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Smart grocery swaps to save you money

A few switches in your shopping basket can save you hundreds or even thousands on your annual grocery bill. 

person_selecting_a_bag_of_salad_mix_in_a_supermarket
Last updated: 21 October 2021
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Do you tend to do your shopping on autopilot, adding the same items to your basket each week because they're the things you always buy? 

We know that the cost of food and groceries is a major concern for Australians (in a recent CHOICE Consumer Pulse survey, 63% of respondents highlighted it as a worry), but shopping for groceries can be time-consuming and stressful. It's no wonder we form regular habits that we stick to, just to get the job done. 

The good news is that a few simple swaps to your regular routine could save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on your grocery bills. 

Although there may be some items you're willing to pay more for, because it's a product you love or it saves you time or makes your life a little easier, here are our tips for simple budget-savvy swaps you might like to try.

shopper_with_trolley_in_the_salad_dressings_aisle

A few simple switches in your grocery basket could save you hundreds a year.

1. Swap pre-cut fruit and veg for whole

Pre-cut or pre-prepared fruits and vegetables – such as bagged salad mixes, pots of cut melon or bags of julienned carrot – are undoubtedly convenient options for when you're time-poor, on the go or if you have physical difficulties. 

But you almost always pay a premium for these convenience products, not to mention the extra plastic packaging you'll need to dispose of. 

For example, Woolworths currently advertises loose carrots for $2 per kg, while their pre-packaged shredded carrot and sliced carrot come in at $10 per kg – a whopping five times the price. 

Pre-chopped food also tends to spoil faster, so it's more likely to go to waste. 

If you still want to opt for prepared fruit and vegetables, we reveal which pre-cut vegies offer the best value.

2. Swap readymade salad dressings for DIY

Sure it's handy to have a ready-to-go dressing waiting in the fridge door, but store-bought dressings can cost anywhere from 60c per 100ml up to around $3 per 100ml. 

It may be more economical to make your own as needed based on whatever ingredients you have in the cupboard. 

Try mixing 3 tbsp olive oil or any neutral-flavoured oil, 1 tbsp of any vinegar or lemon juice, some salt and pepper and a little mustard or other flavourings such as chopped up herbs, honey, garlic or sugar. 

DIY dressings will be free of the preservatives you often find in readymade dressings, you can still make them ahead of time as they keep well in the fridge, and it's one less thing you have to add to your shopping list (plus no packaging to dispose of).

3. Swap your favourite brand for a cheaper alternative

If you regularly buy the same branded product, perhaps it's time for a cheap change. 

We regularly compare a wide range of premium household products with their cheaper counterparts to determine which come out on top for taste and value. 

Coles and Woolworths stock multiple tiers of house brands (also known as private labels or own brands), while Aldi has famously built its whole business around them. 

Not only are house brands usually cheaper, they've also improved in quality – dramatically. 

Our food taste tests reveal these once-bottom-shelf brands often score very well and sometimes even win our taste tests, outshining more premium products for a fraction of the price. See which house brands and products come out on top.

Another thing to consider is buying your favourite brand at Aldi. Our national grocery price survey found that products from popular national brands such as Kellogg's or Cadbury are on average around 20% cheaper at Aldi, compared to Coles and Woolworths. 

4. Swap standard produce for 'ugly' fruit and veg

Did you know that until recently a quarter of all fruit and vegetables grown by our farmers never made it into stores simply because they were a bit misshapen? The good news is that at most major supermarkets you can now buy this imperfect produce for up to half price. 

At Harris Farm, this range of produce is called 'Imperfect Picks', Woolworths call it 'The Odd Bunch' and at Coles, look for the 'I'm Perfect' range. 

Although you can make significant savings on fresh produce, a downside of buying it this way is that it's often bagged in plastic.

oddly_shaped_vegetables

Most of the major supermarkets have a range of 'imperfect' fresh produce they sell at discounted prices.

5. Swap chicken breasts for a whole chicken or drumsticks

It's no secret that some cuts of meat are more expensive than others. Mixing up your recipe repertoire and opting for alternatives every now and again can mean significant savings. 

Buy cheaper cuts of meat – osso bucco, beef chuck steak, short ribs and lamb shanks, for example – that you can slow cook (see Best cuts of meat for slow cooking). 

Boneless chicken breast fillets are the most expensive cut of chicken so if this is a regular addition to your basket, try alternating with drumsticks or roasting a whole chicken instead (which you make further use of by using the carcass to make a stock). 

A current cost comparison at major supermarket shows that drumsticks are around three times cheaper than chicken breasts and whole chickens are around half the price per kilogram. 

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If your favourite fruits are not in season, it's likely more economical to buy them frozen.

6. Swap out-of-season fresh produce for frozen 

The best way to guarantee you're getting the best value fresh produce that will last the longest is to buy in-season and as local as possible. 

Some fruits and vegetables have small windows for when they're abundantly available, and buying things when they're out of season can get very expensive. 

For example, raspberries are most abundant from early November until mid-April, which is when they'll be the cheapest, otherwise it's usually most economical (and less wasteful) to opt for frozen. 

7. Swap your supermarket 

In our 2021 supermarket shopping basket price comparison survey, Aldi has again been named the cheapest supermarket, with our research showing that you could save up to 54% on a shopping basket of 29 regular household items. Aldi was also the cheapest supermarket in our previous surveys in 2015 and 2017.

Our results show not a huge price difference between Coles, Woolworths and IGA, but that's not to say you can't switch your shop between different supermarkets to take advantage of specials on the products you regularly buy. 

To keep track of regular specials, download the supermarket shopping apps on your phone and have a browse before you decide where to shop that week. You can also browse weekly catalogues and sign up to emails to be notified of specials on your favourite products.

8. Swap small for big (check unit prices)

If you have the storage space, shopping by unit price at your supermarket and buying the larger products that often cost less per unit can save you hundreds or even thousands on your annual grocery bill. 

For example, consider a 2kg packet of rice for $4.80, and a 1kg box for $3. The first packet has a unit price of 24c per 100g, the second is 30c per 100g – so the product with the higher packet price is the better deal.  

The Queensland Consumer Association found at the time of their research that fresh chillies can cost $125 per kg when bought in a 20g package, but only $9 per kg when bought loose. And a national brand of cornflakes can cost $1.13 per 100g in a small pack, but just 38c per 100g in a large pack. Find out more about how to shop using unit pricing

person_picking_fresh_herbs

Grow your own herbs to save buying plastic-wrapped herbs for up to $3 per bunch.

9. Swap fresh herbs for grown-at-home

A bunch of fresh parsley from major supermarkets costs around $3 – and who knows how long it's been sitting on the shelf before you take it home? 

But the cost of snipping some fresh parsley from a window box or out of the garden? Free, plus no waste and no plastic required!

10. Swap kids' packaged snacks for mainstream family-friendly alternatives

If you have kids or toddlers, chances are you're always on the hunt for snack options for lunchboxes or afternoon munchies. Individually packaged snacks marketed at busy parents are not only often nutritionally poor options but they're pricey, too. 

Try popping your own popcorn instead of buying popcorn multipacks, or keep a tub of hummus in the fridge to serve with plain crackers and carrot sticks. 

Squeezy yoghurt pouches are handy snack options for kids but can cost up to $1.80 each – a cheaper alternative is to buy large pots of natural yoghurt and blend with fruit yourself (this option is additive-free and likely lower in sugar, too).

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE