The last question on the Family Finances Survey asked readers to list their best tips for saving money on food bills. I received an amazing collection of tips, thanks so much to everyone who took the time to share.
The list below is an extract of those tips. I have grouped them into the broad categories of General, Planning, Shopping preparation, Shopping Cooking and Quality. You will notice through out the list some of the tips contradict each other. Some for example will encourage menu planning, while others will recommend only buying what’s on special and cooking from what you can buy cheaply.
I have kept these all in, as no two families are the same. What works for one family, may not work for yours. You may still have little ones and getting to the shops frequently is difficult or you may now have time shop around. So whatever your circumstances, take a scroll through this list and I am sure you will find some tips to suit you!
- Go back to basics – meat & veg or chicken & veg. Get your budget working around simple healthy food first, then look at ways to expand your menu using these basic foods. Cut out the junk. Bake cakes & slices instead of buying biscuits & muesli bars for lunchboxes.
- Try to grow your own vegetables if you are able. Fresh is always best and you [know] exactly what you like to eat and have the children involved in the process as well.
- You can eat LESS meat per meal (for example in the chicken wrap recipe that Nicole uses via me, you can reduce the meat and bulk up with vegetables and salad). This year we got 100% of our tomatoes from our garden, I have not had to buy any now for several months – and the children love to eat them from the garden – even a small plot can provide a reduction in food costs!
- Track expenditure – it keeps you honest! Mostly…!
- The number 1 tip would be not to waste food you’ve already bought!! Look up lovefoodhatewaste. There are a zillion great tips to use every last bit of food you’ve bought. There’s scary statistics on the amount of food wasted by consumers in Australia. [You can see an info graphic here which lists the waste at $8 billion or 4 million tonnes of food a year – Nic.]
- Meal planning is the key!
- I think menu planning is quite an obvious tip, but I’ll say it anyway! It has been a huge time, sanity and money saver. I love having an answer as to ‘what is for dinner?!
- Meal plan for the same period you shop for – weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
- I never menu-planned until after I had my child and was returning to part-time work – BEST thing I ever have done – so easy — and I wish I’d started years ago – oh the money and time I would have saved….
- Meal plan, write a list, stick to it, calculate as you shop if necessary and don’t take children or partner!
- I know it sounds so boring but honestly, menu planning and visiting the supermarket less often are my best tips! I shop according to my (very flexible) menu plan, so I have all the ingredients for a month’s worth of meals and it’s much less tempting to buy ready-made meals or take aways. Menu planning takes the 5pm panic out of dinners! If I visit the supermarket less, I don’t spend money on things I don’t really need (even though people often think the cost would work out the same, I know for me it’s cheaper to shop less frequently).
- Only plan to have two meat meals per week.
- Check your emails / catalogues / Facebook pages for money saving tips, specials and coupons. I have signed up for the typical supermarket rewards cards and they often post me special offers or coupons which can be quite timely (eg $5 off or triple rewards points, etc). My greengrocer has a Facebook page so that I can check their weekly specials, which is great. I also have a few other local Facebook pages which summarise weekly supermarket catalogue specials which can be a wonderful time saver (it’s easier to check my Facebook than read a catalogue sometimes!).
- Have an eat out the pantry week, and use the odd tins, lentils and grains that have accumulated at the back.
- I collect all catalogues and go over them with my shopping list and note who has the best specials on what I need and make sure to buy them at the cheapest price!
- Shop with a list (after checking pantry and freezer!)
- Buy in bulk at Costco. Buy fruit & vege in bulk at markets. Split with other families – do a little group buy together.
- My biggest saving is to buy bulk meat, direct from farmer.
- Shop fortnightly or monthly to reduce the impulse buys at each shop.
- Buy seasonal produce and specials – that is why I don’t meal plan before I shop. I take advantage of the weekly specials and savings.
- My husband generally does the shopping as he always spends less!
- I always buy reduced meat, & bakery items – these can be frozen immedietly… and I NEVER buy something that is NOT on sale or special unless its necessary, if it’s a BIG special I buy several of the item, our meals always revolve around on what is on special for the week and the discounted meat we get.
- Stick to your list!
- Home brand is just as good, if not better than fancy brand names.
- Buy fruit and veg at a local green grocers/ markets. Produce will be fresher, more likely local and cheaper.
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat and use a slow cooker or pressure cooker for delicious stews and curries.
- Buy whole foods, avoid processed foods.
- Source a good ethnic store for much cheaper rice, noodles, beans, nuts etc.
- Buy minimal cleaning products. I use vinegar & water on out floorboards. Clean mirrors with water and micro fibre cloth
- ALDI has changed our family’s food bill forever. I was lucky to have our weekly shop under $200 when we were shopping at Woolworths. Then an ALDI opened near us, and our shop is rarely over $110. Their fruit and veg and meat range is sometimes a bit sparse, so I can flesh it out with some from a butcher or fruit shop, but the dry goods and general groceries cannot be faulted.
- Shop at markets. Cheaper and MUCH fresher. Means lasts longer, so less waste. Menu plan. Don’t buy processed food especially in small or individual servings.
