Feeding your family on a budget

There’s no doubt that feeding the family eats up a significant portion of any family budget. Saving money can seem a distant ideal when the cost of groceries seems to increase every week – and the kids continue to get bigger and eat more! But with the cost of everything from home loan interest rates to electricity on the up, it makes sense to save money where you can. And it’s surprisingly easy to cut the cost of feeding your family, once you have a little know-how.

In the kitchen

Slashing the cost of feeding your family begins at home. In the kitchen, to be specific. While there has been controversy surrounding Coles’s recent “Feed your family for under $10” promotion, the truth is that it’s a lot cheaper to cook for the clan than it is to buy food in. There are plenty of magazines and websites around to help you find recipes (you’ll find a great selection right here on huggies.com.au). With a few basic techniques, you’ll be off and running.

A few tips:

  • Plan your menus. While working out what you’re eating a week advance isn’t high on excitement factor, you’ll find it thrilling when you have everything you need on hand to create a meal. Take away the “what are we going to have?” question, and there’s no question that you’re less likely to opt for expensive takeaway.
  • Think about leftovers. Again, the excitement rating is low, but leftovers are a mum’s best friend. A night off cooking, without having to order in.
  • Audit your pantry. By knowing exactly what you have in store, you’ll find that you’re buying less at the supermarket. Plus, it will give you a chance to use all those Indian spices you bought for that one curry six months ago.
  • Cook once, make two meals. Think about meals that do double-duty, to help keep costs down and interest levels high. Chile con Carne can be eaten with rice one night, and then poured over corn chips to make nachos the next. Use bolognaise sauce for pasta one night and then in toasted sandwiches later in the week.
  • Don’t forget eggs, vegetables, lentils and other pulses, rice. These ingredients are relatively inexpensive and can be used to stretch meals a long way. If meat is on the menu every night at your place, it gets expensive. Show the family they can live without it a night or two and cut your food bills.
  • Channel Grandma and get baking. Muesli bars, biscuits, rice bubble bars, pikelets, cakes – all of these things are expensive items at the shops, and relatively simple to make yourself. A few hours’ cooking on a weekend can save you a lot of money for kids’ snacks and lunch boxes. Plus there’s the added advantage of knowing exactly what’s in them!
  • Cook with ingredients that are in season. Avocadoes, for instance, can be very expensive in the summer months because, unfortunately for salad-lovers, their peak season is in the Australian winter. Make the most of what’s in season – websites such as taste.com.au make this easy because you can simply google a core ingredient (eg peaches) and they’ll give you a list of recipes that incorporate it.

At the supermarket

Supermarkets are businesses. Yes, they’re there for your convenience, to sell you what you need, but they’re also there to encourage you to buy more. From the layout of the store, to the music that they play, everything is geared towards you filling your (large) trolley with everything you need – and a few things you didn’t bargain on. To save money here, you need to be aware:

  • Always shop with a list. If you’ve planned your menus and audited your pantry, you’ll know exactly what you need. Write it all down, and stick to it.
  • Be aware of the cost per item. Every supermarket price tickets now offer the cost per item or cost per kilo/100g information. Use it to compare prices. It may be that spending a bit more and buying the 1kg pack now will save you money in the long run. This is especially important when it comes to things like kids’ snacks. Buying the cheese sticks, individually wrapped in plastic, is not only more expensive than buying a block and giving them a few slices, it creates a lot more waste as well.
  • Buy in bulk. Larger packages generally work out cheaper than “serves for one”. Buy things you use all the time – mince, washing powder etc – in bulk. Use your freezer to keep smaller portions of perishables such as meat.
  • Be aware of the sales cycles. Items such as coffee and olive oil are often on six to eight week sales cycles. Plug yourself in to those and you’ll generally find that just as you’re running out, the cheaper item will be available again.
  • Think about two-for-one offers. Do you really need two of the item on special? Yes, there will be a saving, but not if it’s just encouraging you to buy more than you need.

In the future

If you have the space, it’s worth considering establishing a vegetable garden and/or chicken run. Be aware that growing your own vegetables is not always the cheapest option, by the time you consider the cost of fertilising, buying seedlings, watering etc. However, if you grow from seed, grow things you use all the time, have people with whom you can swap your glut vegetables for their glut vegetables, set up a compost bin to provide fertiliser from scraps, and enjoy knowing where your food comes from, it can work out to be much cheaper than buying “organic” from the shops.

Chickens can be “rented” for a few hundred dollars, to see how you like the experience. They’ll provide fertiliser, eggs, a fabulous waste-management system for food scraps, and make great pets for children.
Feeding your family with your own produce can be a rewarding experience, both financially and otherwise.

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