In collaboration with VicSuper.
I found myself standing in a bright white room with my hands inside a vault filled with crisp $50 notes. Men in suits stood a respectful distance away and the lady beside me with the fancy shoes was explaining I was now about to be face-to-face with my future.
I was kind of nervous and was half-grateful, half-overwhelmed at the prospect of someone finally bumping me out of Head-In-The-Sand Land where I’d lived most of my working life. A hatch opened and $20,000 appeared, and Fancy Shoe Lady told me that’s how much I currently had squirrelled away for my retirement in my superannuation account. Fail, but also I’m quite a ways off hanging up my laptop and taking up gardening/Alaskan cruises just yet. There’s still time to turn it around.
Fancy Shoe Lady announces they’re going to give me what my super will look like upon retirement if I don’t do anything and leave this current amount invested.
They give me another $20,000.
Now I don’t know what the cost of living will be in 2047 but I’m betting $60k won’t make it through a trip round the supermarket let alone the largest state in America. It’s not going to be enough to live on, and if I was the type to sweat, I’d have started. Knowing that I haven’t put a cent into my super since the day I started freelancing two years ago, I sort of begin to panic that time is running out and also that I won’t be able to afford the good butter come age 67.
Watch me freak out a little…
The hatch opened again and I was told they were going to hand me the amount of money I’d have saved if I did nothing else but add that extra grocery money in every week – and the fat stacks kept coming. I could barely hold the bundles that totalled $200,000 and it was a bit of a motivational kick up the bum to finally see my future physically represented like this. Suddenly my super isn’t that thing that you sign when you start a job and it goes somewhere and you forget to open the statements and it’s fine because you’ll worry about it later, right? Suddenly it’s real money and I’m reminded I really need to live on it.
I can’t ignore my super any more, particularly as a freelancer and sole trader, and even though it’s numbers/the future/overwhelming/totally out of my realm of knowledge, I don’t really want to. I know I need to get a handle on where my money’s at and what I’m doing with it.
If you want to do the same, VicSuper will be running this simulation throughout Victoria, and you can find out more here. If you are in Head-in-the-Sand Land like I was, you will find info here about how to get yourself sorted, and here is info for all y’all who are self-employed. You can also request advice here. Not sure how much you’ll need to retire on? They have a handy calculator here. Want to know how to add extra along the way? Here are some tips.
Top Tips to Slash Your Grocery Bill
How I keep my grocery bills down
I used to be a shopping ninja, and then when I earned more I spent more. Groceries were the one thing I never penny-pinched on, but the tables have turned in recent months and I’ve gone back to my frugal ways. Here’s how I normally keep costs down, how I’ve pruned recently, and how I’ll be slashing it even further going forward:
Make your own
I like to do this anyway for many reasons, and it’s been the one thing I’ve always been pretty consistent with. On the odd occasion I’ll go through phases where I’m over it and I start buying, but I always go back. These are the things I mostly stick to:
- Laundry Liquid – I’ve always followed Rhonda’s recipe here.
- Hand soap – very pretty tutorial at Blah Blah Magazine
- Shampoo and conditioner – I’ve done the no-poo thing with just baking soda and apple cider vinegar and I actually really liked it. Not for everybody, but could be for you!
- Cleaner – I use mostly just baking soda and vinegar (both bought in bulk from Costco) or you can use these green homemade versions of your favourite products here.
- Lip balm – from my homegirl Fritha here. I get the ingredients from eBay.
- Crackers – super-simple version here, similar sort here, our favourite cheddar version here, and of course, sliced and baked tortillas.
- Dip – I always do guacamole, hummus (roasted pumpkin version here), something mixed with cream cheese or sour cream, and of course customised pestos.
- Yogurt – I use yogurt and milk in an EasiYo maker using Emma’s procedure from her book My Darling Lemon Thyme. You could also use this recipe to make it in the oven, this one in the crock pot, or this one in an esky.
- Cheese – a harder paneer-sort of cheese here, cottage cheese here, ricotta cheese here, cream cheese here, yogurt cheese/labneh here.
- Bread – I use mostly this recipe for regular types of bread (sometimes I substitute 100g of the white flour for rye flour), the bread recipes that came with my Sunbeam breadmaker, Jamie Oliver’s dough recipe from The Naked Chef for pizza and foccacia, and for everything else (sourdough etc) everything Brydie ever says here.
- Jam – I make strawberry a lot, blackberry when I’ve got ’em, and sometimes even this pear and vanilla bean one when I’m feeling fancy. Marmalade is good too.
- Chutney/Relish – my favourite, that I’ve been making forever. Uses tinned tomatoes too, which often makes it cheaper.
- Sauce – tomato ketchup, smoky barbecue, enchilada sauce, salsa, pasta sauce, and roasted canned tomato pasta sauce.
- tortillas/flatbread I use this River Cottage recipe but this sourdough one has been on my list to try forever.
- Crumpets – this one!
- English muffins – this one!
- Bagels – these are jalapeno, but easily changed
- Cake – my 100% lunchbox go-to
- Muesli bars – my kids love these ones and they’re school-friendly
- Fruit Leather – so good!
