5 Tips to reduce your grocery bill

Last week on the blog I challenged you to think about the work-earn-spend-waste-repeat cycle that characterises the lives of so many of us these days. Whilst I would not describe myself as particularly frugal, I try to make thoughtful purchases and not waste money. Spending less money means I don’t have to work as much in order to support a consumer lifestyle. It also means I don’t accumulate a lot of ‘stuff’. The weekly shop is a good place to begin decreasing overall expenditure. Here are 5 tips you can try in order to reduce your grocery bill.

1. Take the $50 Grocery Challenge

I first saw this challenge over on the Keep Calm Get Organised blog. It’s amazing what can accumulate in the pantry and freezer, even for a minimalist like me. The idea with the $50 grocery challenge is to regularly audit what you already have and create meals around these items rather than buying more food. It’s also a great strategy for eliminating food waste. You can read about the week I took on the challenge here.

Interestingly, this practice is contrary to what I’ve read on other simple living sites. Many advocate stock-piling groceries. But I think it would require a lot of inventory management to ensure that food is used up before it’s been kicking around for too long and has to be tossed. And speaking of ‘use by’ and ‘best buy’ dates….

2. Go on a weekly ‘food rescue’ mission

Every supermarket has a ‘reduced’ section where terrific bargains can be found. Every week I go on a food rescue mission and can get pretty excited about my purchases. We don’t eat a lot of meat, but I couldn’t go past these good buys at the supermarket recently. It is shameful to think of food being thrown out given the enormous amount of resources that go into its production. And sacrificing an animal’s life only to throw out the meal it gave its life for is downright unethical. Much more unethical, in my opinion, than choosing to be a meat-eater.

A dilemma for me in buying rescue food is the extra packaging I end up with. But I figure that the packaging has already been manufactured and is destined to be thrown out, either with or without food in it. Better to save the life of the food, and dispose of the packaging thoughtfully.

3. Grow it yourself

My dream would be to live off-grid and to be able to feed myself from my own garden. But the best I can manage each season is to grow just a handful of things….usually. This summer my garden has been nothing short of tragic, unlike last summer which was a bit more successful. If I had been depending on it to feed myself I would have starved to death before the first week of December was over! We’ve had a long period of intense heat coupled with low rainfall in south-east Queensland. I managed to harvest just a few zucchini, capsicum, cucumber, and tomatoes before all of the plants ‘cooked’ in our metal raised garden beds. Generally my winter crops do a bit better. I’ve got a Jarrahdale pumpkin vine and a patch of sweet potatoes that are coming along well. The beans and snow-peas are up thanks to recent rain, and when the weather cools I’ll put in some bok choy and broccoli seeds.

Can you find out what grows easily in your area, and plant it? Being able to pick even a little bit of this and that to make or add to a meal will reduce your grocery bill. In most areas, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins, and herbs like basil, parsley, and coriander grow quite easily.

4. Make it yourself – simple and tasty meals

Few things give greater pleasure than picking food from the garden and turning it into a meal. If you are waiting for your pumpkin vine to grow, buy one from the markets and try some of these easy recipes. Pictured is my spicy pumpkin soup. Other delicious pumpkin recipes on the site include roasted pumpkin and apple soup, and pumpkin and prune cake. Pumpkin, sweet potato, potato, and a few greens also combine beautifully in a vegetable curry.

As well as being added to mixed vegetable side dishes, if you are growing zucchini here are 2 good recipes. Zucchini and smoked salmon fritters are pictured, zucchini slice is a tried and true favourite. Zucchini can also be spiralised as an alternative to pasta. It is delicious with pesto, which I make with either basil or coriander, whatever I have an abundance of.  This pesto can also be served as a dip. Why buy those expensive pesto dips when you can easily make your own? If you grow coriander, let it go to seed, harvest the seed and make your own dukkah. It is quite an expensive item to buy, and very easy to make yourself.

Soup weather is approaching once more. Soups are filling and nutritious, and can be made well ahead of time and frozen. Here are a couple more of my favourites, minestrone and curried potato tomato and garlic.

5. Make it yourself – cleaning products

Liquid laundry detergent, cleaning paste, and shower cleaner 

I have started making my own liquid laundry detergent, and haven’t bought a commercial one since. The recipe forms the basis of a good cleaning paste. For years I’ve used a very expensive one produced by a ‘party plan’ company, but no more. This one is just as good and a tiny fraction of the price.

Recently I came across a recipe for a shower cleaner. Cleaning the shower is a job I hate and tend to put off, sometimes for way too long. But I feel much more inclined to face the task now that I have something to simply spray on and wipe clean. Click here for the recipes for these 3 cleaning products.

