Getting Started

Thanks to some recent TV exposure, there are a lot of people reading my blog for the first time and wondering how on earth it’s possible to feed a family for $120 for a week of meals.

It’s not easy. It’s precisely why it’s called The Challenge.

It’s impossible to keep your spending to a minimum if you don’t have a shopping list. It’s impossible to create a shopping list unless you plan some meals first. Here is a step-by-step guide to how I go about it, every week…

1. Do an Inventory of the Pantry, Fridge and Freezer

Do you know exactly what’s in your pantry and fridge right now? If so, you’re in a very small minority. Most people have a lot more in their cupboards than they perhaps realise. There’s probably at least one item that you have doubled upon, or even have three of. There may even be items in there that have become lost at the back of the cupboard, out of sight, that you don’t even know are there.

It’s a big job, but to get things started, you MUST take everything out of your cupboard and have a look at what you’ve got. Check use-by dates. Bring to the front any items that you have a lot of, or are approaching their use-by dates and need using up soon, so you don’t forget about them. Some people, better organised than me, actually list everything down on a spreadsheet and pin it to the back of the cupboard door, so they can tick things off that need replacing. Make sure you do the same thing in your fridge and freezer.

2. Plan a menu

Once you know what you’ve got in your pantry, fridge and freezer, you can begin to see where the gaps are and what needs purchasing. To narrow it down a little, you will need to plan a menu.

If possible, plan and buy for a fortnight rather than each week – economies of scale means you will make your dollar go further. You can do it each week if you want, but I encourage you to at least try it for a fortnight and see if it makes a difference.

Throughout this blog, you will see recipes listed Day 1, Day 2, up to Day 14. They give you some suggestions to get you started. You can follow it strictly, or it can be as flexible as you want it to be.

The simplest way to plan your menu is to scroll backwards through the recipes on the home page until you reach the start of the previous fortnight of menus. Follow it through to give you two weeks of main meals and a few sweet treats or dessert ideas.  Please note it’s just a guide or a starting point.

Most of you will see items in that fortnight that you don’t like or won’t agree with fussy eaters, or won’t include your favourite meals. Feel free to adapt it. Begin by including some meals that will use up some of those pantry and fridge items that need to be consumed first and put them at the start of your  week’s menu.

To help you with recipe ideas, go to the ‘Search Box’ on the right hand side of this page and type in the ingredient that you want to include, for example, ‘potatoes’, ‘mince’ or ‘spinach’. Up will come all the recipes and posts that include those ingredients.

  • It’s important to include as many meal suggestions from family members as possible. It’s especially helpful to do this if you have fussy children. If their requests are included, they are more likely to eat what’s put in front of them.
  • Include as much variety as you can. For example, I try to have a red meat meal, followed by a chicken meal, then a pasta or rice meal, then a meat-free meal. It’s not precise but at least it includes some variety.

I also add one or two recipe ideas that can be used as a back up. I call these ‘Plan B meals’. Plan B meals are used when you get to the shops and realise that last week’s specials are now very expensive and won’t fit into your budget for the meal you had planned to make. Plan B meals are often pasta or rice meals and can be flexible and done with a minimum of fuss. They usually can be made with whatever you’ve already got in the pantry, or are meals that don’t have too many ingredients.

Once you’ve written down your ideas for meals, add in some ideas for lunch and one or two sweet treats. To help with lunch ideas, click on the following posts:

Twenty Ideas for Sandwich Fillings

Twenty Ideas for Wraps

Soups, lovely soups, frittatas and egg-based dishes, vegetable slices and last night’s leftovers are all great ideas for lunches.

  • You can find lots of great ideas for Cakes, Chocolate and Biscuits and Slices by clicking on the categories to the right of this post. There’s a wealth of ideas. Again, use the search box if you have an ingredient that you want to use, such as ‘condensed milk’, ‘anzac biscuits’, ‘lemons’ and so on.

3. Write your shopping list.

Use your menu plan and look at the recipes for each meal. Write down your list from the ingredients listed that you don’t already have in your pantry or freezer.

  • Be precise wherever you can. If you need a total of 3 tins of tomatoes for that fortnight, write down 3 tins, not ‘some tins of tomatoes’.
  • When writing your list think about the gaps in your pantry items and the sort of items you may want to add so you end up with a well-stocked pantry. As a guide, the post on Stocking a Pantry gives you ideas for buying one or two useful and practical items at a time.

4. Go shopping.

We all know that supermarkets are put on this earth to part you with as much of your money as possible. Treat it as a game. It’s not personal. Go in with the expectation that you will spend as little money as possible. Here are a few suggestions for maximising your shopping dollar:

  • Don’t go when you are hungry.
  • When you are looking for bargains, look UP and DOWN.

   Cheaper items are placed above or below eye level. Be prepared to bend or stand on tiptoe.

  • Go when supermarkets are discounting.

A little detective work in your local supermarket will pay dividends. Generally, pricres are discounted just before the next delivery of meat or fruit or veg, so you might find that meat is discounted on a Monday and Tuesday nights. fruit and vegetables are discounted late on a Sunday afternoon and so forth. Shopping is often cheaper on a Friday evening than it is on a Saturday morning.

