I keep reading things at the moment that are making me think. I know, don't you just HATE it when that happens? Don't panic, it's likely to be a while before it occurs again...
The first "thinking thing" is assorted blog posts relating to this year's Live Below The Line Project - for those that don't know, this is a 5 day challenge to spend just £1 a day for ALL your food and drink. Tea, coffee, everything. I'm not taking part in this myself but have been interested to read what others have had to say about it. I also noticed on Twitter earlier on someone had retweeted something from someone else regarding a blog he had written - in which apparently he will tell the world why "Live below the line is a load of patronising s**t" - I've not bothered reading that one though - if he can't describe his blog post in an articulate manner without using what my old boss would have called "industrial language" then I'm sure I can't be bothered to read it either - it'll probably just be more of the same anyway.
So, going back to those blogs that are well enough written for me to want to read - one blogger in particular commented on the humiliation they felt when shopping on their very limited budget - they were shopping at independent shops and market stalls - a great way of ekeing out a small amount of cash - and felt really awkward buying based on "what they could afford" rather than "what they wanted to eat". The feeling from many is that the challenge of shopping like this made them feel poor, and they didn't like it. Now the interesting thing for me on this one is that it surprised me that people genuinely hasn't experienced this before as part of everyday life. Some years ago when MrEH and I were first together we spent some months living on a very restricted income - meaning that for a whole, after everything had been paid, rent, bills etc, we had around £10 per week (That's a WEEK, NOT £5 days!) to spend on food. At various times I am aware that my own parents have had to do similar, too. Oddly enough when you have to do it you feel very little of the humiliation that bloggers have described - it's just the way life is, and you quickly adjust to what you can afford and how to make that limited budget stretch. It was the point at which we started discovering cheap cuts of meat - neck of lamb, or the diced Mutton from our then (thankfully excellent) local butcher, both of which made excellent stews. Market stalls were also a lifesaver - as they get used to seeing you and get to know you your pennies stretch further and further and we often got a bit of extra "bruised" fruit or veg thrown in for nothing. £5 spent on the market stalls would net us several huge bags of fruit and veg - often the challenge was not avoiding being hungry, but managing to use everything up without waste! It was at that time when I learnt how to stretch a very small portion of minced beef a surprisingly long way, and that shopping seasonally, and buying what is plentiful, and cheap, really pays off. Oddly enough at no point during that time can I remember actually feeling as though I was going hungry, and at times we actually ate really well (Chicken Kiev's bought on reduction in Tescos, which were also on a BOGOF offer so we got paid to take them away, effectively, spring to mind!), and more importantly to me, it gave us skills that we could take forwards to ensure that our food spending even now is pretty low, and yet we eat excellently.
The other thing I have come across is a couple of bloggers attempting to live their lives without using Supermarkets - "A Year without Supermarkets" (@teampughblog on twitter) and "Eat My Pig" (@eatmypig) are both trying this experiment - the first for a year (although I have my suspicions that they will keep going for longer!) and the second as an ongoing thing. This provoked a conversation between myself and MrEH about just how tricky it would be for anyone in our local area to do something similar. The big Supermarkets have our town pretty much sewn up - and as a result the smaller independant shops have, one by one, all closed down. We DO have an independant local Bakery, whose bread is pretty good, and of course we have our truly excellent local Artisan Bakers - Mayfield Farm - too, who are a joy to shop with. For day to day bread and rolls we usually make our own in any event, but in order to make these anything like cost- effective we need to use Supermarket flour - we love the flour from local Millers Marriages, but at 4 x the cost of a bag of Supermarket stuff, it's an occasional treat rather than a regular purchase. We have nowhere we can buy local milk. We have no greengrocers - and although there are a couple of decent farm shops around the best of these is about 12 miles away - as against 2 miles for our nearest big supermarket. We do have a new and very good butchers opened up recently and we have started to use him for meat products - we've tended away from buying supermarket meat for quite a long while (other than bacon and sausages occasionally) but until recently all our local butchers have been extremely poor. It's frustrating - we'd love to be able to make less use of the big Supermarkets, but in practical terms, round here it's not just inconvenient, it's damned close to impossible. We probably do use them less than a lot of people - our Grocery account gets "fed" with £150 per month and over the course of the last year we have amassed about £900 of that as a credit balance - ALL our Tesco spending comes from this account too, so that's a reasonable indication of how much we actually do put through their tills - that also covers pretty much all our household cleaning items, dishwasher tablets and laundry stuff. I can make a conscious effort to buy more of our veg in the farm shop - and in the summer months we buy eggs and potatoes from our friendly campsite up in Norfolk, when we're there. This is something I want to explore in more detail though, so expect to see more discussion and maybe even more thinking in due course!
How much of your weekly or months food/household spend goes to the big players? Are you blessed with excellent local shops or, like us, are you tied to the "big 4"?