Cost of living: How to save money at the supermarket as inflation bites

With inflation continuing to skyrocket and the cost of living crisis overwhelming many New Zealand families and whānau , we could all use a little help when it comes to cutting back - particularly at the supermarket checkout. 

Inflation hit a 32-year high this week - 7.3 percent - with warnings it could remain there until the end of the year. 

With inflationary pressures at an all-time high and increasing operating costs putting business owners under the pump, consumers are paying the price. The cost of goods and services are continuing to rise as many businesses and retailers struggle to pay their staff and overheads; according to data released in April, food prices had jumped 7.6 percent in the year to March.

New Zealand's food prices subsequently rose again in June, with costs remaining significantly up on this time last year.

With many meals now off the table for Kiwi families as kitchen staples, such as cheese, reach staggering prices, now has never been a better time to learn how to buy nutritious and versatile ingredients on a budget. To help, registered nutritionist Claire Turnbull gave Newshub her top tips for slashing the cost of the supermarket shop and eating more, for less. 

"When you go grocery shopping, one of the first things to do is have a good plan; you're more likely to be able to choose some of the healthier options because you know what you're looking for, and not be drawn into those extra purchases you might not need," Turnbull told Newshub. "The other big thing with that is you don't end up buying things that you end up wasting."

Here are a few of Turnball's top tips to reduce that receipt:

  • Use more home brands: "There's some really great home brands out there and it really can be a good, affordable option in that space."
  • Make use of seasonal produce: "Identify the specials and think about how you can adapt your recipes to use those."
  • Frozen is your friend: "The frozen section is totally underutilised in New Zealand… There are so many good options. Frozen fish, loads of frozen fruit and vegetables that are really affordable and incredibly nutritious."
  • Stop frequent shops: "One thing to be aware of is the frequency you're at the supermarket; the more often you go, the more likely you are to pick up extra. I try to shop fortnightly and sometimes I'll get fruit and vegetables in-between because it helps reduce the overall spend."
  • Be date-savvy: "You've got the best before date and the use by date; if it's past its use by date, not a good idea to be using it. A best before date is simply saying, 'this is going to taste better if you eat it before this date'. Your nose is a really good guide, so if something smells funny, it's probably one to avoid. Things like pasta, rice, cheese that hasn't got any mould on it, that looks completely fine - absolutely fine."

What's on the menu?

"When it comes to breakfast, one of the cheapest things in the world is oats; half a cup is only $0.20," Turnbull said.

"You can make that into porridge, you can make it into what I call overnight oats, just by soaking it in milk with a little yoghurt. It doesn't have to be expensive, fancy yoghurt. There are some really good, plain unsweetened yoghurts that are literally $3.50 for a large container. Again, home brand is fine, or frozen or canned fruit to make yourself a really nourishing breakfast which doesn't cost a fortune. Boxed breakfast cereals are expensive, but oats really aren't.

"When it comes to lunches, eggs are a really good option. At home, an omelette or eggs on toast is a really good, nourishing meal. You can use eggs in so many different ways. Also making soups; seasonal vegetables, pulses, onions and some spices. Literally, for like $2, you can have an incredibly nourishing lunch.

"Bagged salad is expensive but also can go mushy really quickly. So in winter, if you want that kind of crunchy lunch, buy cabbage and a bag of carrots. You can make lunch for a couple of people for the whole week by making a slaw as the base and then putting in eggs, tuna, chickpeas, maybe some leftover meat. It's nourishing and really affordable, too."

For dinner, Turnbull recommends bulking up staples, such as mince, to make cheap and cost-effective meals that can be used time and time again throughout the week.

"You can make so many different meals out of a good bag. When I use mince, I use two onions rather than one with 500 grams of mince. I'll use two or three cans of tomatoes, and then two cans of lentils, rinsed and drained, and put in black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans. I always put pulses in there because it literally doubles the meal for very little extra cost," she said.

