How to save on your weekly grocery bill

After rent or mortgage payments, food is possibly the largest household expense.  While rents and mortgage rates are followed closely, potential savings on groceries can often be overlooked.

Last year, a moderate food shop (includes a variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and some convenience foods), for a family with two school-aged children was estimated to cost an average of $290 per week[1].  Once children hit adolescence, the cost is pegged higher. 

So how can you save on this large expense?

The common money mistakes made when food shopping boil down to lack of planning, shopping when hungry or tired and not comparing prices. 

  1. Plan first

Form the habit of going to the supermarket knowing exactly what you need to buy.  Take the time to plan your evening meals, use what’s already in your pantry and make a shopping list accordingly.  A typed list of weekly essentials, such as breakfast food, pet food and lunch box fillers may be useful as a base.

Try to use everything at home so you don’t spend more than you need. This has the additional benefit of reducing waste.

  • Time your shop

If your schedule permits, plan to go when you’re likely to be relaxed and rested – and not hungry!  This allows you the willpower to say no to impulse purchases (think tonight’s convenience meal, chocolate and/or extra treats) and to think about each purchase before buying.  A mindset change and saying no can be empowering and habit-forming. 

  • Compare prices

Compare prices of home brands and weekly specials, ensuring that you’re comparing the same size and weight and the nutritional value.  To use a staple item, at supermarket brand Countdown, a 420g can of Oak Baked Beans costs $1.00, whereas a 300g can of the Watties brand costs $1.99[2].  At $1 extra for one just item, the savings quickly add up.  

If a staple product (e.g. laundry powder) is available in bulk, it’s worthwhile to consider the savings, but only if you have space to store it.

As food shopping is a considerable household expense, it’s wise to review spending regularly, including mid-week top-up purchases such as bread and milk.

Whilst shaving off $50 per week on groceries is definitely achievable, even a more modest $20 per week in conscious cost cutting represents an annual saving of over $1,000 per year.   Reducing spending doesn’t have to mean going without seasonal fruits or the odd convenience food.  Regular savings can be made through menu planning, timing your shop and comparing prices, remembering that little and often is more sustainable than large cut-backs.

[1] Otago University Department of Human Nutrition annual food costs survey. 

[2] Online prices as at 28th May 2019 (or however you determine the prices)

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