Cutting our grocery budget without sacrificing quality!
Welcome back to another Kiah’s Kitchen post! Today I am sharing something a little different, specifically around budgeting and food.
I grew up in a single parent household and money was considered scarce and hard to come by, this attitude and fear towards money (specifically, not having enough of it) had a big impact on me and continues to do so into my adult life. I have always had fear around having a lack of money and not being able to support my own lifestyle and independence, and although this fear is unsubstantiated, it has pushed me to work multiple jobs at a time, save hard and take steps towards creating security in my life from a young age.
In 2015 my husband and I purchased our first house at the age of 23, whilst I was very proud of our achievement, having a mortgage was slightly terrifying! In 2016, I discovered the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, I am Australian so his show is not played on our radio stations, but I somehow came across it and was instantly hooked (for any Aussies, he’s like the original Barefoot Investor for Americans). From here I learn’t about the baby steps and the negative impact consumer debt has on your wealth building capacity.
I made the decision to remove all consumer debt from my life and refused to spend money I didn’t have, I created a monthly budget which I adjust and review every single month. That’s right, I have records of every single dollar we have earn’t and spent since 2016. I sold my car which had a $21,000 loan attached to it and instead drove around our second car which had no loan owing. We also cut up our credit cards and refinanced our house to a better mortgage allowing us to make additional payments towards the principle. Since then, we’ve purchased and made progress on a project car for Nathan with cash (he’s a mechanic and loves his projects), I finished and paid for my degree, we have cash flowed a month long trip to Europe, we paid cash for a very nice new-to-us family car and we are now expecting (and saving for) our first child.
Despite all the progress we have made, something about having a baby causes you to question your ability to be a good parent and provide for this little soul coming into the world. I think this is a normal experience for most parents especially with your first child as you are facing the unknown. Nathan and I are very comfortable and have never been frivolous with our money, however knowing that this little boy will be completely dependant on us has inspired a new level of dedication to managing our finances well. I want to be able to give our child the best that I can, from the food that he will eat to the experiences he will have and the life lessons he will learn.
So, in preparation for his arrival and my impending maternity leave, I have been looking at ways to cut costs and put even more of our income towards savings than usual. We are already really good at saving and managing expenses, so there weren’t too many places for me to cut things down, apart from our grocery budget and our weekly spending (fun) money.
I have always spent around $200 (often more, never less) on groceries for Nathan and I per week. I am a foodie and I place a lot of value on good quality, sustainably sourced, fresh and healthy food for us. I thought the only way to eat healthy was to spend this much every week, surely spending less was not possible without sacrificing quality. Well, let me tell you, it is possible, it just requires organisation, planning and the right mindset. I started getting inspiration by looking at blogs via Pinterest and Instagram about eating well on a tighter budget, I found many examples of families eating well for less, and what I really loved about them was their focus on zero food waste which has been a passion of mine for many years (I have previous posts on this).
I set myself the challenge of dropping my grocery budget to $120 per week, a total of $480 for an average four week month, for all food, groceries and household items (i.e. toilet paper, cleaning products etc.). Now for any American readers, that may not sound too difficult for a family of two, however in Australia, the cost of groceries is significantly higher! I figured $120 would be a challenge for me, but not impossible, the goal is still for it to be feasible otherwise there is no point. Remember my focus is still very much on quality, healthy and fresh food, I refuse to sacrifice my health, the investment is worth it. I also allocated up to $100 per month extra for protein (meat, poultry, fish and eggs) which I take out in cash at the beginning of the month and spend at local farms.
I set myself this challenge for the month of August, and I’m pleased to report I have managed to stick with the budget every week, I’ve even ended up with leftover protein money despite the fact that it was a five week month! I have also ended up with a freezer stocked full of meals from leftovers which I can use in weeks to come. I think it all depends on your family, your preferences and priorities and where you live to come up with an amount that is challenging yet feasible for you and your budget. My success with this challenge has inspired me to share some of my tips that I find really help me to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality.
My top tips for cutting back your grocery budget:
Review what you already have.
Do a stock take of what is in your pantry, fridge and freezer. If there is something you have that needs to be used up, factor that into your meal plan and use it, don’t let anything go to waste.
Make a meal plan.
Have you ever heard that saying ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail’? It’s true, at least if you want to stick to your grocery budget and minimise food waste. Before I do our weekly shop I write out our meal plan for the following week which includes EVERY meal: 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 snacks and 6 dinners for two people (told you I was an organisation freak). We do have one takeaway night or dinner out per week which is not included in our grocery budget.
Write your shopping list.
