How to get more out of your grocery budget.
My goal with my grocery shopping budget is not to spend less on groceries, but to get more out of the money I have available to spend. I would rather get everything I need, and have five dollars left over than stress out on trying to spend less money than I need to – to eat!
Here is a list of DOS when it comes to grocery shopping. This is important when watching every dollar spent matters:
- Have a budget!
- Shop with a list
- Compare the best deals
- Keep a pantry staples list of your weekly items
- Don’t shop when you are hungry
- Buy in bulk when you can
- Eat less meat/have meat-free nights
- Make your own lunches!
- Keep frozen veges in the freezer
Have a budget!
This will be different for every family. Some families may only have $100 to feed four people, while others may have $150 to feed three. Regardless, we would all like our groceries to stay in our cupboards long enough to reach our next pay check. And, it would benefit us all if we didn’t need to dip into other bill money to pick more groceries up further into the week. By shopping smart, and within a budget from the start, this can work on nearly every budget.
I have always had a budget. I can’t afford not to. This means that I know exactly how much I can afford to spend a week, and I can buy accordingly. My budget does not allow for ‘luxury’ meat items such as steak, pork, lamb, and some seafood items. Most of my meals are made from chicken, mince, sausages, and mixed with the occasional vegetarian meal. This is the reality of my budget, and I accept that. So every week I shop to my budget. This works, and it ensures that I don’t spend money on frivolous food products that I simply cannot afford.
Shop with a list
Write down everything you need by checking your pantry, fridge, and freezer with a pen and paper handy. Check bathrooms and toilets for toilet paper and tooth-paste needs etc. Then check cleaning products and washing powder. When this is done, sit down and meal plan for the next week. If you need dinner for each night of the week, write down any extra ingredients you may need. Then, stick the seven meals to your fridge. This way, you can remember what you will be cooking that week – and you can cross off each meal as you make it.
Don’t forget the kids lunches! Making them is cheaper than buying them at school!
When you go to the supermarket, only buy what is on that list. If your list is above your budget, then it is time to see where you can either buy cheaper brands, or cook smarter meals for the family. Shopping with a list can save 20-25% on your grocery bill, and saves you a lot of time in and out of the supermarket.
Compare the best deals
In some places, like New Zealand, there are supermarkets such as Pak’n’Save that are likely to always have the better deal, and cheaper prices. This can make shopping much easier. But in Australia, the deals can be found within a variety of supermarkets. Most malls have Coles and Woolworth’s. Some have an Aldi in the same vicinity. You can save a lot of money by checking out their sales before you go shopping. Checking the sales is a good idea before you meal plan as well. You might find some things you can make for dinner or lunches that are half price that week.
Keep a pantry staples list of your weekly items
Keeping an up-dated list of pantry staples means that you will always have food available to cook a few basic meals at any time. It also means that when you use some of these items, it is easy to add the missing items to the grocery list to bring your staple list back to 100%.
Now I don’t believe that every person or family will have the same staple pantry list. I encourage you to make your own. Every family eats differently. I will add my own pantry staple list after this blog to give you an idea. There are also a range of free printable lists online, and if you can find one that suits your family, then you can also use those. If you have access to a laminator, then you can laminate your list and stick it to the pantry door. Every time you use a staple, cross it off with a white board marker. This will make the shopping list even easier to write out, and will ensure that important ingredients are not missed out on. Also every week, you can wipe the list clean and start again. This saves you from having to re-print every week.
Don’t shop while your hungry!
Just don’t do it! It has been proven over and over again that shopping when you are hungry will result in over-spending. If you find yourself heading towards a supermarket on an empty stomach – STOP – find somewhere to grab a snack – or if you are like me, grab a coffee to sip on while doing your shopping. Then you can sigh with relief when your budget stays intact, and your list is used as it should be. I would rather buy a $4 coffee before I shop, than spend an extra 30-60% more on my grocery bill because I was hungry. Some people really have spent 60% more than they normally would because they were hungry!
Buy in bulk when you can
Generally buying in bulk is cheaper. Also what you buy will last longer. A good way to check if buying bulk is in fact cheaper, is to compare the unit price per kilo or per 100 grams. For example:
Rice 1kg – $2.00. The unit price here is $2.00 per kg.
Rice 5kg – $6.00. The unit price here is $1.20 per kg.
Depending on how much rice your family ate, or any other product you may consider buying in bulk, this may benefit you to buy fives time the amount and save the $4.00. It also means you would not need to buy that item for a few weeks. This will help free up some money for other food items you need.
The unit price is always at the bottom of the price tag under the price itself in very small lettering. I encourage you to look at all ‘price per unit’ for all food products that you buy. This saves me money all the time.
Eat less meat/have meat-free nights
We only do this every so often, as I buy the cheaper meats on offer. But, there are plenty of recipes that are delicious and meat-free. Soups are a big one in our family in winter. Vegetable, potato and leek, and broccoli and cheese soup, are just a few that warm our bellies in the colder months. They are easy to make, and cost less than the packet of meat to make the whole thing. They also last longer, as most soups make enough for several bowls. You can always save money by omitting meat and making one meal a week meat-free. Pasta bakes, vegetarian lasagne, the list can be endless.
Make your own lunches!
Now this doesn’t need an explanation! We know it is cheaper to send our children to school with a home-made lunch, so of course it is cheaper to send ourselves to work with lunch. Or if we are at home, to eat at home. I make sure that I have my lunch food included in my grocery list. I also take any left over food from dinner the night before to work with me. This has worked well for me – and I can save up to $10 a day by taking my lunch to work.
Keep frozen veges in the freezer
Frozen veges are cheap! You can pick most packets up for a couple of dollars. They can be used to bulk out a meal, or as a side to many different meals. It helps that they are also good for you! Frozen veges can always be used as a side to mash and sausages, but the better use for them is as a filler. This helps to stretch the meal when you have big kids, boys who may require seconds, or you want to leave enough for you to have for lunch tomorrow. I use frozen veges to fill my cottage pies, rice risotto, spaghetti bolognese (frozen carrots), pasta bakes, savoury mince meals, and more.
This is a winner, and a better alternative than adding extra meat.
These are some tips that have helped me to keep my grocery budget the same from week to week. It prevents me from resorting to take-aways when I have a weeks worth of meals in my fridge and pantry – ready to be made. Having a meal-plan means I buy all the ingredients that I need, instead of buying what I see in the supermarket and running the risk of missing out key ingredients along the way. I hope that you can make some good use of some of these suggestions.