Clever home economics have been forgotten, sending food bills soaring

younger generation tomatoes
An older perspective could help younger generations with their budgeting. Source: Getty

Anyone who lived through lean times, or grew up with a parent who continued the habits of rationing long after it was no longer mandatory, knows how to stretch a dollar at the supermarket.

But it’s a skill lots of people don’t have, as an eye-opening story on news.com.au shows. One of the news site’s writers was challenged to complete her weekly grocery shopping with just $50 to spend, on enough food for two people. 

“I still couldn’t fathom how spending $50 (US$38) per week at the supermarket would be possible,” writer Jessica Mudditt admitted, saying that she normally spent $230 every week to feed a two-strong household – an amount that wasn’t considered extravagant amongst her friends, she said.

Her task? Stick to the $50-a-week budget for a month, with the help of a new book called The $50 Weekly Shop – Weekday Dinners. In her first week, she failed dismally, spending $133.

“I’ve never felt so guilty about buying blueberries,” she wrote, complaining that she found she lacked key ingredients for recipes and was eating unhealthy foods.

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But in the subsequent weeks she got closer, cutting her bill to $109 in the second week, and $69 in the third.

Author Jody Allen lived on $50 a week for four years, and says there’s a few tricks to keeping your food bills low. For example, she recommends ‘lay-bying’ a full lamb or half a cow at the local butcher, then eating it over many months. She gets eggs from a relative who keeps chickens, and grows her own vegetables.

None of this advice will surprise anyone who grew up in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, when such practices were common. But it’s one lots of young people struggle with.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australians spend an average of $237 (US$181) a week on food and non-alcoholic beverages. And this statistic doesn’t even take into account toiletries, cleaning products, and those little extras that all add to the total of a weekly shop.

The money’s not even necessarily being spent on things that are used. 

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Foodwise Australia found that Australians discarded up to 20 per cent of the food they purchased; this is the equivalent of one out of every five shopping bags. This waste is usually due to products being past their use-by date, food gone bad, or food that has not been used and is forgotten. 

The key to fixing this problem is shopping strategically and picking food that can be used in a number of different recipes, many people say. You might buy a bag of carrots that can be used in a pumpkin and carrot soup, steamed for a side dish with lamb, and grated raw to add to a salad.

Today, though, so many products are readily available at the supermarkets, there is almost too much choice for the younger generation, and too many are too easily bought ready-made and long-lasting. In the past, when food was not modified to keep for longer and fridges and microwaves were not as efficient as today, people were forced to be frugal with their food choices. Meals were planned out so every product was used efficiently.

There was also more of a tendency to use fresh or home-grown products in the past. Before mobile phones and laptops, people talked to their neighbours, borrowed recipes or ingredients, and maybe even swapped some home-grown mangoes for some freshly laid eggs.

These are all things younger generations could benefit from when planning out their weekly shop, and they may find their bills come in closer to $50. 

What are some of the things you did to budget when you were younger? What are some of you best grocery shopping budget tips for the younger generation?

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