Based off your stock take of existing food and your meal plan for the following week, write out your grocery list of things you will need to buy. A good tip is to include quantities, i.e. if a recipe calls for one carrot, just buy the one, not a whole bag that will just get thrown out and is a waste of plastic!
Check the sales.
For pantry items that I need to stock up on, I will usually check the major retailers to see if either have it on sale. For example, I buy basmati rice in bulk to minimise plastic waste and save money. If I know I am going to need rice in the upcoming weeks I will check Woolworths and Coles to see if either have a sale, usually the big 5kg bags of rice are around $19 but you can grab them for $9 on sale and they last forever! I was in luck this week as Coles has it on sale for $9.50, winning!!!
Cut the crap.
I’m talking processed food, convenience food, packaged and heavily manufactured food. Whilst food from a packet may be convenient, it’s often loaded with unnecessary ingredients and preservatives that impact your health and you pay more for it. Whilst I’m not opposed to buying a jar of something like plain tomato passata here and there fore a recipe, you will never catch me buying pre-made sauces, recipe bases or convenience meals. I make things from scratch, which tastes better and honestly is cheaper. For example, I have a large stock of spices that I keep on hand, if I want to throw together a veggie curry, it is so easy to add a teaspoon of this and a teaspoon of that and voila I have my own spice mix, which if you break down the amount of spices I used would have cost fifty cents or less compared to $4 for a pre-made curry sauce in a jar from the supermarket, not to mention I have complete control over the ingredients so there is no added sugars, preservatives or nasties like vegetable oils.
Buy in season produce.
Learn what produce is in season in your area and plan or adjust your meals around that. Buying in season is always going to mean the produce is fresher, it has travelled less kilometres and it is cheaper. Not only is this better for your budget, but it is better for the planet! I do my produce shopping at a green grocer that stocks from local farms and growers. I always recommend finding a good green grocer or farmers market, the produce quality is better than supermarkets, you are supporting small businesses and minimising plastic waste, it is often cheaper as well!
If you are in Australia and even more specifically Victoria, Sustainable Table have a great guide to seasonal produce, check it out here.
Meat in moderation.
Meat should be a side, not the main event of your meals. My husband and I consume very little meat, in fact for the past two years I followed a very strict plant based diet. I have only recently incorporated a very small amount of meat during my pregnancy. Majority of our meals are vegetarian, we often have fresh fish once per week and red meat, poultry or eggs once a week, all other meals are pretty much plant based, full of fresh veggies, legumes and whole foods. This will not only help your bank account but also your health and the health of the planet. We buy our meat straight from the farm, we have a local on farm butcher where the animals have free range and are grass fed, the meat does not contain any preservatives and is of the highest quality.
Don’t let anything go to waste.
If you see something in your fridge that needs to be used, either use it, or figure out how to freeze it for later. Throwing out food is not only throwing out money, but it is terrible for the environment, clogging up landfill and producing harmful greenhouse gasses. If I have leftover bananas at the end of the week, I’ll make them into banana muffins for work lunch snacks during the following week, or I will peel and freeze them for smoothies. I had some leftover sweet potatoes the other week, so I made ginger sweet potato and coconut soup and froze it for work lunches. I had a butternut pumpkin I wasn’t going to use so I baked it, scooped the flesh into a container and froze it to make pumpkin risotto the following week (which turned out amazing, here is the recipe). If I cook a whole chicken, I will save the carcass and slow cook it overnight into a golden chicken broth to use as a soup base in a future recipe. You get the idea, literally nothing goes to waste.
Stick to your plan.
A plan is only going to help you if you have the dedication to follow it. Make it easier on yourself by planning meals that you know you enjoy and are easy to prepare, so when you get home after work and you’re exhausted you’re more likely to follow through and cook the meal rather than get takeaway. Plan to cook only as much as you need to, I tend to cook 3 times per week because we can eat leftovers on the other nights which saves time and means I’m more likely to follow through.
I hope you have found this post encouraging if you are looking to spend less on food without sacrificing quality. Whatever your situation may be, I hope these tips have helped and you have gained some inspiration from what I have shared. One of my goals in writing this blog is not only to provide delicious recipes, but also to show that eating healthy and in a way the supports your longevity as well as that of the planet, is something that is accessible to anyone reading this blog, no matter your budget or personal situation. During September I am thinking of doing a series on here where I show each weeks meal plan and grocery shop to demonstrate the method to my madness, we’ll see how I go!
I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below or over on my Instagram page, maybe you’re trying to cut costs or just looking at ways you can be more sustainable both financially and environmentally, I love chatting about both of these topics.
Until next time,