Food for thought: how to slash money off your grocery bill

Co-author: Michelle Norton

Food is one of the basic necessities in life but, unfortunately, it is also becoming an increasingly expensive part of living, as the cost of many food items rise in New Zealand.

Kiwi households spent an average of $218 a week on food shopping, for the year-ending June 2016, an increase of $27 (14%) on the year prior, according to Statistics New Zealand. Extrapolated over a year, (52 weeks) New Zealanders spent $11,336 on groceries over the year. That’s a lot of dough on, well, dough and other items.

Good intentions to eat healthily also means spending more money, in many cases, particularly if you’re keen on avocados and kumera.

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Fair or not, now is a good time to reevaluate what you’re actually putting in your shopping trolley – and whether some of those items can be left safely on the shelf.

Canstar takes a look at how New Zealanders can knock off some dollars from their grocery bill, ranging from the tried-and-true methods, to some fresh food for thought.

  • Make a list and stick to it.
    So, this is not a new tip, but it’s a really key step when you’re trying to stick to a food budget. It will help to give you some focus while you’re navigating the supermarket aisles.
  • Don’t shop hungry.
    You will buy more food if you shop when you are hungry, and you will buy food that appeals to your appetite at the time, rather than what works for the weekly grocery budget.
  • Try to shop alone.
    Shopping with kids can add to your grocery bill and supermarkets know this. All grocery items that are geared towards kids are placed at eye level. However, on the plus side, some supermarkets now offer a free piece of fruit for the little ones. Take advantage of this if you are shopping with kids. Not only will it save you some money, but it will also keep your children entertained while they chow down on their healthy snack.
  • Get to know the food prices.
    Write down the regular prices of food you buy often. This will help you work out which stores have the best prices and if you are getting a good deal on sale items.
  • Look for reductions on produce and meats.
    If you intend to eat the fruit or vegetables the day you buy them, it often works out for the better because they are ripe and ready to eat. Fruit that is marked down is also great for baking, such as bruised apples or overripe bananas. Meat is often marked down the day prior to its ‘Best Before’ date. Eat it the night you buy or freeze it right away to eat later.

Plan of attack to long-term saving on your food spend:

    • Make meals from scratch

      Making your own meals from scratch is one of the biggest ways that you can save money. The nice thing is that home-made food is usually better for you too. So, making your own meals from scratch can be good for your wallet and your health.

    • Plan a menu

      Decide which recipes you will make for lunch and dinner. There are plenty of recipe ideas online. When you have a plan, you will be less likely to spend money on fast food or convenience meals.

    • Always cook too much

      Always try to cook more food than you need and then freeze the leftovers, or take them to work for lunch the next day. If you can avoid buying a lunch at work, you can save a lot of cash. Being smart with your leftovers will also help you save money throughout the week. For example, if you’re cooking a roast chicken with rice and vegetables for Sunday night’s dinner, you can use the leftover chicken to make sandwiches for Monday’s lunch. Then, you can use the chicken bones and any leftover rice and vegetables to make a chicken soup.Make a plan to take on student debt

    • Plan your meals around foods that are on sale

      Check supermarket catalogues, newspaper inserts and sites online. You may be surprised at the good buys available. But a word of caution: don’t buy extra treats just because you find it’s on sale. Canstar Blue’s latest survey on supermarkets found the majority of New Zealanders (68%) shop for special offers. You’re only truly saving money if you buy things that you actually need for your weekly shop.

    • Plan at least one meatless meal a week

      Legumes (beans, lentils, dried peas), eggs, tofu, peanut butter and canned fish offer great tasting protein at a good price.

    • Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer

      Keep a tab on the expiry dates of the foods and ingredients you have on hand. Then you  know which ones you need to use up you can look up recipes that use those foods and ingredients.

    • Enjoy grains more often

      Grains such as rice, pasta, barley and couscous are inexpensive and can be used in many different recipes. Try them in soups, stews and salads.

    • Avoid recipes that need a special ingredient

      Some recipes call for a special ingredient that you may not have. How much does that ingredient cost? Does it come in a small or big package? Can you use it in other recipes before it goes bad? It may not be worth the money to buy an ingredient if you are only going to use it once.  Leave the ingredient out, or try the recipe with an ingredient that you already have at home. It’s fun to experiment while cooking, and you may surprise yourself with the finished dish.

Look for seasonal recipes

Vegetables and fruit are cheaper when they’re in season. Online recipes will give you clues about the most delicious ways to use produce that’s in season.

Know what your family likes to eat

If you’re cooking for a tribe, encourage your loved ones to share their favourites and help with menu planning. That way, you can look for favourite ingredients and foods when they go on sale.

Another tip is to take advantage of shopping list apps on your smartphone. They can help keep you focused when it counts.

Think outside the supermarket

It’s not all about supermarkets and their shareholders. Markets, discount stores – meat and fish markets and farm gate produce – offer great prices for those looking for quality food.

Growing your own veges and herbs in the backyard is another money-saving option. For instance, summer baby lettuce leaves, tomatoes, spring onions, basil, rosemary, thyme etc are easy-growing crops.They also make you look good, as you nip down into the garden for a handful of fresh ingredients to ‘plate up’ a lovely luncheon salad for friends.

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