With almost everything in the supermarket going up in price, buying groceries is causing a lot of stress. Research from Finder showed over a third of Australians (33%) put groceries as one of their top three most stressful experiences for December 2022. But you can still save money on groceries – and these 20 tips give you a chance to do that no matter where you shop.
How much are we spending?
The average Australian household spends $185 per week on groceries. But it could be higher depending on the amount of people you're shopping for, if you live on your own or are in a regional area.
Ongoing incremental price increases also add up. So, here are different ways to keep grocery costs manageable under these conditions.
1. Shop at night
Evenings are when many supermarkets discount food that's nearing its use-by date, such as pre-packed vegetables, meat and ready-made meals. This is a great way to save if you're looking for something to eat that night.
You can also cook or freeze meat before its expiry, and chop bad parts of vegetables to extend their life.
2. Use an app for specials and savings
Supermarket websites and apps will show you their own deals, but apps like Frugl, SmartCart and WiseList let you compare prices between supermarkets so you can find the cheapest option. Plus, you can make your shopping list in the app and share it to help you save time.
3. Go to ALDI for staples
ALDI is not reported to be as popular as Woolworths or Coles (just 12% of Australians say it's their supermarket of choice according Finder research) – but you'll typically find cheaper staples there.
For example, when we checked online in September 2022, an 8-pack of ALDI Confidence 4-ply toilet paper was $4.69 (59 cents per roll). This compared to $7 or $8 for similar options at Woolworths. So stocking up on staples next time you're at ALDI can bring some nice savings. Just try to avoid the lure of the middle aisle Special Buys.
ALDI won awards for a bunch of staples in the 2021/22 Finder Retail Awards. It was also named Best value for money supermarket in the previous year's Finder Retail Awards.
4. Buy in bulk
If you look at the unit pricing on supermarket shelves, you'll usually find that it's cheaper to buy the larger version of products. This is great for pasta, rice, beans, tinned and frozen foods, as well as most nuts, dried fruit and any non-perishables.
5. Meal plan, make a list and stick to it
Planning your meals before you go to the supermarket means you can use some of the same ingredients in a few times to help make your money go further. It also saves you time and energy trying to think of what to cook every night, and can reduce food waste.
Meal planning goes hand-in-hand with having a shopping list, which can also help you avoid impulse buys to save even more.
6. Make enough to have leftovers
Cooking a big batch of food is often more cost-effective than making a single meal, because it means you can buy in bulk and use up ingredients that might otherwise go to waste.
If it's something like soup, curry or Bolognese, you can freeze it for later or take it to work for lunch (for more savings!). You can also use leftovers to create other meals, for example using roast veggies in a delicious salad or blitzing them up for a rich soup.
7. Buy frozen or tinned
Its often cheaper to buy frozen or canned foods compared to fresh fruit and vegetables – especially if what you want is out of season.
There's also been a lot of research showing the nutritional value is similar to that of fresh foods. Frozen and tinned foods are typically processed soon after being harvested, which also preserves the flavour. Sometimes the texture will be different to fresh, particularly with tinned foods, which makes them a safer bet in things like curries and casseroles than as a side dish.
8. Go to specialty stores
Butchers, green grocers and other speciality stores typically have closer relationships with suppliers, which means they can actually be cheaper than supermarkets for some groceries.
Health food and bulk food stores can also save you money on dry ingredients like rice, oats, herbs and spices. It's still worth comparing prices with supermarkets if you can, but often these smaller stores will help you save on essential groceries.
9. Find a co-op, farmer's market or local growers
Shopping local helps support locals and can help you save money as well. Without the overheads of big supermarkets and stores with shopfronts, co-ops and farmer's markets can offer great value for money.
If you're in a regional area, keep an eye out for food stands – or even free fruit and vegetables if someone's had a bumper crop.
10. Collect Flybuys / Everyday Rewards
It's free to sign up to Flybuys and Everyday Rewards, which let you earn points at Coles and Woolworths respectively. These points can give you dollars off your shop, with 2,000 points equal to $10 off through both programs. Or you can transfer them to a frequent flyer program for future flights and other rewards. That gets you even more value, with 2,000 points typically worth $20 or more if you use them on flights
You earn 1 point per $1 with each program as a standard, and if you used them to get cash off your shop it's equivalent to getting 0.05% off every time you provide your membership at the checkout – plus you can get bonus offers via email or their apps.
