Frugal savers share tips to help future-proof finances amid Australia’s first recession in 29 years

Planning dinners around discounted food, living off half your income and treating savings like a bill that must be paid will help put your finances back on track, frugal Australians have revealed.

Hundreds shared tips in a budgeting group on Facebook, advising readers of simple ways to save money as Australia battles its first recession in 29 years.

One mother-of-six said she challenges herself to make family dinners for under $10 a few nights a week, while another woman who transfers half her salary into savings as soon as she gets paid said: ‘A bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you need.’

More than 3.5million Australians have already cut spending or reduced home loans to survive the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, a special report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed in July. 

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Frugal Australians say writing weekly menus made from discounted food is one of the easiest ways to save money (stock image)

 Frugal Australians say writing weekly menus made from discounted food is one of the easiest ways to save money (stock image)

1. Plan meals around special offers and write weekly menus

Writing weekly menus made from discounted food marked down to half price is an easy way to cut costs and bulk your balance, dozens claimed on the Facebook thread.

One woman said: ‘I plan my menu around what is on special and stockpile whatever’s on offer – especially items that are 50 percent off.’

A second said she ‘shops at home first’ by making a list of everything she needs and only buying what she’s written down when she arrives at the supermarket.

Another advised: ‘Always write a weekly or fortnightly menu. Check the pantry, fridge and freezer before you write a shopping list and do your best to stick to it.’ 

Rabobank’s 2019 Food Waste Report found the average annual food spend per Australian household grew to $7,982 last year, a two per cent increase on the 2018 figure. That’s the equivalent of roughly $152 a week.

Sticking to a list and stocking up on special offers will go some way to reducing that figure. 

Raspberries on special offer in a Woolworths store in Sydney

Raspberries on special offer in a Woolworths store in Sydney

2. Eat ‘meat-free’ meals a few days a week

Adopting a vegetarian diet a few days a week will dramatically reduce your grocery bill, one woman claimed.

‘Probably going to get angry comments, but reduce meat intake,’ she said.

‘Most of our meals are based on vegetables, legumes etc. It’s healthier and saves money.’ 

That claim is backed by Aldi shopping expert Nicole Higgins, who recently shared tips on the supermarket’s Aldi Unpacked blog advising Australians of simple ways to save money at the checkout.

Ms Higgins said following ‘Meat Free Mondays’ – a campaign aimed at slowing climate change by reducing consumption of meat – is as good for your back pocket as it is for the environment.

A handy resource for first-time vegetarians is Beat the Budget, a British Instagram page that shares recipes for cheap but tasty dinners, all made for less than $2 per serve by building dishes around ingredients like frozen veg, noodles and pasta.

There’s plenty on offer for plant-based dieters, including a nut-free, dairy-free mac and cheese for $1.89 and vegetarian paella for only $1.29 a meal.

Over on the Facebook thread, a mother-of-six said she challenges herself to make dinner for her family for under $10 every night.

Beat the Budget's vegetarian paella (pictured) made from rice, tinned tomatoes, garlic and frozen vegetables for just $1.29 per serve

Beat the Budget’s vegetarian paella (pictured) made from rice, tinned tomatoes, garlic and frozen vegetables for just $1.29 per serve 

Easy recipe for vegetarian paella

A taste of authentic Spanish cuisine is only 20 minutes and $1.29 per serve away thanks to this ingeniously simple recipe for loaded vegetarian paella, which is made from ready cooked rice, frozen vegetables, a tin of tomatoes and some seasoning.

1. Finely dice one onion and three cloves of garlic, then add two generous tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan over a medium heat.

2. Fry for roughly six minutes until translucent, then increase the heat and pour a tin of chopped tomatoes on top.

3. Cook until the liquid has evaporated, which should take about three minutes.

4. Once the mixture has reduced, season with paprika, salt and pepper before stirring in two packets of ready-cooked vegetable rice, one kilo of frozen vegetables and 400ml of vegetable stock.

5. Leave to combine and simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes, finishing with the juice of a whole lemon and rock salt to taste.

Source: Beat the Budget

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3. Deposit half your salary and live off the rest

Depositing half your monthly salary into a locked savings account as soon as you are paid is the safest way to avoid blowing money on unnecessary purchases, according to many on the Facebook thread.

One woman said: ‘Try to live off of half your money. It’s achievable.’

Another said she starts the month by paying ‘non-negotiable’ bills like car registration and water.

She then moves on to ‘negotiable’ payments such as gas, electricity, WiFi and insurance.

Get on the phone and negotiate with your providers. If they are a good company they will help you lower the cost of your bills,’ she said.

She uses whatever is leftover for discretionary spending like food, petrol and entertainment, encouraging others to set a little ‘sanity money’ aside in case unforeseen expenditures arise. 

Top tricks to future-proof finances 

– Give bills and savings equal priority at the start of the month

– Write weekly or fortnightly menus built around discounted food

– Remember that a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you need

– Eat vegetarian a few days a week to cut costs on expensive meat

– Bulk buy non-perishable items on special offer

– Live off half your income and deposit the rest into a locked savings account

– ‘Pay yourself first’ out of your own wages before you buy anything else 

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4. Treat savings like a bill 

Savings and bills should be equally prioritised at the start of the month to ensure deposits do not become an afterthought, one man insisted.

He said: ‘Treat savings like a bill you have to pay each pay period, automate the transfer into an ‘out of sight’ account.’

Another woman said she follows the ‘pay yourself first’ approach, which involves paying a minimum of 10 percent of your weekly pay into a separate savings account.

‘This is you paying for yourself first before you use money to buy anything else,’ she said.

Savings and bills should be equally prioritised at the start of the month to ensure deposits do not become an afterthought (stock image)

Savings and bills should be equally prioritised at the start of the month to ensure deposits do not become an afterthought (stock image)

5. Retrain your approach to spending 

Reassessing your relationship with money is the first step to clearing debt and building a nest egg, dozens claimed on the post.

One woman said: ‘Realise that a bargain is only great if it is something you need.’ 

Another noted: ‘A dollar spent is a dollar in someone else’s pocket!’

A third said: ‘If it’s a ‘want’, not a need, I try to use the 24 hour rule where I see if I’m still thinking about it 24 hours later – usually I forget about it.’

Readers thanked those who had shared their budgeting tips, grateful for advice at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty.  

One woman said: ‘The world has changed out there forever and hanging onto your money, being out of debt and staying out of it, is much more important now.’

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