As we get to the tail-end of the year, you may find that your spending is on the rise with Christmas fast approaching. Purchasing gifts, attending end-of-year events, hosting parties, buying decorations, taking a plate to get-togethers, school fees for the end of the year, plus the everyday bills, can all really start to add up. So, where is it possible to save money? For us, it's definitely in the food department. Here are my top 21 ways to save money on food, especially at this time of the year.
1. Create a meal plan
I believe I save the most amount of money on food by creating a monthly meal plan. Knowing exactly what's coming up means I'm not popping into the shops each night to grab 'extras'. Plus I tend to only visit the supermarket once a fortnight, with a really large shop once a month. Do you meal plan? Even a weekly plan will save you a ton of money, I promise!
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2. Cook extra
If you do follow a meal plan and know what is coming up for dinner each night, you can also do some batch cooking and make extras. Cooking up a double batch not only saves you money, as you're less likely to grab takeaway or head out for dinner on those nights you cant be bothered cooking. Doing a double (or even triple) batch of something will also save you time, so it's definitely a win win!
3. Buy online
Online shopping will save you a huge amount of time of not having to physically go to the shops. We use Aussie Farmers Direct, and find their produce to be excellent quality and a good price, plus we're supporting local farmers. I have a standard selection of fruit and veg that are saved in my order history, and then just add whichever ones I need for the fortnight when it comes close to the delivery date. It is a lot less tempting when you're shopping online to grab 'extras'. You can stick to your list and easily follow your meal plan. I do my grocery shopping at Aldi, and unfortunately they don't do online shopping, but if they did I would use it in a heartbeat both for convenience and cost-saving.
4. Use good-quality storage containers in the fridge and pantry
Putting your food items into tightly-sealed jars or containers both in the fridge and pantry means food will stay fresher for longer, you'll be throwing out less produce, and you won't have to go to the shops as often.
5. Check what you already have before you hit the shops
You may have been in the situation before of buying something at the supermarket, only to come home to discover you already had it in the fridge, only it had been pushed to the back. It's important to check what you already have to avoid 'over-stuffing' the fridge, pantry or freezer. Which goes hand-in-hand with....
6. Clear out your fridge and pantry before each shop
Be sure to do a really good clear-out (and clean!) of these two spaces before you go shopping to check what you already have. This process also ensures that food which needs to be eaten sooner before it spoils is pulled to the front of the fridge (or top of the container) so it doesn't get hidden under the new food being brought in.
7. Plan the way you will use your food
Did you know that Australians throw out over 20% of fresh produce each year? Crazy! Preventing this all comes down to good planning and food storage. When you're creating your meal plan, consider which foods will last longer, and which will go off more quickly so you can plan to eat these first. Potatoes and onions are vegetables that will definitely keep longer, especially if stored in a dark, cool place. Make sure you keep them away from each other in their storage containers, as each lets off gases that causes the other to spoil more quickly. Leafy greens such as salad, bok choi, spinach etc will obviously spoil more quickly, so try to use these up at the start of the week to avoid any wastage.
8. Pack shopping bags with care
If you are packing your bags at the supermarket yourself (one of my least favourite jobs, especially when they're throwing items at you faster than you can get them in your trolley!), then aim to pack wisely. Heavier items should be placed at the bottom of your bag/box, and foods that will cut or bruise easily such as avocados, tomatoes, bananas etc should be placed near the top. Nothing more annoying than having to throw out food you have only just purchased because it has been squashed!
9. Plan to use your freezer more effectively
Not only does a full freezer run more efficiently, it will also give you peace of mind to know there is a big stock of back-up items in there. Utilise your freezer more effectively by bulk buying produce, such as meat, and storing it in portions. Try buying frozen vegetables and fruit, making your own breadcrumbs, whizzing up fruit that is about to go off with some yoghurt for icy-poles, batch cooking, and freezing baked goods to save money buying snacks.
10. Plan the way you'll use your leftovers
You can save a lot of money on food if you plan the way you use your leftovers. For example, you could make a roast chicken and use the leftovers in a meal later in the week, such as a quiche or slice. Or you could use it for lunches to save you buying your lunch at work. Leftovers are also great in kids' lunch-boxes as a more exciting alternative to a sandwich.