11. Choose imperfect foods – they taste the same!
Fruit and veg that wasn't "pretty" enough used to be thrown out or used in other ways, rather than showing up on supermarket shelves.
But a push for sustainability means imperfect carrots, apples, capsicums and other foods are now readily available – and cheaper than their more attractive counterparts.
12. Buy the store brand
Home brand products are usually made by the same factory as the brand names, but at a lower cost. In the case of food, sometimes ingredients may be slightly different – but you could always try the supermarket brand out to see (or do a blind taste test with friends).
Flour, sugar and other pantry staples are almost always the same whether they're branded or not – and things like cleaning products typically get the job done regardless of what the packaging looks like.
13. Buy in season
The further fruit and vegetables have to travel, the more expensive they become – especially with petrol prices in 2022. Buying what's in season means supermarkets can source it from farmers that are closer, helping keep your grocery costs down.
If you're not sure what's in season, The Sustainable Table Fund has a handy seasonal produce guide you can check. Both Coles and Woolworths also have details of what's in season online, and you'll sometimes find recipes in their catalogues.
14. Consider cutting back on meat
Reducing meat consumption can save you $1,844 over a year, according Finder analysis in 2022. Inflation has led to a rise across meat, poultry and seafood, with beef and veal seeing the biggest increase of 12.1% in the year to 2022 – so cutting back will help you save.
Dr Paul Harrison
Senior lecturer and unit chair of consumer behaviour, Deakin Business School Department of Marketing
If you're used to having a lot of meat, take baby steps. So maybe that means having one meal a week where you go plant-based, or even just increasing the plant-based foods on your usual plate as you reduce the amount of meat.It's also about experimenting and substituting foods and knowing that it's okay if it doesn't work. It's not easy to change habits, but even a small change with a goal will help.
15. Avoid specialty ingredients or find substitutes
Recipes that call for ingredients you don't have on hand and hardly ever use don't have to add to your overall grocery costs. You can usually find substitutes in your pantry – or at least ones that you'll use in different dishes.
For example, if a recipe calls for mirin, you could swap it out for a mix of sugar and rice vinegar (or even white vinegar if that's what you have). There's a treasure trove of tips online for substituting just about anything.
16. Store your food correctly
There's a special kind of disappointment that comes from opening the fridge and finding slimy lettuce or floppy carrots. Turns out, there are better ways to store some foods and extend their life, including:
- Storing potatoes and onions separately
- Keeping the core in a cut capsicum
- Cutting off any damaged or bruised parts of the food
- Storing lettuce leaves in a mason jar
- Freezing milk before its expiry date if you won't use it
If you do find your vegetables looking wilted, you can often revive them in very cold water – or chop and use in stews, soups and other cooked meals after checking they taste fine.
17. Leave your kids at home
If you can, try to shop without the kids and keep distractions to a minimum. It makes it easier to stick to your list and avoid impulse buys.
"In terms of marketing, supermarkets overwhelm us with stimuli but they make it easy to make decisions with product placement, labelling and layout," Dr Paul Harrison told Finder.
For example, products targeted at kids will often be at their eye level – so they're more likely to see (and want them). But if you do have to bring the kids with you, Dr Harrison said it can help to be aware of the potential temptations: "Look at reality of what's going on and say 'what can I change to remove some of these barriers?'"
18. Buy your milk and veggies from the back of the shelf for a longer expiry date
Supermarkets rotate stock to move the foods with the shortest shelf life first. So if you know you need a bit longer to use them up, finding a later expiry date can help avoid waste (and lots of money).
19. If you don't like it, return it
Supermarkets have return policies, just like any stores. And if something has gone bad before it should or there's another reason you're not happy, take the product and your receipt to the customer service desk.
They'll usually ask you why you want to return it as part of the process – and as long as it's a legitimate reason you'll get your money back or a replacement.
20. Get discounted supermarket gift cards
If you're a member of a club or service like NRMA, RACQ, RACV or Red Energy, you could have access to gift card discounts.
For supermarkets, you'll usually find discounts of around 2% to 4% – which means saving $2 to $4 for every $100 you spend even if what you're buying isn't on special.
While the cost of living going up, you can still find deals and use these hacks to save on your groceries.
Need more help with your money? Finder's budgeting guide has you covered.
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