I don’t know how you feel about this but I think food is becoming more and more expensive. Statistics show that food is the 3rd highest household expenditure, after housing and transport, in South Africa. As I do most of the grocery shopping in our household I pay attention to the prices and it seems to me that each time I go to the shops something else has just gone up again, based on the food items we tend to buy regularly. I don’t know how the average consumer manages to keep up without feeling the pinch. I try my best to be as frugal and careful as I can be when it comes to grocery shopping and here’s how I save us money on month-end shopping for food:
- Have a budget. This one tops my list. Know how much you can afford to spend each month on food, and avoid buying on impulse. We don’t use credit cards to buy our groceries. We budget and we buy only what we can afford. We do have to make an effort to stretch things a little towards the end of the month but that’s the perfect time to get creative with the food items that we have in the cupboard, fridge or freezer and we end up making some of the most delicious meals!
- Go shopping with a shopping list, and stick to it! As I do our grocery shopping once a month, I tend to write down items on a shopping list as we run out during the month. Before I make the trip to the shops, I always check the cupboards, the fridge and the freezer and add to the list of items to buy. What I also like to do is write down ‘generic’ e.g. meat so that when I’m at the shops I can buy the meat that’s on special for that week or month, which means that we always have different meats on the menu each month, while we spend less. Check out some of my recipes in the Thrifty Recipes section of my blog.
- Check out the specials, and compare them! I always do this before I head for the monthly shop. Different supermarkets have different specials on. Just before the 25th, there are loads of specials inserts in our local weekly – the Alberton Record – and I make sure I look at each one of those inserts from front to back! We’re lucky, I guess, in that we have all the major supermarket chains in our vicinity so I can do the rounds at the end of the month without spending more than a litre or two of fuel at a time and still manage to save on our total grocery bill. I know that doing monthly shopping at the end of the month means long queues at the tills, problems with parking, etc., I grin and bear it because the best specials always come at the end of the month and we save the most.
- Buy in bulk and stock up on items when they’re on special – meat, frozen veggies, tins of food, condiments, staples, household cleaners, etc. whatever can last a while. I find this helps us save quite a bit in the long run but be sure to keep track of expiry dates and use up everything before it expires. I also found the guidelines in this Refrigerator & Freezer Chart quite useful.
- Cook in batches and freeze. I do this with soups and stews mostly and find that not only do I save on electricity – I cook the same meal once instead of five or six times – but we have our home-cooked, ready meals to just heat up and eat at the end of the day.
- Buy vegetables in bulk, wash, peel, chop and freeze. We buy our veggies from an awesome greengrocer in the Alberton area – Apple Tree. Veggies in season (and also fruit) are cheaper when you buy in bulk, and definitely cheaper at the greengrocer than at the supermarket. All the peeling and chopping takes a bit of time, sure, but we save quite a bit on our overall grocery bill for the month especially with veggies that freeze well such as butternut, onions, mushrooms, herbs, etc. Have a look at this guide to Freezing Vegetables.
- Plan your meals around what’s on special that month. I do this with both meat and veggies, so I buy the cheapest of what’s available when I do my monthly shopping. Neither my husband nor I are fussy eaters and this way, we get to have a variety of meals on the menu each month.
- Avoid buying ready meals. They may be ‘convenient’, yes, but they’re also a lot more expensive and far less healthy for you. Plus, nothing beats the goodness and freshness of a home-cooked meal that’s good for the budget too!
- Take your own breakfast and lunch to work, and you will save tons on your grocery bill for the month! It’s so easy to pack up some leftovers the night before so it’s ready to go in the morning. If there are no leftovers, a sandwich and a fruit will do. Plus, I’d much rather spend my lunchtime actually enjoying my meal and having a quiet break instead of organising lunch.
- Don’t eat out often. We have a choice of one take-away meal each month, as a treat, and for that we budget R120 or less. We eat at a restaurant once or twice a year, at the most, and if that.
- Try the no name brands. Most of the time, there’s not that much of a difference in taste: margarine is still margarine, milk still tastes like milk and so does sugar and tuna.
- Buy refillable items of anything and everything that you can get your hands on! Not only do you save a few rand each time you do this but at the same time, you are actively contributing to reducing the amount of plastic bottle waste in the environment.
- Use supermarket rewards, points and coupons. This is becoming more and more popular in our part of the world and I’m really glad to see that. I always make use of whatever points and coupons I can get from various supermarkets. Read more about this topic in my post on Frugal Shopping: Coupons, Specials & Rewards.
- Buy junk food in moderation, or avoid buying it altogether if you can. This includes sweets, chocolate bars, biscuits, wafers, cool drinks, chips, etc. These are probably some of the priciest items in your food trolley or basket with the smallest nutritional value. Why not get creative in the kitchen with home-made desserts, puddings and cakes instead? I will share some of my quick and easy, frugal recipes in a separate post – check out my Thrifty Recipes section.
- Water down fresh fruit juices that you buy in supermarkets, or even better – make your own juices at home! Diluting fresh fruit juices with water is not only healthier for you as you’re halving your sugar intake but you’re also making it go further. We’re so used to doing this that undiluted fruit juices taste far too sweet for us. Juicing your own fresh fruit juice at home can be a cheaper alternative, especially if you buy fruit in bulk and in season, when they’re at their cheapest.
- Make your own bread. Invest in a good quality bread maker, if you can. We love our bread maker! It saves us trips to the supermarket and it most certainly costs us less in ingredients per loaf of 1,3 kg of bread than what it costs us to purchase a 700 gr. loaf of bread from the shops (you can read more about that in my post Is Homemade Bread Healthier and Cheaper?)
- Use hand-made shopping bags when you go shopping. Each time I have a piece of left-over material that’s big enough for a shopping bag, I make one; it’s real quick and easy. The bags are washable and reusable, over and over again; in fact, depending on the quality of material that you use these bags can last for years. Try not to buy plastic bags for your groceries – not only do you have to pay for them but they are an absolute scourge on our environment (Some Facts about the Plastic Bag Pandemic).
- Monitor your grocery items as they go through the scanners at tills and always, always, always check your slip before you leave the store. I’ve had specials and coupons not register at tills as well as items being scanned incorrectly or in duplicate. Mistakes do happen occasionally and it’s best to report and sort these out straight away. Otherwise, once you get home, you don’t want to waste fuel going back to the store to claim for a R5 or R10 refund.
Finally, what do you think? What do you do to save when you’re grocery shopping? Please share your experiences in the comments box below. I welcome and appreciate your thoughts and always love to learn how to be more frugal!