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Here are the ten highest voted hints from the Vault:

Insider tips for supermarket savings

Through my job working at one of the major supermarkets, I have learned all kinds of tips and tricks to save money! Next time you visit a supermarket, bear the following in mind:

  • You can save up to 50% on Sara Lee products by buying our house brand bakery items instead - they are made by exactly the same company.

  • The meat is no longer as good quality and has gone up slightly in price. I would suggest going to a butcher instead and paying less for better quality.

  • In-store baked items are marked down from 40-80% two days before their use-by date (this does not include bread or donuts)

  • Buy bulk and buy less often. For example, if you drink coffee, wait until the BIG tins are on special and buy three or four. This will last you for ages and save you $40 and upwards on coffee alone in the long run!

  • If an item seems a bit sparse towards the end of the week, chances are there is actually heaps out the back and it is going on special on the Monday, so wait to make your purchase then if possible.

  • For those living alone, take another look at those frozen meals. They may look expensive at first glance at between $4 and $6 but then go and price the meat and all the vegetables. Remember also to take into account how much you have to throw out after a few days through not using them!

  • If you want to see who makes what, look at the back of the pack to see which company owns it. Visit the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) website and find out which other 'mini-companies' it has under its belt. They often compete with their own brands!

by: Jadon Mintern

$30,000 saved in one year

I had never considered my lifestyle to be particularly excessive, but when I found myself facing large debts and unable to make headway, I had to take control. Using the methods below, I managed to reduce my debts by $30,000 in twelve months.

Bill paying and budgeting:
I began making regular monthly payments into a savings account - which I called my ‘debt reduction’ fund. At the same time, I started to put weekly amounts in labeled envelopes. These envelopes were to cover all of the regular bills; meaning I no longer came under stress when they were due, and I didn’t need to touch any of the savings in my debt reduction fund.

I began a Christmas tin, paying $20 per week into it. While it may not be ideal to keep large sums of money in the home, for me it was preferable to paying more fees to the bank for opening yet another account.

I clear out my wallet every night and put all my coins in a jar. This alone gives me an extra $50 a month to take to the bank.

Food and grocery shopping:
Instead of takeaway food, I began substituting with one of the following:

Spaghetti (five meals per pack for $1.50) with bolognese sauce (two meals per can - $2.50)
Rice (eight meals per pack - $1.50) and canned chilli-con-carne (two meals for $3.50)
Savings approximately $20 per week.

I make sure I eat either frozen broccoli, cauliflower or peas five nights a week, at a cost of $0.60c per meal. I buy all my steak and meat in bulk and freeze in portions.

I get a box of slightly over ripe tomatoes ($3.00 for 5 kg - on special from the local fruit shop) and boil them (skins on) with onion, salt and pepper and a dash of chilli sauce. This sauce makes even the cheapest steak taste delicious, and is great with chicken too. I freeze the sauce in single portions.

Chicken drumsticks are cheap and often on special. All you need to do is roll them in flour and cook on an oven tray until golden. A quick, moist and tasty meal (two drumsticks per person) for less than $1.00.

Potato chips at $3.50 per bag are both expensive and very unhealthy. A cheaper option is to cut a $1.50 loaf of Lavash bread into triangles, dust with paprika or lemon pepper (spraying with a little oil to coat) and cook in oven until golden and crunchy. Add the home-made tomato sauce as a dip and save another $2.00 - $3.00.

I am self employed and work a minimum of 70 hours per week. It would be so easy to succumb to fast food when I am tired, but to curb the temptation I make a large lasagna (without pasta) or a salmon and rice bake; both meals with plenty of vegetables and freeze in portions. All I need to do when I get home is zap in the microwave and eat, and have my own tasty, balanced fast food meal (15 minutes to defrost and cook). Each batch I make gives me eight meals for each recipe, and as they have some of the same ingredients, it is easy to make both at once.

My recipes are delicious and low fat and I am happy to share them if anyone would like them. They cost only around $2.00 per complete meal and all use fresh vegetables.

I make my own burgers by buying mince, making thin patties and grilling, then freeze cooked, in portions. They cook super fast from the freezer with two minutes in the microwave. A quick, low fat hamburger with lettuce tomato and beetroot - $1.50 a hamburger. You can add some zapped frozen home-made tomato sauce for a really tasty treat.

I have my entire shopping list saved on my computer as an Excel spreadsheet and have the prices for each item entered. When I want something, I just enter the quantity (the spreadsheet automatically adds the total each time I input an amount) and know beforehand how much the whole bill will cost. I then look at the total and question whether I really need an item, or just want it!

By doing this, I also know when the supermarket adds a few cents (far more regularly than many people realise - usually 20% - 50% of items weekly, from upwards of $0.03c to $0.40c). I buy regular goods on special (enough for three months supply) and choose generic brands for things like tissues and toilet paper (1,000 sheets of this is the same price as 250 sheets name brand)! I also know when a special is really a special and when it isn’t, which is quite often. I take a calculator shopping and work out the best buy in quantity. Bigger is not always cheaper, and it really is good advice to never shop hungry. I have my weekly grocery budget and any savings go into the account.

