Q: What's the difference between milk and nice expensive Greek yoghurt? A: Eight hours in a warm airing cupboard.
It's just under two weeks until George Osborne's Budget of Doom, my deadline to hack back my spending to downshifting-friendly levels. So this week, I knocked a good 15 per cent off the weekly supermarket shop by instigating three new rules.
1. Goodbye A Leading Supermarket Chain, hello (whisper) Lidl. Shopping here is a bit like going back to the Seventies: strip lighting, strange German brands you last saw inter-railing, and none of that wafting-bread-smells guff supermarkets use to convince you they are actually a leisure experience.
Not everything is cheaper, although the fruit and veg is a steal: luxury stuff like mangos and avocados is half the price. And I had to go elsewhere for some stuff Lidl doesn't sell (breadflour, kids' toothpaste, chicken that looks like it occasionally enjoyed the use of its own legs). But the main reason the bill was faintly unbelievable is that the general ambience encourages one to get the hell out fast, thus spending less.
2. Once it's gone, it's gone. No nipping back to the shops midweek for anything other than cornerstones of human civilisation (coffee, looroll, milk for offspring). If an ingredient needed for dinner turns out to be missing, alternative dinner must be improvised.
3. No more convenience foods. And I don't mean readymeals. The breadmaker I'm often too lazy to use has been hauled out: a loaf in this costs about half its shopbought equivalent. Enough pizza dough for two pizzas, topped with rocket from the garden and oddments of meat and cheese from the back of the fridge, costs less than a tenth the price of a takeaway.
As for the yoghurt, I used this Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe: heat milk, stir in a bit of (bought) posh live yoghurt, leave somewhere warm overnight et voila: yoghurt that tastes like the brand it was made from, but a quarter of the price.
The thing about downshifting is you move from being cash rich but time poor to being skint, but with free afternoons. And that means the time I won back by giving up my Proper Job isn't exactly free: some of it has to be re-invested in fiddlier but cheaper ways of living.
The saving grace is that this is stealth economising: should one not want people to know one is saving money, simply pretend to be making one's own bread from sheer, smug Cath Kidston-style oneupmanship. Nobody need know that the reason for the homemade gnocchi is that it's a fraction of the price of deli stuff (it's just mashed potato, egg and flour - how have I paid through the nose for this for years?)
Unless, of course, you blog about it.