I am thinking I might write a little series of things I have learnt over the years, that are not so much budgeting tips, but more making your money and food go further tips.
My inner scrooge is always looking for a bargain and trying to think of ways that I can get away with NOT buying something, and what I can use as a replacement. I have to be honest this has lead to some jolly awful meals and some less than proud moments over the years…. but moving on 🙂
I will start with something super simple that I know everyone already knows, its just whether we practice it or not :-
#1 Always have something in your cupboards for a quick easy meal!
For the nights you get home late, are just super busy or just can’t be bothered. These are the nights when “Takeaway Temptation” is the greatest, and though nice on occasion, I would prefer to save this budget-gobbling, not so healthy treat for another night when I can really sit down and enjoy it.
Its not that hard to make sure you have some eggs, cheese and few veges in the fridge to make a quick omelette. Or how about when you have a roast meal, shred up any leftover meat and put it in snaplock bags in the freezer. You can get it out and have a little fry up with some onion and garlic and maybe a tin of cannellini beans, for some tasty beans on toast. Or try a tin of beans heated up with some chopped tomatoes, herbs and seasoning for homemade baked beans. I know it’s easier to open a can of pre-made baked beans, but they are just too full of sugar in my books.
There are heaps of options really, its just getting a little inventive and being prepared for the moment when inspiration is just not there. The point is, if you can make it in one pan in the time it takes to go out and get takeaways, but at half the cost…… you just may do it. 🙂
# 2 Don’t be fooled by “special” deals
Buy 2 get a 3rd free is NOT a good deal if you only need 1! Sure, as always there are exceptions to the rule, for example if its something you use absolutely all the time. But keep in mind that specials go around, and come around, and its highly likely that the thing you need will come on special again well before you have used up all 3. I prefer to look for deals that are a true drop in price on a single item, with no buying catch.
Also on the topic of specials, it’s a good idea to learn what is a good per/kg deal and where to get it from on the items that you do buy all the time. It’s easy to just walk into the supermarket or where ever and see a bright yellow “SPECIAL” sign and without looking at the actual ins and out, just buy it because….. well its on special. It is not always the best deal though and if you know what the average price you pay per kilo or per 100g or per roll etc is you will quickly see whether its a go or not.
#3 Buying bulk is not always better
Sometimes, crazy as it seems, the per/kg price is higher for items in a bigger bag than a smaller bag. In fact I was just looking yesterday at a 5kg and a 3kg bag of sugar at the supermarket. They weren’t on special and the 5kg bag price broke down to 1 cent (I know, I know, big deal) more a kg than the 3 kg bag. I realize this is a rather pathetic example, but its just whats in my head today, and it just proves it pays to look and pay attention to detail if you are truly keen on saving cash, because there are times when the savings can be a lot great than a few cents.
There is another issue with buying bulk….. and its more psychological in nature. There is this strange thing in our human psyche, that if we see a lot, or have a lot of something, we will use it more freely and often times more wastefully . This is something I have learnt from catering buffet style functions…. it is a well known fact that if you serve food in smaller bowls, people will serve themselves less. Likewise, if you put out big platters of the same thing, people go a little crazy and will often take way more than they can even eat. Silly but true, and crazily “we all da same”.
So how does this apply to bulk buying….. well if you have heaps of something in the cupboard or freezer, that you don’t normally have, just be careful how you use it. Its really easy, just because its there, to use it willy-nilly and end up wasting it or using it way faster than you normal would. This only negates any savings you may have made buying bulk in the first place.
The last point is an obvious one….if you buy bulk, just make sure you store it well and can use it up before it goes bad. So don’t use it wastefully and make sure you use it up…. confused? You’ll get it
#4 Buy bigger cuts of meat and cut them up yourself
Here is a good example of how easy it is to buy meat, cut it up yourself and save some dollars. This roast of pork cost me $9.70 and I cut it up in about 10 minutes and it was enough for about 3 meals for us. That is $3.23 per meal and $1.07 per person! On the same day in the same supermarket I saw diced pork, I am not sure of the kg price but it was going to be $11.70 for one meals worth for our family! That means I just saved myself $8.47 three times over….. and I like that sort of saving I have to say.
