How to save money on groceries

Emma Duffy By on June 19, 2019
 

Until I moved out of home, I had no idea how expensive groceries could be. My mum certainly did, and she made sure I knew it when I complained about how much money I’d spent after my first solo grocery shopping trip. 

Since then, I’ve gotten a little bit better at knowing how much I eat on an average week and budgeting for it (food box delivery services like Hello Fresh definitely helps) but it’s still a work in progress. I probably spend anywhere between $100 and $150 a week on groceries – that includes my Hello Fresh subscription which is $95/week. The rest of the money I spend on fruit, bread, eggs, and essential household items like cleaning products. It’s more than what some of my friends spend in a week (and I’d definitely like to spend a lot less). 

According to ASIC’s Moneysmart website, the average weekly spend for food and drinks (excluding alcohol) ranges from:

  • $122 for a single person under the age of 35,
  • $239 for a couple with no kids and;
  • Between $282 and $332 for families with kids (depending on the ages of the children).

Here are some of the things I’ve learned since moving out of home to save money on groceries. 

1. Meal plan

Seems pretty simple, right? Planning what you’re going to eat and only buying exactly what you need or using what you already have will not only reduce wastage, but save you lots of money too. When you’ve got a plan, you’re a lot less likely to spend money on convenience meals during the week, like Uber Eats. 

Unless you’re an organisational queen, setting out an entire meal plan for the week can be challenging. If you can’t meal plan meticulously, have a few recipes in mind that you want to cook that week. Opt for dishes that you can make in bulk, like stir-fries, fried rice, and pasta dishes. There are plenty of recipe websites online where you can source your weekly meals from, as well as those free supermarket magazines.

Personally, I prefer to use Hello Fresh because I truly hate having to think about what to make for dinner. With Hello Fresh, I can just pick and choose the meals that look good and the recipe and all the ingredients are sent right to my door. Plus, there’s the added bonus of having enough for leftovers, which saves me from having to buy my lunch the next day – which also saves me money! Win-win.

2. Buy seasonal produce 

Produce is always cheaper when it’s in season, and it tastes infinitely better too. Out of season produce has to be imported, which are costs you end up paying for.

A lot of the recipes in those free supermarket magazines are seasonal, so you know that with the meals you plan, there’s a good chance everything will be available at the supermarket.

3. Use supermarket rewards programs

Woolworths, Coles and IGA have rewards programs which, depending on the program, can allow you to earn rewards for your spend and/or receive exclusive discounts. Both Woolies and Coles allow a set number of rewards points to be redeemed for $10 off at the checkout, but don’t get too excited because you’d typically have to spend over $2,000 before you earn enough points to redeem the $10 off.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t usually cost anything to join these programs, so if you’re going to spend money at those supermarkets anyway, you might as well give yourself the opportunity to at least save a few dollars back. Also, if you’re a responsible credit card user, you could earn additional rewards points by doing your tedious grocery shopping with a rewards credit card that has a loyalty program partnered with your supermarket.

4. Avoid recipes that use a special ingredient

If you can, try and avoid recipes that use special, expensive ingredients like saffron, which can cost as much as $15 for a tiny little jar (you could buy 15 $1 coffees from 7-Eleven for that!). If you’re only going to use that ingredient once, it may not be worth the money. 

Try leaving the ingredient out, or substituting it with something else you already have at home. You may even surprise yourself with the finished dish!

5. Don’t be a brand snob

We’ve all reached for the better brand of pasta sauce or the more expensive feta cheese, but sometimes it pays to change to an alternative or supermarket-branded product. Often, there’s not that much of a difference in the product taste or quality either. In some cases, supermarket brands use name-brand products and just stick their own label on it, but at a much cheaper price. 

Hot tip: Aldi’s cheese selection is massive and it’s usually a lot cheaper than in some of the bigger grocery stores. 

6. Check your fridge and pantry before going shopping 

Before you go shopping for ingredients, have a quick look in your fridge and pantry to see what you already have in there. Then make a list of what you actually need, so you don’t accidentally waste anything or let things sit in the pantry/fridge going unused. 

There have been so many times where I’ve accidentally doubled up on things I already had sitting at home, like jam or cooking oil because I didn’t bother (or just forgot) to do this step.

7. Shop online

When I first moved out of home, I used to do my weekly grocery shop at my local supermarket (which is literally two streets away, you can see it from my balcony). Because I haven’t got a car, I would have to carry all my shopping home, which is fine if you haven’t bought a lot.

But I would try and do my weekly food shop in one go, and hauling it all home was a struggle. So much so I even shamefully ordered an Uber once because I got halfway home and didn’t have the strength to carry my groceries the rest of the way. Of course I could have just done smaller, more regular shops, but I really hate going to the supermarket.

Enter online grocery shopping. What a game changer! I know I sound like a grandma who’s just discovered the Internet, but doing my grocery shop online has made my life So. Much. Easier. 

Shopping for your groceries online is not only more convenient, it also stops you from buying stuff ‘just because’ as you’re not being tempted by the lures of the chocolate aisle.  

8. Grow your own food

Growing your own produce is a great way to save money, and it always tastes so much better than what you can buy at the supermarket. Growing up, my dad always had tomato plants in the garden and the tomatoes were the best I’ve ever tasted.

