Hubby and I have been a single-income household since May this year, and as foodies, that has affected our financial ability to eat at nice places as often as we used to.
Naturally, we’ve significantly cut down on what we spend dining out. We’ve also put into place several strategies on how to make our food budget stretch further without compromising on taste and quality.
These are some of the things we’ve been doing that’s worked really well for us:
1. Eat in more
This was the most obvious thing to do. Cooking meals from scratch saves us a good chunk of change. Most of the other methods listed here all tie back to cooking at home.
As a bonus, eating in is generally healthier as we can control exactly what goes into our food.
2. Start an edible garden
Fresh herbs are expensive, so we started growing our own.
We live in what I like to jokingly call a landed apartment (it’s a really tiny house with very little outside space). When we first moved in, we decided the best way to deal with the builder’s sand was to pave it all up. We were both working full-time then and time was scarce. Therefore, paving most of our outside helped keep our place lower maintenance. This also meant that when we decided that it was time to do edible garden-y things to save money, we didn’t have the ground space for it.
This resulted in us starting a container garden.
We started growing some of the herbs and veggies we use the most on a day-to-day basis, such as coriander, lemongrass, parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, marjoram and mint.
We’ve been trying to grow a garden for the last few years, and it’s been a learning process. After some trial, error and finally Google consultation, we finally figured out what we were doing wrong in the previous years and our garden is now starting to thrive (fingers crossed it survives the season).
This now means that stuff can go straight from the planter…
… to the kitchen.
3. Make stuff from scratch
Frequently used condiments and like chilli sauces, sambals and marinades all cost money, and they’re all easy to make at home for a fraction of the retail price.
And when you make these things at home, you know exactly what goes into them. There are no suspicious preservatives, extra salt or added food colouring.
Even staples like yoghurt and icing sugar that are sold at a significant markup in stores can easily be made with a little bit of help for next to nothing.
That help for me is a Thermomix. It’s an all-in-one device that sautés, steams, shreds, grinds and blends. It turns grain or rice into flour and sugar into icing sugar. It sautés my sambal, blends my herbs into butter, cooks my custard, churns (but does not freeze) my ice cream, and allows me to turn milk into yoghurt.
But you don’t need a fancy machine to help you save money, especially if you already own other appliances. I bought my Thermie when I first moved into my place and didn’t own any other appliances, and it ends up taking the place of a blender, steamer, mixer and food processor, saving me heaps of (non-existent) kitchen benchtop space. A stick blender or even a simple pestle and mortar can create plenty of amazing things. For example, that herb salt rub in the picture of the roast pork above was crushed and mixed using a pestle and mortar.
Outside of the Thermomix, I also make my own garlic oil and chilli oil. Hubby cures his own gravlax.
However, sometimes the purchasing power of most large retail outlets also means that it’s cheaper to buy some things rather than to make them yourself. For example, I usually buy grated parmesan as its cost is comparable to buying an ungrated cheese block of equal weight.
In addition to that, there is often a trade-off between cost, time and effort when you are making things from scratch. Ice cream is one of those things, and I don’t make it often for that very reason. Time and effort required is another reason why I currently purchase pre-made pastry and buy store-baked bread for regular consumption.
Even so, the sheer satisfaction of making something at home is worth all the mess, time and effort put in.
4. Start composting
Composting is one of the best ways to minimise waste in the household and create a continuous source of nutrient-rich fertiliser for your garden. There are multiple composting systems to fit every type of dwelling.
For us, the Bokashi composting system fit the size of our place. A quick trip to Bunnings later, we now owned a Maze-branded 18-litre bokashi bin. But don’t buy this bin as it has leakage problems (we ended up plugging our leak with silicone sealant. New tap washers didn’t help).
This system works by fermenting the food in the bin via an anaerobic process, after which it produces a sharp-smelling juice that can be used as liquid fertiliser. And once the bin fills up, the fermented solids are then buried and allowed to decompose and further enrich the soil it’s buried in.
We got around not having any place to bury the fermented solids by having two large pots in the garden where we rotate burying different batches of Bokashi bin content in cheap garden soil. After a few weeks, this turns into nutrient-rich soil that can be used as potting mixes and soil toppers.
Bokashi bins can be found in Bunnings and other organic and gardening stores.
Various city councils also provide subsidies on composting, so check out your local council’s website prior to purchasing your bins. (I wish I knew this before I bought my bin.)
