It’s amazing how much money you can save on groceries with a little bit of planning and the necessary know-how. We’ve done the work for you – follow these practical tips and enjoy the savings next time you shop. By Georgia Rickard.
Bargain hunting: Cut your bill at the checkout
1. Shop on a Friday
Shopping on a Friday can save you up to 20%, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Australian market research company The Bailey Group. That’s because retailers have rolled out all their specials for the week, including those ‘last-minute’ deals, that arrive just in time for your weekend BBQ or picnic.
Shopping bill $150
Friday shopping bill $120
2. Use unit pricing
Beware! The biggest box isn’t always the cheapest! Marketers have come to realise that consumers associate bulk buying with economy prices, so they’ll sometimes charge more for the larger size. Keep your wits about you and compare the unit price – if your store doesn’t offer it, use the calculator on your phone instead. (See below for more information on unit pricing.)
2.5kg washing powder $11
1kg washing powder $4
What is unit pricing?
Unit pricing requires supermarkets to display prices of products according to cost per unit (eg. per 100g or litre). Studies have found that unit pricing saves you money by indicating the true cost of goods. Following an inquiry by the ACCC, unit pricing looks set to become mandatory in all supermarket chains over the next six months.
3. Do a big shop once a month
Visit your local discount chain, such as ALDI, and stock up on all the basics you need for a month. You’ll save time, petrol and money by buying in bulk – and you’ll only need to top up on perishables (milk, bread, vegies) every other week.
Shopping weekly $150/week
Shopping monthly $130/week
4. Jump online
Logging on to your local supermarket’s website allows you to view all their specials for the week, then plan your weekly menu and shopping list accordingly. If you vary your shopping between both Coles and Woolworths, it will also help you choose which supermarket to go to that week so you can take advantage of all the best deals.
Buying steak for dinner $20
Buying steak on special $14
5. Use GroceryChoice
www.grocerychoice.gov.au is the government’s watchdog website, which publishes the national prices at supermarkets nationally of commonly purchased groceries each month – helping you find the best prices in your local area.
Usual supermarket basket $175
Best supermarket basket $154
6. Buy specials wisely
It’s common for supermarkets to sell popular products at a loss just to get you into the store. Take advantage of these excellent deals – known as ‘loss leaders’ – but don’t be lured into buying unnecessary, higher-priced items.
Normal price of chocolate $5
Discounted price of chocolate $2.50
Trade tricks: Avoid the traps of marketing
7. Visit your local grower’s markets
Get to know your local farmers – they’ll be able to tell you which produce is the best value for money, and what’s extra tasty each week. Locally grown produce hasn’t been stored for weeks before it reaches you, so it’ll stay fresher in your fridge for longer, meaning you’re a lot less likely to have to throw it out.
Supermarket apples $3.50/kg
market apples $2/kg
8. Skip the ‘pre-made’ products
They might be less time-consuming, but the convenience factor translates to a higher price tag. Cook from scratch instead – it takes just seconds to mix honey with soy for a marinade. Better still, you’ll know exactly what’s going into the food you’re eating.
Bottled marinade $3.20
Pantry items free
9. Put down the shopping basket
Baskets let you carry more, making you more likely to spend money on items you don’t need. If you’re just there to pick up milk and bread, ignore the habit. You’ll automatically limit yourself to what you can carry, so you’re less likely to make any impulse purchases. Similarly, if you have a dozen or so items to buy, ditch the trolley and grab a basket – once again, you’ll be less tempted to load up on things.
Impulse bag marshmallows $4.91
10. Forget the coupons
These might sound great, but they’re usually products that don’t sell well or that you wouldn’t normally purchase. Only use coupons if it’s to buy things you need; you’re not saving money if it just sits in the fridge until it goes off, even if it is half price.
Unused bag oranges $5
11. Shop on a full stomach
Researchers at Montreal Neurological Institute have proven it – you buy more when you’re hungry. The 2008 study found that the hunger-inducing stomach hormone, ghrelin, makes food seem more appealing – so you’re more likely to buy extra food, and foods higher in kilojoules.
Shopping before dinner, extra $5
12. Shop alone
How often do the kids ask for a new toy, packet of chips or some lollies when you take them to the shops? Avoid the influence of ‘pester power’ whenever possible and leave the kids at home. You’ll get the shopping done much faster and more cheaply.
Child’s toy $3
13. Embrace leftovers
Your butcher’s, that is. They often have leftover bones to give away for free, which make great snacks for your dog or cat.
