Cutting the cost of grocery shopping

20 May 2014
I'm guessing that most of us try to live well without spending too much money. Some of us are forced via our circumstances to do it, some make a philosophical decision that they want to live that way. One thing is for sure, if you cut the amount of money you spend, not only on food and groceries but also on the modern trappings of life, you'll be able to pay off your debts sooner and you'll also be helping to reduce green house gasses as well. Bravo!

Living well on a small amount of money is not about the big choices. It's a series of consistent decisions to live on the budget you've defined for yourself. It's about shopping for bargains and making as much at home as you can. If you have the time to make some of the things you now buy, you'll save money, and probably get a better product. If you can reduce your grocery bill, you'll be able to make consistent savings every time you shop. So let's talk about the everyday decisions we all make.

The first decision is about organising your money, and that just means making up a budget. Now if your eye just glazed over and your pulse started to race, it's not as bad as you think. YOU set your own limits, YOU write your budget according to what money you have coming in and what you need. YOU are the main definer of your fate. If you've been pretending that the B word is for everyone else, think again. Budgeting will help you live well, help you pay your bills on time, calculate what you have to spend and generally keep you on your financial track, whatever that is.  Some of us can get away with no budget, but it's so easy to fall back into those modern day spending habits, a budget will keep you focused. And it gets easier the longer you do it. I've always thought that and was delighted when I found Sherri's post on the forum that confirmed what I thought for many years. And I thought it was just me who felt it.

But let's focus on shopping now. Staples, or the ingredients you need to make up recipes, are the real foundation of your pantry and stockpile. They don't change from month to month - flour, tea, coffee, sugar, butter, honey, dried fruits, oats, rice, spices etc. Work out what you use as staples and keep your supplies topped up when you shop. It's the fresh food such as vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, fish etc that will change. When you prepare to go shopping, check what's in the fridge that has to be used, make up a menu plan, then work out when you'll shop. If you get supermarket flyers in the post and check out the bargains that way, then you'll wait until you have that week's flyers and make up your menu plan according to what's on special and what you already have in the fridge and garden. Then you'll do your shopping. I think it's a better idea to check the fridge so you don't buy what you already have, then go shopping with a list of the staples you need. I like to see what's in the shops, especially the seasonal foods, and buy what is cheap because it's in season and fresh. But whether you shop after seeing what's available or already have your meals planned before you go shopping, always shop with a list of what staples you need so you don't have to run back to the shops during the week to buy a pound of butter, flour or some onions.

I encourage you to shop for ingredients rather than frozen meals and you'll save money if you don't buy convenience foods such as washed salads, sliced or grated cheese, bottled cooking sauces or packets of prepared spices. By doing the work of washing, grating and making up your own recipes, you'll save a lot of money and develop your skills in the kitchen.

Now that we shop at Aldi, I find it's only the meat specials I'm interested in, and then only the free range meats. If they have nothing I want, I usually end up at the butcher shop because he has better quality meat, it's local and often cheaper than the supermarket meat. I encourage you to check out your local butcher and green grocer and don't just rely on the supermarkets. Another quick tip is to not always rely on meat as your main meal protein. Legumes, grains, fish, eggs, tofu and dairy products are all valuable and reasonably cheap sources of protein.

In most circumstances, but not all, stockpiling will save you money and time. It works for us but doesn't work for my sister, Tricia, because she lives alone and tends to shop for what she needs every couple of days. But if you're part of a small, medium or larger family, or a group of students, stockpiling should work for you and you'll always have food on hand.  There is a post here about stockpiling.

If you have some land, another food strategy that will save money as well as give you the best organic fruit and vegetables, is to grow your own, or some of it. If you do this, you'll also have to learn about when to harvest, how to manage your harvests so you don't waste anything and often that means you'll learn how to preserve in jars and freeze your produce. There are many posts here about that as well. The best way to search my blog is to go to Google and type in "down to earth blog and add the topic you're looking for". For example "down to earth blog bread", "down to earth blog stockpiling", "down to earth blog soap" etc.

I just want to remind you that it is rare to make big savings doing this.  It's all about consistent, regular small savings when you do the grocery shopping, but menu planning, shopping for bargains, stockpiling and buying less because you grow it and make it yourself, will all make a difference. So don't think small savings aren't worth it, they add up. When you look back over a year, you'll be surprised just how much you were able to save by sticking to your plan.