I used to buy my lunch and a drink for around $8.00 each day. Now I make my own lunch each day - sandwich, fruit and a large bottle of lemon cordial. Otherwise I take a bowl of Country Ladle soup and a roll. One can gives me two meals for just $1.25 each, with my $0.60c roll. It is healthy, fills me up and saves me $6.00 a day - another $30 a week in my savings account.

There are always two large bottles of lemon cordial made up in my fridge. I only keep fizzy drink for times when I am expecting guests. I put bottles or cans in an hour prior to their arrival. If it is not normally there, I don't drink it. It costs $0.10c for a glass of healthy water based drink, as compared to $1.00 for unhealthy sugar based drinks - what would you rather have?

I save $10 a month on washing powder by reducing the amount I use each load by half.
You know by now where that extra $10 saving goes!
I am always organized for birthday and Christmas gift wrapping - I buy one bolt of wide, colourful paper (from Cello paper) for between $50 - $100 every 15 years. Based on usually giving 40 presents each year, instead of having to buy 40 sheets of gift paper at around $2.50 each, my bulk buying gives me an extra $100 a year in my savings account.

Reducing phone bills:
I now save $70 per month on my previous average mobile phone bill, simply by not making calls on impulse, and calling on a land line wherever possible. That extra $70 a month goes in the savings account. I also reduced by home phone bill by $210 per month once I realized where all the charges were going - on checking my email every time I dialed up. Now I only connect to the Internet once a day and that $210 each month goes into the savings account.

My entertainment habits have also changed. Instead of paying $50 a time on the pokies, whenever I get the urge now, I put $50 into a tin for my next visit to the bank - it saves $100 - $150 from being frittered away each month. To keep control of my alcohol consumption, I would line empty bottles on my kitchen window sill and clear weekly. Doing this, you see it daily and unconsciously count the value - plus, do you want the neighbours to see how much you drink?? This saves me another $50 a month for my account. Instead of opening a can, now when I get home I have a really large lemon cordial. Then if I still feel like a drink, at least I have taken the edge off the need to relax and I will only have one every few days.

One last golden rule - put away $50 per month for ‘mad money’ - just for you to use for something special.

I paid off $30 000 in one year by using these exact tips and many more. The relief is amazing and now I save the same way.

[Shane's recipes are in the cooking section of the Savings Vault.]

[To view or download Shane's Excel Shopping spreadsheet follow the link below.]

by: Shane O'Donnell 132 responses in the members' forum

Amazing two-ingredient pizza base

Making your own pizzas is a brilliant way to save money on buying them - but I bet you haven't tried this! You can save even more money on takeaway pizzas by making your own bases using just TWO ingredients!

This recipe makes two medium sized pizza bases:

2 cups self raising flour

1 x 200g tub natural yoghurt

Simply combine your two ingredients in a bowl and mix together until well combined. Turn out onto a floured board or surface. Knead together as usual, then divide into two equal parts. Roll out your pizza bases, add your chosen toppings and pop into the oven for 15 minutes at 220 degrees.

The results are so delicious. Simply use up whatever you have in the fridge to top your pizza and you've got a super cheap and filling meal. I've converted all my family and friends too! I dare you to give it a go, you'll be amazed!

by: Tracey 96 responses in the members' forum

How to save $3000 a year on groceries

Here's how we saved $3160 on our food and grocery shopping in one year!

With two kids, it's difficult to find time to shop every week, so I now plan a month's meals in advance and do one big shop each month for basics and weekly shops for fruit, vegetables and meat.

We used to spend $150 a week ($7800 a year) shopping, then find we were throwing away fruit and vegetables because they had gone bad, and that we never had enough ingredients in the house for a full meal. We now spend a total of $170 a month grocery shopping, and $50 a week on fruit, vegetables and meat, if that. This equates to a yearly total of $4640 - a saving of at least $3160!

Planning the month's menu takes a maximum of 20 minutes, and each week we have two fish meals, two meat meals and three vegetarian. Recipes come from 'The Destitute Gourmet Cookbook', the Safeway magazine, magazines from the library and from friends. Each week has a mix of easy/quick recipes and more involved ones so that if I have a busy day, I can make something quick. I also plan the 'snacks' such as oat cake, date loaf and banana muffins.

I have a spreadsheet on the computer which helps me to plan how much pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, and so on I need (four kilograms of rice, five packets of pasta, and so on).

After planning the menu, I write the shopping list and then hit NQR, Safeway and Coles while my husband looks after the kids. It takes only an hour if you're organised with a list and go at a quiet time of day! I prepare separate lists for the weekly fruit, vegetable and meat needs.

We are all now eating in a healthy way and always have cakes and biscuits on hand for guests - and we always use what we have before it goes off.

Other advantages are that other people can consult the menu to see what to cook if I'm not around. Because I'm only doing one big shop, I'm not buying as many impulse items - especially since the husband and kids stay at home! We're also finding that we have enough leftovers from one meal to last another, even after using some for lunches.
And we don't live on baked beans! Tonight we feasted on vegetarian sushi with pickled ginger and Asian dips. Last night was a Moroccan chicken casserole with couscous. Tomorrow night may be a tuna curry, home-made vegetable pizza or grilled balsamic lamb salad!

