Food is a big portion of most household budgets and when we are looking to cut down our expenses, the food budget is one of the first things to get cut. It can be quite easy to go for pre-packaged foods that are higher in fat, salt and preservatives, as these seem to have a lower cost but then your health may suffer. Here are 17 bright ideas to help keep your family budget on track while still allowing you to eat healthy:
Buy in bulk & cook in bulk – Purchasing in bulk will help to make costs lower per item/serve. Head over to Cosco or buy online with The Australian Meat Emporium who deliver to Sydney, Brisbane & ACT. Split up your purchases straight away and store in zip lock bags or Tupperware in the pantry or freezer. Having smaller portions put away will help with defrosting and will help to avoid wastage. Cooking in bulk and storing in portions is also a great way to save money and also helps when you are looking for a quick meal.
Buy generic – As most people know, generic, supermarket home brand products are often made by the same people who make your well know brands. There are certain products where the generic product is just as good as the known name product while other generic products are not worth the money. The best thing to do here is ask your friends if they have any recommendations or try some yourself. If you are happy with the quality of the generic, buy it instead of the more expensive branded product.
Shop with a list- The biggest advantage of shopping with a list is that you don’t end up buying things you don’t really need. Sticking to a budget is much easier when you don’t load up your trolley with items that are unexpected expenses. Don’t forget, however, to include items on your list that you will need soon so you can keep and eye out for specials. If you are really organised, you can review store catalogues while making your list to help save money even further. Use our Shopping List template to help make the process easier. It is split into food categories to help you find the items at the store.
Don’t shop hungry – Shopping on a full stomach not only helps you to avoid impulse purchases that are not necessary for your weekly shop but it will also help you to avoid picking up a little treat for the drive home . Very rarely are you reaching for an apple when you are waiting in line to pay, if you are like me you will probably reach for the packet of M&Ms.
Buy in season – Seasonal produce is usually cheaper and better quality. Look to plan your menu around what is in season and your piggy bank will be grateful. You can also freeze things like berries and bananas when they are their best quality to use in smoothies and other desserts for later in the year when these items are no longer in season.
Buy frozen – Peas, fish and berries are really good value when frozen and most of the time you are not losing any of the nutritional value of the produce. Frozen food will last a lot longer than fresh produce which will help to avoid wastage. How often do you need to throw away fresh food that you just didn’t get around to cooking and the used by date has passed?
Eat less expensive protein – Often the most expensive part of a meal is the protein. One way to reduce costs is to look for cuts of meat or different types of fish that will still give you the protein you need in your diet. Invest in a slow cooker to allow you to cook stewing meats which are often lower in cost. Use beans and lentils in soups in winter. Find some recipes for chicken legs or white fish that the whole family will love.
Be creative with leftovers – Don’t throw out left over rice, make fried rice the next day. Use left over vegetables in a soup for tomorrow lunch. Invest in a cookbook like The Thrifty Cookbook by Kate Colquhoun to give you some inspiration on what to do with those leftovers. If you have a great recipe that uses up leftovers, add it to our Recipe Bank so everyone can cook your money saving recipe.
Make take-away at home – Take-away can add quite a bit to the weekly budget. Cooking take-away at home can help you save big time. Sure, you get take- away so you don’t have to cook, so why not get your partner or the kids to prepare dinner one night a week. Something simple like Tacos can be fun for the family. Cook the mince the night before, or in bulk once a month, to reduce the cooking for the kids. Pizza is another great option and just needs someone to cut up a few ingredients like ham, pineapple, onion, mushroom and capsicum. Our 17 Bright Ideas e-book has a whole list with 17 bright ideas for easy to make meals that are better than take-away.
Drink tap water – Pre-bottled water can cost anywhere from $2 – $5 a bottle these days so a great way to save money is to invest in a drink bottle and keep it with you all the time. Re-fill the bottle at night and pop it in the fridge (or freezer) so it is nice and cold the next day. If you don’t like the taste of tap water, boil it before you fill your bottle. You can even add a bit of lemon juice to enhance the flavour. Having water with you all the time will help you to drink those 8 glasses a day you need and will help to reduce your consumption of sugary drinks.
Buy cans – Tuna and salmon are very nutritious and much less expensive in a tin. Vegetables are also great in cans and are great to use in salads. Add some tinned corn and tuna to cold pasta, stir through some mayonnaise and you have a quick tuna & corn pasta salad. Buy canned foods on special and keep them in your pantry for when you need them.
Plan ahead – Plan ahead a month, a fortnight or even a week. The more time you have to prepare your meals, the easier it is to save money. You can look for specials in advance, you can see what you have got already and you can tailor your menu to fit the time of year, finding what is in season. To make planning easier, Bright Sparks members can download our Meal Planning template – it’s free! Why not create a months worth of dinner ideas and then rotate them?
Take your lunch to school/work – It costs much more to buy your lunch and you don’t always know what you are getting. Invest in a better lunchbox that will keep your food cool and don’t just think sandwiches. You can take soup, left overs, pies, quiche or salads. If there is no where to heat food up, make a sandwich with a wrap or baguette. A bit of planning will help make taking your own lunch a lot easier and tastier.
Grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs – There is nothing more exciting than eating home grown produce and you’ll know exactly when it has been picked and what it has been sprayed with. You can start with a few herbs on your windowsill, then progress to a vegetable garden in the back yard. If you have the space, buy some fruit trees like mandarins, avocados or mangos. Check with your local nursery to see what will grow well in your area. This is one to get the kids involved with too.
Buy basics – When on a budget, try to buy basic ingredients such as eggs, rice, milk, butter etc. that will enable you to make a variety of recipes as opposed to buying exotic ingredients like ‘saffron’ or ‘preserved lemon’ that have limited use. Buying ingredients that you can use for many ingredients will allow you to buy bigger sizes which are generally cheaper per unit and there also tends to be less wastage.
Buy less processed food – Cheese, mushrooms, ham, chicken fillets and the list goes on, often we pick up the pre-packaged food as it is more convenient and saves us time but when you are trying to save money, paying extra for convenience can add up. With a bit more preparation you can save. Sometimes, all it means is waiting a bit longer at the deli counter rather than going to the pre-packaged self-serve section in the supermarket.
Accept all dinner invitations – Going to your parents for dinner once a week can really keep your food bill under control. Offer to clean up afterwards to make your contribution.