We are an Australian family of four, 2 adults and 2 kids. We have gluten allergies and try to eat according to a slow carb diet (specifically my partner and I live according to the 4 Hour Body, our kids have a more varied diet). Our kids are 7 and 8 years old, we live in a tiny two bedroom apartment right in the middle of a major city. We walk everywhere and do no have the space to buy and store things in bulk. We drink wine and our grocery budget includes alcohol, cleaning supplies and most toiletries.
Here’s how our family of four spends under $150 a week on groceries in Australia.
1.) Menu plan
We have a simple menu plan that is repeated each week. The only variances are the produce in season and meat that is reduced or on sale.
For breakfast: it’s usually eggs in a variety of ways including scrambled, omelettes, frittatas, boiled etc. Or gluten free cereal with milk when purchased on sale for my kids.
Lunch: for our kids at school they take a selection of salad, sometimes a ham sandwich or wrap, vegetable sticks such as carrot and cucumber, hummus, fruit, puffed corn, crackers (bought on sale) or corn chips.
Lunch: for the adults is reheated from the meal the night before.
Dinner: is either chilli, roast, Mexican, cayenne pepper stir fry, pumpkin soup (for our kids, it is one of their favourites), dhal, cauliflower fried rice or platters with eggs, cauliflower fritters, vegetables and nuts.
We rarely eat dessert, limiting it to every few days for our kids and once a week for the adults. It’s usually ice cream, sometimes waffles or brownies are added.
Snacks include vegetable sticks with hummus, eggs, almonds or cashews.
Takeaway is limited within our household and if we want it, it has to come from our grocery budget. We’ve worked out a few takeaway meals we love that can be made quickly and easily at home including nachos, butter chicken or chicken tikka masala.
2.) Shop with a list
By shopping with a list we know exactly what we need and can cross it off as we shop. It enables us to add it up as we go to ensure we are adhering to the budget then at the end of doing the groceries we have the option of buying a treat if we like.
Having the same meals each week makes it easy to do our shopping since the list doesn’t change much. It is essentially in season fruit and vegetables, on sale or reduced meat such as mince, chicken thighs and a roast, ham, eggs, cereal, milk gluten free bread or wraps, gluten free pasta and we add cleaning supplies, spices or other things as necessary when we run out.
3.) Buy fresh produce at the markets
Shopping at our local market means we know what is in season and shop accordingly. Boxes of produce can often be purchased for $5 and we rarely pay above $2 a kilo for anything.
The boxes often have bruised or less than stellar fruit and vegetables, which we tend not to buy. These could be used to turn into soups, stews or sauces such as tomato sauce and apricot jam. We don’t do this anymore, however, we can if we wanted to.
We head to the market with our list, do one lap to check prices and quality quickly then go to the stalls with the best options for the things we eat.
Before we moved to our current location the local markets weren’t any cheaper than the supermarket. I split our spending on fresh produce between Aldi and the other supermarkets buying whatever was on special and utilising the ‘odd bunch’ options most supermarkets have. It was nowhere near as cheap as the markets here are, it was cheaper than the regular price in the supermarkets, though.
4.) Buy reduced or on sale
We get our meat from the markets as well or buy it from the reduced section at our local supermarket. reduced to clear items. We base our menu around the meat we get reduced to clear by combining it with the fresh produce we get. Roast, mince, stir fry meat, whole chickens, chicken thighs and turkey legs are regular meat options. If you think you don’t have space in your freezer, check out this post with 5 tips to fit more in your freezer.
Previously I have purchased in bulk directly from the butcher. I no longer have the space to store meat in bulk so that isn’t practical anymore.
Another section in our store has non-perishable items reduced to clear. We check here each time we shop for anything we might need.
It is rare we will purchase an item that isn’t reduced to clear or on sale. Most items we need go on sale for 50% off every few weeks so we purchase enough to get us through until the next sale (depending on the storage we have available in our unit at the time).
5.) Choose what to make yourself
I used to make my own bread, sauces, jam, cakes, biscuits, stock and anything else I could make from scratch. I used the recipes in 26 Ingredients (eBook only $4.95, not an affiliate link). Now, our lifestyle and eating habits have changed drastically, it no longer suits our lifestyle. It has over 100 recipes to make from a pantry of 26 Ingredients from gourmet breakfasts to delicious desserts, sauces etc. Tips on how to turn leftovers into a new meal and how to make the most of the food you have.
