24 Apr

Ten strategies that could help you reduce your grocery costs

The cost of food and how much we spend on groceries, is a topic that always comes up when I am talking to my clients.  “How come we spend so much each month”, and “how can we bring our grocery costs down” are very common questions.

So, I thought I would get super practical this week and share some of the strategies that over the year between myself and my clients we have come up with.

It isn’t just about being frugal. It is more about implementing innovative shopping strategies designed to optimise your household spending without sacrificing the quality or variety of your purchases, and of course convenience too.

Here are my top 10 strategies to use for reviewing and hopefully reducing your grocery bills. Some of these strategies simply won’t suit some families. If you find one or two you are willing to try, that’s great.

1. Look backwards so you can look forward and establish and monitor a Budget

I know this sounds painful, but before you can set a budget, you need to know what you have really been spending. Start by examining your expenditure over the last year. Not just the supermarket, but the trips to the local dairy, the chocolate bars at the petrol station, the fresh veges from the market.  Do a separate list for your takeaways. If you use credit cards or Eftpos, this isn’t too onerous as task, jump onto your online banking and download the transactions and sort them into categories.  KFC, your favourite Thai takeaway, whichever brand supermarket you go to.  As you review the transactions you will see we tend to be creatures of habits and go to the same places multiple times. You will see how often you shop, the smaller $10 purchases that mount up over time. After assessing your total spending and your habits, set a feasible budget with potential savings in mind; for example, reducing your weekly grocery bill by $20 could lead to an annual saving of over $1,000. The second part is crucial, you need to monitor your spending and check at the end of the month to see if you are on track with the savings you want to achieve.

2. Plan meals around specials

As best you can, plan your meals for the week.  This is a great time to look at the junk mail and the weekly supermarket flyer with the specials or open the email that has been sitting in your inbox. Planning your meals around these discounted items can lead to substantial savings, and a bit of variety in your diet as well.  If something pops up that you haven’t tried before, pull out the recipe books and see how you might be able to incorporate it into your diet for the week. I discovered Paneer from this tip, and it now regularly appears in my food plan (it’s great in a curry if you haven’t tried it yet)

3. Adhere to a shopping list

There has been a standing joke in my family that as an accountant, I have a full inventory management system for my pantry. But it can be as simple as a list stuck to the fridge that as you run out of something you write it down, to using a grocery app which does the same thing.  This keeps the pantry stocked, so when you have a craving and just have to have pancakes, the Maple syrup will always be on hand (or is that just me?) Then when you have your food plan ready, add the additional items to your list and off you go. If you think you can’t stick to your list, or you have little ones that go shopping with you, try ordering online and then picking up your groceries this might save you time as well.

4. Explore different brands and shelves

Supermarkets strategically place premium products at eye level to increase sales. You can find less expensive brands that offer similar quality by exploring higher and lower shelves. Experimenting with these alternatives can lead to cost savings without compromising your preferences. Additionally, trying new brands can broaden your options and help you discover products that offer better value for money. This strategy is not just about saving money, but also about expanding your culinary horizons and finding new favourites.

I was very brand orientated until I decided to give this strategy a go.  I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and try different products, some I was really happy with, and for some items, I’m going to stick with the brand I know and love the taste of.

5. Implement a meat-free day

Meat (and fish) tend to be one of the more expensive items in a grocery budget. Introducing a meat-free day each week can reduce this cost. Use alternatives like eggs, tofu, or legumes as protein sources. These foods often cost less and can be just as satisfying with suitable recipes. It’s probably good for your health as well.  If you just can’t face the thought of no meat or fish as your protein, head to the supermarket when they are reducing the prices of these items or try a different cut of meat. 

I was pretty resistant to this strategy as well, simply because I didn’t know how to cook tasty food that didn’t include meat, so fortunately, I knew someone who never ate meat, and she showed me a few recipes to get me going, and build my confidence, now I love my meat free meals.  As an aside, if you are a little weight conscious like I am, just keep an eye on the calories, some of the meat free options can be a bit up there.

6. Cultivate your vegetables

Growing your vegetables is an enjoyable and rewarding way to cut costs, even if you don’t have green fingers. Start small, perhaps with herbs or a few types of easy-to-grow vegetables. This not only ensures fresh produce at your disposal but also reduces the amount of food waste, as you can harvest only what you need.

There’s a balancing act here between the cost of buying the vegetable seedlings and setting up a garden, and what you get to eat at the other end.  My first attempt was an abject failure, I grew veges that I didn’t really like (sorry broccoli), next time round, I focused on what I do like, (perpetual spinach) and I had a great harvest, the surplus I swapped with friends as we all grew different things. I’m now so enthusiastic, I have the worm farm and home composting happening as well.  So I now have compost too!

7. Allocate room for treats

If we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we want it even more.  So completely cutting out indulgences isn’t a good strategy. Instead, allow for some treats such as a bottle of wine this week, or some chocolate next. These items can satisfy cravings and prevent impulsive purchases on more expensive outings. This strategy involves mindful inclusion rather than restriction, promoting a more balanced approach to budgeting without feeling deprived.

8. Cook ‘takeaway’ meals at home

Replicating takeaway meals at home can save money and provide a healthier alternative to fast food. Ingredients often used in home cooking can create sweet and sour pork, pizzas, or curries at a fraction of the cost. This reduces your expenditure on takeaways and enhances your cooking skills and understanding of ingredients, making you a more versatile and resourceful cook.

You can also find ‘takeaways’ in your local supermarket as well, check out the price difference before you head down this route.

9. Eat before you shop

This is so true isn’t it. Mum always said, never go shopping on an empty stomach. It can lead to poor food choices and overbuying. Have a snack or meal before heading to the supermarket ensures you can resist temptations and stick to your shopping list. This strategy is rooted in the idea that satiety directly influences decision-making processes related to food, promoting more rational purchases based on needs rather than cravings.

10. Diversify your shopping venues

This strategy assumes you have time to diversify where you shop.  Sure you can probably save money by going to not just the supermarket, but getting fresh veges at the fruit and vege shop and meat from the butcher (if you are lucky enough to have one handy), but if you come home a frazzled mess due to tired and grumpy children (or your partner), and you still have a huge to do list to do over the weekend, this just isn’t for you. If you do have the time, expanding where you shop can uncover savings unavailable at your regular supermarket. Online retailers often offer competitive prices on bulk items like diapers or paper goods. In contrast, local butchers and produce stores may offer fresher goods at lower prices due to reduced overhead costs. By diversifying your shopping venues, you’re taking control of your grocery expenses and finding the best deals, which can be empowering and rewarding.

If you are going to do just one thing off the list, then do number 1, if you do the exercise well, it will save you money.

Then look at your lifestyle, your time commitments and pick one other thing from the list to try. 

Have some fun with the strategies. Over the years, I have mixed and mingled bits off all of the above, some have failed badly, and others I still do now.