole said that it is important not to let food go to waste and would often use leftover chilli to top nachos
Even though she had very little money for food, Nicole would also cook for her neighbours and offer a helping hand to those struggling with food expense.
She said: ‘My neighbours’ children love my spaghetti bolognese and a friend of mine loves my creamy vegetable soup.
‘I love to cook for and help people when they are struggling. My neighbour is a single parent so it’s nice to be able to help where I can.’
Nicole’s living situation has now improved and she no longer shops on a small budget.
In a few words of advice to others who are struggling a budget, she added: ‘The message I would like other people who are struggling is – you are doing amazing and you should be proud.
‘This isn’t going to be for forever and you will come out the other side so much stronger.
‘There is nothing to be ashamed of and please do not be afraid to ask for help. Children will remember the memories you shared and the love you gave not the price tag of their childhood. Be proud that you are getting through it.’