Have you been shocked by the total you've managed to rack up at the checkout lately? Follow these steps to help bring your weekly food costs down.33 ways you can save money NOW – check out our test case and see the results for yourself.
All our savings based on a weekly saving for a family of four.
Section 1: Plan ahead
1. Plan a weekly menu
Plan your week's meals in advance, before you shop. It means you won't fall short and have to resort to buying breakfast on the way to work or school, or fast food on the way home.
Dinner at home: $4 per person
Eating out: $15 per person
2. Shop with a list
A decent list is a stress buster – you don't worry about forgetting something or have to plan your week as you walk down the aisles. Your list will also help stop impulse buys and buying too much produce that looks good but you'll never get around to eating. Often, forgetting something while you shop means you have to pick it up at the corner shop or petrol station later – and you'll usually pay far more.
If you forget the cheese:
Cost in supermarket: $5
Cost in specialty store: $9
3. Use supermarket flyers
Supermarkets discount products from 10% to 50% and advertise in newspapers and letterbox drops. As you plan your meals for the week, take note of the specials and choose your dishes to make the most of the discounts.
Meat: $16 a kilo
On sale: $12 a kilo
Fruit: $7 a kilo
On special: $5 a kilo
4. Shop at ALDI
No fancy displays, DIY checkout packing, only one brand per item equals really low prices.
5. Stock your pantry
Keep a list of essential items - foods such as tinned tomatoes, pasta, rice, tins of tuna and cleaning products such as dishwashing liquid - in your pantry or purse make the most of sales or bulk buying opportunities. It's important to make sure you're not building up too much of a supply though - that money could be spent elsewhere.
Pasta regular price: $3.50
On sale: $2.50
6. Choose affordable recipes
How do you do that? Well, you can use the cost per serve guide on our recipes. And if you want to know how much other meals you make cost, you can price them yourself. Simply keep some receipts when you shop, then add up the ingredients in your favourite recipes and divide by the people they serve.
Average recipe: $8 per serve
Recipe Cottage Pie: $3.90 per serve
Potential weekly savings: $81
Section 2: Make a change
Small changes can mean big savings. Here are some ideas to get you started.
7. Snack smart
Plan to snack and buy them as part of your weekly shop. Buy a packet of choc chip cookies and dole them out to yourself in two cookie portions rather than buy a daily chocolate bar.
Packet of biscuits: $2
5 chocolate bars: $10
8. Use spray-on oil
We often use more oil than we need and a great way to cut down is to use a spray rather than a bottle, you'll also go through your olive oil more slowly.
Olive oil can cost $6 per bottle
9. Drink healthily
If you want to lose weight and save money, alternate juice or soft drink with water. You'll save on kilojoules as you drink half the amount of bought drink each week.
Coke 24 pack: $22.50
Coke 12 pack: $10.25
10. Go alcohol free
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend that Australians go alcohol free at least 2 days each week.
"¢ If this means you skip two glasses of wine each week, you could save. "¢ Save $28
11. Think bulk on regular purchases
It's cheaper to buy most things in bulk. So if you go through a lot of rice or flour you'll save by buying in larger quantities. Store in airtight containers with a bayleaf taped to the lid to ward off moths. Cut the expiry date off the packaging and pop it in too so you can keep track of its freshness.
1kg rice: $2.50
10kg rice: $10.70
Save $3 depending on use
12. Keep your fridge working for you
Store fruit and vegies in separate loosely tied bags in your crisper drawer. If you have two crisper drawers, use one for new produce and the other for old. Each time you buy 'new' transfer more to the older drawer. The goal is to get through the older stuff first.
Potential weekly savings: $58
Section 3: Waste not...
Make the most of everything you buy by storing them well – waste not want not is the name of the game.
13. Use your freezer
Get the most out of wine, lemon juice, stock, tomato pastes, pesto etc by freezing unused portions in an ice cube tray or small container in the freezer.
Chicken stock $3-$4
14. Make the most of leftovers
Extend leftover casserole or stir fry into dinner for the next night. (See smart leftover ideas following.)
Save $4 per person
15. Freeze fresh herbs
Fresh herbs can be expensive and then if you only use a third you're outlaying the same amount again the next time you need them. Freeze herbs such as basil and parsley by tearing the leaves off and placing them in ice cube trays and covering with water. You won't be able to reuse them in salads but they are perfect for stews, casseroles and pasta sauce.
