When we asked last week for suggestions on how to save money on your weekly shop, readers responded in record numbers. We've collected together that wisdom for the ultimate guide on how to spend less on life's essentials. Plus: who won the ALDI hamper?
Picture by Polycart
10. Make a menu plan and a list
This is undoubtedly the most important and popular tip of all, so we wanted to mention it first: there is no substitute for organisation. Spend time making a weekly meal plan (allowing for any occasions when you've got visitors or will be dining out), and plan your shopping list around that. Having a definite list is much better than planning as you go.
9. Run a replacement list
On a related note, whenever you run out of something, add it to the list: that way you'll always have a suitable supply of staples. As Chris suggests:
When you run out of things, write it down right away. No matter where you shop it's a waste of money to buy more than you need.
8. Keep a close eye on specials
Checking the catalogues for your local supermarkets will highlight particularly good specials, and sites like OzBargain can also help. But if you grab stuff simply because it's on special, you can often end up spending more as well.
The best way to use specials is to stock up on goods with a long shelf life. As reader James suggested:
I always have a supplementary list of items that have a long shelf life that I am running low on. These are like canned fruit or spaghetti and I only buy them when they are on special and buy it in bulk.
7. Make buying too much harder
Two variations on this theme: shop with a basket rather than a trolley so you don't buy stuff needlessly, and shop at a supermarket that's 20 minutes or more walk away so that you're not tempted to over-indulge. I grant you those tactics won't work if you're shopping for a large family, but for singletons it's worth considering. As Stove said:
I either walk or cycle to the shops. The physical carrying limit means I generally only come away with things I actually need.
6. Pay in cash
We know that Lifehacker readers get irritated if they don't have a choice of payment methods, and many of us are now so used to EFTPOS that it's hard to imagine doing anything else. However, as several readers pointed out, having just the amount of cash that will cover your list makes impulse buys impossible. As Sean explained:
We withdraw cash before walking in. This limits our spend, puts a stop to impulse purchases, and restricts the desire to pickup the extra couple of bottles of diet Regal cola that I don’t really need.
5. Find out when goods get marked down
Supermarkets often mark down fresh goods as they near the end of their shelf life. If you find out when that happens at your local supermarket, you can save a lot. Apart from regular times, you'll also see runouts just before closing on long weekends and other holiday breaks.
4. Buy house brands when you've tested them
It's a point we've made before: for many products, you'll be hard-pressed to notice the qualitative difference if you buy store brand goods rather than "brand names", but you'll definitely see a cost difference. I famously demonstrated that last year by living for a week on $25 of food; if I'd gone for name brands, the same basket would have cost $55.
The important point is to try store brand goods and decide if they're suitable. If they are, you'll be saving money; if not, at least you'll have chosen to pay more for better quality.
3. Use technology as appropriate
There are plenty of apps to help plan your shopping, from supermarket-specific releases to general trackers like Scan2List. Super-organised types run a spreadsheet and compare prices at all their local supermarkets. But even if you just keep your regular shopping list as a text document on your phone, it will make shopping planning easier and cheaper.
2. Choose who to shop with
We got wildly divergent opinions on this point. For every reader who argued that taking their partner was the only way to control wild spending, another argued that taking someone else just rocketed up the amount that would get purchased. Some people refuse to shop with children; others say that forces them to get the job done faster. And there was this ingenious idea from reader Danny:
I take my 4yo son with me – his job is to crawl under all the aisles and in the checkouts for dropped coins. He treats it like a treasure hunt while I save on shopping. Win-Win.
So we don't think there's a single rule, other than this: think carefully about who should go along for the weekly shop, find a method that works, and stick to it.
1. Don't shop hungry
It's a basic rule but an effective one. If you shop hungry, you'll be tempted by every expensively-packaged morsel. If you're full, it's much easier to stick to the list.
And the winner is . .
We got lots of brilliant entries, but there can only be one winner. So the prize goes to Nimish for this off-the-wall but memorable tip:
My wife and I split up the shopping list between us and run around the store finding the items like a treasure hunt – first one back to the cash registers with ALL their items wins. We may look a little crazy running around, but it’s fun, quick and because there’s no time to browse we only end up getting the stuff on the list.
Congratulations Nimish, and thanks for everyone for the suggestions. And thanks again to ALDI for the prize!
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.