Food is one of our biggest expenses after shelter and transportation, and there’s not much getting around that – we need to eat! However, we tend to spend more on groceries than we need to.
On top of that, we often waste a lot of what is bought. In Australia, over 7 million tonnes of food is wasted each year; the equivalent to 300kg per person. Although some of this occurs at the commercial level, household waste is a major contributor to this figure. In Victoria, the average household throws away $2,136 in food waste each year – or around $42 a week!
Here I have outlined some tips I follow to buy and use my groceries more strategically. Using these methods, we very rarely (if ever) have food wastage, and the bill for the two of us is usually between $55-$75 AUD per week (which is around $40-$60 USD).
Some of these tips you may have heard before (because they work!), but I hope there is something new here to try too.
1. Do your grocery shopping based on your habits
If you tend to end up with a lot of wasted food at the end of the week, you might be better to shop a few times during the week for exactly what you want, right before you intend to use it. This could help reduce food waste caused by well-intentioned but aspirational meal plans.
In contrast, if you tend to eat all the food you buy and have less of a problem with food waste, I recommend shopping only once a week and not going back to the store, which works well for me. If you run out of something midweek, you’ll get creative in using up other items instead. This will also make it much easier to keep track of what you are spending each week.
2. Avoid shopping while hungry
You have probably heard this before, but it does make a huge difference in your ability to think clearly and rationally at the grocery store. The hungrier you are, the tastier things seem. This is especially the case for processed, packaged foods, which also tend to be more expensive!
3. Shop majority generic brands
There can be huge discrepancies in cost between the same food items under different brands, and often very little difference in quality and taste. Simply switching to majority generic brands made a massive difference in the average cost of our weekly grocery bill.
Through trial and error, you may determine items where the generic brand just doesn’t quite meet expectations and it’s worth the extra money to stick to your favourite brand (for example, chocolate!) but I recommend experimenting first.
The exception is when there are discounts or offers on name brand items, as these can sometimes end up a similar price to generic.
4. Start tracking what’s coming in and out of your home
I think this deserves its own tip because in order to start saving money on groceries, it helps to have a good understanding of exactly what you are buying, how often you are buying it, and how much of it actually gets eaten.
This will also help you determine the “big ticket” items that are frequently on your list, and you can focus on strategies to reduce the spend on these (e.g. by buying them less, buying generic brands, buying in bulk etc.).
Keep hold of your receipts for a period of time (for example, a month) and track how often you are buying certain items. Do a stocktake of your cupboard and freezer; are there any items that seem to build up faster than they are being used?
5. Make meat go further
If you and your family eat meat, it’s likely one of the more expensive items on your list. Despite this, we often treat meat as the star of our meals, resulting in a rather high average cost per meal. Incorporating a few meat-free meals into the week and/or decreasing the ratio of meat in recipes (in favour of vegetables, healthy grains/starches or legumes) may help to lower your bill come grocery time.
6. Make friends with legumes
Following on from number 5, a fantastic way to bulk out meals is with legumes: cheap, filling, storage-friendly and extremely nutritious. And yet, many people in Western countries never cook with them!
There are so many ways you can incorporate legumes into your meals while maintaining the original texture and taste of the meal. Some simple ways include by adding black beans to beef burger patties, lentils to spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie, or chickpeas to curries or stir fries.
7. Keep a few go-to quick and easy meals up your sleeve
It’s hard to plan every meal, and sometimes good intentions can lead to self-sabotage when they’re unrealistic. If you set out to cook elaborate home-cooked meals every night of the week, at some point you are going to feel unmotivated, and likely opt for takeaway instead.
While this is absolutely fine occasionally, it can get expensive if it becomes a regular habit. An alternative for those busy nights is to have some quick and easy go-to meals that you and your family love and can rely on one or two nights a week without getting bored.
8. Choose meals that freeze well
What I do find boring is eating the same meals over and over on consecutive days. However, with only two of us living here, we almost always have leftovers.
By cooking meals that freeze well, we ensure that we never waste our leftovers, but also don’t need to eat them straight away. We just pop the leftovers into the freezer and return in a few days (or a few weeks!), when we feel like the meal again.
9. Buy in season
This is another one you have probably heard before, but buying fruit and vegetables when they are in season can definitely save money, as the supply is higher and they are less likely to need importing from far away. They also tend to taste a lot better! I find this chart helpful for determining when Australian fruit and vegetables are in season. It can also be a fun way to get inspired to experiment with fruits and vegetables you wouldn’t normally think to buy.
10. Actually make a list!
This seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of people still don’t do this! Making a list sets out exactly what you need and how much of it you need, so you’re less likely to over-buy “just in case”. If you plan your meals and create your list accordingly, you’re also less likely to buy a great assortment of foods that when it comes to cooking time, you discover don’t actually go very well together!
I use a free app called AnyList to write my grocery list. I find this very useful because it retains the history of all items previously listed, which is helpful for quickly adding staples or common buys each week. You can also sync the list between devices, so my partner and I can both add items and cross items off as necessary!
I hope these tips are of use, they certainly save me a lot of money each week! Do you have any other tips to add that you swear by? Do you currently follow any of the tips listed here?