So after my post about groceries and what people considered a “normal” expense last week, I did a bit of digging around. Okay, I admit it, I spent hours on Facebook stalking frugal living and parenting pages. All this digital lurking did, however, confirm what I was already thinking – that there’s a lot of people out there spending the majority of their weekly wages on feeding their families when they probably don’t really need to and that these people, while they aren’t happy about it at all, just accept it as part of life.
It makes me so sad to think that all those people out there are making themselves miserable over food. The majority of us here in Australia are fortunate enough to have easy access to a wide range of fresh, frozen and refrigerated produce at (almost always) affordable prices. So why are so many of us unable to feed our families good healthy food without spending ridiculous amounts at the checkout? Is it the way we shop or the way we eat? Do we just not educate our kids (and ourselves) well enough in the practicalities of life? Should things like budgeting, shopping, cleaning and cooking be part of the school curriculum? Why is something that should be so enjoyable, sitting down to a healthy, home cooked meal with your family so financially stressful for so many?
For example, today I stumbled across a page called Cooking for Busy Mums (it is kinda awesome, go check it out). The page owner asked people what they spent on groceries per week. Prices varied, some people really do have grocery shopping down pat, some do way better than us (we’re pretty good at the whole frugal food while being healthy thing but there’s ALWAYS room for improvement). But so many were struggling, some spending $400 per week on food for their (admittedly in many cases, larger than average) families. One woman admitted to spending around $150 AU every couple of days for a family of 4 or five. If you add that up (assuming from her post she goes to the grocery store 3 times a week) it comes to $450 for what most of us would consider an average (or even small) family. It was heartbreaking.
It’s one of the few page posts like this that I’ve commented on. I’m usually just a lurker on most pages, reading posts and hitting the thumbs up button every now and then. I didn’t say much, just that our weekly spend was usually $100 (sometimes up to $150) and talked about what I spent at the butchers this week. Some others made similar comments, then someone jumped on and called us all out. I won’t note their name here, if you’re really keen you can scroll through the page and find it for yourself (so you can read it in context), but this was the comment:
“Unless people are growing their own fruit n veg I call bullshit on the posts stating $130 a week for 7. This is all household requirements? Toilet paper, wash detergent (even home made)? It’s misleading as they then go on to state they have a freezer full of meat or cupboards already stocked. So that’s $130 for a top up. Fruit and veg for a healthy family that large is around $70 minimum a week but I probably spend closer to $120 on fruit n veg alone for 7.”
Now I know that (especially in Australia) there can be HUGE fluctuations in the cost of fresh food, but our (larger than many) family is living proof that $130 AU a week is very do-able, toiletries, cleaning products and all and without resorting to feeding your kids noodles of the 2 minute kind every night (Although have you seen all those pretty homemade noodle lunches in mason jars all over Pinterest? I’m dying to try it.)
I’m not being mean or judgemental , this person is more than entitled to their opinion and not knowing their exact circumstances, such as where they live or what grocery prices are in their area, this might be the case for them. But just like us, there’s always room for improvement right? Besides I can think of much more productive/enjoyable things to do with our dollars than eat them.
I did promise last week to show people how we manage to eat healthily on a pretty tight budget. We’ve always eaten pretty well, lots of wholefood. Meals made from scratch etc. But when we committed to really reducing what we sent into landfill (and for recycling), it got even better. I kept a fairly detailed record at the time because I wanted to be able to show the BHG, the Teens and the Uni Student that we could do it, and that it would save us money (and once we had a bit of a routine going – a bunch of stress especially after I finished study and found full time Archaeology work). I did have an advantage in that they’d already survived my almost completely overhauling our diet to drastically reduce our sugar intake.
So over the next few weeks I will post our initial pantry, fridge, freezer, toiletries and cleaning stock take and then each weeks shopping list and menu ( I don’t get receipts if I can help it and pay cash for most groceries unless I order online so you might have to take my word on prices – but I’m sure if you’re determined you can find comparable items online to check my numbers).
What We Already Had
I encourage everyone to do this every now and then. I should do it more often.
Go through your pantry, fridge and freezer with a fine tooth comb, empty them out onto the kitchen bench if you have to, and make a list of every single item, including toiletries and household cleaners. Believe me you’ll be very surprised how much is actually there. Despite what the person posting on Facebook said, it’s a pretty rare occurrence in most households that the cupboards are completely empty (although this would be the case if you moved interstate, overseas or were cleaned out by natural disaster or plague). Considering this, EVERY shop is a “top up” in that we add new items (meat, dairy, produce etc) to what we already have available. By knowing exactly what you have already you have more chance of controlling just how big (and expensive) that “top up” is.
I found some impulse buys that I brought because they’re “healthy” and leftover bits and bobs from birthday party and cake makings. These days I’m actually a little ashamed of how wasteful a few things were. Like those full plastic jars of spice I brought for a single recipe that no one liked and the expensive coconut flour I now have to find recipes for. Regardless, here’s our initial stock take,warts and all.