  • Buy generic foods wherever possible.

Baking items such as flour and sugar, dairy items such as butter and milk, and basic tinned items such as vegetables are all good value for money with no discernible difference in taste. Aldi is your best friend, but Coles are also making significant changes to their pricing structures and are worth a second look. I would like to tell you that I can budget at Woolworths/Safeway or at IGA but unfortunately I can’t endorse them at this time. They are the most expensive options of all.

  • Shop around the outsides of the supermarket.

Think about it – the layout of most supermarkets are scientifically designed to encourage you to put as many unnecessary items in your trolley as possible. When you are on a budget you have to get as much nutritional value out of your food dollar as you can. Start by going around the outsides of the supermarket. Buy fruit and vegetables first, then meat, then dairy, bread and deli items. Fill up with groceries and tinned goods only with the dollars you have left over. Many of us do it the other way around. Try it and see the difference it makes.

  • Buy wholesale where possible.

Not everyone has access to wholesale items and not everyone has the need for bulk lots of coconut cream, or 5 litre bottles of barbecue sauce but the one notable exception is when you are buying meat. Most people will have a meat wholesaler in their area, even if it’s a 20 minute drive away. Spending $100 there will get you more for your money and is worth the longer drive. Bring it home, portion it out using freezer bags, mark everything with an indelible marker and use it up over the next month or two. If you can’t afford to spend $100, go with a friend and share the costs.

  • Finally, buy seasonal, locally grown and produced foods.

If it is in season, it is cheap. It really is as simple as that. It’s not just fruit and vegetables that have a season – meat and fish does as well. Winter is NOT the time to be eating cherries. Summer is not the time to be using ling or chestnuts. Remember also that if you commit yourself to buying only what is in season, you will truly have a greater variety in your diet than by simply sticking to the same small variety of vegetables and fruit you probably eat now. You may even try something new and really like it!

To help you better with seasonal ideas, go to the In Season category to the right of this page. Take a note of the MONTH it is listed and then click on the recipe that appeals to you.

5. Consider one or two meat-free options each week.

As a nation we love our meat, but it adds a significant amount to our food bill. The easiest way to reduce your food bills is to have two meat-free meals a week. You will save a minimum of $30 or even more, every week, by doing so. Meat-free meals do not have to be boring, or worse, unfilling. There are a large number of suggestions throughout the blog for filling, tasty, genuinely satisfying meals, ranging from lasagnas to curries to stir-fries to baked dinners. I encourage you to give it some consideration.

For loads of meat-free ideas, follow the Vegetarian meal ideas category to the right of this page.

6. Learn what to do with Leftovers.

Here’s some very bleak news: Australian households throw out a staggering 20% of all their food every week. That’s an average of $40 a week or more, every week. How many dollars are you throwing away every week?

You have two choices: Either don’t cook as much to begin with and get better at calculating portion sizes or learn to use up leftovers.

Cooking with leftovers should never be a repeat of last night’s meal: The trick to leftovers is to re-create something quite different from the first time it was served. If you are lucky enough to have some leftovers from the previous night’s baked dinner, serving slices of meat with more gravy won’t work. Instead, learn to mince up meat and put it into pasta sauces; cooked vegetables can be hidden in frittatas or roasted for pasta sauces or thrown in at the end of cooking for your next stir-fry.

Throughout the recipes, you will find countless ideas for using up leftovers or for adapting recipes to suit what you have to hand. Feel free to experiment with leftovers as well. Without experimentation, we would never have discovered cauliflower cheese souffles, potato croquettes, frittatas, meat pies or risotto or that spectacular curry you make.

Don’t forget that you can always take a serving of last night’s meal to work for your lunch, or you can freeze individual serves of a meal and store them. Many a night has been spent when I’m too tired to cook and the kids help themselves to a container of a meal for one, requiring only a few minutes to de-frost in the microwave. It beats ordering a pizza.

Please note I am not available to prepare individual menu plans or shopping lists or answer emails regarding specific shopping advice or meal  ideas.  Thank you for your understanding on this issue.

107 thoughts on “Getting Started”

  1. Hello, i am so glad i saw this last night on tv , sometimes i feel like my daughter and i are alone at trying to make ends meet ,but of course i know that is not so but i like a challenge my daughter pays very high rent living in a flat . I Am not working and live alone . We share our incomes together and bounce off each other when we get low on some grocerie items we have learnt to share everything down to a toilet roll . Your challenge inspires me to keep my chin up .when i was living in W A as a single mum there was a little rented out storeroom where if i took my concession card i could get a discount for items as little as 10 teabags or 1/2 kilo sugar two toilet rolls etc i think you get the picture this saved me from starving i wish they had a store like this for the unemployed or pensioners in tasmania .

    1. Hi Louise, where is this storeroom in WA? My mum has a concession card and is struggling at the moment so she could really use any help she can get. Any tips would be great!

