• Groceries, glorious groceries…

    So… it’s been a little while since I last posted a grocery haul. Keeping grocery spending in check is something I’m really trying to tamp down on, and we’ve been doing really well on that front. This month we’ve stayed under budget every week! Behold, last week’s buys:

    $13.00 – Eight litres of milk
    $3.99 – A block of butter
    $5.99 – A tub of Collective Dairy yoghurt (our splurge)
    $4.59 – Three fresh “Bush Tomato” sausages
    $5.65 – 160g of fresh mozzarella
    $6.57 – 120g of St Paulin cheese
    $17.99- Whole cornfed chicken
    $7.52 – Half a kilo of rump steak
    $6.59 – 250g of pork schnitzel
    $3.20 – 1.2kg bananas
    $5.00 – Two bunches asparagus
    $1.76 – Five onions
    $7.00 – Two punnets of mushrooms
    $2.20 – One head garlic
    $1.99 – One red capcisum

    (From Nosh, no less.)

    And that all comes down to how our shopping and eating habits have changed. We rarely ever buy readymade and frozen items. We’re eating more vegetables, less meat, and I’m making food stretch further and cooking more from scratch. We still have dessert almost every day, but more often than not it’s something that I’ve baked. (Yeah, I spend a lot of time thinking about, making and consuming food, but that’s totally, more than, okay with me.)

    So even though we have to buy expensive lightbulbs due to the fittings in our house, and even though we’re buying more quality foods – think better cheeses in small quantities, and cooking with olive oil – T commented that we don’t seem to be purchasing all that much anymore, or blowing out our budget.

    In fact, we’re even shopping at Nosh more often – once a month or so. Nosh weeks mean buying only the best. Their produce is great and affordable thanks to great sales – we’ve been lucky timing-wise so far. The meat is pricey (though not much more than at, say, Countdown) but organic and of outstanding quality, so we buy small amounts and do more with it. Ditto with the cheese – and the staff actually know their stuff and can recommend types. And the Ponsonby store, at least, seems to do 4 litres of milk for $6.50 regularly, so as long as we have a good stock of staples at home, we can get everything we need there. Bonus: no huge aisle of sweet treats or ice cream freezer to tempt us.

    It’s safe to say I won’t be giving any business to supermarkets like Countdown or New World unless I absolutely have to (eg, picking up emergency supplies on the way home). I might as well go to Nosh and get everything else at Pak n’ Save for rock bottom prices. Oh, how I love being central to everything…

  • Link love (Powered by curves of learning)

    And thus begins our month of frugality Luckily,we already had lots of stuff at home – some veggies, some meat, and especially supermarket items like oils, rice, pasta, oats…so not only did we come in at budget, but got enough meat for the fortnight as well! Meat is from the Mad Butcher, groceries from Pak n Save and produce from a little grocer outside the supermarket.

    $55 got us two meals worth of diced beef and chicken each, a bunch of franks and bread rolls, a puny half-chicken, and a $25 variety meat pack.

    $40 at the supermarket for a 575g tomato sauce refill, canned beans and tomatoes (score at a for $2), Mountain Dew, 10 eggs, a pack of sea salt, rice wine vinegar, a packet of Chana Masala, hot and spicy noodles, basmati/jasmine mix rice, a jar of peanut butter, 500g of brown sugar, six litres of milk and a container of sour cream and cream cheese each ($2 and $3 on special. Makes my wallet ache).

    And for $12 we got a cauliflower, a small bag of mushrooms, a bunch of potatoes, a bunch of silverbeet, and some kiwifruit.

    Overall, pretty pleased.

    Anyway. Onto a short and sweet linkfest:

    At Salon, the tale of a reluctant loafer. I think I’ve come to accept that this probably describes my nature.

    One great productivity tip from ZenHabits.

    How to bitchslap performance anxiety.

    Matt at Life Without Pants thanks the boss who never bothered to learn his name.

    Food for thought at Get Rich Slowly: When is your financial situation beyond your control?

    Case studies/advertorial can be a cash cow. Via Make a Living Writing.

    Lacey muses on the nature of friendships.

    Great stuff – Kyla talks image sourcing for bloggers.

    And lastly, Suburban Sweetheart perfectly sums up all the reasons massages are weird.

  • Mission: Making life easier for myself

    Oats, barley, and some food products made from...