This was taken on a Tuesday ( I shop mid-week because that’s usually when our pays go through and if I shop at the end of the week, the Teens eat everything before Monday so there’s nothing left for school lunches). I now there’s a lot of staples here (flour, rice etc) but bear with me over the next few weeks and you’ll see how we keep it stocked without having to outlay a whole lot on bulk items all at once.
The Fridge, Freezer & Pantry Stocktake (h/m = homemade and h/g = home grown)
Already in Fridge/Fruit & Veg
|In the Freezer||In the Pantry Cont..|
|250g Butter||4 x 500g Butter||1 can of Akta- Vite|
|3 L milk||½ Tub Frozen Greek Yoghurt||Vanilla Essence (h/m)|
|Jam||Chicken Carcass||Plain & SR Flour|
|Mayonnaise (h/m -1/4 full)||Vegie Scraps||BBQ Sauce|
|½ Red Cabbage||Leaves – broccoli etc||18 x Chutney& Pickles (h/m)|
|½ Green Cabbage||Bread – for breadcrumbs etc||Cat Food – Dry (h/m) & 6 Cans|
|4 Apples||A banana||Bread Flour|
|Lard||Misc Frozen Fruit Pieces||Baking Powder|
|500g Cheese||Apple cores & Peel||Bicarbonate of Soda|
|A jar of Taco Sauce||2 marinated chicken thighs||1.5 kg Rice Malt Syrup|
|A Jar of Tahini||Cooked Rhubarb (h/m)||Stevia|
|Some Cranberry Sauce||Pumpkin Soup||Dark Brown Sugar|
|Chives (fresh)||Turkey & Veg Soup||Lasagne Sheets|
|French Mustard||Bones for Bone Broth||12 x Baked Beans|
|1 banana||Chocolate Icepops (h/m)||Yeast|
|2 grapefruit||In the Pantry||Icing Sugar|
|2 oranges||4 x Nori Sheets||Lemon Essence|
|1 kiwi fruit||6 x Rice Paper Rounds||1 x Can Irish Stew|
|¼ Jar pickled cucumbers (h/m)||Matcha Powder||Weetbix 1.4 kg box|
|Bottle of Fish Sauce||¼ bottle sushi seasoning||Wheaties 750g Box|
|¼ Jar Shredded Beetroot||½ packet soba noodles||Rice Bubbles (about 100g)|
|3 Sweet potatoes||½ bottle Tamari||Oats (about 500g)|
|4 Onions||Sesame Oil||1X Jar Passatta|
|Red Chillis (h/g)||1 x Bottle Wasabi Sauce||2 Jars Peanut butter|
|1 x Bottle h/m chilli sauce||½ Bottle Whoster Sauce||honey|
|½ Jar Minced Ginger||Xylotol||Dark Choc chips|
|½ Jar Apple & Mint Jelly (h/m)||Roasted pumpkin seeds (h/m)||Coconut flour|
|½ Jar Grape Jelly (h/m)||Coffee Beans & Instant||Chia seeds|
|Handful of green grapes||Tea Leaves (loose)||lentils|
|100g Apricot & Almond Cheese||Herbal Tea(loose)||Milk powder|
|½ a Tomato||Cocoa||1x can coconut milk|
|1 leek||Dried Chick peas||3 x tins sardines|
|1 lemon||Coconut oil||2 x large cans tuna|
|2 Yellow Capsicum||Olive oil||2 x small tins tuna|
|6 ears of Corn||Shredded coconut||2 x cans salmon|
|1 Zucchini||Apple cider vinegar (h/m)||dates|
|In the Laundry||Almond Essence||Cochineal|
|Soap Nuts||Malt vinegar||1 x can kids savoury mince|
|Eucalyptus Oil||1 Bottle Hot Chilli Sauce||1 Jar ACV (fermenting)|
|1 Bar Soap||1 x can Irish Stew Soup||500g Cous Cous|
|White Vinegar||½ Packet Vita Wheats||Tapioca Flour|
|52 x Toilet Paper Rolls||Tabasco Sauce||Gelatine|
|Linseed Meal||2 x packets Jelly Crystal|
|Kitchen Cleaning||Xanthium Gum||Ready to Roll Icing|
|4 Dishwasher Tablets||Sprinkles||½ Jar Nutella|
|1 Bar Soap||Barley||A tin of pineapple pieces|
|3 Jars Citrus Cleaner (h/m)||Dried Herbs & Spices||Dried Herbs & Spices Cont..|
|1 Tub of Gumption (h/m)||Ras el Hanout Mix (h/m)||Cayenne Pepper|
|Bay Leaves||Tarragon Leaves|
|In the Bathroom||Curry Powder||Fennel Seeds|
|1/2 Bottle 2 in 1 Shampoo||Mustard seeds||Chicken Salt|
|1 Tube Junior Toothpaste||Cardamom Pods||Chilli Flakes|
|1 Tube Regular Toothpaste||Chives||Ground Coriander|
|1 Bottle Shampoo||Mustard Powder||Oregano|
|½ Bottle Conditioner||Sumac||Poppy Seeds|
|5 Bars Soap||Turmeric||BBQ Seasoning|
|Deoderant & Toothpowder (h/m)||Sweet Paprika||Ground Ginger|
|Misc. Other Items||Cloves||Sea Salt|
|15ml Lemon Essential Oil||Peppercorns||Cajun Seasoning|
|15ml Lavender Essential Oil||Paprika||Harissa|
|Bentonite Clay||Basil||Garam Masala|
|DME||Dill Leaf Tips||Ground Nutmeg|
|Beeswax||Mint Leaves||Pickling Spice|
|Activated Charcoal||Dutch Cinnamon||Thyme Leaves|
|Shea Butter||Mixed Herbs||White Pepper|
This list includes regular grocery items and everything we use for homemade cleaners, deodorants etc. The Teens pay for any personal products that are non-essential ( things like hair wax, perfumes or make-up) from their own allowances/earnings. If the BHG and I buy wine or beer, which is fairly rare, that expense is taken out of our entertainment budget because it’s not an essential and something we consume purely for enjoyment.