  2. I am also very pleased I saw this last night, as I’m also on a tight budget and need to cut my spending. I also have a family member who is a fussy eater and eats very little meat and will only eat chicken breast meat and a few other (rather expensive things. So I will have more of a look at some recipe’s. a section on quick meals would be good as I’m a working Mum.

    thanks so much for the tips.

    regards

    Sharon

  3. I am so happy i saw you on TV and found this site. I am a pensioner and finding it hard to make ends meet. Thank you so much for what you are doing

  4. Yes your ideas are inspiring,however feed your family on $120 a fortnight is misleading as this only caters for 1 meal a day,not the recommended 3.
    Nor does it include those items which really push the bill up such as washing powder ,toilet paper ,and other cleaning products.
    I try to budget but there is no way i could feed 4 on $8 a day,ie $2 a person when my daughter (only 2) drinks nearly $2 of milk a day.
    Still i will read your blog with interest and i commend your generosity in sharing cooking tips with us.

    1. Cherrie, Just to clarify: What I tell people is 14 meals – $120.

      This is a food and recipe website, not a how-to slash your bills site. For fantastic suggestions and budgeting ideas I strongly recommed you look at Simple Savings, which is listed on teh Blogroll to the right of this page. There is a wealth of information on everything to saving money on electricity bills and car insurance to making your own soap.

    2. There are ways to save money on other items like washing powder and toilet paper, buy buying in bulk with a few friends it works out alot more cheaper. Also buy buying those things from wholesalers of paper goods and chemical factories. There are heaps of these place around in your area. It also helps with running out every week or fortnight and carrying them home. I buy for example 20kgs of washing powder for $50 and it lasts me over six months and I share it with my mother and daughter. I buy Toilet paper for $35 for 48 rolls and they have 400 sheets not 100 sheets like the ones in the supermarket and it lasts me 4 months also sharing with mum. So even though Sandra is saving on food items you can also save on other items if you know where to get them.

      Keep up the good work Sandra, everything helps these days.

  5. Kudos to you, Sandra. This blog is so helpful. I strongly encourage you to write that book – it’ll sell like hot cakes!

    1. Yes, and then there are large families, people with food allergies, or special diets, or fussy kids who only eat chicken breast meat and nothing else.

      There is nothing wrong with putting my theories into practice and finding out for yourself the real savings that you can make, regardless of your food budget. There’s nothing wrong with doing a stocktake of your pantry and seeing if there’s anything at the back that needs using up. There’s nothing wrong with utilising good fresh food at seasonally cheap prices. Not everyone has a tiny food budget. All I am asking you to think about is how to make your valuable food dollar as nutritious as possible.

  6. I found you from a link on the Yahoo 7 homepage. Your site if great! And so helpful! Like everyone else, I am looking to stretch my dollars and groceries are a major expense. I’ve embraced the slow cooker to make cheaper cuts of meat wonderful and tasty. And, I’ve been flirting wit the idea of baking my own bread. So, glad to hear that you are doing it and can show me the way. Thanks!

  7. I live by myself and have to come up with meals on a tight budget as im on government benifits.
    coles are alot cheaper if u go there just before they close.
    I have found the $2 shops often have grocery aisles which can be cheaper than the grocery stores.
    Aldi are cheap but often homebrands at the supermarket can be cheaper.

    Thought i would mention that for those of us with animals its a good idea to make dog biscuits with left over scraps or veges peelings + meat scraps. there are some good recipes out there and its not costing you anything if you were just going to throw the scraps away.

    i found your website very helpful.

  8. Glad that I tuned in to last night’s programme. Currently, I am a student who, due to my husband’s income, I do not receive any Centrelink benefits. Consequently, I am trying to make every cent count in my household.

  9. Was very interested in your site.Very cheap nutrituos pet food i save all vegie peelings (pre chopped) in freezer collecting daily,then I cook it up with rice and homebrand stock powder.great for our dog and great for budget.
    I also use lentils and pulses to strech meat and thicken gravy in slowcooker.
    Tomorrow is my day off so I intend to do the stock take of cupboard and fridge/freezer.
    i do all my groceries online and use click and collect (which is free) but is located outside the shops so no impulse buys!However you do miss out on markdowns.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge,look forward to more to come!

    1. Whilst this dog food sounds good in theory, homebrand stock powder is definitely not something I would be advocating to feed your dog. It’s loaded with flavour enhancers and sodium, which is not good for your dog (or you). You would be better to buy some soup bones/chicken necks or see what your butcher can give you and boil that up into a stock to use.

      1. Making your own dog food sounds like a good idea Anne, I never knew how to do it before. Will be looking up dog food recipes now! It saves throwing out and wasting excess food as well.

  10. We are moving and need help in what do I place in my pantry, three kids ages are 3yrs, 8yrs, and 12yrs and myself and hubby. I feel like I just can not keep food up to them. Needing help tho on what basic items to have in pantry.

    1. Megan, I’m going to write a post on stocking a pantry, it may be a couple of weeks before you see it here, but I will write up a list of what works for me, and provides a solid base for the recipes on my site.

