Once a month supermarket challenge


This year I aim to visit the supermarket just 12 times – once a month.

Market shopping is a treat

I’m on track and as each visit takes around an hour, door to door, that means I’ll only have spent 12 hours supermarket shopping over the whole year (which consists of 8760 hours).

My little exercise has attracted a bit of interest since I nattered to my friend Annette Taylor about it and she, being that sort, told the whole world (aka the rural community north of Hamilton) on her Number 8 Network community news site.

People are interested, she said. It’s become the Supermarket Challenge. Write something about why you do it and all the benefits you’ve found, she said (bossily).

So, here’s how and why I began my Supermarket Challenge

Supermarkets are designed to part you from your money. Go into one for a loaf of bread and 2L of milk and you come out with half a dozen other things that you “forgot” you needed or were on special so too cheap to miss, or looked so yummy they’d be great for a “treat” etc etc.

Which is why staples like bread and milk are not at the door where everybody could just grab ’em and run but strategically placed in the far reaches of the supermarket so you have to walk past all those tempting goodies and specials and treats to get them.

It’s also why the wide aisles of the fresh fruit and vegetables always greet your entrance. They are designed to lull you into relaxing, casting off your cares and woes, and to think of nothing but … emptying your purse. Yes, the ways of the marketers are many, varied and extremely devious.

Far too devious for a mere mortal like me to combat, I figured earlier this year. The only way to resist their super-blandishments was not to visit as often. I was already going to the supermarket once a fortnight so I figured with a bit of planning it wouldn’t be hard to stretch that to a month. And it hasn’t been hard at all. And I’ve discovered many more benefits than I could have imagined.

First, the rules

Exemptions: Fresh milk, fruit, vegetables and coffee can be bought between visits – just not from the supermarket and provided they don’t cost more than the supermarket. Fortunately, all those can be bought cheaper elsewhere – milk from the dairy is cheaper or at least no dearer than supermarket brands. Green grocers, farmers’ markets or the Tamahere Market are great sources of fresh fruit and veg. Fresh coffee is best bought straight from the roaster (and gloriously aromatic and delicious, say I, the caffeine addict).

Thanks to our vege garden, a freezer, preserves made in the summer, ‘homemade’ Easiyo yoghurt, and four resident hens pretty much the only grocery items we buy between supermarket visits are milk, coffee and bananas.

We do treat ourselves to tasty goodies from the Tamahere Market once a month, particularly specialty bread that disappears immediately into the legion of visitors who always join us that Saturday, along with smoked fish, gourmet cheese, a few veges we don’t grow ourselves, the Kumar’s delicious Indian food and so yummy on.

Hint: Less a rule and more a hint of how to make it work is to only make dishes for which you already have the ingredients. It’s fatal to rush off to the supermarket for just one or two ingredients (see above about the pitfalls of venturing into the Super-marketer’s clutches).

I love to get inspiration for meals from my cookbooks but if a recipe has all manner of ingredients I don’t have then, unless I can substitute something I do have, I find another recipe using food I do have. Then I note down on my ever-present shopping list the things to buy next month for that mouthwatering dish (and make a separate note of the dish so I can remember what I wanted the ingredients for!)

We, by the way, are a household of two but we have a large family who visit (i.e. eat) often. We share our homegrown veges, eggs – any surpluses – with our extended family and neighbours. I met a mother of three in the supermarket who said she also shopped once a month, and others with larger, resident households assure me that more hungry mouths is not a barrier to shopping once a month.

The benefits – who knew?

Money saving: I didn’t start the challenge to save money but, amazingly, I have. I now find the ‘grocery’ money is stretching to other things as well – dining out, the Tamahere Market treats, other household purchases, window cleaners (yay!). It seems that without those inadvertent extra purchases (even ‘specials’) on the supposedly quick milk-and-bread runs I am actually saving money.

I’d say it also has something to do with planning. In Britain, the Waste Resources and Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that a third of the food bought is thrown out. Research by The Australia Institute shows that Australians throw away about $5.2 billion worth of food every year – about $616 worth of food per year per household. This includes $1.1 billion of fruit and vegetables.

Kiwis are thought to do much the same and often unneeded purchases are made on those quick trips to the supermarket. The ones when you think, ‘oh, I think we are also out of apples, lettuce and tomatoes’ but get home to find stocks are now superabundant and waste is inevitable.

See more detail at the Australian Foodwise campaign as well as lots of tips on how to be food wise.

Certainly eating food that is in season is top of my list. The main benefit is, of course, things are cheaper when they are in season and plentiful. It also adds welcome variety to our diet. I love the asparagus season but would love asparagus less if I became bored with having it year-round. The first tomatoes of the season – magnificent! I can do without fresh the rest of the year at hot house or imported prices of $13/kg! Tinned or my own bottled pulp does for those times or we just eat different dishes.