    Image via Wikipedia

    I used to be the kinda girl who could wear the same outfit over and over (heck, I still am) and the girl who could eat the same thing over and over). But not anymore. I’ve lost my food mojo. I’m feeling so uninspired, and super picky. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Seven days a week. Two people. It all seems too overwhelming!

    While we’ve been really good this month, last month we ate out more often than I’d like. I know this sounds spoiled, but so often I’m hungry but it’s the end of the week, the pantry’s thin on options and I just don’t want to eat anything that is in the house. Or quite simply, I manage to forget to make/bring lunch on my “Friday” (aka, Sunday).

    It may be time to return to a semblance of meal planning. Much as I strive to streamline and simplify, quite often I make things difficult for myself and end up doing things the hardest way possible. (Not on purpose. That’s just how it works out.) I spend far too much time cooking. Lunches, especially. Lunches for me. Lunches for him. Several different kinds of lunches over the week.

    I’m not good with super anal shopping lists – I like to get creative on the day of cooking, I like to make things up as I go along. Also, you never know what will be on special, let alone what will actually be fresh (our location is awesome for everything except grocery shopping – that’s just so-so). My basic technique basically involves making a shortlist of staples that need replenishing (flour, oils, rice etc), and buying meat and produce according to price and choice on the day – now the trick is sticking to it.

    What’s your recipe for grocery success?

  • Grocery challenge: The end!

    Darlings. Please, I love you all. But for the last time, THIS IS WHAT FOOD COSTS! I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. See last post and the numbers in the Otago uni study. One commenter wondered on my last post if melons were out of season; no, it’s summer here, they don’t get much more seasonal than that. Trust me when I say I don’t buy produce out of season, and that we really do spend as little as humanly possible on groceries – although we do sometimes buy too many snacks. From what I can tell from your blogs, we pay more relatively for EVERYTHING than you guys do in North America and elsewhere – on fruit, on vegetables, on flour and sugar, meat, dairy, toilet paper.

    And with that, I bring you the final week of February’s grocery challenge. Amazingly, we came in at $89.95 (I also made an emergency stop for flour mid-week.) Why so low? Well, we already had quite a few staples at home. But mainly, I think it’s because – stupidly – I kind of forgot about lunches. T hasn’t been eating much at work, so we decided not to plan for his lunches. Consequently, I neglected to think about my own, so I guess it’s peanut butter or egg sandwiches all week. Also, it’s a shorter week than usual, as we’re off to Wellington for four days.

    And that means we’re $25 under our $500 target for February. Amazing! Three cheers for short months.

    (Apologies for crappy photos. I’m a bit short on time at the moment)

    I’ve got heaps of great posts starred in Google Reader to share, but I don’t know when I’ll get time to do a link roundup. I’m halfway through a 9-day stretch of work, with no breaks, thanks to the earthquake. Busy busy busy!

  • Grocery challenge, week 3

    The worst thing about weekend work is trying to fit in shopping on a weekend night or rushing it before work. It’s people like me who shop on a Saturday night at 10pm from time to time. At Countdown, what’s worse. (T likes it because he’s less tempted to buy snacks there, or so he says.)

    We also did a mini shop for a picnic on Friday, which didn’t really help with cost-cutting. Roast chickens were $13 each or two for $19, so we went with two and will be doing chicken lunches all week.

    (I’m not sure what that weird stain is on the first docket, either… Oh, and I should probably have explained earlier that where I haven’t uploaded separate receipts for meat/produce, it’s because T went shopping while I was at work, and he never holds on to them.)

    Plus $23.48 at the Aussie Butcher…and the damage comes to $132.02. Which is fine, but not for this month! Next week really needs to be bare bones – no snacks, cheap lunch ideas, as we only have $115 until we hit $500. Plus, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need dishwash soap and possibly TP.

    While we’re talking food, apparently Otago University in 2009  determined a “basic” food bill for a man, woman, adolescent boy and girl, ranged from $274 a week in Auckland, to $263 in Christchurch. Add in the use of convenience and imported foods, some out-of-season fruits and vegetables, more expensive cuts of meat and some speciality foods, and that grocery bill would grow to $426 and $411.

