One woman’s wild strategy to cut her food bill

With a fortnight’s budget of just $100 (or sometimes less) to spend on her grocery bill, every dollar counts for this Sydney woman.

For Sydney pensioner Norma Wannell, the act of buying groceries every fortnight is a long process that spans three suburbs.

She started at Aldi then at Woolworths at the Bass Hill Complex in the western suburbs of Sydney. She then drives eight minutes down the road to George’s Hall IGA.

Finally, the 72-year-old drives another 13 minutes, or 6.4km, to the Coles in Chipping Norton.

The supermarket is further out of her way, but they have weekly half-price promotions which makes it “more than worth going”, she told

“Now $80 only gets you two small bags. It shows you how much things have changed and for a lot of people it’s worse,” she said.

Living off board on $900.80 a fortnight, she estimates that about $100-120 of that goes to food.

“Sometimes less, if I can’t afford it,” Ms Wannell said. For example, if she’s hit with a mechanic’s bill or an unexpected expense, she’ll be forced to cut her food budget.

Her meals are also greatly influenced by how far she can stretch her purse strings during that fortnight and what promotions she can find at the four stores. Armed with a series of “screenshots”, she uses the photos to help her navigate the aisles.

“I ate baked beans on toast twice this week. Woolies had these instant noodle soups for $2, so I had a few,” she said.

“I try to get something like cheese or tomato to fluff it up a bit.”

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With inflation increasing the cost of food, fruit and vegetables and meat by 4.3% (according to the consumer price index), Ms Wannell said she was not always able to buy fresh produce.

“I rarely buy fresh vegetables because they go away too quickly, so I have to buy frozen,” she said.

While the CPI reports that the cost of fruits and vegetables has risen 6.7% year over year, Ms Wannell notes that a bunch of kale has gone from $1.99 to $4.90 $. The cheapest she can find it for is $3.90.

Access to meats and proteins is also a concern. Sharing photos from her bi-weekly shop, her product is limited to a bunch of bananas and a carton of strawberries. She also adds vegetables to her diet with a mix of frozen “winter vegetables” and ready-to-eat meals.

“Meat, I rarely buy half a kilo of anything. Instead, I buy prepackaged meats that are marinated in gravy,” she said.

“I can get three meals out of $12, if I take it with mashed potatoes or greens or mixed vegetables.”

As one of Australia’s 4.6 million pensioners, Ms Wannell is one of many struggling with the rising cost of living and inflation.

While around 41% of Australians now accept a future where they may have access to less money due to the pandemic, this has disproportionately affected older Australians.

Recent research published by an insurance group Seniors Australia according to their Quality of Life Report 2022 found that lack of money was a major concern for mature Australians.

In fact, 32% of respondents said it was one of their biggest concerns for the future. Other common responses include health issues, the direction the world is heading, their family’s well-being and happiness, navigating the elder care system, and losing control.

For Ms Wannell, she said she definitely noticed everything was more expensive than it was months ago. Although she has been living frugally since a work accident forced her into early retirement in 2011, she says the pressures have only increased.

“I would say I’ve noticed things have gotten a lot more difficult over the last 12 months and it’s getting progressively worse. Things keep going up,” she said.

As the owner of a Chihuahua, a cat and a rabbit, she jokes that her pet rabbit eats more vegetables than she does.

“My main concern is to make sure that the three animals I have are well fed. I can do without it, but they can’t, they don’t know anything different,” she said.

With costs set to rise further, Ms Wannell’s mounting financial difficulties have her asking some uncomfortable questions.

“Can I somehow afford to keep doing this or how many more do I have to cut off my list just to survive,” she said.

“Where will I end up? This crosses my mind several times. »

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