Slash your grocery bill by 50% in just 10 steps (anyone can do this)

Last year I was desperate to reduce my monthly expenses. Like seriously desperate. I was desperate before this global situation. Can you imagine how much worse it became during the forced lockdown? 

It was dire. It was so dire that I ended up accepting a food parcel one month. I just could not make ends meet. I was heading for complete bankruptcy.

I had written a post about what the effects of lockdown were for me. You can read more about that here.

I started my blog to make extra money but what I really needed was to cut costs immediately. 

According to Wits University, the cost for food in South Africans per month is R2000-R4000. This is for a single person. According to the major banks, South Africans spend 30% of our take-home salary on food each month. 

I just could not afford that. I needed to reduce my budget drastically. Even with cutting out takeaways, which wasn’t that much anyway. I was coming up short. 

I came across a post by an American blogger on how she lowered her grocery bill by 50%. I was intrigued and thought I would see if I can do the same. I needed to know how much I was spending on food and downloaded the 22Seven App. I was surprised. I was spending way more than I think. Then I started strategizing how to reduce my spend by 50% 

No matter where I looked, the advice was the same Meal plan. Meal Plan. Meal Plan. I didn’t need to be convinced about the benefits of meal planning but could it genuinely save me as much 50% of my grocery budget? Right here in South Africa? 

After extensive research and coming up with a strategy. I ended up with a complete grocery shop makeover. I am happy to report that meal planning can indeed save you 50% of your budget. 

We’re going to dig in, but feel free to jump to any section that interests you:

How to reduce your grocery bill by half in 10 steps

Disclosure: All posts may contain affiliate links. This means that I get a commision for reccommended products at no cost to you. I am adamant that I will only write well researched content not influenced by or paid for by an advertiser. Keep in mind that I will only ever link companies and products based on quality and my personal experience.The decision will always remain yours on whether you buy anything.  

1 | Set Up a Super Saver Meal Plan

If you are serious about cutting down by 50% this step is crucial. They don’t say “If you don’t plan, you plan to fail” for nothing. I sat down and made a list of family favourites and made a 4-week meal plan, wrote out meals that I love, new meals I would like to try and then came up with less expensive substitutes for the recipes that I liked. 

If you are incredibly busy during the week then make time on a Sunday to bulk cook and freeze meals. 

This will not only save you time but also boatloads of money. By simply knowing that you have food waiting for you at home, this will defuse the temptation to reach out for the more expensive, convenient options.

Here are my top 3 tips when creating a mega savings meal plan.

1) Plan at least one meatless meal a week. Legumes (beans, lentils, dried peas are great tasting protein. There are no two ways about it. Meat makes up a large chunk of the cost of our meals. When I visited the grocery store recently, I realized that the chicken breasts that I bought made up over 50% of the total cost for my entire meal.

2) Avoid recipes that need a special ingredient. Some recipes call for a special ingredient that you may not have. How much does that ingredient cost? Does it come in a small or big package? Can you use it in other recipes before it goes bad? It may not be worth the money to buy an ingredient if you are only going to use it once. 

3) Plan your menu around seasonal recipes. Vegetables and fruit are cheaper when they’re in season. Vegetables and fruit out of season come with a huge price tag. 

Crush has done a wonderful South African seasonal produce guide.

If you do not have the time to meal plan, you can check out my 50 Bucks Supper Club.  

2 | Go Vat-Free

Buy as many VAT-zero items as possible. Fresh and frozen fruit and veg, rice, maize meal, brown bread, eggs, cooking oil, milk and dried beans and lentils are all VAT free.

There are 19 and I tend to use these items to bulk up any meal.

  • Brown bread
  • Dried mealies
  • Dried beans
  • Lentils
  • Pilchards or sardinella in tins or cans
  • Rice
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Vegetable oil
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Edible legumes.

Why not have one night where you use only vat-free items?

3 | Save 10% by Swapping to Weekly

My mother always did a monthly shop and I think that was because we didn’t have a car when we were younger so I always did the same.

Big Mistake. When I shopped monthly I missed all the mid-month sales. In-store, this is known as a loss leader sale. They sell a few items at nearly cost or even a loss to draw customers in. They are aware that you are likely to buy more anyway. Some of your essentials like milk will usually go on sale then. Marketers know that when we are flush with cash we are more likely to pay more than we should. So then why would they have amazing sales at payday?

