WE ARE on a super tight budget at the moment. It's from a combination of things, daycare rebate running out, running a start-up business that takes up a lot of money, school fees, life expenses - everything has just meant we have had to rein it in. I know that there are lots of mums in the same boat. This is how I feed my family of five on $85 a week.

If you had told me several weeks ago that we could have done our groceries our family of five for $85 I wouldn't have believed it myself. But desperate times call for desperate measures!

Our previous grocery bills had been around the $350 mark, not to mention the take away on the nights we were too tired to cook.

Now - full disclosure - the $85 a week covers our food groceries, and some cleaning products, it also includes nappies and wipes for our two-year-old. If we have to buy anything extra, it does cost more. But on average, using these tricks and tips and some hardcore budgeting, I have been able to keep our shopping bill to the $85 mark each week.

It also still holds true if we shop at pretty much any grocery store. Although we are finding that our money does go further at Aldi - if we go to Woolies or Coles we do end up with a slightly higher bill, probably around $100 instead of $85.It can be done, you just need a few small changes to make it happen.

This is how we do it...


Plan, plan, plan and then plan again

Have you heard the saying, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail? It is a bit like that with budgeting too. We now plan our shopping list with military precision.

First, start with the meals you want to have for the week and include everything you plan on eating, breakfast, dinners, lunches, lunchboxes and snacks. Then see where you can find similar ingredients, so you aren't buying expensive ingredients for single use. Then write it all down on a shopping list, down to the very last ingredient required and stick to it.

Check the fridge, freezer and pantry before you go to make sure you are only buying what you actually need as well.


Make everything from scratch

We make our own bread, biscuits, banana bread and quiche for snacks etc. You can buy a loaf of bread from Coles for $1.80 now BUT a loaf never lasts us the whole week so it is a repeat trip to stock up on bread during the week. If we go back to the shops, we end up spending more money. In the end, it is more cost effective to make it at home ourselves.

If like you making sweet treats, the only thing you need to make sure you have available is some butter, flour, milk, and eggs, and that covers off the basics in most recipes.

Making everything at home is a bit more time consuming, but it is infinitely more satisfying than buying everything pre-made. Plus you know exactly what has gone into the food you make.

We do a big cook up on Sunday afternoon that usually involves soups, quiche, banana bread, choc chip cookies, and chopping up of fruit and veggies to make it easier for snacks during the week.

Cooking together. Picture: Supplied.
Cooking together. Picture: Supplied.


Simplify your shopping list

You don't need to buy everything, you just need to plan it right to buy the right things. If you know what the family will eat, then plan around that.

I know my family are not going to eat a chicken curry, so I won't plan to make one during the week. Our food is simplified, usually with less ingredients or inclusions (see point below) but it is still tasty and healthy! You can check out some customised shopping lists here.


Scrimp on the basics

You don't need to buy brands to get good food. The home brand or store brand is usually just as good quality as the more expensive brands of the same product.

You will know what you are willing to compromise on, flour, tinned beans, tinned tomatoes, coconut cream, sugar, milk. Go for the cheapest version. You will often find them a little lower on the shelf, but there is often (not always) little to no difference between the brand name product and the home brand product. You can make some real savings by cutting back here.


Make meals that can be used more than once

A guy I used to work with would make a batch of bolognese and eat it for the entire week. I am in no way suggesting that you do that, it is a little extreme. The key here is to make a big batch of something that can be used more than once.

So if you make a Bolognese - have it with pasta one night, then have it on jacket potatoes with sour cream the next. Make risotto one night and then arancini balls the next. Make a double batch up of burger patties and freeze some.Start thinking about how you can make your meals work harder for you, once you start you can't stop.


Use less ingredients

Meals don't have to have a million ingredients, and as a busy family, who has time to cook 5-course degustation meals anyway?

I have always thought the more ingredients the better, but all of your meals can be just as good even if they are simple.Look for ways you can use the same ingredients across the week, so you aren't buying expensive single-use ingredients. There is no reason your stir-fry will be better with 10 ingredients as opposed to just using five.


Use things you already have

Now if your cupboards are bare, this is not going to help much. But if you go and take stock and find that you do actually have a load of pantry or freezer items that can be used - make sure you use them!

When doing up your meal plan, stand in your pantry and plan your week's meals around what you already have - then do your shopping list on the extras that you really need.

Picture: iStock.
Picture: iStock.


Stock up on staples when they are cheap

If flour or tinned tomatoes are on special - and you know you will use them - buy a few. Even if it pushes up your weekly shop by a bit, overall you will still make a saving.

Having staple items ready to go in the fridge or pantry makes it easier to prepare a variety of different meals quickly and easily.


Toast for dinner sometimes is ok

Or weet bix, or eggs on toast or anything else quick and easy.

The kids seriously love it when we make a really simple dinner, that isn't really dinner.


Grow your own herbs

Fresh herbs can make a huge difference to a meal. However, a packet at the supermarket can cost around $5 per herb. If you love fresh herbs, you need to start growing your own.

It is simple to get started, and most herbs are fairly easy to keep alive, you just need to remember to water them!

In Brisbane, the biggest threat to herbs is possums. I always smear Vicks (Homebrand version of course) around where the herbs are planted and we have not had a possum raid on our herbs.


Buy ugly

A huge change in produce sections recently is the addition of 'ugly' produce ie. fruit and vegetables that would have been rejected by the major grocery stores. It sells at a greatly reduced rate, but it is really just the same as the 'regular' produce.

Shop from this section if it is available as there are serious savings to be made!

These are my top tips for reducing your families food and grocery budget. You can find some money saving tips for mums here as well.

What do you do to keep your grocery bill down?

This post originally appeared on Mums of Brisbane and has been republished here with permission. See more from them on Facebook .