The ever-increasing cost of groceries is currently burning a major hole in everyone’s wallet and has a lot of us frankly stressed out. A Galaxy survey of 1000 people nationwide conducted on behalf of debt solutions provider Fox Symes found that 52 per cent of all Australians are forced to use their credit card to pay for every day costs including groceries because they simply don’t have the cash available. As many as 2.9 million Aussies say they have to do this frequently.
Obviously, relying on your credit card for daily expenses should be avoided at all costs. For a debt-free existence, it's vitally important to budget accordingly and look for any way possible to cut back on expenses.
With that in mind, here are six tips that will help to ease the pain at the register:
#1 Shop at the end of the day
Doing a big shop at night after a long day at work might sound like a particularly cruel form of torture. However the fact is that’s when you’re most likely to encounter discounts. Perishable goods such as bakery items, fruit and vegetables are often replenished at the end of the day, so that’s when you could bag a bargain.
#2 Opt for stuff that isn’t perfect
Sometimes items which are a bit banged up or different will be discounted. Woolworths have some fruit and veg under their “odd bunch” banner -- so strangely shaped carrots, potatoes, pears etc, which are sold for less than their normal price.
Local greengrocers also sell stuff which is starting to over-ripen or deteriorate for marked down prices. As a rule of thumb, remember with hard fruit and vegetables such as carrots and apples, small black spots or mould patches can be cut off and you can eat the rest of the item safely. However it’s best not to buy soft fruits and vegies such as avocados or bananas if they’re starting to go off as they won't taste good.
#3 Check out grocery clearance stores
Clearance outlets such as NQR (Not Quite Right) in Victoria, offer savings of up to 80 per cent off items. What’s on offer is made up of excess stock, discontinued lines and cancelled supermarket orders. The catch is some of it is close to or just past its ‘best before’ date. This may turn your stomach, but The NSW Department of Primary Industries Food Authority reassure us that foods are still safe to eat after their ‘best before’ date as long as they are not damaged, deteriorated or perished – they just may lose some taste or quality.
This is different to a ‘use by’ date where food must be thrown away by the date specified to avoid food poisoning. Common 'best before' foods include canned foods, cereals, biscuits, sauces, chocolate, sugar, flour and frozen foods.
#4 Give a discount supermarket like Aldi or Lidl a go
Generally it’s thought that a total Aldi shopping bill will be up to 25 per cent cheaper than those of other big name supermarkets such as Coles or Woolworths. So if you have one in your city it’s worth trying it out. Whilst there are die-hard Aldi shoppers out there, there are also many who walk into Aldi once, can’t find what they’re looking for, and run away screaming vowing never return again.
To successfully shop at discount supermarkets you need to get your head around a few things first:
Use it as your core shop, not your total shop: So let’s get this straight – Aldi and Lidl probably won’t have everything you need on your shopping list as they have a more limited range. That’s why it’s good to shop at one which is also near other stores. You will probably be able to find most stuff on your list, but if they don’t have coriander that day, then afterwards you need to pop over to another place to do a “top up shop”.
Prices might not necessarily be lower for some things: Occasionally you see a block of cheese in Aldi which you know is more expensive than the home brands in other shops. This may cause you to march out in indignation. However before you do, remember that the overall bill is still likely to be lower. If you’re really looking to save then it’s worth going onto the website and comparing prices against other majors’ sites for staples such as rice, tinned tomatoes, sugar, etc. That way you’ll always know which shop to use for particular items.
Learn to adapt: So what do you do if there’s no satay sauce available and you don’t fancy going elsewhere? Just go with the flow. Many people who shop at Aldi have to quickly rearrange their food needs around what’s available in exchange for cheaper prices. So if you wanted satay chicken, you may have to settle for chicken cacciatore instead.
#5 Buying in bulk
There’s no doubt that buying items in bulk will often save you money per item so pouncing on bulk specials can pay off. However before you buy 60 rolls of toilet paper, ask yourself whether you have room for it in the first place. Living with overflowing cupboards is not pleasant and you could forget to use some things down the track.
You should always know the capacity of your fridge and freezer before you go shopping if you are planning to haul a lot of stuff back. Remember most bread, butter and cheese can be frozen for three months, while fresh meat can last up to six months in the freezer. Frozen leftovers usually only last three months.
#6 Join a grocery co-op
Often there are savings made and friendships formed when you join a local co-op. This is when a group of around 8 or more people band together to do their shopping as a group. For example, a grocery co-op might visit a large outlet such as Sydney’s Flemington Markets once a week. Two people would go each time and buy everything for the rest of the group. Usually this will be a weekly selection of fruit and veg for up to $20 or so. If your family consumes a lot of fresh produce it’s well worth it.
However the down side is that your turn to shop comes up every one to two months and you often have to get to the market really early to bag the best bargains – as in 5am! If you are interested in joining a local co-op organisation, many of them have websites on the internet so google around.
#7 Bookmark deal sites like OzBargain
It's tough to keep track of which grocery stores have the best specials each week. Thankfully, there are plenty of community-run deals forums that do it for you. OzBargain has a section dedicated to food and groceries where all the best discounts can be found. This includes a list of weekly half-price specials from Coles, Woolworths and others.