How to save money on groceries

MICHAEL LUND
We spend almost $300 million a month on food with Aussie households paying an average $153 per week on groceries. Cutting down the weekly grocery bill can often be a challenge. Here’s a list of tips to try.

1. Make a weekly meal plan

Decide in advance what meals you want to make for lunch and dinner for the whole week. When you have a plan, you are less likely to spend money on things you don’t need, and food that could end up not being used and going to waste.

Check to see what items may be on sale in stores that week as that could help you decide what meals to plan. Keep an eye out for things in and out of season, as things in season tend to be cheaper (and tastier).

2. Make meals from scratch

Look to make your own meals from scratch rather than buying any pre-prepared meals. The less processed the food you buy, the healthier it is for you and your family, and it usually costs less. So making your own meals from scratch can save your wallet and your health.

Making lunches can be useful if you’re someone who tends to eat out for lunch at work. Your home-made lunches may also be more healthy for you and reduce the risk of any fast-food temptations.

It’s a good idea to have a few favourite recipes on hand but also good to explore something new. There are plenty of recipes available for free online, such as taste.com.au, delicious.com.au and bestrecipes.com.au.

Some supermarkets publish their own free magazines and websites packed with recipe ideas and ways to save money, so keep an eye out for them as well.

You can make preparing and cooking meals a team effort. That way everyone gets to learn how fun it can be to make meals from scratch. Who knows, you could help nurture the next best homecook to make it on MasterChef.

3. Avoid recipes that need special ingredients

Some recipes call for a special ingredient that you may not have. It may not be worth the money to buy that ingredient if you are only going to use it once.

Ask yourself, how much does that ingredient cost and is it worth it? Does it come in a small or big package? Can you use it in other recipes before it goes bad?

You can often leave out such ingredients or substitute them for something you already have. It can be fun to experiment while cooking, and you may surprise yourself with a new special dish.

4. Always make too much

Always try to make more food than you need for one meal and then fridge or freeze the rest for another meal in the week, or use them for lunch the next day.

Think about how creatively you can use leftovers to make a slightly different meal. For example, if you cook roast chicken for dinner, try chicken sandwiches for lunch the next day. You may even be able to use the bones to make a chicken soup for later.

Again, there are plenty of recipes using leftovers available online, including by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who has long championed against food waste.

But make sure you follow any safety advice when reheating or using leftover food, and never reheat food more than once.

5. Make a shopping list and stick to it!

Once you’ve made your meal plan for the week, write down only the things you need to make those meals. This can help stop you from buying any unnecessary extras. Impulse shopping doesn’t help you or your wallet.

There are several supermarket and shopping list apps you can use on your smartphone, but be careful of using a specific store’s app as they don’t help you check prices with rivals. They can help show you what’s on offer though and any rewards (more on that later).

The Frugl app lets you compare prices between Coles and Woolworths, if that’s where you tend to shop.

6. Check your pantry, fridge and freezer

Make sure to keep a tab on what food stuff you have already got, and the expiry dates. Then you know which ones you need to use up first and can search out recipes that use those ingredients.

There’s no point in buying something new if you already have something you could eat instead.

7. Be wary of product placement

Supermarkets are often designed to channel a shopper’s attention to certain products. For example, grocery items that are geared towards kids are usually placed at their eye level or near the checkout.

Or items that are used together are grouped together, to increase the chance of you picking up that tub of Nutella with that tray of croissants (but do you really need them?).

8. Consider supermarket rewards programs

Several supermarkets offer rewards schemes that could help reduce your weekly shopping bill. Coles has Flybuys and Woolworths has Everyday Rewards, both rated by our colleagues at Canstar Blue. Each can earn you points when you shop which then give you access to money off vouchers, rewards and discounts off fuel.

You can link your Flybuys to a Velocity frequent flyer account, and Everyday Rewards can link to a Qantas frequent flyer account.

Drakes also offers a discount fuel voucher scheme, and IGA has its own Rewards program with access to special offers, prize draws and travel deals.

Aldi doesn’t do a points rewards scheme but likes to poke fun at those that do.

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 credit card partnered with either Coles or Woolworths. This way, you can earn more points from your grocery shopping.

Not everybody is suited to a rewards credit card. Make sure you read carefully any terms and conditions, and check what fees and interest rates are charged compared to other credit cards.