    2. Im so glad I heard you on the radio.
      I too would like to know if you have a standard list for your pantry. I am one of the biggest wasters of food. So this is the year of the BIG change.

      9

      1. Go to the category called ‘Basics’ and look for the post called ‘Stocking a Pantry’ – there is an extensive list and guide for you to adapt to your own needs.

  11. Hi Sandra

    I watched your article on tv last night and I must say I am so inspired to take on the challenge! Tomorrow is a new day and I’m going to become very well acquainted with my pantry and breadmaker! Thanks heaps and I look forward to trying your recipes.

  12. Hello Sandra
    I am inspired, I want to get creative plus manage my food costs better than I do. I am recovering from a hip replacement op and though getting a lot better there are lots of things I can’t do yet. I saw your presentation on TV tonight, have started reading your recipes, and wonder if you would care to reccoment a bread maker as I don’t have one yet. I think I’d prefer one that will add sultanas or whatever automatically at whatever the correct stage of the cooking process is.
    Hoping to hear back from you, Carmen

    1. Carmen, I don’t recommend any one appliance over another, but you might want to check out Choice magazine or Simple Savings. The community at Simple Savings are far better informed than I am, have a wealth of expertise and their forums are full of like-minded and very helpful people. Their link is on the Blogroll to the right of this page.

  13. Hi Sandra

    I saw you on tv tonight and thought you were just brilliant, look forward to visiting your site often.

    Thanks

    Annee

  14. I have been looking for help to feed my 6 sons, hubby and myself can’t wait to try you recipes…. thank for the help… keep going….

  15. I saw your show on Today Tonight and was very impressed. We
    are age pensioners and need to budget our money. You have many new and interesting ideas which I will be using from now on. Are you planning a book?

  16. Am so glad to have caught you on today tonight, I was so impressed by your determination to keep to your budget yet being creative in your meal choices for your family.

  17. I am so glad I saw you on TV the other night, and gained so much information and options on purchase and preperation of nutritious foods Thank you so much. Please keep up the info as I will be following you faithfully I am an aged Pensioner, but I have also sent your site to my daughters

  18. i have always considered myself to be pretty budget savvy and am a planner, always buying generic, in bulk where poss and meal planning (mostly, though i fell off the wagon recently) your blog has reminded me why it’s important and even gave me a few extra tips like the inventory of pantry fridge and freezer, i pretty much always figured i knew what was in there, but yeah there’s a few surprises 🙂 now my challenge is to use them 🙂 thanks for your blog and goodluck!

  19. Hello Sandra,

    I have been dropping by your blog and using a lot of your recipes and ideas for a while now. I’m very glad to hear you are planning to put together a book. I often print out a recipe of yours obviously to take to the kitchen and cook! I will be pleased to purchase a copy of your book in the future. Good luck with the rest of the challenge. You are very inspiring and your recipes are imaginative. Keep up the wonderful work! Thanks.

    Kind regards,
    Kaye

  20. Hi Sandra,
    I to saw you on TV, I am impressed with the recipes you have provided. We run a Young Parents program and cooking is a part of it where they have to shop on a budget now we can enhance this further with the help of your recipes and budget tips. thank you so much.

  21. Thanks for loading up your Today Tonight segment. Unfortunately I missed it when it was aired. It was lovely to see you Sandra. The segment was very good and I’m sure your book would do really well if released.

    Kaye

    1. Thank you Kaye. The reporter and crew were terrific and very enthusiastic about The Challenge right from the start. I’m delighted it was treated so positively. I’m still getting used to all the attention. 🙂

  22. I have been using your bread recipe for a couple of weeks now and it is incredible how much I am saving, I have tweaked the recipe a little, I have added 1.5 tbs of veg oil when I add the water (I found that this gives a better crust and crumb texture) and I have added a 1/4 of the ingredients again and now get 2 loaves (in the large loaf tins you can get from the supermarket). This has been perfect for our not so small family ( 4 children and 2 adults) and we have been able to feed the 6 of us, 14 main meals for around $150 a fortnight. this has been a great help and has allowed me to get the kids (and the dogs) a few extra treats when we do the shopping.

  23. I’m reading through this section again, there is so much good information here and it is a good to read it again just as a reminder. My son owns a rural garbage collection business and a couple of weeks ago my husband and I had to give him a hand. I was absolutely staggered at the amount of good food people throw away and I was wondering under what circumstances would you throw out a bag of still hard carrots, not opened! A bag of potatoes, a whole lettuce still wrapped in plastic, and I can go on and on. Unfortunately (for us) some of the bags break and you get to peep into people’s garbage!

  24. I’ve just heard an interview with Sandra on ABC Perth.
    After checking out the website I’ve forward the address to others in my address book.
    Thanks heaps, great site and useful resource.

