Virginia Woolf once said that one cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well. I cannot agree more. There is, however, one very big snag.
We?ve recently witnessed dramatic increases in world food prices caused by a variety of factors including global warming, rising oil prices, the increasing use of biofuels in rich countries and growing meat consumption by the expanding middleclass populations of Asia.
Since 2006 the average world price for rice has risen by 217 percent, wheat by 136 percent, maize by 125 percent and soybeans by 107 percent. Milk and meat has more than doubled in the past year as price spikes hit all major foods in most countries at once.
Food is one of the most basic of human needs and we cannot do without, but food price inflation in South Africa running at 16 percent begs the question ? how can I provide my family with a balanced diet and a balanced budget?
"Heavenly Father, keep us alive. We've ten for dinner and food for five." Strike a chord? Read on and your prayers might just be answered...
Failing to plan is planning to fail
You?ll save a fortune if you know what you?re going to eat and when, so plan your menu and shopping list in advance.
Being so convenient, it?s easy to fall into the habit of buying take-away food. Instead, cook your meals ahead of time and store them in the freezer. Double or triple the amounts of ingredients you use and soon you?ll have built up loads of frozen meals. By planning and preparing larger meals you can buy in bulk, take advantage of sales and have the leftovers from dinner for lunch rather than wasting money on buying it at work.
When planning your meals, consider what you already have in stock and what?s on sale.
Restaurants regularly take inventory of the food they have and, if you?re serious about slashing food expenses, so should you. By taking stock you?ll eliminate waste. Take note of expiry dates and when you bought what.
An inventory of all the food you have in the house will help you compile a shopping list. Over time you?ll get a feel for your family?s consumption trends and this, in turn, will help you decide which items you should buy in bulk when they?re on special.
Keep a list of prices
Don?t rely on your memory! Get a small notebook that can easily fit in your pocket or handbag and list all the items you regularly buy. Each time you go shopping or browse through ads jot down the best price for every item you have listed as well as where you can find it.
Keeping a list of prices is a great way of knowing if a sale is truly a good deal.
Buy in bulk
Bulk buying is a huge money saver as it?s often cheaper to buy, say, a five kilogram bag of rice than five bags of a kilogram each. Be careful though as this is not always the case. Check the unit price (per litre, per kilogram, etc.) to ensure you?re really getting a good deal.
Check your price list when something you frequently buy goes on sale. If it?s really a bargain, buy as much as you have room for in your house or freezer.
Cheese is a great, but often overlooked bulk buy. Purchase large quantities when it?s on sale. Grate it, freeze it and only take out however much you need.
Only buy in bulk what won?t go to waste. For example, hoarding toothpaste is a smart move since you?ll be using it eventually and it won?t go bad while doing the same with avocadoes makes no sense.
Why not start a bulk buying co-op with your friends and neighbours? You?ll be able to cheaply purchase stuff like flour, sugar, mealie meal, eggs, etc. in huge quantities that you can divide up into more manageable portions.
Be loyal to yourself, not a brand
Consider all the brands that are available ? don?t be loyal to one.
?No-name? brands are usually of good quality and will typically save you money. In most cases these products contain the same ingredients as the branded ones and sometimes even come from the same production lines. Why pay for a fancy label?
Only buy seasonal fruit and stick to the markets
Fruit can be five times more expensive when they?re out of season. Some produce such as berries can easily be frozen to be used at a later date.
Buy from your local fruit and vegetable markets where you?ll often get it at wholesale prices.
Have breakfast for dinner
Breakfast is the most economical meal to make, so occasionally serve it for dinner. Having an omelette for dinner is a treat if you rarely have time for a large breakfast.
Spend 'this much and no more'
Don't plan on eating juicy steaks tonight if your budget only allows for chicken and pap. Change your outlook about food and your need to save money ? instead of complaining about eating chicken, think about how much healthier the chicken is for your family and your budget.
Make your menus and shopping list fit your budget not the other way around. Decide what you can afford and don't overspend.
Buy 'loss leaders'
It often happens that a supermarket will sell a certain product for less than the cost price. These so-called 'loss leaders' are meant to lure you into the store where you'll be tempted to buy other products besides the item on sale.
If you dash in and only buy the 'loss leader' you win. Don't start looking around; you'll be tempted to pack in something else in which case they win.
The hungry traveller
Saving money on food when you're travelling is mainly a matter of 'when in Rome'. Eating the same food as the locals will more often than not be cheaper than trying to stick to what you're used to. Ignore your travel guide and ask the locals where they eat. Shop where they do and visit the same markets. Make sure you know the exchange rate and carry a small calculator.
Stay in hotels that include breakfast. Have a hearty one and don't be shy to pack some in for later in the day.
Bring along enough food for a meal or two when you're on a long trip so you won't need an expensive detour to the Ultra City.
It would be great if you could carry food in your backpack. However, lugging around heavy cans and bottles doesn't sound like much fun. Instead pack some peanut butter, a knife, fork and a cup and buy fruit and bread on the way.
Take a few bags of salt, pepper and tomato sauce when you eat out and carry a teabag or three with you.
More tips for spending less on food
- Buy ground beef on sale, divide it into smaller casserole sized portions and freeze until you're ready to use it.
- Only shop when you have time to scrutinize labels and compare prices.
- Avoid pre-packaged food.
- Buy a flask for coffee to avoid getting yours at a coffee shop.
- Say no to gourmet food.
- Think of meat as a side dish and use smaller portions. Adding beans or soya to your mince can make it go much further.
- Buy large packets of chips and snacks on sale. Repack them into small bags and pop these into your kids' lunch boxes.
- Stock up on cake mix when it's on sale. Bake many, cut them into single serving pieces and freeze them for an easy dessert.
- You'll be surprised at how much the weight of bagged fruit and veggies can vary. Weigh several and buy the heaviest one.
- Eat something before you go shopping and you'll be less likely to buy on impulse.
- If possible, leave the kids at home when you go shopping so as to avoid 'negotiating' with them about buying treats.
- Review what's in your trolley before heading to the cash registers. Take out all the stuff you want, but don't need.
- Grow your own herbs and, if your garden is big enough, plant some vegetables and fruit trees.