16. Improve your storage techniques
Store your leftovers in a tight-fitting container that's the right size. Too big allows more air and therefore goes off faster. Store tomato paste and pasta sauce jars upside down too. Most vegetables last longer when stored in separate plastic bags. Or use bags specially created to keep vegies fresh. See page 29. "¢ If you're losing a jar of pasta sauce, you're costing yourself $5 or more each time.
17. Date it
Keep on top of what's still fit to eat and avoid throwing mystery products out unnecessarily by investing in a permanent marker. Keep a few sheets of sticky labels in your kitchen drawer and stick them onto your freezing containers. When you pop meat or leftovers in, make a note of the product and date on the container.
If you save yourself from throwing out 1kg of chicken you'll save $16
Potential weekly savings: $45
Section 4: Cook smart
Pay attention to how you cook – and then make some little changes to see your savings start to build.
18. Review your menu
Replace one meat meal per week with an egg-based or pulse-based meal. Think frittatas and casseroles and hearty salads.
Chilli con carne - $5 per serve
Vegie chilli - $3 per serve
19. Inexpensive ingredients
Use rice, pasta, potatoes, breads, noodles, lots of seasonal produce and a modest amount of protein - meat, fish or eggs - when you cook. You only need 100g meat, 120g fish, per serve.
800g chicken - $14
500g chicken - $8
20. Review your recipes
Don't forget that you can substitute different cuts of meat and vegies in almost any meal, from casseroles to stir-fries, to pasta sauces. Simply choose to use cheaper cuts and look for in season vegies.
Chicken beast fillets: $16 per kilo Thigh fillets: $10 per kilo
21. Add legumes
Make soups and casseroles go further by adding a tin of chickpeas, kidney beans or cannellini beans to the mixture. Make enough for an extra lunch.
22. Extend mince
Make mince dishes go further by adding cooked red lentils to dishes such as bolognese, chilli and meatballs. It will make the meal healthier by boosting your fibre and reducing your fat intake. Make enough for an extra lunch.
23. Stay in season
Combine seasonal produce with staples like flour, eggs, milk, cheese and canned fish for an endless variety of delicious and economical meals. Think soups, frittatas, curries, stir-fries, pasta and risotto.
Out of season green beans: $7
In season green beans: $3
Potential weekly savings: $40
24. Leftovers soup
At the end of every shopping week, chop up all your leftover vegies and pop in a big pot. Add some water, stock, a tin of tomatoes, a couple of handfuls of lentils or can of beans. Plus pasta and rice. Cook until the vegies and lentils are softened, then puree, date and freeze for up to 3 months. You can use for lunches, after school snacks or dinner.
25. Extend yourself
Add extras to a leftover casserole to extend it another meal. Try cooked vegies such as diced potato, mixed vegies, peas, or a tin of beans, such as chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils. Add extra accompaniments such as sweet potato wedges, a slice of bread and plenty of vegies.
26. Pastry parcels
Filo makes wonderfully flaky, crispy parcels of almost anything: use a sheet of filo as a topping for a ramekin filled with your leftovers by simply crumpling it up and gently placing it on top. Spray with cooking spray and cook until filo is golden and filling is hot. You can also make a cheap dessert by using tinned apples as a filling.
27. Savoury pancakes
Turn the leftover into savoury pancake filling. Thin pancakes can be made in bulk and frozen with a slip of baking paper between each one to prevent sticking. Defrost as required. They're great for fillings such as chicken casserole, leftover pasta sauces, vegie casseroles and ratatouille. Pancakes, when filled, can be sprinkled with a little cheese sauce or grated cheese, topped with a pasta sauce and baked like cannelloni or served as they are.
28. Crumble it
If you're not going to get through your fruit before it's past its best turn it into a delicious dessert. You can use apples, pears and stone fruit - chop into small pieces and arrange in a baking dish, drizzle with juice or honey and grill until fruit is soft. Then cover with some oats and nuts and bake for 10 minutes to make a crumble that uses up all your ripe fruit.
Most leftovers will last safely for three days in the fridge. (Use your eyes and nose to make sure they're still fresh.)
You can extend your leftovers' lives by freezing portion-size serves. Here's how long they'll keep.
Soup: 2 to 3 months
Casseroles: 3 months
Breads and cakes: 3 months
Chicken pieces: 4 months
Beef: 2 to 3 months
Fruits: 12 months
Vegetables: 8-12 months
Beef: 8 to 12 months
Poultry: 6-12 months
Defrost meat, poultry, fish and dairy in the fridge.