Doing this, we're saving more than $3000 a year for the family - and don't have the stress of shopping each week with two active children!

by: Tonia Griffith-jones 28 responses in the members' forum

Get your food free all the time

When I separated from my husband and was left with three children, I had no income apart from the pension. Food was getting very scarce, so I had to become creative. Every second week I drove to Flemington fruit and vegetable markets in Sydney (about closing time when most food is the cheapest), bought food by the boxes, and spent the whole day processing it. I made vegetable lasagnes, which I would freeze, all sorts of sauces, vegetable selections for stir frying and steaming, mango ice blocks (pureed mango only) and so on. We would use the most perishable fruit and vegetables the first week and the others later. Eventually we started to have an overabundance of food.

Then I told a few friends of my system, and very soon I was running a little co-op. I started to go to the markets every week and buy a greater variety of food. I got my fruit and vegies free and could also split up my petrol bill for the week amongst participants of the co-op. They got their food much cheaper than in the shop, and I got my food and petrol free.

Apart from that we had the freshest food, with fresh fruit or vegetable juices every day. Out the window went fizzy drinks and any convenience foods. It is now about 14 years since we started to eat like this, and we don't even have a family doctor, because we hardly ever get sick. How much we saved on medicines I cannot even begin to calculate.

by: Bozena Warzecha 24 responses in the members' forum

Grandma's promising gift

My grandson turned six on Boxing Day, and I came up with a new idea for a birthday present that will bring him lots of fun over the next six months. It's called a 'Promise Photo Frame'; here's how it works.
I bought a large photo frame with spaces for six different photos. I then downloaded ClipArt pictures of various activities and put them in the spaces with the following captions:
Trip to Beach with Grandma
Trip to Zoo with Grandma
Train ride with Grandma
Trip to playground with Grandma
Dinner out with Grandma
Movies with Grandma
My Grandson can choose one activity to do with me each month, and when we go out, we'll take a photo of the actual event to put in the space on the frame. This gift, and the activities, can be modified to suit all children, and even adults.

by: Woolfie 29 responses in the members' forum

Take a break from paying the bills

This simple bill payment system lets you take a holiday from paying bills at Christmas time.

Every time I receive a bill, I pay $10 more than the amount required. For example, if the monthly phone bill is $50, I pay $60. This has worked really well for me, and come December I am able to stop the phone, internet, power and rates payments. I use this money for Christmas gifts, safe in the knowledge that my bills are covered.

by: Mel Smith

A super easy menu plan

I have read heaps about menu planning but found it all just so overwhelming. Choosing a menu for a whole month seemed like a lot of hard work but I have found a way to help even the most disorganised person.

Starting on the first day of a new month, and using a calendar or diary, write down what you have for dinner each night of the month. You will soon see what meals you eat on a regular basis. You can then transfer this information to the next month in your calendar or diary, and there is your monthly menu plan!

by: miss A 10 responses in the members' forum

Puzzling our way to a new house

My husband and I have finally found the key to successful saving! The two of us are dreadful savers; while we're good at putting spare change in a jar, we don't know what to do with it once the jar is full! We thought a saving thermometer would be helpful, but wanted something that wouldn't be so obvious when people came over to visit. So we came up with a more subtle brainwave - a jigsaw puzzle!

We bought a jigsaw of what we wanted (a house) and assigned a dollar amount to every piece. Now we 'buy' pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the money goes in our jar and we bank the money once a month. We even set up challenges for ourselves, such as who 'buys' the most pieces in a month, and we never have to worry about what to buy each other for presents - we buy pieces of the puzzle of course! Once we've completed the puzzle we're going to hang it on the wall - of our new house!

by: Castaway 25 responses in the members' forum

Don't lose sight of your goal

I am 22 years old and on a low income, but am well on the way to saving for my first house! I developed a simple system that keeps my savings goal at the forefront of my mind and encourages the support of those around me.

I've always found it hard to save, but one day I got a big piece of cardboard and wrote 'My House Deposit' at the top. On the right hand side I cut out images of a house, a kitchen and a loungeroom that I would love to own one day. On the left hand side I drew a giant thermometer and on the side wrote the figures $0 to $40 000 ascending, just like on a real thermometer. Whether or not I need $40 000 is irrelevant; I look at this table every day and whenever I save another $500, I colour in with a red crayon up to the amount on the tally. I use hints from Simple Savings, such as making my own lunch every day and not buying clothes if I don't need them and now whenever I make a purchase I think of my house deposit and how much I want it far more than a coffee or new shoes!

An unexpected bonus of having this chart is that I've found my family and boyfriend have become aware of my goals and I get lots of support along the way. This visualisation technique really does wonders, and most importantly you are making a concrete agreement with yourself and you stop losing sight of your goals. I'm already a quarter of the way to reaching mine!

by: Mookiyum 3 responses in the members' forum