    This seems to be the original study, in which individual costs in Auckland were:

    Gender Basic shop Moderate shop Liberal shop
    Man $61 $79 $95 **
    Woman $58 $75 $90**

    *(“liberal” – ha! gotta love it! I can tell you if we threw things blindly into the trolley, it would blow out even higher than this)

    Considering prices have gone up even more since then and we average around $130 a week for two, I don’t think we can save much more, realistically.

    Also, I really hate clothes shopping, and tend to do it in bursts and spurts throughout the year. Last week I hit up my favourite place – Recycle Boutique – and made off with three work-appropriate tops for under $50. I figure I need 3-4 more bottoms and I’d like a couple more tops/cardigans…and I’d quite like new winter boots this year. I wonder if I can get away with maybe $300 for the year? Last year we spent less than $1000 for the both of us, INCLUDING skincare and the like…

  • Grocery challenge, week two

    (For non kiwis: We have a supermarket duopoly [So what else is new? It’s just like every other industry here]. Foodstuffs owns Pak n Save and New World, their super budget, no frills chain and their deluxe chain respectively. Progressive owns Countdown and Foodtown; the former is their cheaper chain, but it’s still more expensive than PnS.)

    Since we moved to this area, we’ve only ever shopped at Pak n Save. It’s close, and of course, it’s cheaper. They also don’t advertise, so you never know what their deals are until you get there…but that’s fine by me, because I’m not the kind of person who sticks rigidly to a list anyway.

    At our old place, we lived closer to Countdown, and would randomly split our trips between CD and PnS depending on, well, how we felt that week.

    But the expensive Mt Eden Foodtown nearby has now been converted into a Countdown, its cheaper sibling. And I’m kind of tempted to see how well we might fare there. There’s more variety, and it will almost GUARANTEED be better stocked. Also, PnS produce is generally crap, and we don’t always have time to get to a separate fruit n veg shop. Also, the Progressive chain actually sends out flyers, so with a bit of forward thinking maybe it wouldn’t increase our bill by too much. Although…is more choice really a good thing here?

    Anyway, chance – okay, traffic – led us to Greenlane Countdown this week. I have to say, I don’t really like visiting new supermarkets. I’m entrenched in routine and I like knowing where aisles are and where to find everything. And this particular supermarket is pretty big (although the aisles could be wider…are you listening?). Basically, the whole experience was nicer. Pak n Save = grey and concrete. Countdown = bright, light, tons of choice. I’ve been to tons of other branches before, but never noticed it quite as starkly. There were some good specials this week – part of the reason we spent nearly $10 on drinks. I’m a water drinker, but T is the opposite. Sadly, produce was not particularly cheap, and we refused to pay their meat prices fullstop.

    Of course, the main question is how much did we spend?!

    Sorry about the ugly/confusing docket. Countdown prints the original price and then a deduction for the discount. I do like how they show the unit price for produce, though.

    Add to that $33 something for meat from the Aussie butcher and we clock in at $135 this week. Pretty average. And two weeks into February, we’re at $254 of our $500 goal. Can we do it? I remember, vaguely, a time when we could occasionally pull off a $100 weekly shop. Now I’ll be happy with $125.

    So, do you shop at the same supermarket every time? And do you go to independent butchers/produce shops for fresh food?

  • In the palm of my hand

    A snapshot of some of our super expensive grocery shopping this week (no generic options, except on the butter, and that was only a 10c difference):

    • $4 for 200g hummus (can’t wait to get a food mixer and make my own, but not happening while we’re here with our claustrophobic, zero-storage space kitchen)
    • $4.90 for 500g butter (on special)
    • $5.20 for cracked pepper
    • $10 for 500g mozzarella (on special)
    • $3.20 for 600ml plain yoghurt (on special)
    • $3 for 125g fresh blueberries

    Also, this was the second week in a row that they were out of couscous and asparagus. Budget supermarket or not, that’s just not acceptable! Also also, how can canned veggies (even tomatoes) be closer to $2 than $1? Gah.

  • Grocery breakdown

    Trader Joe's produce
    Image via Wikipedia

    This isn’t a post about reducing the cost of groceries. In fact, we’re more likely to be a little more lax about our grocery budget having returned to two incomes. What’s the point in living if you can’t buy feta or blueberries or garlic mussels or ice cream?