  25. Hi Sandra,
    I heard your interview on ABC radio, Perth today and think what you are doing is fantastic!
    I am on a very tight budget, too and have had to make a little go along way.
    I have 3 teenage children.
    I can feed the four of us for around $180/ week, but I’m expecting that will improve as I start to take up some of your ideas and recipes!
    One thing I do is have the Coles and Woolworths catalogues emailed to me.
    Then I go over each catalogue ,listing what we need and buying from the one which is cheapest. This often involves shopping in two places which takes a little longer, but to me, its worth it!
    Do you need a big freezer to make your system work?
    Thank you so much and keep up the great work!
    Regards,
    Lorraine

    1. Lorraine, I’m a fan of buying in bulk, especially meat, and also making double the amount, to cut down on time preparing a second meal. freezer space is a valuable commodity around here, as I only have freezer space above the fridge. So you don’t need a great deal of freezer space, but you do have to be organised enough to only buy what you need, use up leftovers in the fridge and pay attention to use-by dates so that you don’t waste valuable pantry items.

  26. I am very excited to take this challenge yes it will be hard as I think i am organized but not on how much I spend. I plan meals weekly along with a shopping list but I will buy everything I need and then it cost like $200.

    So this should be good!

  27. A tip for shopping around the outside of the supermarket first – get a split trolley. I used to shop on the inside first because I was worried about tins/laundry powder/etc squashing my fresh foods. In a split trolley I can keep them apart easier.

    Loving the challenge!

  28. Wow Sandra! Your method is exactly what I have been doing to feed our family of three for the past few months. The most important thing is to take an inventory, write a menu plan and estimate your total spend BEFORE going shopping. And since we have started doing this, we have have halved our shopping bill from over $200 to $100 per week! And that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, cleaning products, and nappies. It CAN be done, but it takes planning.

    1. if you can go with reusable items (nappies, feminie hygiene, cleaning clothes, baby wipes and bibs) and more natural less ‘big brand’ cleaning items (so using bicarb, vinegar, microfibre etc) for the same and/or better results (for the task, your pocket and the environment) this can help too.

      and yep, planning is your best friend 😉

  29. Hi Sandra,
    I heard you talking on the radio the other day while I was driving up to Nambucca Heads. My 14 year old son was in the car and your challenge sparked quite a conversation between us. Having 4 sons, our shopping bill is usually around $400 per week! So I have decided to try your challenge and tonights meal will be your braised chicken. Looks delicious!!

  30. I was wondering what size family is this based on? I have 5 kids plus 2 adults in the house, plus 2 dogs/cat. We never have leftovers, everything is eaten at the meal. I have learned to scrimp & save. Meat is so expensive so we are prob only having meat once or twice a week, which my kids don’t mind so much. If I use mince, I bulk it up with rice n vegies. I tend to make my own recipes with meat but follow a recipe on others.
    I don’t think that I could feed everybody on $120 but its worth a go.
    I will be coming back to check out what else you have.
    Am always looking for ways to make the money go further.
    Thankyou for the tips.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      The recipes provided are usually for four serves, and the costings are based around this size recipe. For your size family, and depending onthe ages of your children, you would realistically have to double the recipe sizes. That said, there are still many hints and tips throughout the blog and I hope anything you gain here helps you keep the budget under control. Best of luck x

  31. Thanks for this blog Sandra. I stumbled onto your site just today, and serendipitously my husband and I are trying to save for a house, so I’ve been creating a savings plan. Your $120 for 14 meals + snacks sounds like a great challenge for us. I’ve budgeted $500 per fortnight for groceries (this includes dog food, household cleaning products and all items one buys in a supermarket), so I will be interested to see if our food spending can fit into the $120 per fortnight challenge and whether we will have more money for our savings. I have to confess my shop on Saturday did not meet the $120 criteria! We spent $200, but this included lots of meat to eat over the next 3 weeks.

    Unlike some people on your site, we are not forced to save, so I imagine we will go astray from time to time. However, like you, I have always bought generic when it’s cheaper, and I look for bargains. Thanks for the tips and I look forward to reading more!

  32. I find it really useful to do your entire shop online at somewhere like coles.com.au or woolworths.com.au, but before you actually buy, you just save and print out the shopping list, and take it with you.

    This way, you know exactly how much it’s going to cost before you even go to the shops.

    Often, you’ll save a little because the online prices can be marginally higher on some items, but having the grand total on paper for the whole trip really helps prevent you from splurging on anything. I just keep track of any items that were higher/lower than online as I go.

    1. Nicole, I too use colesonline.com.au to make my shopping list (and then print and take it with me) each week as apart from the “online only” specials, all the specials are the same instore and I only ever buy a range of more expensive products including coffee, washing powder, toilet rolls, fabric softner, ice cream, bottled fruit juice, etc. when they’re on special.

      1. Why not actually do your shopping online? Often (in Brisbane) they offer free delivery slots so you are not paying for delivery. Means you can often save on petrol and time.

  33. What a fantastic website! Looking forward to seeing what recipes are added. This web-site has motivated my husband and myself to start thinking creatively in where to shop for groceries, toiletries, etc. and to save as much as we can. I already have a well-stocked pantry and freezer, although upon seeing this website, I went out and topped it up with more basics, like flour, sugar, lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.

    My kitchen essentials, in the pantry: canned tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, canned tuna (in brine), red chili flakes, black peppercorns, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, honey, caster sugar.

