Changing habits and planning ahead can lead to big savings
By: Adrienne Bogatie
We all have to live within a budget. How big or small that budget is depends on a number of factors: the job we have, our housing costs, the size of our family, whether or not we keep kosher, and the school which our children attend.
For a lot of people, it is easier to open up about marital and family conflicts, or going for therapy, than it is to admit, even to close family or friends, that they are struggling financially. While material wealth makes life more comfortable, the truth is that who we are as people is not dictated by the amount of money and things we own, but by how we behave towards ourselves and others. The way we treat money is often something passed down from generation to generation and that money attitude may need to be changed.
One example is buying something just because it is on special. This is a learned behaviour and is something that a lot of us need to unlearn. A special is only special if you actually need that item; otherwise, it’s a waste. As a generalisation, a lot of women fear that they will get to the till and not have enough money to cover the shopping. Men fear not being able to provide for their families. Fear leads to emotional shopping, also known as retail therapy. I recently watched a programme where a gentleman kept buying tools that he didn’t know how to use. The reason was that he felt he needed the tools to keep a roof over his family’s head and had to have the tools to fix whatever was broken.
To start changing your habits and learning to save while you spend, you should start by sitting down and listing all your income and expenses. You need to come up with what you think your financial picture is. Then, for 30 days, collect every single slip and all your bills – including things as seemingly insignificant as the amount that you gave to parking guards – and work out a more realistic picture. The difference will usually come as a shock. This tip is something almost every financial advisor I have spoken to recommends; I have just put my twist on it. Some weeks or months this is easier to do than other months. It is something you have to consciously work on.
For ways to save your money, I have focused on grocery shopping and loyalty cards. First, do an inventory of your kitchen, from the fridge to the freezer to the grocery cupboard. Yes, it will take a while and you will be surprised at what you find. The first time I did this I found about 6 packages of lasagne sheets, plus a whole lot of tins which had very much passed the best before date, never mind what I found in my freezer.
The Americans do something which is only catching on in South Africa now, but dieticians have been using this for years, and that is meal planning. When you meal plan, you are deciding what you are going to eat for that week or month. Whether you plan one meal a day or all the meals is up to you. Find your recipes and then draw up your shopping list. Once you have your list, start shopping in your own kitchen. Look at what you already have and cross that off the list, then move on to the store to buy the food you need. Meal planning helps you save money because you go to the store and mostly stick to the list you have drawn up. This reduces the amount of food bought and thrown out and, therefore, the amount of money wasted.
The extras add up
The time of day and how often you go shopping can affect your grocery bill positively or negatively. If you spend R200 each time you go to the store, the more often you go, the more you spend.
For the purposes of my illustration, I will use a lady with a family of four who doesn’t really entertain and is only shopping for one meal a day. Monday, she goes to buy 2 bottles of milk, a loaf of bread for school lunch, 18 eggs, because that’s the easiest packaging to put in the trolley, a block of cheese, and a bag of tomatoes. While she is there, she also buys something for the children to have as a treat for school, then she sees something she wants, but doesn’t really need, even better: it is on special, so she buys it. The rest of the week follows a similar pattern with slightly different ingredients, the treats and the specials which weren’t on her list cost maybe between R50 and R100 extra every day, which isn’t a lot really, is it?
Our shopper has been in every day of the week and now has to buy for Friday night, which for a lot of people is challah, soup, fish, meat and chicken, a few sides, and dessert, plus cold drinks. Please don’t forget the tip given to the parking guard, anywhere between R1 to R10 each visit.
Her original shop should have cost her around R230, obviously depending on where she shopped and how well she stuck to her list. Multiplying this times 4 days a week plus Friday night, the bill is around R1 420 for a week (shopping for only one meal a day), add R25 for the week for the car guard. Now add the kids’ treats: perhaps a packet or strip of crisps for school, a nice box of Lindt chocolate because, well, it was on special with R20 off and would make a great gift or treat. She is spending on average R250 to R500 a week over and above what she would have spent sticking to her shopping list. This is around R1 000–R2 000 per month or R12 000–R24 000 per year on stuff the family really didn’t need!
Tips for staying within the lines
1. The first thing you must have is a shopping list, which you will mostly stick to. If possible, only go shopping once a week for fresh produce and once a month for non-perishables. That’s about R10 a week for the car guard instead of R25.
2. Never go food shopping when you are hungry, tired, feeling sick, in a rush, or with irritable children.
3. Time of day can be important. Try and go when you know all your friends are busy elsewhere. The reason for this is the more people you meet and talk to, the longer your shopping will take. Because you have been standing next to a shelf for at least 10 minutes talking, there is a good chance you will pick something up off that shelf and put it in your cart.
