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by Tiffany Markman, copywriter, writing trainer, wife & mom to a 7-year-old chatterbox. Follow her on twitter

‘Yikes!’ My husband stared at his spreadsheet in horror, shocked at what we averaged in 2017 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.

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.

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