Five ways to slash your grocery bill

Five ways to slash your grocery bill
How can people save time and money on groceries? Photo credit: Getty.

After mortgage and rent costs, food makes up a significant portion of the budget - and there are ways to save money.  While some people swear by Pak'nSave as their 'go-to' cheap option, others say that shopping online has made a huge difference in cutting costs.

According to a University of Otago 2018 survey on estimated food costs, a moderate food shop (including a variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and some convenience foods), feeding a family with two school-aged children is estimated to cost an average of $290 per week across New Zealand's four main centres.  Once kids hit adolescence, the cost is higher. 

Newshub spoke to ten families and found that for a family of four, their weekly grocery bill ranged from a lean $130, up to $350.  

Data from Statistics NZ to June 2016 pegs the weekly average food cost across Kiwi singles and families at $213.90 including beverages and restaurants, or $141.50 for all grocery.  

Collating feedback from frugal supermarket shoppers, Newshub has identified five top tips to slash the cost of groceries.

It's all in the planning

Wick Nixon, mother-of-three and owner of Wicked Wellbeing said that to feed her family of five (two adults and three children), costs around $275 per week and for that, they eat well.  

"If people have a weekly meal plan, buy ingredients for that plan and stick to that list, they'll save a lot of time and money." 

Having a meal plan also reduces stress, as families know exactly what's on the menu each night, saving overwhelm and that dreaded feeling of rushing home and not knowing what to cook.

Reducing the number of trips to the supermarket also reduces impulse buying - especially where kids are involved.

"[For this reason], I do a weekly fruit and vegetable shop, a fortnightly supermarket shop and a monthly meat shop," Nixon said.

Is shopping online better value?

While shopping online adds between $5 to $15 depending on supermarket, order value and choice of click and collect or delivery, shoppers told Newshub that buying online saves them time and money - and shopping without the kids is a bonus.

"[By buying online], I don't fall into the 'new things being sold' or 'let's try this' as I'm walking around," said an Auckland mum-of-two.

"We've changed our orders to online and consistently spent around $200 per week," a young shopper and her partner said. 

Another said that buying online at Countdown saves them at least $50 per week, compared with shopping in-store at Pak'nSave.

"I find I don't buy nearly as much junk food or unnecessary stuff online," a mum of four said. 

Countdown said it's online shopping experience allows shoppers to keep track of the cost while they shop.

"There are also list functions that [shoppers] can add to throughout the week, or the same list can be used each week," a spokesperson said.  

Comparing prices

Although there's unlikely to be one store that's universally cheaper, a quick comparison of online prices could amount to huge savings over time.

Monday's price for a 420g can of baked beans in tomato sauce shows that the cheapest is currently the Countdown brand at 0.70c, while at Pak'nSave, a 425g of the Oak brand is $0.99 (with approximately 1 tsp more), while at New World, shoppers pay $1.09 for the same can. 

At 36 percent cheaper at Countdown compared to New World, comparing prices for a bog-standard can of baked beans can save shoppers 0.39c.   

Buying in bulk/bulking out meals

Meat is one of the biggest food costs and people wanting to save have to get creative with their portions.

Buying bulk meat on special, cutting it up into meal-sized portions and freezing can be a real money-saver.

"If a recipe has 500g of mince, consider using 250g and bulking out the dish with a can of lentils, beans, grated carrot or tofu," Nixon suggested.

Cleaning products and other staples can be sourced from alternative stores such as The Warehouse and Gilmours. On Monday, The Warehouse website has 'Marvel Dishwash Liquid - 500ml' for just $1. Compare this to a 500ml of Monday's cheapest dishwash liquid from Pak'nSave, Value Citrus - 500ml at $1.39 or Countdown, Sunlight - 500ml at $2.80.

If a staple product (e.g. laundry powder) is available in bulk and there's space to store it, shoppers can make considerable savings on both packaging and cost. 

Bagging seasonal produce

Vegetables can be used to bulk out meals with the added bonus of being healthy and the golden rule is to buy what's in season.  Look for seconds produce at local fruit and vege markets and stores. 

Strawberries and avocados are coming into season and staples such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, silverbeet and spinach are generally available year-round.

A Countdown spokesperson said that knowing what's in season and keeping an eye on specials are effective strategies for saving money.

"For many New Zealand families, the weekly grocery budget is very tight.

"There are thousands of items in [Countdown's] ‘Great Price’ programme, which provide long-term certainty [to shoppers]."

As food shopping is a considerable household expense, setting up a weekly menu plan and buying to that list is likely to save significant time, cost and stress.

Consider shopping less frequently or buying online to reduce impulse purchases, particularly when making special mid-week trips to top up on bread and milk.

Whilst shaving $50 per week off the grocery bill is definitely achievable, even a more modest $20 per week in conscious cost cutting represents an annual saving of over $1000 per year.    

By putting together a weekly menu plan, timing food shops or buying online to reduce the temptation of junk food and impulse buys will help to ensure that all food is used, minimising wastage both on the back pocket and the environment.

Comparing prices and buying meat and other staples, such as laundry powder in bulk will also keep costs down, remembering that little and often is more sustainable than large cut-backs.