I do make my own seasonings based on what we eat with the main one being a Mexican seasoning I use on roasts, in stir fries and sometimes in chilli.
We don’t eat bread, cakes, biscuits, pancakes or anything like that anymore. On the rare occasion we do, I make my own.
Weigh up the cost based on how long it will take you to do something, how much electricity you need and the cost of ingredients to decide if making things yourself is the best option. For us, cooking all our own meals, making our own seasonings and choosing not to have a lot of baked goods or preserves means we have a good balance of time and money used for food preparation.
6.) Buy in bulk where possible
We rent so building in extra storage wasn’t an option, yet we still purchase some items in bulk by being smart with our storage (check out this post on small space living for renters).
Items we buy in bulk include toilet paper when on sale, alcohol, spices, legumes and other non perishable items. Do a price comparison of the bulk price vs regular size price. Most of the time it is cheaper to buy in bulk, not always though.
7.) Cook in bulk
After we have done the groceries I spend some time preparing as much as I can for the week ahead. I throw a pot of chilli onto the stove while cooking something else in the slow cooker. I chop up everything we use regularly and store it in containers in the fridge. This means most nights all I need to do is defrost the meal or throw the pre-chopped vegetables in with the meat to make our meal.
Typically, I will have a large pot of chilli cooking which makes enough for a couple of meals while there is dhal cooking in the slow cooker underneath a roast chicken. The chilli and dhal will be cooled then packed into containers and frozen. The chicken will be eaten as a roast that night then all the meat stripped off the bones and divided into containers for use during the week in curries or in a Mexican meal (usually lettuce, meat, fried onion, zucchini and capsicum topped with salsa or guacamole).
In a couple of hours I have multiple meals prepared and most of the preparation work done for the rest of the week. It stops us getting takeaway, enables us to know what we are eating every night and prevents wastage.
8.) Use everything
When I say I strip the meat off the roast, I mean every single little piece is used. The roast was already cooked with dhal so it made stock to mix with the dhal. If I was cooking a roast on it’s own, the bones would be kept and used to make a stock with vegetable scraps such as carrot peel, celery leaves and onion ends.
We don’t peel fruit and vegetables, instead we wash them and eat them with the skin on. When I make pumpkin soup, I do peel the pumpkin and the potatoes, however the seeds from the pumpkin are cooked in the oven or frying pan separately as a snack. Potato skins, if the potatoes were scrubbed clean, can be fried for chips.
If making a honey and lemon drink because I have a sore throat, the lemons are placed in a bottle of water after squeezing the juice out to make lemon flavoured water. The rind can be grated and used in other recipes too.
If you have one sausage leftover from a BBQ, slice it up to use on a pizza, in a risotto or stew. Don’t just throw food away.
Given that the average Australian throws away one in every 5 bags of groceries, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves, how we shop and cook. So much of what we throw away can be made into something else.
9.) Bonus meals
Bonus meals to me are meals you made from leftovers. If you have a roast one night, use the bones to make a stock and leftover meat to make with the stock to create a chicken noodle soup. Any leftover soup can be turned into a risotto. Leftover risotto can be turned into arancini balls.
If you have chilli one night, use the leftovers in a pie the next day with pastry or a cottage pie with mashed potato or cauliflower and cheese.
Use leftover meat to make curries, soups, stews, risottos, pies, pasta bakes etc. The list goes on and on. We don’t eat pasta or rice so we limit what we turn our leftovers into. It is easy to make a new meal from leftovers so the family doesn’t feel like they are eating the same thing over and over.
10.) Be a conscientious cleaner
Use cloths instead of paper towels, containers instead of plastic wrap and plastic bags, use generic bleach when needed and mircofibre cloths to clean. These few steps reduce a lot of the spending on cleaning products and are environmentally friendly.
Instead of buying garbage bags we recycle everything we can, significantly reduce waste and when we need a garbage bag we reuse a plastic bag from the markets. It isn’t ideal, I’d prefer we weren’t using plastic bags at all. It is free though and since we live in a small unit, all garbage must be put in a bag and sent down a chute.
I don’t use window spray, glass cleaner, surface cleaners or any of those products. I use microfibre cloths to clean, bleach in the toilet and shower plus a little dishwashing liquid for surfaces in the kitchen when needed. We buy both bleach and dishwashing liquid either on sale or the generic brand.
Washing power is bought in bulk and stored in the laundry cupboard. I don’t use fabric softener or starch when ironing. Simply put, we don’t spend much on cleaning because you don’t need to.
