my simple life: my best 10 tips for eating well on a budget

Last week I shared my findings on how average Aussies spend their food budgets. It was fairly sorry, bury-your-head-in-your-hands-and-yell-why stuff.

5 bonus tips via thepurebar. Mine are further down...

What I find most frustrating is that our authorities – specifically our governments – haven’t done enough to curb the trend. Healthy choices are the hardest choices, for many. Town planning doesn't have to take into consideration access to healthy food outlets (and so food deserts abound), food marketers can make pretty much any health claims they want (hello 'vitamin' water), everything we've been told about healthy eating is... misguided....

Growing up, I was extremely lucky. My parents were raised in small villages in Greece where the only food was healthy food. They weren't into buying packet marinades and frozen meals. They, very thankfully, maintained their clean food philosophy when they came here to Australia. They grew stuff at home and we ate clean, simple yet nutritious meals. We certainly weren't a well-off family (one year, we couldn't afford heating), but the food was always healthy. Simple. But healthy (okay, apart from a very short fried spam affair).

My mum's clean food philosophy ensured that although she had very little in the way of money, she spent the money she did have on nutritious food. We rarely got to eat chips and biscuits because we couldn't afford that sort of thing. I don't know how to spread this sort of food philosophy on a mass scale. I don't know how to infiltrate society with it. I guess I'm trying to do my bit by sharing posts like this.

*rant alert*

It's true that it's not only up to us. Governments need to step up. When it comes to food and health, bring on the  nanny state, I say. Restrict how many junk food outlets there can be in a municipality. Restrict junk food advertising to kids. Tighten regulations around what sort of claims food marketers can make about their products. For god's sake do something, because heart disease and cancer and type 2 diabetes and obesity aren't gonna exit the building on their own.

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the budget. Let's roll up our sleeves and get practical:

I promised to share my personal food budget. Here it is, compared with the country’s average.  My best 10 tips for eating well on a budget are further down:

Average (All households)
Average (Receive family payments from government)
My budget – feeds two adults
Food budget
$120 - $130 – although this varies. This week, for instance, I spent $126, but last week I only spent about $50 because some of the veggies in our patch were ready for harvesting.
Bakery products
$20, mostly:
cakes, biscuits etc ($8)
bread ($7)
cereals and pasta ($5).
$3 – I spend $6 on whole-wheat sourdough, probably once a fortnight or so (so the weekly spend is $3)

$25, mostly:
processed meat including ham, bacon, mince and sausages - $9
beef and veal - $5
poultry - $5
it varies. Last week I paid $9 for 600g of wallaby (about 4 fillets). The week before that $14.50 for a Glenloth free range chicken which gave us 5 meals plus stock. A few weeks ago I splurged and bought a leg of salt bush lamb from Flinders Island for $38, which fed each of us 3 times over. When I buy fish, I go for the cheaper varieties like Australian salmon, sardines, squid etc... much cheaper and more sustainable
Fruit and nuts
Approx. $15, buying whatever fruit is in season and eating two pieces most days. I buy nuts in their shells from the loose bags at the market
$20 - $35, depending on what my own garden is producing
Condiments, confectionery  food additives and prepared meal
(mostly chips and other savoury snacks, chocolate, ice cream and packaged/prepared meals)
$2.50 – I spend $20 every two months or so on extra virgin olive oil, which breaks down to $2.50 per week. Occasionally I replenish a spice

Dairy products
$16, incl. $6 for a 2L bottle raw milk and $5 - 10 yoghurt
Non-alcoholic drinks (mostly soft drinks)
$10, on coffee. Tea, I usually pick fresh from the garden. I buy black tea every few months (about $7 for a large box of loose leaf). I don’t buy soft drinks or juices.
Fast food and takeaway
Varies, no more than $15 a week on wine.
Tobacco products
I’ve rounded to the nearest dollar.

Other food items I spend money on:
  • Local free range eggs: $6-7 a dozen
  • Legumes/pulses: Around $6, buying from the loose bins at the market. $6 worth gets me enough for many meals.
  • Local raw honey: $10 (my husband has a fetish that rivals Pooh Bear’s).