If you are anything like me you will still end up with at least 2 one ingredient trips for something I forgot and it NEVER ends up being just one item. Seriously, when was the last time you really came home with just one thing?

According to Time Magazine the longer you’ve spent shopping in a store, the more it could be costing you money. A new study finds that you’re more likely to spend money on unplanned splurges as your shopping trip progresses, even if you’re just intending to buy the stuff you came for in the first place.

They experimented with 400 shoppers and found that the more time you spend in a store the more your self-control wanes and sneaky marketing cues work.

So that huge extended monthly shop will cost you 10% higher than normal.

Then there is the problem of food waste. If you do not have a meal plan and just wing it, it’s impossible to shop efficiently every month and you will inevitably end up with a few items of wastage.

Besides, you will need to shop weekly for fresh produce, milk and bread anyway.

If you are getting paid monthly, I would suggest the cash envelope system to you. I am not an advocate of using 100% cash all the time, but for groceries and a few other things, I think that it is absolutely the best way. Setting a grocery budget is difficult to stick to, especially when you have your debit card and don’t mind going R50 over budget. That adds up over time, so sticking to cash will help you stay within budget.

In short, the envelope system is where you withdraw our cash and divide the budget it into separate envelopes for each item. Withdraw your monthly grocery amount and split it into weekly envelopes.

4 | Take Advantage of Store Rewards.

If you are not using a loyalty card, you may be missing out on huge savings. I know they may be a pain to carry around but you will need to work out which ones are best for you and then make full use of them. You can accumulate them until the end of the year for Christmas gifts or stationery for the new year. 

Here is a breakdown of the cards.

Smart Shopper is consistently ranked as South Africans’ favourite grocery rewards programme in annual surveys by Truth and BrandMapp, and it is the one most South Africans use. Second only to Clicks overall which is used for toiletries for the most part. 

Pick n Pay Smart Shopper – points that convert into cash backs: Every R2 spent earns 1 point and 100 points convert into R1 that you can spend at Pick n Pay or a partner. Personal discounts: Every two weeks you get personal discounts on items you often buy. Partners: BP (earn and use points), Europcar and Planet Fitness (earn points), Intercape, Steers, Spur, Ster Kinekor and Netflorist (use points). Smart Shopper points expire 12 months after you have earned them. 

Smart Shopper members can also join Pick n Pay clubs (Wine Club, Coffee Club, Pet Club and Baby Club) to earn more points and qualify for discounts on select items.

WRewards Discounts: You qualify for savings on select items. Personal vouchers: Members may also qualify for vouchers from time to time, including a birthday voucher.

Xtra Savings: (Checkers and Shoprite) – You qualify for savings on select items.

Spar Rewards Discounts: You are notified on your cell phone of current discounts and vouchers. They also 

mCard (Makro) Cash backs: You earn cash backs on selected deals. Use at Makro or send to a loved one for them to use at Makro

OK count on: (Participating OK stores) Cash backs: You earn cash backs on shopping that you can use to pay for items at participating OK stores.

Make use to link your card to your contact details and your online profile. 

5 | Get Shop Fit

Having your meal plan and your weekly shopping list and store cards are not enough to be shop fit. You need to fuel up! 

Shopping with the munchies is your wallet’s kryptonite. It’s not just the deli and the bakery that will make your resolve to stick to your list crumble. 

Research shows that hunger not only drives people to acquire food, but also to buy totally unrelated non-food items.

In a study, published this week in the journal PNAS, it reveals how people’s thoughts, decisions and behaviours toward acquiring non-food items are affected when they are hungry or thirsty. 37% of people mistake dehydration for hunger. This has the obvious effect of causing us to spend money on snacks or food that we actually don’t need.

This may explain why you had to have that loofah and couldn’t resist getting a new lotion. 

To give yourself the best chance of resisting the urge to buy off a list is to eat and drink something beforehand. If you know which day you are going to shop plan a meal (or at least a snack) just before you shop. Take a water bottle with you too! 

Don’t forget your shopping bags. Single-use shopping bags cost a family of four a whopping R350 on average. Don’t throw money away like that.


6 | Side Swipe Aisles

I enjoy grocery shopping. I enjoy going through every aisle making sure that I did not miss anything. Unfortunately, that was just a trap. I would constantly be tripped up by clever marketing tactics. Manipulating my emotions. 

You need to stay intensely focused on your list and not on the shelves. 

Get in and out and don’t fall for trickery!