    Fresh food that I always have on hand: plain yoghurt, lemons, garlic, onions, shallots, carrots, potatoes.

    Frozen: green peas, corn.

    One of my favourite things to do is roast an entire chicken, then I use the bones to make a stock. Any extra chicken goes in this broth to make a delicious soup. I add anything on hand: lentils, potatoes, beans….Opportunities are endless!

    In the end you don’t have to spend much money to create delicious recipes! Key is to think creatively and to get inspiration from cooking shows, magazines, friends, family.

  34. I love this… Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love your tips and advice. One of my favorite things to do is to also roast a whole chicken (just like you!) – we have 2 meals and homemade chicken stock. Did this the other night for $3.96! You are inspiring! 🙂

  35. hey – read your article in the SMH on Tuesday – awesome!
    How did you find out when the items are discounted?
    “Go when supermarkets are discounting. Meat is discounted on a Monday and Tuesday nights. Fruit and Vegetables are discounted late on a Sunday afternoon. Shopping is cheaper on a Friday evening than it is on a Saturday morning.”

    Is it the same for all supermarkets?
    And if you buy fruit and veg on sunday afternoons then is it going to be fresh?

    Thanks so much for this blog – so cool that you started it and used your time – no can say you are a dole bludger!! I hope it can become something you can do eventually as your “thing” fulltime!

    1. Hi Nic,

      You raise a very interesting point about discounting days or supermarket cycles.

      I can’t vouch that these discounting days are the same at Aldi, which tends to have weekly specials only – Aldi specials come out on a Thursday across the country – but certainly you can be sure that if one supermarket is discounting certain products on a given day, the other supermarket at the opposite end of the shopping centre will do the same thing within hours.

      Regarding the other supermarkets, especially the major two, I suggest you go along on the various days outlined above and see what discounting is taking place. Specifically, aim to go from around 5pm onwards – or perhaps a little earlier on a Sunday. By then you should see staff walking around and marking down items.

      I must tell you that the days specified are a generalisation only, and much depends on when new stock is delivered to your local supermarket. In the case of fruit and vegetables, the major fruit markets and distribution centers are not open at weekends, meaning the stock has been there since Friday and fresh stock will be coming in on Monday, hence the discount late in the weekend.

      Not sure why but meat does seem to get discounted early in the week, rather than later in the week. This too could vary in your town but once you cotton on to the discounting cycle in your area, you can be assured it will be the same day each week.

      As for shopping being cheaper on a Friday than a Saturday, this also refers to fruit and veg and some meat prices and is aimed at the busiest shopping periods of the week. Again, you may have to make return trips to your shops over a few different days in the week to watch the discounting cycle in your area.

      With regards to supermarket groceries, advertised specials are changed on a fortnightly basis in both major supermarkets. After a while you start to see that the discounting cycle operates in six to eight weekly cycles. In other words if your favourite pasta is on special this fortnight, it will be another two months before it comes on special again. Meanwhile, next fortnight, another brand of pasta will be on special instead. It’s the same across all major groups of food and products – coffee and tea, shampoos, toilet paper, tinned tuna, pasta sauces, mayonnaise, rice, laundry powder – you name it. Six to eight week cycles.

  36. I actually cook to have enough for leftovers on purpose. I portion them out when serving the meal to make sure they stay (hungry teenage boys will devour the rest otherwise). We eat them as work lunches/dinners (shiftworkers in this house) or when I have too many, we clean out the freezer by playing freezer box surprise. Played like Kris Kringle, you can swap an unopened surprise box with someone else, with most people usually happy with what they end up with! It’s a great game that everyone can play!

  37. Just wanted to add that there’s a lot of good ideas for those who are starting out. Be sure though to check your supermarkets in your local area for price competitiveness. For example, our local Woolworths is by far cheaper than our Coles. It varies from suburb to suburb and state to state.

    Either way though, give them as little of your hard earned money as possible, for maximum outcome for your family 😉

    1. eta we don’t have Aldi here, and our ‘specials’ in supermarkets usually change weekly (with some items held over for two weeks). The specials change not M-Sun but rather mid week. Also, I find that our local market grocer is better value than Woolworths or Coles for fruit and veg. So as has been said, check your local area and sus it out for best value.

  38. Im glad I found you! I am all for shopping wiser and spending less but wasnt really into the thought of having to eat pasta every day, vegemite sandwiches or worse.

    Now i can see WE CAN eat beautifuly and creatively for less than $120 a week.

    I am watching with interest!

  39. I cringed when the grocery store clerk said to me “Congratulations Mrs. Murphy, you have earned 567 points for this month” What is really meant was I SPENT $564.00 on groceries in ONE month at that store, I notably cringed at his words; And that was not the only store I has shopped at! Now, granted there were some staples in there, not just food, BUT I know that an absolute minimum of 70% was food. Thank you for your site! As we are on one income, I am certain my husband thanks you too!

