August 31, 2008

Sue’s comment got me thinking.

I think sometimes pack n save is not always the cheapest supermarket in wellington.

I’m a big fan of stocking up during the regular, new world specials which pack n save never get close to

At our house we don’t have a fireplace, so I didn’t think there was any reason to remove the “no circulars” sign when we moved in. (Why pay for firelighters when you can burn circulars?) But clearly, this means we are missing out on finding out about good specials at New World.

One of our eventual aims here at Frugal Me is to organise a collective “good deal alert system” for Wellington: whether as a mailing list, a Twitter feed, a wiki, or some other way we haven’t decided.

In the meanwhile, it seems that lots of people are thinking about where they spend their grocery budget. Here are my grocery habits for your review. Bear in mind that we live in Hataitai, and I don’t want to spend lots of time and fuel cris-crossing town, which strikes me as false economy.

We always have a shopping list for the supermarket, and we try to stick to it. But instead of racking my brains to create one from scratch every week, I have a standard list that I print out (cost about 5c) and I cross off things that we don’t need. I find it easier to make sure we’ve caught everything that way.

We buy most “dry goods” at the Kilbirnie Pak’n’save, and some staples. Allegedly, they are the cheapest supermarket in the area, and I think that’s true. It’s weird, because the Woolworths directly across the street is supposed to be Wellington’s most expensive supermarket. If there is a good deal I have no compunction about getting several units of any imperishable item. They’re cunning there though; you have to watch out for things that are cheaper by weight in the small package than in the big one.

(Interesting analysis here from Bernard Hickey on why Foodstuffs supermarkets are cheaper and better).

I always pay at the supermarket with a credit card. Credit card transactions are free, I pay the card off every month so there’s no interest, and my bank accounts pay interest on the average balance, so I want to keep that as high as possible. Yes, I am that mingy. 25c a week is $13 a year, you know. Wouldn’t you like to find $13 in your jacket pocket? I would.

Fruit and vegetables we buy at the Waitangi Park market. I sometimes get meat there too. It’s quite good discipline because you can only pay cash, so I get $15 or $20 and see what I can do with it. I am now in the habit of doing a complete circumnavigation of the market to scope out prices and quality before I buy anything.

If I’m in the area, I get meat at the halal butcher in Newtown, which has the best-trimmed, leanest, cheapest meat in Wellington by my estimation. You’re not going to get any pork there, obviously… Also, it’s a family business run by pleasant people, and I like patronising small businesses of that nature.

I buy flour, oil, and similar staples in the largest quantities I can at Moore Wilson wholesale. You have to be careful there because all their pricing is ex-GST, but they are still generally cheaper than the supermarket.

And that’s it. Apparently we spend about half what the Otago University Food Cost survey suggests, which I simply cannot understand. I’m good, but I’m not that good. There’ll be a post in that when I’ve done some analysis.

So folks: where do you shop, how do you shop, and why? Could I do better if I tweaked our routine?



  1. We shop all over the place, depending on what we need and what direction we’re going in for other reasons. Although we try to be frugal (I hate waste and I also hate false economy), we also value quality. I’d rather buy a little bit of high quality food than a large amount of low quality food. I make lots from scratch (bread, muesli, yogurt, sauces…), which minimizes the need for buying packaged pre-prepared food, so I don’t feel guilty about spending a bit more for quality. We still spend a lot less than some of our friends.

    Fruit & vege come from the garden and from the Wairarapa CSA Simply Good Food (which is probably the cheapest way to buy organic fruit and vege). Beans and lentils come from CSO as they are non-heat treated so cook properly. Bread flour also come from CSO as its proper high gluten flour.

    Fish and meat usually come from Moore Wilsons as I’ve been disgusted at the hygiene at our local supermarket. We also get a lot of our bulk staples there like rice, pasta, and canned tomatoes. And of course booze – great range and really well priced.

    Other staples, cat food, and bog paper come from the local Woolworths (Crofton) or Countdown in J’vlle. Sometimes we’ll go to one of the New Worlds in town or Pak ‘n Save in Petone, but usually only if we’re going in that direction for other reasons.

    Oh and nuts from the Nut Shop in upper Cuba St.

    And yes, we always buy on credit card too and pay it off each month (note that MW doesn’t take credit cards). Not a scheme that works for everyone, but it does for us.

  2. I find a useful way of cutting down on supermarket spending is to use Maggie’s stroller as a shopping basket rather than transferring her into a trolley which she then spends the entire trip trying to plummet out of. (Or from which she can lean over and grab things off the conveyor belt.) And while it’s surprising how much you can actually cram into a stroller, it’s also imposes useful limits on impulse/false economy spending.

  3. I don’t tend to use shopping lists (beyond “if you do not leave the supermarket with this item, you have failed” sort of thing), but I do keep a running tally as I go. This started because the local supermarket kept rejecting my debit card, necessitating getting out cash from the money machine before the trip. Round everything up to the nearest 50c, make a rough guess on weight of fruit and veg, and you’re golden. Makes you think about the exact cost of things, and ensures you stick to your budged (there’s no point going up with a basket worth $102 if you’ve only got $100 in your pocket).

    Pak & Save actually facilitate this – if you use their ‘scan it yourself as you go’ thingie, you can get a running total by pressing the ‘i’ button.

    I find this works really well for me.

    Blimey, the missus!

  4. I’m that mingy – I have the credit card set up to direct debit too, so it always pays off on the due date so we never get interest charged. Also have a cashbacks credit card so the account fees are paid by the cashbacks each year and we have a bit over.

    I agree with the false economy of driving across town to save money – we get the Woolworths, Countdown and New World Flyers in the mail and just stock up when they’re having specials. Woolworths must hate us because all we ever buy from there are store brands and specials in limited quantities.

    I still haven’t worked out an optimal system for fruit and veges, other than if you buy a bag of stir fry mix, although it seems more expensive than other frozen veges, for a small household it’s cheaper than buying fresh and watching it rot when you can’t eat it all in a week. (And I note that ‘what’s really in our food’ indicated that frozen is just as good as fresh, nutrition wise.) If anyone has tips for buying fruit and veges that don’t involve driving a petrol-using car to a market in Wellington, I’d love to hear them 🙂

  5. Janet – the obvious tip there is, don’t drive a petrol-using car to market. Walk or ride a bike to the market. A 40ltr backpack can hold way, way more fresh veges than you can use in a week.

  6. Ummmm…. walking and biking are not always practical.

    Walking to a market and back from my house would probably take at least half a day, and I don’t have access to a bike, nor yet the level of fitness (still having not developed it following an illness a while ago) to cope with riding up the hill to my house.

    But, I could catch a bus. My main issue with a bus, is, that it takes a significant chunk of time out of one of the weekend days to get to the market and back, if it needs to be timed with the buses. (Which also appear to have become rather more unreliable following being taken over by Go Wellington.)

    Having said that, I do walk at least half the way to work every day, and don’t commute using a car. I appreciate that a car is a luxury, and not always feasible. Driving less is a very easy way to save money as well as the planet.

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