Tomorrow we'll talk about, and share, our recipes and thoughts on frugal food. I look forward to reading your comments about today's topic. I'll see you again as we carry on this important discussion tomorrow.


  1. For me, a meal plan saves me a lot of money. If I plan ahead, I can use up half a can of tomatoes for a certain dish e.g. and the next day the rest of it for another meal. Moreover, I only buy what I need and I don´t have to go or send my boyfriend to go grocery shopping for a few items, because we mostly buy a few things extra then that are unneccessary and often unhealthy e.g. soda or sweets.

  2. This is so true, may I add beware of coupons, they only really save you money if it is an item you buy normally and coupons here tend to be on prepackaged foods that I don't usually buy. Hubby and I were suddenly and unexpectedly retired/financially downsized when he was laid off after 29 years, we eat very well and have cut our food budget drastically. It is doable, it requires thought. For those with small children, even if you have to go out shopping at an unhandy time try to go without the kids! My friend and I used to trade babysitting on shopping days to stay on our budgets. (It is much harder to arrange for someone to take your husband for an afternoon while you shop but will usually still help the budget!)

  3. I'm the kind of shopper the supermarkets hate, go from store to store - in our town Coles woolies and aldi are all on the same street within 50 meters of each other. I go in get the super specials and leave. We have saved lots of money through this, being part of a community garden and stockpiling whenever our regulars are on special. And we eat extremely well! At the moment lots of curries and soups that I can package up leftovers for lunches for work, and that saves too!

  4. Hi Rhonda,

    you'll probably be surprised to read this, given my comments on food shopping over the years, but I've decided to buy less organic - and that's after shopping organic since the eighties!

    With the cost of everything going up and up, it is simply not reasonable to spend four times as much on a packet of butter or half a kilo of oats. Yes, organic is better for our health and the environment, but the cost of feeding the family has become a big source of stress when insurance has gone up 18.5%, petrol is up, and electricity seems to have doubled. And our council is putting rates up 20%! We already have one of the highest land rates in the state!

    When I last did my budget it was a reality check. The cost of living really has gone up enormously, which means something has to give. That something is food. We have a great veggie garden and a dozen fruit trees - now I need to redouble my efforts to grow as many veggies as possible, to have a good portion of our food organic.
    I've also started a proper stockpile, which I'd resisted due to a very small home with little storage. But now that I've started, I see the value in it. Yesterday I was able to get good quality dog food at a reduction of $8 per bag - this is a significant saving, as was half price pasta. So thank you for talking about it often enough that it was in my mind when I looked at my approach to shopping.

    Have a great day,


    1. I'm not surprised, Madeleine. Organic food has risen in price along with everything else. I wrote a post a few months ago about making the decision between organic or fresh and local. I now go with fresh and local because organic is out of my price range too.

  5. I always keep all the basics stocked up. And buy a few frozen veg for the days I have run out of fresh, and do not want to waste petrol driving to the shops just for some mushrooms.
    I always make a meal plan for the month and check what's left when I do this. I always take a list to the supeermarkets. I would love to shop at a greengrocers and butchers but we have not got any near us. I would have to drive some distance and then use petrol and pay for parking so it would work out costly.
    This is one thing I miss living in Cornwall.

  6. Good morning Rhonda,
    Thanks for the reminder of the budgeting, I've fallen off the wagon at the moment but do cook and make everything from scratch. I did our budget at the beginning of the year and thought we were doing ok but we weren't, we were spending all our wage and not saving any money. I started doing the system of withdrawing the wage from the bank and dividing it up into ziplock bags labelled with our bills and out goings. This has been fantastic as now when the bills come in the money is there instead of paying them and leaving nothing over as I never have paid a late bill.

    We have come into some financial difficulty of late due to illnesses from both my husband and I so our income has drastically decreased for the short term. I called all of our bill companies and our bank for our mortgage and they have ALL been so understanding and supportive, offering to give a payment plan that we can service for the short term. Our bank has given us a 'mortgage holiday' to ease the burden and as soon as the situation is resolved we are back in the saddle. My point is, be honest with these companies and help is definately there if you need it to help ease the stress for the short term.

    Look forward to tomorrows post!
    Warm regards,

  7. People laugh when they see my pantry stockpile. They think it looks like a supermarket! When staples are on special I buy up big. My husband eats weetbix and when the organic ones are on special (about 40% off)I usually buy about 10 boxes and by the time he gets through them they are usually on special again. I buy all my flour, sugar, oats, nuts etc through an organic food co-op. This happens every second month. This allows us to buy organic but at a very reasonable price.

