Living on less

20 April 2008

I wanted to continue on yesterday's theme of pinching pennies to talk about a few things we can all do to save money. One of the best ways to save at the grocery store is to work out the unit price of what you are buying. For example, if you want to buy coffee and one pack is 200 grams for $8.98 ($8.98 divided by 200 grams = 0.044 cents a gram) and another pack is 500 grams at $18.33 ($18.33 divided by 500 grams = 0.036 cents a gram), the second pack is cheaper. So even though the second price is more, it's actually cheaper coffee. Or pineapple slices might be $1.86 for one pound (16oz) ($1.86 divided by 16 oz = 11 cents an ounce). Another brand is $3.05 for 1½ pounds (24oz) ($3.05 divided by 24 = 12 cents an ounce), so here the larger one is more expensive so you'd buy the smaller one. Take your calculator with you to the shops when you're working out your unit prices.

Another thing you can do is to make do with what you already have. If you find you're short of one ingredient when you're cooking something, do without it or make do with something you already have. The housewives of the depression years and those during the world wars developed a fine tradition of making do. Many of them continued on long after they needed to because it saved them money and resources, and it was the sensible thing to do. Learn to mend clothes, so you don't have to throw good clothes away just because they have a rip in them. Sew on buttons, mend zips, stitch hems. Unravel an old jumper and knit something else with it. Good yarn will always look nice, even on it's second life.

Try to give up meat, or eat less of it. Meat costs a lot to buy and it also takes a huge amount of water, space and resources to produce meat for the table. There are many delicious recipes to be cooked that have no meat. If you cut out meat, keep chickens and grow vegetables and fruit in your backyard, you'll be well on your way to reducing your food bill considerably.

Use less of everything. Smaller servings, less dressing on salad, less toothpaste on your toothbrush, less sauce on spaghetti, less butter on bread, fewer peaches in the cobbler etc. Reduce your amounts a little bit, no one will notice but it will add up.

Generics - buy them. When I was a spender, I wouldn't even look at generic brands. Now I buy them all the time and have been amazed that they're the same as the advertised brands. They're cheaper because you're not paying for advertising. There is one word of caution here though. I always check that my generic is made in Australia. Make sure what you buy is from your own country. This is important for the economy of your country and it cuts down on your food miles. If you keep buying cheap food from another country, there will come a time when that is all there will be to buy. And we all know what happens when there is no competition - the prices go up.

These are a few of the things I do to save money. They are all small steps that add up to a big difference. If you have something a bit unusual that works for you, something we might not have heard of, please share it with us so we all might benefit.


  1. Hi Rhonda
    Always good lesson to be learned from you. I do worry though that if we dont eat meet then we never see animals in the fields. You might see sheep for wool but what about little piggies? I think I will stick with you eat less meat guideline.
    I am working on a couple of veggie meals a week initially.
    Thank yo for the guidance.

  2. I completely agree with the making do concept. For instance, salad dressing -- makes for a great sauce for pasta dishes. Curry sauces, great for wild rice dishes. Add some frozen veggies on top and you've got a great meal.

    Funny how you'll stock up on vegemite, i've slowly started to buy 4 or 5 boxes of whole wheat pasta at the grocery store. Pasta is a huge part of my diet and if wheat prices are rising through the roof I want to have as much as possible on hand.

    I also stock up on canned fish too.

  3. With pricing by unit, I believe that Aldi mark their items with a cost per 100 grams (or along those lines) and also I heard that the federal gov was looking at making all supermarkets do the same

  4. You're right, Andrew. Aldi does mark their items with the unit cost. I hope the governement does make this mandatory in all supermarkets, it would make comparision shopping much easier.

    Hi Lizzie and Maggie!

