Saving money beyond the supermarket

grocery shopping

Have you taken the pledge to go supermarket free this month? Even if you’re not quite ready, today’s post looks at how to save money beyond the two-for-ones and spotlight specials.

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I have not shopped at Coles or Woolworths for more than six months and in that time I’ve worked out a few ways to extend my groceries budget, which I will share with you below. But first, I’ve got to let you in on a little secret…

Supermarkets do not save you money

Intellectually, I know you already know this. How can businesses with such enormous profit margins be geared towards saving us, their customers, money? It simply doesn’t make business sense. The big supers use a range of tricks to squeeze a few extra bucks out of you each time you visit their stores. These include:

  • the positioning of more expensive food items where you’re more likely to chose them;
  • “discounts” that don’t actually save money because you’re buying an inferior product or because the price was raised previously or because the price on another complementary item was raised to offset the discount on another*;
  • higher prices on bulk items because they know we assume bigger is cheaper (check those nappies twice!);
  • “loss leaders”: things like milk, bread, Barbecue Shapes or Coca-Cola – customers judge the overall value of their supermarket shop on a small number of essentials or regular buys. Only the most conscientious of us would compare the price of everything we buy with other sources.

*All this stuff (and much more) really goes on. If you’re a supermarket shopper, please read this article, The science that makes us spend more in the supermarkets and feel good doing it, or this article from the UK (in my opinion, Aussie supermarkets, particularly Coles, are inspired by British supermarkets).

It should also be said that supermarkets aren’t the only retailers that want us to part with more cash than we planned – such is the nature of commerce. It pays to be wise to all the tricks mentioned above no matter where you shop!

10 tips for saving money on your groceries

The following are tried and tested ways to save money without relying on the supermarket.

  1. Keep a master list
    In this post, I wrote about keeping a master list of your family staples for the sake of convenience. This can also help you be dollar-wise if you include the best price you’ve found and where it was.
  2. Only buy what you need
    Australians throw out a staggering amount of food – up to 40 percent. That equates to around $1000 per family each year. The nature of supermarket shopping makes it too easy to buy more than you can use, and sometimes things you don’t even want. When you make the switch to supermarket-free shopping, think carefully about how much you buy. You’ll probably find you are buying less, but still have plenty of food. Find out more about food waste here.
  3. Shop from your pantry
    Tricia from Little Eco Footprints recently wrote a great post about this. It’s one of the oldest money-saving tricks in the book: use what you have. There’s bound to be something in your pantry or freezer you can turn into a meal or three. Hold off shopping for a couple of days and get creative.
  4. Buy in bulk
    You may have heard this before but wondered what it actually means. It doesn’t mean buying three small packets of the same item for a discount, it means purchasing a larger volume of a kind of food in one package. Examples of the things I buy in bulk are bread flours, chickpeas, rice, olive oil and nuts. If I can’t afford to spend $100 on a few kilos of nuts one week, I will go to a bulk-food store (often a section in a health food store), where there are bins of grains, seeds, flours, spices and all kinds of things. I scoop what I need into a container or paper bag to be weighed. This is cheaper because the store has bought the food in bulk and there is no packaging involved. This is how co-ops work, but that’s a post for another day.
    Two great places to buy in bulk online are Honest to Goodness and Bulk Whole Foods.
  5. Shop at markets/roadside stalls
    I know for some it can be tricky to get to a market, but they are a great place to find seasonal, quality produce that lasts longer and tastes better. And I never go past a roadside stall selling avocados, tomatoes, strawberries or whatever is in season.
  6. Use everything as if it is running out
    Why is it that when the toothpaste tube is full we use twice as much? Instead of squeezing that tube like it’s a baby’s cheek, imagine you’re eking out the last pea-sized squeeze. Do the same for all personal-care and cleaning products. In other words, be stingy! As you know from the end of the toothpaste tube, you can make do with much less.
  7. Eat less processed food
    It’s true that most packaged foods cost more in corner shops and small independent supermarkets. My solution to this is to eat less of these things. I still can’t live without rice crackers, but I don’t actually need three packets a week. Know what I mean?
  8. Cook more from scratch
    Before mega food companies, we made things like sweet chilli sauce, yoghurt and biscuits. Although it may seem cheap to buy a pack of milk arrowroot for $2, you can make something far more nutritious with the bulk-purchased items in your pantry.
  9. Get creative
    I used to be a food planner, but now that I’m shopping differently, it suits me to keep an open mind. That means I can quickly incorporate a glut of zucchinis into the week’s meals or whatever else I’ve found cheap at the market.
  10. Let it come to you
    Having food delivered through a box scheme or something like Aussie Farmers Direct keeps you out of the store (any store!) and away from temptation.

Share your tips for saving $$ on groceries in the comments!

photo credit: Vince Alongi via photopin cc


  1. Eliza says

    We have been working towards being supermarket free for a few months now. The most regular thing that gets us back into the supermarket is the eco disposable nappies we buy that we can’t seem to find anywhere else. This week (determined to not step foot into Woolies this month at all) I ordered two boxes online much cheaper than in the supermarket (which covered the delivery cost). I’ll have to be organised! Also found tinned tomatoes (from Italy, though, which bothers me) and vinegar in the health food store. Visited our local IGA for a few bits and pieces. Have to be more creative about it, and am worried I’m spending more, but feel good about avoiding the big two. (I have been shopping more in Aldi since your posts on the topic, but I find their range frustrating…organic tomatoes from Italy or Australian tomatoes with sugar added…I really need to grow and tin my own, this dilemma throws me every time.)Thanks for keeping us aware and mentoring us on the journey.
    Eliza recently posted..The Minimalist GameMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Tinning tomatoes is like an end-goal for me. Maybe when my kids are in high school?! I buy SPC tinned Aussie toms from IGA for around $1.70. Remember, you can always use fresh tomatoes too :) If you’re worried about what you’re spending, jot it all down and compare next month. Stand by for my post on Aldi x

  2. Susan says

    I recently signed up with Aussie Farmers again after a long time not using them. But I’ve since cancelled it. I don’t find the quality that great and I found I was wasting too much fruit and veg, we couldn’t eat it all and I’d have to throw it in the compost.

    I know you can change your order each week, but remembering to do it in time was annoying, and a major part of online shopping is to save time and hassle right, which defeated the purpose.

    So I think I’m going back to the local grocer up the road to buy fruit & veg only when I need it.
    Susan recently posted..The (Toddler) Hunger GamesMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Bah, they’ve stopped delivering organic milk in QLD, which is crazy because it comes from just up the road… They’ve lost me for now, although I do like their sustainable barramundi…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge