You promised yourself this year would be different. You weren’t going to blow hundreds of dollars a week on overpriced takeaway meals and expensive dinners.
Yet as the various frost-bitten vegetables gaze back at you from the back of your vegetable crisper, you find yourself thinking, ‘I really cannot be bothered’.
Before you re-download your UberEats and MenuLog apps, remember that being frugal doesn’t mean you need to resign yourself to bland, boring meals.
(There’s only so many nights in a row you can eat spaghetti bolognese or steak before your organs give out.)
Luckily, there are heaps of cheap tricks to save money while shopping and still get delicious, restaurant-quality food.
Bargain-bin enthusiast Robbie Bell, a TikTok chef known by nearly half a million followers as RobbieBell8, shared some of his tips to keep your grocery bill down while getting the most out of your food.
Don’t buy in vogue
Food is like fashion, and the value of certain products will change based on what’s in style at the time.
This is especially true for certain meat cuts, and can make a massive difference to your weekly shop.
“Lamb cutlets are like twice the price of a lamb chop,” Mr Bell told The New Daily.
“Everyone wants to buy them because they’re really cool and trendy, but they’re more expensive.”
Instead, Mr Bell suggests taking a walk down memory lane to the food trends of yesteryear.
“Look at things from the past, like hocks and shoulders – all the things you need a bit of skill to cook are going to be really cost effective.”
Repurpose your ingredients
A great way to save money and avoid food wastage is to look for creative ways to use every bit of your ingredients.
For example, instead of buying chicken breasts and drumsticks in your weekly shop, buy a whole chicken.
“Roast the whole thing or break it down and have it in different ways,” Robbie said.
“Make a soup out of the carcass, one of the legs goes into sandwiches or salads, one of the legs goes into pasta, float it out with vegetables, you can even add some into a stir fry.”
“You can simmer its carcass down with vegetables, and you’ve got yourself a bone broth, and you can then buy some frozen dumplings, or a handful of peas and some instant noodles.”
You can also boil a ham and make a soup out of the stock. You’ll be able to enjoy a glazed ham for dinner, and the leftovers can be used on sandwiches the next day.
Things like sausages, Mr Bell said, can be taken out of their skins and used in things like pasta.
Buy ugly food and give it a makeover
Beneath the picture-perfect crate of vegetables you see on display are their slightly uglier sisters and brothers.
Especially at farmers markets (of which Mr Bell is a regular), misshapen or slightly bruised produce will go for significantly cheaper compared to their prettier siblings at your local Coles or Woolworths.
Buying tomato seconds is a great money-saving hack for sauces and soups, but don’t just stop at tomatoes.
Mushroom seconds are unexpected heroes that can elevate even the most basic meals into restaurant-quality dishes.
Try turning your less-than-beautiful mushrooms into a puree and freezing small portions in ziplock bags or even in large ice-cube trays.
“When you’re making stuff like risotto, like soup or like a bone broth, you can drop one of them into it,” Mr Bell said.
“If you’re cooking a chicken breast, keep a little bit of water from the pan juice, and drop one of the mushroom puree cubes in, you’re going to get a mushroom sauce.”
You can even order a produce delivery boxes full of supermarket rejects for a fraction of the cost.
Less is more
When it comes to food, using ingredients ‘sparingly’ might be a challenge for many of us.
When you’re plating up a meal (especially if you’re entertaining a dinner party or guests), Mr Bell believes subtlety can go a long way.
“In general, to make things look restaurant quality, less is more,” he said.
“You just put in little bits of this and that. You don’t need like, a massive handful of peas, you can just use seven.”
If you’ve ever added seven cloves of garlic to a recipe that calls for two, this one is for you.