Food Shopping on a (very) tight budget

Food Shopping On A Very Tight Budget

I’ve been tweeting my food budgets each fortnight as we scrimp by on my part time income. We’ve been ranging from $50-90 per fortnight. Some people have been curious, so I thought I would list my items & receipts and talk about how we use the items. This was a particularly large spending fortnight as we had run out of some ‘stock’ items and also needed dog food.


Food Shopping On A Very Tight Budget


WOOLIES – total $69.11

  • 2x tins 3 bean mix $0.79 each
  • 3x tins diced tomatoes $0.80 each
  • 2x tins kidney beans $1.00 each
  • 500g butter $3.19
  • 2x 400ml coconut cream $0.95 each
  • 3x tins dog food $2.70 each
  • 1kg frozen peas $2.19
  • 3x box tissues $1.00 each
  • White pepper $2.99
  • Beef OXO stock cubes $1.99
  • Instant Mi Goreng noodles 5pk $0.99
  • Sunflower oil 750ml $2.70
  • 500g jar minced garlic $2.50
  • 8kg bag dry dog food $20.00
  • 2x cordial $3.19 each
  • 9x tinned tuna $0.90 each



Woolworths Receipt


coconut cream and tuna homebrand woolies
All bought as cheap as possible – usually store brands.


pepper and stock cubes
Precious bargain flavour for bland meals.


ALDI – total $6

  • 1kg bacon $6 (a blogger gave me this tip…but I can’t remember who right now! Thank you to whoever it was – comment and I’ll credit you for the tip off.)

IGA – total $20.60 

  • 1kg basa fish fillets on sale at $5.99
  • 780g peanut butter $4.83
  • Hot roast chicken on sale $6
  • 2x double packs paper towels $1.89 each


IGA receipt



Our corner store does AMAZING multigrain loaves of bread at $4 for 2. It’s so fresh & stays that way. Kicks the ass of most bakeries. We buy that on an as needed basis.


Next to our corner store is an equally AMAZING fruit & veggie shop. We try to make do with just frozen peas & corn but sometimes we (ok, me) just want fresh chunky veggies damnit! So on an as needed basis I’ll buy carrots, zucchini, potatoes and onions there.


We have always had a fairly stocked pantry, which helps to make things less boring. Keeping flour, rice, pasta, cocoa and other bits in the house means that you can eat more things & whip up treats from scratch.


Epsom Salts, Bread Flour, Museli, Pastas…we usually also have penne pasta.


flour etc
“The basics”


The problem is that while this uber budget way of eating is good for finances, it’s not the healthiest. Everyone has their own way of eating but for us and for Ben’s medical conditions, he can’t eat a great deal of things. His meals are supposed to be primarily veggie based, with sides of protein & carbs. I find we’re far too carb heavy these days, so he just has to eat smaller portions. Luckily he’s also a lot more tolerant to bland food than I am.


I really really miss doing a proper veggie shop each week at out local store. Their food is so nice and fresh. I honestly credit their food (and the quantity of it we ate!) to controlling some of Ben’s diagnosed issues. Skipping that shop is the suckiest part of being on such a tight income right now.


For a while, our main meat were 24 pack of bulk sausages from Woolies (below). Currently I can’t even smell a sausage without wanting to be physically ill. That’s how many we’ve eaten and how freaking long we’ve been on a budget for.


Woolworths Sausages
Uber bulk sausages. Image from Woolworths website.


Wholemeal Lebanese bread is our go-to pizza base/wrap. Our corner store sells them for about $2; I think there’s 5 or 6 in a pack. Currently I bought them in Coles a few weeks ago on sale, so they got individually wrapped and put in the freezer. They’re also an item that works out well for the amount of carbs Ben can eat.


I don’t have much use for milk, but Ben uses it in coffee. We generally buy skim powdered milk, which costs about $5 per packet and makes 10L.


Update: Keep an eye on your budget at Woolies for now with the HomeBrand ending.


So what do we DO with all this food?

I try to bulk cook and freeze because having solutions ready makes me less likely to go “But there’s no foooooood” and drive to the shops for something I really don’t need. This includes things like banana bread (I bought & froze bananas a while back when they were very cheap, and we already have the rest of the ingredients) and rice (for quick dinners of fried rice, which also make plain frozen veg less boring).


Pasta bakes and tuna pasta bakes are very cheap and make a lot of meals.