    Vegetarians often say they save a lot of money by not eating meat. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true (I guess if I ate lots of filling carbs with my veggies, it could be), but I was interested to see just what portion of our spend is actually on fresh produce and meat.

    I know that our total spend is about $130 a week, so this is definitely a smaller spend than usual. T didn’t go to the butcher/grocer when he was meant to, so I had to make do with the shops within walking distance on my day off. Also,  we had a bit of food left over from last week (and may run out a day early), but it’s a decent representation.


    $16 rib roast and two pieces of smoked hickory spare ribs. $11 also got us one massive size 20 chicken, which we’ll roast and use for several meals.


    $18 got a bunch of silverbeet, three onions, three apples, half a cauliflower, one capsicum, a couple of kumara, and 1.5kg of washed potatoes. (Okay, so the potatoes alone were $4.50. I wanted to make baked potatoes, so I paid for the convenience…)

    Vanilla essence – 1.39
    BBQ sauce – 3.35
    12 long rolls – 3.38
    Small tuna can – 1.59
    Canned pineapple – 1.29
    Dried shiitaake mushrooms – 2.29
    Canned lentils – 1.68
    Pizza tomato paste – 3.49
    Glass cleaner – 3.19
    Pasta sauce – 2.99
    Toothpaste – 1.99
    Aloe vera drink – 3.99
    10 eggs – 3.28
    Hokkien noodles – 1.99
    Rolling pin – 8.25
    Sour cream – 2.29
    6 pack yoghurt – 3.39
    Margarine – 1.99
    6 litres of milk – 10.35
    Parmesan (125g) – 3.79
    Frankfurters – 6.34

    That’s just over $70. About $13 of that is on household stuff that isn’t food. I’d say on most weeks we’d probably spend another $5, maybe $10, on splurgey foods, or more if we need to stock up on staples. At the same time, we’d probably also spend another $10 on meat.

    So at $45 for “fresh” vs just over $55 for “not”, we’re almost bang on an even split – which is about as good as I could possibly have hoped for.

    What does your grocery bill look like? Are you happy with the proportions?

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  • Things that grind my gears: the cost of feeding a household

    Something that constantly grinds my gears is the cost of food. And since British writer Peter Bills’ op-ed on the astronomical prices of, well, just about everything in NZ was published  (read his followup column here) everyone has been weighing in on the debate. Whether you wholeheartedly agree, or are simply resigned to the downside of living in a tiny country at the bottom of the globe, everyone has an opinion either way.

    But it seems that of all people, All Black Justin Marshall apparently agrees, after a stint in the UK. It’s good to know he spends $400 to 500 to feed a family of five. $130 for us two sounds like we’re doing okay!

    It’s hard for me to compare; most everyone I know still lives at home. Others spent similar amounts, or less – but living the two-minute noodle lifestyle. Sense (one of the few NZ bloggers I know who writes about personal finance) spends more…but she’ll eventually move back to the US and a wayyyyy lower cost of living, damn her.

    But all the bitching and moaning in the world isn’t going to do any good. I like living in Auckland, and although I have big travel dreams, don’t see myself settling down anywhere else at this stage. Yes, it’s ridiculous that our lamb costs less in the UK than it does here. But I’m not a fan of lamb anyway. I don’t care how much a latte costs; I don’t drink coffee. And short of everyone in the country starting to grow their own food…I don’t see how prices are going to ever come down, even ignoring the impending GST rise.


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  • You know you’re a grown up when…you have a well-stocked pantry

    Confession time: We bought breakfast on Saturday. Not to splurge, but because there was literally no breakfasty food in the house. (There wasn’t a hell of a lot of any other kind of food in the pantry, either.)

    This hasn’t happened too much lately, but it definitely happens more than it should. Groceries aren’t cheap, and our budget allows us to shop for a week at a time and no more.

    We don’t have the cupboard space or money to stockpile items, but I’m starting to think it might be worth cutting back on a week of saving to stock up on a few things like canned veges, sauces, oil, and pasta. Bread could be frozen (eliminating the no-breakfast dilemma, assuming we keep our spreads stocked up as well), and so could milk (although T would no doubt still tear through it, eliminating the purpose entirely). He tends to use things up if they’re there, so that’s something we’d have to watch, too – building up a pantry is great, but not if it only results in swelling the weekly spend.

    What other non-perishables – that don’t take up too much room – do you keep on hand?


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