Co-author: William Jolly
According to data from RaboDirect, the average household in Sydney spends an average of $163/week on grocery shopping. That’s almost $8,500/year!
That’s because grocery shopping is tediously dull for most people. But you can inject some excitement into the process by making it all about competition. Since food is one of a family’s biggest expenditures, you can compete with yourself each week to save as much as you can.
For example, if you save just $50 every week without compromising on healthy eating, then that adds up to $2,600 a year in savings! This is money that you can put away for personal use, like a Christmas holiday away or even a home loan deposit.
Here are Canstar’s top 15 tips to save money on grocery shopping.
15 ways to save money on groceries
1. Use supermarket rewards programs
If your spending habits with a credit card are reliable and you pay off your card in full every month, then you might want to consider using a rewards credit card with a loyalty program partnered with your supermarket.
This way, you can earn more rewards points from your grocery shopping – and those points can be redeemed for a gift card to purchase more groceries, for discounts at the supermarket check-out, or for frequent flyer points.
Note that not everybody is suited to a rewards credit card, as they typically come with higher interest rates and so they should be paid off in full every month. Find out what type of credit card could suit your spending style.
We’ve compared supermarket credit cards in general here, but to be specific, at the time of writing, Canstar rates 6 rewards credit cards from Coles and 2 from Woolworths. Coles is unique as all of its credit cards, even the Low Rate and Low Fee cards, come with a rewards program attached. Woolworths offers a rewards program on its Platinum card.
Both supermarkets have partnerships with major airlines. Coles currently partners with flybuys (converts to Virgin Velocity) while Woolworths is currently partnered with Qantas. Both card reward programs give you 1 point per $1 spent towards these respective points programs.
Each of these programs has their own benefits, and to find out in greater detail what these benefits are, check out the supermarket rewards credit cards we rate in the table below.
If you are considering a Coles or Woolworths rewards credit card, you can compare what’s available in our comparison table below. This table is based on a monthly spend of $2,000 and is sorted by our star ratings (highest-lowest).
2. Make a weekly meal plan and plan them around foods on sale
Decide which recipes you will make for lunch and dinner for the whole week. There are plenty of recipe ideas online. When you have a plan, you will be less likely to spend money on fast food or convenience meals during the week.
This is particularly useful if you’re someone who currently eats out for lunch at work. Depending on how much you spend on lunch each day, you could easily save yourself more than $50/week by bringing your own food instead.
Once you’ve made your meal plan, look at what’s you’ll need and check for sales in supermarket catalogues and sites online. (Just be sure to buy and plan for foods that you will actually use so the ingredients don’t go to waste.)
3. Make meals from scratch
Making your own meals from scratch is one of the biggest ways that you can save money. The less processed the food you buy is, the less it costs (usually). The nice thing is that homemade food is usually better for your insides, too. Making your own meals from scratch can save your wallet and your health.
4. Always cook too much
When it comes to making these meals for yourself, you can never make “too much”. Always try to cook more food than you need and then freeze the leftovers or take them to work for lunch the next day.
Think hard about how you can use leftovers. If I’m cooking roast chicken with rice and vegetables for Sunday night’s dinner, I will then make chicken sandwiches for Monday’s lunch. On Tuesday, I will use the bones to make a chicken soup and toss in any leftover vegetables and rice.
Freezing meals can save you a lot of time, and makes preparing those meals from scratch more rewarding, since you can make multiple meals in one go.
5. Make a list – and stick to it!
This one is fairly self-explanatory; write down things you need and don’t buy unnecessary extras. Impulse shopping doesn’t help you or your wallet. The next two points will help you stick to your shopping list.
6. Don’t shop while hungry
You will buy more food if you shop when you are hungry, and you will buy food that appeals to your appetite at the time rather than what works for the weekly grocery budget.
A friend of mine heads to the nearest product demonstrator and eats as many free samples (of anything) as he can, to quell the stomach grumbling before he continues on his way. Don’t be afraid to have any shame when doing your grocery shopping.
