Mastercheap Would Be Even Cheaper In The UK

Mastercheap Would Be Even Cheaper In The UK

It was a year ago that I embarked on the Mastercheap experiment — feeding myself on a budget of just $25 for an entire week while maintaining a balanced diet. That proved to be much easier than many people anticipated, but it turns out I could have done it for even less money in the UK.

Picture by osde-info

On a recent quick trip to Britain, I decided to take my existing Mastercheap shopping list and see how well it migrated to the other side of the world. The idea for doing this kind of project had actually first occurred to me in a branch of Tesco in north-east London, where I was astonished to note that a tin of kidney beans was just 16 pence. So it seemed appropriate to return to that same store and cost my Mastercheap shopping list to see if that bargain pricing translated across the board. (Tesco is the dominant supermarket brand in Britain; I didn’t get the chance to do a full comparison shop with rivals, but I know from previous experience that its main rivals do price match on most goods, so I don’t think the experience would have been much different elsewhere.)

I stuck to the same shopping list I had used last year as much as possible, though I didn’t actually buy the food and try and repeat the experience. There are a couple of modifications to the theoretical menu: I changed the meat pie (which wasn’t available in the UK and which I hadn’t enjoyed much anyway) for a single-serve pizza, and swapped the packet cake for a dozen fairy cakes (a cheaper option than the packet mixes, and one which helped offset the disadvantage of only getting 10 eggs rather than a dozen). Here’s what I got and what it cost.

The grand total was £11.16 — which translates to around $17 at current exchange rates. I suspect I could actually have done it for even less by identifying the cheapest available items in Tesco and planning the menu around them, which is what I did for the original project. But even when translating the existing menu, I came out $8 ahead. While a few items were more expensive than Australia (butter), many were notably lower in price.

Some of the items on that original list are now be cheaper in Australia (milk being the most obvious example), but not to the point where the bill would drop by $8. Once again, house brands played a vital role. I’m not planning on repeating Mastercheap as such in the future, but it has influenced my shopping habits ever since, and it’s reassuring to see that it could also be easily adapted to other environments.


  • I don’t think it’s fair for you to convert it into AUD. Otherwise where do you draw the line? Do you realise how far $25 could take you in China, for example?

    • I doubt I’d be able to reproduce the shopping list in China though — the available cheap foodstuffs would be entirely different.

      My original basis for picking $25 was that it was the cost of 7 takeout coffees. That would cost at least 14 pounds in the UK — in fact I suspect it would be closer to 17.50 — so it still appears cheaper on that basis without applying a conversion.

  • I recall Tesco selling tins of Peaches for 10p, regular price, way back during my European travels 10 years ago (when 10p was around 30c, instead of about 17c now).
    The problem was, they left the shelves instantly (no joke)! There was a guy unpacking slabs of peach tins and they were disappearing off the shelves as quick as he could cut off the shrinkwrap and put the cardboard tray on the shelf.
    There were no tins left when he’d finished “restocking”!

    Moral of the story is that Tesco does have ridiculously cheap items, but their availability is not particularly reliable.

  • In other news, houses are dearer here too. And cars. And electrical goods. And Booze. And ….

    I wouldn’t have even bothered checking this out myself, pretty much everything is cheaper in the UK than Australia.

    In particular I’m pretty sure that last year I saw some ‘standard comparison’ quote groceries being roughly 50% dearer for an average family here in Aus compared with the UK. Taking into account the 25% appreciation of AUD vs GBP it’s probably now more like 60% I’d guess.

  • Surely you would have to do this as a percentage of weekly earnings, at current exchange rates we get paid a fortune relative to some other nations. I have a engineer friend who was on 90k here and the best offer he could get in the uk was 55k once converted to aud, which is less than a graduate starting salary over here, that would make the par price 15 aud.

  • Angus, I have some problems with the article, because it fails to take into account average minium wages in the UK, which are around 4 – 5 pounds an hour. Such foods by nature are squarely aimed at these lower income earners and therefore are priced to what the market can afford. By contrast, Aussie minium wage is about $16.80 an hour or thereabouts and of course our food costs will be higher as a result. So you mean, the 8 dollar difference is enough to inspire shoddy working conditions?

