In this article, Caitriona from Wholesome Ireland gives some money saving tips for families and household budgeting advice and shows you how to save money on groceries and still eat healthily.
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Over the last few years we have had to budget as a family so it’s fair to say I have mastered some tricks to help keep our food costs down. Hopefully you can learn from me and help save money!
My Top Money Saving Tips for Families
#Tip 1: Eat Less Meat
Meat can be expensive
It’s no secret that meat can be one of the most expensive parts of your grocery budget. If you want to eat free range, organic meat you will already be paying a premium. If like me, you’ve waved goodbye to that luxury a while back you’ll also understand that finding good value (Irish) meat is difficult.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that you should buy anything other than Irish meat, although I’m sure you can find cheaper than I already do in supermarkets and some butchers around Ireland.
If you come from a dedicated family of carnivores you may find this difficult to start with, so to begin try cutting back to eating meat with just 1 meal a day. By 1 meal a day I mean no meat with your breakfast or lunch, for example in sandwiches or wraps.
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Try alternative proteins
The actual amount of protein that we as humans need to survive is relatively low compared to the portion sizes of the meat that we are used to eating. Take your average chicken breast for example, you can easily feed 2 adults enough protein from 1 of these alone.
There are plenty of alternatives to meat proteins that you can eat instead of a slice of ham for your lunch or a sausage at breakfast time. Some of these would be eggs, cheese, fish, beans, pulses and lentils.
Change the way you shop for meat
When considering how to eat less meat you also need to take a look at how you shop for meat. Instead of buying individual pieces of meat and poultry for the week ahead, then plan your meals out loosely and buy cuts of meat that will last for at least 2 meals.
A whole medium chicken roasted becomes one family dinner, then you pick it for leftover meat, make stock and then have a nourishing chicken noodle soup, savoury cupcakes or cold salad in a jar for dinner the following day.
By feeding the family twice from 1 purchase you’re getting value for money along with great nourishment for just 1 chicken.
1.5kg piece of ham becomes a main meal and then maybe a ham hock terrine for the following day. Or perhaps the stock from the ham can be used to make a beautiful pea and ham soup? You can even reserve some sneaky slices for those who do like a ham sandwich every now and again!
I’m a big believer in the KISS method – Keep It Simple Stoopid………
There’s no need to complicate your food or your budget. Wholesome, beautiful homecooked food on a budget is within your reach. With just 1 chicken and 1 piece of ham you can feed your family 4 dinners in one week. Both of which can be bought for under €10 (for the chicken and ham together) in your local supermarket if you’re on a tight budget.
By buying your meat in this manner you’ll also reduce your food waste. What’s not to love?
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#Tip 2: Be Prepared with Essential Equipment
How prepared are you for going shopping? Really? Here’s some shopping kit that you may already be using and others that you may not.
These little fiddly plastic clips are worth far more than you pay for them. From holding freezer bags of sweetcorn or peas closed in the freezer, to keeping bags of sugar tightly closed or cereal etc, storage clips are a fantastic investment.
By using them on every open packet you have, you’ll cut down on waste from items spilling out and you’ll also save on food because it will last longer. If you are very stuck and have none in the house a hairgrip will do the job either.
Positives: Cheap to buy, easily replaced.
Negatives: Fiddly to catch, not for those with arthritis in their hands.
I like to use heavy “kilner” style jars because they wash well and are great for storing jams, chutneys and preserves when they’re not holding dried goods. It’s expensive to buy a good number of these at once.
They are relatively inexpensive when bought in IKEA but you will also find them cheap enough in your local hardware or homeware store. To cut down on costs buy a packet of storage clips to start and then buy a jar once a week until you have the required number.
Positives: Good for sterilising, durable. Essential if you have a risk of rodent infestation over the winter as they are impossible to get into.
Negatives: Expensive to buy, glass can break, unless cleaned well and dried well after every use they will get a bad stale smell.
Not just for sandwiches, freezer bags are always on my shopping list. I bulk buy meat and separate it into meal sized portions when I get home, then package them into the bags before putting into the freezer.
Great for popping spare egg whites into before lashing into the freezer (perfect for macarons), a thick freezer bag can double up as a disposable piping bag when you’re stuck.
Sandwich bags also serve as perfect glove covers when it snows, preventing kids hands from getting wet when making snowballs. Just remember to keep a stash of elastic bands on standby to stop them slipping off.
Positives: Cheap to buy, handy around the house.
Negatives: Flimsy bags can crack and break in the freezer so be careful with what you buy, not very eco-friendly.
Update: there are lots of reusable sandwich bag options available to buy on Amazon.co.uk.
