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Cutting Costs – How I Halved My Food Bill

Nicola Graham
Nicola Graham

Food prices rose another one percent in May, bringing the total increase to seven percent over the past year. This is bad news for everyone, but it is especially bad news for those already trying to cut back on spending - like me! Supermarket Shopping

Because I’m trying to pay off my $6000 debt as soon as possible, I want to cut costs as much as I can, and despite big increases, food is still one area where quite big savings can be made.

I’ve set the weekly food budget for my partner and I at $100, which I think is fairly tight considering the prices of food today. But how cheap can you really go when it comes to shopping for food? $21 according to This website promotes a $21 grocery challenge where you are encouraged to be resourceful by using the food you already have in your cupboard as the basis of your meals. You use the $21 for any extras you may need.

This is definitely challenging and a great motivation to save a bit of extra money.

The only problem with the challenge is it assumes you have a semi well stocked cupboard and I didn’t – my cupboards were cleaned out of anything vaguely nutritious. So ultimately, I failed the challenge BUT I did create a food plan that is cheap, nutritious, interesting and most importantly, tasty! PLUS I almost halved the weekly shopping bill.

While I don’t think I could do this every week, it’s a great way to save extra money and put it towards something you need, savings or debt repayment. The latter is what I will be doing!

Here are the details. Dinners are the main expense, so here’s a breakdown of the meals and recipes I’ll be using.

Meal 1: Bean and Cheese Burritos


  • Home brand Mexican burrito tortilla’s (15pk is $3.99 = $1.10 for four)
  • Watties Mexican mild chilli beans 420g can ($2.00)
  • Home Brand tomatoes whole peeled 400g ($0.65)
  • 200g mushrooms ($6.99kg = $1.40)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 40g Home Brand, edam, grated (@$9.99 = 40c)

Method: In a fry pan, heat beans, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Crush up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add mushrooms, heat until cooked.
Put in burrito wraps and top with grated cheese roll up and eat.

Total cost $5.55

Meal 2: Thai fish Cakes and Coleslaw

Ingredients - Fish Cakes

  • Sealord tuna chunks in spring water 425g can ($4.39)
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce (already have)
  • 3-4 tablespoons breadcrumbs (already have)
  • 2 potatoes, cooked and mashed (already have)
  • 1 egg (already have)

Method: Drain the tuna, mix all ingredients together and shape into cakes. Heat a little oil in a fry pan and heat fishcakes until heated through.

Ingredients- Coleslaw

  • ¼ cabbage (@2.69 for 1 = $0.70)
  • 1 carrot grated (approx 20c )
  • 1/2 fresh Beetroot grated (@ $3.99kg = $1 (estimate)
  • Low fat salad dressing (already have)

Method: Finely chop the cabbage and grate the carrot. Peel the beetroot and grate. Mix together in bowl with low fat salad dressing

Total cost $6.29


Meal 3: Beef and Chickpea casserole


  • 300g blade steak (@ $11.99kg = $3.60)
  • Craig’s chickpeas 300g can ($1.59)
  • 1 onion chopped (already have)
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic (already have)
  • 1 tablespoon each of soy and Worcestershire sauce (already have)
  • Home Brand tomatoes whole peeled 400g ($0.65), chopped in a blender.
  • Potatoes (already have)
  • Silverbeet (already have)

Method: Cut steak into pieces and drain the can of chickpeas. Put in crockpot/slow cooker along with the onion, garlic, sauces and tomatoes. Turn on slow cooker in the morning on low and it will be ready when you get home from work. Serve with mashed potatoes and silverbeet.

