A thrifty mum has revealed how she manages to whip up gourmet meals at less than £1 a head by using yellow-sticker bargain items.
Helen Rosbotham says she can save around £2,000 a year and is keen to share her experience to help others.
The 43-year-old said she started money saving in her twenties, when she was a single mum to Freya, now 22, and Rose, 19.
Living in social housing and reliant on income support, there were times when she struggled to afford food, and so she began shopping in the reduced aisle to keep costs down.
Now, she has such an eye for a bargain that she scores her weekly shop for just £40 for her family of four – saving enough to buy a three-bedroom semi-detached home with her husband, bakery cook Steve, 48.
She estimates that this saves her around £40 a week and roughly £2,000 over the year.
She also enters competitions daily and has won a haul of goodies over the years including flights to New York, two televisions, and £1,000 worth of furniture.
Helen, a project manager, of Norwich, Norfolk, said, “When I was in my early twenties, I had nothing. It was really quite tragic.
“I remember one time, I had enough money for milk and one potato, and a little bit of frozen veg for my daughter. I went without meals myself sometimes.
“I remember getting quite upset that I could not get the shopping down to where I thought it should be. Prices kept going up and up and up, so I got into that mentality of having to figure out what I could make quick and cheap.”
Since then, Helen, who met her now-husband 13 years ago, has stuck to mostly reduced stock when doing her food shop.
She recommends shopping after 4pm, when supermarkets often begin slashing prices, and added that the best bargains can usually be found on weekdays.
In the past decade, she has doubled her income – but has not altered her spending.
Beyond yellow sticker-hunting, withdrawing a set amount of cash for groceries and mass-freezing bargains for later have also been key to her saving success.
And though she admits she was previously “clueless about cooking,” she now regularly rustles up restaurant-quality meals for her family for less than £1 a head.
She said: “ Coronavirus has definitely made a difference to what’s available in the reduced section.
“Sometimes, I couldn’t get the usual cheap stuff because it’d all gone off the shelves.
“But the challenge has made me a more creative cook. I’ll pick up whatever I can find and make a meal from it. We probably haven’t had the same meal twice in months.”
Some of her greatest triumphs to date include brie and caramelised onion tarts, homemade gammon-en-croute and shredded lamb samosas.
“I was quite impressed with myself, because the samosas were not something I would ever normally make. I used a massive piece of lamb that was reduced to £2.59, and added celery, onion, carrot and peas,” she said.
“The tarts cost me just over £3 to make four, and I’ve also made a hearty fish stew with some fish fillets I got for £2.18.
“That’s the other thing about doing your shopping this way – you end up trying different recipes and different ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily have made.”
Once Helen has done her grocery shop, she carefully plans meals for the next week to ensure she is not wasting any food, and also has “back-up” dinners in the freezer, just in case.
She added: “That helped the family instantly self-isolate when Steve’s NHS app told him to a few weeks ago.”
Regularly searching online for recipes, tips and tricks, some of Helen’s greatest inspirations are writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe, and Miguel Barclay – the brains behind the Instagram account One Pound Meals.
“Certainly, over the last few years, with the internet and with social media, it’s made me look up new ideas, and it’s helped keep me healthy too,” she said.
“If anything, this way of shopping has reduced my fat consumption and the naughty foods, because I just don’t buy them.”
Beyond her grocery savings, Helen also enters competitions daily, and wins “two to three prizes” every month.
“I’m a comper as well as a frugal cooker. I enter competitions as a hobby,” she continued.
“I started about 10 years ago, and within the space of a month, I’ve won flights to New York, a new mattress, and I won £1,000 worth of garden furniture all at the same time.”
Helen has also scored £100 worth of wine, two televisions, and a smartphone, which she won for posting her culinary creations on Instagram.
Her page – @helenshomecomforts – has almost 3,000 followers, who love reading her money-saving tips.
She said: “Everything in my Instagram photos has been frugally sourced, from the meals I make to the pale-wood ‘table’ I present them on – which is actually a piece of wallpaper!”
Looking back, Helen believes that frugal spending has transformed her life.
Her savvy spending meant that she managed to source everything for her wedding day – including her gown, which was £50 from eBay, bridesmaids’ dresses, which she sold afterwards for a profit, the newly-opened venue, and food for 80 guests – all for less than £3,000.
She even used a £1,000 British Home Stores voucher she had won for some of the trimmings, and included personal touches like hand-made goodie bags of toys for the children and baskets of hair-ties and poems for her bridesmaids.
She said: “People remember the little touches – it doesn’t matter that they don’t cost a lot.”
Helen has even passed her skills to her daughters – who she says spend three-quarters less on food than their university flatmates – as well as those she inspires through her Instagram page.
But she said: “Even though he works in a supermarket, Steve is absolutely useless at finding bargains! He works the early morning shift so is usually finished by the time the yellow stickers come out.”
“I feel proud when I look back on how far I’ve come. I just assumed I was going to be a single parent in social housing forever,” she concluded.
“I never thought I’d be able to have my own house, change my job and give the kids the treats I’ve been able to give them.
“I feel really lucky, and quite grateful in life in general.”