As well as being more thoughtful about food (how many types of breakfast cereal do we really need? And how can all those teeny tiny tins of cat food be economical?) there are also all the other things we buy in the supermarket, for instance cleaning products. Occasionally, I find myself wondering whether I really need some of them. Like dishwasher rinse-aid or toilet bowl clip-on cleaners. I gave white vinegar a go as dishwasher rinse-aid and found it worked brilliantly and gave up entirely on the clip-ons, just cleaning the toilet regularly or when occasion demands. Man, those things cost a lot just to provide a brief waft of not-too-good scent.

Time saving: I have more time for the good things of life because I don’t spend part of every week rushing into the supermarket. My last monthly visit to the supermarket took just one hour, 30 minutes – including updating my shopping list, driving to the fresh coffee shop, chatting with the owner while buying coffee, driving to the supermarket, shopping, packing car, returning home and putting away all the groceries. Just 90 minutes. I wasn’t racing. I only noticed – with some surprise – when I put my feet up with a nice cuppa fresh espresso how little time it had taken.

Fun: Would you believe it my last visit to the supermarket was fun? It wasn’t a hectic rush or drudgery. I felt strangely unmoved by all the messages screaming at me from the packages. Pfft to lowest fat, lowest salt, greatest nutrition, best buy, gluten-free, cholesterol-free yade yade. I came, I saw, I bought and sailed off home. Smiling.

Could unfamiliarity breed immunity to the dastardly deeds of the Super-Marketers?

More handy hints

List: Always keep a shopping list on the go. Mine sits on the kitchen bench and I add to it if I run short or out of something when I cook. I encourage others to add to it when they use up the near or actual last of something. I try to remember to go straight to it and write down items from other areas of the house like the bathroom or laundry without getting distracted on the way. But omissions can be handled with the …

Master shopping list: This is Annette’s brilliant idea. And what a relief it is. Once I had compiled my master shopping list (a revelatory experience in itself) I realized that somewhat subconsciously I had always kept running reminders in my head. ‘Don’t forget to check the soap, washing powder, rubbish bags etc etc …’ before heading off to the supermarket. With the master list safely written I could let that all go. Phew!

Compiling the list meant putting down all the obvious stuff then walking around the house to unearth the less obvious, mostly the occasional buys – shoe polish, fire lighters, bandaids. Again the exercise had me evaluating whether I actually needed everything we usually bought.

Once I have my monthly list ready I take a quick look at the master list to see if I have forgotten anything.

Shop with your back to the wall: The outer wall of the supermarket has all the fresh food. Do most of your shopping there. There is little you can do to fresh food other than cook it, which you can do simply at home. The more packaged food you buy the more money you spend on packages. The manufacturers of packaged food are selling packages – the food part is negligible.

Buy to back up: It may take a few months and the odd slip or shortage but I now mostly don’t run out of things because I buy to back up the item-in-waiting not the one in use.

Last word

Many food items keep longer than we think. Always check the ‘best-by’ or ‘use-by’ date to get the freshest when you shop but ‘best by’ or ‘best before’ means just that – properly stored food will be at its best until that date. Manufacturers usually choose a ‘best before’ date well before the time when the food would be expected to deteriorate and spoil. So, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be used, has gone off, that all its nutritional goodness has gone or that it is dangerous to eat after that. It just may not be at its best any more. If in doubt give it the sniff test and let your nose be your guide as to whether you use it or how you use it.

Foods that should not be consumed after a certain date for health and safety reasons have a ‘use-by’ date.

Happy shopping. Enjoy the free time!

10 thoughts on “Once a month supermarket challenge

  • October 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

    So. Yesterday I visited a supermarket three (3) times in the space of two (2) hours. Aaargh. See, we had to get some gluten-free goodies for Danny, our new boarder – popped them in the car at Pak n Save, then nipped across the road to Nosh for some Wensleydale cheese. While we were doing this, some rodents broke into the car and stole all the shopping – and a cell phone.

    Somewhat discombobulated and grumpy, we headed homewards and decided to call in at the Rototuna countdown to replace the stolen items. They didn’t have everything so (sigh) we had to go into the New World supermarket. Three visits.

    The Wensleydale was very nice with a martini, however.

    • October 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      I wonder if those rodents break into cars once a month?

  • October 5, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    …so we were going to do our Monthly Shop yesterday, but were too busy playing, so figured maybe tomorrow – but here’s the thing – we don’t really need to. Maybe next week, Josephine!

    Love this!

    • October 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      It happens! You find you can shop in your pantry more than you anticipated. Just need to form the habit. I did the same in my wardrobe the other day. Who knew?

    • October 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Thanks Catherine. All idea, tips and hints welcome.

  • Pingback: Ye Great Supermarket Challenge | Number 8 Network

  • October 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Love it. I have been working on cutting down my trips to the supermarket but havent quite got it down to one a month yet.

    • October 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Less is more, as they say, Kavita. Good luck making the challenge work for you.

  • October 4, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Utter genius, this. Off to do our Monthly Shop tomorrow. Now we actually enjoy the outing – will have list, will whistle as we amble down the aisles, as well.

    Thank you, Ms Inspiration.


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