Looking Forward

Stuff that matters

Carer Nicole Olivia James works tirelessly to help other people, and she loves her job and those she looks after.

But the income from doing what she’s passionate about isn’t much, and after paying bills she’s left with just £24 – which means she has to be extremely strict when it comes to budgeting.

The 25-year-old, from Pembrokeshire, Wales, has come up with ways to save the cash, and managed to feed herself for just £5 a week – and her weekly menu is still delicious.

She manages to feed herself and her cats for just 80p a day, and she’s often left with change.

Thrifty Nicole ditched pricey branded items for cheaper alternatives and opted for vegetables like carrots, and 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.

She said: “I was living in that situation for about two years, it was not easy and I wouldn’t wish that stress on anybody.

“It’s really easy to fall into that kind of situation and super hard to get out, but it is possible.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

Nicole’s favourite recipes
Cornbeef hash
Boil potato mash with butter and a little cheese, mash in the corn beef and top with cheese, serve with beans or veg and gravy.

Tomato tuna pasta bake
Boil pasta until almost cooked, then add sauce, sweet corn and tuna (can add anything to bulk it out) top with cheese and bake.

Vegetarian soup
Cut up all your vegetables (unpeeled) into chunks, fill a pot with water to just cover the veg, add 2tsp mixed herbs and two chicken stock cubes and one vegetable stock cube.

Let it boil until soft. Can be served chunky or blended with a dash of cream.

You can also cut one potato into very, very small bits as this will thicken the soup as it boils.

Tomato garlic pasta
Cook pasta, add two tins of chopped tomatoes, 2tsp mixed herbs, 2tsp easy garlic, one beef stock cube cook and reduce down until a little thicker.

Pizza toast
Get a slice of bread, cover it in tomato paste, sprinkle mixed herbs (can add garlic powder) and top with cheese. Then grill for 10 minutes or until golden.

Nachos with left-over chilli
Layer left-over chilli with chips and cheese.

Add pork, kidney beans or mixed beans along with two tins of chopped tomatoes, sweet corn, carrot (anything you need to use up ). Then add chilli flakes or easy chilli, garlic and salt into a slow cooker for four hours.

Left-over chilli can also be used in wraps, topped with chilli and cheese.

Lasagne bulked out with lots of cheap veg or salad
I used left over bolognese layers in pasta sheets and cheese sauce (packet) topped with cheese, and baked [with vegetables].

Home-made burgers
I would buy a big tray of mince for spaghetti bolognese and use half the tray to make burgers.

Mix mince, one egg, onions, 1tsp mixed herbs, salt and pepper into a bowl, make patties and refrigerate before cooking.

I served mine with left-over bits of bacon in reduced rolls that I toasted.

Chicken pasta soup
Cook chicken and onions. Cut all your veg chunky, and add together in water until it’s just covering the ingredients. Then add two chicken stock cubes, salt and pepper, 2tsp of herbs and boil.

Add pasta, serve when cooked.

Sunday dinners
Bulk Sunday dinners with mash or veg and only have a small amount of meat, it will save money.

“Adding food that you have left over or need to use up is great. So if I had veg looking a little limp I would make soup and pile everything in, even cabbage.

“Smaller portions of the main event and bulk out with cheap veg will make the meal go further and make you fuller for longer.”