Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Accidental Guide To Enjoying Life While Unemployed – Part 2 – Eating & Drinking

Now that we’ve covered the basics of coping with unemployment, it’s time to move on to life’s visceral pleasures: eating & drinking. In this post, I’ve chosen to focus on cooking, dining out, coffee and wine, all of which I enjoy.

As I mentioned in Part 1, this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive guide to be followed step-by-step, and should be regarded as a supplement to help you enjoy life a little bit more than you may have been. An aide de vivre, if you will.

Feel free to spread the word to anyone whom you think would benefit from this. I’d also appreciate it if you would leave a comment, either sharing a tip or letting me know what you think.

Part 1 – The Essentials
Part 2 – Eating & Drinking
Part 3 – Keeping Fit
Part 4 – Expand Your Mind

Please note that I do not benefit from any of sites I have linked to unless explicitly stated.



Learn to cook

One of the simplest but most enjoyable ways to cut down on spending is by learning how to cook. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any knife skills to speak of or are convinced you’d burn water. The former can be learnt, the latter’s impossible to do, so don’t worry. Start off with something simple. In my case, it was either a spaghetti and prepared sauce dish or some kind of stir-fry. Both are incredibly easy to do, and, for the most part, tasty.

When you’re up to moving on to more complicated dishes, you’ll need a good place to go for recipes. Everyone has their favourite site. Mine’s BBC Good Food, because recipes are clearly lain out in terms of ingredients and timing, with each recipe being graded from ‘easy’ to ‘difficult.'

Another site that’s been recommended is Stone Soup, a site which contains recipes based around five ingredients and which can be made in ten minutes or less. It’s a great way to ease into cooking; once you’ve got a set of template recipes in your head, you’ll be able to start adapting according to the ingredients you’ve got available.

You don’t have to deal with the hassle of cooking for each and every meal. Cook a big batch and save the leftovers. Most food can keep for up to three days, so you don’t have to eat the same thing immediately. But please check the food before you eat it just in case!

If you’re willing to splash out a little, perhaps a home delivery service such as Hello Fresh would work for you. Hello Fresh delivers fresh ingredients and recipe cards straight to your doorstep. Each meal is meant to be between 500 and 75o calories, and simple enough to be made within 30 minutes.

Prices range from £39 for three meals a week for two (£6.50 per meal) to £49 for five meals a week for two (£4.90 per meal). You can opt for a weekly or biweekly delivery, and choose to scale up to four or six people if cooking for a family. Vegetarian options are available.

From what I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum subscription period, so this might be something you could do as a little treat from time to time.

Dining Out

That isn’t to say that you can’t ever eat out just because you’re not working. As your timing’s more flexible, that means you’ll be better placed to take advantage of restaurants’ off-peak times. There are some great restaurants which offer incredible value set lunch and pre-theatre menus, such as Arbutus, The Corner Room and Dabbous, to name but a few. All three restaurants offer a set lunch menu which costs between £18 and £25. When you consider how much they are normally, it’s really good value.

Use a booking service to to check out if there are any special offers on at the restaurants you’re interested in. Two such services which are quite popular are:

  • TopTable: The advantage with TopTable is that each booking is worth a certain number of points. These points can be used to redeem TopTable cheques once you have reached the minimum threshold. These cheques can then be used to pay all or part of your bill at any participating TopTable restaurant.
  • Bookatable: Bookatable has a Top 10 Restaurant Deals list which makes it easy for you to see what the best deals are at that point in time. No registration is needed.

BYOB – Four letters every frugal non-teetotal diner should be happy to see. Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages provides an extensive list of restaurants which allow you to bring your own bottle. Note that it’s usually better value to bring a larger bottle compared to two small ones, as most places tend to charge corkage by the bottle. You can find out about where to go to get reasonably-priced quality wines in the last section of this post.

Don’t forget about all-round decent budget eateries, i.e. places which offer at-worse decent, at-best incredible food for a good price. Time Out and The Guardian have compiled their own lists of cheap eats in London, handily divided by area, so check these out next time you’re planning to go out to eat.



If you’re not a coffee addict, this section won’t apply to you. But I am, and I really feel about this, and managed to end up writing a few paragraphs without realising how much I’d written. Sure, I could give it up, but, for me, coffee isn’t just another commodity.

It’s an affordable luxury.

