After mortgage payments or rent, the weekly grocery bill is usually the second-biggest expense for Australian households.
But do you really have to dine like a MasterChef judge every night? Or could you easily slash your food bill with a few simple tactics and some creative spending?
Here are 10 tips to rein in your grocery budget without making any huge sacrifices.
1. Ditch the supermarket
Queensland mum Jody Allen used to spend around $200 on the weekly shop. But after being made redundant while on maternity leave in 2011, she was forced to cut her family’s weekly grocery budget to just $50 (excluding nappies and milk).
First, she steered clear of the more expensive supermarkets, focusing on cheap markets where she could sometimes buy – among other things – a tray of apples for $2.
“I really used what was on sale and what was plentiful at the time,” says Allen, who shares her tips on Stay at Home Mum. “I bulked up so much of our food with fruit and vegetables and lentils.”
Simple meals, such as pastries, spaghetti bolognese, quiches and frittatas were the order of the day, and allowed her to ‘hide’ vegetables in main meals for her young family.
Of course it also never hurts to hit the markets just before closing time, when bargains are rife.
2. Keep it simple
Allen believes many people end up spending big on groceries because they think all meals need to be complicated. Not so.
“I think a lot of the time people just don’t know how to cook simply.”
3. Have a well-stocked pantry
Allen recommends having a full pantry that includes basics such as tinned tomatoes, pasta, herbs and spices. This will help you avoid the temptation to buy takeaway when pushed for time.
4. Stick to your shopping list
Vowing not to stray from your list – or avoiding the supermarket altogether – can keep spending in check.
Allen says it’s easy to go in for just one item and leave with a basketful. “The whole place is designed to make you spend.”
5. Leave the plastic fantastic at home
Going old school when it comes to paying is a no-fail way to stick to your budget.
“Put your grocery money in an envelope. Don’t take any other cash or cards with you so you can only spend what you have,” says Miles Larbey, of ASIC’s MoneySmart.
6. Avoid last-minute shopping
Shopping ad hoc is sure to see you doubling up on ingredients you already have at home.
“Buy in bulk and only go grocery shopping once a fortnight. Use all the food in your pantry before you buy more,” says Larbey.
7. Learn how to read price tags properly
Making significant savings can be as easy as remembering to read the unit price.
For example at my local Woolworths, fresh salmon was recently selling for $29.99 per kilogram from the deli, or for a whopping $46.63 kilogram pre-packaged. Big difference.
8. Grow your own herbs
Don’t pay $3 or $4 for fresh herbs each time you cook. Instead buy a small pot and keep easy-to-grow herbs such as coriander, mint or basil going for weeks or months.
9. Don’t go hungry
Rocking up to the supermarket while ravenous is a no-no.
“Eat a meal or snack before you go to the supermarket. When you are not hungry, you tend to buy less food,” says Larbey.
10. Start at Aldi
Aldi has some certifiable bargains if you plan your shopping right. Buy what you can there, before hitting the big two supermarkets. Or stock up on staples at Aldi in one big shop.
Paying in cash, and bringing your own bags will save you, as will avoiding the temptation of buying random items you don’t need. Inflatable meerkats, ski jackets or a toolbox anyone? Move right along.