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Money Habits

How to cut food costs –  4 lessons from my nan

Author: Sue-Ann Chan

04 July 2019

Each year the average Australian household forks out $12,300 for food and non-alcoholic drinks. This is pretty shocking considering that, according to OzHarvest, $3800 worth of groceries sits at the bottom of our bins.

When I think of these figures, I think of my nan—small and round in a floral-print dress, big steaming pot of stew in hand. She'd frown and mutter about "youngins these days" not knowing the value of a "good homecooked dinner". As a domestic connoisseur, she's dedicated her life to the art of a hearty, economical meal. And in our hectic modern world, we could use some nan wisdom to trim those food budgets!

Lesson #1: Value leftovers

My nan never wastes. She turns bones into soup stock, and always finds a home for that last chicken wing—whether it's in the stomach of a force-fed guest or tucked in the fridge for tomorrow's omelette.

You don't have to force feed your dinner guests to apply nan's anti-waste principles. Simply save all leftovers, no matter how small. Get creative and craft full meals out of table scraps: think stir fries, or sandwiches stuffed with shredded chicken. Even the most minimal scraps can become pasta toppings or salad condiments. And my nan was right about the humble omelette—it's the best blank canvas for eclectic embellishments.

Lesson #2: Shop around

The fresh fish section at the supermarket is my nan's version of Disneyland. She finds endless entertainment in comparing costs and cuts of fish, then moves on to tackle the other aisles.

You can still get the best food bargains without pitching a tent at your local grocer's. Just be more attentive on supermarket runs, and tailor meals around sale items! Shop around before committing to any can of beans (or even any grocery store)!

Consider bargain-rich Asian grocers, or that family-owned shop down the street. Don't be afraid to stray from big names—after all, nan's second favourite hangout is the simple outdoor fish market!

Lesson #3: Plan your meals

My nan plans meals like she's plotting a political takeover, her kitchen turning into a warzone of scattered recipe books and scribbles.

Weekly meal planning is the most cost-effective way to maximise food resources. Cook in batches and freeze small portions for cheap, easy dinners (nan always cooks fresh, but we can keep a secret). Planning your diet in advance also stops you from shopping excessively and contributing to the nation's $20 billion-dollar food waste pile.

A food budget may give structure to your meal planning. Suncorp's Everyday Options Account can simplify the financial planning process by letting you create up to 9 sub-accounts—all of which you can customise the names of. Our free budget planner will also help you keep track of all those numbers, because let's face it—it's tricky, especially when you're mentally juggling various budgets (as we all do). Open a bank account online and prepare a food budget free of fees and charges!

Discover Everyday Options Accounts

Lesson #4: Grow your own food

My nan has her own vegetable garden, tending to spinach sprouts and saplings like they are her own grandchildren.

Modern lifestyles and the space constraints that come with them can limit our veggie-growing opportunities, so I'm not suggesting we all grow a pumpkin patch in the bathtub of our high-rise apartment.

But you can embrace nan's tips in small ways. It's easy to grow a tabletop herb jungle with old tins and patient fingers. If space is a big issue you don't need to dedicate an entire surface to gardening—a little section of a work desk will do, or the odd bookshelf corner. If you have a balcony you could even upcycle large plastic containers to plant vegetables (yes, actual vegetables). Cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli are particularly adaptable to apartment-living. Throw some paint around and you've got edible home décor! Nan-approved!

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