One day, experiencing déjà vu as I wore down the kitchen work triangle – cook top-sink-refrigerator-cook top-refrigerator-sink – I started doing the maths: there are two adults and three children in our household. We eat three meals a day, seven days a week…105 meals a week in total. I’m the one who does the vast majority of meal planning, groceries and cooking, so it’s fair to say I purchase and ‘create’ about 100 meals a week, not including snacks. It was a shocking realisation. No wonder my enthusiasm was waning. No wonder the grocery bill was so high! I suddenly had a fresh appreciation of the size and implications of this responsibility, not just in terms of our family’s nutritional intake, but in terms of reaching our financial goals. If I could chip just a little off the cost off most meals, the maths would do the rest of the work on my behalf. Not only could today’s baked beans and eggs on toast result in tomorrow’s rump steak, today’s baked beans and eggs on toast could actually result in a new cook top, sink and refrigerator.
We can so easily turn a blind eye to the cost of our weekly food bill as a ‘necessity’ but if we can look a little closer and cut back a little here and there, a little really can go a long way. Over the course of a year we’re talking thousands, which could make all the difference in reaching a savings target. If this is a journey you’re on, here are a few practical ideas to help you on your way.
Write a meal plan But don’t just sit down with the latest food magazine or celebrity cook book, check out what’s on special at the supermarket first, as well as what produce is in season. Once you’ve written it, you can hit the store with your list, then all you need to do is stick to it! When you have a recipe and ingredients ready and waiting you’re far less likely to resort to takeaways.
Know what your weekly/fortnightly budget is, and shop with that figure in mind.
Obviously the budget needs tweaking from time to time – if you’re anticipating visitors for example, or feeling flush and need to stock up.
Buy in bulk Especially if it’s a favourite, especially if it’s non-perishable, and especially if it’s on special. It may cause a few storage issues, but you can end up paying significantly less for the same quantity, and the added bonus is you won’t get caught short. The trick here is not to forget what you’ve already got – it’s false economy to stockpile huge quantities of baked beans.
Use the butcher, if there’s one close by You can make huge savings at a Mad Butcher sale – and you can buy exactly the amount you want, and no more. It’s also worth considering cutting down your meat intake. Try cooking vegetarian meals two or three nights a week, or bulk up smaller quantities of meat with lentils, beans, grated carrot or courgette. Or chickpeas – they’re amazing little guys – cheap and packed with protein. They also make great snacks.
Buy your produce in markets, or at the green grocer's. It’s not only cheaper, but fresher and locally sourced as well. When your budget is really stretched, go frozen. Frozen veggies and berries especially are significantly cheaper than fresh, and nutritionally, I’m told, they’re on par.
Have an eat-what-you-have week You may well be amazed what you already have in the cavernous depths of your pantry, and this stuff needs using up from time to time – even if it calls for a little more creativity.
Don’t shop hungry I’ve personally experienced the dangers of perusing those aisles with a growling tummy and greedy eyes. I get drawn to every ghastly neon special and quick fix in sight – sugary snacks and expensive treats – and then I have to cope with the embarrassment of justifying the open packets at the checkout, when I’m not even shopping with a child! Do yourself and your bank balance a favour and tank up before entry. You’ll actually be able to differentiate between a want and a need.
Don’t shop in a hurry When you’re on the run you don’t have the opportunity to read and compare prices, not to mention the nutritional info, and can end up making rash decisions.
Throw a few treats in your trolley That $3 chocolate bar will cost twice as much at the gas station or dairy. We need to take a bit of pressure off and reward ourselves from time to time, as it makes tight budgeting more sustainable. You’re less likely to splurge if you’re not living in a mindset of deprivation. On this note, remember to keep on giving, even if it’s just popping a can or two in the charity trolley by the checkout. It’s hard to be grateful and greedy at the same time!
Shop online Sure there’s a delivery cost, but avid online shoppers swear they’re more likely to stick to their list, and less likely to impulse buy. If you have young children, online shopping can also save you an incredible amount of time and stress. There’s simply nothing like opening the front door to find it all pre-packed and paid for on your doorstep.