Saving Money At The Supermarket? Yes Please!

April 22, 2011  
I've been reading a very interesting book this week - The $21 Challenge by Fiona Lippey & Jackie Gower.  The basic premise behind the book is that you can feed a family of four on $21 a week by being creative and using already-purchased items from your fridge, freezer and pantry.  The $21 is to add fresh fruit and veg and to purchase bits and bobs to round out a recipe.  You're not allowed to 'cheat' by running out and stocking up on basics before starting the challenge, so it forces you to get inventive with what you have, and you're not meant to stay on the $21 budget every week, just the odd week here or there to 'blitz' the budget back into black.

Way back when The Bearded Avenger and I were saving madly for a house deposit, in addition to exploiting every shred of free entertainment our community had to offer (and outside of this going nowhere), we were the king and queen of the supermarket.  In fact at one point I had an article up on The Dollar Stretcher website detailing our shopping method - which wasn't ever unique or radical, just part of your basic envelope budgeting system, with a small twist - and I remember feeling pretty good about being able to keep our shopping down to $120 a week with three small children.

For those reading in Far Off America-Land, here's some info that might make the rest of this post make more sense.
  • Couponing is not a national sport here.  In fact, supermarkets don't do it at all.  The odd coupon can be found attached to a flyer or on the back of a shopping docket, but they're generally not for grocery items and they're certainly not used while food shopping.  Therefore when you talk about double and triple couponing, and clipping coupons, and paying for coupons, and being a member of a coupon club, and posting coupons across the country, and a show called Extreme Couponing our eyes glass over.  We are very sorry (and quite possibly jealous) but we don't get it.
  • We do not have Walmart.  Hence no Super Walmart. Our supermarkets and our department stores don't play nice together and have always had their respective corners of the playground.  The notion of being able to buy beef mince (ground beef) under the same roof as a pair of sweatpants confuses us.
  • We don't have CVS or Walgreen's - or any of these other pharmacies with 'extra care bucks' or rebate programs.  Those store pantries filled with free shampoo and razors that you Americans keep posting? Salt in the wound folks. Salt in the wound.
  • We have Aldi's but... my nearest store is interstate, 373 kilometres / 231 miles away.  Nobody needs bulk groceries that badly.
  • Costco only opened it's first store in Australia in 2009.  ONE Costco for 22½ million people.  All of whom are probably there on a Saturday morning. Meaning even if it was close by (it's not) I probably wouldn't be there.
Australia must practically seem like a third world country to you savvy American shoppers right now, huh?

If an ordinary Aussie housewife in an ordinary city or town wants to save money on food, she tends to have the following 'tools' at her disposal.
  1. Supermarket catalogues / buying loss leaders.
  2. Price-bookin' it.
  3. Menu planning really, really well.
  4. The 'Backyard Supermarket' (ie, the humble veggie patch)
My old $120 per week budget bit the dust a long time ago.  I have a spouse who senses a disturbance in a force if the optimum snack-to-husband ratio is not maintained at all times, a 12yo who eats like a grown man with worms, and a couple of fussy-bum other children.  All of them eat a large portion of their food outside of the home (school lunches and work meals) so packing nutritious and interesting and begging-to-be-eaten-can-I-have-that-again-tomorrow-you're-a-domestic-genius lunchboxes is a continual battle.  You could double the old budget and it still wouldn't come close to what we're currently spending.  I'm at the blasted supermarket four or five times a week, easy.  All from lack of planning.

Twenty-one bucks seems utterly ridiculous at first, especially if you're used to spending - and remember, this is Aussie shopping, with none of the fancy shopping tools you USA folk have - upwards of $300 a week.  But when I really sit down and think about it - cutting the grocery budget dramatically is absolutely doable.  I'm not ambitious enough to attempt a proper $21 challenge (which is essentially a 'live out of your pantry stocks for 7 days plus a few additional bought ingredients' gig), but the grocery spending could definitely do with an overhaul - let's say $200 a week to start.  I'd be pretty happy with that.

Over the next few weeks - beginning the first week of May, since it's the school holidays here at the moment and everything is backwards and upside down with the kids at home - I'll post my progress.  There's a ton of great info out there that's well worth a look-see.


River said...

I've just checked my pantry and freezer and realised that I could probably live out of them for a month or so with just milk, bread, fruit and eggs needing to be bought. But then I don't have family here eating me out of house and home anymore. Groceries do tend to last longer when the kids have moved out.....

Backyard Chickens said...

We have been busy making our chicken coop as it is such a crying shame the amount pf food watse that we have with two toddlers throwing/spilling food everywhere from each meal.
The chickens will make a ready supply of eggs available and lighten our waste load. As for coupons - you're right, they have never really floated here because the big two dominate the market to such an extent, unlike any other country.

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