    Well, why don’t we go to India and earn 2 dollars a day and live off 2 cent rice and other such options? These articles are sensationalistic and fail to take into account costs of living and standard of living.

    Another thing Angus, why do all the sites at Azure media use Flickr images, when the one that you chose specifically said you couldn’t use it in a commerical environment (yes, I just checked the attributes).

    Well last time I checked, LifeHacker makes all it’s money off advertising, clicks and page views – which is a very commercial environment for this image to find itself in. You are breaking some rules of the author here I believe.

    Can we please have some journalistic ethics in this place? I like you Angus, and I thank you for publishing this message, but I think you need to tow the line here and answer some of my misgivings.


    • I didn’t speculate on why the difference exists. Suggesting that I’m arguing in favour of a lower minimum wage as a result and that this makes me unethical is ludicrous, frankly. BTW, the UK legal minimum wage is GBP5.93 an hour, while Australia’s is $15.51, so you’re also exaggerating on both sides.

      Lifehacker has been using attributed creative commons images the whole time I have been here (and indeed prior to that), and I’ve never had anyone ask to have them removed because of that clause. I’m not a lawyer, but my interpretation of “commercial” is direct resale of the image or prints of it, not using it in an editorial environment, and that’s a common approach seen all over the web. If the image author asked me to remove it, I would of course do so. (Our publisher is Allure Media, BTW.)

      • Common legal, so don’t use that as a “get out of jail free” card or perhaps iiNet should have used that line rather than go through months of court action. “Loads of our users are downloading films, so it must be legal”.

        The Lifehacker site is a revenue generating site so would be treated as a commercial entity, so whilst Alan may have been a bit forceful in his assertions, he was correct.

        • The license of that photo is Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0. There is nowhere in there that says the image cannot be used as part of other works (infact, it says it’s ok to use it), and there is also sections which deal with monetary exchange in return for the image, which this article does not do (or did you pay for this article?).

          • I didn’t pay, but the advertisers listed down the side of the page paid to place their adverts there (whether you see them or not). The monetary exchange is most definitely there.

      • Gus, love your work, but as a photographer and journalist, I can’t see how using an image for LH can be seen as anything BUT “commercial”. LH is making money off page impressions/click-throughs/whatever-the-model-is, which seems like a commercial enterprise to me.

        • Commercial, in this context, really means in advertising. It doesn’t mean that a commercial enterprise can’t use the image; it means that it can’t be used to sell a good or product. This is why, for example, a newspaper or Lifehacker could use it to illustrate an article, though their whole enterprise and the reason they write articles is based on selling advertising; but they could not use it in an ad they create to sell their site or another product.

      • That’s odd… I could have sworn that it was a mixture of turkey and tripe. Whatever the merits of the article, it is worth remembering that you can get splinters jamming your soapbox up your [insert appropriate troll -worthy term here].

        Seriously folks!

  • I wonder how much more healthy/filling a diet could get if you raised it to $50 and possibly restricted certain kinds of food (like jelly, fairy cakes, things with little nutritional benefit etc).

    • Twice the money would offer much more scope, but be much less challenging. The cakes and jelly serve two purposes: making dinner more varied by including a dessert, and meeting the daily calorie target. (Without them, the daily totals actually fall under.)

  • Really quite surprising to see how many people are willing to defend retailers margins here.

    FWIW I both lived and worked in London for a couple of years and the salary I was paid was more than I could get here. And no matter what the minimum wage differences are they don’t add up to the price differentials.

    As for the use of the pictures… get over it. If the author has an issue let them say so.

    • @Greg, I also lived & worked in London (’02-’05) when the exchange rate was 3 AUD to the pound, and was much better off. Now @ 1.5 AUD to the pound, I would be loosing money hand over foot.

  • @Dave, the term is hand over fist.

    The only way to compare countries is with their buying power.

    Comparing the exchange rate never works as there is always a transaction fee that must be accounted for.

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