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Last week, I kicked off a series of indeterminate length that I’ve called, somewhat unimaginatively, Frugal Fridays. I want to share some of the things that we do to get the most out of our spending and try to plan for big spends down the track.

I left off after having broken down for you how Frog and I go about nutting out a menu plan. This is something we do weekly, so that when we go to do the food shopping we’re not standing around trying to decide what to do with all that lovely cabbage/pumpkin/spinach/kohlrabi/okra/produce of the week. We go in with the plan, we shop to the plan, we come out ahead.

The menu plan is just the first step. Once you know what you’re going to eat, you need to figure out what you need and what you already have. So go ahead and do that. Forage in your pantry, freezer, fridge, cupboard, wherever you stash the dry goods. There’s the polenta, and oh! that sago I forgot about! Hmm, there’s a lot of chickpea flour – might be time for a quiche soon…low on cacao nibs and buckwheat, so sock away a few bucks for the next few weeks to save for those. Random coconut water will be good for a smoothie, and I’ve still got lots of things to make muesli bars and/or granola with. Amend your menu plan if you find a big save you can make! Be smart about this! I’m making lasagne, right? I’ve got soy mince in the pantry, there’s a couple of tins of tomatoes but I’m out of lasagne sheets and onions, there’s a jar of garlic but it’s nearly empty, better replace that, what other veg do I want to put in it, do I want cheeze on the top or not? Do I have time to make pasta, rather than buying a box of lasagne sheets? This is the kind of stream-of-consciousness thinking that helps at this stage. Visualise making the meal, so you hopefully don’t miss out on crucial ingredients. And then go shopping.

There are some rules for successful grocery shopping. At least, successfully as defined by us – that is, with a minimum of time and money needlessly spent.

  1. Don’t go in hungry. I read this rule years and years ago and having noticed the difference over a long period of time, it’s something I hold now as gospel. The hungrier you are when you go shopping, the more you spend and the more impulse buys you make. This is where your biggest savings lie.
  2. Take your shopping list with you, and your menu plan. I mean, the first one is a bit “Well, duh“, right? But the second? Invaluable. If you’ve got avocados on that shopping list and you can’t remember if you need them tomorrow or Friday, and the avos look a little ripe, you could be wasting money buying them only to find you need them on Friday and they’re mush by then. Also, if you can’t quite remember why you needed that spinach and there’s no spinach so should you get kale or roquette? Clearly knowing if it was for dhal or pizza would help here. Also-also, how many potatoes do you need? Is it for two meals or just the one?
  3. The right venue. Find a market/shop/grocer that stocks the things you need most often, and shop there. Plan your route if you need to go to multiple places so you’re not wasting time and petrol driving around. Shop in order of “where can I get most of this stuff” to “emergency bailout in case the last joint didn’t have it”. Frog and I do our shopping at a place 5km down the road, where there’s ample parking, the produce is good, reliable and they buy in a locality hierarchy (local>Western Australian>Australian>international). They have a great continental dry goods section where we can get all the weird flours, pulses, seeds, spices, dried fruits and jars of pastes, unguents, oils and potions we regularly use.
  4. Go early. This place we shop at puts out yesterday’s aging produce first thing in the morning and seriously? Unless you’re making a salad, yesterday’s produce is just fine. Last week I got a bunch of English spinach, five huge apricots, a tray of field mushrooms, a big bag of capsicums, some little marrows and gourmet zucchini and five eggplants…for about $8.
  5. Be flexible…to a point. Be ready to substitute if you see something cheap or new-season. I had moussaka planned for last week, and when I went to the market there was that big bag of capsicums. Now, I know Frog loves a tomato-based sauce that’s not tomato-based, but capsicum-based. So I grabbed that bag and as soon as I got home, whacked those babies on the barbecue to blacken. Peeled and pureed, they make a great base for a pasta, pizza or moussaka sauce and you save buying fancy tomatoes or using two tins of tomatoes.

Did you try a menu plan since last week? Have you tried to plan this way before, but found it didn’t work? What were your pitfalls? Leave me a comment and let me know!