- Cookies/Biscuits – this recipe makes 80. Yes, 80! And these are my favourite choc-chip ones. Plain sugar cookies for decorating are rad too.
Quick Tips to Keep Your Food Bill Down
- Compare prices – I’ve heard of people doing identical online shops and only buying the one with the cheapest cart. Or even then going into the supermarket to see if the prices are cheaper after that.
- Buying in bulk – I used to baulk at it so much because it doesn’t make much sense when you’re first starting out, but it is easier once you get a stockpile started. I wouldn’t dream of buying flour in any other way now, we go through so much of it!
- Buy when you know the prices are discounted – you can even ask the store manager when they discount their perishables and be there at that time
- Join rewards clubs and link your shopping with your frequent flier points. If you don’t need the points for travel, you can convert them into shopping vouchers
- Buy fresh produce in season
- Meal plan (I KNOW, but it’s not always as awful as you think!)
- Shop with a list
- Send someone else to do the shopping so they’re not tempted by all the extras you’re going to get
- Stock up on favourites when they’re cheap
- Make friends with your leftovers – by far the hardest tip I’ve struggled with putting in place. Ugh. But it works and if you get creative with your leftovers you don’t have to cry when faced with the fourth day of broccoli soup for lunch.
- Shop from your pantry – I always try and meal plan with two or three meals of stuff I already have. Once I even made a two-week meal plan for a family of four without having to buy anything extra from the store except for milk.
- Grow whatever you can – my garden is pretty paltry at the moment, but I’m never without an attempt at herbs, at least.
- Buy home brand items for stuff that doesn’t impact on taste – I actually find there’s no point buying the non-branded items that we end up disliking because then nobody wants to eat it and it’s a waste. I also say never buy home brand condiments, because if you’re making cheap food taste edible then you don’t want to put cheap sauce on it! Of course you can always make your own.
- Freeze everything you bulk buy that is perishable. I often freeze, or blanch and freeze the produce from my organics boxes. I always get a bigger box than I need and freeze the extra ear or two of corn or whatever in there, and then I’ve got enough corn to last me through the whole year.
- Embrace the pulse – you don’t need me to tell you to stretch your meals out with beans and lentils, but I’m going to!
- Go without – if you’re nipping down the shops to get tarragon when you’ve only got basil, stop. You will come back with a bag of chips, three boxes of tea and a new mop. Challenge yourself to go without or make your own until your next proper shop.
- Substitute – this is the basis of how I learned to cook. Every single recipe I ever tried had an ingredient in it we just never had on hand. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and we had the most minimal of minimalist pantries. Everything still tasted good, I figured out what worked, and most importantly I learned what I could do without. This is a pretty comprehensive list of what you can substitute when you find you’re out of something important.
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry – I know we all know it, but do we really do it? I always come home with three extra dinners when I’m starving. I even know I’m doing it and I can’t help myself.
- Cook from scratch – there are a million reasons this is a good idea, not just from a frugal perspective
- Shop at markets – including farm gate, pick-your-own berries, local school markets, farmer’s markets, everything where you can cut out the middle man
- Only pay cash for groceries, and only take the amount you have available to spare. You literally can’t buy what you can’t afford! A bit more effort, but totally worth it.
- Eat more veg – I’m totally biased but it really is cheaper. Bulk out those plates, people!
- Shop the perimeter of the store – not always possible, but that’s where the freshest/least processed items are usually available.
- Have a master list of things you always get (so you don’t forget!) and add to it what you need
- Check your recipe books or websites for meals before you go so you know what you’re looking for
- Use coupons if you got ’em! We’re not as big on coupons in Australia as America, but if they’re available you should totally use them.
Favourite Frugal Meals
- Briami – Greek Vegetable Stew
- Black bean and sweet potato tacos
- Brown rice salad
- Cheesy veggie slice
- Chipotle lentil rice tacos
- Crumbed eggplant with chilli tomato jam
- Corn fritters
- Fettuccine with tomato-chilli sugo
- Homemade refried beans
- Lentil and balsamic tomato pappardelle (fancy lentil spaghetti bolognese!)
- Pasta e Fagioli
- Silverbeet colcannon
- Spiced lentil soup
- Cheese and spinach-stuffed jacket potatoes
- Grilled polenta and pumpkin salad
- Soba noodle stir-fry
- Spaghetti with Sundried Tomato sauce
- Mushroom risotto
- Vegetarian moussaka
- Potato and Cabbage Soup with a Jalapeno Lime Twist
- Pumpkin and feta burgers
- Red lentil veggie soup with roasted potato croutons
- Ricotta and spinach stuffed shells
- Roasted pumpkin lasagne
- Simple minestrone
- Smoky barbecue tofu kebabs
- Spinach and cheese baked penne
- Vegetarian “fish” cakes
- Corn chowder
- Really good vegetarian meatloaf (really!)
- Stuffed capsicums
- Spinach and tomato bechamel pasta bake
- Banana muffins
- Yogurt pancakes
- Banana pikelets
- Cheese scrolls
- Apple scrolls
- Graham Crackers
- Banana cake
- Blueberry yogurt cake
- Ginger pear cake
So what’s your top tip for saving money on groceries? And do you know what your super is doing?!