Grocery prices have taken a hike upwards for a host of reasons, including the rising costs of petrol, fertilizer and labor. You could “shop around” for cheaper groceries, but that would cost you more in fuel or travel, not to mention time.
Research shows a healthy diet costs low-income households 20 to 30% of their disposable income.1)Lee AJ, Kane S, Ramsey R, Good E, Dick M. Testing the price and affordability of healthy and current (unhealthy) diets and the potential impacts of policy change in Australia. BMC Public Health. 2016 Apr 12;16:315. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2996-y But a healthy diet remains cheaper than one dominated by highly processed foods and drinks. Cutting your grocery bill takes planning and flexibility – and knowing your budget.
So how do you do it?
Swap some fresh veggies and fruit with canned and frozen varieties, and substitute very expensive items for cheaper alternatives.
Have a meat-free meal at least once a week.
Next, create a grocery list. This helps save money by reducing in-store impulse buys. Look at what you already have in the pantry, fridge and freezer, and only buy what you need. This will reduce food waste.
Check online catalogues for specials before heading to the shops. Once in store, compare prices and choose brands that are cheaper. This makes nutritious meals more affordable.3)Lewis M, McNaughton SA, Rychetnik L, Lee AJ. Cost and Affordability of Healthy, Equitable and Sustainable Diets in Low Socioeconomic Groups in Australia. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 23;13(8):2900. doi: 10.3390/nu13082900
How much do households spend on groceries?
A 2021 survey in Australia found the average supermarket grocery bill was A$98 per week for a single person, $145 for two, $168 for three, $187 for four and $255 for five or more people.4)Birot M. What is the average grocery bill? Canastar
An older survey from 2016 found the average household (2.6 people) spent $269 per week across all food ($237) and alcohol ($32) purchases, both at the supermarket and other outlets.5)Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Summary of Results. Australian Bureau of Statistics
About half the money was spent was on “discretionary” items such as meals out or fast food ($80), with $20 spent on lollies, chocolate, savory snacks and potato crisps, and $10 on cakes, biscuits and puddings. At the supermarket, $26 was spent a week on fruit and vegetables.6)Discretionary food and drink choices. Eat for Health
A 2019 survey found the average person spent $300 a week for all food and drinks. This included groceries ($135), eating out ($52), alcohol ($31), take-aways ($22), barista coffee/tea ($13), food delivery services ($12), supplements ($12) and health foods ($11).7)Food for thought: Australians spend $272 billion on food annually. Suncorp, 21 December 2019
These surveys show it’s common to spend more on foods and drinks consumed away from home than on groceries and more on unhealthy items than healthy ones.
5 Tips to Help You Save
Putting all this together, here are five key tips to keep in mind when planning food for your household:
1. Have a food budget
Total food budget dollars will be influenced by how many people you need to feed, their age and your household income. A rough rule of thumb is it shouldn’t cost more than one-third of your total household disposable income.
Allocate target amounts in your budget for both core, nutritious foods and discretionary foods and drinks (softdrinks, chips, biscuits, cakes, lollies, pies, pastries and deli meats) and on foods away from home (coffees, fast food, pubs, clubs, bottle shops and restaurants).
2. Make a weekly plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks
Write a matching grocery list. Check the pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you already have or whether any ingredients can be swapped to save a purchase.8)Running low on key ingredients? Try these swaps. No money, no time
3. Pack your lunch
Buy a lunch box and pack it the night before. Put it in the fridge so you can grab and go in the morning. If your mornings are too busy, pack in breakfast foods too.
4. Cook more meals at home
Cooking more meals at home might include cheaper and healthier versions of some of your take-out favourites such as pizza and burgers.
A study from the United States found those who cooked more at home spent half the amount of money on food eaten away-from-home than those who cooked infrequently. They also spent 17% less on food overall.9)Tiwari A, Aggarwal A, Tang W, Drewnowski A. Cooking at Home: A Strategy to Comply With U.S. Dietary Guidelines at No Extra Cost. Am J Prev Med. 2017 May;52(5):616-624. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.017.
Interestingly, both groups spent the same on groceries suggesting that infrequent home cookers either wasted more food, ate more, or both.
5. Cook double batches
Cook greater quantities of meals like curries, soups and casseroles, and either freeze them or have the same meal twice.
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Clare Collins is a Laureate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics in the School of Health Sciences, College of Health, Medicine and Wellbeing at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia and NHMRC Research Leadership Fellow.
Dr Whatnall is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition (PRC-PAN) and the School of Health Sciences, and a Casual Academic in the College of Health, Medicine and Wellbeing, the University of Newcastle. Dr Whatnall’s research focuses on understanding and optimising the health and wellbeing of young adults, with the aim of enabling individuals to lead a healthy lifestyle and reduce their risk of chronic disease.
|↑1||Lee AJ, Kane S, Ramsey R, Good E, Dick M. Testing the price and affordability of healthy and current (unhealthy) diets and the potential impacts of policy change in Australia. BMC Public Health. 2016 Apr 12;16:315. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2996-y|
|↑2||Seasonal Produce Guide. Sustainable Table|
|↑3||Lewis M, McNaughton SA, Rychetnik L, Lee AJ. Cost and Affordability of Healthy, Equitable and Sustainable Diets in Low Socioeconomic Groups in Australia. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 23;13(8):2900. doi: 10.3390/nu13082900|
|↑4||Birot M. What is the average grocery bill? Canastar|
|↑5||Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Summary of Results. Australian Bureau of Statistics|
|↑6||Discretionary food and drink choices. Eat for Health|
|↑7||Food for thought: Australians spend $272 billion on food annually. Suncorp, 21 December 2019|
|↑8||Running low on key ingredients? Try these swaps. No money, no time|
|↑9||Tiwari A, Aggarwal A, Tang W, Drewnowski A. Cooking at Home: A Strategy to Comply With U.S. Dietary Guidelines at No Extra Cost. Am J Prev Med. 2017 May;52(5):616-624. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.017.|