Actually, before you take out your handkerchiefs and start sending donations, I'm not really in a tough financial situation. Even though scholarship of 500 E is simply impossible to survive with in Paris, it's quite OK in Dublin and when it's not, my parents are happy to pay not only for my basic necessities but also for occasional splurges. (And no, with my program, part time jobs are either plain impossible (becase of schedule or visa constraints) or very very hard to manage without the grades dropping significantly - we were strongly advised against trying to work before we even started our studies.) Therefore, the reason why I've been exploring the cheapo side of life is that actually, I don't like being that wasteful in many aspects of life and I'm not that happy about my parents having to support me either. Why pay for overpriced buses when I can walk and do something for my health and mood? Why buy expensive groceries when I can get it for a fraction of the cost before the shop closes for the day, and it would be a pity for them to throw out perfectly fine food and for me not to buy it? Why buy furniture for 5 months and then leave it behind? Why buy a serum for 60 E, when I can get a great one for 4? My tips are half eco-friendly and half not - sometimes it's not that easy to make the right choice when you have to re-set your life several times a year and you're weighting many different factors against each other.
I know that some of the things I'm going to mention are a little controversial because they concern food that is right about to pass the "best before date", "display until" and "use by date" or even already past it. Let me give you an overview of these three terms and ways how to minimize the risk of getting a food-borne disease. I'm not encouraging you to buy such foods, but since the option to do so is there, I want to also discuss how to go about it if you do buy such products. For the actual tips, scroll down, please.
Display until indicates how long the item is allowed to be sold in the store. It has often also a date by which it should be used by the consumer. Alternatively it is sometimes used as a synonymum for "best before". Which case is true should be indicated on the package.
This date indicates until what time the product is guaranteed to have the best properties possible. After this date, the structure, taste, aroma etc. may deteriorate to a certain degree, but the product is not unsafe to eat yet. In other words, buying products that are about to pass this date or already past it is fine, just before eating, check properly for signs of spoilage - just in case.
"Use by date"
This is a date after which the product may not be safe to eat anymore. Basically, the use by date is calculated based on the original number of bacteria present, the conditions is it going to undergo on its way to the consumer and the correct way it should be stored and used by the consumer. The use-by date is theoretically the last date before dangerous pathogens multiply sufficiently to cause health problems (at least based on microbiological hazard evaluation class). Now, common sense and experience tell me that nobody would risk miscalculating and indicating the date that is just a couple hours before you can get a major food poisoning by Salmonella or Listeria. Which is why it's usually fine to eat older yogurt and keep meat you bought before the used by date in the freezer past the date.
The risk of eating food passing the "best before" and "use by" dates
The risks of eating food that has passed the best before date should be minimal if the product is stored properly. The ways to make it more difficult for microbes to grow happily are numerous, but for home use, you can usually only work with temperature and moisture content. In general, the higher the moisture content, the happier the bacteria are and the more you need to keep the product at low temperature. For me, that usually means storing drier products like cookies and drier bread in the cupboard (well, they disappear way before they get the chance to spoil anyways), while moist bread, cakes and pastries go to the fridge (sometimes even freezer if I know I can't eat them soon enough).
When purchasing, I also look at the moisture content. Bakery goods I only buy right before the use-by/BBD, while very dry products, like soup powders, highly processed foods with preservatives, spices or salt (chips, sauces, sweet bars...) are OK getting even, say, months after the BBD.
In general, I do not ever buy things that have passed the use-by date already.
For meat, it has the lovely ability to spoil basically anytime, independent of its use by date, so you have to examine the package closely whenever you buy it. If I buy meat right before use-by-date, I triple check and make sure that right after buying it, I head home and put it in the freezer right away, or coo it right away. Use temperature-preserving shopping bags whenever you can, too and set your fridge for low temperature.
Before eating, always check for signs of spoilage - with bread, smelling and seeing mold is quite easy, but in some kinds of bakery goods, even nasty bacteria can be found (I can't access the full article, but I assume it's mainly high moisture content goods like fruit pies etc.). Spoiled meat is easy to detect by colour and smell.
Another step is preparation - always make sure you thoroughly cook the food as the majority of bacteria cannot survive temperature over 100 °C (though their spores can, so don't store cooked meat for long period of time at room temperature or even in the fridge).
In general, there is always risk of getting a food poisoning whatever you eat and if the food is past its best, the risk gets higher and it depends on you whether you're fine with that or not. I'm not telling you to buy or not buy these foods, merely giving suggestions to minimize the risks if you do.
