We spent WHAT on groceries?!?

‘Yikes!’ My husband stared at his spreadsheet in horror, shocked at what we averaged in monthly grocery spend. (For us, ‘groceries’ includes consumables like fruit and veg, school lunch items, cleaning products, meat, etc. It excludes eating out.)

Looking at the evil monthly amount, I didn’t think we were far off the curve, though, so I did what all modern women do to find out if they’re ‘normal’: I posted on social media. And the Twitter and Facebook responses I got were so interesting that I decided to share some insights on spending, saving, and what other families are doing.

groceries
Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

The parameters

I stipulated in my post that we were a family of 3, so much of the info I got was from families of 3 or 4. (I did get a couple of replies from singletons, who spend more than I expected, but still about half of what families do.)

The ranges

The families I polled are spending anywhere from R5 000 per month to R11 000 on groceries, keeping in mind that some work really hard to keep their costs down (shopping for different things at different places) and others explain that they’re foodies who seldom go out and spare no expense on ingredients and cooking items.

The average seems to be around R6 000, which includes buying/eating meat approximately 3-4 times a week.

Some respondents included their helper’s food in the amount (in our case, we have our helper and her 13-year-old living with us and our spend includes their food). Some mentioned that they kept kosher or halaal (kosher/halaal food, especially meat, is astronomically pricy). And some added that they eat out often, which affects their spend.

The tips

Now this was the best part of my whole investigation. Yes, I wanted to know if we were on par and yes, I am a bit of a voyeur, but I love the advice I received from other moms and dads:

1. SHOP AROUND.

Food Lovers’ Market seems to be the best value and (these days) the best range for fresh items. Woolies for meat, chicken, fish and special treats. Pick n Pay for general shopping and Shoprite Checkers or Makro for that big monthly stock-up. In reality, few parents have time to visit more than one supermarket in a week.

My advice? Find a shopping centre that has more than one supermarket (like Benmore, Hyde Park, Sandton, or Rosebank), leverage their built-in loyalty programmes (Pick n Pay’s is by far the best, in my opinion) and use little neighbourhood shops, like greengrocers or butcheries, for the very fresh stuff and the last-minute unexpecteds.

2. KEEP HUBBY AWAY.

This is a surprising one. Several of my respondents said that their husbands bought all of the wrong things, too many of this and not enough of that. My own husband, who does most of the shopping because he does most of the cooking, always buys whatever’s at his eye level, while I scan the shelves for the local, low-cost version. So whenever possible I try to do the big shops myself or as a couple, while he does the in-betweens.

3. LEAVE THE BILL UP.

I’m going to start sticking our receipts to the fridge so that whoever didn’t do the shop can see what’s in the house. This is a great way to avoid double-buying and to ensure that new stuff doesn’t sit in the pantry forever. It’s also helpful as a way to drive awareness of the fact that the deliciously silky carrot juice you gulp down every time you do a food shop costs almost R50 for a teensy weensy bottle. (Yes, Woolworths, I’m looking at you!)

4. MAKE STUFF UP.

If, at the end of the week or the month, you have a kitchen full of bits and pieces that don’t seem like they could add up a meal, use the Epicurious app, type in what you’ve got, and get suggested recipes back. I love this one. We once had beans, oranges and rice and made a yummy black bean chilli with cumin and citrus.

5. GROW YOUR OWN.

Here’s a little anecdote: We’ve had a veggie garden since 2015, and it pays for itself in what we save on strawberries and lettuce alone. It also largely determines what we eat in the form of side dishes and salads, because we’ll plan our weekly menus, like melanzane, around what’s fruiting, flowering or blooming at the time.

(Here’s an article I wrote about edible gardening and how it can build kiddies’ brains, while feeding families.)

At the moment, with winter almost over, we have three kinds of lettuce, cauliflower, gooseberries, eggplant, and artichokes. And, regardless of the season, we always seem to have lemons, limes, chillies, fresh herbs (basil, rocket, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, and – blerg! – coriander), tomatoes, spinach and kale.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you spending, if you don’t mind sharing? Where do you shop? And do you have any tips to add? Have a beautiful day.

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Tiffany Markman in 2013.

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Author

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a copywriter, speaker, trainer and mom. She was South Africa’s Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world’s ‘Top 50 Female Content Marketers’ in 2021, but she's still working on securing an award for her Mommying. She likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight, and her apostrophes in all the right places. Visit her website.