7 | Skip Brand loyalty

Do you consider why you buy the brands that you do? Have you tried other brands and compared ingredients? Probably not. 

Most of us like to buy what we have always used and known. There is a reason that some brands have such a strong brand presence. I promise you its more than just the quality. Brands are popular for several reasons and some are because of how long they have been around. I used Colgate because my mother used Colgate. 

Look into other brands and especially store-branded goods. They don’t pay as much for packaging and advertising so can pass on those savings to you.

If you are serious about saving 50% you will need to take the risk and test out cheaper brands. 

8 | Watch out for Marketing Gimmicks

Supermarkets are there to help you part ways with your cash. They are a business. Period! Let’s face facts. How rich do you think Norman Herber (founder of Checkers) and Raymond Ackerman (founder of Pick n Pay) are? Hint. They are rich rich!

Supermarkets hire teams of people including psychologists that track human behaviour and implement. every single one them. This will include music, lighting colours, store layout. That is just scratching the surface.

Let’s outsmart them at their own game.

Here are my top marketing tactics to avoid.

“Great Low Price” Signs – This is usually a trick to seduce you into thinking it’s on sale. It’s not! Don’t fall for the hype.

Endcap and centre displays – At the end of each aisle, stores display items that lend themselves well to impulse purchases rather than the best deals.

Group pricing – Buy 2 for R30 deal. Unless the ad stipulates you must buy a certain quantity to get the sale price, you don’t have to buy that many. Rather than two cucumbers for R20, you can get one for R10. Sneaky right?

Store Layout.- Essential items like milk are usually at the back of the store. Why? Because even if you are only coming in for bread and milk you are forced to walk past all the tempting items provoking you to impulse buy. There is a reason that sweets are at neat the cash register when you are at a standstill. You are also probably hungry and tired too.

In-store tasters – I am guilty of falling for this free lunch. Once I have tasted I tend to feel guilty about not buying. Now I just avoid tasting anything. I am on a mission to fulfil my list;

Look up and Down– Before grabbing items off the shelf look above and below eye-level for cheaper items. Expensive items are purposefully placed at eye-level to get your attention. Also, kids’ items are always placed at a child’s eye level

Grab the Item to Your Right – We already discussed why buying off-brand can save you big bucks in #7. Stores also place these cheaper items to the left of the more expensive counterparts. This is because people tend to read from the left to the right. Eye-tracking studies show that this practice occurs in supermarkets as well: customers always look at items on the left first. Nope out of that ploy, fast!

Compare the Unit Price– Confession time. I am ashamed to admit I only learned how to compare the unit price on shelf items last year.
I just looked at two items and took them at face value. Marketing terms and clever working can throw you off. This is done to make it a lot harder to compare items. Use the unit price to compare costs. Just more booby-traps.

Be wary of dispensers – Most items that force you to use a specific quantity (i.e. soap dispenser, shampoo pumps) actually make you use a lot more than what you would normally use. Nice try!

9 | Go Zero Waste

Just winging your supper menu leads to catastrophic waste. Too many people end up throwing out expired food every month and it’s such a shame.

Image nor only the cost implications to you but the wasted resources the farmers have used to grow those items. Ethically it should make you feel a little bit icky throwing out food each month.

There’s this pretty nifty website, called Epicurious, that allows you to filter your recipe search based on what you have in your pantry or cupboards (you can include or exclude certain ingredients). It can provide you with some interesting uses for what you have to avoid this problem.

Give it a try or better yet get a meal plan so that you buy only what you are going to eat that week.

If you are not interested in doing the arduous task of meal planning or just don’t have the time. Try out my 50 Bucks Supper Club for free.

10 | Start a Kitchen Garden

If you have green fingers look into growing a small low maintenance kitchen garden. Even just a herb garden could come in handy. 

Kitchen gardens do not have to ruin your gardens aesthetic. There are so many options so do your homework and you will always have some seasonal produce available. 

Final Thoughts

To save 50% of your grocery budget, you need to be aware of how you are spending your budget. I opted to shop online and found that it saved me from impulse buying. No matter how good-intentioned I am not immune to marketing ploys that take my budget over. I can price check between stores to see if I am genuinely getting the best deal 

If you’re ready to get started on managing your grocery bill spending, try out my 50 Bucks Supper Club. Meals cost about R20-25 per person but can be as little as R9 per person.

Grab your FREE 7 day 50 Bucks Supper Club Plan now.

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