  5. Hi Rhonda,

    I have switched to using powered milk as well as trying to have at least 1 vegetarian meal each week. I have also been mincing my own meat from steak when it is on sale.
    My last way to stretch the $$ is to add lots or grated veggies as well as some lentils or beans to my meat dishes - makes a small amount of meat go further and adds to the taste :)

  6. Ironically, since we eliminated meat in our grocery list, our food budget increased significantly. But then again, we consume way more fruits and vegetables than the average family, and buy organic as much as possible. We wouldn't go back the old way though.

    Some other things we've done:
    -homemade toothpaste- cheaper, and much better anyway
    -stop buying paper products like paper towels, napkins and toilet paper and using cloth alternatives

  7. Thank you for sharing. I love discovering new blogs.

  8. Wonderful tips, as usual! :)

  9. I buy most of my meat from a wholesale butcher. Sides of lamb for about $6/kg, for example. Of course, this means I have to know how to cook every bit of the animal: a good skill to have. I think it is also about being respectful -- if an animal dies to feed me, I shouldn't waste any of it.
    But I admit I bought Polish sour cherry jam the other day...

  10. bravo! i just found your wonderful blog by way of ihavetosay. its late and i need to get to bed, but i will be back tomorrow to check out your posts. your voice is a well needed one i think!!i already am a veg, but am trying all the time to conserve and be better about upcycling and such. thanks for your blog

  11. Good advice, Rhonda! I'm glad to find that many of your suggestions are things we already practice..the unit prices, generic brands, nationally made items. I learned a lot from my late grandparents. My Grandma had a way of making hamburgers left over from their Depression era days..she'd shred potatoes and mix it into the ground beef when making hamburgers, and meatloaf was made with "stretchers" such as bread crumbs and oatmeal in addition to the ground beef. They saved rubber bands, glass jars, nails, screws, aluminum foil, canned food tins...almost anything you can name...and burned their own trash in a big metal barrel in back of their yard. Onion and potato peels and any kitchen food waste went into an empty one gallon plastic ice cream bucket each day and made the trip to the compost pile. Grandma gardened in the cool of the day and during the heat she worked with Grandpa repairing and refinishing antiques they'd picked up for nearly nothing at junk shops, to resell. Relaxation was late afternoons snapping beans and hulling peas on their back porch and drinking loads of iced tea, with ice you had keep making in metal trays with lift-out dividers.

    Laundry days smelled delightful as the sheets whipped in the wind, and Grandma always ironed her sheets!

    For some reason, returning to this (we're on our way, not all the way there yet) seems like the best sort of "progress"...Grandma would probably laugh to hear it :)

  12. I've been trying to cut back on the amount of meat we eat both for financial and health reasons but the males in the household love their meat. They treat vegetarian dishes with great suspicion. Has anyone got any suggestions for vegetarian meals to feed my boys?


  13. In the UK most grocery shops price by the unit.Not always the same unit I must say, so some brain power is still needed.
    I have since January been slowly making our portion sizes smaller. No one has noticed. I would very much like to offer more veggie meals but I also have men who treat non-meat meals as not quite complete.

    Pippa in Cornwall

  14. I like Pippa noticed that the unit price isn't always the same unit mostly per kg but the more expensive products are per 100g perhaps they don't like to advertise the fact that nice cooked sliced ham is £25 per kg!!!(uk pounds sorry dont know the AU equivalents but about $50 US)

    I too rave about generics most of my food order is own brand products

    i find online shopping with one of the major supers saves me money as i stick to my list,don't pay for any diesel/parking to shop(there is a delivery charge)all the stores offers can be seen on screen too as i stockpile offers too it saves me loading and unloading too ,the nice man brings it into my kitchen for me it saves time too as i am able to do my online shop now in 20mins(with a cuppa in hand)

    We too now only eat meat 3 times a week in order to be able to pay the extra for organic meat and dairy i have found with the quest for simplicity ethics has become important to us too

    Sharron in the UK

  15. Lynda - if the men don't like veggie meals then maybe you could just start by bulking out meat meals using dried pulses and/or in-season (ie cheap) vegetables. A handful or two of red lentils will simply disappear into spag bol, chilli or any mince dish. Brown lentils are a bit bulker but also fade in with meat. I use my food processor to 'mince' veg like carrots, courgettes, peppers and onions to use half and half with mince. Soya mince also comes dried and is a cheap way to pad out mince. Same applies to more 'chunky' meat meals. Chicken, pork, lamb, beef can all be served padded out with loads of veg in curries, casseroles, stews, soups, stir fries etc. A can or two of red kidney beans or any other bean is an easy way to add bulk.