Coconut cream goes with pasta and Thai paste to make a boring pasta and frozen veggie meal taste less like a boring pasta and frozen veggie meal.


The beans & tomatoes go into a pan with onions and get made into a GIANT batch of chilli, which then gets put into serving sizes and frozen. It makes a ton of meals – we often put it on “pizza bases” or into pasta/rice.


Popcorn is our go-to munchy food. We buy the corn bags (not the prepackaged stuff), so it’s pretty cheap, a couple of dollars per bag, which lasts weeks! We’ve found the Black & Gold one in IGA to be nicest. It’s also a rare case of something Ben doesn’t have to be too careful with when he eats. We microwave it, melt butter and toss it through with beef OXO cubes. Yum!


On work days, it’s sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. Boring sandwiches. Mostly peanut butter and/or vegemite, sometimes Nutella. Mix of homebrand and branded products, just depends what’s on sale. Though we try to avoid Nestle products because of their company actions/opinions/general full of bullshit stuff (like saying water isn’t a human right…WTF?).


What could we cut out?

Well, technically we don’t need to buy the tinned dog food, as our dog’s staple food is dry kibble. But due to medication that caused her to have seizures a few years ago, Vala has phenobarbital twice a day. And it gets freaking old stuffing your fingers down your dogs throat twice a day. So we put a spoonful of tinned meat in her bowl with the tablet in it. So yes, technically we could cut this, but it’s a small sacrifice for not having to shove your fingers down a slimy throat twice a day. Since we only feed her a little bit per day, it lasts a long time. We also had to up the meat quantity for a while because she was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic early this year and she lost a dangerous amount of weight; the meat fattened her up again.


We don’t buy things like the roast chicken very often. That $6 was a treat for us. It will spread over a few meals too: currently lunch yesterday (wings & legs), flake the body up into small pieces for fried rice/chicken pasta-type meals (into three bags/portions) and save the bones for stock/soup.


The pepper, butter, OXO cubes: these are all cheap items that let us have flavour, variety and ‘junk food’ (popcorn, see above). These could all be removed from the shop to make it cheaper.


Sugar free cordial isn’t a necessity, but considering we generally only drink water, it’s much needed variety. I only bought two this fortnight because they were 90c off.


We don’t buy the bacon every fortnight (if indeed it is bacon at that price) but every second or third shop. It gets put into smaller packages and frozen. We use it for fried rice, home made pizzas, breakfasts…the list goes on. It’s not a necessity but adds variety. It was surprisingly lean for budget bacon too – the first time we got it, anyway! It seems to vary in quality time to time – or I picked up the wrong packet yesterday. I was a bit disappointed with it when I was dividing it up, lots of fat to chop off.


I usually prefer to buy big/in bulk but the small tins of tuna are actually something Ben uses to control blood sugar and hunger in a number of different ways, so they’re not as negotiable as you’d think. We prefer Safcol brand but Coles and Woolies stock them less these days so we only buy them when IGA has a 99c sale, which isn’t often.


How I organise my shopping:

  • Write a shopping list
  • Check all store catalogues for specials
  • Shop

We’re lucky because in our fairly small area, we have a high density of supermarkets: two Coles, three Woolworths, two IGAs (one supermarket style, one that’s a bit more convenience store style) and Aldi. This makes it easy for us to shop at any supermarket without additional fuel costs. I go past most of these on my way to work or family member’s houses so I don’t factor in ‘driving around’ costs as they’re so small.


What I want:

  • Well, enough money to do what I used to do: go nuts at the corner store buying fresh veggies.
  • We lack fruit often. Ben struggles to find the right fruits to eat, and I go off and on of types of fruit very fast (always have). I buy fruit in individual items as and when I want it/can afford it.
  • I would love to replace my old freezer with a big deep freeze and buy my meat directly from farmers – the ones where you buy half or a quarter of a cow and they’ll chop the meat up in a variety of ways.


How do you manage food on a tight budget? What tips can you share for anyone scrimping on food right now? How do you get enough fruits and vegetables on a budget?


12 Replies to “Food Shopping on a (very) tight budget”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. There are definitely some good tips there. I also scour the catalogues for the best deals…I’m one of those people that loves junk mail especially for this.

    We have one meal that has now made it onto a weekly rotation that would suit your shopping easily. It made it onto our rotation because it never fails to be yummy however the added bonus is that it is quite a thrifty meal too. It is pasta so hopefully it works with Ben’s carb limits.