Dinner made exclusively with Tesco's "reduced to clear" groceries:
So, you survived a lesson in microbiology so you deserve to get the first tip.
If you want to buy cheap fruits and vegetables, you have to adapt your meal planning to whatever happens to be on sale.
Lidl and Aldi have weekly promotions, when certain vegetables and fruits are sold for a very low price.
Aldi has their "Super 6", which are packs of fruits and vegetables all sold for the same price. Of course, while you may get a kilo of potatoes for 39c, this is only going to give you 500 g pack of lemons and limes or 200 g of scallions. Nevertheless, it is a good deal and I can assure you, that unless you have really big luck, you won't get it cheaper anywhere else. The promotion always lasts for a week or two and then the kinds get switched, so you may want to stock up during the weekend if you still plan to use a particular kind later.
Lidl is a bit more complicated, as they also have weekly promotions, yet they simply give you discount for several kinds of vegetables and fruits. While 2 zucchini for 69c are a good deal (in Dublin I mean), 1 kg of out-of-season strawberries for 4E is not (since you can get a kg of most other fruits for up to 1.5 E/kg).
In any case, both supermarkets indicate the promotions on their website, so you can check them beforehand and plan your meals. The problem is that many of the yummier kinds will be gone before the evening (and re-stocked the next day), so if you can, shop before you go to school/work or during your lunch break.
Tesco, Dunnes and the like tend to be in 99% cases the same or more expensive. Occassionally, they have promos as well though, so if you're looking for more high-end fresh produce like berries, you may find an OK deal there as well. Tesco will also discount pre-packed vegetables that are going to be out of date soon, so sometimes you can get stuff for Aldi price or lower. The perks: more selection (I got a fennel for 25c the other day). The downside: depends on luck.
Street vendors, especially in the evening or when it's raining, can have really good prices which can beat even Aldi and Lidl. In particular, there is a lady on the crossing of Marlborough street and Talbot street and another one in front of Lidl in Parnell street who have often really cheap fruits and veggies.
If you need "ethnic" kinds, rest assured they're going to be really pricey. If you still need them, check several Asian and Indian supermarkets as prices differ significantly. (Cheapest mini eggplants are in Parnell Street between Lidl and Aldi in an Indian supermarket and cheapest kumquat in Parnell street going towards Summerhill.)
Luckily for us, the cheapest meat in Dublin is turkey, which is also one of the healthiest meats. If you buy a whole turkey and cut it yourself, you can get a kg for 1.55 E in Aldi, which I guess is as cheap as it gets. Sure, it includes bones (hello, collagen-rich soup!), but also two giant breasts (1 turkey breast is more than enough for both Gerald and me). This super cheap Aldi turkey is kind of a constant promotion, if you want variety look out for discounts on chicken, ducks, pork and beef, though I assure you no beef is ever going to go as low as 1.55 unless it comes from a horse (#horsemeat scandal Ireland). The second cheapest meat is ham and bacon, but they go for about 5 E/kg, and they're nowhere near turkey's nutritional qualities. Check both Aldi and Lidl for weekly promos, but they're never as cheap as the turkey.
Tesco discounts meat one day to a couple of hours before it goes out of date, so you may score a deal there, just be careful to inspect it and then pop it in the freezer ASAP. In my experience, most often you will get sausages, minced meat, pork or beef for roasting and if you're lucky, shrimps and salmon. Salmon is freaking expensive, so if you see several packets on discount (not always the hello-I'm-about-to-go-bad one, sometimes it's also promotions on frozen fillets), stock up in general! Cod and other whitefish are usually cheap (for fish, I mean), but nutritionally, nowhere near salmon and other oily fish.
A place to get cheap meat, sea fish and seafood are the Asian supermarkets. Oriental emporium has squid for around 5 E/kg (cheaper than the Korean supermarkets) and sliced pork and beef for 3.50 E/400 g, which is generally cheaper than normal supermarkets. Asia Market has salmon heads for 85c, if you're willing to cook salmon head soup and then cut off the meat from the skeleton. It takes time and guts.
Aldi and Lidl have reasonable prices of bread.
Tesco, however, discounts all bakery goods with BBD/use-by on the midnight of the same day, so you can get bread for 20 - 60c, cookies for around 50c, doughnuts, muffins etc. for 40 - 60c and cakes for 70 - 80c.
If you're looking for more gourmet kinds, there is a DIT culinary outlet open most workdays in the afternoon in Marlborough street, but everything sells out fast.
Dairy and RTE
Tesco the evening before expiry - and Tesco's own brand has the same prices as Lidl and Aldi for basic milk, cheese and yogurt products.
