7 June 2013

10 Tips to Reduce Your Grocery Bill

You've had a blast at university and landed yourself a great job but student loans are eating your pay cheques. Maybe you've just moved in together in a rented house/ flat and are saving for the 10-25% deposit of your first home. Maybe you're saving for the big day. Maybe you're planning on having a little addition to your family and want to have more financial security. Or, you just want to save some extra cash for your annual summer holiday. 

You've scratched your head real hard (sacrificing a few strands of hair), done the maths and wondered if you could possibly reduce food expenditure without compromising on the quality of food. Of course the answer is "YES"! 

I’ve gathered some tips which I follow that might help you save money and still enjoy your food. Hopefully these little tips will help you change your spending habits in the long run. However, I can't emphasise enough how important it is to still enjoy your food, eat healthy meals and not buy something that's cheap (but horrible) just for its price.

1. Be your own chef
It is indeed romantic to dine out. An evening dinner for two with drinks comes up to an average of €30. Not too bad, you might think. Now, make that twice a week, 8 times a month, 96 times a year and the final bill is a whopping €2880!

Despite wanting to save more money, we’ll still need to live our lives and socialise. So I’m not suggesting that we become hermits and bury ourselves at home. It’s all about striking a balance. 

Eating in can be fun. Plus you’ll get to show off your culinary skills! For the inexperienced, it’s time to get some practice in the kitchen. It doesn’t need to even be a fanciful 3 course meal; it’s the thought that counts. Being your own chef also means you can make healthier meals – less fat, salt, MSG and sugar. Why not invite some friends over on a weekend for a potluck party? 

Whenever I eat out I consciously choose dishes which I can’t cook at home. I mean, why pay €10 for bolognese (with all due respect to the REAL chefs out there) when you can easily cook something similar for less than half the price for two servings? Decide for yourself if it’s going to be money worth spending. 

To ensure that we stretch the Euro further, we’ve cut down on eating out to once a week. This makes the night out a more cherished one as it feels a lot more like date nights. It’s the one day of the week when we have no washing up to do.

2. Plan your meals
I’ve been guilty of roaming down the aisles of supermarkets with an empty trolley wondering what on earth to cook for dinner. The end result – overloaded trolley, hefty bill and an aching back from lugging the grocery bags home. 

It helps knowing in advance what you’re cooking and buying only what’s necessary. Every Friday I “brainstorm” on what’s for dinner for the following week. Why Friday? It’s because everything closes on Sundays in Germany and we do our shopping on Saturdays.

Planning your meals in advance means you do not succumb to emotional needs at the supermarket. You’ll no longer pick stuff just to fill the trolley only to find out later that you haven’t really got the essential ingredients to whip up something healthy and delicious. 

I used to spend an average of €45-60 per week on unplanned shopping. More often than not, there was food wastage because I bought too much fresh food which we didn’t consume in time. Now that I plan meals, my weekly shopping has been reduced to €30-35 a week to feed two of us. This includes breakfasts and dinners for both of us and lunches for me. A savings of €15 a week works out to €780 a year. That’s pretty impressive. 

3. Make a shopping list
Now that you’ve got a weekly meal plan, you should have a concrete idea on what you actually need to buy. Make sure you have the quantity written down. Remember, buy what is only necessary!

A shopping list keeps you focused and saves time too. I used to spend an hour or so roaming around the supermarket picking random items to fill my trolley. But now, I’m done in 20 minutes or less.

4. Eat your veggies
It’s generally cheaper to eat vegetables than meat. And it’s definitely healthier. This doesn’t require you to change your diet. All it asks of you is to have a “Pro-Veggies” day. There are plenty of vegetarian recipes online which are very tasty. It’s only a day, you can do it!

5. Waste less food (stop over eating!)
I used to buy 250g mince instead of 180g because they cost only a few cents more. I thought I was getting more value out of it. The true story however is, we could never finish 250g mince! Even when we did, we felt horrible for gorging down too much food. All it did was made me worry about my already disappearing waistline. 

As shoppers we need to change our mentality. If we’re not eating that much, we might as well pay less for the smaller packaging. There will be less food wastage and more pennies (and probably a slimmer waistline too).

6. Set a weekly budget
Firstly, you’ll need to know how much you’re spending each week on grocery shopping. Secondly, know how many meals need to be paid for. Once you’ve figured that out, think about how much you’ll want to save. Be realistic about it. It is very important that as we save our pennies we do not compromise on our quality of life and the quality of food we consume. Oh, and stick to the budget!

My tip is to give yourself a trial period of a month or two to change your shopping habits. Collect all your supermarket shopping receipts (however small the purchase is) and keep them on your fridge. At the end of the month calculate how much is spent and have a think whether you would like to save more or if you’re being too harsh on yourself. 

7. Use what you have
How often do we really do an inventory check of our kitchen cabinets? I almost never did till I decided I need to be more careful with my spending. 

Much to my surprise I had tins of tomato sauce, pasta sauce, half opened packs of flour etc. They added to the collection of sauces I bought on previous occasions sitting on top of the fridge. Yes, what a disaster! I was buying stuff I already had.

Such products have a long shelf life, but surely I should only be getting ingredients that I don’t have in the kitchen. It wasn’t as though I was stocking them up because they were on sale. Sad to say, they were items I bought to fill my trolley. 

I suggest having a look at what you already have (check the expiry dates!) and finish them before stocking up.Look for recipes which use up those cans of food first before buying more.

8. Shop at different places
I am utterly pampered by British supermarkets. The food looks fresh and I always have an excellent shopping experience. When I moved to Germany the arrogant me within refused to shop at Lidl, Penny Markt and Aldi. Even Rewe wasn’t impressive but I knew I would be crazy to shop at Galeria or Karstadt frequently. 

However after a long discussion with my husband on how we can get more value from the money we have, we decided to check out Lidl. I had a list of things to buy and knew how much they cost at Rewe. A lot of items (same brand, same item) were cheaper at Lidl compared to Rewe and sometimes up to €1 less. 

Be careful of brand loyalty. Sometimes cereals of a different brand taste just as good. We bought a 750g pack from Lidl for €1.99 when a 375g pack at Rewe was selling for €2.95. It tasted just as good so yes, we’re switching brands. 

For many people, convenience is of the highest factor to consider. You might like getting all your necessities from one store and call it a day. If you’re lucky to have 4 different supermarkets just a 5 minutes walking distance from where you live (I’m the lucky one), I suggest popping into all four and do a price comparison. You’ll be surprised to know how different places price the same items differently.

9. Eat your fruits
A 1litre fruit juice (not the horrible concentrate stuff…eeewww) costs approximately €2.95. We usually finish it in 2 days which means we spend an average of €44.25 a month on juice itself.
While it is definitely important to get those essential vitamins in our body to fight off colds, €44.25 can be better spent on eating the REAL fruits. Why not make yourself a fruit salad which can be kept in the fridge for a 2-3 days and serve that for dessert? If you really need a drink, there’s always water. Do I need to get into the health benefits of drinking 8 glasses of water a day?

10. Stay away from the stores
There’s no such thing as “just browsing” when it comes to grocery shopping. You’re bound to get something (even if it’s tiny). Once you’re done with your weekly shop and got everything you need, stay away from supermarkets. Whenever you see beautiful flowers or dark purple seedless grapes on sale at the entrance of supermarkets, tell yourself this "It's a trap!".