- Co-ops for fruit and veg are the way to go!
- Time the supermarket shopping (if buying meat there) for when they mark down prices, e.g. Sunday night
- Shopping at the market – definitely decreased my fruit n veg & meat bill!
- Buy in bulk, may seem expensive but ends up cheaper.
- We often buy fruit, veg and meat at the markets on Sunday, as they are closed Monday and Tuesday and drastically reduce prices on Sunday afternoon
- Online shopping is great for finding specials, comparing unit prices, keeping track of budget and reducing impulse buys.
- We get our milk home delivered from Aussie Farmers Direct – BRILLIANT. I find this saves the incidental trips to the shop where we end up buying expensive discrtionary purchases.
- When my child was a baby I used online supermarket shopping and found it really useful – I don’t use it now, but at the time it saved my sanity.
- Buy meat on special and freeze it or buy in bulk and freeze in portions.
- Shop fortnightly and make yourself ‘stretch’ to the end of the fortnight using the food you have (excluding fresh fruit and milk which we buy in between).
- Shop at ALDI for al your pantry items. Cleaning products are almost half the price of the main supermarket chains.
- Know your prices and check the unit price on the ticket so you know the most economical way to purchase the item.
- Try shopping in bulk with friends especially for the basics like detergents, toilet paper, nappies and dry goods. You divide up the goods and get the savings.
- Hit the Victoria markets at lunchtime on a Saturday, as you will get some great bargains on meat.
- I buy milk and bread in bulk for a fortnight and freeze. That’s 48L milk and 10 loaves of bread. I have been doing this for ages and still get weird looks when I ask for 48L of milk. I just tell them I’m really thirsty today…..
- When regular items that you purchase are on special, buy in bulk particularly for items that are non perishable such as toilet paper, cleaning products, bathroom items like shampoo, toothpaste etc.
- Use a slow cooker! Cheaper cuts of meat still come out beautifully.
- If you have a slow cooker, try having a ‘dump meal’ in your freezer so you can perhaps avoid take away every now and then. These are basically your meal for the slow cooker, ready to defrost and put in the cooker to cook. I put meat, vegetables and sauce in a ziplock bag and write the meal on the outside. If it’s getting close to shopping day and my meal plan has been stretched a little, I can defrost the frozen meal, whack it in the slow cooker and I have a nice, rounded out meal for the family without resorting to take away or an unnecessary trip to the shops.
- I endeavour to bake biscuits, slices and cakes weekly to reduce packaged goods.
- There are a large range of food and household products that can be made from scratch for a fraction of the price of even home brand items.
- Make it yourself! Most convenience foods can be easily and cheaply made at home – my kids much prefer home made over store bought, and we save heaps of money in the process.
- Learn how to make pasta sauce from scratch (not hard) & fill it with grated veg & use it for spaghetti bolignese, pasta bake, pizza sauce (home made base or Lebanese bread base) meatball sauce, and tacos or nachos (with different spices)….cheap, full of veges, empty of additives and versatile!
- Buy and eat foods in season, “cook once and eat multiple times” ie batch cooking or cook a base meal that can be adapted for different meals. Buy bulk meats on special and freeze. Purchase those herbs in a tube (not as great tasting admittedly but they are regularly to hand and easy to use ESP garlic -no prep just squeeze tube). Great for time poor cooks.
- Reduce portions of meat. 300gms of mince will make bolognaise sauce for 2 main meals & hubby’s lunch, just add a tin or 2 of lentils towards the end of cooking, no one will even notice.
- I make one item go as far as it can. Eg, roast chicken bones makes a great stock, which can be frozen in portions and used for many other meals.
- Roast once a week leaving cold meat for sandwiches/lunches.
- Freeze left overs in singular portions so you only have to defrost what is needed for when you are feeling lazy or sick and therefore avoid takeaway. Everyone then gets to choose what they want from the list of ready meals. Treats for everyone esp mum!!
- Add lentils and/or chickpeas and/or soup mix to everything – makes meat dishes stretch and makes enough for a second meal the following night!
- There’s nothing wrong with having beans on toast for dinner occasionally, filling and frugal!
- My husband has saved a fortune by taking leftovers to work for lunch – sounds logical, but how often do we forget?
- Having a few frozen food options in the freezer eg pies or fish fingers and mixed veges. A last minute meal for kids that saves $20 spend for takeaway.
- Where I can, I try to buy Australian made. I find this unfortunately can be more expensive as a lot of home-brand items are cheaper but made overseas, but I feel that spending a little more locally is a cost saver in the long run.
- I buy meat in bulk directly from farmers, it’s not necessarily a lot cheaper but it’s organic, so the animals have had a nicer life and are butchered to order.
- I get a fortnightly f&v order from Aussie farmers, and twice weekly milk, bread, cheese, egg & butter deliveries. This may not save money, but it’s all Australian and stops me going mid week to the supermarket and buying extra stuff.
Are there tips you would add to this list? If so, I would love it if you would leave them in the comments below.