7. Try to shop alone
Shopping with loved ones can add hugely to your grocery bill, and supermarkets know this.
That’s why all grocery items that are geared towards kids are placed at their eye level. And shopping with your significant other can also add to your grocery bill if your partner tends to go for impulse buys and other things that aren’t on your grocery list.
Going by yourself just makes it so much easier to get in and get out without loading your cart with rubbish.
8. Familiarise yourself with food prices
Write down the regular prices of things you buy often – not just things like milk, bread, meat, veges, but also things like your favourite shampoo, cat food, or Jatz crackers. This will help you work out which stores have the best prices and whether you are getting a good deal on sale items.
9. Look for reductions on produce and meats
Fruit, vegetables, and meats are often marked down at the end of the day.
Fruit that is marked down because it is ripe or overripe is great for baking, such as bruised apples or overripe bananas. And it often works out if you buy ripe fruit or veges and eat them that day, because they are ripe and ready to eat.
Likewise, meat is often marked down the day prior to its ‘Best Before’ date. You can eat it that night or freeze it right away to eat later. Meat is also one of the more expensive parts of shopping, so meat that’s closer to its best before date will save more in comparison. This brings us to our next point…
10. Plan at least one meatless meal a week
Regardless of any ethical or sustainable beliefs, going vegetarian once or twice a week can have numerous health and digestive benefits – at lower prices than eating meat.
Beans, lentils, peas, eggs, peanut butter, and canned fish can offer great-tasting protein at low prices – plus the added benefits of fibre and other vitamins and nutrients.
Likewise, grains such as rice, pasta, and barley are also inexpensive as delicious and come with the added benefit of requiring very little effort to turn into a meal. You can save yourself a little bit of money and time by buying fewer meat products than usual.
11. Look out for clearances and discontinued products
Most supermarkets have bins, tables, or labels indicating products are being cleared out, so make sure to look for these.
Most of these products are still good, and it’s just that the store will no longer be carrying that product, or the labels are changing, or a promotion on the package may be nearly over, or it might be nearing its expiry date. The savings here can be substantial for the frugal shopper.
12. Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer for expiry dates
I always make sure to keep a tab on the expiry dates of the foods and ingredients I already have on hand. Then I know which ones I need to use up and I search out recipes that use those foods and ingredients. There’s no point in buying something new if you already have something you could eat instead!
13. Avoid recipes that need a special ingredient
Some recipes call for a special ingredient that you may not have. It may not be worth the money to buy an ingredient if you are only going to use it once.
How much does that ingredient cost? Does it come in a small or big package? Can you use it in other recipes before it goes bad?
Try leaving the ingredient out, or substituting in an ingredient that you already have at home. It’s fun to experiment while cooking, and you may surprise yourself with the finished dish.
14. Look for seasonal recipes
Vegetables and fruit are cheaper when they’re in season. Online recipes will give you clues about the most delicious ways to use the produce that is currently in season.
15. Know what your household likes to eat
Whether you have a family or live in a share house with roommates, encourage them all to communicate what they want to eat. That way you can apply all of the above tips to look for their favourite ingredients and foods when they go on sale.
If you’re still spending too much on groceries…
There are, of course, alternatives to supermarkets. Farmers’ markets, discount stores such as speciality meat and fish markets, and farm gate produce (buying fruit and veg off the side of the road at farms) offer great prices for those looking for quality food.
I have also had great success with growing my own veggies and herbs in the backyard. I am by no means a prolific grower, and I’m certainly not a slave to the veggie garden, but I have discovered through trial and error that some things are less fussy to grow than others.
Baby spinach or baby lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions, basil, and rosemary are all easy-growing crops that can save you plenty of money over time. Throw in some backyard chooks for fresh, free-range eggs, and you’ve got your own mini-mart in your backyard.
If you’re sticking with supermarkets, then why not duck over to Canstar Blue to compare customer satisfaction in supermarkets and all kinds of food and drink brands?
And make sure you have a look at the rest of Canstar’s saving and budgeting tips.