It appears that the topic of the moment is the ever increasing “cost of living “ particularly the basic necessities such as food. You can imagine that with four growing boys in our household our weekly grocery bill is burgeoning out of control.

I remember as a child my mother had to really budget in order to feed her family of seven children, six of them males!!!! If my memory serves me right we lived on basic fare, lots of mince and mashed potatoes, corn beef and mashed potatoes, in fact I think everything came with mashed potatoes and no one seemed to complain.

We had a large pantry with very strict rules; we were allowed to eat as much as we liked from the first shelf which included bread, weetbix, apples and bananas and often homemade scones and pikelets.

The second shelf we were allowed one of; this was more home baking (my mother made the most delicious Louise cake), different slices and heavy duty fruit cakes and loaves.

The next shelves were always out of bounds and required permission. Interestingly enough most of our food then was fresh and there was little canned or processed food. We ate a lot more vegetables than our kids today and a lot were grown in the back garden.

You can tell when things are getting bad when the number of people in the supermarket armed with their calculators and lists seems to have increased. I have ruptured my Achilles tendon so my shopping expeditions are limited and I have to hop around issuing instructions to the boys as to what to put in the trolley.

Given that none of them have any real appreciation as to the cost of things I spend more time telling them to put things back.

If at all possible I would always advise shopping without children, it’s amazing how much they can sneak into the trolley without you knowing and you can always do without the constant nagging for treats or unnecessary items. If I have to take them it’s a good opportunity to talk about the difference between wants and needs and I give them a list of items to get and send them all in different directions. Here are some of the things I am trying to do to reduce costs:

  • Buying more “house brand” products especially bread milk and cheese.
  • No more packets of popcorn, snack bars etc in lunch boxes
  • No fancy cereals just the basic Weetbix and now porridge as winter approaches.
  • Plenty of pikelets and scones for afternoon tea and toast are good tummy fillers.
  • Buying meat on special and putting it in the freezer.
  • Only buy fruit and vegetables in season and try to go to a reputable fruit shop instead of the supermarket.
  • Tins of beans and lentils (the kids don’t know) into mince dishes makes them go further and are a really good source of protein.
  • Always make a list and try to plan as many meals as possible. I know for me that it is a real trap when I just pop into the supermarket for “a few things”.
  • We have tried to stop all takeaways… as I said, tried!!!!
  • I find Sophie Gray’s Destitute Gourmet recipe books really helpful.
  • We have cut out all juice/cordial type drinks, no big deal but hard as one of our kids won’t drink water or milk.
  • No sports drinks anymore like Powerade. Besides the expense they aren’t good for their teeth. However we play a lot of sport so have purchased good drink bottles and some powdered isotonic fluid replacement.

As they say, every little bit helps, but honestly I don’t know how some families are coping. We are now down to a single income so are really noticing the increase in the cost of living, but compared to most we are very fortunate. The worrying thing is I can’t really see a solution to the problem soon as it’s very rare these days to ever see goods come down in price.


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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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