Three simple hacks to knock money off your food bill

Plan menus around sales, look for home brands and avoid pre-packaged foods.
Plan menus around sales, look for home brands and avoid pre-packaged foods. Photo credit: Getty Images.

After rent or mortgage costs, food is the second-biggest drain on household finances.

Each year, the human nutrition department at University of Otago estimates how much it costs to feed a family. 

The current Food Costs Survey (2019) shows on average across New Zealand's four main centres, a family with two teenagers (one boy, one girl) spend in the vicinity of $338 per week for a "moderate" shop: that's $17,576 each year. 

Statistics New Zealand's household expenditure survey for the year to June 2019 shows the average household spent almost a quarter of their income ($344) on housing and household utilities, followed by food (16.8 percent) at $234.

As we all need to eat, how can we keep this recurring cost down?

For shoppers wanting ideas to knock money off their food bill, Newshub asked Mary Hunt, author of the book, 'Live your life for half the price', to share her best three saving hacks.

1. Plan menus around what's on sale

Hunt suggests shoppers literally "eat the sales", focusing most of their shopping around what's on sale that week.

Whether shopping is done in-store or online, supermarket websites (and mailbox flyers) tell shoppers what the weekly sales are (e.g. Pak'nSave has a 'your weekly deals' page, Countdown and New World have an online 'mailer').

"Instead of planning menus ahead of time, then making a shopping list for the ingredients to make those meals, review the store's weekly sales first and plan menus around what's on sale," Hunt suggests.

For those who shop in-store, Hunt also suggests going in with cash - this is effective because most shoppers won't want to go through checkout without enough money to cover the cost.

However, this method is likely to take more time, requiring shoppers to either use a checkout operator or wait for a self-serve checkout that takes cash.

2. Look for home brands first  

Some of the staples shoppers buy regularly, (e.g. milk, bread, flour and tinned food), may not be on sale. To save money, Hunt suggests looking for 'home' brands first (e.g. Pams, Essentials and Signature Range).  

If in doubt, she suggests using a calculator - even the one on your cellphone - to compare prices.

"Compare unit pricing (e.g. per gram or item) and remember, the larger size is not always cheaper - you have to check," Hunt said.

"Stores place the most expensive items at eye level, so look high and low for the best bargains."

Online shoppers can sort items by lowest to highest price to decide which one to add to their cart.

3. Avoid buying small, pre-packaged food and drink

Shoppers, particularly those with families, may be spending more on things like pre-packaged multipack chip packets, snack bars and juices.

For example, at Pak'nSave on Wednesday, Pams ready salted 10-pack chips were $2.98 each ($1.66 per 100g, net 180g). The equivalent 150g bag cost $1.39.

"Buy that large bag of chips that is on sale and when you get home, portion it out into individual bags [or portions]," Hunt suggests. 

"Don’t buy individual juice boxes - buy the large container and use small plastic reusable drink bottles to fill and refill."

Kids 'bento boxes' can be used for staples like sandwiches or rice and the small compartments can be filled with items such as pieces of turkey or meat, small cuts of cheese, fresh and dried fruits, nuts and other snacks.

Other ideas to save money on food include combining left-over veggies with pasta or using them in soups for another meal, stewing older fruit and freezing what can't be used now (including extra bread).