The average Australian family spends around $200 per week on food. With prices set to climb due to increased retailing costs being passed on to the consumer, it makes sense to prune the weekly family grocery budget where possible.
A few weeks ago, I did the Simple Savings $21 challenge and came out financially ahead with just $6 over the recommended budget. Here’s what I did:
1) Ditch the recipes. Often, following a recipe calls for a complete grocery shop since many of the ingredients mentioned are ones we don’t use everyday. That week, I made soups and stir fries out of all the bits and bobs I found in my fridge and let me tell you, no one complained.
2) Survey the pantry. To bulk up what I found in the fridge, plus the handful of fresh ingredients I bought, I looked into my larder for tinned button mushrooms, tomatoes and beans. I put the button mushroom in a tomyam-type spicy soup, the base made from a selection of fragrant herbs and spices I found floating around in my fridge and the tinned tomatoes in a sauce I poured over fried tofu.
3) Slow cook food. This allows you to save time as well as money, as the slow-cooker makes light work of tenderising cheaper cuts of meat yet is one of the most economical appliances to run. My favourite slow-cooker meal is lamb shanks with tomatoes and olives but anything from beef rendang to chicken congee can be made in one too.
4) Double-up recipes. If you are going to take the time to make a curry, you might as well make two batches of it, so that you are guaranteed a meal if you are short on time. Perhaps, things like stews, soups and curries always seem to taste better the next day.
5) Use more vegetables. Apart from being good for your body, they’re also kinder on the wallet than meat. Buy what is in season as they taste best and if possible at a farmer’s market where prices are more reasonable.
6) Serve soup. This will reduce the amount of food consumed at each meal while warming you up in when the weather gets chilly. A pleasant side-effect of this is also that you maintain your weight without really trying. My favourite soups to serve with dinner are the classic ABC soup, a clear broth composed of chicken with carrot, potato and tomato, and mint soup, a chicken or anchovy based broth with handfuls of mint leaves and ribbons of beaten egg.
7) Buy generic. Things like flour, salt, sugar, rice, pasta, canned tuna…the list is endless, is the same regardless of whether you buy a branded item or a generic one. What you taste at the end is simply the result of cooking skills, as opposed to how expensive the ingredients are.
8) Cook your own steak. Many of my Aussie friends report spending up to $40 on a good steak a restaurant, but I think that’s excessive given that a good cut of meat cooked at home will produce the same result. Thanks to youtube, we can learn how to cook steak at home from the likes of Jamie Oliver no less.
9) Cook meat free. One or two meals focusing on lentils or eggs can give substantial savings. At my house, His Royal Highness can tell we’ve reached the end of the month when I whip up a big pot of dhal. At $3 a bag of lentils, one pot feeding four costs me at the most $1.50. This includes electricity to cook and the tomato and spices I throw in.
10) Buy without packaging. When you shop at your local supermarket, choose and bag your own fruit and vegetables. If you see the per 100gm price, you’ll notice that pre-packaged anything costs more.
11) Buy in bulk tins on special. This would include things like baked beans, tuna, chopped tomatoes for making bolognaise sauce, or if like me, you make a lot of stir-fries, tinned mushrooms for days when you don’t get to the supermarket.
12) Make your own cookies, bread, cakes from scratch unless you can score a pre-mix on sale. I used to buy only single chocolate chip cookies from Subway until I discovered how easy and cheap they are to make. Following the recipe on www.exclusivelyfood.com.au, I made 60 absolutely delicious, thumb to third finger sized chocolate chip cookies for $8, including electricity.
13) Ask your fishmonger or butcher to recommend produce. Most are only too happy to do this as part of their regular service as the more a customer knows what to do with what they’re buying, the more likely they are to buy it.
14) Share with others bulk buys of meat or vegetables. That way you get to leverage on your collective buying power, as opposed to paying a premium for a regular serve.
15) Study the catalogues. Supermarket chains advertise different specials every week. What you can’t find on offer in one, you’ll most likely find on offer in the other. You don’t even have to clog your mailbox with catalogues because many are available on-line.