Plug the hole in your budget with these grocery shopping tips

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Grocery shopping – the one thing in this world that can make the beloved pastime of eating, scary and anxiety-inducing. While we’re happy just to avoid things that scare me, unfortunately, you can’t just avoid grocery shopping. There are things you are always going to need like toilet paper and detergent, but, we’re going to focus on buying food.

Unlike some of those other products, you actually have a lot more control over what you can buy, like fresh ingredients, so let’s take what we can. We can shelf the debate over why cleaning supplies are so damn expensive for another day.

That being said, there are ways to make your trip to the supermarket a little less financially stressful. Here are our tips for your budget grocery shopping.

Setting your budget

The first thing you need to sort out before optimising your budget is to actually have a budget. Budgets are easy to make and easier to stick to if you make them based off your current needs. Typically, most people may make a budget by arbitrarily setting how much they want to spend each week.

Of course, this can lead to problems, either unrealistic to the point where you are spending money that you don’t need to spend, or you are stretched so thin that you can’t actually maintain this nifty budget you’ve convinced yourself is the answer.

So how do you do it? The trick is to know how much you usually spend, not necessarily how much you wish you could contribute. And don’t worry, it’s easy to figure this out. Simply, do your grocery shopping like you usually do for some time and keep all your receipts. After three months you’ll start to see patterns, but if you need to get started sooner rather than later try just a month. Once you have a good idea of how much you spend on groceries in a month (especially concerning how much you are earning in a month), you can start to set your budget.

Apps are here to help

Now regarding what your budget actually looks like, try not to worry about that too much. There are different budgeting apps you can use, but I personally use an Excel spreadsheet because we’re all about fun here. The main thing is to have a very concrete breakdown of how much you spend on certain things at the shops.

If you usually spend $40 a month on meat, does that mean you can pay $10 every week? Maybe less for some weeks so you can buy a nice expensive steak in the last week of the month? Perhaps once it’s in action, you realise that you can comfortably cut $40 a month down to $35 a month and all of a sudden you’re optimising your budget.

It might be a bit difficult or confusing to get your head around at first, but if you keep consistent and stick to a grounded and realistic budget, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll be saving in the long run.

Picking your store

You work hard for your money, so you need to make your money work for you. Brand loyalty isn’t really something you should be considering if you are trying to make budget grocery shopping work. Maybe Woolworths stocks something that Coles doesn’t, but Aldi has something cheaper than Woolworths!

All of a sudden, brand loyalty stops to matter. Shop around, look which stores have better deals on the things you want and need. If you have found that Coles has cheaper meat, but Woolworths has cheaper vegetables, then go to Coles when you have a meat-heavy shop and vice versa.

We aren’t suggesting that you spread your shop across multiple stores, because that is just incredibly inefficient. But do consider the fact that you don’t need to collect all of the Coles mini collectables. They’re just trying to get you to form brand loyalties! And what did I just say about that?

Buy in bulk

Let’s just stop right there. Everyone says that the key to saving money at the shops is to buy in bulk. But that doesn’t mean that you need to buy a 15kg shipment of rice and the grain silo to store it through winter. If you aren’t a seasoned grocery shopper yet or want to up your budget grocery shopping game, allow me to change your world. Unit pricing. Notice at the bottom of supermarket tickets it lists a price per unit of measurement. You will notice that in general, the smaller a package is, the higher the unit price will be in comparison to the larger size.

The trick isn’t to just buy the most you can for the least, but rather to buy the most you will need for the best relative price. Don’t just buy your 15 kg of rice if you aren’t going to eat it. Only buy enough for what you will actually make, and to that point…

Plan your meals out ahead of time

A classic mistake any shopper can make is writing out a list of what they want to buy, but not what they are planning to cook. See, if you are just buying ingredients, it is quite easy to impulse buy different things that you might not actually need. Always walk into the grocery store knowing what you are cooking with what you buy, and you won’t end up with $40 worth of spices that you saw on MasterChef that one time. Speaking of which…

Learn to like cooking

It goes without saying, but cooking your own food instead of eating out or buying pre-made is significantly cheaper. Why not put to test those skills you’ve (maybe) learnt watching 7 seasons of Master Chef? That being said, not everyone has that luxury. It’s easy to see cooking as a chore you have to do every day. If you are ever stuck for ideas, Woolworths usually has recipe cards that use stocked items, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

You might find that the more you cook, you’ll become inspired to create innovative dishes that tickle your taste buds!  And the more you will start to like cooking, and more importantly, the more you will stick to it. And hey, cooking each day does take a chunk out of your evening. Maybe consider assigning a day or two to meal prep, and save yourself having to cook every day. Eating the same thing for dinner or lunch a few times a week isn’t the end of the world. However, remember to keep it varied!

Keep it varied

We’re sure your world famous mac and cheese is just fantastic, but you can’t just eat that every night. One of the quickest ways to revert back to ready-made meals is to eat the same thing over and over again. It may work for those muscly guys at the gym, with their brown rice and tuna 6-8 times a day but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The beauty (or horror) of supermarkets is that the specials change weekly. So you can try a different set of meat and vegetable week to week, instead of trying to find a way to make the same ingredients work every week. Also, why not eat with the season?

Buying seasonal produce is excellent for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is always cheaper in season. It is fresher and better quality in season.

grocery shopping

Consider a vegetarian approach

Put down the pitchfork for just a moment, and let me explain. Cooking vegetarian is, in a lot of cases, very cheap. And no, I’m not referring to vegetarian sausages that ironically cost an arm and a leg, but rather more staple veggies and legumes. A great example is lentils. They fill you up, make a great meat substitute, and are around 5 times cheaper than beef mince. Think about replacing or substituting some meat in your dishes with veggies (lentil tacos for example). Trust us, you’ll be surprised how much further you can make them go and for how much cheaper.

Look into online grocery shopping

grocery shopping

Finding the time to write lists, make meal plans and actually cook your food is a whole issue in itself. It doesn’t help that actually going on your budget grocery shopping adventure is incredibly time-consuming as well. So if time is tempting you towards expensive ready-made meals, consider online grocery shopping.

More and more supermarkets are offering online grocery shopping Australia wide. You may find something asking where is a grocery shop near me? Well, don’t. Simply order your groceries online. What an exciting sign of the times!

Think paying to have your shopping delivered doesn’t not make sense? Think again. When we are talking about budget grocery shopping, a lot of places offer free pickup. This means that you can pick everything you want online, and instead of wondering “when will I have time to go grocery shopping?” you instead only have to ask “where is the best grocery shop near me?”.

So what do we take away?

We have focused a lot on how important your own cooking is to optimising your grocery shopping budget. And it’s probably the most important factor in not breaking the bank. If you plan out your meals, when you’re going to cook them and how you’re going to keep it varied, then you should have no trouble sticking to your optimised budget grocery shopping! But take it in baby steps, try the things we’ve suggested in small doses to see how it works for you.

Hopefully, these tips and insight from inside the belly of the beast will help make your next trips to the grocery store a little less stressful. Oh, and please bring your reusable bags!

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