The evolution of our grocery budget

eggs on toastEggs from our free-range chickens. Yum!

There once was this woman, living in the Canberra suburbs who thought she was ok with money. Let’s call her – Kirsti. In 2009, she had a blended family of seven, and at any point during the fortnight, she would be feeding 2, 5 or 7 mouths, including her own.

On the basis there were so many mouths to feed, Kirsti thought she was doing well by keeping her grocery bill at $800 per fortnight. She worked full time but she meal planned and ordered her groceries online and felt like as far as grocery shopping as concerned – she had nailed it.

Now let’s fast forward nearly a decade, and Kirsti now feeds the same seven mouths with much bigger bodies on $550 per fortnight. Kirsti is now saving over $6,000 per year in groceries, is buying more expensive coffee beans and is feeding her family organic meat.

Doesn’t compute?

Let me tell you how I reduced the family grocery budget. And once I am Financially Independent, I intend to reduce it even further.

Firstly – meal planning is a great first step in putting some intellectual thought into shopping. Without a meal plan, there are likely to be more trips to the shops, more expense and more food wasted.

But the whole meal planning system needs to evolve to continue to bring your grocery bill down, even in light of slow but increasing inflation.

My first sophistication of my grocery system was to use online shopping, so I wasn’t tempted to buy anymore than I needed, and I could sit down and check in my house what I needed and what I ordered had stock of; which reduced waste. This was a great step one.

Then I learned despite avoiding delivery fees, online groceries had their own (usually more expensive) pricing that was different to the actual supermarket, so I started doing shopping at the physical store, finding marked down meats and veg which you can’t find online. This reduced our bill somewhat.

Then I started thinking about the amount of times our family ate meat each week  – a big expense in our budget – and I commenced reducing our meat intake – red meat particularly – and started planning some vegetarian meals and some tuna or salmon-based meals to reduce the cost. I had to be sneaky with the vegetarian meals and find options that everyone enjoyed – tuna and potato patties, tuna curry, vegetarian lasagne, gnocchi and baked potatoes with passata, cheese and sour cream were some meal options I employed. And no-one refused to eat, so to this day, I continue to have one “cheap” meat free meal a week with the kids, and one night David and I enjoy scrambled eggs from our gorgeous backyard chickens.

At this stage, I was still shopping at Coles. The duopoly in Australia started to get to me – along with their packaging, so I started switching it up a little. My husband convinced me to shop at Aldi which has significantly reduced our grocery bill. During the year of austerity, I actually shopped at Aldi for most things except fresh fruit and veg, which I purchased from the markets. This reduced our bill enormously – down to $350 a fortnight – a huge saving for a short period of one year.

But the packaging started to get to me –there is no deli at Aldi, and even though we were buying their organic meat range, I would have a dozen plastic containers to recycle each fortnight.

So after a while, I built the budget back up to $550 a fortnight in order to shop at the markets where I could buy organic meat and BYO my own container, and continued to shop for staples at Aldi.

This approach was hit and miss (but the meat was beautiful!!) and I would be over and under budget depending on the price of the meat at the time. As the meat was purchased at the market, there was no way of checking the price of meat online while meal planning, prior to the shop, so I would just turn up to the organic butchers with my containers and pay whatever it cost to make whatever was on the meal plan.

This is where a bit of ingenuity finally kicked in. Recently my husband I had a week of being away for work and we didn’t eat at home much. When I came I had surplus funds in the grocery budget. To avoid paying whatever price for meat on the day, I decided to buy what I needed for that fortnight AND stock up on any meat on special at my favourite butchers for the following fortnight. I would look for a chicken and red meat options; but I would look for the cut of meat on special, note what I had purchased in my meal planner, freeze it and then plan my next fortnight’s menu on what I had picked up at a reduced price.

And pairing the beautiful meat with seasonal vegetables only has added variety to our plate and reduced expense.

Genius right there. Buying meat on special a fortnight ahead saves me money and takes away the budget anxiety each shopping day about whether we will come in on or under our budget. Right now in the freezer for next fortnight, I have two lots of organic chicken marylands, a large pork roast and ten chicken breasts, and I can base my next fortnight meal plan around this. Buying beautiful, seasonal vegetables and fruit with low food miles makes us happy.

What hacks do you employ to keep your grocery bill low?

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