30 Responses

  1. My husband told me in January, “We HAVE to keep an accurate budget”. This was painful to set up but am really enjoying it. I send, on average R7500 per month on food / cleaning / personal items for 4 adults. I have found that shopping at Dischem, local butcher, local fresh fruit and veggie shop and Pick & Pay has saved me a good deal. I ALWAYS ask for a discount, no matter where I go and I usually get it! I look out and shop for specials. I make a list so I don’t forget anything or buy unnecessary item. I use ALL the loyalty cards / schemes offered by various retailers and this helps too, even if it is a few R per shop. I try very hard not to waste or throw away food. These are a few tips:
    1. Wash veggies very well if you peel them. Keep the peels and either use fresh in a soup or freeze until needed.
    2. Collect and freeze odd bits of cheese that have either dried out or are a bit old and use in a cheese sauce.
    3. Don’t throw away your roast chicken bones. Make a soup with combination fresh veggies and frozen veggie skins.
    4. Buy wraps and freeze them to use with leftover savoury mince / chilli con-carne / beef or chicken stew. Defrost wraps, heat the filling and put about 4 Tbsp filling inside, wrap and place in an oven proof baking dish. Cover with a bit of cheese sauce with extra cheese on the top and bake at 180 deg until the cheese has melted. Serve with sour cream or plain yoghurt mixed with lemon or lime juice and cilantro/parsley and some smashed avo.
    5. Fresh parsley, lettuce, spring onions and coriander can be washed, completely dried (air and moisture are the enemy), wrapped in paper towels, placed in zip lock bags (remove air) and kept in the fridge for a month. Just check every few days and change the paper when necessary. It’s not perfect but it keeps you from throwing away lots of fresh greens.
    6. I alternate meals, one day veg and next day meat.
    7. Porridge is really inexpensive and filling and mostly lower carb.
    8. Repack your fridge at least once a week so you know what’s in it and what state your goods are in. This way you don’t buy stuff you already have and arrange recipes around what you do! Same applies to your grocery / pantry.

  2. I cut my expenses considerably doing the following:
    1) Shopping in my freezer and pantry before I allowed myself to buy new things. Took LONG to deplete that shop!
    2) Cut down the 45 different cleaning products, bought a natural equivalent that covers (almost) everything and then made a general “spritzer” with essential oils (google it. So easy and way more cost effective. Never mind less chemicals). Big reduction in cleaning product costs.
    3) If I’m anywhere near Harties – bulk shop at Jasmyn. WOW but their prices are so much cheaper.
    4) I know this is counter-intuitive, but using ucook/ daily dish. We have no wastage now, plus I save a fortune from not being tempted to buy x, y, z every time I’m at the shops. For me, this has made a big difference

  3. We are a family of 5 including our living in nanny. I must say for me buying once a month helps a lot especially at Makro. I manage to sometimes spend 3000 only on groceries excl meat and veggies but struggle with having to re stock during the course of the month as I tend to try new recipes that were not part of the initial grocery made. For me Food lovers & Meat world budget is 1000 period and I do try to stick to it.

  4. I’m a firm believer in bulk buying… Makro, President Hyper, Checkers and Sunshine Wholesalers in Roodepoort definitely my places when it comes to reasonable pricing. Non perishables foods, toiletries, cleaning detergents is the best to bulk buy. On a monthly I would spend only on meat and veggies from Food Lovers or Pick n Pay and it works out.

    1. Hi Koketso … I am a firm believer in buying from Sunshine. Even though their prices have gone up a bit this year but they are almost R 5 – R 10 less on items when compared to Checkers, Pick n Pay and Woolworths.

      I buy 100 deals at Makro every year wrt to my cleaning materials, tin foods, sauces (packets and bottled), pastas etc. It makes such a difference in my budget!!! Because I don’t have to be spending money on the same things every month.

      Great article!

      P.S. I also use snap and save and unilever coupons to assist when buying. Pity we are not like the USA when it comes to coupons …

  5. I live alone with my Dog and between us, my budget for food in a month is R2800pm, when we were a household of 5, used to be nearly R6000pm, guess i ate the most lol, recently started buying in bulk, mielie meal, rice, pasta, coffee, sugar etc and have plenty left on the next payday so just need to top up, I firmly believe that potatoes are the holy grail… You can use them to make mash, baked potatoes, chips, potatoe bake, potato salad, hashbrowns… And the list goes on, my goal is to cut my grocery bill in half so any helpful tips would be great. Thanx for the post, glad im not the only one suffering from the high cost of groceries.

  6. Moms (and others), inspired by your amazing responses to this article, I wrote one on what we spend on our kids, with reference to a UK mommy who has (publicly) undertaken not to spend anything – within reason – on her toddler for a year. It'll be up soon 🙂 Comments pls.

  7. love this article thanks Tiffany! makes me feel more normal and yes I too like points 3 and 4 particularly:-)

  8. I've also been shocked at how much food costs and trying to find ways to reduce costs. I have a deep freeze, so I went to Food Lovers market on Sunday. I bought carrots, butternut and green beans in bulk. I peeled , chopped and bagged them in portion sizes, that I need for stews, curries, casseroles etc. Worked out so much cheaper and it will save time in the week when cooking. These will last me months! I want to buy spinach and tomatoes and also freeze in portion sizes.
    We are a family of 3 and we have a full time live out helper. Thank goodness my daughter is off nappies.

  9. Such great comments and advice, moms – thanks. I had fun writing this, but also realised how much we just chuck out. Another tip is: Plan meals for a week. Try to decide when you'll eat in, when you'll eat out, and what you'll make. That way, you don't end up getting too lazy to de-frost stuff once the kids are bathed and sorted and decide to just order takeout… (Guilty!)