  8. I shop with a list and I have a little note book I take. I use to just take a piece of paper with a shopping list. Leave it some place in the store.."silly me"
    I usual buy wants on sale.
    I try buy wholesome food. I've done in-home care and I seen to many of these people purchase crap food. I'm convenience if they purchase better food that they wouldn't have the health issue they do have.
    I complete understand with very limited income purchasing non processed food could be difficult

    Coffee is on

  9. Thanks for this post Rhonda (and all your others).

    It really does help to keep re-focusing on topics such as these as I believe the more mindful we are of them the more likely we are to succeed.

    Basically we're lucky enough to be able to produce most of our own fruit and vegetables to get us through the year. I try to let nothing go to waste. I either preserve it or we give it away. We also keep our own hens and the surplus eggs we sell pay for their feed so basically the eggs are free. Growing our own fruit and vegetables actually costs us very little for such a massive return and with the "free" eggs it really reduces what we have to buy quite considerably.

    I buy nearly everything on special. My grocery list is nearly always just specials for the week. Stockpiling when something is on special means we make big savings.

    One of my favourite stand-bys is smoked, canned, white fish fillets. They're still fairly cheap and like mince one or two cans can be spun out into 8 - 10 good meals if you make something like Seafood Chowder Likewise a can of salmon mixed with some eggs and cooked, drained, instant noodles can be mixed together and made into fritters which are great hot or cold. It makes one can of salmon go quite a long way.

    Soup, well where would we be without soup? It's so inexpensive to make, delicious and nutritious. You can make a hug pot of it for very little - compare that to what they charge for those horrid cans of what I call "chemical water" masquerading as soup in the supermarkets!

    I had a wonderful aunt, now long departed this world, who fell on hard times when she had 6 young sons. I'm told that she made all sorts of miraculous fare out of just a few pounds of flour at a time to keep them going. 3 cups of flour will make 9 hearty scones. Flour is another of our best friends when it comes to stretching the budget. We make bread in the breadmaker for a quarter of what we would have to pay for it in the shops.

    Another good money saver is to cook some rice the day before you want to use it and when it is cold it's so easy to make fried rice which is FAR better than any you will buy at a takeaways store. Just cook a few eggs into an omelette, take out of the wok and put to one side. After that I generally fry some onions and garlic and then add anything else I have on hand. Often there is some bacon or leftover meat in the fridge, then add any vegetables you have available such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn etc. Frozen peas are another good standby to add to fried rice. Add some soy sauce, some Worcester sauce - whatever takes your fancy really. I like to add spicy plum or satay sauce at the end. You'll be surprised what a big pan of fried rice you end up with from some cheap rice and odds and sods! I even have visitors requesting it! - "Can you make some more of that fantastic fried rice?"

    I actually feel quite rich when the "cheap, budget meals" include seafood mornay, fried rice, fresh baked scones, pumpkin soup, vegetable, barley and chicken soup and other such fare!

  10. I have found online grocery shopping with whoever (WW or Coles) has the best deals going for what I need prevents me from overspending, I really only buy what I need from my list and the total cost increasing as I add each item really keeps me in check. I don't have the groceries delivered, rather I pick them up from the store, as it avoids the delivery fee and the time is more flexible. I wish Aldi did online shopping!

    I have found the routine of looking in the cupboards and fridge, reviewing the weekly specials, doing the menu and placing the order far more pleasurable than battling the supermarket.

    Another hint, when online shopping don't forget to 'sort by unit price', much easier than scanning all the shelves!

    1. "...when online shopping don't forget to 'sort by unit price', much easier than scanning all the shelves!"

      That's a great tip! I love that our supermarkets now list the unit price- I was never speedy with my calculations and this saves me so much time!

    2. Hi Soot - Aldi does actually have a 'Shopping List' facility on their website that you can use to calculate your shopping expenses. They don't actually have 'online shopping' whereby you pay for items online and have them delivered - but you can fill out the online shopping list, and it adds it up as you go. Then you can print that out, and take it with you when you shop. It's a convenient way to make sure you're only going to buy what you have the money for, before you head out shopping, and to use as a checklist for basics that you buy often. I've also used the Woolworth's online shopping cart to compare prices between them and Aldi before I go shopping. I hope that's of some help to you.