    All’amatriciana. There are plenty of recipes out there. Some are simple and some are fancy. We do a fairly simple version. (The fancy versions basically change the type of meat and pasta) It is basically 300g bacon, 1 tin of tomatoes, chilli flakes, garlic, onion & pasta. Saute garlic and onion. Add bacon. Add chilli flakes. (I use approx 1tsp). Add tomatoes and let it simmer for approx 10mins. Cook the pasta at the same time and then toss it through at the end. When the cooking process has finished, I finely grate some parmesan over the top and stir it through. This is optional though. This gives us four serves and is awesome the next day as well.

    It’s a cracker! Let me know if you end up trying it.

    1. That sounds good, thanks Shannon! I think we’ll try that one 🙂

  2. Great tips. I try to buy the fruit and veggies at markets where possible – fresher and cheaper. I’m also great at scouring the shelves for mark-downs where there are still a few days left before the use-buys expire. Our fridge-freezer isn’t big enough, so I’d love a bigger one and/or a deep freeze so I can buy more specials in bulk. It’s really hard on a budget, and I really don’t think you (or I) can cut any corners. I bet our politicians don’t live like this!

    1. Yes, the mark down section ALWAYS gets a good look through 🙂 Though recently I haven’t found much there.

  3. I felt a bit guilty reading this post, because it made me realise that I could DEFINITELY scrimp on a few items… I’m currently spending about $70 a week on groceries just on my *own* (keep in mind that New Zealand supermarket prices are more expensive than Australia, but still!), but food is one of those things that I find difficult to be stingy with. I love fresh fruit and vegetables and am quite conscious of what I shove into my mouth, and I figure since I’m already so frugal everywhere else, I’m allowed to be a bit more indulgent at the supermarket, but yes… my heart *does* often skip a beat when the items are being tallied up! :-/

    1. It really is hard to cut down on food and manage to be healthy. Fresh food is definitely the most expensive part!

  4. Thanks for sharing your tips – all very smart. I hope your circumstances have improved a bit since you wrote this post.

    I’m lucky I don’t have to be so careful about economising on food, in fact I’m in a position where I can spend a bit more and buy organic/ethically sourced, which is a luxury really. But I do hate waste so I try not to over-buy. Have you considered growing your own herbs to add a bit more flavour & nutrition? It costs a bit to get started with soil & pots (unless you can get them from friends) but you can grow them from seed which makes it a little cheaper, & once you’ve started you can just keep it going.

    Food co-ops can be another way of getting cheap fruit and veg – find a group of friends and you can buy in bulk from the markets. And don’t throw away the excess bacon fat! Not the healthiest option but you can cook it down & use for fried rice occasionally – adds a lot of flavour.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I have slowly been getting pots from garage sales and “tip shops” and I’ve wanted to grow my own herbs & veggies for some time now. It’s just a challenge to find a way of growing them where the dog won’t eat them 🙂

  5. Im with you on everything!!, i am self employed and get paid daily, which sounds great but is a nightmare to budget sometimes. We are a family of 5 , one also has diabetes. I only started my herb garden last week so am really looking forward to when i can start eating from it. Try looking up budget meals from Pinterest, i find amazing recipes on there that are so cheap to make.our latest wonder meal i found from there is a massive hit with my family, sonetimes i make it a few times a week, its called Korean beef n rice. If you have a semi stocked pantry you will only need the veggies which would be 1 carrot, 1 capsicum 1 zucchini. 1 onion etc its how its sliced that makes it spread. Ive been toying with this idea for a while but the Rocklea market has fnv days where you buy by the tray or box. For example cauliflower comes in a box of 12 for like $10. ( been a loooong time since ive been so dont quote anything lol) . Why not get a few friends together or even create a loval fb group and everyone pitches in some money , someone goes and biys the bulk produce and you divide it up netween group members, i reckon it would be a money saver but need some preparing and orgamising your homework first tho. Neing broke sux nut man it makes us sooo savvy and wise with our creations.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I’ve often thought about bulk buying co op type situations but I’m a big picky on some veggies I like so I don’t know how well it would work. But they are a good idea if you’re not picky!!

  6. I ditto the comment above about pasta all matriciana. I have been making a version of this every week for years. I use 2 cans of tomatoes and it easily feeds my family of six (including kids aged 21, 18, 16 and 12, so big appetites), for under $10.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I can’t imagine the size of the appetites of teenagers, Kate!

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