  40. I am on Perricone diet – change of life style- I did for 28 day challenge. I spent an exorbitant on food, just for me. The main dish is salmon which is pricey. I want to continue eating well but need to be smart about it and I want variety. I am going to work on merging your recipes and ideas with Dr. Perricone’s to see if I can create the ultimate combo an inexpensive and healthy life style. Wish me luck!

  41. There are so many things you can do to reduce your food bill – especially by cooking from scratch rather than buying pre-made food (which attracts GST).

    A great site to check out for ordering fresh fruit and veg is foodconnect.com.au. They support local farmers in your area and allow you to pre-plan your spending by subscribing to their service of fruit and veg boxes. These contain a stack of fresh fruit and vegetables from your local area (so they last longer), together with recipes for the ones you might not be familiar with. Also consider visiting farmers’ markets or (in Brisbane) Rocklea Fruit and Vegetable Market, which have a retail area on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You may have to buy in bulk (by the box) but you could share this with a friend or relative.

    Try sourcing your meat directly from the supplier (ie the farm gate). Foodconnect.com.au have some links, buy quite often these places will sell half sides, and full sides of meat at around $7 – $10/kilo, fully dressed. It’s also cut and packaged to your requirements. Buying directly from the farmer means you know how it has been raised, it’s not pumped full of water or made from scraps ‘glued’ together, and it tastes FAR BETTER than supermarket offerings.

    Check out local charities in your area too. On the northside of Brisbane at Bald Hills, World Harvest Ministries offer fresh fruit and vegetables free to those on income supprt/families requiring assistance.

    Great blog Sandra – keep it up.

  42. So you are featured on tv and in magazines for blogging about something many of us have had to do for a lot longer? Seriously? Where is our pat on the back and $ for struggling day to day to feed our families?

    1. Hannah: For goodness sake, yes there are many of us around who struggle to make ends meet, myself included. What is the problem though, with being a little bit grateful to someone who actually attempts to find a solution and takes the time to share it with all of us? I know I am stoked when I glean little hints and tips to save a couple of bucks.
      Thanks Sandra for a great site, found at a much needed time for myself and my family. Will be an avid reader:)

  43. What a wonderful site! I am thrilled to have quite literally stumbled across it.

    The worlds fussiest children have been cleaning their plates and asking for more and the practical advice is definitely helping me trim the budget where food had become a bigger expense than our mortgage.

    Thank you! Keep up the awesome work 🙂

  44. Great blog, surprised at all the “yeah but” responses. Of course individual circumstances are different. I live alone & spend a stupid amount on food because I work really long hours in a stressful job so buy takeaway a lot (and I’m an admitted food snob so it tends to be from nicer restaurants). Technically I can afford to spend what I do on food and simply dont have the time required for some of the more labor intensive stuff on this site but there’s still lots here that’s useful and other stuff I can adapt to suit.

  45. Hi, I really love your site and am really keen to take up the challenge! Is there a simple way to print off one fortnight’s menu at a time? I would love to just follow your menu exactly.

    1. Sorry, there’s no menu plan as such, however you can print out each recipe individually. Be aware that readers report that at times the printout is pages long as it includes all the comments – this is a wordpress issue and hasn’t been seen to as yet. Alternatively, you can copy and paste the recipes into a word document and print from there.

  46. Dear Sandra,

    I did not watch the program you were on but I did find out about you
    by reading That`s Life magazine .I was inspired by your story and will be frequently
    visiting your blog.I lost my mum back in 2007 she was the one I could turn to for
    easy affordable recipes.Reading your story comforted me and gave me the inspiration
    to get cooking again and to enjoy it without having to stare at the cupboard for a
    long time wondering what to cook.Thanks again for you story and giving me hope.

  47. hi,
    I just spent the afternoon working out a budget that will see me debt free in a year. After a break, a came back to review my spreadsheet and said “how can I have allowed us $120 for groceries?” Into my browser I typed- ‘feed a family for 120 dollars’ – and voila!
    Thanks so much – you have saved me hours of work and there are so many recipes I can’t wait to try out. Plus, I really feel inspired now to make that budget work.

  48. I have 3 to cook for,my husband,son and me. My biggest challenge is knowing how much to cook.How much meat etc especially making a casserole ,mince dishes.There are certain meals that they like to eat the next day etc but a lot of the time they dont like eating it again.Any suggestions??

  49. I want to thank you so much for your very inspirational and wonderful blog. I have a family of 6 and it is always a major struggle making everything last the fortnight! lol But your suggestions are great and your recipes are very yummy. Although I haven’t broken it down into just food, our total shopping bill is $350 for the fortnight or $175/week. I know I need to cut this back a bit more as we always run out of money for the last few days before payday. I love your suggestions and tips. I am so glad that I have found you. Thank you!!

