Food costs eat away at budgets

Author and founder of money-saving website Cheapskates.com.au, Cath Armstrong, said there was a number of ways smart shoppers could slash their household food bills and save their hard-earned cash.
Author and founder of money-saving website Cheapskates.com.au, Cath Armstrong, said there was a number of ways smart shoppers could slash their household food bills and save their hard-earned cash.

WE need food to survive, but food costs don't need to eat away at the family budget.

Author and founder of money-saving website Cheapskates.com.au, Cath Armstrong, said there was a number of ways smart shoppers could slash their household food bills and save their hard-earned cash.

Her first tip for shoppers is to make a shopping list.

“Make a list and come up with a meal plan for the week, month or fortnight because that will give you control over what you buy,” Ms Armstrong said.

She said shopping list tools, found on most supermarket websites, gave the total cost of the bill so you knew what to expect when you reached the supermarket checkout.

“Because you know how much it's going to cost exactly, take that money out and only have that amount in your purse when you go shopping. This way you won't be tempted to buy anything extra because there's nothing more embarrassing than not being able to pay at the register,” Ms Armstrong said.

She said buying fresh food and cooking meals from scratch was a great way to not only save money but also your family's health.

“It's not expensive to eat healthy,” Ms Armstrong said.

Fresh fruit, milk, dairy, meat – these are the main things you need and are usually found at the back or down the sides of the supermarket, she explained.

“The easiest way to cut your bill is to cut-out the centre aisles ... pretend they're not even there,” Ms Armstrong said.

She also advised shoppers to get to know the supermarkets in their area and take advantage of the sales offered at different stores.

“Play the supermarkets off against each other. You don't have to be loyal,” she said.

Even if the stores are owned by the same company, they often have different managers who regularly mark down items like bakery products and meat at a specific time.

“If you need these particular items you then know when and where is the best time to shop for them,” Ms Armstrong said.

“I have two Coles stores in either direction of where I live. One always marks down meat at 4pm on a Sunday.

“If I need meat I'll go to that store at five to four and wait.

“Another supermarket does the same thing, but in the mornings.

“It pays to know these things.”

She said comparing the prices of different brands and choosing generic labels could also help cut food bills.

“Flour is flour and sugar is sugar. Whether it comes in a pretty packet or a plain packet, who cares,” Ms Armstrong said.

Coles' head of housebrand marketing, Simon Brady, said “dishing up something new for the family meal while sticking to a tight budget can be challenging”.

“Curtis Stone's Feed Your Family for Under $10 recipes (available in-store or at www.coles.com.au) offer inspiration for the kitchen and still leave you with change for dessert,” he said.

“The quick and easy lunch and dinner recipe ideas have proved extremely popular with people on a budget.”

He also told shoppers to “look for great savings on larger packs of the items you're buying and don't be afraid to buy in bulk, cook, then freeze for later”.

“This can save families both money and time,” Mr Brady said.

Frugal tips

  • Make a list and stick with it.
  • Check what you already have before shopping.
  • Shop on your own without your children or partner as you often find things that you don't need end up in the trolley when you're with them.
  • Before buying in bulk, consider how will it be stored and if it will be used within a reasonable time.
  • Don't feel the need to spend your whole grocery budget.


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