I truly believe that all of us can shop smarter. Just take a bit of time before shopping to plan what you need, during shopping to ensure you get everything (and prevent another trip, which incurs costs on fuel) and after shopping to make sure your goods are stored correctly so they will last until you cook and eat them.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep your shopping list somewhere where you will see it all the time and then remember to take it with you when you shop. I keep mine on a spreadsheet open on my computer (because I’m on the computer all day) – but I used to keep it on my fridge door. (I attached some old magnets to the back so it would stay there.) You can also keep it in your phone if you prefer; that way you will be less likely to leave it at home!
  • Pay attention to unit prices. Since 2009 it’s been compulsory for every supermarket in Australia to provide a unit price for every item so that shoppers can quickly compare costs. Unit pricing breaks the cost of a product into a unit of weight, volume or number. For example, chocolate will have a unit price per 100 g, milk a unit price per litre and a bulk pack of breakfast bars or drinks might list an ‘each’ price.

    In most cases, the larger the size or amount, the smaller the unit price. For example, the unit price of a 1-litre carton of milk might be $1.20 per litre, yet for a 2-litre carton it might be $0.90 per litre.

  • Don’t always assume that you are getting a good deal when buying in bulk. Sometimes it is actually cheaper to buy multiples of the smaller packs. So always check the unit price before you purchase.
  • Pay cash instead of using a card. (Use the internet to work out how much your items will cost before you go.) It forces you to keep to your budget.
  • Take a calculator (or use your phone) and add up what you are spending as you go.
  • Never shop when you are hungry (I know you’ve heard it before, but it makes a huge difference.)
  • Try not to shop with young children – it’s distracting for you and stressful for everyone (especially if they’re hassling you nonstop to buy toys or sweets and you’re not giving in!). If shopping with preschoolers is unavoidable, give them a special ‘job’ to do (putting stuff in the trolley), or put them in the trolley with a colouring book.
  • Bring your own bottle of water and sip it to get you past the chocolate, soft drink and snack aisles. Better yet, don’t even go down them!
  • Avoid shopping at peak times (Saturday mornings and 3–5 p.m. weekdays).
  • Never shop at eye level – that’s where the supermarket promotes the product with the highest profit share. Brands pay a premium to have their products at eye-level for people who don’t care too much about what they’re buying and just want to grab it and go. Check out the bottom shelf, then the top.

    But the truly best place of all to find the cheapest items is at the ends of the aisles. This is where the supermarket places bulk items that they want to get rid of quickly – and they will sell them at close to cost price. Take advantage of this – especially with staple items.

  • Check out the clearance section. It’s often a messy, uncoordinated pile, which discourages most shoppers – but don’t let it discourage you. If you are patient enough to weed through this section you may just find an item or two on your list.

The only time to stray from your budget is when you encounter an unexpected sale on staple items that you just can’t go past.

If you keep to your budget, give yourself a small, inexpensive treat as a reward (or just put a couple of dollars in a piggy bank to save up for something just for you).

And the biggest hint of them all: check your receipt. Supermarkets make mistakes all the time. If you find an error, they will often refund you the cost of the entire item, not just the error, so by checking for mistakes, you could get a few items for free!

This is an edited extract from The $50 Weekly Shop Weekday Dinners by Jody Allen, published by Penguin Random House and available now, RRP $24.99

Do you have tips when budgeting on your shop? Share them below.

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