5. Plan meals
Planning what you’re going to eat tells you what you need to buy. This prevents food wastage and helps with sticking to a budget.
When you plan meals, try and incorporate leftovers into the next day’s meal to prevent wastage. For example:
Meal one: Supermarket roasted chicken (we like Woolies chooks) with fresh veggies
Meal two: Shred the remaining Woolies chicken and chuck it into a roast pumpkin and sweet potato salad
Meal three: Make a pasta using the remaining roast veggie salad and shredded chicken. The chicken and roast veggie salad should be nicely mushy by now, but will still retain its flavours. The mushy texture will help it coat the pasta evenly. Finally, throw in some rocket leaves for that peppery freshness to cut through the deeper flavour of the roasted veggies.
Meal four: Throw the remaining salad leaves into a sandwich.
Meal one: Roasted tomato and roasted garlic soup with fresh basil on top. Rich in flavour and downright creamy. No cream required. Serve with homemade garlic bread. (Recipe here!)
Meal two: Add chilli, onion, fresh garlic, fresh parsley, and a splash of wine into the leftover tomato soup. Throw in fresh mussels. Tada! Chilli mussels!
You get the idea.
6. Know where to shop
Know your specials and discount grocers. For fruits and vegetables, eschew your supermarkets (and their slightly higher prices) for farmers markets and greengrocers. Adjusting expectations also help – fruits and vegetables don’t need to be the best-looking depending on their purpose. We’ve also found that eating less meat has helped heaps for the bottom line, and introduced a whole bunch of new and interesting flavours when cooking with more vegetables.
Dried and tinned goods have also been a great cost-cutter. Tinned tomatoes and chickpeas go a long way in plenty of dishes, and a dash of dried mushroom adds plenty of earthy flavour to stews and stir-fries.
As for where we shop, we go to places like Spudshed for our fruits and vegetables, fresh meat and bulk frozen seafood. The quality of stuff isn’t always the best, but that’s where places like Gateway Fresh in Cockburn or 5 Seasons in Myaree come in. Every neighbourhood generally has shops like these.
We go to the supermarket for fresh meat and everything else (and other better quality stuff). We try to only buy what we need when it’s on sale or is a set-price home-brand item.
Also, don’t pay more than $1.29 for Chinese vegetables (at least in Perth). Pay $1 or less if you can. $1.29 if you can’t help it. Anything more and you’re getting ripped off.
7. Prep food
Sometimes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always getting takeout or dining out just because we didn’t leave enough time to cook, or it’s just too hard some days. Pre-chopping and slicing some of our meat and veggies help us avoid this trap.
The trick to an easy cook for the rest of the week is to spend some time pre-chopping and pre-washing vegetables, and know what dishes they are going into later on in the week. That way, meals are hassle-free and prep-time is shorter.
We don’t do this religiously, as this also offers flexibility with our meals, especially when plans can and do change.
8. Eat out at cheaper places
Having one income didn’t mean we stopped eating out completely. It just meant that we visited less fancy places, and ate at more affordable (but still delicious) places.
A lot of that ended up being Asian hawker style food. I’ve noticed for a while that my Instagram feed shows a lot of Asian food, and that’s probably because that’s what I’ve been eating lately.
You can get a decent plate of char kuey teow for $9-$12, instead of paying $27 for it. Yes, there’s a place in Perth that serves $27 char kuey teow, and yes, it’s good. But DAMN I ain’t gonna pay that price for char kuey teow. Not when there’s plenty of other great places around.
For modern Australian-style food, we find that eating at suburban haunts is often significantly cheaper than eating in and around Perth city. An example of this is Brushfoot Cafe in the Cockburn area.
9. Dine at nice places – with a discount
The dining scene has become quite competitive, and discounts can be found if you know where to look.
Dimmi often has 50% off on restaurants on weekdays. As a bonus, booking through Dimmi gives you reward points that you can redeem at selected restaurants.
Groupon and Scoopon occasionally have good deals on really nice places (although usually when I see a nice established restaurant put a promo up on one of these sites, I start fearing for the longevity of the place).
Purchasing an Entertainment Book through a local charity/community group both gives back to the community and provides you with heaps of discounts at dining establishments all across Perth. From what we’ve found, you can recoup the cost of the book back after approximately four uses. But beware of the many restrictions when you use the book’s discounts.
What else can we do to save money on food but not compromise on the foodie life?? Let me know!