Every month or two I have a week where I aim to live on £10, and I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few readers joining in with me. It’s always a very useful way to get your finances back on track if you need to make some quick savings.
It started out as ‘Fiver Week’ (trying to get by on just £5) in 2009 but that was a little scary because it was so restrictive, so the budget soon expanded to £10 and it became the Tenner Week we now know and love.
So, it is possible to live on £10 a week?
The answer is a resounding yes, but it’s important to be as prepared as possible, and most of us will have to step out of our everyday comfort zones and habits to achieve the goal.
Of course, the £10 budget does not include rent or household bills. In addition to this, it does not include transport to and from your place of work (if you have to commute then you shouldn’t do anything to jeopardise your job, and it’s rare to find a commute that costs less than £10 per week). It also excludes any money that you might have to spend on pets or kids, etc, and tickets or courses that you have already paid for.
The £10 covers your food, drink, entertainment and other personal spending for seven days. That includes tobacco, sorry smokers!
How to eat well on £10 a week
The priority spending for the week is usually going to go on food, so let’s concentrate on that for the moment. It’s always easier if you take stock of what you currently have, try to make some kind of a menu for the week, and think carefully before purchasing any groceries.
You can use Tenner Week to reduce waste. You are allowed – positively encouraged, actually – to use up anything that you already have. That includes leftovers in the fridge, stuff in the freezer and in the cupboards. Have a look at any flavourings you have too, to add variety and interest. If you grow your own vegetables or herbs then check what’s ready to pick from your windowsill, garden or allotment. Supermarket loyalty points can be used up too, if you’re stuck.
If you buy any groceries during the week, think about ways to prevent them going off. I usually freeze part of a loaf or some milk to make it last for longer without spoiling.
Should you have no food in the house at all, you can still get by on £10 to feed one person for the week. If at all possible, shop around – your best bet is to visit a local market for cheap vegetables to base your meals on, and maybe a few pieces of fruit. Carrots, onions and potatoes are a good start, and you can add a few other things that are in season for variety.
I find it’s best to avoid buying standard pre-packed supermarket fruit and veggies. If you must buy them from a supermarket, select the loose ones yourself, and buy only what you need. One exception is the ‘value’ bags of fruit, which often work out to be a good deal.
Protein-based foods tend to be on the expensive side, so think carefully about how to stretch them out:
- Cheap supermarket eggs and economy burgers / sausages / beef mince are an option, but you might not like the idea of them and it certainly isn’t a compulsory purchase.
- A decent local butcher or fishmonger should be able to recommend you some good value products if you explain your budget. The meat might need cooking for a bit longer (beef shoulder / shank or neck of lamb etc), such as in a casserole, and the fish might not be a type that you’ve cooked before (try red gurnard fillets if you haven’t already), but if you follow the seller’s advice you can end up with a really beautiful meal.
- Small amounts of cheese, ham etc from a deli counter can work out cheaper than buying the same pre-packaged stuff, provided you don’t go too upmarket. If you get strongly flavoured cheese etc, you also won’t need to use as much of it to get the taste.
- Other ways to get cheaper protein food include: dried beans and pulses, economy own-brand canned beans, tins of sardines / pilchards / tuna, plain frozen fish such as ‘white fish’ (usually these are coley fillets or similar) and small prawns, and offers on veggie burgers and veggie sausages.
Although it’s good to make a rough plan, it also pays to be flexible and a bit of an opportunist. Go round the shops and markets shortly before they close to get the best reductions, look out for special offers, and check out the bargain bin or shelf. If you’re shopping in a supermarket, ask around to find out what time they usually mark down their prices.
A few notes about carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet, so long as you have portion control, avoid the sugary stuff and include some of the less refined versions – and you can buy potatoes, rice, pasta, cous cous, bread and noodles cheaply. It is fine to base some of your meals around carbohydrates. If you have a local Italian deli, or a Chinese, Indian or Middle Eastern supermarket nearby then make a visit. Budget supermarkets and economy ranges are also worth a look – you can find noodles from 11p, pasta shapes from 24p, lasagne sheets from 30p and so on.
Try to make one or two of your evening meals really simple and easy during the week. For example, eggs or cheese on toast, or a baked potato with beans or leftover chilli can be tasty and filling, and they won’t need a lot of cooking. The reason I do this is to balance out the effort of preparation – I will spend more time cooking on some of the other evenings.
The £1 ready meal trap
It might be tempting to buy lots of economy ready meals, but I tend to avoid them myself. I’m not a big eater at all but I usually find that the portions are far too small for my liking, and I’d rather cook simple versions of everyday dishes like lasagne, hotpot, vegetable curry, pasta bake and fish pie from scratch. I like to know what’s going into them, and I honestly think it’s tastier and healthier nearly all of the time.
You can also make larger portions of most of these recipes and have some of it reheated the next day. You can also make some changes for variety – a plain Bolognese style sauce can go well with pasta on evening one, then the next night you could quickly add spices and kidney beans and have chilli and rice, or you could top it with mashed potato and bake up a speedy cottage pie.
Don’t forget that your £10 needs to include breakfasts and lunches, as well as evening meals and snacks. Porridge and own-brand cereals are an easy start to the day. Lunches can be trickier if you quickly get bored of sandwiches, especially if there’s no kitchenette where you work, but if you have access to a microwave then you can reheat leftovers or soup or do a quick baked potato.
Buying in bulk is usually best value over time if you’re going to use it all up, but during Tenner Week you are always looking at the bottom line for your spending. However, it might be possible to do some communal buying with flatmates, friends or neighbours and split the goods between yourselves to bring the cost down and leave you some money to buy other things. Or you could do some bartering or swapping if the people around you are that way inclined. You might also get the occasional freebie.
During an average Tenner Week I find it pretty easy to live off stored food, although I often end up buying some fresh milk and maybe one or two other things like some bread or fruit, or some sort of sandwich filling. Making a menu always helps, and I try to include as much variety as I can afford. I often end up eating more healthily than usual, as there are fewer opportunities to snack and I try to concentrate on getting my 5-a-day when I’m planning meals.
For drinks, I mostly have tap water, cups of own-brand tea and the occasional glass of (longlife) fruit juice. Sometimes the budget extends to a cheap bottle of wine or a beer or two, but unless you have a massive stockpile of booze then it’s going to be pretty difficult to exceed the recommended safe amount of alcohol.
Anyway, that’s how I try to eat well and live on £10 for a week. What do you think? Do you have any tips of your own to add for anyone who’s trying to stick to a tight budget?
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For loads more articles about Tenner Week and how to live well and keep yourself entertained on a budget of £10 for a week, please have a look through our Live on £10 section.