      Rhonda - another great post, thank you! I have found that it's so much easier to buy a bit extra each time I shop, and stockpile it away. Much more convenient to 'shop from the pantry' - and cheaper, too!

      Cheers, Di

    3. Hi Di,

      I wish Aldi had a "Shopping List" that doesn't require a smart phone. I still have a "dumb phone" and I was disappointed to see that the shopping list is only available to use on a smart phone. I haven't convinced myself to upgrade to a smart phone yet - just too expensive right now. But thanks for the info; those who have a smart phone will benefit, it seems to me.


    4. Since I am currently unable to do any heavy lifting I made a big online order with Woolworths last week, something I hadn't done for years. Thanks to a booklet of coupons I received (Everyday Rewards card) the entire order was 10% off. In addition to planning a menu for four weeks (4 people, 4 different diets) I stocked up on any of our regular items that were on special (gluten-free flour, toilet paper etc. I ordered over $500 worth for the month, saving about $80 on the store specials, and it came down to $470 after the discount. Free delivery over $300. Am very happy with the whole process and have regular foods stocked up, I will only have to get someone to pick up veges, milk, bread etc for the next few weeks. Like Soot above I feel it is a good way to avoid impulse purchases that inevitably happen in the store, and I know I have saved money by planning ahead and taking advantage of specials. I don't think the delivery man was so impressed at my large order though, 37 bags plus a big stack of toilet paper ;-)

  11. It really is about putting in that little bit of effort in the beginning (budget, meal plan) to continue reaping the rewards. Like others I have let things slip of late. I'm pregnant, tired, and in considerable pain (sciatica). It really makes a difference when you don't put the energy into those early tasks, and yes the thought of budgeting makes me cringe even though I don't have a problem sticking to one once it's been written! We have very limited storage space (we live in a 4m wide terrace) so only stockpile the essentials we really save money on buying in bulk and of course those we will use up before they go off (e.g. flour, vinegar, sugar, toilet paper, olive oil). I also look at the weather report for the week and if there is lovely weather predicted I plan for a seafood dinner one night and a walk or ride to the fish markets becomes a great activity for my toddler and I. We often conclude our shop with a hot drink on the wharf (if I have spare 'play money' it will be a hot chocolate/coffee and a babycino, if not it's a thermos!) and watch the pelicans and seagulls. It's nice to plan these little treats into your week too, after all many of us live frugally so we have have a better quality of life!

    1. I agree completely, it's about quality of life, not being cheap. I hope you feel better soon. Sciatica is painful in itself, but to be pregnant with sciatica, that's another kettle of fish. Take care, love.

    2. Thanks Rhonda, will do :)

  12. my goal is to have my own little garden of vegetables soon...

  13. We decided, because we needed to learn how to build up a vege garden in difficult soil, to pay someone to help us do it...worth every cent. Now, and into the future, I have the skills I need to keep that vege garden producing bountifully and to build new no dig beds. My efforts previously had produced only a few crops with everything else failing to thrive. Now, I look out in my backyard and have so many choices about what I can make for dinner!

  14. I have been budgeting and keeping a record of my expenses for about 40 years now - from a single girl to a family of four and back to a retired couple. Sometimes I look through some of the old records and laugh about the stupid decisions I made and can´t believe how the prices were! It is also interesting to see that a lot of things we seem to need today didn´t even exist 30 years ago. I remember queuing up in front of the telephone both in our street after 10 PM because the long distence calls were cheaper at that time.
    Nowadays I heve two problems: I often have to decide between different qualities of a cetain food. I can buy organic milk, which has been heat-treated for longer shelf life (not UHC milk!), or I can buy really fresh non-organic milk, both in a carton, or I can buy the heat-treated milk in a glass bottle. None is what I really want, so I have to compromise.
    The other problem are the prices. The special offers of meat sometimes are so cheap that everybody who knows the least bit about farming knows that there must be something wrong, either with the quality or with the prices the farmers get. So I try to pass the offers, but the prices are so tempting, I really don´t know what to do. Sometimes I spend a rediculous amount in the supermarket trying to make up my mind!

  15. We had to make a proper budget when my husband got a new job & we received a set wage, which we hadn't had when he was self employed. I shop at ALDI 80% of the time & I have mostly memorized the prices for the items I buy regularly. I am able to write my shopping list based on that & then I know how much I have when it comes to meat or fruit & veg as those prices often differ. It has helped me to not feel the dread at the checkout about how much it will cost & helps to keep within our budget.