So there you have it. My 5 tips for saving money at the checkout. Which of these will you try first? Do you have any other good tips to share? What are your thoughts about the ethical issue of rescuing food but generating more waste from packaging? Do leave a comment and share your ideas.

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  • I loved reading your post Jo. I am sitting here agreeing with everything. I absolutely love growing my own produce and cooking something with it. I also love walking past the cleaning aisles because I make all my own cleaners, dishcloths. My fruit and veg shop has reduced too as I’m slowly building on my veggie growing skills.

    Also buying produce which is in season is cheaper and healthier.

    Feeding a hungry 15 year old can be challenging too. Instead of buying packaged food to fill him up which really has no nutritional value therefore leaves him hungry again I keep leftovers handy plus make quick dishes such as tuna casserole, baked beans etc. He just heats and eats. I’m going to experiment with those instant noodles in a jar next.

    • Jo says:

      Kylie I envy your reduced veggie bill, and really want to achieve this for myself hopefully over winter. You have lots of great ideas for feeding a teenager. I saw Hugh make those noodles in a jar on an episode of River Cottage and thought how easy it looked, but have never done it. Thank you for the reminder about that dish, and do share your recipes on your blog!

  • Lydia C. Lee says:

    Love the rescue mission (a lot .of that food packaging can go back to Coles in the Redcycle bin and be made into chairs). I’m trying to reduce our food waste as we chuck out so much bread and veges. I’m trying not to buy as much and use what we have. It’s actually a hard habit to break….but worth it

    • Jo says:

      You are right Lydia, the soft plastic can go back to the supermarket, and most of the hard stuff has got the triangle on the bottom. That’s at least better than it going into landfill. Great that you are becoming mindful about waste. In the end we are all doing our best, whilst looking for little ways to improve on this.

  • Kathy Marris says:

    This is fabulous Jo. I’m finding I spend far too much at the Supermarket each week. My husband loves eating meat so that is the most expensive part of my weekly shop, followed by cleaning products, toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. I would love to cut down on meat and eat more canned fish, vegetarian dishes or quiches. I will have to follow your lead and start to cut down on some of these items. I’m definitely going to give your homemade cleaners a try. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      When I do buy full price meat Kathy I always wonder how families of big meat-eaters manage on their budget. It’s good to introduce a few alternatives, and check for reactions! He might be pleasantly surprised!

  • Kat says:

    I have, what I presume is, the largest pack of bicarb soda available on the planet. And I use that for making up shower, oven and stove cleaners. I’m going to have to try the $50 challenge though. We’re used to taking dinner leftovers to work for lunch the next day so that’s useful. Thanks for all the tips! #teamlovinlife

  • Johanna says:

    What some great tips, Jo! I definitely spend too much at the checkout and have a pantry stocked with things that I conveniently forget about and never have the right fresh things on hand to make meals with. Today I think I’ll take your tip 1 and go on a rescue mission to find something to go with a Biryani mix I’ve had sitting in my pantry for too long! I’m also going to check out your home made cleaning product recipes 🙂 #teamlovinlife

    • Jo says:

      Sounds like time for some ‘shopping at home’ Jo, and save yourself a trip this week. The cleaning products are so easy to make.

  • Jan Wild says:

    Yum, I love soup season, I can never have too much veggie soup.
    I am also a big fan of eating what we’ve got rather than constantly buying more. And yes, I am a food rescuer too 😉

  • I just heard on the news this week that capsicums and tomatoes will be scarce/expensive in the coming months, after Cyclone Debbie – so guess what I’m planting out on the weekend. Already have shallots, beans,mint, rosemary and a zucchini in pots 🙂

  • Great tips Jo – thanks for sharing :). Whenever I can, I plan the week’s meals and shop to cater for them. It’s amazing how much money this saves! #TeamLovinLife

  • I’m big on the food rescue.
    Not so big on the make your own cleaning products though. Just because I’m time poor (and hate cleaning anyway so am highly unlikely to take the time to make the products and then have to clean with it LOL). One day …

  • We’ve just started growing veggies but the recent rain ruined most plants, sigh. I love to grow my own herbs too. There’s nothing like a fresh bunch of basil and oregano. We get three-five eggs a day as well from our chickens. Great tips here especially the food rescue!

    • Jo says:

      Thank you for your comment Michelle. The rain certainly took its toll didn’t it. I lost my zucchini, cucumber, and beans, but of course this is nothing compared to our poor farmers. In fact I’ve just made a donation to Rural Aid this afternoon. Yes, do try food rescue!

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