So, how does my food budget compare with the average?
I spend, on average, between $120 - 130 a week on food for two adults (the average for my situation is $207). Here’s how my spending differs from the average:
  • I spend $17 less on bakery products: We don’t buy biscuits and cakes etc. If I want that stuff, I DIY. We don’t eat cereals etc. Wondering what I eat for breakfast then? Here's 10 ideas.
  • My meat/fish spend varies, but all-in-all I don’t spend more than the average yet I do purchase only ethically-raised meat. I don’t spend money on processed meat. I eat less meat than most. I buy cheaper cuts. Sometimes I splurge and buy a fancy cut and I can afford to do that because my food budget isn’t hijacked by crap.
  • I spend double the amount on vegetables, which may seem odd since I have a vegie garden but that’s how many vegetables we eat. A lot! And the vegies I buy are super fresh (usually picked that morning or day prior) and chemical free/organic. It’s a priority for me. I spend less on other parts of the budget (see below) so I have more to spend on this part, the most important part.
  • I save about $20 by not buying condiments, confectionery, food additives, prepared meals etc.
  • I spend about the average on dairy products, but buy only locally-produced raw milk and natural locally-made yoghurt.
  • I spend $6 less on non-alcoholic drinks because I don’t buy soft drinks or juices etc.
  • I save $30 by not spending money on fast food or takeaways.
  • I spend $17 less on alcohol.
  • I save $13 by not smoking.

On average, I spend around $80 a week less because I don’t buy anything processed or refined. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Jack.

My best 10 tips for eating well on a budget

1. Use Local Harvest to find good food close to you

Farmers’ markets, food co-ops, CSAs, box systems and farm gates are damn good shopping options. Local Harvest (the big brown logo to the top right of my page) is a terrific online directory for finding these outlets near you. All you need to do is enter your postcode and the outlets near you pop up on a map. It’s Australia-wide. Top stuff!

2. Do most, if not all, of your food shopping at a farmers’ market or similar

We need to stop giving money to processed food/junk food companies. I commit to buying food mostly/only from a fresh food outlet (and not a supermarket). It means I avoid putting myself in the situation where processed food is easily available to me.

3. Local and chemical free can be just as good as certified organic

‘Local’ and ‘chemical-free’ are more important to me than an organic certification (which is usually what bumps the price up). Most local, small-scale farmers do their best to avoid applying chemical pesticides and fertilisers to their crops because these are expensive. And they care about their land. I'm happy if I have a conversation with a farmer directly about how they grow their produce and they tell me they don’t use chemicals, they rotate their crops and they have a few animals on the land for fertiliser and soil tilling (holistic farming).

Also, organic certification can be a tad misleading. These days, you can find organically-certified soft drinks. I’m just saying...

4. Try my five food adages

I shared these a while back. They are simple and represent a food philosophy that, once adopted, saves your health and a few bucks too. See them here.

5. Grow what you can

I’ve written about this before and will continue to share food growing tips. Don’t procrastinate, just plant stuff. In the ground. Now. Leafy greens are the easiest things to grow and don’t need a lot of sunlight or attention. You’ll have a fresh supply of healthy greens at your doorstep free or charge. Growing your own food is the single most defiant act you can do for your health and the environment's.

6. Don’t get caught up in expensive food fads

I hate the word superfood. Honestly! Green protein powders, matcha powder, maca powder... if you can afford to buy chemical-free, local and ethical produce as well as those extras, that’s cool, go ahead. But most people can’t. I refuse to feel like I need those products to be healthy, because it’s simply not true.

7. Cook simple meals

I don’t faff about with fancy ingredient lists longer than my arm. I generally don’t follow recipes to the T. I use them as inspiration only and adapt them according to what I have in my pantry or what I’m growing in the garden. It means I don’t buy an ingredient I’ll only use once and then forget about it at the back of the pantry. It also means I make the most of the produce I do have floating about inside and outside my house. Use lots of fresh home-grown herbs to pack in flavour and nutrition.

8. Create a zero-waste kitchen

The average family throws out over $1000 worth of perfectly edible food each year. Pretty scary stuff. Here’s how I’ve created a zero-waste kitchen (I try). 