"Also, mushrooms are really, really good to use with mince; you can use a 50/50 mix of mince and chopped mushrooms, which is really good nutrition-wise, but also saves money and it's actually better for the planet as well. Mushrooms grow all year round, so they're very consistent in their cost. 

"As well as mince, you've got a casserole; you can get cheap cuts of meat, again with your onions, spices and canned tomatoes. Put it in the slow cooker. I've got a recipe that's $3 a serve that's actually got red meat in it as well as vegetables and pulses. You can make a large volume with that and freeze it - bulk cooking is an excellent way to save money.

"For treats, I bake every Sunday with leftover overripe bananas and make some kind of healthy baking that goes in the freezer. And then I'll just pick out a muffin or whatever I've got from the freezer every day and pop it in [the kids' lunch boxes]."

Manage your meat intake

Now more than ever, people are aware that too much meat is not necessarily a good thing, despite it being rich in protein, iron and other nutrients. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, it's recommended we eat less than 750 grams of red meat per week, and as per the American Heart Association, reducing meat consumption decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and several cancers. Additionally, cutting back your consumption will lessen the cost of the weekly shop.

"Using seafood and some plant-based alternatives is not just good for your body, but it's also good for your wallet as well," Turnbull said. 

"One thing that people don't think about often; mussels are really cheap and incredibly nutritious. They've got zinc, they've got iron, they've got protein, they've got selenium. Mussels are much cheaper than some of the other alternatives. 

"Again, frozen fish is a really good option in that space. And tofu, I use a lot more tofu these days. I think one of the challenges is when people think meat-free, they start buying processed meat alternatives, which to be honest, are equally expensive and not always as nutritious as people realise. So some of the more basic products - pulses, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans - make really nourishing, very affordable meals."

Stop throwing money in the bin

One of the easiest ways to cut costs is by reducing the amount of food wasted on a weekly basis; after all, throwing away that unopened bag of soggy spinach is essentially tossing $3.50 in the bin.

On average, people waste around $644 a year by throwing away edible food, Turnbull noted.

"So many people are focusing on the cost of food at purchase points but actually, we equally need to be aware of what is going in the bin at the other end; and that's edible food and that's enough to feed the need."

To start reducing your household's food waste, Turnbull firstly recommends focusing on optimising your storage options.

"If you've got any leftover food, often people just put it in the fridge cover in foil; you forget about it for three or four days. So if you've got leftovers, package it up into a meal that looks appealing for the next day, or freeze it straight away and label the bag so you know what is in there - so you don't get this random bag of red stuff you don't want to eat," she explained. 

"The other thing is knowing how to store your vegetables correctly, because that really reduces food waste. So things like potatoes and onions need to be stored separately because if you store them together, they will sprout and basically go bad more quickly. 

"When you get something like a bagged salad or anything in a plastic bag, either take it out or open the bag and put a piece of paper towel on each side; it kind of absorbs the moisture. If you've got carrots, make sure they're in a paper bag or wrap them in a paper towel. Another tip; if you've got something like a broccoli, cauliflower or lettuce that's gone limp, you can trim the bottom off, put it in a dish of water, leave it for half an hour, and it will literally come back to life. 

"Then there's the fruit. Fruits release gases, ethylene, which essentially helps them ripen each other; some of them produce more than others. So if you want an avocado to ripen, put it under a bunch of bananas, and it will ripen much quicker. But by the same token, if you put a bunch of bananas - which everyone does - on top of your apples, your kiwifruit, whatever is in the bowl, they will ripen really quickly. And sometimes you don't want that, right? Too much fruit can cause it to ripen and go off, so keep the bananas separate. 

"The other thing is apples; for example, apples last eight times longer if you keep them in the fridge. So what I do is keep four out, I put the rest in the fridge, and then when there's two left, I'll put out two more. It makes everything last a lot longer."

Watch the interview with Claire Turnball above for even more tips and tricks.