Pet snacks $5
Bone from butcher free
14. Live on the edge
It’s no accident that the perimeter of the store is where all the necessities (dairy products, fruit and veg, fresh meat, baked goods) are. Avoid the middle of the supermarket and focus on the outer aisles – not only will you save money, you’ll eat much healthier, too.
Buying a bag of chips $4.30
15. Check your receipt
Make sure your items are scanned correctly at the checkout. It’s not uncommon (particularly with sale items) for prices to be wrongly listed in the computer. If there’s a problem, politely say so. It’s your money!
Regular punnet strawberries $3
Sale price $1
16. Listen to your iPod
The laid-back, relaxing music shops play is designed to slow you down, and shoppers who shop longer spend more. So bring along your iPod and play some up-tempo music to keep you racing through the aisles.
Stopping to sample sausages – and buying some $5
Smart swaps: Easy changes that are good for your wallet and your waistline
17. Reconsider packaged produce
Pre-chopped lettuce goes off much faster, pre-squeezed lemon has less taste, and even though a jar of minced garlic is more convenient than the fresh version, you’ll need twice as much to get the same flavour. It might be cheaper, but what’s really better value?
170g jar garlic $3.07
Fresh garlic $0.39
18. Replace chips with potatoes
Did you know that a family-sized bag of chips only contains about one large potato (an average desiree potato weighs 210g)? Try chopping up some wedges and baking them with a sprinkling of paprika or any other spice or herb to enjoy a healthier, more filling snack that’s just as tasty – and a whole lot cheaper.
200g potato chips $4.30
200g potato $0.68
19. Try dark chocolate
It’s better for you and the stronger taste means you’ll eat less.
250g block milk chocolate $5.11
100g block dark chocolate $3.26
20. Buy frozen berries – instead of fresh
They’re much easier to transport and they last longer, which is why they’re so much cheaper – but they’re just as tasty and nutritious.
500g fresh raspberries $34.48
500g frozen raspberries $8.62
21. Swap ‘diet’ for normal
Studies have repeatedly shown that people eat more when their food is ‘light’ or ‘diet’. Apart from defeating the original purpose of kilojoule-cutting, you’ll run out of food faster! Swap the specialty foods for the ‘normal’ versions and learn to watch your portion size. Portion control has been found to be the most effective behavioural technique for weight-loss, so you’ll be doing yourself a favour.
2 diet desserts $2.78
2 fun-size Milky Ways $0.30
22. Try frozen banana
Banana is sumptuously creamy when frozen. Just peel and pop into the freezer with cling wrap, then leave until hard. Chop and sprinkle with cinnamon, a dollop of frozen yoghurt or some Milo for a cheap dessert.
4 ice-cream serves $6
4 bananas $2
Clever cooking: Make your kitchen budget-friendly
23. Buy ‘social’ ingredients
There’s no point spending money on an ingredient that you’ll only use a portion of in one recipe – it’ll go off before you can use it again. Unless it’s a special occasion, stick to ingredients you can use every day.
Bunch unused shallots $3
24. Use small containers
Famous author and researcher Brian Wansink and his co-workers found that the larger the container, the more we tend to eat – even if we don’t like the food! Portion off your bulk buys into smaller containers and you’ll automatically serve yourself less each time.
Using half as much spaghetti $2
25. Plan around your vegies
Lettuce fades much faster than broccoli. Plan salads with your meals for the days immediately following your shop, and save your hardier vegies for the end of the week.
Unused bag of spinach $3
26. Rethink portion size
Numerous studies have shown that the size of the portions we eat at home has been growing, and that the amount that we think of as the typical or appropriate portion has grown along with it. Serve up one less chicken breast at dinner – you can use it for sandwiches tomorrow.
Using 1 less chicken breast $4.50
27. Grow a herb garden
All you need is a small, sunny spot on your windowsill to create a never-ending supply of healthy, convenient, tasty flavour. They’ll add extra zest to your meals, a touch of foliage to your home, and they’ll never go off.
Buying cut herbs $3.50 each
28. Cook with lemon
Try adding a squeeze of lemon to your meal – it’s a cheap, low-fat, antioxidant-filled way to jazz up a bland meal, and the added acidity will take longer for you to digest. Do it regularly and you’ll feel less need to snack between meals.
Skipping afternoon tea (2 biscuits) for a week $4
Lovely leftovers: Keep your food dollars out of the bin!
