I never gave much thought to how much my Husband and I spent on groceries or take away until I was getting ready to go on maternity leave with my first child. In order to prepare I decided it was time to look at where we spent our money, and make a plan for the following year while I was on maternity leave.
This was a painstaking process as we had never kept track of our expenses. We pulled out every bill from the past year, backtracked through our bank statements to find any reference to grocery shopping, and generally looked at our expenditure and catergorised it. What was most shocking was the sheer amount of money we simply could not account for. It had gone on miscellaneous items, eating out, and just general frivolity.
While I was on leave I really looked for ways to make our grocery shop stretch further, and since then I would say we do pretty well. I won't pretend that we have a super low grocery bill, there are certainly areas we could cut costs further, if needed. However, we are also aware of those choices we make that make the bill a little higher. Choosing certain brands over others, not always using the cheapest cuts of meat etc. I do know that we do one major shop every 2 months spending about $300 and then small top ups equaling maybe another $50 -100 a month. These are often for non bulk items suc as milk, fruit and veg. The big shop also includes items such as nappies, wipes, cleaning products, and the occasional 'I bought because we saw it' splurge.
So here are my top tips:
1) Have a 'Eat what you have' week (or two)
A week or so before a bi- monthly shop I go through the fridge, freezer and pantry. I check what meat and vegetables I have that need using and write them down. I then check what items I have in the pantry. Armed with this knowledge I wrote down as many meals as possible using up as much of the ingredients as I can.
This is a really great way of ensuring you are not wasting anything. It is surprising how many more meals you can actually get when you think you have nothing left. I aim to take any leftovers in the freezer for lunch that week, and use up and last bits of sauces that may be in the fridge.
2) Meal plan
Once you are ready to do a big shop, do a big brainstorm of what meals you would like to have. I make up a table with 3 columns. In one column I put the names of meals. In the second I put any ingredients; or in some cases if trying something new, I put the recipe. Once I have down a big brainstorm I then put the tiems I need to buy in the far column. I check where I use an ingredient more than once, I make sure I have the quantities of meat I need, and I remove any items I may have already.
When brainstorming I think about the following
- What are our favourite meals to eat?
- Is there anything new I want to try?
- What are some really quick, cheap meals. These are for the days you might be tempted to just get take away
- Have a mix of meals that need fresh ingredients (Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs) and some that can use freezer and pantry staples (Frozen Vegetables, oven wedges, canned corn etc)
3) Make what you can from a few staple items
I personally don't use many packet mixes. This is partly due to cost, and partly due to concern about what is in some things (preservative, salt, anti caking ingredients etc).
So many meal bases are actually really easy to make yourself, and last a long time. There are so many things I can make so long as I have the following items
- Soy Sauce
- Minced Garlic and Ginger
- Olive Oil
- Spices ( I use paprika, cinnamon, tumeric, cumin, fennel, dried chilli and basil the most)
- Tomato Paste
- Tinned Tomato/Passata
- Coconut Milk
From the above items I know I have everything i need to make Asian marinades, Mexican spices, Italian sauces, gravy and curries. That means there are a lot of meals that can be made where I just add meat, vegetables and a either pasta, rice or wraps.
4) Reduce your meat intake
Being Australian, many of us have been brought up on the 'Meat and 3 Veg' meals. This is fine, except the serving size of meat is often too large.
My Husband and I noticed that when we ate meals such as stirfrys and curries we could easily use about 250g - 300g meat between us. This still often left enough foe either a second serve, or leftovers for lunch. We bulk up a lot of our meals with vegetables, and have tend to have a carbohydrate too. We will tend to only have a meal the requires a whole piece of meat once a week.
Another good idea is to have meat free meals. This might mean a vegetarian or fish/seafood meal. Frozen prawns and fish are not very expensive, and make quick, cheap meals. Some of our favourite meat free meals are:
- Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni
- Prawn Fried Rice
- Salmon and Vegetables
- Vegetable Frittata or Quiche
5) Use some cheaper items and buy in season
You can use cheaper cuts of meats and this does not always mean fattier. I just cut off any visible fat and slow cook the meat, This is great for curries and stews, as well as roasts that you slow cook.
I tend to use a premium mince, which has less fat. It does cost more tat the super cheap mince, but I tend to think I get more out of it as there is less fat in it. Also, it is very easy to bulk up mince by adding carrots, celery and other vegetables to any mince mixture.
I also use canned beans. These can be added to mince for a mexican dish, can be made into a simple side dish (can of 4 bean mix, some vinegar dressing, a can of corn kernels, fresh herbs).
For fruit and vegetables if you look at what is in season you can have fresh produce that is very cheap. It is also worthwhile checking out any marked down items. These are often close to expiry, but if you plan to use them for a meal within the next few days they are fine. Or if they are an item you can cut up and freeze.