    If you have a slow cooker then cheaper cuts of meat cn be left alone to cook over 5 hours or more and will be beautifully tender so you can still offer them an occasional solid meat-fest!

  16. More great advice Rhonda, thank you. I loved reading Robbyn's comment about her grandparents too, I remember similar things from my childhood.

    Whilst I'm not totally convinced about the whole global warming thing, I strongly believe that we need to consider how we use the resources we have on this planet. I enjoy finding new ways of making do and re-using things and my stress levels, my finances (and even my carbon footprint!) have all improved considerably over the last couple of years.

  17. Is that really what your money looks like? I'm not sure I could take something that colorful seriously. It's cute though, real or not.

  18. Great post, Rhonda. My husband keeps telling me generic is just as good, but I'm not 100% with him. For example yesterday I was looking at the hazelnut paste, the "real" stuff has 6% hazelnuts, the generic only 2,5%. So since my toddler can sometimes have a sandwich with it, I decided to take the real one since I'd rather have her eat more hazelnuts than powdered milk or sugar. My mom taught me to always look at unit price, I do that a lot. The only problem we have with buying a bigger package of something because it's cheaper is sometimes it spoils because it hasn't been eaten on time. Then you have to throw it away and that makes it more expensive. :-)
    What we also do to cut back is buy clothes from well known brands for our kids from outlets, on sale or secondhand. It's stuff that stays nice despite washing and wearing them a lot, once the clothes don't fit anymore we sell it online. We've bought things and sold them for the same price, so wearing them was free and they go on to have a second (and hopefully more after that) life. We also swap clothes with our neighbours who have a baby who's just in between our kids in age and size.

    Christine from the NL
    PS: I made the pasta as soon as I read your tutorial and we all looooved it! The baby had a complete green face from all the spinach and asked for seconds. Toddler was suspicious at first because it looked funny but she had made a few pasta shapes of her own and was proud to identify those and eat them! Thanks for sharing that info.

  19. Hi Rhonda,

    I have an award waiting for you over on my site if you'd like to come over.

    All the best,

  20. Excellent post! Superb advice. We have reduced our meat consumption and our finances have thanked us. It also makes it easier for us to buy free range and organic meats -- we can actually afford them!


  21. Hi Rhonda!

    I just realized that the link on the post below is not to the new site but rather to the old one!

    I'm so sorry not to have given you the new address!!!

    Here it is:



  22. lis, I use powdered milk in all my cooking, it saves us quite a bit.

    Chookie, I agree 100% with your statement: "Of course, this means I have to know how to cook every bit of the animal: a good skill to have. I think it is also about being respectful -- if an animal dies to feed me, I shouldn't waste any of it."

    Robbyn, I loved your comment, it brought back many memories of my father burning rubbish in a metal bin in the backyard and my mum stretching the meat out with breadcrumbs and potatoes. Hanno and I do most of the other things you mentioned (but I never iron sheets) so it just goes to show we've come the full circle.

    Lynda, meat eaters usually like cheese or egg dishes. If you make something like a Spanish omelette or potato pancakes and serve then with a salad and hot bread, that will fill them. And as Anita suggested, if they can't stop eating meat, stretch out the meat by cooking stews, soups, meatloaf and casseroles. You can add potatoes, beans or lentils to all of them to reduce the amount of meat you use.

    Tameson, yep, that's it - it's plastic. The world's first plastic currency. I believe quite a few countries are using it now.

    Christine, you're right, I forgot about the things like spreads and sauces. Always check the ingredients. I make my own so I never buy these things but it's an important thing to check before buying. Thanks for your help.