Of course, being able to grow your own food will depend on how much space you have at home. If you’re confined to a shoe-box apartment like me, a herb garden on the balcony is probably as good as it’s going to get. Fresh herbs cost a small fortune at the supermarket and you can often buy entire plants for about the same price as a few sprigs at the shops. Just don’t forget to water them. 

9. Cut down on unhealthy food

Good for your waistline and your wallet! Everyone can benefit from cutting down on the amount of unhealthy food they eat, like soft drinks and sugary snacks. 

10. Check the unit price

Even if something appears to be cheaper or on sale, check the unit price and the quantity/volume you actually get for that price. But avoid buying a bigger pack of something just because it’s cheaper if you know it’s likely to go to waste.

11. Look out for price reductions

At the end of the day, fruit, vegetables and meats (like hot deli chickens) are often marked down. Fruit that is marked down because it’s a little bit bruised is perfect for baking (like overripe bananas for banana bread). 

12. Cook in bulk

When it comes to making your own meals from scratch, there’s no such thing as making ‘too much’. Always try and cook extra so that you’ve got enough for leftovers at work the next day, or to chuck in the freezer for those nights you just don’t feel like cooking. 

For example, if you make a big batch of mince sauce, you can use it for spaghetti, tacos or shepherds pie, covering multiple meals in one hit. 

13. Leave the overspenders at home

Shopping with your kids or your partner can add a lot to your grocery bill and the supermarkets know this. It’s why they put chocolates and lollies at the checkouts, or place items geared towards kids down at their eye level.

Bringing your partner along can also add to your grocery bill if they go for impulse buys or things that aren’t on your shopping list.

If you can, leave them at home so you won’t load up your trolley with a whole lot of things you don’t need. 

14. Keep an eye out for discounted products

Supermarkets often have bins, tables or labels indicating the products that are being cleared out, so keep an eye out for these.

There’s nothing wrong with these products: they’re usually just nearing their use-by date, are discontinued or the promotion is ending, and if they don’t get sold they get binned. 

15. Bulk buy items when they’re on sale 

At most of the big supermarkets, the specials start on Wednesday and run the full week until the following Tuesday. Most of the time you can find household items on sale that you need on a regular basis, like laundry detergent, toilet paper, household cleaners, shampoo and conditioner, and more. If one of your regular staples comes up for half price, bulk-buy it. 

Hot tip: make sure you buy enough of the product that you think you’ll need within a two month period so you don’t run out until the next time it goes back to being half price (as long as you have ample storage space!).

16. There’s an app for that

There’s an app for everything these days, including apps to help you save money on your groceries. 

Read our article about some of the best apps to save you money on your grocery shop.

17. Don’t waste food

We’ve all let bags of spinach go to rot before (I’m pretty sure there’s one in my fridge doing that right now) but you’re literally throwing money away by wasting food. Throwing away a bag of rotten spinach or shrivelled-up mushrooms can feel like putting your money in a blender. 

To avoid that, keep a big basket in the fridge and chuck everything that you haven’t used yet or that’s close to its use-by date into it. Make it your mission to use up everything that’s in there before you go grocery shopping.

18. Go hard on the veggies, easy on the meat

Die-hard carnivores will hate me for saying this. But we all know that meat can be pretty exxy, which is why you should go vegetarian at least once a week.

Regardless of your ethical or sustainable beliefs, it’s proven that eating more vegetarian meals is better for your insides – and your wallet. The more veggies you add to every meal, the healthier and cheaper it will be for you.

You can still get your hit of protein through other things like beans, lentils, nut butters, eggs, nuts and fish. 

19. Buy in bulk

There’s no doubt that buying items in bulk will save you money, but it doesn’t mean you should stock up on 100 rolls of toilet paper unless you know you’ve got enough space at home to store it.

Living with overflowing cupboards isn’t fun, and neither is an overflowing freezer or pantry. Make sure you know the capacity of your fridge and freezer before stocking up on items. 

20. Don’t shop when you’re hungry

We all know you shouldn’t shop when you’re hungry because you’re likely to buy more food, and food that appeals to your appetite at the time (five packets of Tim Tams and a family-sized bag of Doritos) rather than what you actually need for that week.

There are countless studies showing how shopping when you’re hungry can hinder your decision-making process, meaning you’re likely to opt for high-calorie options. You’ll leave the supermarket with way more than you intended to buy, and with more snacks than ingredients. Seriously, just don’t do it.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

A lot of people don’t seem to put the same amount of effort into saving money on groceries as they do on other things, like saving up for a new TV or a car. That’s probably because grocery shopping is just one of those tedious things we all have to do, and it doesn’t carry the same excitement as shopping for a brand new car does.

But if you cut as little as $50 a week from your grocery shop, that adds up to $2,600 per year in savings! You could pop those weekly savings into a high interest savings account and let them grow towards a nice holiday, or even a housing deposit.

Emma Duffy
Emma Duffy joined Savings.com.au as a Finance Journalist in 2019 after spending a year as the editor of The Real Estate Conversation. She's most passionate about improving the financial literacy of women and millennials by writing about complex financial topics (what's an ETF I hear you ask?) in a way that's easy for the average Joe (or Jill) to understand.
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