2 April 2012

Grocery shopping choices

There is no doubt that living as we do and trying to stay on budget presents us with many decisions. Do we buy organic? Do we buy local? Do we grow our own? What are the pros and cons of those options? One thing is for sure, if you want to stay healthy while saving money, there will probably not be one single answer to this. Prices and circumstances will keep changing and we have to be flexible enough to change what we do.

Many of you know what we do here. We try to grow as much as we can right here in our backyard. We keep chickens - we have 12 rare breed chooks at the moment and we keep them for eggs, not meat. But what do we do for the rest of our food? How do we continue to buy healthy food while staying within our budget?

Aldi is our main grocery shop, the things we can't buy at Aldi we usually buy at IGA at Maleny. We have an Aldi shop just five minutes away from our home. If you've never shopped at Aldi and you have one close buy, I encourage you to try them out. You'll save about 30% on what you'd spend at Woolworths or Coles. If you're spending $100 a week at the supermarket on groceries every week and you change to Aldi, that's a saving of $30 a week or $1560 a year. Just say you spend that $560 on items you can't get at Aldi, you're still way ahead. It would be wonderful to be able to pay off an extra $1000 off your mortgage each year just by changing where you shop.

There is a bit of a learning period when you first shop at Aldi, it's not set out like your average supermarket but it only takes one or two visits to get the general idea. Also, they have specials that run for a week or so, then you won't see them again in the shop for another year. It's a German-owned company selling 97% Australian fruit and vegetables, 94% Australian dairy and 100% Australian meat; the rest of the groceries, like other supermarkets, come from all over the world - often from Germany. They won best supermarket in Australia last year and that was voted for on customer satisfaction.

Aldi have a range of organic goods and we buy them but here is where the dilemma presents itself. Their tomato paste is organic but made in Italy. Do we go for an organic product we can afford or an Australia product that is not organic? I hope you check where all your food comes from and if you do, you'll see that a lot of the tomato products being sold in Australia now are either from Italy or China. When I find Australian tomatoes or tomato paste in cans I buy it, if not, I buy Aldi's Italian organic range. I think we should all support our local famers and industries. If you're in the US, Canada, UK, France, Holland or Sweden - you should buy the products grown and packaged in your own country. We have no right to complain that our jobs are being sent overseas if we don't buy goods from our own countries. Check the country of origin and help your own country keep its jobs by buying locally produced goods. It may cost a little more but we have to get used to the idea that not all food is cheap and buying local is a wise investment.

We're fortunate in having a local butcher that we trust. We buy our meat in bulk from him so we get good meat at a good price. Most of his meat is killed and processed locally, by him and his sons. The rest of it  - the lamb and pork, is brought in from farmers he trusts. That's fine by me. If I didn't have such a butcher, if I was buying supermarket meat, if my butcher wouldn't tell me where the meat was coming from, I'd start looking for a reliable source of good meat and chicken. If I couldn't find a reliable source, I'd buy very little meat and move more towards a vegetarian diet with additions of sustainable fish. If I had a large backyard, I would also consider keeping chickens for meat and eggs. This is what I mean by flexibility and changing what you do as times and circumstances change.

When we're not growing our own vegetables and we buy from the farmers market or Aldi, we buy organic if we can afford it but for me, fresh food grown close to where we live always beats organic. If I have a choice, I prefer fresh vegetables over older organic vegetables. You will have to think about this and decide for yourself what your preference is.

We buy bread flour in bulk bags of 12.5kg/30lbs from a shop that also sells loose dried fruit, nuts, spices, tea, coffee, pasta, rice and grains. They're Simply Good in Morayfield and Alderley. If you make bread at home it is worthwhile looking for one of these shops. They generally have a very good range and are cheaper than the supermarkets. There are plenty of online shops we can buy organic dried foods from but generally we support our local co-op in Maleny. They have a good range of organic foods of every description and the profits go back into the town.

We all support, or choose not to support, with the dollars we spend every week on food and groceries. This is long-term spending. If you can save money here, they will be continued savings that will add up over time. You'll go through stages too. You start off as a single, often turn into a couple, add children, then have ravenous teenagers, and go back to a single or a couple somewhere along the way. All these stages require different shopping strategies and hopefully the way you shop through every stage will result in savings in your pocket every week. With careful and thoughtful shopping and putting in an extra effort at home, it is possible to save in every stage. You have control over this. It is worth some thought.

What is your shopping strategy at the moment and how has it changed over time?

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