Precooked foods low in moisture (bread, cakes etc) can be thawed on the bench at room temperature.
When you need to be quick, use the microwave, on the defrost setting. Allow 12-15 mins per kilo of meat. Always remove store wrapping as it may release chemicals into the food.
Section 5: Shop smart
While you're shopping, keep your head down and your wits about you and you'll find it easier to stick to your budget.
29. Shop once
While topping up during the week is easy, it's a budget breaker. It prevents you from buying in bulk and there's more chance of impulse buying. Pick a time to shop and stick to it, then make do with what you have at home.
A block of cheese at the supermarket: $5
At the corner store: $9
30. Shop online
Buying online takes away the temptation to pop something extra in the trolley and lets you see your running total. Once you reach your budget you can delete or exchange for cheaper varieties. Few people feel they can leave things at the checkout but deleting online is easy.
Shop online: Stick to budget
Shop in store: From $5 - $20 over budget
31. Hand pick your produce
Where possible select individual items by hand. A sealed tray of food may conceal nasty surprises in the bottom that you'll have to discard. Choosing this way allows you to pick fruit and vegies at various stages of ripeness. You can choose soft tomatoes and avocados for today and firm ones for later in the week.
Buying mushrooms once: $5
Buying them twice: $10
32. Buy fresh produce weekly and avoid waste
Many of us can identify with the moment of reckoning when we throw out the sad looking fruit and vegies at the end of the fortnight. They could have been, should have been eaten but... went to waste.
Throw out 1/2 kilo of fruit and veg costs about $5
33. Use discount cards
Sign up with your local stores loyalty program. Some supermarkets, such as Franklins, offer special prices and points discounts to customers. Bakers Delight and other food franchises also offer loyalty deals.
Potential weekly savings: $36
Put it to the test
Rachel Millward put our budget ideas to the test and saved her family of four $50 in a week!
TIPS 1& 2 I planned a weekly menu then did one big shop. I forced myself to stick to it, and it was great. I actually cooked three dinners one day when both of my boys were sleeping and I was feeling energetic. I normally couldn't have done this as I would've needed to top-up shop. The next night I only needed to cook pasta or we would've had takeaway, as neither of the boys slept! Saved $20
TIP 4 I shopped at ALDI. We go occasionally but I made a real effort this week. I saved $15 on nappies alone! $9 on food. Saved $9
TIP 22 I added a cup of red lentils when I made spaghetti bolognese and it basically doubled the recipe. I froze the sauce and we had it again later in the week. Saved $7
TIP 24 I made the leftovers soup (page 27). I hate to admit it, but I often throw out vegies. So I made up the soup at the end of the week, froze it in small containers and convinced my husband to take one for lunch. He liked it so much he wanted it again the next day, instead of buying lunch. Saved $14
Total weekly savings: $50
How will you save?
Pick 5-10 tips and challenge yourself to save!
Plan a weekly menu
Shop with a list
Use supermarket flyers
Shop at ALDI
Stock your pantry
Choose affordable recipes
Make a change
Use spray oil
Fridge working for you
Waste not want not
Use your freezer
Make the most of leftovers
Freeze fresh herbs
Improve storage techniques
Review your menu
Review your recipes
Extend your mince
Stay in season
Don't shop too often
Hand pick your produce
Buy fresh weekly
Budget-savers we love
Frozen veggies: They're as good for you as fresh and last longer.
Tinned apples: Make a cheap dessert by wrapping tinned fruit in filo.
Green veggie bag: Avoid waste and keep veggies fresher longer with these bags.
Minced garlic: A cheap way to always have this healthy ingredient on hand.
Red lentils: Add to soups and casseroles to extend a meal and boost fibre.
Multipack plastic containers: Cook in bulk and save time and money.
Grated parmesan: You can freeze this and pull out a handful when you need it - so it never goes mouldy.
Freezer bags: Buy meat when it's on special and eat when you're ready by making use of your freezer.
Cans of beans: Extend any meal with legumes - the added fibre has loads of health benefits, too.
Bag of rice: Buy rice in bulk to save. Cook and freeze in handy portion sizes.
Filo pastry: Turn leftovers into another meal by wrapping them in filo.
Olive oil spray: Versatile and inexpensive. You'll still enjoy the flavour but use less oil.
Tinned tomatoes: Bulk up any casserole or soup and get another serve of veggies.
Pasta: Cheap to buy, goes with almost any leftover and fills you up!