Ever get to the checkout at the supermarket and find that the total tallies up to more than you thought? Often, just by making a few substitutions, you can save a lot of money at the registers.
Here are a few of my favourite and simple supermarket hacks. Many of them don’t require much change of thought, and there is little difference in quality. But combined, they could save you more than $500 a year ($588.28 to be exact).
Fresh milk versus powdered milk
I can almost hear some of you thinking, “there’s no way that I would ever drink powdered milk over the real thing.” But you can. I’ve been using powdered milk for more than a decade, and it has saved me a fortune. What’s more, I have managed to use it in ways where it isn’t even noticeable. Not that I need to as my kids like it. In fact, they consider it a special treat.
A little-known fact is that powdered milk can easily be substituted for real milk in baking – without any discernible difference in taste. After mixing all the ingredients together for muffins or cakes, you can’t tell the difference. Powdered milk is also useful for making yoghurt (see below), and for making fresh milk stretch. When a two-litre bottle of milk is down to half, I make up a litre of powdered milk, pour it into the milk bottle, shake and store overnight. By the next morning, it tastes the same as fresh milk.
Being lightweight, powdered milk is compact and easy to transport, and therefore there are some environmental benefits for using it over fresh. It’s also handy to have on hand in case of snap lockdowns or other emergencies.
Potential saving: Up to $149.76 a year
- Real milk: $2.25 a litre
- UHT milk: $1.25 a litre
- Powdered milk: $0.81 a litre
Assuming you substitute two litres a week of UHT for fresh milk, you could save $2 a week or $104 a year. If you substituted powdered milk, you could save $2.88 a week or $149.76 a year. You save even more in petrol and time by not having to rush out mid-week to buy more milk. (My kids drink around six litres of milk a week, so this amounts to big savings for us.)
There are many health benefits to eating yoghurt but you don’t need to spend a fortune. Rather than buying individual tubs, buy a large 1kg (or even larger) container and decant into smaller containers. You can then jazz it up by adding homemade jam, muesli or fresh fruit. You can buy cheap, reusable 100ml plastic containers, or even better use small glass jars such as pesto jars.
You could save even more money by making your own yoghurt. This is easier than you might think, especially if you own a yoghurt maker. Not only will you save money, but you will prevent hundreds of pieces of plastic ending up in landfill each year.
Potential saving: Up to $218.40 a year
- 10 x 100g tubs: $5.20
- 1kg yoghurt container: $3.45
- Homemade with sugar and vanilla: $1 (approximately)
Assuming your family eats one kilogram of yoghurt a week, you could save $1.75 a week or $91 a year by buying a large container and decanting into small jars. You could save even more – $4.20 a week or $218.40 a year – by making your own yoghurt.
While soft drink is not a healthy option, it’s hard to have a party without it. It’s often served at special times such as TGIF or a Sunday meal. Some families spend a fortune on soft drinks. No judgement here, instead some alternatives for reducing the overall cost. An added advantage is that many of the cheaper options allow you to vary the overall sugar content.
We have a Sodastream at home, which we use to make bubbly drinks for occasional treats. We love the fact that it reduces plastic – and it also reduces costs. We rarely buy bottles of soft drink, and even turn up at functions with our BYO Sodastream. I used to worry that I needed a brand name soft drink if I was entertaining, but I’ve learnt that friends prefer homemade lemonade cordial. In fact, it’s often a talking point.
Potential saving: Up to $65 a year
- Lemonade (bottle): $2.08 a litre
- Sodastream soda mix (7Up) + gas: $1.35 a litre
- Lemon cordial + gas: $1.58 a litre
- Homemade cordial (gifted lemons) + gas: $0.83 a litre
Assuming your family drinks one litre of soft drink a week, you could save $0.73 a week or $37.96 a year using a Sodastream lemonade mix, $0.50 a week or $26 a year by converting to lemon cordial. I was surprised that the lemon cordial came out more expensive, and this is largely because the Sodastream soda mix is concentrated. Note that you could save even more and reduce sugar content by diluting the mixture, which is what we routinely do. If you like to cook, you could save $1.25 a week or $65 a year by using homemade cordial with homegrown or gifted lemons.
Cheddar cheese is a staple in our household and we often use grated cheese for topping baked dishes, especially in winter. If you are planning on buying grated cheese, consider buying a full block and grating it yourself. It only takes a few minutes – quicker if you use a food processor. An added advantage of self-grating is that you would reduce plastic packaging. Cheese freezes well, so you can store it in the freezer to further reduce waste.
Potential saving: $16.80 a year
- Block of cheddar cheese: $10.60 per kilo
- Tasty shredded cheese: $12.00 per kilo
Assuming you used one kilogram of cheese a month, you could save $1.40 a month or $16.80 a year.
In larger supermarkets, you can often choose whether to buy certain meats such as chicken, sausages and cured meats pre-packed or at the deli. It is worth checking both and comparing prices. It’s easy to assume that the deli will be more expensive as it feels exclusive. But often it will run specials on items such as chicken drumsticks or chicken wings that make it even cheaper than the packaged version.
Potential saving: $80.60 a year
- Chicken drumsticks (normal): $6.60 per kilo
- Deli special price: $3.50 per kilo
Assuming you purchased one kilogram every fortnight, you could save $3.10 a fortnight or $80.60 a year just with this simple hack.
If handwash wasn’t an essential in most households before the start of the pandemic, it certainly is now. The problem is that handwash can be expensive. Further, those bottles of plastic help to populate landfill.
One way to save money is to buy refills: you can even use a fancier bottle with more humble liquid. You could also use soap – or even make your own with grated soap as a base.
Potential saving: Up to $57.72 a year
- Palmolive Foaming Liquid Japanese Cherry Blossom (250ml): $1.40 per 100ml
- Palmolive Foaming Liquid Japanese Cherry Blossom refill (1 litre): $0.85 per 100ml
- Balnea Nourishing Cherry Blossom Hand Wash Refill (1 litre): $0.30 per 100ml
- Essentials Pure Bar Soap (8 pack): $0.29 per bar
Assuming you used 100ml a week (or a cake of soap), you could save $0.55 a week or $28.60 a year by using refills of the same product, $1.10 a week or $57.20 a year by converting to a refill of a cheaper, but similar, product, or $1.11 or $57.72 by using soap instead.
Main image source: Stokkete/Shutterstock.com
Serina Bird, also known as The Joyful Frugalista, is a former diplomat, author of The Joyful Frugalista, host of The Joyful Frugalista podcast, and a money coach.