    1. Enjoyed reading the article, thanks. Our problem is that we plan a week of meals, but can only use, say, half a bag of baby spinach. If another meal doesn't feature the same ingredient, it will go off. I try to commit to being realistic about what I will use, and if I really won't use the rest of the spinach, give it to our nanny who is always delighted to take home extras, rather than letting it go off.

  10. This has been one part of our budget that is not improving, we are a family of 3 with a live in nanny so 4 people. We spend approximately 6K a month on groceries – incl. green groceries, cleaning staff and cupboard staff. When we came back from holidays I decided to clean my cupboards and I was shocked with the amount of food I had to throw out because it has expired! From this exercise I have decided to shop in smaller quantities, we eat what is available and I shop via the internet – saves me time and money – there is no wandering around and no "new / imported products to try". Let’s see how this works for me. If I keep my bill @ 6K in these markets I will be proud! I will try the organicemporium recommended by Shannon.

    1. Its such a eye-opener indaba ye budget. I dare people to budget and monitor their monthly spend. Ukutya kuduru and the cost of living is becoming horrifically expensive. Let's share these savings tips. Thanks Mandi.

    2. You are so right about the new/imported products. My bloody downfall every month! PnP Online Shopping, here I come.

    3. Hope PnP online shopping works out for you. I found it diabolical – but then I am in the Eastern Cape, so a local PnP bags it and gets Mr Delivery to deliver it and, sadly, the customer is very rarely king here. For online delivery, clients are quite rightly expected to pick a time-window, with the strict instruction not to be out and a very abrupt (threatening?)SMS reminder on the day. Trouble is, it only works one way. I have had my delivery as much as two hours late and the closest they've been is 20 minutes late. When I have given the instruction that substitutes may be made, they very often have not been and vice versa. Also, they have allegedly run out of BUTTER (any brand) and skinless chicken breasts – I took pictures of both in the relevant store the very next day! It definitely cut down on the impulse buys but, honestly, the aggravation wasn't worth it AND I ended up having to go out and get what they failed to deliver, anyway. Let us know how it goes for you.

    4. I tried PnP Online on the very same day as Mandisa's reply above. Our order came perfectly on time, but without a whole load of things they couldn't source, which meant I still don't have them. That bit is a little painful, but otherwise it was great.

  11. Love this article. I wrote about the cost of living in Joburg not too long ago, and after meticulous research involving a similar color-coded spreadsheet to your husband's, came up with R9000 per month for our family of 6, including two teenagers (but only a part-time maid). So I think it's probably in line with your average, considering we have so many kids. However, some people wrote me that they thought this was way too low, that there was no way you could live in South Africa and only spend that per month on groceries. But our numbers didn't lie. I used a similar strategy as yours (Woolies for most day to day, PicknPay for the stock-ups and cleaning supplies) and in hindsight I think I should have made my life even easier with pure Woolies around the corner, it was so convenient and shopping for groceries now back in the U.S., where I always thought things would be so much cheaper, was a bit of a rude awakening – food prices have gone up from 3 years ago when we last lived here and I would say that South Africa is probably actually cheaper, especially for the really fresh local produce that I sorely miss!

  12. I love number 3! It seems to be my biggest problem – I buy because I think we don't have when we have plenty! lol

  13. I also shop weekly. We do a rough schedule on Sunday evenings of what we would like and I pop in to Spar and Food Lovers Market (Edenvale) to get including meat, lunch buying, and snacks. And they remain fresh. We have meat almost on a daily basis but incorporate rice, veg, carbs, and lots of salad in them (no restrictions and cheaper). we are a family of 4 (kids aged 8 and 2). the only thing that runs out ahead of time is milk.

    1. We are a family of 6 (granny, 19yo, mom, dad, 12yo, 8yo) so alot of mouths to feed in the house! Food is also a big part of our expense every month. We have taken to doing a twice monthly shop at Food lovers – we buy buy their bulk special offer (usually potatoes, butternut, onions, carrots) and share it with our domestic helper – so nothing goes to waste, but to buy the bulk is actually saving us money. Then on a Sunday we plan the meals for the week – and do a cook-a-thon and freeze. This also saves us money now as we aren’t stopping at the shop during the week to buy unnecessary groceries – I just take out the meal for the night, and we are sorted for dinner! Just by doing this, I have reduced my monthly bill by around R2000. And I’m still looking at other ways to reduce it!

      1. This is very helpful article. Thank you so much for sharing. I am single mother of two and find that as I am always trying to save money, I either end up not having enough especially in the past. But recently, I research specials online (mostly Woolies) check Checkers and Dischem too then I make a list of the things I will need before I go to the shops. This helps but at times doesn’t as I end up buying more items when I get to the shops as I realise that I need more items than I had budgeted for.

  14. My tip might be a surprising one, because people assume that organic food is MORE expensive, but I shop weekly or fortnightly using organicemporium.co.za, and I have saved on meat that is 100% grass-fed, organic Kalahari beef. It's super yummy, and they deliver (for me, my delivery charge is R75). I plan what I buy, I use the food, and it's fresh & good. Give it a try.

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