Supermarket hacks: 11 ways to save money on groceries

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 28 February 2020

Save on grocery bills with these money-saving hacks to beat fruit and veg price hikes.

The fires are finally out after one of the hottest, most disaster-hit summers on record – but the after-effects are still being felt. As regional Australia takes stock and starts the slow recovery, shoppers across the country are still seeing shortages of fresh produce and higher prices on grocery shelves.

Couple shopping at farmer's market

 

The causes are complex, says Shaun Lindhe, of AusVeg, which represents vegetable growers nationally. “Not that many farms were directly impacted by fires but road closures led to detours of up to 750 kilometres, and more perishable crops were affected by longer transit times,” he says. 

Other issues include smoke haze slowing the growth rates of some crops, the ongoing consequences of the drought and, ironically, damage from rain, hail and increased humidity on crops in areas where the drought has broken. 

While recovery times will be long-term for the likes of apple growers and winemakers whose orchards and vineyards burnt, market gardeners growing fresh produce should bounce back sooner. 

“However, you may have to adjust your expectations in terms of aesthetics,” says Jim Ball, a partner in Victorian Farmers Direct. “The impact is more about the way things are looking; produce is still coming through but if you’re looking for that perfect shape you’ll find they’re more stunted and odd shaped.”

Those national shortages also mean $4 lettuces and $3.50 cucumbers – when you can find them. So how do you keep up your five-a-day without breaking the bank? 

Woman shopping in fresh food aisle at supermarket
Bulk foods shop selling mixed nuts and seeds in self serve


11 ways to save money on vegetables 



Visit the market

Not only are markets generally cheaper than shops, you’ll be able to barter a little. Go with a friend and see if you can’t get a better price for buying a whole box, or wait until half an hour before closing and snap up some bargains. 

Get smart at reading prices

Don’t get sucked into buying the items that are marked SPECIAL – they’re often not the cheapest. Instead, compare the price by weight of similar products. It’s nearly always cheaper, for example, to buy a single red capsicum, a green capsicum, and a yellow capsicum separately rather than a plastic-wrapped trio pack that includes one of each. 

Support local farmers

Visit farmers' markets, which cut out the middle-men. Buying here means your grocery money directly supports their whole region. For a list of markets, visit: vfma.org.au/

Find a local co-op

Find a local food co-op, where buyers group together to buy in bulk and share the savings. Some focus on all-organic food (which can cost a little more), and you may have to drive to a local pick-up for your weekly box of fruit and veg, but it’s a great way to meet neighbours. Other co-ops only buy from farmers within a certain distance, reducing food miles and supporting local industry. Visit: ceresfairfood.org.au or localharvest.org.au or victorianfarmersdirect.com.au.

Buy direct

If you’re travelling, take the time to check out local producers in the area, whether it’s a pick-your-own berry farm or roadside stall run by a local grower. Try this list for starters: pickyourown.org/australiavic.htm

Find a food swap

Many home gardeners produce enough in their own backyards to share, and local food swaps offer a chance to offload excess. Ideally, take something you’ve grown, but many swaps also accept home-baked goods, preserves, recipes, vegie seeds or little jam jars. Visit: localfoodconnect.org.au/food-swaps/

Grow your own

Nearly every home can find a spot for half a dozen lettuces and some herbs. Loose-leaf lettuces do especially well over winter and you can harvest the outside leaves within weeks. Plant as an ornamental edge to a garden bed or, if you’re limited to balconies and courtyards, try them in a large pot or styrofoam box. Failing that, you can always grow some sprouts in an old jam jar!

Store produce properly

Vegies produce ethylene gas as they ripen - and emit more if damaged. To reduce food rotting, store it in breathable bags in the chiller section of your fridge, and keep the ventilation tabs open. Herbs keep best stored like a cut flower in a vase of water; basil may even grow roots and you can pot it up. 

Avoid waste

There are lots of great ways to reduce food waste. Use peelings and offcuts to make vegetable stock, and  preserve excess food for later: green beans can be pickled, cabbage fermented, lemons salted and tomatoes bottled. To freeze greens, blanch quickly in boiling water, then plunge into cold water, pat dry and freeze in ziplock bags. 

Find alternatives to fresh 

Frozen peas are nearly as tasty as fresh; corn is sweet from a tin; sauerkraut makes a great variation on coleslaw and gherkins will add crunch to a sandwich. 

Use specialist shops

It might be convenient to buy everything in the supermarket, but often the local butcher offers meat at a lower price per kilo, same with spices and dried foods at the nut shop, and flowers from the florist.

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