Food shopping hacks: 17 ways to save money at the checkout

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 15 April 2020

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

Fires, floods and pestilence – it’s been a crazy start to the year, and the ongoing disruptions continue to hit grocery prices hard. Just as farmers were getting back to normal after battling drought, smoke haze, fire, and flood, Covid-19 hit, causing panic-buying that sent prices soaring. 

Farmers are struggling to keep up with demand, many staples are rationed in shops, and sales of online fruit and vegetable boxes have doubled, with some outlets reporting 10-fold increases. 

So how do you keep up your five-a-day without breaking the bank? 

Mother and daughter pushing trolley through supermarket


Jody Allen became an expert at frugal living when she lost her job while pregnant and half-way through building her dream home. But she learnt from the experience and has since written four books on living “lean, not mean”. 

“I enjoy the challenge of thinking outside the square in terms of substituting other things if I’m missing ingredients for recipes. For instance, apple sauce can be used instead of sugar in cakes, and you can use flax seeds instead of eggs, or a bit of extra butter.”

Jody’s husband is allergic to gluten, eggs and dairy, so she has found cheap options to meet those needs, too. “You can pay $11 a loaf for gluten-free bread,” she exclaims. “I buy gluten-free flour in bulk from the baker and it works out at $1.50 a loaf home made; some savings like that need a bit of extra money up front, but it’s worth it.” 

The beauty of the lockdown, Jody says, is that we have a bit more time on our hands. “Planning meals is a great way to save. I try to think about the next evening’s meal the night before. I check what needs eating first to avoid waste, then get something out of the freezer or soak some beans to avoid the temptation of ordering takeaway. 

Here are some tips, both for smart buying and making the most of what you have.

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


17 ways to save money on groceries



Avoid overspending

Never shop hungry, take a list and, if you can, leave the kids at home too! 

Make extra

It’s cheaper to cook in bulk and use leftovers for lunches, to freeze, or tweak into a different meal. 

Visit the market

City and suburban markets, plus farmers’ markets, are still open and are often cheaper than shops, plus 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. For accredited markets, visit vfma.org.au.

Do your research

Check online catalogues for prices, or visit ozbargain.com.au and don’t get sucked in by shops’ ‘loss leaders’ that lure you in, only to sell you other stuff at higher-than-normal prices while you’re there. Check small international grocers too; they often have cheaper prices. 

Get smart at reading prices

Learn when your local supermarket marks down goods (usually at the end of the day) and don’t believe ‘SPECIAL!!’ labels - often these products are 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. 

Shave five per cent off your grocery bill

RACV Members can take five per cent off their grocery bill by pre-purchasing a Woolworths Wish e-Gift card online. Simply follow this link to the Woolworths RACV Member Offer website, enter your membership details, then redeem your gift card at thousands of participating stores across Australia. 

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 localfood 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 connect (from a distance). 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 an (online) food swap

With many face-to-face food swaps cancelled, gardeners with spare harvest are going online to exchange. Some sell their excess, while others will swap for fresh fruit or vegetables, home-baked goods, preserves, recipes, vegie seeds or 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. 

Make temporary plants

Another trick to keep food fresh – especially excess spring onions or leeks with roots – is to plant them temporarily in a pot filled with potting mix; the roots will regrow, keeping the plants fresh until you use them. 

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.

Get inspired online

Faced with a motley array of ingredients and no ideas, try searching online for recipes; you may be pleasantly surprised. Also seek suggestions from sites such as Jamie Oliver's Keep Cooking and Carry OnStayAtHomeMum.com.au, Cheapskatesclub.net or the charity LiveBelowTheLine.com.au, which challenges people to live on $2 a day. 



Jody’s books, including The $50 Weekly Shop and Live Well on Less, are printed by Penguin Australia and available at good bookshops.

RACV Members save 5% on pre-purchased Woolworths WISH Gift Cards*