  50. I LOVE your blog. the price of food is always going up and it’s easy to spend up to $200 in one hit to try and last a fortnight. I’m always trying to cut down costs here and there buying things on sale and stuff thats home brand or colesbrand instead of the higher priced name brand items. I’m going to try a few of you recipes this fortnight! thanks for the inspiration – Grace from eMoo Tasmania

  51. Sandra thank you SO MUCH for making this available for free to families everywhere. I have a VERY HUNGRY husband and 5 y/o boy, a 3 y/o and a 14 m/o and keeping the food up to my hubby and son is a formiddable task. I am too embarrassed to post here how much I spend on food per fortnight but it really can spiral out of control 🙁 I will be attempting your challenge… You certainly are to be admired, well done and thank you again! I don’t normally enter ‘blog land’ but I am very grateful to have stumbled upon yours. All the best!

  52. Hi Sandra, fantastic blog and gorgeous recipes! Can’t wait for your book to come out.

    I have a question – how often in the fortnight do you shop? I can’t make fruit and veg last for 2 weeks but find my spending creeps up dramatically when I pop out to the greengrocer every few days, or (usually) twice a week.

    Good luck with your move, I look forward to reading about your efforts to teach your new hosts how to cook!

    1. Great question Anne. I usually shop once a week and find I alternate between a ‘big’ shop and a ‘small’ one. The big shop takes in everything including household cleaners, toiletries, pet food and everything I can think of for the next two weeks, BUT only one week of fruit and veg averaging at about $170 . The alternate week is usually bread, milk and that week’s fruit and veg, which usually comes in about $50. I don’t like old fruit and veg either.

      I know supermarkets rely on shoppers who only want to pop in for milk and apples by placing them at opposite ends of the supermarket so we pick up other things as well – it’s a ploy that’s both effective and frustrating to me as a shopper.

      If you can, try to scale it back to a shop of just once a week, or consider getting your fruit and veg home-delivered such as online shopping, Aussie Farmers Direct, or find a local co-op or mother’s group that home-delivers fruit and veg direct from the wholesale markets. Anything you can to avoid the dreaded mid-week slump.

      Good luck!

      Sandra

  53. Just wanted to say I Adore this site….great recipes and ideas…I think I am now addicted to making bread, rolls and fruit bread..lol…keep up the great work xxx

  54. Have just found your site after seeing a topic on a current affairs show. AWESOME!!!
    Having been a sole parent for 12 years I’ve learnt to be frugal… you have no choice really!

    I’m now about to become an empty-nester and I dont see any fun in cooking for 1 so I intend to continue to prepare some ‘extra’ meals that I can freeze and use as my Plan B meals to take to work or have when I get home (I’m a shiftworker).
    Keep up the fantastic work… You rock!!!

  55. I saw your book in Target last night, and sat down right there to read the first pages (Yay! Target now provides seats!). Too late for this fortnight, but I will definitely be purchasing your book before my next shopping trip. I live alone and find it very hard to eat cheap as I can’t buy a lot of things in bulk. If you can feed a family of 4 14 meals on $120, then with some modification I should be able to feed myself on $60. I’m certainly willing to try.

    Thank you for putting your ideas out there, both on the site and in the book.

    1. Thanks Rachel and I agree with you about the difficulties of feeding just one person. My budget is now set for $120 for four people for ONE week (not two weeks) so I think $60 for you is very realistic. Don’t be too concerned if it takes you a few weeks to bring your budget down, some things take longer to implement (like finding a wholesaler, or using up your pnatry items). Sometimes it takes a little while, but I know you will save. All the best. xx

  56. Sandra great site. I was given one of your recipes from a girlfriend of mine who is currently living in Germany. Both of us love cooking. I am a fan of cooking from scratch and not using processed or packaged food where possible. I buy my meat in bulk from an organic butcher, and before anyone thinks that organic means expensive, to feed me and my 2 teenage girls i pay about $5 per meat serving. I am very much looking forward to trying out some of your recipes. But i have one that my kids have loved from a very young age and still look forward to it today. It is chicken strips (crumbed) with a creamy curry sauce. if you’re interested i am happy to forward the recipe and see if helps any of your other readers, as it is simple to make and you only need at the very least 6 ingredients to make.

    On a personal note, i think it is great that you didn’t stay in a job you hated, and took a chance to find something you enjoyed doing. Too many of us stay in unhappy situations too scared to leave because we have too many responsibilities. We all deserve to be happy, and sometimes it takes a leap of faith to dare to find something better. I see you have found your “something better”.

    thanks for all the recipes and sharing them for nothing, even though you could have used them to make money. thats a very special gift. thank you.

    1. Thank you Lee-anne for your very kind words. I’m always happy to accept other people’s submissions, feel free to email your recipe to 120dollarsfoodchallenge AT gmail DOT com.

  57. Hi Sandra, I just found your site yesterday (was googling budget meals) and I am thrilled to bits!!!! I am a newly single Mum of 3 teenagers and am seriously budgeting to buy us a new (second hand) car. I have already bought your book and have done my first lot of shopping. I look forward to reading up on more of your great recipes and lots of great hints and tips etc. To all the whingers……if this doesn`t suit you, then don`t do it…..simple as that!!! It certainly does suit me and I am very grateful to have discovered you Sandra 🙂

  58. Just stumbled across this, what an interesting concept. I must admit the hungry mouths in my house (AKA children) just keep eating more and more as they get bigger. I can see why you called it a challenge!

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