Grocery Hacks

For a family of four, we have a very low average weekly grocery bill. I always knew we were on the low side, but it wasn’t until Mrs. R2A was talking with some of her friends recently and discovered they all spend $200-$250 a week that we realised we spend significantly less than a lot of other households.

Our average grocery bill is in the vicinity of $170 a week and can be as low as $120. Our kids are preschoolers so they don’t eat a lot, but they make up for it in the way on nappies and baby wipes. And when I say groceries, I’m including everything you get from the supermarket, i.e. toiletries, filters for the water jug etc. Here’s some examples of the grocery costs we’ve been able to reduce, replace or remove, and some we haven’t yet.

Reduce

  • Judicious use of supermarket brand products. It’s worth putting in the effort to discover which home brand products are acceptable for your family and which ones aren’t. For example, we’ve found that supermarket brand coffee and drinking chocolate are pretty gross. But canned goods don’t really change from one brand to the next. And while we might want some nicer bread if we’re having a sandwich, our kids aren’t going to care. Even more so if you’re toasting it.
  • Eating less meat. For meals where the star ingredient is the sauce, e.g. spaghetti bolognese or a curry, does it matter whether you have 500g of meat or 250g? The meat is fairly incidental in these kinds of meals and if you chop it into smaller pieces chances are you won’t even notice you’re eating less of it. And as with all reductions in consumption, you’re helping the environment too!
  • Eating less dairy. Cheese in particular is expensive. So we’ve moved away from cooking a lot of Italian and Mexican meals that I tend to grate copious amounts of cheese onto, and we’ve increased our Asian meals, or even roasts. A frozen chicken for $7.50 plus some veggies isn’t a bad deal. And it lasts us two nights!

Replace

  • Milk powder. Now this one isn’t going to be for everyone. If you drink a lot of fresh milk, you might find it hard to adjust to. But in our family, we don’t really. It’s just the kids who have fresh milk on their cereal and they’re not old enough to really notice the difference. Bulk food stores such as Bin Inn are great for this. We bought about $10 of powdered milk three months ago and we’re not even close to running out!
  • Have one “cheap meal” every week. A year or two ago we decided that one night a week we’d have something like spaghetti on toast or sausages in bread. They’re not super healthy meals, but the other six nights of the week our kids are getting plenty of veggies so we don’t feel bad about it. And for kids, having sausages for dinner is nearly as fun as going to McDonald’s!
  • Go back to basics with the toiletries. I was a teenager when it suddenly became fashionable to use what was then called “shower gel” but these days is more commonly known as “body wash”. However, good old-fashioned bar soap still does a perfectly good job and you can get a multi-pack of soap for a few bucks.

Remove

  • I’ve said it before, but most paper products aren’t really necessary. Paper towels? Just buy 5-10 decent cloths and they’ll last you years. Tissues? You can get ten handkerchiefs at Kmart for $10 and again they’ll last you well if you make sure you wash them frequently!
  • Potato chips. We used to go through one or two bags of chips a week. We only ever ate them late at night while watching TV, so once Mrs. R2A adopted a habit of not eating after 7pm we suddenly didn’t need to buy snacks like this any more. It’s a terrible habit to train your body to connect TV with food and our bodies are still getting used to this not being the case any more. But it gets easier every week 🙂
  • Cling wrap. Most households have a decent supply of containers. An airtight container will do just as good a job of keeping something fresh as cling wrap.

Things we want to remove but haven’t

  • Nappies. We tried cloth nappies for about a week when our son was born. I know they do work because plenty of people use them, but we got lazy. This would make a big dent in our grocery costs!
  • Toilet paper. Mrs. R2A is from the Philippines, where it’s much more common to wash after a visit to the facilities rather than wipe. Depending on whether you’re a “folder” or a “scruncher” an investment in a practical bidet (not a $1000 one with a seat warmer) should pay itself off in toilet paper savings within a couple of years. This is something we should just get on with but haven’t yet.
  • Fruit. We have a lot of fruit trees. If we put effort into getting a few decent preserving jars and learned how to do it, we’d see a lot less of our fruit going to waste and we’ save at the supermarket.

If you find ways to reduce your spending at the supermarket, there’s another thing I can guarantee you’ll save money on: rubbish bags. If you live in a district where your local rubbish collection service is funded by the sale of plastic bin bigs (as is the case in much of NZ), reducing your consumption will reduce your waste, which will reduce your need for things to put your waste in.

What are your grocery hacks? I’d love to pick up some more ideas we can adopt.

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