“Yikes!” I stared at my 22-7 budgeting app in horror, gobsmacked by what we appear to have spent on groceries during the first half of 2021.
To clarify, for us, “groceries” includes fruit and vegetables, meal ingredients, meat, cooking staples, school lunch items and snacks, cleaning products, personal hygiene products, and consumables like batteries and lightbulbs. It excludes alcohol, fancy coffee pods, pet food, eating out, and ordering in.
Looking at the staggering total, I suspected we might be off the curve, so I did what many modern parents do to find out if they’re ‘normal’:
I polled my contacts on social media, to gather insights on spending, saving, and what other families do when it comes to their groceries.
This is not my first rodeo on groceries spend
For this 2017 article, I ran the same process. Back then, families of four were spending R4 000 to R11 000 per month, with the average around R6 500, which included eating meat three to four times a week.
At the time, many respondents told me they work hard to keep their costs down (shopping for different things at different places), while others explained that they seldom go out but spend more on meal ingredients.
Other respondents mentioned that they kept kosher or halaal (kosher/halaal food, especially meat, is astronomical). Some said their kids were incredibly hard to feed: “I close my eyes as I put the kids’ obscenely expensive school snacks in my trolley, because I struggle to find stuff they will eat.” And some added that they eat out or order in quite often, which affects their spend.
Some respondents included their helper’s food in the tally. In our case, we have our helper and her 17-year-old daughter living with us and our monthly spend includes all their food, toiletries, and consumables. My mother also lives on the property, so our family of three is effectively a family of six when it comes to groceries.
I can also tell you that our monthly grocery spend has literally doubled since 2017 – but it’s not because of my mom or our helper’s daughter, both of whom eat like birds.
The ranges and the average spend on groceries
The families I polled this time round are spending anywhere from R8 000 to R18 000 per month on groceries, with the average around R12 000. I asked:
- How many people in your family/living in your home (including kids)?
- What is your average monthly grocery spend?
- Could you share a few details, e.g. Woolworths vs Checkers, specialty shops or one-and-done, kosher/halaal, helper included, lots of eating out, lots of ordering in, how many pets, whether you eat meat, etc?
- Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your spend down?
- Where do you find the best value groceries for your money?
I’ve also averaged the spend per head this time round, so you can see what others are spending and work out where you sit, whatever your family size. The average monthly spend per head is about R2500-R3000, based on those I polled.
Tips from parents on how to curb your grocery bill
This is always the best part of my investigation. Yes, I wanted to know if we were on par and yes, I’m a bit of a voyeur, but I love the advice I got:
- SHOP AROUND
Checkers and Food Lover’s Market seem to offer the best value for fresh items. Woolworths is a popular go-to for meat, chicken, fish, and treats. Pick n Pay is the preference for general shopping and Makro is the fave for big monthly stock-ups.
I also have friends who swear by ‘best before’ and factory stores for amazing special offers so, while I’ve yet to visit either of these, they’re on my agenda.
We order from CheckersSixty60 and then place our Woolies Dash order or go into Woolworths in person, so we don’t end up over-spending on the more glamourous groceries. The problem in our family is eye appeal: At Woolies we tend to buy fancy stuff like fresh edamame, beef-and-chutney frikkadels, and bocconcini mozzarella, because they’re there and they look so wonderful. Which brings me to…
- SHOP ONLINE
Here’s Pat M.: “With the online shopping apps, I’ve done exact basket comparisons and Woolies and Checkers were on par. I think there was a R2 difference.”
My favourite thing about online grocery shopping is that I can price-compare without emotion – and without falling down an eye appeal rabbit-hole. “This brand of mayo is R3 less than that brand of mayo and basically identical? Fantastic. Add to cart.”
This wasn’t even a section in the 2017 version of this article, but some things have changed for the better in the last few years. So, you can:
Use websites that present the best deals from a variety of shops:
Download apps that offer the best available deals in the market:
Follow Instagram/Facebook accounts where people share specials:
- SHOP AT HOME
At home? Yup.
Hayley says, “I cut my expenses considerably by ‘shopping’ in my freezer and pantry before I allowed myself to buy new things. It takes long to deplete those shops.” We’ve used this trick ourselves; it’s great. It also forces you to be creative (Tip #8).
- STAY LOYAL
Inge B. is a fan of the personalised special offers and deals that come with loyalty cards, like PnP Smart Shopper, Checkers Xtra Savings, Woolworths and Dischem. If you sign up for these brands’ newsletters, and allow them to send you text messages, you’ll often be the first to know when certain items are on special.
But working this particular system does take work. For me, remembering which things are cheaper when, and then getting to that specific store at the appropriate time to leverage the deal? Not. Gonna. Happen. Despite my best intentions.
- TRY MEAT-FREE
This appears to be a real thing in SA right now. In fact, market research agency KLA recently looked into how South Africans think about their meat consumption:
- 5% of consumers say they want to eat less meat in the next 12 months.
- 5% say they want to eat less red meat in the next 12 months.
- 9% say they generally have some meat-free meals in a week.
- 5% of meat-eaters claim to have bought plant-based meat alternative foods in the past three months.
So just under a quarter of consumers are wanting to eat less meat and many already dabble in meat-free. According to KLA, 75% of consumers say quality meat is pricy, while 19% cite saving money as the main reason for wanting to eat less meat.
- MAKE A PLAN
Here’s Danielle K.: “I have terrible shopping habits. I don’t do meal planning, so I can land up at the shops daily, because I only decide what’s for dinner on the day.”
In contrast, here’s Georgi G.: “Make a list with five columns: veg, meat, dairy, dry cleaning. Plan your dinner meals for the week. Write them down at the bottom of the page. Add what you need for each meal to the relevant columns, focusing on one meal at a time. Do this in the kitchen so you can immediately check for items you already have. Then run through some relevant broad areas: breakfasts, pets, hygiene, etc. Write everything in the relevant column. Take the list to the shops. And then write the week’s menu in the kitchen so you know what’s coming up.”
Inge B. adds, “Ideally, don’t shop when you’re hungry or when you’re with your kids.”
- ORDER MEALS IN
This one feels utterly counter-intuitive to me. But Hayley says, “We’ve saved money by using UCOOK and Daily Dish. We have no wastage when we do that, plus I save a fortune from not being tempted to buy x, y, z every time I’m at the shops.”
- 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 can add up to a meal, use the Epicurious website or 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.
- GROW YOUR OWN
We’ve had a veggie garden since 2015, and it pays for itself in what we save on lettuce, rocket, spinach, fresh herbs, morogo, lemons, and granadillas. Back when I was organised, circa 2017, the veggie garden also used to determine what we ate in the form of sides and salads, because we planned our meals around what was fruiting, flowering or blooming. But we have since entirely dropped that ball…
(P.S. Here’s an article I wrote about edible gardening and building kiddies’ brains.)
I’d love to hear from you. What’s your shopping practice? Do you have any tips?