Compare credit cards with Canstar

Looking to use your credit card for shopping? The following table displays a snapshot of rewards credit cards on Canstar’s database that allow you to redeem points for shopping vouchers, with links to providers’ websites. The results and Star Ratings displayed are based on a monthly spend of $3,000 and are sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) then alphabetically by provider name.

9. Familiarise yourself with prices

Know the regular price of things you often buy such as milk, bread, meat and veggies, as well as other things like your favourite shampoo, toothpaste or cleaning products.

The price of some fresh foods can vary as they go in and out of season, so know how much your favourite fruits and veggies usually cost this time of year.

This will help you work out which store has the best prices and whether you are getting a good deal on sale items.

10. Keep an eye out for discounts and bargains

Supermarkets often reduce the prices on many items so you need to keep watch for good deals on the things you normally buy.

If it’s a deal for a perishable item, think carefully as to whether you will use the extra purchase before the use-buy or best-buy date.

If it’s a deal on a non-perishable item that you regularly buy, then consider a bulk buy to stock up. This adds to your weekly shop bill for that week but can end up saving you money in the long run.

You can often find good deals on household items such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, cleaners, shampoo and more.

But be careful to check you are getting a good deal. Sometimes a bargain price on one product may not be as good as the normal price of the same product but available in a different size, smaller or larger.

Most products will have a unit price listed on the price label on the shop shelf, so you can compare prices like for like.

Sometimes shops will offer discount prices on goods that are damaged or close to their use-buy date, or items offered as clearance that a store no longer intends to sell.

There are plenty of online forums and websites that can help you search for good deals such as OzBargain, RewardBargain, TopBargains, Markdown Addicts Australia and Lasoo.

You can also get an extra saving on your grocery bill if you can access discount gift cards through your membership of a bank, club, employer group, union or other organisation that offers such deals.

11. Look for end-of-day reductions

Fruit, vegetables and meats are sometimes marked down at the end of the day. Fruit that is marked down because it is ripe or overripe can be great for baking, such as bruised apples or overripe bananas.

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.

12. Buy ugly food

Not all fruit and veggies look the same when picked or harvested but somehow that’s how fresh food products are presented, all stacked or packed side by side, identical in size.

But some retailers have realised there is a market for the food products that may look a little odd shaped, often known as ugly food, and they can be cheaper.

For example, Woolworths has its Odd Bunch range and Coles its I’m Perfect range. Other retailers such as Harris Farm Markets are also getting in on the ugly food fad with its Imperfect Picks. See what’s available in your neighbourhood.

The fresh food might all look a little different (and what’s wrong with that?) but they taste just as good as their stacked cousins, and what’s more they stop such food going to waste.

13. Shop around for a bargain

There are plenty of alternatives to the main supermarkets. Check out your local fruit and veggie barn, often situated near a main supermarket. You might find things cheaper and fresher than in the big stores.

The same goes for local butchers and fish markets, farmers markets and farm gate produce where you can buy fresh fruit and veg off the roadside at farms.

If you’re sticking with supermarkets, then see what our colleagues at Canstar Blue found out about customer satisfaction in stores.

14. Don’t be too brand loyal

Many supermarkets have their own home brand products which can be cheaper than other branded products.

It’s easy to get swayed by the argument that you prefer the branded product, but the quality of home brand products can sometimes be just as good or even better.

Try some of the home brand products and compare them to the branded product you’ve probably been buying for years largely because that’s what you’ve grown up using. You might be surprised.

If you still want to stick with branded products, then check to see if there’s any cheaper than the one you buy. There’s plenty to choose from on some products.

Brand loyalty also extends to the actual supermarket. Don’t just stick to one, shop around to others in your neighbourhood and see what’s on offer.


If you have any other grocery shopping tips or tricks that can help save money then please let us know at editorial@canstar.com.au


Cover image source: Daria Nipot/Shutterstock.com


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This content was reviewed by Digital Editor Amanda Horswill as part of our fact-checking process.


Michael is a senior finance journalist at Canstar, specialising in superannuation, savings, wealth and life insurance. He is an award-winning journalist with more than three decades of experience. His work has featured on the BBC, the ABC, The Sunday Mail, The Courier-Mail and The Conversation.

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