11. Grow your own herbs
Growing your own herbs is an achievable project for anyone, no matter the size of your home. Not only do they last so much longer on the plant than in a bunch in your fridge, you can pick the amount that you want and always have fresh herbs on hand. It's a fantastic investment and very easy to maintain.
12. Make snacks rather than buying packaged food
Packaged and processed food really add to the shopping bill, despite being seen as a convenience item, not to mention the added salt, sugar and preservatives. Some ideas include - chopped up fruit, trail mix of nuts and dried fruit, making your own popcorn rather than buying it in small packages, baking a quick batch of biscuits or muffins (freeze these to make them more long-lasting), cutting cheese into cubes to have with crackers, rather than buying the pre-packaged variety. There is a huge amount of money to be saved here, especially on kids' snacks!
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13. Eat less meat
Experimenting with different proteins, such as beans, lentils, whole grains and canned fish, will save you a lot of money rather than eating meat every night of the week. These are all highly nutritious and delicious alternatives, so try going 'meatless' at least once or twice a week.
14. Eat out less
Consider how much you spend eating out per week/fortnight/month and think about the money you could save. Although it can sometimes seem like the easier option when you can't be bothered cooking, there are lots of easy meals you could whip up (omelette, toasted sandwiches, pita pizza) that would be a lot better on your purse strings.
15. Cook one-pot dishes
Meals such as soup, casseroles and stews are great options because you can cook large portions and either freeze leftovers or have it later in the week. A slow-cooker is perfect for some of these meals! A one-pot meal will also save you preparation time and dishwashing - woop! Avoid getting bored with having the same meal twice by varying the sides, or incorporating some new flavours (i.e. shredded chicken in soup, or stew with crusty bread).
16. Bulk buy where you can
If you have the storage space, then stocking up on pantry staples so you have 'back-ups' will save you a great deal of money. Items such as beans, grains, olive oil, oats, and even meat are great items to buy in bulk as long as you can also store them properly. Purchasing a tray of tomatoes, beans or passata can be cheaper than buying individual cans/bottles, so consider where you could find extra storage space in your home to be able to purchase in bulk more often.
17. Take your lunch to work
Taking your lunch to work could save you up to $100 a week if you are eating out everyday! My husband started a new job this year and was going out to lunches with colleagues twice a week - $40 a week, that's $160 a month! Of course it's important to be social at work every now and again, but consider where you could cut back. Taking your own lunch will save a huge amount of money, and is often a healthier alternative.
18. Invest in a great coffee cup
Another trap in the work-place or if you're always meeting friends at a cafe, is the mounting cost of buying coffees (and the snacks that go with it!). Invest in a good-quality coffee cup, and bring your own hot beverage. Suggest meeting at alternative locations, or go for a walk with friends, rather than always meeting at a cafe.
19. Become friends with mincemeat!
Mincemeat is one of the most versatile cuts of meat and can be made into so many different meals. Cooking up a great big batch of mince could give you a spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, tacos, lasagna, sheperd's pie, koftas... there are so many options! It is a cheap cut of meat too, so buying in bulk, cooking and freezing portions is a wise move.
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20. Buy frozen vegetables rather than canned
Frozen vegetables are inexpensive compared to their 'fresh' counterparts, and you can buy produce that is out of season and still use it year long. Large bags of frozen vegetables are a much cheaper alternative and have less sodium than the canned variety. Frozen fruit such as raspberries and blueberries is also a great money-saving technique.
21. Ask your guests to bring a plate
If you're hosting a party (like we do every year with around 40 of our closest friends), ask them to bring a plate! The first year we held this party, I made so much of the food myself and nearly drove myself into the ground. Such a massive amount of work, not to mention the cost. For the last 3 years, we have asked our friends to bring a plate each, and everyone is more than happy to do it. It takes the pressure off me, and actually adds a really nice feel to the party. The same goes if you are hosting a dinner party - you could ask someone to bring a salad and another to bring a dessert. Some people may not feel comfortable asking this, but I believe that people are always happy to contribute rather than coming empty-handed, so it never hurts to ask!