Apart from mortgage, food expenditures rank high on our money guzzling list. Being just the two of us, our grocery buying habit used to involve buying expensive items, not use it, leave it to expire in the fridge or pantry and chuck it away. Our grocery bills used to cost us in the north of $200, not including eating out, take away and mid-week supermarket trips for replenishment.
At the end of every week, we could easily throw away $30 to $40 dollars worth of fruit and vegetables. With Ida’s love for cooking, the pantry and freezer is littered with products and food, mostly have only been used once. So, hundreds of dollars worth of expired sauces, frozen food, canned food, half opened packets of food being thrown out every year during our pantry/freezer cleaning sessions.
After looking at our food expenses which is spiralling out of control, we decided to take action. The money wasted would be better off being utilised for something else. The biggest motivation for us was when we both undertook a healthy living challenge which saw us lose 5 kg just by changing what we eat. During that time, our grocery budget nosedived. This prompted us to look at our food expenses seriously and carefully.
We incorporated some small changes into our food spending habits and the results was astounding. We couldn’t believe how easy it was to maintain too! Not only we reduced our weekly grocery bills down to $80-$100, we also cut back a lot on eating out and getting take out. Our overall weekly food expenses went from $400 to $500 down to $150-$200. What did we do with the left over funds? put it towards our next holidays of course!
These smart steps to reducing grocery bills may seem a little tedious at the start, however, if consistently done weekly/fortnightly/monthly it will become a part of your routine and does not take too long at all. It just needs a bit of planning, research and organisation at the start and trust us.. the rest will come easy (and you will love those extra cash in your wallet instead of in your bin!)
Here 15 quick and easy ways to cut down your grocery bills:
Plan Your Meals
This is a great way to reduce food wastes and money. Yet the most difficult one to follow. This is especially when there’s only the two of you and you spend long hours at work and other activities. Some days you may not have the time to cook food as planned or sometimes you just ‘feel’ like eating something else. We come across this a lot. So rather than planning our meals like:
Monday : Fried Rice Tuesday : Lasagne Wednesday : Roast Chook with Vegies
We plan the style of dish we would be making. For instance :
Monday : Malaysian Tuesday : Italian Wednesday : Indian
This way, we focus on getting the ingredients that would accommodate these styles rather than buying produce to fit one type of dish. This way, the only thing that changes would be the sauces (eg: bolognese, tikka masala, sambal) and the carbs (rice, pasta). The good thing is, the carbs and the sauces keeps well for longer.
The trick is to realise that apart from super exotic ingredients (eg: asian vegetables) most ingredients are used interchangeably in majority styles of food. By not sticking to a particular dish, you also reduce the “i don’t feel like that tonight”. Just use your existing ingredients to make whatever it is that you crave for!
Tip: Try planning your meals using the same ingredients. For instance, if pre-packed tomatoes are $0.99 kg and loose ones go for $3.49 a kg, buy the pre-packed ones. You will be surprised how we actually use similar ingredients in many cuisines. 1 kg tomatoes is plenty for 2 person for the week but I manage to use everything to make pasta sauce, chicken curry and grill tomatoes for Sunday morning brunch.
Tip: Plan your meals around what is on specials that week. If tuna appears to be on special that week, you can easily whip 3 completely different meals made out of tuna. Eg: Tuna, Mushy Peas & Potatoes Patty , Tuna, Peas & Corn Pasta Bake & Japanese Style Tuna, Potatoes & Avocado Salad with Sesame and Soy Dressing.
Tip: If stuck on meal ideas, get meals inspiration ideas on Pinterest and see if you can substitute the ingredients with what you have on your list.
Set a Budget
Having a budget in mind will help you stick to your list. Without a budget, there is no goal to achieve. The best thing to do is to go through your weekly grocery bills and start with aiming to cut down 5-15% off. If you achieved that, you can lower your budget even more.
Read Catalogues for Specials
Do a quick look through the specials catalogue from the grocer near you and see what they have on special. This will help you plan your meal and plan your shopping.
Stick to your List (Yet be Flexible)
Once you have decided what to consume for the week, create a list of what you need. This may need a trip to the pantry, fridge and freezer to see if you already have the ingredients in tow.
While sticking to list is great in theory, we find that that almost never pan out in real life… if we plan to have green curry chicken for the week, but found beef rump on markdown, costing less than the chicken (which wasn’t on the specials catalogue). We would certainly ditch the chicken and go with the beef.
Flexibility in planning is a must. But only if it saves you money.
Shop at the Right Place
Cant stress enough about the importance of this. We only shop for 2 and we still shop around for everything. Why ? well, Why not? Why waste our hard earn money just because we cannot be bothered? If you shop at only 1 place, you are not going to see a significant reduction in your spending. A loaf of bread may cost you $0.99 at Coles, but Chicken breast may set you back $10.99/kg when you can get them for $5.99/kg at the IGA down the road.