Basic things like eggs, flour, sugar, coffee are most likely going to be the cheapest in Aldi and Lidl, but I suppose the prices fluctuate a bit. Be mindful of promotions, since if you can get demerara sugar for 1 E, it may be worth investing in it rather than the usual 80c white sugar. Also, stock up during promos as they don't last for long.
Asia Market discounts sauces when they're about to pass the BBD or have already passed it and in general, it tends to have fair prices for flour, cornstarch, tapioca, pastes etc. Sometimes, Oriental Emporium and small shops can have better deals, but it differs greatly, especially since Indian stores do not display 90% of their prices. So far, I only know that Bulgogi sauce, Asian soy milk and Korean tea is cheapest in Asia Market, egg noodles are usually cheaper in Oriental Emporium and for the rest, since I don't really know, I just get it when I need it. In general, the most expensive is a Filipino shop in Dublin 2, everything they sell there and that can be found in Asia Market is cheaper in Asia Market. What, however, is always cheaper in Asian stores, are nuts. Pink peanuts - 1 kg/4 E (Asia Market) and other kinds for under 10 E/kg!
I usually get kefir and fermented stuff in Polonez, sometimes also other things are cheap, like tea. Moldova has cheap cocoa powder.
The cheapest sweets are either own brands of Tesco, Aldi and Lidl or BBD stuff on the reduced-to-clear shelf of Tesco. Soft drinks also tend to go on the reduction shelf pretty often.
Eurogiant, a discount chain I will talk about later, offers good deals if you're careful. In general, soft drinks are cheap there and some deals on chocolate bars and other sweets (5 for 2 E is not bad). It also sells things past their BBD for super low price, maybe 5 mars bars for 1 E even? Not really sure.
Small stores will also often sell discounted BBD sweets and chips (I think there's one in the middle of Gardiner street) and sometimes they may be in general cheaper, sometimes more expensive then supermarkets.
Asian supermarkets are usually more expensive than Euro-American brands, period. Sometimes is will go on sale because the BBD is nearing or past, so then the prices may become about equal to western stuff.
Polonez and Moldova are usually more expensive, but sometimes you can find a good deal.
Cosmetics, Toiletries etc.
When it comes to skin care, read the ingredient list, not the brand. You can find really great products for insanely cheap price in Lidl and Aldi. My serum was 4 or 5 E, it contains very high concentration of aloe vera and no parabens.
Eurogiant is not always the cheapest - Lidl and Aldi can have better offers. But I find 400 ml packs of children's shower gels for 1.5 E pretty good and pack of 2 toothbrushes for the same price is not bad either.
If you like high end brands but not the price, try TK Maxx.
If you like high end brands but not the price, try TK Maxx.
Lots of things can be found online, too - sasa.com is really cheap when you're lucky to get the free shipping offer.
If you're taking supplements, sometimes they will go on sale in Tesco (haha), Lidl and Aldi have some too, including the fizzy vitamins that dissolve in water, but best of all, Boots.ie has often promos where if you buy 3 packs of supplements, you only pay for 2, which reduces the price per package significantly.
Eurogiant has washing liquid for 1 E which I use for handwashing and which does a pretty good job, but Tesco has comparable ones. On the other hand, the 1.5 E for 2 dish washing liquid is pretty useless. We got almost all of our kitchenware there, too and I have to admit that I'm a little dubious about the safety of some of the plastics, though I'm hoping that at least the microwaveable boxes are really fine. I have 2 baking trays for 2 E each and those hold fine (it's supposed to be tefal-like coating), but start showing signs of wear and tear.
For appliances, nothing beats Argos (kettle 6 E, blender 12 E, water filtering carafe 18 E including 4 cartridges).
Also, if you learn to cook with chopsticks you'll save money because then you won't need any other spatulas and what not, lol.
Buses, trams and trains are freakin' expensive here, so do something for your health and walk or if you're feeling brave, bike. Therefore, when looking for apartments, try to stay in a walkable distance to your work or school.
DIY your home for (almost) free
You guys know that I love having everything pretty and stylish when it comes to my permanent residence. But currently, I move to a new place all the time - the longest I stay in one place is 5 months. In such conditions, I'm willing to let the aesthetics go and just get something decent. DIY supplies are really hard to find in Dublin and they're pretty expensive, so even when making your own things, it's hard to make them pretty without spending money. Here on the blog, you can find my DIY posts showing you how to make cardboard drawers (thanks for the boxes, Aldi) and extra storage space in the bathroom from cardboard and fruit boxes.