9. Learn to love legumes

They’ll save you a heap of dosh but more importantly, beans and legumes are the food stuffs of centenarians. Wanna live a long, healthy life? Eating beans is a big part of it

10. Prioritise food

I don’t get manicures or spend time at shopping centres buying candle holders or throw blankets or whatever else people buy on weekends. I prioritise good food.

Care to share some of your tried and tested good-food-on-a-budget tips?


  1. Hey Maria,

    What resources do you go to for veggie/bean/pulse recipes? I'm trying to eat less meat, but being bought up in a meat-and-3-veg kind of household, my imagination around excluding it is limited...
    Another question - I'm working on eliminating cans from my cupboard because of the environmental cost - I'm down to tin toms and tin coconut cream. I know I can get dehydrated coconut cream (still tracking it down, but I'll find it!) but what about tomatoes? I've frozen a heap of my own but it won't last until tom season. Can you sub in passata in place of tin tomatoes (given it's usually in handy glass jars)..what do you reckon?

    1. Hi Becs

      I find Greek cookbooks really great for bean recipes. I almost treat beans/lentils like I would mince meat or casserole meat - eg, add beans or lentils to a shepherd's pie instead of mince; beans instead of meat in a casserole or stew, etc. Make sure you soak them overnight and if you are organised enough sprout them as this significantly reduces the bloating issues many people experience after eating them, which is what puts a lot of people off. Search my blog for beans and lentils as I have a few recipes up and also info on how to soak/sprout.

      Tinned food - so happy to hear you're reducing them! I honestly don't have any tinned food at home. I sometimes buy tinned coconut milk if I'm feeling lazy but that's rarely. You can make your own coconut milk from a whole coconut or even shredded coconut - recipe on my blog. As far as tomatoes go... to be honest, I get creative and end up cooking without tomatoes during the off-season. It forces you to expand your cooking repertoire and explore other ingredients. If you get desperate, aussie-made passata is a fine substitute, if you can find an all-natural one.

  2. Hi Maria

    Would love to see a food diary that captures what you eat in a week.

    I am trying to reduce my weekly food budget. My downfall is fancy ingredients and superfoods. I am also making an effort to eat less meat.
    I do have another question, are you still excluding gluten from your diet? Do you eat many carbs? (bread, rice, pasta)

    Thanks! x

    P.S your blog is great, I look forward to all your posts! your tips and advice are encouraging me to live a more sustainable and healthy life.

    1. Hm, I might think about putting together a food diary, not a bad idea!

      I try to limit carbs in general and wheat/gluten products significantly. I probably have rice, whole wheat cous cous or pasta once or twice a week and my trick is to keep the proportion of it quite small compared to the veg content. Bread only occasionally if I get a craving, and then only wholemeal sourdough - otherwise I bloat up like a balloon and get cramps.

      I don't think it's bad to have carbs in your diet, just not refined ones and not in huge amounts. For me, I find carby/gluteny foods bloat me so I restrict them out of necessity.

  3. Great read. I eat out waaay too much. I use the "too hard cooking for one" excuse a lot but really need to start cooking more.

    1. A great thing to do is cook a batch and freeze the spare portions. I find this is great for lentil dahl, curry, risotto, pasta sauces and lasagne. It takes about the same time to make enough for one as it does to make enough for 8, so I cook up a batch, have it for dinner and then a couple of lunches, and freeze the rest for when I don't want to cook. : )

  4. Hi Maria

    Thank you for your excellent post. I hope I am not too far off the track in my comment. We live less than 5 minutes walk from our small to medium sized suburban strip shopping centre. I can easily shop locally but this is what is on offer: 17 take away /eateries; 7 Restaurants; Coles; Tasman Meats; 2-3 bakeries; one struggling health food shop; one just surviving green grocer and one seafood retailer that opened about three months ago and closed about 6 weeks later. The seafood retailer took over from our local butcher who only attracted 1-2 customers a day after Tasman Meats was given approval by the Council. The greengrocer and now gone butcher always offered the best quality and value for money but the people flock to the large Coles and Tasman Meats. I can't understand. Coles is actually very expensive and the quality at Tasman Meats just isn't on par with what the butcher offered. We don't live in an affluent area but the take aways/eateries and restaurants are packed full each day and night. It is impossible to get a park most days. I truly, truly do not understand. Have people lost the plot?