Buying whole chickens is another way to save a little. Last week I found a whole free range chook on special for $11 something and it served us well for two meals, and I am currently making chicken stock with the carcass. If I had bought free range chicken pieces that price would hardly have bought one meals worth. There are some good videos on youtube on how to cut up or butcher whole chooks if you are not sure where to start. This way if you find a cheap chook but you want chicken pieces you can just cut it up yourself, and its not hard after a little practice.
#5 Segment your shopping ??? I’ll explain
I don’t look at the supermarket brochures each week, and then go here for this and there for that for a couple of reasons. One, it’s just too many trips into the temptation zone to get away unscathed or still with you budget intact. And two, it’s probably just false economy by the fuel, time and energy you waste just to save 2 cents on butter. There are some exceptions to the rule of course and if there is a really good special on something then by all means go for it.
But something I do do is this… I break my whole grocery shop up a bit by going, first to the fruit and vege shop, then to the supermarket, and lastly to Binn Inn or some other bulk food store if I need too. Sounds like a bit of extra effort when you could get it all from supermarket but I will explain why I do this.
Firstly the fruit and vege shop generally always has cheaper and fresher produce than the supermarket so that’s a good deal for a start. The reason I go here first, is that you are always more free with you money at the beginning of the shopping….. and if you are going to be free with you money, then do it on the good stuff like fruit and vegetables. If you go to the vege shop after the supermarket, you will have in the back of your head, Oh I just spent however much at the supermarket, so I won’t get so many apples or carrots or whatever this week. This is just short changing your health. Go there first!
Second the supermarket….here you can go straight through the fruit and vegetable section and get you other groceries. Since you have already spent money on fruit and veges, you will be a little more aware of your budget and it might help you to think, actually no, I don’t need that packet of chips this week. Good for you and good for your bottom dollar. If I need to go to the bulk food shop for pantry stuff like gluten free flours, spices, nuts or whatever, I have a look at the supermarket first to check their prices and specials on those items.
Lastly, if I need to I go to the Real Food Grocer, Blenheims Binn Inn equivalent. Here I just get things like dry goods or spices etc that you can’t find at the supermarket. You could go here second, but often times you will find the same things for a good deal at the supermarket so it’s a good idea to look there first. Also the reason I personally go here last is that there is always so many cool things that I just want to buy and try like cacao nibs or chia seeds or celtic sea salt…. If I went here first I would easily come out with all sorts of cool healthy things and none of the essentials.
So that is what I call segmented shopping, and it works because instead of just getting one big nasty break the bank shop at the end of your supermarket round, you get nice little reminders as you go to keep you in check. Even if you don’t go to different shops you can actually just do this at the supermarket, though it does seem a little more nerdy. I will admit I have done it once or twice though. So you go through the supermarket and just get the bare essentials, fruit, vegetables, toilet paper, meat etc, then go to the check out. Little shock number one, now you have an idea of how much is left in you budget and you will be more careful about the little extras that you buy on your second round. Just make sure you get in a different checkout line so that they don’t think you have gone crazy.
#6 Pack up your leftovers
At the end of a meal, pack any leftovers into clean containers straight away, either for the freezer or the next days lunch or dinner etc. If you pack it ready to go in clean and tidy containers with lids, so it doesn’t get a fridgy smell and dry out, you are hugely more likely to eat/use it. If you leave it in a dirty messy half empty serving dish, it will mostly likely just sit there until its too old, and you biff it, because the truth is, no one likes dealing with cold left overs!
#7 Weekly menu…..? but be flexible
I have a love/hate relationship with cooking to a set menu. Part of me loves it because you can be super organized, but part of me hates it because it totally crushes creativity and ingenuity. And ingenuity is what you need to use up left overs…. and using up left overs is a super-duper scrooge trick!
With that in mind I don’t really recommend writing hard core, set in stone weekly menus that you staunchly stick to, because they just don’t take into account so many factors of real life. Like, a couple of the kids are sick and not eating, or you end up out for tea, or someone is away that night or whatever. I suggest having a quick think through the week and getting a rough guide on how many meals you will have at home etc, then get your groceries. But plan to have nights that are easy teas such as omelettes or soup where you can use up left over vegetables, or have a fry up the night after a roast etc.
Basically…. leave space in you menu for life to happen, and leftovers to be used.