29. Resurrect vegies
Use your leftover vegies and stale bread to make veggie burger patties. Crumb the bread and mush together with the vegies and some onion, garlic, spices and herbs. Pan-fry. Pop it on a burger with lettuce, cheese and sauce for a delicious meal.
Corner store burger $6 per person, DIY burger $2 per person – save $22
30. MIY – make it yourself
Don’t stop at the main meal: try jams, chutneys, sauces, seasoning, dips and desserts, too. Almost anything in the supermarket can be easily made using simple ingredients.
Making seasonings with spices at home
31. Turn leftovers into pizza
Pop leftover vegies, meat, salsa, herbs and dips onto wholemeal pita bread and freeze for when you’ve got a craving. It’ll save you from ordering the fast food version, and if you get the kids involved you can serve it cold in their lunchbox. You’ll be surprised at what they will eat if they’ve made it ‘themselves’!
1 delivery pizza $16
5 filled pita breads $3
32. Make fruity beauties
Blend floury watermelon, mushy strawberries, squishy pears, bruised mango and any other fruit that needs rescuing with some fruit juice. Freeze with a paddle pop stick for a healthy after-school treat on a hot summer‘s day.
Icy poles $3
Using old fruit free
33. Think quiche
Just about any leftover meat or veg can be put into a pastry-lined tin and baked with whisked eggs and milk. Serve with a leafy salad for Sunday lunch.
Buying lunch $5
Smart storage: Make your pantry work for you
34. Reuse plastic bags
When storing your fruit and veg in the fridge, store it in bags – they’ll last longer by retaining more moisture.
35. Store fruit separately
If some fruit is ripening faster than others, store it separately – fruit gives off ethylene as it ripens, which will affect the surrounding fruit.
36. Put your bread in the fridge or freezer
The bread will keep for much longer, and if you use frozen bread to make the kids’ sandwiches, it will be thawed by lunchtime.
37. Swap fridge drawers
Change them for airtight plastic containers and your salad ingredients will stay fresh for days longer.
38. Freeze your yoghurt
Not only will it last longer, it’ll provide you with a cheaper, healthier alternative to ice-cream. Add over-ripe fruit before you freeze for a healthy, frugal twist.
39. Keep produce ‘intact’
Half a capsicum, for example, remains fresher for longer when stored with the stem, seeds and membrane.
40. Learn your labels
‘Use by’ foods should never be eaten past the listed date, but the ‘best before’ label refers to food quality, meaning that it’s still usually safe to eat, though it may no longer be at its best. Take note of the dates on food, and plan your meals accordingly.
41. Make it last
Try not to waste: Did you know that 20% of the food we buy goes straight to the bin simply because it’s no longer fresh, or left over?
Fresh broccoli: You can refresh broccoli by chopping off a centimetre of the stem and putting it in water (like a vase of flowers). Leave for a day – voila!
Fresh baked bread: You can freshen up a day-old loaf by briefly holding it under water and oven baking on a moderate heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until crusty.
Keeping fruit fresh: Using cut banana in a fruit salad or sandwich? Place in very hot water for 15 seconds before peeling. Let cool, peel and use as normal – it won’t go brown for hours.
42. Experiment with branded vs generic products
In a study earlier this year, California Institute of Technology researchers gave participants identical glasses of wine to try. The participants were told they were tasting a different wine each time – and that each wine cost a different amount. Although the wine was identical, the testers rated the more ‘expensive’ wines as better tasting, suggesting we believe higher prices indicate better quality. But price is often related to factors like marketing, not the product’s quality – so trial a less expensive product, you might like it just as much."
Save on organics
A recent study by the Environmental Working Group revealed that some fruit and vegetables are much less affected by pesticide use than others. If you’re concerned about chemicals but don’t want to pay organic prices, keep these rules of thumb in mind:
Buy regular watermelon, lemon, grapefruit, papaya, banana, mango, pineapple and avocado – they’ve all been found to be low in pesticide residue. It’s thought that this is because their thicker skin provides a barrier to pesticide absorption.
Members of the Allium family contain natural pesticides, so they’re protected from direct exposure to pesticides when grown (and some, like garlic, are even used as natural insect deterrents for other crops!). Other types include onion, chives, leeks, and shallots.
Because of the blanching and cooking required, processed foods like tomato purée and canned fruit generally have fewer pesticide residues.
Avoid ‘faux-ganics’ – unless a label specifically says ‘certified organic’ you may only be paying for a label.
Are your eggs fresh? When eggs go bad, they build up gas, which makes them float. Test this by placing them in water – if they remain on the bottom, they’re fresh. You’ll need to throw them out if not.