That’s the primary reason why coffee consumption in the UK hasn’t declined in spite of the recession. Of course, if prices go up – and they will, given that specialty coffee consumption outstripped specialty coffee production for the first time last year, and it’s just basic economics that when demand exceeds supply, prices go up – then there’s a high chance that people will stop drinking it. It’s not that demand inelastic, after all. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford a cup at £3, no matter how much I like my local independent shop, even if I were working!

What do I advise?

Get an Aeropress. It’s a quick and efficient method of making coffee. Sure, initial set-up cost would be around £60+ to get an Aeropress and a decent grinder, but, if you drink coffee at least once a day, every day, it’ll work out cheaper in the long run. But don’t follow the instructions that come with the Aeropress though unless you want to make a really strong cup of coffee. Follow these guys instead.

Alternatively, if you’re like me and don’t want to go to the trouble of weighing everything exactly, I use 12g of ground coffee (the scoop’s 14g so I guesstimate based on that), put it in an inverted Aeropress (i.e. upside-down), fill up with just-boiled water almost to the top, stir between eight and ten times, and leave to brew for 60 seconds before plunging.

And, if you’re more adventurous, maybe you’d like to try out the World Aeropress Championship recipes.

Anyway, back to the math.

A bag of good quality beans will cost between £8 and £12. There’s about 20 cups in a bag. Roughly speaking, that means you’ll be saving after the third bag of beans, as you’ll have spent about £100 in total for 60 cups which works out to about £1.66 per cup vs. £2+ per cup in a good coffee shop.

Case in point, I had a lovely Square Mile Tanzania Blackburn Estate pourover as a treat recently. That cost £4. If I’d bought a bag of the beans when they were still selling it, that would have been around £12 for close to 20 cups. Not including the cost of the equipment, that would have worked out to 60p a cup.

60p vs. £4. Pretty much a no-brainer there, innit?

Where can you get good quality beans from? Beans from UK roasters Square Mile and Hasbean are available from a number of independent coffee shops and carts. You can also buy them online.

Alternatively, try out these mail-order options which offer free trial 100g bags if you use the link/code provided:

  • Kopi offers monthly deliveries of coffee, with each month coming from a different region. You can choose between 100g for the weekend drinker and 250g for the regular everyday drinker. I’ve had them for three months now, and have received beans from Papua New Guinea, Brazil and an unusual natural processed offering from Ethiopia.
  • EightPointNine offers a blending service so that you can opt for a blend customised by you for you by using their flavour profiling tool. If that’s too complicated, just go for the grandCRU programme, where the company sends you a different blend each week. Enter the code JN9F4UF when ordering to get a free 100g bag.

With a combined free trial of 200g of coffee, that’s you sorted for a month. I’ll also add that if you go to them via my links, I’ll get 50% off my next order. It won’t cost you anything, and I’ll be thinking of you when I drink my next few cups of coffee. Win-win!


Wine, I should stress, is not my strong suit. I’m ethnic Chinese. One in three of us lacks the enzyme to digest alcohol. That means I am a cheap drunk, in almost all sense of that phrase.

Jokes aside, the best way I’ve found to keep my wine budget down, and yet still drink decent wine, is to buy from the supermarket. To this end, Supermarket Wine, a site which lists wines which have been reviewed in the papers by supermarket, is invaluable. If you prefer not to wait until a bottle has been reviewed, reading through Wine Anorak’s guide to the best value bottles the wine world has to offer will stand you in good stead.

Beyond that though, The Sampler allows you to sample a selection of 80 wines out of the 1,600 the shop stocks, starting from 30p for a small measure to several pounds for a normal sized glass of a decent vintage. I’ve walked around the shop in Islington, and can tell you that it definitely looks like a nice place to bring a date. So, there you go. A classy-looking-but-cheap date idea, too.

If you’re all about the bubbly, then MoneySavingExpert maintains an up-to-date list of cheap champagne deals. For something just a little different, French Bubbles offers champagnes from houses other than the Big However-Many-There-Are (you know what I mean). You can choose to drink the bottle at the bar itself, or, better yet, buy it for consumption elsewhere at half the price.

Phew! That’s it for Part 2 of The Accidental Guide To Enjoying Life While Unemployed. I’m sure you’ve realised by now that this is applicable to everyone, not just those of us who are “employment challenged.” I’ll be posting Part 3 later this week so stay tuned!

1 comment:

nat said...

Really like the coffee ideas! Need to convince my second half who is in charge of coffee to give it a try;)