In a previous post I claimed that we were “supermarket ninjas” and Mellopuffy asked how we managed on so little each week.
I’ve been thinking about this, and I think comes down to these things:
1. Kathy is a vegetarian, and I only eat meat dinners maybe half the week. When I look at our grocery bill, the priciest regular items are wine and meat. If we both ate meat in typical New Zealand portions every night, our grocery bill would be a lot larger.
2. We buy very little in the way of processed food. No biscuits, no cakes, no muesli bars, no pre-made sauce, no packet mixes or tinned soups. I make our bread from scratch, and usually our yoghurt. If I want baking to take somewhere, or for an occasion, I bake. I have a good repertoire of dinner dishes that don’t take much when I’m tired, so I don’t need sauce in a jar.
I think the bread in itself is good for about $10 in savings a week. We would normally go through three loaves and that would be over $12 at supermarket, whereas the ingredients for a home made loaf total less than a dollar.
Because of points 1 & 2, we incidentally have a pretty healthy diet, which is a happy bonus effect.
Of course cooking everything and avoiding treats is a lot easier when you don’t have children, and I know that plenty of grownups would balk at not having any snack food in the house. Well, tough. That’s how it’s done. My Mum always said if you weren’t hungry enough to eat an apple or make a cheese sandwich, then you weren’t hungry.
Cooking is like any other skill — if you do it every day, you can achieve a tolerable level of efficiency, whereas if you only do it when you have plenty of time, you will probably stay an inefficient bungler and packets really will always be easier.
Example super cheap, fast meal for low-energy evenings:
Pasta with broccoli sauce. Chop broccoli into tiny pieces, mince a couple of cloves of garlic, saute in olive oil with pepper until broccoli is cooked (put a lid on the pan for the last couple of minutes and the broccoli will steam). Toss through rigatoni or similar with grated cheese on top and maybe some more oil. Should take 20 minutes or less, and is very tasty.
I find Italian cookbooks particularly inspirational because lots of country food from that region is cheap, fast, and based around seasonal vegetables, and tasty with a little sharp cheese, oil and pepper. An interesting thing I’ve found is that nice cheese and good oil seem like luxuries, but they’re actually condiments that you use in small amounts to make much bigger quantities of cheap stuff nicer. So I tend not to be so hard-arsed about olive oil and cheese.
3. I buy our fruit and veg at the market on a Sunday, and that’s about 30% cheaper than the cheapest supermarket I know of. It is another trip in my week, but on the other hand I enjoy the market as a social experience. I often spend some of the savings on a roti or a dim sum or something too…
4. We shop at the cheapest supermarket in the area. Last weekend I spent a New World gift voucher, and I noticed how much more expensive New World prices are compared to the Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save, confirming for me the claim that they are the cheapest supermarket in Wellington. I’m pretty sure I’d have to spend a significant amount in transport to go anywhere cheaper.
5. We are sensible buyers: we stockpile when staples are on special, diligently compare unit prices, and always use a shopping list.
6. We buy in bulk when we can. For example, I buy my bread flour in 5kg sacks. If I had suitable storage, I’d probably buy 10kg ones. Likewise I buy olive oil in 4l tins, onions in 5kg bags, and meat by the half carcass when the freezer has space. Moore Wilson wholesale is not as cheap as it used to be, I reckon, but still turns up some good prices on catering sized stuff. Basically, if it doesn’t go off before we can finish it, and we have room to store it, I’ll invest in any large portion.
In summary, I’d say it’s cooking our own semi-vegetarian diet that really makes the big difference. It’s the nice food from simple ingredients that backs my claim “we eat well.” But there are some other things that help too, allowing me to blow some money on wine and chocolate out of the surplus.