Bring your own bags when shopping. If you get caught short and need to buy a roll of bags in the shop, chances are you’re going to have split shopping bags by the time you get home.
That’s at a minimum, you run the risk of broken/damaged shopping as well. I use a stash of cotton, washable bags that I’ve accumulated over a couple of years along with strong laminated woven ones as well.
Positives: You’ll save money in the long run, good for the environment.
Negatives: Always having to remember the blinking things before you go shopping!
Yes, yes I know you have to have money to go shopping!
Seriously though do you bring cash?
With the advent of Laser/Visa Debit/Credit Cards, it has become more easy to pay with a card when you reach the till. This also means that it’s far easier to pay for a bigger bill than you intended. It’s hard to stick to a budget when you don’t have a defined amount of money before you start.
The easiest way to deal with this is to take out your cash budget before you go shopping. It sharpens the mind and is a constant reminder that you only have that amount to work with.
Positives: Reminds you of your budget, you only spend what you have.
Negatives: It could be embarrassing if you overspend by the time you get to the till.
This might seem incredibly obvious but you’d be surprised at the amount of people who go to the shops with a list in their heads. This makes you vulnerable to impulse buys, not coming home with everything you need and wasting your time wandering around the shops looking for x, y & z.
Write your list down before you go. If you’re too embarrassed to carry your shopping list around scrawled on the back of a used envelope (who me?) then save your list to the notes in your phone instead.
Positives: You only buy what you need.
Negatives: It takes a bit of time before you go shopping.
Extra Shopping Tips:
- Where possible, only one person should go shopping. Extra people put extra stuff in trolleys. Himself calls them the “sneaky, sneakies”, I call them budget busters.
- If you do have to bring kids, bring along stuff that will distract smallies in the trolley like a favourite toy. For older kids challenge them to work out prices per 100g etc as they go around which should distract them from the goodies.
- If you’re on a really tight budget, use a calculator on your phone as you go around the store to tot up your expenditure. That way you won’t get any nasty surprises by the time you checkout.
#Tip 3: Know What You Have
This is possibly one of the biggest things you can do to save money on your grocery bills. Physically it’s going to take you a while so set a little bit of time aside to do it.
Just think about it, how can you go shopping for groceries when you don’t know what you have in the cupboard/freezer already? I know some of my readers are nodding their heads and saying “yes I know what I have” but do you really?
Do you have 3 bags of pasta because it’s the one thing you always put in the trolley out of habit?
Are there more than 2 bottles of washing up liquid under your sink?
For years I used to go shopping with my hubby and unpack the bags afterwards and find a packet of pot scrubs and a box of bags for making ice. He would insist we needed them and I never even thought to check because I always had a constant supply. The day I opened the press under the sink to do our first stocktake I discovered over 10 packets of each.
Which meant that if we hadn’t bought these items (that we used, just not that frequently) on our shopping trips each week we would have saved €3 a week for 10 weeks. So that’s a saving of €30 over time.
What could you do with €30? It’s a trip to the cinema for 2, meat for our family for 2 weeks, a new pair of quality shoes for one of the kids. Look you get the idea.
After some feedback from readers and users of my stocktaking sheets I’ve altered them to make more space for the hoarders amongst you.
I tend to do a stocktake once a month to make sure I keep on track but even if you do it a few times a year you will save money and waste less food.
There’s no need to make it a chore, get the kids involved. It’s a great way to practise their writing and number skills, let them choose what they want for dinner from the cupboards when you’re done.
Once you know what you have then it’s easier to work out what you need.
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#Tip 4: Don’t Be Duped
Know Your Nose
Have you noticed the smell of freshly baked bread enticing you as you walk past the supermarket, and yet walked in to discover that the bread section is down the back of the store? Don’t be surprised, this is an old supermarket trick to suck you in on the promise of a freshly baked good.
If you’re hungry, you’ll wander through the supermarket on the way to the bread section filling your trolley with some impulse buys because you were hungry before you went in, and the scent of bread baking is driving your taste buds wild.
This is why you should always eat a good, decent meal before you go shopping. It’s harder to make feel hungry when you’re already full.
In my local supermarket they have taken this scent-filled experience and pipe the smell of cooking roast meats into the charcuterie (cooked meats) section so be aware of all scents when you’re shopping, not just that of baking bread.
You could deter those pesky smells by daubing Vicks Vaporub under your nostrils or dabbing Karvol around your person before going shopping. I do find that if I’m aware of it then I’m less likely to be taken in.
On other days though I confess to having to grab a fresh roll or two to satisfy the yearning. Himself (until he copped the deception) used to lob 2 bags of freshly baked doughnuts into the trolley before we got as far as the first aisle. Ah yes, some of the most tempting, and sweet goodies tend to be located very close to the entrance to suck you in too!
