For most of us these days, a trip to the supermarket can be a financially challenging experience. Saving money on the grocery and food bill is literally a necessity for many families now!
$5 for one avocado, ‘shut the fridge door!’ After dramatic price increases in dairy, meat, fruit and veggies, we can find it hard to fill our trolley and still keep within the budget. We all know the choice export cuts of meat have become too expensive for the average family. But when did the staples become unaffordable?
Sure, there’s the Supermarket $15 meal ideas, and a number of websites showing how to feed a family for under $100 still.
But for most of us mere mortals, we’re not going to make and freeze 25 meals every 4th Sunday, and we don’t actually think changing out parmesan cheese for colby in our pesto tastes very good!
A more sustainable way of saving money on groceries is by setting a realistic budget, and then sticking to it like glue. You don’t have to pre-make 7 meals on Sunday morning. But you do need to plan ahead and decide what you’ll eat for the week. And only buy the necessities to make those meals.
Key Reasons Food Shop Planning Will Save You Money
There’s 2 key reasons some simple planning is vital to saving money at the supermarket:
- You won’t buy more food than you need. This means you won’t be throwing out expensive food that’s wilted in the grocery drawer, or gone past it’s use-by date. The worst thing about throwing food away (aside from the terrible waste) is that you then need to re-buy that food again, which doubles the cost!
- You won’t run out of food before the next shop. Shopping for 7 day’s worth of food means you should have enough to last you until the next food shop. This prevents you from ‘popping out’ for milk and bread, and spending another $80 on food you haven’t budgeted for. ‘Top up’ shops are a huge factor in overspending on food.
If you’re ready to really food shop like a boss, then you’ll want to consider meal planning. This is the ultimate food shop planning. By having a meal plan laid out each week you’ll only buy what you need, and you won’t waste any food from spoilage. But you’ll go even further, and be able to reuse items, bulk buy for multiple meals, and turn leftovers into lunches.
You can learn how to meal plan on your own, using go-to recipe books to shop the ingredients and writing these up as lists. Or you might want to just get a meal planning app that does all the hard work for you. Some meal planning apps are even free.
20 Tips for Saving Money on Your Food Bill
Right, let’s get straight into it and take a look at our top 20 ways to save money, and prevent busting the budget on your food bill.
- Set a budget. Make it realistic, something you can afford, that will still afford you a few luxuries.
- Plan out what you’re going to make for lunch and dinner for the week ahead.
- Think about multi-purpose meal buying. Can you buy a bulk mince and use it for bolognese on Monday, and burgers on Friday? Also, can you make enough to double-up for lunch the next day?
- Always make a shopping list and stick to it.
- Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. You’ll find you’ll often spend more, or over indulge, when you’re hungry, stressed, premenstrual or after Friday night drinks at work!
- Don’t take the kids shopping if you can at all possibly avoid it – they’ll usually persuade you to add more items to the trolley. Just a few extras can easily add $30-40 to your bill.
- Take a calculator with you so you can check that bulk deals are really worthwhile, and that you’re staying within your food budget for the week. Some supermarkets even offer this as a service now.
- Buy generic or house brands that look plain with minimal branding, but provide good quality and excellent value.
- Watch out for vouchers or coupons in the supermarket mailers in your letterbox – by collecting a number of these each week, you can save many dollars on your grocery bill.
- If you have a choice of supermarkets close by, then make sure you regularly compare prices to get the best deal. My sister shops at Sylvia Park – and gets to compare the prices of three supermarkets – as well as The Mad Butcher and The Warehouse.
- Buy in bulk– as a general rule bulk purchases are cheaper than smaller ones, so go for the biggest pot of peanut butter, a tray of eggs, or the biggest bag of rice (make sure you compare prices though so that it really is cheaper, and don’t buy more than you can eat before the use-by date).
- Another trick is to buy from bulk bins, so that you do not pay for fancy packaging. Dry foods like flour, sugar, raisins and cornflakes are often cheaper from bulk bins. Bulk bin stores, if you have one in your area, are even cheaper again.
- Something that is definitely guaranteed to save you money is shopping for seasonal items. Remember that $5 avocado we mentioned? This happens with all fruit and veg. Courgette and tomatoes can literally cost 5 times as much out of season. And any fruit imported from overseas in the off-season will be more expensive. So buy what is currently growing.
- Speaking of growing things, can you just grow your own food? Gardening can be a fun and rewarding hobby that saves you money and provides you with fresh, organic produce right from your backyard. If you only have a small amount of space, consider growing fresh herbs or salad greens in pots. These cost a lot in stores.
- Explore other stores and weekend markets in your area for even better deals – I often buy dry goods from a local bulk bin store. And I always shop for fruit and veggies at our local market, which is much cheaper.
- Get online. Just doing your shopping online can save you a significant amount of money, even with the delivery fee. This family saves over $2,600. The main reason this one works is you see the total spend as you shop, helping you stay within budget. But you’re much less likely to buy things you don’t need.
- Check out Facebook groups and sites dedicated to coupons and shopping deals. This can be a bit of work, but many people find it fun to chat with like-minded budgetors! In New Zealand we have groups like Cheaper Living NZ, and websites like Cheapies NZ, that promote discount vouchers, and savings ideas. Your country or state will have something similar.
- While it is tempting to put treats and impulse buys into your shopping trolley, try to avoid this. Kid’s lunch snacks are standard in most family trolleys. But chippies, chocolate, fancy desserts and treats can really add up. Be especially wary of the impulse snacks at the checkout. Remember these are purpose-designed to trick you into opening your wallet!
- Cut back on non-essential food items. For example, do you need that daily cup of expensive coffee? Can you swap out snacks and biscuits for home-made, or even healthy alternatives? Are you buying expensive ready-made sauces or luxury items from the deli? Try doing this as a family, with everyone volunteering to give something up, so it doesn’t feel like you’re missing out.
- Limit eating out. Eating out, especially light meals and snacks at cafes, is one of the easiest ways to overspend. Limit eating out to special occasions only, and prepare snacks at home for eating while you’re out and about.
Food Shopping Budget Busters
There are definitely some food groups that are known budget busters. Try to avoid any of the following if you want to save money:
- Lollies and Chocolate
- Snacks and convenience foods
- Ready made dinners
- Ready made desserts
- Expensive brand names
Food Shopping Budget Lovers
If those items above are bound to break the budget, then the list below are the opposite and will help you stick to your budget:
- House brands, or supermarket name brands, such as Pam’s, Budget and HomeBrand
- Bulk deals of any sort. This is especially true for things like cheese, pantry staples, biscuits and cleaning products
- Fillers for dinner such as beans, potatoes, rice, split peas, lentils and pearl barley. These bulk out meals making them go around further, even for lunch the next day, without costing much more.
- Ingredients for home baking (big bags of flour, sugar, and bran). Just don’t be fooled into the pre-mixed biscuit or cake packs, these inevitably cost more!
- Cheap cuts of meat that can be slow cooked to make them tender. The difference between cheap cuts and export quality meat is massive now. Cooking stews in a crook pot, or roasts cooked low and slow, are often healthier as well as cheaper!
What are the Cheapest Supermarkets in New Zealand?
Now this very much depends on where you live. If you only have access to a 4 Square, then your shopping bill is going to be pretty horrendous.
But if you’re lucky enough to have most of the main supermarkets competing for your hard-earned cash, then there’s clearly savings to be made.
For most main centres, for an average shopping trolley, here’s how the big chains stack up (Source: Consumer NZ):
- 1st – Pak’nSave
- 2nd – Countdown
- 3rd – New World
For more great money tips, check out our Finance and money section.