11.) Make takeaway
Indian, Mexican and burgers are our favourite takeaway options, all of which can be made for less at home and often in a shorter amount of time than it takes to go get the takeaway or have it delivered.
You can either have it ready cooked in the freezer and defrost it or do something like easy nachos which is a few ingredients, a few steps and you’re done within 30 minutes.
Work out which take away options you love, how you can recreate them and if the result isn’t exactly what you want, start budgeting for the takeaway you do want as an occasional treat. When we spend under our budget it is put in a jar and saved up to spend on weeks we really want takeaway or on a trip away.
12.) Get the whole family involved
The four of us go shopping together. We walk to the markets with backpacks, come home and unload then cross the road to the supermarket for the rest. With my kids being involved they see what needs to be done, practice writing and spelling with the shopping list, they learn to check prices and they help cook.
We all have an input on what we buy and eat. Our daughters make their own breakfasts and lunches plus occasionally help cook dinner. By seeing the amount of work that goes into buying, preparing and cooking the food they appreciate it more and we have less complaints about food.
13.) Forage and barter
Living right in the CBD I don’t do this anymore. Growing up we foraged for berries at the back of our school, swapped some of our apricots and nectarines with our neighbours for their plums and bartered other food made or grown by us with those in our community.
I’ve seen loads of foods growing in public areas that can be foraged, plus I know of people who don’t pick the fruit from their own trees. Stop and ask them if you can pick it, offer to bake them a pie or pick the fruit to share with both of you. I don’t know anyone who has been turned down when they have been brave enough to ask.
Learn about native foods in your area that are edible and start incorporating them in your diet.
14.) Store everything correctly
All food has ideal storage conditions. Set you fridge to accommodate this and store your food accordingly. There is a good guide here. For the most part, I cut up the bulk of our vegetables and store them in a Tupperware container. The rest is stored whole in the fridge drawers, one for fruit the other for vegetables. Items like tomatoes and potatoes are not stored in the fridge.
Storing food correctly makes it last longer and reduces the chances of wastage.
If food starts to go off before you can use it, work out how to store it for later use. For example, if bananas are going brown and no one wants to eat them. Peel them, place them in a container or bag and freeze them to use in banana bread.
15.) Reward programs
While not ideal, most supermarkets have reward programs. Depending on what you buy you may or may not accrue points. You can’t accrue any points if you don’t have them though. Sign up to the programs and swipe the cards when you shop. Do not base your shop around how to collect points or you will overspend.
An added bonus of reward programs is the coupons and special offers you get. If they line up with what you regularly buy, use them. If not, do not spend money for the sake of getting a discount. Check out our list of Australian reward/loyalty programs.
16.) Budget friendly drinks
We don’t drink coffee, juice or cordial. Throughout the day we have water, of an evening we sometimes have a glass of wine and occasionally our children will have a hot chocolate. I personally have a spearmint tea for health reasons each day and he has a can Pepsi Max.
We buy the cans of Pepsi Max in bulk when on sale. A box of 30 often works out to be less than 50cents a can when on sale. Hot chocolate is either the cheapest brand or I mix cocoa and sugar. My spearmint tea is bought in bulk and stored in an airtight container. Wine is purchased in cases of 6 bottles when on sale. Buying in lots of 6 or more automatically generates a discount however often there are 40% off or 25% off sales when buying lots of 6 so we stock up then. We tried a variety of wine before settling on the ones we now buy and are lucky they are already cheap. That said, lately we haven’t been drinking much alcohol at all, less than a drink a week so our expense in this area has dropped this past two months.
17.) Bathroom essentials
He uses an electric razor, we have electric toothbrushes and I use a mens razor in the shower. I haven’t bought blades in over 6 months. I use cheap conditioner for shaving cream, make my own body scrub out of oil and sugar and we buy our shampoo and conditioner on sale. Mouthwash and floss are bought on sale, our toothpaste is Sensodyne so when it goes on sale we get a couple. Our deodorant is one of the few things we are particular about which brand and scent we each use. It comes on sale for 50% off at times, so we buy it then. Tissues could be replaced with handkerchiefs but we prefer tissues. We buy them on sale or in bulk, whichever works out cheapest.
18.) Do what works for you
What I do has changed over time depending on our lifestyle, eating habits, where we lived and what worked out to be the best option financially. Experiment with different dishes, different brands and shops to find the best method for you.
What do you do to save money on groceries? How much do you spend for your family?