BACK WHEN I WAS STUDYING AT UNI, WE WERE TAUGHT THIS MARKETING RULE ABOUT TIME, QUALITY AND COST - EVER HEARD OF IT?
The rule says that we can only ever have two of these three benefits - if something is produced quickly and is of great quality, it'll be expensive. If you want a product that's cheap and fast, the quality is going to be lacking. And if you want something cheap and of great quality, there's going to be a fair time component.
And this rule has never been truer than for the weekly grocery shop! Yep, you can buy all your veg pre-cut and washed, but they'll be expensive. You can buy cheap, instant meals, but the quality will be fairly questionable. And you can buy top quality, generally cheap raw ingredients, but the preparation and cooking are going to cost you time.
There are thousands of articles on the web about how to get your grocery costs down, but before you go out and buy four bags of frozen hotdogs because they're at a record $2 a bag, maybe think about what you're really economizing...
And then think about what you actually want to economize on - time, quality or price.
It's a personal choice, and I think most of us sit somewhere in the middle.
For me, fresh meat and veg every week are a must, and I won't compromise on making them the bulk of my shop. I never buy frozen foods, with the exception of peas, corn, ice-cream and puff pastry. There are also things I don't mind paying a premium for, like the lovely little packs of baby beets at Coles at the moment - they're already cooked and peeled which means less mess for me, and they're lovely added to salads. But 90% of our meals are made from scratch - that means I crumb the fish myself, I roll the hamburgers and meatballs, I make the jam and chutney, and I make custard with eggs.
That said, I also have the time (kind of... lol) at the moment to do this. If I had three kids and worked full time, my grocery shop would probably be a bit different.
There's no right or wrong way to economize your groceries, like I said, it's a personal choice, but I think all of us would agree that the ideal is fresh, good quality, non-processed foods, at the lowest cost, that can be prepared quickly and easily.
So, here are my top tips for making the ideal more of a reality! (They're a little random... and in no particular order... but they're all useful!)
1. Buy food in season. You've heard it a million times, but I'll say it again - fresh fruit and veg, when its in season, is at peak quality and super cheap because there's an abundance of it. Look out for farmers markets, but also farm gates, local orchards and roadside stalls as well as the supermarket.
2. Buy bulk packages of plain meats, then take them home and split into meal sized portions, marinate or spice them as you like, and store them in the freezer.
3. Or, you could look at getting a whole/half/quarter of a beast straight from the butcher which can be so cost effective, and great on quality too.
4. Buy bulk blocks of cheese on special and grate them at home - the excess stores well in the freezer too.
5. But be wary of buying bulk things on special unless you need that product all the time - chances are, you won't use it.
6. Also, only buy in bulk what you can easily store. It's no good buying the big box of Weetbix when you don't have a container big enough to hold them all and recently had a mouse in the kitchen... sorry - I did this on Saturday lol :)
7. Have a critical look at the recipes you're using. I can do steamed veg, mashed potatoes and pan fried meat in 15 minutes flat, which is why we have it all the time, but pastas and risottos take me for-e-ver. Maybe look at making some lovely tray bakes in the oven - just throw it all in a casserole, then in the oven until its done, sprinkle over some herbs, put some crusty bread on the side, and voila! Rustic gourmet!
8. Try taking one day on the weekend, or just an afternoon, to prepare a heap of meals for the week ahead. Even just marinating meats, making a few pizzas, or doing a frittata for lunches can make a world of difference and save a heap of time mid-week.
9. Try making your own ice cream, biscuits or cordial - you'll see just how much sugar is in them and seriously think twice about how much you buy from the supermarket.
10. Many people try to make a frugal grocery budget go further (and fill hungry tummies), by serving heaps of pastas, rice dishes and breads, which are all basic carbohydrates. However, satiety - the feeling of fullness, is related to protein, not carbs. So try buying more eggs, meat and dairy instead, and serve scrambled eggs, quiches and cottage pie... even custard will keep those little tummies full, and you'll be surprised at how a little goes a long way.
11. Speaking of filling tummies, for growing kids that are never full, try serving a bowl of thick vegetable soup before the main meal - they'll get the quantity to feel full, and it's full of goodness. Soup is another thing that's super easy to whip up on Sunday afternoon and freeze for the rest of the week.
12. Make your cooking do double duty - try making a big batch of spaghetti bolognaise sauce one night, and freeze the leftovers for next week, or make a lasagne. Similarly, extra mashed potatoes can be made into fish cakes, and the best fried rice is always made with cold, leftover rice.
13. Generic brands are always cheaper, and sometimes the quality is no different, particularly with things like sugar and flour.
