How to save money on your groceries
7 June 22
Reading time: 7 minutes
Dreading the food shop? It can be such a chore! And with food prices rising, it can be increasingly stressful as well. The key, like much in life, is to have a plan and autopilot what works to take the stress out of the equation.
Arriving at the supermarket with a plan can stop those last-minute splurges from adding up. Shopping around to see if your money can go further elsewhere is also a good option.
With the cost of a food shop increasing, it is a good time to check your overall budget and see what works for you and your family. Our budgeting tool lets you set a budget and then revisit when you need to update it – it's great for working out what you can afford to spend on food.
Make your meal plan
Jaqueline is someone who manages a budget well. “How I keep to our budget is by planning, planning and planning!” She always starts with a list after she has done a weekly meal plan.
“I am also willing to be flexible when food items are not on special or in stock. Some weeks I meet my budget to the cent, and some weeks I have a surplus, which helps with specials we use regularly.”
Jaqueline is always flexible so she can come in on budget. “Sometimes what you plan is not in the budget, so you need to work out new meals based on specials.”
A helpful trick is to know exactly what portion sizes to buy. “I always make sure I know my portion sizes. I budget 400g protein for dinner. It stops you from overbuying or underbuying, or getting hungry and spending more money.”
Find the specials and where you’ll shop
Planning is also important for Sarah – she enjoys making healthy meals and makes her food budget work hard to feed her family of six.
Buying outside the main supermarkets is also a way to stretch your money. For Sarah this is a regular part of her routine. “I buy bulk seeds, nuts and flour from a bulk food store, which is cheaper, and I make seeded bread and pop it in the freezer. I also go to the market or the fruit shop for my fruit and vegetables and buy in-season.”
The Grocer app is a handy tool that provides a comparison of costs at key supermarkets in New Zealand (just select the ones you shop with). You can get a clear picture of where the cheapest place to shop is – or split your food shop between two places to reduce costs.
Use online shopping to stick to your budget
Ordering your food through “click and collect” can be a great tool to check how much your bill is before you get to the checkout. But make sure you avoid autopilot and substitute in-season options to avoid those $6 capsicums in the middle of winter!
Click and collect can enable you to rationalise what is worth paying more for and what is not worth it. Is your favourite coffee worth more? Cutting back on the milk, flour and rubbish bags with a low-cost brand might be worth it.
Buy in bulk (but only when it actually saves you money!)
A common tip for saving money is bulk buying when a product is on special, but it pays to know exactly what you need so you don’t end up wasting money instead. A good rule of thumb is to know exactly how much it should cost per kg or litre – so you can work out if it is a good deal. (The Grocer app can help here as well!)
It is good to remember that with some things, like butter or flour, we won’t necessarily use more just because it is sitting in the cupboard. So it can be good to stock up when there’s a special. However, snacks, wine and treats are another story – you’ll probably consume more because you have it around. So you end up spending more money by buying in bulk.
Sarah’s focus is on quality meat that she knows she will use. “I like to buy it, but always on special. When I find a good deal, I buy lots and freeze it. With the better quality I find I can use a lot less and just bulk it!”
Having a freezer is a win for planning ahead and taking advantage of a deal when you see it. Sarah also puts any leftovers in the freezer, even if it’s only one serving.
Make your plan B with convenient food
It is good to plan for shortcuts. We all need an easy option sometimes, which is why takeaways can become such an easy fix. Understanding you won’t always have the energy to prepare a full meal is a smart approach.
Sarah always has backup for when she doesn’t feel like cooking, “I buy a couple of frozen fish packets and frozen chips for the night we feel like takeaways, but it's much cheaper” she says.
This is something journalist Frances Cook recommends too – in her money tips over on Instagram she says she always has an easy win for dinner in the freezer ready to go.
Morgan makes five midweek meals on a Sunday afternoon. “With a toddler in tow, I need to have dinner ready to go as soon as we get in.”
Not only is this meal prep a time saver – it helps her wallet too, as it reduced the temptation to buy takeaways when time is short and means a more relaxed evening. Morgan’s not fussy about having anything gourmet – it’s ease and convenience that take priority midweek.
Grow your own food
As food bills skyrocket, more people are turning to growing food themselves. But you don’t need to have a quarter-acre section to be a green thumb. Growing food in smaller spaces can add flavour to your meals and prevent waste, as you only pick what you need.
Sarah rents her house, but it hasn’t stopped her from having a whole range of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs so she can grab things she needs for dinner or the kid’s lunchboxes.
“I have a garden fully in pots. Lettuce, grapes, peaches, apples, lemons, pomegranates, guavas, mandarin trees, chillies, tomatoes, basil, passionfruit, capsicum, blueberries and blackberries.” An amazing selection, and the best thing is Sarah can take them with her if she moves.
Another option is community gardens, which are thriving in many neighbourhoods. They’re a great way to get involved locally and contribute to growing food for your table and others.
A quick Google search shows lots of options across New Zealand, and they provide a great place to start learning about where your food comes from and how to grow it.
Top tips to save money on groceries
- Make or update your budget
- Plan your meals
- Find the specials and the cheapest stores
- Use online shopping to help stick to your budget
- Buy in bulk only if it actually saves you money
- Have convenience foods on hand
- Grow your own food