Chapter 5: Staying Alive

Footnote: Having to Halve Our In-Work Food Costs

Food is the most fundamental need of life. Yet nowadays, the amount one has to spend on it is the only item in one's household budget which it is pos­sible to squeeze. Most other household costs are fixed and mandatory. This is very dangerous to health for all those who are forced to exist on State welfare.

In the spring of 1991 our supermarket food bill was more than the whole of what we had started to received in State welfare. We had to at least halve it.

Family Food Bill 1993-94
The Basics£1809.41 60%
Processed food£735.30 25%
Extras£445.78 15%
Total £2990.49 100%
This was a great shock to our household. But we persevered. As a result, by the end of the financial year 1993-94 we had managed to reduce our family's spending on food + soap, toothpaste and other non-edible essentials to the amounts shown in the adjacent table.

Our household and consumables budget of £2990.49 for the year 1993-94 normally had to feed four persons. Two of these were growing teenage boys. This worked out at £2.05 per person per day. However, during that year our daughter was at uni­versity. She had a grant which just covered the cost of her full-board in halls. It did not cover holidays. Being a student, she was not eligible for any form of State wel­fare. So, during university holidays, she had to live with us. If we informed the DSS, they would actually have reduced our amount of welfare because she was an adult of 23 living with us, whom they would have assumed either to have a job or be claiming welfare. For the duration of the university holidays, therefore, our food budget had to provide for five people. That is less than £1.64 per person per day! Also, during school holidays, our sons do not get free school meals as they do during term time. During the holidays, their main meal of the day also had to come out of this miserly £1.64 per person per day.

The Basics 1993-94
street market (veg & dairy) £807.04
fresh bread £146.76
fresh/frozen meat+chicken £177.17
fresh dairy items £144.51
fresh fruit & veg £58.97
beverages tea coffee choc £144.42
cook/bake ingredients £62.31
drinks (fresh) £8.95
wash/clean/toilet items £231.11
medical items £11.32
hardware £16.85
Total £1809.41

We have the misfortune to live in one of the most expensive commuter areas of South East England. We had to maximise the amount and quality of food we could buy with the minuscule amount of money we had available. Our health directly de­p­ended on it. There was no room for hear­say on prices. We had to find them out for our­selves by direct precise monitoring. We found that compared with street markets, supermarkets are very expensive. Conven­i­ent as one-stop sources of everything for those who could afford their prices, but far too expensive for us to use as our main source. Therefore we bought our basics from the street market which visited our town on Thursdays. The table shows what we spent over the year.

Processed Food
meat & fish products £179.71
dairy processed £171.83
tinned fruit & veg £42.76
table preserves £80.13
beakfast cerials £172.56
bakery products & biscuits £88.31
Total £735.30
But food is much more than mere body fuel. There is a psychological aspect to eating a family meal. This requires a degree of vari­ety in the type of food presented. Because of her illness, my wife has a limit as to how much she can do. It therefore seems more than justifiable to buy a small amount of pre-processed food to make the preparation of the occasional variety-rich meal a prac­tical possibility. To this end we spent some of our money on processed food, as shown in the adjacent table.

Those Little Extras
packaged meals & deserts £199.83
drinks (cordials) £83.41
drinks (gassy) £36.38
wine £3.04
chocolate & sweets £123.12
Total £445.78
Being at school, our sons were very closely coupled to the norms of the society around us. They were aware of what their peers normally ate and drank. If they were not able to experience the same, then they would be excluded. At least, they would suffer a definite feeling of exclusion, which would not be good for them emotionally. We therefore allocated the amounts shown in the table to those little 'extravagant' extras which their peers enjoyed.

Our £2990.49 food budget for 1993-94 excluded milk. With four people normally in the family, two pints of milk a day is the minimum we can get away with. We cannot reduce further our milk bill without having to buy powdered milk products from the supermarket. Hence we also need 730 pints of milk a year. During the year 1993-94 this cost £277.40. Furthermore, the above includes only our docu­mented spending. It omits many essential purchases from various shops in the town from time to time.

Further Tightening

Spending on food is the first area of the domestic budget over which we have direct and immediate control. It was therefore the first area in which I tried to tighten the belt even further whenever money had to be saved quickly in order to meet a short-term emergency. To do this, it was not practical to reduce the general food intake. The only effective way was to fast for short periods. But going without food to save money is a bad idea. The effects are not what the uninitiated would supp­ose.

There is an initial feeling of hunger, but this quickly passes. The first real experi­ence of thorough unpleasantness is an all-pervasive headache with a constant hissing in your head. You get used to this after a time and notice the convenience of never having to use a toilet. Your breath stinks. But the real killer is the onset of a creeping mind-numbing lethargy. Thoughts are fleeting and disconnected. You cannot think cogently and you just couldn't care less. You are a zombie. You have joined the living dead. Even the ½ km walk to sign on at the Jobcentre is a gar­gantuan task which you can no longer contemplate. Take it from me: cutting food below our present level is not a viable way to save money or meet some short-term emergency.

Parent Page | © July 1994 Robert John Morton