4. Use coupon apps to help plan your meals and to get points or money back when shopping.
5. Look at the specials in the paper and draw up your meal plan or shopping list from there. Who says your meal plan has to be Monday to Monday? If the paper comes out on a Tuesday with the specials then plan Wednesday to Wednesday.
6. Make sure the special is really special. Sometimes the more popular sizes are cheaper individually than the bulk. For example, buying 2 x 2,5kg sugars may be cheaper than buying a 5kg sugar. Check prices.
7. Don’t drive around too much. Petrol keeps going up and it is a hidden cost to your grocery bill. Choose either a large store that keeps everything or a mall that has all the stores that you need. If you have to go to a few different stores, plan which way will be the least travelling back and forth.
8. Food waste is another hidden cost. Those Wednesday deals at the grocer! Unless you have a large family, are you really going to use all those vegetables before they go off? Why not join with a friend or two and buy together, then everyone gets the deal and hardly anything will be wasted.
9. Cook in bulk. This is something I have never mastered. If you have space, buy those bulk deals or the food that is on special, cook and freeze. If you can find the vegetables in the frozen section at the supermarket then you can cook dishes with fresh ones and freeze them. It just needs time and planning.
10. Don’t throw things out, change the way you use them. Vegetables which are no longer at their peak can easily be turned into soup or sauces and added to stews. They are not off, they just aren’t as fresh as you would like. Get creative with leftovers in your fridge, turn them into something different. Almost anything can be added to eggs or pasta.
The difference shopping once a week can make
Imagine a woman who has a meal plan and a shopping list, including the school treats and the expensive chocolate. She has chosen to go straight to the shops after dropping the children at school, nice and early. The store only opens at 9am, but that’s okay. She planned ahead and has taken a travel mug of coffee (this saved the cost of a takeout coffee, around R 40) and some nuts or some fruit to eat while waiting, now she won’t shop based on her stomach but rather on her list.
For example, her meal plan is as follows: Monday – mac and cheese; Tuesday – spaghetti Bolognese; Wednesday – vegetarian burgers; Thursday – fish and chips; and Friday, being the most expensive day of the week, challah, soup, main course, sides, and dessert.
Her shopping list for a family of four looks something like this: 5 Milks, 18 eggs, 4 loaves of bread, 800g of cheese, 1kg tomatoes, 300g mince, 1 packet spaghetti, 1kg onions, 1 box vegetarian burgers, 4 fresh rolls, 1 cucumber, 1 box hake pieces, 1 packet frozen chips (or she could make her own), lettuce, 3 shallots, vegetables for soup, 1 chicken, 500g rice, frozen mixed vegetables, 2 cold drinks, ice cream. The total, including 3 different strips of crisps as treats for the week and the expensive chocolate, now comes to around R1 040 for the entire week.
She just spent about R400 less, this is a saving of R1 600 per month, or around R20 000 per year. That is based on one meal a day, and not even using coupons or specials. Imagine the possibilities for an entire month. The same applies to toiletries and household cleaning supplies.
It pays to be loyal
Loyalty cards work, use them to your advantage. The store cards that earn you money with your purchases are a great way to save actual physical money which you can use at a later date. Apps such as Wuhu deals, which are Unilever products and can be used at a few stores, allows you to choose between a cash discount immediately at the till or earn points to use on vouchers for other purchases, like take-outs.
SnapnSave doesn’t give you immediate discounts, but it does give you money back into an e-wallet. I like to accumulate my money and then cash out when I need it. SnapnSave changes their deals weekly but there is always bread, milk, and margarine or butter on the list. You can shop at almost any store including some independent stores to earn cash back. (Unfortunately, this does not apply to our kosher butchers and bakeries.)
The Smart Shopper card, while it may feel a little intrusive, monitors your shopping habits and then tailors the coupons to your shopping habits. Spar rewards cards can be used simultaneously. The Spar rewards card is applicable countrywide, while the loyalty card is store specific.
The amounts I have used are only examples, but were valid when this article was written. The tips are always relevant. If you shop consciously you can bring your household bill down by between 5% and 20% and keep it down. I recommend a budget of a maximum of R3 000 per person, per month, including toiletries, cleaning, and baby products. There is no minimum.
Meat and chicken are expensive, so if you are struggling to make ends meet, look at alternatives such as pulses and legumes. They are cheap, filling, and, most importantly, healthy – a true superfood.
There is not only a financial benefit to meal planning but also a healthy one. Every successful ‘diet’ or lifestyle change comes with an eating plan. And who doesn’t want to be healthy and save money?
Born and raised in Johannesburg, Adrienne Bogatie is married with four children, two dogs, and two cats. She is a Registered Nurse by profession and writes a blog called Kashering Your Life, http://kasheringyourlife.co.za. She hosts the Essen Fressen Show every alternate Tuesday on Chai FM, runs workshops, does private consultations, and gives talks. She is a self-professed expert in the field of ‘the month is longer than my money’. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org