Watch The Bottom Line
Now I don’t mean your grocery budget for a change, what I mean is the small print at the bottom of the pricing ticket on the shelf below the items. If you are long sighted, then be sure to bring your reading glasses or a magnifying glass, this print is teeny, tiny, small.
The small print is how you figure out if you’re getting value for money. If you’re buying flour, it will tell you the price per kg or g, if you’re buying nappies, it will tell you the price per nappy. This makes sense when you’re trying to figure out what size packet is best value to pick up.
For example, by looking at the bottom line on the ticket, I can tell you that own brand Wheat Biscuits in my local supermarket are cheaper to buy if you pick up 2 packets of 24 rather than a bulk buy packet of 48. Same number at the end, just cheaper in 2 packets than 1. You’d think it would be the other way around for buying in bulk and many people get taken in by that small detail on a daily basis.
End of Aisle Shouldn’t Always Be Your Style
Many, many years ago (I feel old now) I worked for a while for a retail marketing company. It was an eye opener let me tell you! The negotiations with the different producers for discounts, bulk discounts, aisle end features, how the discount would be applied etc.
The thing is that the aisle ends aren’t always the best of value but they are there to entice you to buy lots.
This is where your ability to read the bottom line comes in very handy.
It is very hard to resist the big flashy red and yellow stickers, displays and large pricing which appears to be cheap. Don’t be afraid to move away from the aisle end and check the items on their normal shelf to see what the regular price is.
Yellow Sticker Doesn’t Always Mean Great Value
This can be a handy way to reduce your grocery bill by purchasing yellow sticker items. However supermarkets have a trick of putting a yellow price ticket on the shelf when they want to attract your attention to a particular item.
It doesn’t always mean it’s good value. Again, stick to the bottom line and check the unit value before picking it up.
Bulk Buying Isn’t Always the Way
Now I do bulk buy but there are a few simple rules that I stick to, these are:
- I can afford them.
- I have the storage space for the items.
- I will use them (no point in picking up 10 jars of olives as we never eat them, even if they are on special).
- They will keep well.
For example, I can definitely bulk buy nappies when they are on special, however I wouldn’t always buy pineapples even if they were cheap because we’d rarely use more than 1 fresh pineapple in a week!
#Tip 5: Coupons, Stockpiling & Bargain Hunting
Couponing and stockpiling in Ireland is quite difficult to do. Coupons haven’t taken off here in the same way as it has in the US, you will rarely get an item for less than 50% of the recommended retail price (RRP), and if you do, it’s unlikely you’ll get more than 1.
The majority of suburban houses aren’t designed with pantry/larder storage in mind and so it’s nigh impossible to stockpile to any large extent unless you reassign a living area.
In my teeney, tiny galley kitchen I can store very little food and so I’ve converted a small part of the understairs area by putting in a bookshelf on which I store food.
Related to couponing but not quite, you can accumulate store loyalty tokens and these will then be translated into discounts, coupons or vouchers for your shopping during the year. Both Tesco & Dunnes have a well worked out loyalty system so if that interests you then by all means sign up to receive quarterly discounts and extra offers in the post.
Here are a few sites that you can browse to your heart’s content and find discounts, bargain alerts and by doing this in advance of going shopping, you will be up to speed on the latest information on markdowns in your local supermarket, how much discount your coupons will get you etc.
Pigsback.com is the biggest go-to site for a large number of coupons all at once in Ireland
Positives: The coupons can be printed off more than once. They are generally quite good value.
Negatives: Some of the grocery items can be obscure and highly branded so you can choose a cheaper own-brand version rather than use the coupons in the first place. You do have to register with the site before being able to print off coupons.
Boards Couponing Forum
Boards Couponing Forum is great for discussion and pointers on all things couponing in Ireland.
Positives: It’s regularly updated and you can keep up to speed with most of the coupons that are available in the Irish market.
Negatives: If you want to participate in the discussion then you will need to register. It can be a bit militant at times.
Boards Bargain Alerts Forum
A very, very busy forum focused on discounts, which also has a section for bargain alerts requests which is handy too.
Positives: Very fast moving and out of date bargains are marked as such as soon as the moderators become aware of that.
Negatives: If you’re not online at the right time you will miss certain bargains. Take all online mispricing bargains with a pinch of salt.
All household budgeting tips were provided by Caitriona from Wholesome Ireland.
Over to you now. Do you have any other money saving tips for families? Or a top household budgeting tip to share with other parents? Tell us about it in the comments below.