    Hi Deborah, thank you. :- )

    Lacy, I've changed the address now.

  23. Hi Rhonda,
    another wonderful post.
    We are home alone now, most of the time as our family is fairly scattered. However they are still known to shop in Mum's pantry particularly for homegrowm, homemade items,
    we are fortunate that we grow our own lambs, so all the killing and processing is done here and the animals don't suffer, We use pretty well all the animal, a nieghbour loves to get the brains, we eat the livers and kidneys, and all the neck etc, the dog gets the bones and scraps, sometimes if there is an excess then family and friends dogs get the bones etc.
    we burn our rubbish in an old 44 gallon drum have done this for 38 years now and only a small amount has to go to the council tip, they don'thave recycling at the tip yet.
    we make nearly everything from scratch, use dried skim milk powder for cooking,I am still processing our tomato harvest into relishes, chutneys, tomato sauce (ketchup?)
    Have always stockpiled as where we live we are very prone to floods, have nearly forgotten what they are like thanks to this horrible drought.we recycle, reuse as much as we can, for e.g. hubbie put up some kitchen cupboards (tin ones) that we inherited from DS2 when his family moved to Queensland, we put them on the walls in the woodshed and I am using them to store excess,and or large fowler bottles, that we are not using at this time.
    we have our own chooks, for eggs and meat, though we do need some young layers as ours are aging.
    I make a lot of soups, stews, casseroles, particulary in the cooler part of the year, this week it is cauliflower and creamed corn soup, yummo,
    have always filled out rissoles with breadcrumbs, usually soy and linseed bread, have always extended meat whether in casseroles of chops etc with extra vegetables.
    we make our own washing powder and use only things like bi-carb, winegar, eculaptus oil etc to clean with.
    all our scraps, vegie fruit etc goes to the chooks are the compost, though the cows and sheep love a feed of tomates, corn stalks, (cows) cabbage leaves etc from the garden,
    our town is meant to be getting and Aldi shop but it won't be for another 2 to 3 years, however with our shopping I have always found it best to buy the brands that the family eat, because if they don't like a particular brand and we keep buying it because of the prices etc it can cause a lot of waste of money and resources. Having said that probably the main canned items I buy are baked beans, spaghetti ( quick meals on toast) and some soups for the odd casserole and tinned fish.
    but the best part is now that my 3 daughters and 1 DIL are now asking me and going the more simple living lifestyle.
    enough of my waffle, hope everyone has a wondrful week and that it rains in our area very soon, or there won't be very many crops sown this year

  24. I can vouch for the brand vs generic debate. A friend's father runs a company which provides packaged fruit (usually in some form of juice) for brands and supermarkets, and she says they use the same basic fruits,juices and syrups for all of the brands they supply, they just have different tubs/cans labels depending on where the fruit will end up. I've heard the same said for other products too.

    I found for example, supermarket basic/savers honey is just honey. So is the expensive squeezy-bottle stuff. Yet its 3-times more expensive for a squeezy bottle!

    Rhonda - I've embroidered my bag, I just need to take the photo for you. Good reviews so far :-)

    Lots of love,


  25. Great ideas, Rhonda! We, too, spread our meat-eating out to save money. Then I can buy the free-range, grass-fed variety. I recently bought 2 lbs of pork and it was $12, which is expensive here. But I use it in a rice-and-beans recipe with lots of beans so it actually makes four huge meals with leftovers for us.

    I myself am slowly moving towards buying local and sustainably grown/made foods and food products. It can be very expensive if you are not careful! What I'm finding is that traditional foods that our grandmothers savoured and used sparingly have become cheaper (and of poorer quality, IMO) and we're used to using much more of it. By recognizing quality and using it sparingly I can buy quality, local food and not increase my budget.

    (and of course growing your own is the best way to save money on food!)

  26. Hi Rhonda
    Do you have a recipe for your lemon cordial please. It sounds absolutely delicious.


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