If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ll know that I set myself a challenge to spend less on groceries in March. The goal was to spend less on groceries, ideally R3000 or less (and then keep the spend down going forward), but more importantly to use some of the saved money to bless someone else. You can read more of the background here. Whatever your reasons are for wanting to spend less on your groceries, I hope that there is something you can take away from this post.
Firstly, how much did I actually spend?
I didn’t find it all that hard to keep our spend down to R3000. We cut out a few more luxury items, but we didn’t really have to skimp. With a few days to go we had R37 left to spend (and some extra tension in our marriage…), but in the end we made it out on R3002,30. I’m pretty happy with that, BUT it does also feel a little fake in some ways. I’ll get to that later though.
How did I save money?
- Plan. I always intend on planning meals, but basically never get to doing it. This means I’m often running to the shop just before I need to start cooking dinner to get the last ingredients. It also means that when I try do a bigger shop I just buy a whole bunch of general ingredients that I regularly use, rather than buying ingredients for specific meals. This often leads to wastage, especially of fresh ingredients.
This month I tried to meal plan. I went through a few recipe books and magazines and wrote out a list of meals that I wanted to make. From the list of meals I then scheduled a few of them into the upcoming week. From there I made a shopping list of everything extra I needed to purchase.
- Fewer, bigger and more intentional shops. Planning ahead meant that I could buy most of the ingredients for the week’s meals on the weekend. I still like to buy fresh items in the week, but popping into the shop with a small set list of essentials is much safer for me. Regular shops without that plan will inevitably result in buying extra junk food or treats that I really don’t need.
- Eat left overs. We’ve always been happy to eat left overs for dinner the next day. Cooking once for two nights is a win in my books. These leftovers must be planned into the meal plan though, otherwise you’ll be buying ingredients for double the number of meals you need and then wasting. If you don’t enjoy the same meal for two nights in a row, try keep it in the fridge and skip a night or freeze it and have it the following week. We generally still do the rice, pasta or veg fresh on the day, but those are the low effort parts of most meals.
- Make use of vouchers. We are fortunate enough to sometimes be able to get Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths food vouchers with our Discovery Vitality Rewards points. I could also use them for smoothies or treats, but choosing to use them on groceries (most of the time) is a good way to help save money. In a similar way, if you have a Pick ‘n Pay smart shopper card, regularly check what discounts you can add to your card. They are available to you, but without manually adding them to your card they’re wasted. It takes a few minutes, but it all helps. I know some people get amazing discounts with eBucks. Bottom line, if you’re signed up for any sort of rewards programme, make sure you understand how it works and maximise its benefits.
- Stay accountable. Knowing that I was going to be reporting back to someone on the amount spent really made me more likely to stick to the limit I’d set for myself.
It still feels a bit fake though
While I kept a very true record of the amount of money spent, it still doesn’t feel like a true reflection on what I would be spending on an ongoing basis. We had quite a bit of food filling up our freezer and cupboards. It was really great to use some of that up, but it does mean that we were essentially eating food bought in another month’s spend. I had also done a biggish shop at the end of February, which included nappies and cleaning products.
Having a goal for a single month meant that I was sometimes tentative to buy food in bulk. While bulk generally works out cheaper in the long run, it wouldn’t have helped for March alone.
The money saving way forward
A true reflection of any money saving will be in an ongoing average monthly spend. I am going to keep tracking my spend (to add extra accountability to myself) and see what I can manage. Planning ahead really made such a difference to me. Not only in wasting less, but cooking also wasn’t as much of a mission when I knew way ahead of time what I needed to make. It took away an extra decision that had to be made each day and that was such a relief!
A note on priorities
We’ve also realised again that food is the one place where we sometimes need to spend a bit more, for our own sake. In general both Michael and I are pretty thrifty, sometimes to our own detriment. We probably buy new clothes less than we should, we seldom go away on holiday and we are slow to spend money on most things that are not necessities. Food is the one place where we’re happy to spend just a little bit more to be able to freely have small treats. While saving and being wise with money is important, it should never be done just for the sake of saving and to the detriment of your own mental health. Sometimes the right thing to do is spend a bit more. Balance, always balance.
In my intro blog post I went into much more detail about the challenge to use money wisely and help others with what we’ve been given. Our church is currently running a drive to collect essential items for moms and newborn babies in a local community very close to us. I’ll be using money saved from March to contribute towards that. I’m quite excited to go and do a shop for that and see the physical benefit that my saving can have for other people.
Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.