6 hacks for saving money on your weekly grocery trip in South Africa

I work for a non-profit NGO which mostly relies on external funding to run its various projects. At the end of last year, our director informed me that the organisation would only afford to pay me for 80% of my time in 2019, at least until it secured more funding. This meant that going into this year, I would only be getting an income for 4 days per week, and my salary would be somewhat less than it was in 2018.

What this has meant for me is that I have had to seriously reconsider my budget and track my spending to make sure that I am able to come out debt -free at the end of each month (I’m NOT comfortable with the idea of owing the bank money when it comes to credit cards). This means that I have to be very cautious of frivolous spending. I know that I’m not alone in this situation - many South Africans are struggling due to the economy - salaries are staying the same but the cost of living is going up.   

In January this year before I was due to be back in the office, I sat down with my bank statements from the past few months and created a quick overview of my spending habits. Two years ago when my husband and I first started living together, we would spend around R800 a week on groceries for the two of us (I know this, because back then we would always check our total spend after a shopping trip). We ate well - good, healthy, fresh food. Before going over my spending, I had assumed we were most likely spending around R4000 on groceries (which for us is food and basic household products) per month. To my absolute horror, once I had done the calculations I found that on my own, on average I was spending around that much - so if we included my husbands spend too, it was most likely close to double that.

It was a massive wake up call for me. I am an avid fan of the higher end grocery stores here in South Africa - they are usually clean, well managed and the quality of the produce is hard to beat (if you are from SA, you probably know which shop I am talking about). But, when you look at the cost of the produce, it can be really expensive. Obviously, there are some products you can’t go without, and the only place to get them is at a supermarket, so it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. But, I decided that I needed to find some kind of solution that would bring our spend down, without sacrificing getting good quality produce.

Here are a few hacks for saving some cash:

Local is Lekker

Sometime last year, we stumbled across a stall at the local makers market here in Ballito which sold the most amazing fruit and vegetables. We walked away that day with a full bag of groceries which were all locally grown and extremely good value for money. Fortunately, the woman, Cindy, who runs the stall also has a produce shop about 10 minutes drive from our house, and so for the past month or so, we have been getting the majority of our fresh groceries from her.

The quality of her vegetables and fruit is really good. Not only that, but we noticed that a lot of it tastes way better than what you’d buy at a supermarket. The green beans, butternut and sweet potatoes that we’ve bought recently have been out of this world. It is true that the produce might not last quite as long as the stuff in supermarkets (which has likely been treated in some way), but quite frankly, we do our groceries once a week and have made sure not to buy more than we need, which means this isn’t a worry for us.

The past few times I have been to there, I have never walked out of that shop spending more than R180 on our veg for the week. The first time I went there, I was mind blown by how little it cost me. Before this, I was probably easily spending upwards of R500 per week just on fruit and veg.

While she doesn’t sell meat, we also try to buy our meat from the local butcher here in Ballito, Taylor’s Meats. Their quality is unbeatable, and they often have specials.

If you have a local farmers market in your area, it’s definitely worth trying out their produce if you are trying to save on your grocery spend. Here are some ideas for Cape Town and Jo’burg / Pretoria.

Left picture: R175; Middle picture: R71; Right picture: R215 in total including the fish, but R145 for the vegetables.

Left picture: R175; Middle picture: R71; Right picture: R215 in total including the fish, but R145 for the vegetables.

Green Fingers

If you have the space, consider planting your own small veggie garden. Seedlings are really not expensive, and most veg are pretty easy to grow if you make sure to water and compost regularly. We have a little veggie patch in our tiny garden (will do a post on it sometime soon), where we’ve grown lettuce, swiss chard, baby spinach, spring onion, herbs and brinjals. Make sure to plant in a spot that gets enough sun, and if you have a monkey problem, it might be worthwhile creating wire cages to “monkey proof” it.

If you don’t have much space, you can even grown lettuce and herbs in pots. We did this when we lived in a flat in Durban and it worked really well.

Stop buying for convenience

It’s no secret that buying “pre-cut and packaged” veggies and fruit is super convenient. But, it adds a whole lot of extra expensive to what you are actually getting. Let’s break it down with 2 examples:

A 1kg bag of pre-cut butternut is around R37. A whole butternut that weighs 1kg is around R15 in a supermarket (and probably even cheaper at a produce store like the one I mentioned above). Yes, this does include the peel, and the seeds, but seriously, you will probably end up getting at least 800g of actual butternut out of it.

A 600g / 700g  punnet of pre-cut mango is R45 / R60. This weekend we bought a huge mango for R15, which after I cut it up gave me 500g of fruit.

It works out way cheaper to just buy whole fruit and veg, and it takes 10 minutes to cut up - especially if you peel it all using the Shogun peeler. Not only this, but butternut, for example, lasts pretty long in storage when it’s left whole.

The same goes for buying “ready to eat” meals - where a sandwich can cost R40. This is okay every now and then, but it’s definitely chepaer to cook from raw ingredients at home.

If you have lots of mouths to feed, buy in bulk

This is probably a no-brainer for most of the moms out there. Many supermarkets will have specials where you can buy 4 bulk items for a lower price. This probably only makes real sense if you have a lot of mouths to feed. For a couple or someone who’s single, buying 7kg of potatoes is probably not the best idea, unless you want to be eating them day in and day out for the next month.

Don’t fall for the “Buy 2 and Save” sticker if you won’t actually use both items

I am 100% guilty of doing this. I see a sticker that says “Buy 2 and save R10” on a packet of lettuce and think, “I better get two”. Most of the time, one packet goes to waste because we just don’t get to eating it quickly enough, and it goes all soggy. But, for items that are not perishable, this can be a lifesaver. We often take advantage of this kind of special for stuff like paper towel, tins of tuna, firelighters and charcoal.

See if you have a local “Best Before” shop

For some items, just because it’s reached its “best before” date doesn’t actually mean its no longer usable. In Ballito there is a “best before” shop where you can buy food items, toiletries, house cleaning products etc., which have reached their best before date but are still perfectly fine to use. These products are marked down significantly, so you could end up saving yourself a lot of cash by getting these kinds of items there. A quick search tells me you can find these shops in Cape Town and Gauteng too.

These are just some of the hacks which I think are pretty useful. What do you do to keep your grocery spending in check?

Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear!

All my love,

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