I am a proud frugalista, and this is especially evident in my shopping choices. As I tallied my end of month finances for June, I realised that I spent a grant total of $9.02 per day on groceries. Nor is this a freak: over the last six months I averaged $12 per day.
And I think my grocery budget for one adult and two young boys and a frequently visiting granddad is generous. It includes cleaning products and nappies (oh, I can’t wait until Little A is finally fully toilet trained!). It also includes treats such as multiple mini-bottles of probiotic drinks, orange fish (salmon), and the odd chocolate block or two (or three). And I even bought an organic product or two.
Nor has my frugal grocery budget been remarked upon as a mark of stinginess. While I have some success with dieting, I haven’t made that the focus of the last six months (with the exception of the $2/day challenge – now all put back on and then some). And I STILL find that I have bulging pantries and much more food wasted than I would like. (Did you know that the average family wastes one in five grocery bags of food?)
How did I feed myself on my kids on such a reduced budget? Well, it is part and parcel of my routine. It is just something that I do, that I have been doing for a long time. Doing a $2/day challenge for five days helped (although that said, I was effectively cooking two sets of meals that week as I did not put my young children on such a fiscally reduced diet).
Having thought about it a bit more, here are my top ten ways to reduce your grocery bill
- Use a shopping list. This may seem obvious, but how often have you spent a fortune in the supermarket, only to find that you forgot milk and eggs, only to go back the next day to do the same again? Having a list helps discipline yourself to focusing on what you need. I have a list on my fridge and I write things down as soon as they nearly run out. This saves a lot of urgent mid-week supermarket visits.
- Avoid going to the supermarket as much as possible. I don’t mean never go, just try to limit it to once or twice a week. In the meantime, if you run out of something improvise and make do. There is a reason that the milk is at the back corner of the supermarket: marketers want you to linger and buy all those treats that just happen to be on special. You can never get away with just a few items. My top tip is to buy powdered milk and to top up your milk in the fridge when it is getting low to eek it out for an extra day or two: combine overnight and by morning no one can taste the difference. It will save you petrol, less time in queues and your sanity. Similarly, if you are running low on breakfast cereal eat something else.
- As to breakfast cereal, it is one of the most stunningly overpriced and under nutritious foods available. I have not bought breakfast cereal in years, and I have never fed it to my kids. Prepare a healthy breakfast of rolled oat porridge instead (you can pre-make an instant version to take to work if you lack time), or make your own muesli cheaply from oats, nuts and dried fruit. Home-made bread in the breadmaker or pancakes are also good breakfast options.
- Use cash where possible. It is sooooo easy to spend money when all you have to do is wave a credit or debit card over paywave. I withdraw a set amount per fortnight and then make this last for everything: groceries, petrol, babysitting, clothing, work lunches, my op shopping addiction and occasional treats at the work café. There is nothing like physical cash (and noticing how it is dwindling) to curb your spending. Whenever I relax this rule I spend more. Every time.
- Avoid the trolley. I knew someone who left a lucrative executive position in government to go work in the family business fixing supermarket trolleys. He earned far more there. Quite simply, supermarkets want you to use a big trolley and to fill it up with stuff. It is so easy to just wheel it around, and it kind of looks empty and lonely without stuff in it. You just WANT to fill it up because it is so easy and fun to satisfy your hunter gatherer instincts. While I admit that I do sometimes break this when shopping with young children, wherever possible I take two large shopping bags and carry things. You notice pretty quickly when you have bought too much, especially if you have to carry it all the way home (yes, I often do my weekly shopping and carry it on a 20 minute uphill walk home).
- Discover ALDI. For around 90% of items (and yes, I regularly conduct price comparisons), I find that ALDI is the cheapest. Coles and Woolworths have the bigger range and occasionally I need to supplement from them. But ALDI is hands down the winner. I also like Costco but find that for the products I want ALDI is mostly comparable or cheaper, and also closer and easier to navigate – and the package sizes better suit my small family. That said, Costco is great value for certain brand names (so long as you don’t mind buying in bulk), and has great protection and warranties for consumers.
- Leftovers make great lunchboxes. I always pack my lunch for the next day straight after dinner. Sometimes the combinations are a bit unusual, but once I do a zen bento-style arrangement over rice or on a sandwich, no-one really notices that it is not the latest gourmet trend. Actually I am often complemented on how amazing my lunches look (and smell). I don’t tell them I scrapped the kids rice into the bottom, or that I covered the creative ensemble of leftovers with a sprig of parsley to make them look nice.
- Home cooked food cooked with love beat restaurant signature dishes hands down. At home I delight in simplicity, and although I love to cook, rarely try to replicate restaurant food. Home cooking is different. It is cooked on a different time schedule, less pressure to produce consistent and repeatable dishes and there is flexibility to use different ingredients. You can also customise. If your kids are not into lasagne but would prefer an egg in a hole or pasta with only cheese – why not? So long as their overall diet is healthy it is still better than a meal with unknown ingredients in it.
- Grow your own. Even with a small balcony, it is easy to grow some vegetables, or at least some herbs. If you can’t grow vegetables, then accept home grown food with gratitude. I always accept offers of food, unless I know there is no way I will eat it. There is so much abundance and people are often keen to share. Even if you can’t right away, you will have an opportunity to give back, and it is rewarding to be part of the cycle of giving and receiving.
- Get ethnic. Explore your local ethnic grocery stores. I have a really good Middle Eastern shop near me that sells excellent spices, nuts, legumes and pasta (whole black peppercorns are so much cheaper purchased this way). I also regularly buy noodles, tofu and sauces from a local Asian grocer. Small Asian stores often have less overheads than the major supermarkets (they are for example not paying huge rents in a shopping centre and are often family run. And many food items sold are extremely frugal.
So what is your grocery budget? Do you have one? What would you like to spend on your groceries?