14. Try growing your own vegetables. It's not a priority for me at the moment, so I don't, but I do have herbs, and it's lovely to go out and pick your own. It also saves heaps of money if you normally buy them.
15. Some things are easy and quick to make yourself, not to mention cheaper. Things like pizza bases, salad dressings, mayonnaise, sausage rolls, jam, chicken schnitzels... there are heaps.
16. I always find buying things at the supermarket deli counter (not sure if they exist in the US or UK...) to be way cheaper than buying the same thing from the meat and dairy sections - no idea why, but it is.
17. Seafood is surprisingly affordable. I find prawns and scallops especially so, as they're quite rich, and although the price per kilo is high, people tend to eat less than they would of say, lean chicken.
18. One night a week have soup for dinner - ideally the day after roast night, so you can make fresh stock.
19. Make kid's snack foods at home instead of buying them - I'll be doing a post on this soon, so watch out!
20. I have a rough dollar amount that I spend on meat per fortnight, as this is the most expensive part of my grocery shop. Having that set amount means I know I've got 14 meal sized portions ready to go in the freezer, and it stops me from blowing my budget.
21. Try buying smaller portions of meats - I know what I said above about protein, lol - but most adults have serves that are far too big, I mean, have you seen the size of some of the steaks you can buy these days? I can buy one piece and easily feed all three of us!
22. Try substituting a few foods. Breakfast cereal costs a fortune, and it's fairly dubious in terms of nutritional value, so maybe try porridge or bircher muesli for breakfast instead. And speaking of bircher muesli, it's another thing you can make a big dish of on the weekend that will last for a good few breakfasts - my recipe (which I must share!) is lovely heated up in the microwave too.
23. Try using the RIGHT amount of laundry liquid. I'm as guilty of this as anyone - I just pour in what looks about right, and a bit extra to make sure it's really clean, lol! Apparently one of my bottles will do 25 loads - psh! I don't think I've ever done that many from one bottle, but if I did, boy would I save on washing liquid. I've been meaning to start measuring it properly... now I'll have to!
24. Keep an eye out for what day or time your local grocery store starts marking items down. My sister used to have it all worked out and could tell you the day each supermarket marked down their meat, but since she moved, I have no idea. But I do know that you can often wander in after dinner time and find whole BBQ chickens for half price or less, and these are great for sandwiches, soup, stock etc. I also find lots of mark downs on a Monday as everyone is back at work, and it's furthest away from payday on Thursdays.
25. Sometimes meal plans are better made AFTER you do your shop and have taken advantage of any special buys. I tend to have a loose plan of what meat I buy (i.e. 2 x chicken, 4 x fish, 2 x steak etc.) so I can buy whatever meat and veg looks good and is well priced. So I do my actual meal plan when I get home. You can check out my two sets of Free Printable Meal Planners here and here.
26. And sometimes sticking to a list isn't a great idea. I make one so that I don't forget to buy say, garbage bags or milk, but if you find something awesome - like half price toothpaste - I mean, its discounted, and you know you'll use it, so go for it! I always leave a little wiggle room in my budget for these things. Check out my Free Printable Grocery Lists here.
27. Keep your pantry well stocked with condiments like mustards, olives, pesto, oils and sauces - it means you can take the same ingredients you used last night, and make something completely different for dinner. Although these ingredients can be a little pricey to start with, most of them have a long shelf life, and they're handy to have on hand.
28. Look at the foods you're throwing out each week because they've gone off, and re-consider how much you're buying. This is one of the easiest ways to save money.
29. Look at some old-school recipes like pea and ham soup, ox tail soup, stews, potato hash and bubble'n'squeak. Fifty years ago - even 30 years ago - people were much better at economizing when it came to meals as they just didn't have the range of foods available to them. I make pea and ham soup all the time in winter, and it really is just split peas and a ham hock simmered in water until tender. I tend to dress it up a bit further, but I don't think anyone I've served it to has ever disliked it - and you can't go past it for cost, taste and ease.
30. Switch to cloth instead of paper towels, buy washable dishcloths, and use containers instead of plastic wrap. I did this a few years ago, and it's saved me heaps. I can also rest assured that the cloth I wipe Missy's highchair with is truly clean - and if I'm in any doubt, there's no guilt in throwing it in the wash and grabbing a clean one.
So there you go! What awesome tips do you have for economizing your grocery shop - I'd love to hear about them in the comments.
Also, I've got an awesome Free Printable Budget worksheet coming on Saturday, with a heap of tips for making it work for you, so don't forget to stop by for that (and you can always follow me on social media so you know when it goes up :)
All the best,