A few days ago someone asked me if the rising prices that seem to be hitting everything from food to haircuts was the reason why I was picking up so much CRT work. The question took me a little by surprise because this hasn’t been the reason at all.**
The conversation around the table then shifted to sharing sad tales of how our lives have already started to be impacted by things getting more expensive. I kept pretty quiet because no one likes a know-it-all. But I wondered if people might be interested in a post where I share some of the strategies that I’ve used over the years to help us get the most bounce per ounce in our grocery shopping.
I picked groceries because I think this is the main area where people can stretch their dollars. There are so many different ways here to tweak how and where we spend our money to keep more of it in our wallets. I know that once I got the other bills under control, grocery shopping was where I was able to keep finding ways to stretch our dollars further. These strategies have now become habits.
Over the years, as my financial situation improved, I’ve allowed some relaxation in some areas of our grocery spending. But the good thing about knowing how to stretch the dollars is that, if you ever need to, you can immediately tighten your spending up again because you already know how to.
The control lies with you. There’s power in that.
The two main ways to save money on groceries are to:
- Shop smarter, and
- Stop wastage.
The best way to save money on food is to (obviously) pay as little as possible for it. Shopping the specials and stocking up on items that have a long ‘use-by’ is a winning strategy.
If you’re feeding your family on food that has been purchased at a discount, obviously that means that more dollars stay in your pocket. The way I ramp up this is to have a store of food that I’ve bought cheaply… in bulk.
I’ve always had a store of food and other things that we regularly use at home. The habit of doing this started when I was a stay-at-home parent with many small mouths to feed. I’ve always been a long-term thinker, so it just made sense to stock up on items when they were on special, knowing that it meant that over time, I’d be feeding my family for less money per serve.
Yes, I’m that person who has multiples of the same things in their trolley. My pantry in the kitchen looks like anyone else’s, but open my ‘zombie apocalypse’ cupboard in the laundry and it’s a different story.
Currently, there are around 20 tins of different legumes; 30 tins of sardines for the little woofs; around 6 cartons of UHT milk; 3 boxes of tissues; 3 slabs of diced tinned tomatoes (my home-grown tomatoes were awful this year – normally I’d have heaps bagged up in the freezer); 2 huge bags of rice; around 20kgs of bread flour for bread rolls and pizzas; lots of different sorts of tea bags and dried home-grown herbal tea leaves; lots of toilet paper; dried red lentils, peas, and chickpeas; hand sanitiser; garbage bags and baking paper; red wine; ground coffee and a heap of other things.
When you buy multiples of an item that you’ll eat, you can then spread the savings out to magnify the savings. One tin of diced tomatoes at 50% off will save you, say, 50c. Buying 10 tins will save you $5.****
Over time, and with lots of different grocery items, those savings add up. Given enough time, those savings add up substantially.
I’m guessing that most people who read this post will have enough money to immediately start taking advantage of staples by buying them in bulk when they’re on special. For those of us in that position, then the main inhibitor on the size of our stash of groceries will be the amount of storage that we have available. No point stocking up on 4 slabs of toilet paper if you’ve got nowhere to put them! No one wants to be tripping over stacks of tins and packages in the hallway. as we make our way to the kitchen. So the size of our cupboards/shelves and other spots will be our guide.
If, however, you’re on an income with not much disposable money, storage isn’t usually the main issue. Instead, it’s gathering together the money to actually start buying extras of the groceries that your family uses. A store of extra groceries like this takes a fair bit of time to build up because you might only be able to buy 1 or 2 extra things, instead of 5 or 10. Sometimes, buying even a few extra things can be a real stretch. I know – I’ve definitely been there.
If this is your situation, then it helps to keep in mind that even buying ONE extra item at a great price is helping your overall situation. It might not move the needle much, but every tiny good decision is a step forward. Looking long-term, which is what I tend to do, many tiny good decisions can move you a long way.
And if you’re moving a long way, then as time goes on your position will improve and you can then take larger steps. That’s what happened with me.
An unexpected advantage of having a home ‘supermarket’ came to light during the pandemic. In the lockdowns, especially before the vaccinations came around, having these stores meant that we weren’t forced to go out and mingle with people. We were able to stay at home for far longer without being the slightest bit deprived.
I really loved that unexpected benefit of having a store of staples available.
Now, you can buy cheap food and store it away until the cows come home, but if you’re not actually using it, then you’re deluding yourself. Reducing food waste is the second essential part of stretching our grocery dollars.
I remember when I was at home with the kids, back when they were really little. I saw an ‘Oprah’ show where she had an efficiency expert come in. They were looking at food waste in random people’s houses.
He was going through a woman’s fridge and throwing food from her fridge crisper and pantry shelves into a garbage bag. He said something like, “Every time you don’t use food and have to throw it away, you may as well cut out the middleman and throw $50 notes straight into the trash.”
That made me sit up straight. He was absolutely right.
Due to my little family being on the bare bones of our ar##s anyway, our food waste was already pretty small. I couldn’t afford to waste much. But that remark made me redouble my efforts. Every time I was tempted to throw perfectly good food away, I’d see actual money being scraped into the bin.
It was more than flesh and blood could stand.
A few years later, when I decided I needed to grow some of our own food to help cut down on artificial additives in our food, the anti-waste thing REALLY came into its own.
A definite food chain developed. First humans. Then dogs. Then chooks. Then the worm farm. Then compost. Finally – the garbage bin.
Hardly anything went out the door. Our food stayed here, either nourishing our bodies or nourishing our garden, which in turn produced food to nourish us. It was an almost closed cycle.
That cycle, minus the chooks, continues today, even after we moved to The Best House in Melbourne. It’s extremely rare that the boys and I throw food away. We try and use up everything we buy, grow and make.
As the boys grew and some of them moved away and our household became smaller, sometimes we began to eat the same meal two nights running. The amount of food that would once be used up for one night to feed five of us can easily be stretched to feed three adults over two nights.
Any smaller servings are great to throw in the freezer and be used for a quick lunch a few days later. Today’s lunch of bolognese came straight from last night’s dinner. I think it was even tastier the second time around.
Speaking of small servings, sometimes I have steamed veggies left over from dinner. I have a container in the freezer that I throw them in. Every couple of months I make chicken stock paste and veggie stock paste… SO MUCH TASTIER AND CHEAPER than using the cubes and liquid stock from the supermarket. Each batch uses enough fresh veggies (and chicken, if I’m making a chicken stock paste) to fill up a thermomix jug. Of course, I pull anything that needs using up out of the crisper drawer from the fridge, but having the frozen ‘waste’ veggies from previous meals means that I’m using up ingredients that need to be used and saving some other veggies, that may be fresher, to be included in another meal later on.
Every little bit helps.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the two strategies of buying grocery specials in bulk and reducing food wastage as much as possible are the bedrock of being able to stretch grocery spending further. I know that to me it became almost like a game, where every time I used up something, found a great deal and bought up big, or made something stretch further, it was fun.
Let’s face it, the road to financial independence isn’t quick. It takes many years to get there. Anything that helps to get us closer and is like a game has GOT to be a win!
** Sequence of Return Risk and volunteering to help pay for a wedding are the reasons I’m doing casual relief teaching. 🙂
**** Of course, being me, I was going to keep the maths simple!
Dad joke of the day:
What’s it called when a chameleon can’t change its colours anymore?
A reptile dysfunction.