Over time, you’ll know where are the cheapest places to purchase your produce within your surroundings . You will find that vegetables are cheaper at a farmers market and you get high quality , cheap meat from your neighbourhood butcher.Since we are neither close to a market nor a cheap butcher, We purchase vegetables from Spudshed. It is the only place close to us that we know of that sells 4kg potatoes for $1 and huge broccoli florets for $0.80 each. We only buy meat that are on special or from the factory outlet.
All our seafood are frozen and Asian ingredients we get from the Asian grocer. That leaves other dry goods which we alternate between Woolies, Coles or Aldi depending on what we need. But so far we find Woolies and Aldi stock cheaper items for our need
Tip: Shop around, but make sure the shops are within close proximity to each other. Theres no use driving 10 to 20 km out of your way wasting money on fuel and your time just to save $10.
Buy Non-Perishable Goods During Sale Time
Goods that you are going to be using for a long time such as shaving blades, tampons, tissues, toilet paper should be stocked up when they are on special. Especially when it is a specific brand that you love.
Avoid ‘Convenience’ Purchases
When you have a busy and tiring week, sometimes you just don’t feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. It is tempting and so easy to pick up products of convenience such as pre-cut vegetables, pre- cut food, frozen meals. But you are literally throwing money down the drain and on top of it, contribute to clogging the earth with more plastic packaging!
Buy What You Need
You usually hear the opposite advice of buying things in bulk for cheaper prices. But buying grocery for two , bulk purchase can sometimes be difficult and wasteful. When it comes to buying food for two, sometimes buying less will save you money than buying more. Especially if you have limited food storage space.
We bought the large 1kg Nutella at Christmas 2016 for $11 (1.09/100g) and by Christmas 2017, we have only consumed 30% of the content which we threw away. We would have been better off with a 220g Nutella at $3.70 (1.68/100g) – at least we would have consumed all and not waste anything.
Buy Your Seafood Frozen and Meat on Markdowns
As mentioned above, we hardly ever pay full price for meat. The Farmer Jacks near us constantly put up to 50% discounts on all types of meat. We would purchase and put them straight into the freezer. With seafood, we often go to a good frozen seafood suppliers rather than buying them at the supermarket. For instance, we can get individually packed frozen salmon for $28 per kilo. Since they are vacuum packed separately, they stay fresh and last for ages.
Consume Plant-Based Meals
Eating plant-based meals are a sure way to reduce grocery bills , especially when using seasonal produce.
Tip: Bulk up your plant-based dish for a satisfying meal with cheap canned legumes and beans.
Eat More Meals at Home
For an active couple, this may be easier said than done. We know it was difficult for us at first. It is so much easier to just spent $10 – $30 per person per meal on Smash Avocados and Coffee. But by the end of the month we were left wondering “wtf did all out cash go?” .
We have done this by changing our eating habits. We limit eating out to once or twice a week and make sure the other 19 main meals and 14 snacks for the week consists of food from home. Sometimes this can be hard as our social life would have been better with wining and dining. Some of the adjustments we made were, having our meals before or after we go out, having more picnics and romantic date nights at home.
Buy Home Brands
We truly feel that swapping to Home Brands is a personal choice thing. Especially when it comes to food. We know some people have no problems buying home brands everything, we are a little fussy about swapping certain food we love such as tomato sauce, cheese and hazelnut spreads.
However, we have no qualms with going home brands with products such as detergent, dish washing tablet, paper towels with home brands. Aldi does a great job introducing a high quality, cheaper options home brand products. Swapping name brand to home brand itself could save you tons in grocery.
Grow Your Herbs
Prior to growing our own herbs, we almost always waste our herbs. More often than not, we only use a small amount once or twice, and herbs aren’t cheap! So, we resorted to growing our own. You can grown your own herbs even if you live in an apartment or have a small kitchen.
Produce can double in price when purchased out of season. Eat seasonal produce, they are usually cheaper, fresher and tastes awesome.
Freezer is Your Best Friend
Your freezer space is a commodity. At least we treat it as such. Everything that could possibly fit into the freezer gets frozen. We freeze leftover, meat, coconut milk, herbs, rice, bread, leftover gravy. Everything. We just hate to see food goes to waste and take proper care when packaging leftovers and freezing them. It feels so good to be able to open the freezer to find a selection leftover meals to feed us whenever we are hungry or ingredients we can use to our meal that night, without having to pay for another one.
Tip: Write down the description and date of every items frozen so you will know which to use first.
What do you do to cut down on your grocery bills ? Share with us!