    1. Sounds similar to the state of affairs in my area. It's the place to go if you want fish and chips, pizza, charcoal chicken or pies. Very frustrating! I guess part of it is that these foods are addictive...

      Supermarkets do a damn good job of convincing people they are the 'fresh food people' at the best prices, even if it couldn't be further from the truth.

  5. In regards to tip number 3, Kirsten, from Milkwood permaculture, puts it well in her charming way:

    you covered it all really concisely and well - i still have things to learn - and for a scientist you have such a colloquial to the point turn of phrase .

    As I suspect many of your readers are likely, to some extent at least, the converted, I'm going to see if i can get some people who shop very differently to you (processed and refined foods: Gazillion. Todo. Onezerozero%. Big Macs. well that's exaggerating a bit) to read it; to hear their thoughts, what they think and whether they would consider giving any of it a go. It's interesting to consider what it would take to transform peoples behaviour: individuals, families, neighbourhoods. Of course i'm assuming one set of values or lifestyle is better than another.

    Oh yeah, you were extremely lucky to grow up with parents like that. I'm probably seventh-eighth generation industrial revolution anglo-saxon who thought food was grown in supermarkets and factories- not quite. My neighbours, though, were second generation Sicilian and still had a strong connection with many of the old ways.


    1. Thanks PH, for recognising my 'unscientific' writing style. I actually had to work hard to turn my style around! Ha ha.

      Yes please share with your unconverted friends. That's my ultimate wish, that my posts are shared beyond the converted. Let me know how they react!

  6. Hi Maria,

    Just wanted to say thank you for this post - I follow several blogs related to health, wellness and so on but I find that many skip over the issue of shopping for sustainable, healthy food on a very tight budget. Can I ask where you buy salmon from? I tend to get it from the market (not farmer's) or the supermarket and I've read that it's not so sustainable and chemical-free from these places. What should I be looking for?

    I'd also be interested in any advice you have for people who work in offices in terms of easy, quick (and cheap!) lunches. Most days I find myself in the lunch room chopping and steaming half a zucchini with whatever else I could grab that morning (on a good day homemade pesto or leftovers, on a bad day... nothing?). I'd love to know if you have any ideas on this as I find lunch is often the hardest meal to plan for if I don't have leftovers to rely on. My work is in an area densely populated with overpriced Italian restaurants, one sushi place and a supermarket so my options are somewhat limited!


    1. Thank you, I'm so glad I can be useful!

      Ah, salmon. This could be a post of its own. I don't buy salmon very regularly. When I do it's from the farmers' market (by friend buys it for me from the market she goes to). It's Yarra Valley Cavier salmon and trout - a very good local farm that follows sustainable practices, no antibiotics etc. Salmon farming in Tassie, where most shop salmon comes from, is very polluting to the surrounding ocean water so not recommended.

      Lunches - great idea I'll put together some ideas and post soon, maybe even next week. Keep an eye out.

    2. Yarra Valley Salmon - local if you're in Victoria, that is!

  7. P.S your blog is great, I look forward to all your posts! your tips and advice are encouraging me to live a more sustainable and healthy life.

  8. Hi Maria

    Love your blog and how real and honest you are!

    I have a few questions and was hoping you could help me out.

    I currently shop at major supermarket chains (affordable and convenient). However I really want to buy local and chemical free produce. There are a few issues I have come across...

    1. Convincing my partner! (extra cost and benefit)

    2. Access to chemical free/ local produce. I have tried food connect for a season and found that for approx. $45 box of veggies would only last half the week. Also, due to the seasonality getting 5 ears of corn or a box full of potato meant that we would be eating the same thing, and I would have to purchase extra veggies to increase variety in the meals,
    I have looked at local markets and most of the produce is not chemical free.

    3. I have looked at other options like organic home delivery where you can choose what produce you want to purchase rather than a box system. Another option would be shopping at an organic supermarket. What do you think of these?
    I was question how local and fresh the produce is?

    4. Also, how do you plan your meals. Do you plan then buy produce? or buy produce and plan meals?

    Sorry for going on and on! Just need some help. Would really appreciate some advice or recommendations!

    Thanks in advance




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