  16. I do meal plan but I don't budget. I find that buying only what we need keeps our food bills to the right amount for our income. We have worked hard to reduce our other bills such as electricity and gas to ensure that we always have plenty for food. My parents had the same ethos we went without (the extras in life such as holidays) but always ate well. I feel that eating good food is really important and would rather go without something else than reduce my food bill. But, I do understand that reducing other bills can be really difficult so the food bill is a good way of cutting your budget. I have friends who go on holiday all the time and then complain that they cannot afford to shop for 'good' food I am afraid I have little sympathy for this.

    I think this is part of a hard balancing act.

  17. We were brought up to believe 'if you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves'.

  18. I really needed this Rhonda...Thank you!!

  19. Hi Rhonda! Thanks for bringing this subject up again. It is a constant isn't it? I used to spend $150 plus each week for a family of 5 and entertaining often. Since then our family has shrunk to just me and my two boys. I've learned so much ( had to) from your blogs and others that our life has changed radically. Grains, flour and oats, are bought every three, four months from local organic grain straight from the mill. Bread and all baking is done here at home. I only buy organic bananas, butter and other staples in the stores. Shopping is no more a must every week. It feels great to look through the sales flyers and not need 98% of the stuff. We also make our own laundry detergent, shower gel and deodorant. This has all helped so much that our life is now calmer and happier. Our chickens supply us and our customers with fresh eggs and are free entertainment. Our veggie gardens and fruits fill our freezers. And once in a while, when I am able I buy local organically grown beef. But we don't eat meat every day. I do often get strange looks. You see people thinking, how can you be satisfied with this life? Shouldn't you be racing around like the rest of humanity? No, I'm happy sitting in my back yard, learning to crochet surrounded by nature and all my beloved animals. It is a great life, truly! Thanks for sharing and encouraging us all over the globe! Sorry to hear about your vacation plans. Hopefully you can go later on. My vacation is always a stay-cation and I try to make the most of it. But a trip is always fun to plan for.

  20. Hello dear Rhonda.. This is such a timely post full of wonderful and wise advice.. I try to be frugal but so often forget to check the fridge.. We have an extra old one in the basement and sometimes I forget what has been extra and stored there.. Your greens look so vibrant in your pic that I would like to make a salad.. Looking forward to tomorrow's post.. xo

  21. I love my stock pile and I take time to keep it organized. I think of it as money in the bank and at least drawing a little interest on it as prices always go up...never come down. I still try to buy as much organic as possible as we don't have much local. There was a good article in last month Mother Earth magazine about affordable is possible but we need to eat less. They listed a breakfast as two organic eggs and a slice of homemade bread....I kind of think of that as a But goodness know it would do me and most others that I know a world of good to lose maybe ten maybe that is part of the a little less.

  22. Hi Rhonda,
    I love to stockpile so I never have to pay full price. I too can't always buy organic because of the price. We do have a garden and it helps so much on the grocery bill. We freeze it or can it to do the winter. This past winter we didn't have many onions from last summer's garden so I rationed them to help make do with what we had. It was surprising how long the few we had lasted. The hens supply eggs for us and we added fruit trees and berry bushes last year. Once they get producing we will be buying even less. I do have to say that going to the garden and picking some fresh young salad greens tastes so unbelievable compared to the store bought stuff. As for a budget, it helps us to stay on track and we look it over from time to time to make sure we are on track because we can easily return to old ways of spending if your not careful. Thanks for the great post today Rhonda!

  23. Since I started couponing, stockpiling, and shopping at reduced priced sales, and shops like Aldi, I have actually gotten our grocery food budget for a family of 5 down to roughly $112.00 per week or less now. I am so happy about that because before we spend 3 or 4 times that amount. But since I watch the sales and I stockpile things at its cheapest price, I will never go back to paying full price again. And yes over time it has saved us such a tremendous amount of money. I am so much happier now. Now if only somehow I can manage to pay my student loans off then I would be a little more happier.

  24. What a great post Rhonda ! I have gone from making everything to when the kids were grown and out of the house to eating out a lot. Well I’m tired of the food in restaurants and feel I can make it better, healthier at home. So I’m back to cooking from scratch as much as possible { I will never get hubby to give up chips }. I have found I do really well with the fewer choices at home, I look at what I have then decide what to make, kinda fun too. I no longer shop weekly but when I am at the bottom of the barrel.


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