Total cost: $5.84

Meal 4: Beef Pie and Coleslaw


  • Edmonds pastry flaky reduced fat sheets 750g $5.15 (1/3 packet = $1.75)
  • Left over casserole from night before bulked up with:
  • Chopped cooked potato, pumpkin and kumera (already have)

Coleslaw made from:

  • ¼ cabbage (@2.69 for 1 = $0.70)
  • 1 carrot grated (approx 20c each)
  • 1/2 fresh beetroot grated (@ $3.99kg = $1 (estimate)
  • Low fat salad dressing (already have)

Method: Line a pie dish with one sheet of pastry. Add left over casserole and cooked chopped vegetables. Top with extra sheet of pastry. Put in oven at 180 degrees Celsius until the pastry is cooked and the filling is hot. Serve with coleslaw

Total Price = $3.65

Meal 5: Chicken burgers and home made fries


  • 250g Leonard’s chicken schnitzel plain (@ $15.99 = $4)
  • 1 egg (already have)
  • Breadcrumbs (already have)
  • Seasoning (already have)
  • 3 Signature Range burger buns (@ $1.50 ½ dozen = 75c )
  • ¼ of a Lettuce (@ $2.99 each =75c)
  • ¼ 425g can of Home Brand Beetroot (@$0.95 can = 24c)
  • 1/4 of an avocado (@ $1.98 = 50c)
  • Mayonnaise (already have)
  • Tomato sauce (already have)
  • For the fries – two large potatoes and a drizzle of olive oil (already have).

Method: To make the fries, peel potatoes and cut into thin fries. Dry with a tea towel, drizzle over a small amount of olive oil, mix the fries around in the oil and bake at 200 degrees until crispy and cooked through.
Dip schnitzel pieces in egg, then in the breadcrumbs mixed with seasoning. Fry in a pan with a little oil until cooked through. Make up burgers with lettuce, avocado and beetroot, add sauces if desired.

Total cost: $5.49

Meal 6: Sticky pork stir fry

  • 250g chicken schnitzel (@$15.99 kg = $4)
  • Juice of one lemon (free from the lemon tree)
  • 1 teaspoon honey (already have)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (already have)
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (already have)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (already have)
  • ½ broccoli (@ $2.29 = $1.15)
  • ¼ cabbage (@$2.69 = $0.70)
  • 100g white mushrooms finely diced (@$6.99 = $0.70)
  • Rice (already have)

Method: Chop schnitzel into small pieces. In a plastic bag add lemon, honey, tomato paste, hoisin sauce and olive oil. Add the chopped pork and shake to coat. Finely chop the vegetables. Heat a large frypan, cook the pork for 3-4 minutes then add the vegetables. Serve with rice.

Total cost: $6.55

Meal 7: Spaghetti Bolognese
  • 250g premium beef mince (@$12.99 kg = $3.45)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (already have)
  • 1 can tomatoes home brand tomatoes whole peeled 400g ($0.65)
  • Sprinkle mixed herbs (already have)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce (already have)
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce (already have)
  • 200g chopped mushrooms (@$6.99 =$1.40)
  • bunch chopped silverbeet (already have)
  • ¼ packet Home Brand spaghetti (already have)

Method: Cook spaghetti in a pot of water as per the packets instructions. While the spaghetti is cooking, brown onion in a hot pan, add mince and brown. Add canned tomatoes and chop up with a wooden spoon. Add tomato sauce, mixed herbs, silver beet, sweet chilli sauce and mushrooms. Drain spaghetti and serve with mince sauce on top.

Total price: $5.55

This brings the total cost for a weeks worth of meals: $38.83

So what about breakfast, lunch and snacks?

We eat porridge for breakfast . This is a staple in our cupboard and we have enough for the next week. We’ll just add milk @ $3.08 for a 2L Home Brand carton.

Lunches are sandwiches – bread ( $1.59 wholemeal bread x 2 loaves) at $3.18; around $3 shaved ham from the deli, cheese (already have) and left over coleslaw or lettuce used in the meals above.
Also for lunch and snacks is fruit (bananas 1kg = $2.60; 1kg braeburn apples = $2.76) yoghurt ($2.79) and home baking such as afghan biscuits or a low fat banana cake (already have ingredients).

This brings the grand total value of food for the week to…$56.49

Not too bad for a week’s worth of food! Keen to take up the challenge? It’s not easy, but by choosing cheaper meats, or cuts that go far (like schnitzel), adding in alternative protein sources such as beans and legumes and eating what’s in season, you’ll be able to save money at the grocery store.


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