I wrote down every single food and ingredients I bought for 3 months. This is what I have learnt.
With the prices of everything going up, I decided to conduct a financial experiment for our family of four. Over the last three months, I wrote down every food item and ingredient I purchased using an Excel sheet. From supermarkets to online bulk shops, food co-ops to local green grocers, I recorded every purchase. I compared prices for all these outlets. I even grouped these items into food groups. In this article, I will share the lessons I learnt.
1. Buying fresh produce from discount supermarkets may not save you money.
Surprisingly, buying fresh produce from a discount supermarket did not save me money. At this point, I must tell my readers than the majority of our food purchases consisted of fresh fruits, vegetables, multigrain bread, dried beans and legumes, fresh or frozen fish, eggs, low GI rice, pasta, dark chocolate, and some discounted half-price snacks (more on this later). Between the large supermarkets and discount supermarkets, the cost difference was most noticeable mainly for processed foods such as biscuits, sauces etc . Consequently, shopping at a discount supermarket did not result in significant savings for us. Additionally, our local green grocer and supermarket offered excellent quality seasonal produce at good prices. Furthermore, by bringing my own produce bags, I could reduce plastic packaging waste. While I briefly joined a well-run food co-op, I found it challenging to pick up the fruit and veg box after school. Nevertheless, the food co-op remains a good option in terms of quality.
What I do now: I buy seasonal fruit and vegetables from my local green grocer or supermarket. Perhaps in the future, I will overcome my reluctance to pick up the weekly food co-op box.
2. 'Ugly' produce is perfectly fine.
During my visits to the local green grocer, I came across "ugly" produce. With most of my shopping done online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to give these "ugly" fruits and vegetables a try as I slowly go back to the shops. So far, I have purchased "ugly" eggplants, persimmons, pink ladies (apples), pears, and lemons. Honestly, apart from the smaller size of the persimmons, I did not find the other produce particularly "ugly." In fact, they were fresh, tasty, and, in my opinion, the "ugly" lemons were quite attractive.
What I do now: I embrace "ugly" produce without hesitation, as it is not only good for the wallet but also perfectly fine.
3. Large vegetables are budget-friendly.
During a few weeks of my three-month experment, Asian cabbage (wombok) was in season. I bought a huge wombok for around $3 from my local green grocer, which provided us with three to four meals. We enjoyed miso soup with wombok, Asian wombok salad, and stir-fried wombok (served for two consecutive meals). This approach not only saved us money. I have explored different ways of using wombok. No one complained about the frequency of wombok, although I briefly considered making kimchi until my husband questioned whether we need a special fridge for kimchi. Fair enough!
What I do now: Every week or two, I purchase a large wombok or cabbage (plain or purple) and learnt various ways to use them.
4. Half-price specials at the supermarket are not wallet-friendly.
Eight packets of biscuits (including Thai coconut rolls) anyone? How could I resist when they were half price? However, these items were mostly discretionary snacks. Each time I purchased them at half price, they were consumed twice as quickly. In reality, I saved nothing and ended up spending more than I would have otherwise. Lesson learnt for me.
What I do now: For all discretionary snacks, I only purchase the quantity I would buy at full price, even if they are on sale. The only exception is dark chocolate because there's only so much 85% dark chocolate I can eat.
Please note that my experience is specific to our family and no one in my family has specific food allergies, such as Coeliac disease. Your experience may differ based on your unique dietary needs. This article is not financial advice but rather a lighthearted sharing of my own experience.