The woman’s wild strategy for keeping the food bill low

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

For Sydney retiree Norma Wannell, buying fortnightly groceries is a lengthy process that spans three suburbs.

She starts at Aldi and then Woolworths in the Bass Hill Complex in Sydney’s western suburbs. She then drives eight minutes further to the George’s Hall IGA.

Finally, the 72-year-old drives another 13 minutes or 4 miles to the Coles at Chipping Norton.

The supermarket is further away, but they have weekly offers at half price, which makes it “more than worth going there,” she told news.com.au.

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

She lives on pension at $900.80 every two weeks, and she estimates that about $100 to $120 goes to food.

“Sometimes less, if I can’t afford it,” said Mrs. Wannell. For example, if she is hit by a mechanic bill or an unexpected expense, she has to cut her food budget.

Her meals are also heavily influenced by how far she can stretch her wallet for those fortnights, and what specials she can find in the four stores. Armed with a series of ‘screenshots’, she uses the photos to navigate her through the aisles.

“I’ve had baked beans on toast twice this week. Woolies had those instant noodle soups for $2, so I got some,” she said.

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

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With inflation pushing the cost of food, fruit and vegetables and meat by as much as 4.3 percent (according to the Consumer Price Index), Ms Wannell said she is not always able to buy fresh produce.

“I rarely buy fresh vegetables because they spoil too quickly. So I have to buy frozen,” she said.

With the CPI reporting that the cost of fruits and vegetables is up 6.7 percent year-over-year, Ms. Wannell notes that a bunch of kale rose from $1.99 to $4.90. The cheapest she can find is $3.90.

Getting access to meat and protein is also a concern. By sharing photos of her biweekly store, her product is limited to a bunch of bananas and a carton of strawberries. She also adds vegetables to her diet through a frozen ‘Winter Vegetable’ mix and some ready-to-eat meals.

“I rarely buy half a kilo of the meat. Instead, I buy prepackaged meats marinated in sauce,” she said.

“I can get three meals for $12, if I have it with some mashed potatoes or mixed greens or vegetables.”

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

While about 41 percent of Australians are now accepting a future where they may have access to less money as a result of the pandemic, this has a disproportionate impact on older Australians.

Recent research released by insurance group Seniors Australia from their Quality of Life Report 2022 found that running out of money was a major concern for adult Australians.

In fact, 32 percent of respondents said it was one of their biggest concerns for the future. Other common reactions included health problems, where the world is going, their families’ well-being and happiness, navigating the aged care system and losing control.

For Ms. Wannell, she said she has definitely noticed that everything is more expensive than it was months ago. Although she has lived frugally since a work accident forced her into early retirement in 2011, she says the pressure has only grown.

“I’d say I’ve noticed things have gotten a lot harder over the past 12 months and they’re getting progressively worse. Things are still going up,” she says.

Owning a Chihuahua, a cat, and a rabbit, she jokes that her pet rabbit eats more vegetables than she does.

“The most important thing is that I make sure that the three animals I have are well fed. I can do without, but they can’t, they don’t know any other way,” she said.

With costs expected to continue to climb, Ms. Wannell’s growing financial difficulties pose some uneasy questions.

“Can I afford to keep doing this or how much do I have to cross off my list to survive,” she said.

“Where am I going to end up? That often crosses my mind.”

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