Savings

Can be done: Leanne Hindley and family do well of a $120 weekly food budget.

Can be done: Leanne Hindley and family do well off a $120 weekly food budget. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

Finding ways to save money on groceries has become quite an obsession among Australians. Dedicated grocery budgeting Facebook groups are popping up, while advertising campaigns promising to show us how to cook a family meal for under $10  suggest we’re trying to find ways to better budget our grocery dollars.

We spend an average of $204.20 a week on groceries in 2009/10, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Food costs have risen considerably since then, though.

According to Woolworths, price is now the single most important driver of store choice for shoppers, outranking shopping experience and inspiration. Budget-conscious shoppers stock up mostly on a Thursday, likely driven by the timing of weekly and fortnightly payrolls and government benefits, the report says.

Called Trolley Trends, the report also found that the average Australian household spends $10,618 on food and non-alcoholic drinks a year. It adds up to a whopping $80 billion a year on groceries at the 2000 or so supermarkets around the country.

However, players like GroceryRun.com.au are shaking up the pricing war. The online retailer offers big discounts on branded items by working with grocery suppliers to offer up to 80 per cent off what the customer would expect to find in stores. New deals and specials are added daily and can save shoppers an average of 50 per cent compared to the big supermarkets.

Strict budgeting is the key to saving money, says mother of two Sandra Reynolds, who feeds her family for $120 a week and blogs about it at 120dollarsfoodchallenge.com.

Her philosophy is that everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances, deserves to eat healthy and nutritious meals.

She advocates shopping once a week with a list; based on a week of pre-planned meals, eating vegetarian twice a week, buying food in season in your area and buying generic brands or shopping at wholesalers.

‘‘You can’t expect to rush into the supermarket on your way home from work to grab something for the evening meal and expect to buy it cheaply," Reynolds says.

"Generally speaking, if you want to save money, you will have to trade some of your time. Time to plan ahead, time to write out a shopping list, time to navigate supermarkets mindfully rather than filling your trolley with items you don’t actually need and crucially, time to make some meals from scratch rather than relying on expensive pre-prepared foods.

‘‘I shop in a major city and have ready access not just to the big two supermarkets, but smaller retailers, plus wholesalers, markets, discount supermarkets, Asian grocers and shops that sell dried goods.

‘‘For people living in a regional area, dependent on the Big Two supermarkets, finding cheap food can be more difficult, although there are still some sensible ways everyone can save.’’

You can save if you’re open to eating differently, Reynolds adds.

‘‘Stop relying on the same dozen or so meals that you constantly make, which can be more expensive over the course of the year.

‘Also, the more processes you can do yourself, such as chopping salad leaves yourself rather than buying a more expensive prepared bag of salad leaves, the cheaper your meal will be,’’ Reynolds says.

Nutritionist and founder of Melbourne’s Healthy Energy, Sarah Leung agrees that you don’t need to spend a fortune to eat healthy. Shopping at markets can also help you save.

‘‘Unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meats and fish are mostly inexpensive and nutrient dense. On the other hand, the cost of processing and packaging can make foods on supermarket shelves more costly in comparison to fresh fruits and vegetables, which is why you tend to spend more at the supermarket.’’ For optimum health, vegetables should make up half of your meal, while carbohydrates and protein should account for a quarter each, she says.

Filling the fridge for lots less

Grocery budgeting became a priority when Melbourne’s Leanne Hindley became a stay-at-home mum five years ago. Household earnings dropped dramatically and with more mouths to feed, the trained accountant began looking for ways to cut her grocery bill.

Firstly, she waded through bank statements for a three-month period to determine what she was spending on groceries. The average was $320 but she knew she could cut if she tried. While it made financial sense to drive between each supermarket chasing the specials, she didn’t have time. So, she started doing most of her shop at Aldi instead of the big supermarkets.

The mother of a six-year-old and two-year-old twins also began menu planning and only buying seasonal fruit and vegetables, which are usually cheaper.

‘‘I found that by cooking double portions and eating leftovers later on during the week helped me save more money.’’ Hindley also did one big shop for the week and tried not to go back to the supermarket until the following week.

‘‘This is achievable if I write a really detailed list and shop smartly. For example, at the start of the week, my kids eat things like grapes and watermelon. Towards the end of the week, they eat fruits that last longer, like apple, mandarins and rockmelon, depending on the season.’’

She has managed to save around $250 a month, and she recently began blogging about her experience at budgetmycoin.com.au, which provides inspiration for people to take control of their finances and make better use of their money.

‘‘In today’s consumerist society, it’s very easy to get caught up in materialistic trappings. With the money we save on groceries, we’re able to make extra repayments on our mortgage, which will make our dream of being debt-free achievable more quickly.’’ 

Supermarket secrets

What do supermarkets NOT want families to know about saving money?

  • The most expensive brands, or the ones being promoted heavily, will always be on the two shelves that sit between waist and shoulder height. Cheaper products are often stocked below knee height.
  • Supermarkets know that you may only want milk but put it at the back of the store in the hope you’ll pick up items you don’t need.
  • The fewer processes a food item has been through, the cheaper it is likely to be, which is why frozen packaged meals make no financial sense whatsoever.
  • There’s nothing wrong with asking for four slices of ham if that’s all you really need.
  • Eat what’s in season; it’s cheaper and more nutritious.
  • Every supermarket discounts produce and perishable goods prior to taking delivery of new stock, often daily.
  • Shopping after 8pm could pay dividends. Bring it home, portion it out and freeze to maximise your savings.

Source: Sandra Reynolds, 120dollarsfoodchallenge.com