What I purchased to supplement this list – AKA: the shopping list
After checking out what was already in the house, I spent a little time (about 30 minutes) thinking up a few options for meals and snacks that would use these items. I try and stick to things I know everyone will eat. You can have the best est, most economical meal plan in the world, but if the kids won’t eat fried zucchini burgers, you may as well just forget shopping for groceries altogether and flush your $$$ straight down the toilet. Fortunately, my lot will eat (almost) anything, as long as there’s a little meat involved and maybe some chili or curry powder on it.
18 Beef Sausages (divided into 2 meals) 3 Litres Milk ($3 per Litre)
600g Mince Beef (divided into 3 meals) 12 Eggs ($4)
250g Sausage Mince 4 Granny Smith Apples
2 Chicken Breasts (divided into 2 meals) 4 Pink Lady Apples
4 Lamb Chops 8 Bananas
4 Medium Sized Beetroot 2 Red Capsicum
1 Bunch Dutch Carrots 2 Cauliflower (1.99 ea)
1 Bunch of Celery 4 Bunches Leeks (99c ea)
4 Mandarins 4 Large Brown Onions
680g Bottle of Passatta 6 Washed Potatoes
1 Whole Butternut Pumpkin 4 Tomatoes
This came to $89 AU. I also allowed $10 AU for milk throughout the week. Most of this was brought, package free or in paper through a greengrocer and our local butcher. The eggs were purchased from a local lady with free range chickens. Unfortunately, the milk is in a plastic bottle. The only recyclable option available here at present.
Yes I know that’s a lot of toilet paper…
We buy on subscription through Who Gives a Crap?. 48 double sized plastic free rolls arrive in a simple cardboard box on our doorstep every 16 weeks and costs us $56, yes we might find cheaper elsewhere if we really looked hard, but the 48 double rolls works out to $0.58c per regular roll (48 x 2 = 96, $56 / 96 = $0.58c) which is more than comparable to other brands, plus we like their ethics, that it’s 100% recycled paper and the quality is fine.
A Note on How We Eat:
Except for cigarette smoke and skin sensitivities to artificial perfumes (myself, the Youngest Teen and the Uni Student), no one in our household has any allergies or special dietary requirements. We eat a fairly low sugar, wholefood diet. While we don’t eat what I would call a massive amount of meat, we’re not vegan or vegetarian (I sometimes wish we were, but there’s no way the BHG or youngest Teen would go for it).
I cook. In a previous life I cooked for a living (at one stage for an army, literally) so family dinners most nights are a doddle.We do like simple food though. What I call REAL FOOD that tastes like, well, food and not the stuff with numbers for names. We’re not fanatical though, you’ll notice there’s some items on the stock-take (like Baked Beans in BBQ Sauce & a single jar of Nutella spread) that are brought purely because some members of the household REALLY like them. I figure it’s not such a bad trade-off to get the Teens & BHG to eat healthy the rest of the time.
We drink our fair share of tea and coffee. We all drink tea, mainly matcha or herbal blends I buy loose when we’re out and about. The BHG & I drink the coffee. The BHG likes the Moccona brand instant stuff, but only gets it when it’s on super special, I prefer to grind my own so buy whole beans and keep them in the freezer. Otherwise it’s milk or water. The eldest Teen and I like to keep a jug of water with a few slices of lemon added in the refrigerator. We might have some juice if we squeeze it ourselves (but if you read some of the research around these days, fruit juice is the new evil, almost as evil as fizzy pop).
Next post I will share our menu for the week and some recipes.