Save money and lose weight: the ultimate food hack

Summer style guide

Let’s face it: most people these days find themselves wanting to save money and lose weight. Unfortunately, those two thoughts often seem at odds with each other. Eating better can come with a hefty price tag, when specialty products and obscure (and expensive) vegetables are touted as “the” way to shed kilos. Not only that, but it can be very confusing trying to work out what foods are actually good for you! It seems to involve a lot of science and mathematics as you scrutinize labels, add up calories, balance those figures against other nutritional factors…. all while standing in the supermarket aisle, with a definite sense that you’re wasting precious time that could be better spent elsewhere.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not a financial guru. I’m just a gal, looking to use some common sense to get back to the simpler things in life. And I reckon I’ve about figured this out. Read on, and see if you agree.

Snacks are more important than meals

Woah! Did I really just say that? Why yes, yes I did. And I’ll say it again: snacks are more important than meals. Think about it for a moment – what do you usually eat at meal times? Breakfast might be a bowl of cereal or some toast. Lunch could be a sandwich/wrap or a salad; and dinner basically boils down to carbs (usually rice or wheat-based), meat, and some vegetables. Sure, we can tweak things, we can make healthier and/or cheaper choices for those meals.

But take a look at what you eat in between meals. If you are prone to nibbling on chocolate, sweet or savoury biscuits, muesli bars, liquid breakfast replacements, or any of the weird and wonderful array of packaged snacks available to us these days, then you may be overspending and overeating.

Packaged snacks will usually contain excess amounts of salt, sugar and highly refined ingredients such as white flour, and can cost hundreds of times more per gram than fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, or even the ingredients you would need to make those snacks at home. For example, let’s have a look at a muesli bar that I rather enjoyed, before learning to check labels – the Uncle Toby’s chewy choc chip bar. (This is the new and improved “healthier” version, with reduced fat, salt and sugar)

Uncle Tobys

Images taken from

Did you spot how many times sugar is added, in different forms? I’ve counted 7, including glucose, glycerin, invert sugar and honey. Overall the percentage of sugar (17.2% or 17.2 grams per 100 grams) is a little over the Australian Government recommendation of 15% (or 15 grams per 100 grams). Fat is 1.5 grams more than the recommended 10 grams per 100, although it is low in saturated fat.

Even the new and improved “healthier” bar still has more than the recommended amounts of sugar and fat. Now consider the snacks you eat which don’t even try to be healthy.

Mars 1

Mars 2.png
Images taken from

The 53 gram bar is the one you’ll find in the confectionery aisle at Woolworths or Coles in the standard pack. Immediately you can see that the first two ingredients are sugar; barley malt extract is also a form of sugar. The total for just one bar is 30.6 grams, nearly 60% of the whole item! Remember that the recommended sugar level is 15% or less. Fat accounts for more than a quarter of the bar, and nearly half of that is saturated fat.

Now let’s take a look at a natural snack option – the humble banana. Conveniently wrapped, easy to peel, hard to make a mess with, a banana is a pretty good go-to, and just look at these stats:


A banana has no fat, and comes in well under the recommended 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams. It also contains fibre and important vitamins and minerals. Clearly it has a lot more going for it than the muesli bar or the chocolate. But what about price?

Coles sells the Uncle Toby’s chewy choc chip muesli bars 6 for $4.39, or $2.37 per 100 grams.

Woolworths sells the 53 gram Mars Bar for $2, or $3.77 per 100 grams.

Over summer, banana prices averaged $3/kg, or 30 cents per 100 grams.

No contest!!

Make your snacks and eat them, too

So let’s suppose you didn’t want to just eat healthy, natural foods like fruit, nuts and seeds. What do you eat to satisfy those sweet cravings? If packaged snacks are unhealthy and ludicrously expensive, and you’re looking for something tasty to grab on the go, what options are available?

Your best bet is to set aside a little time each week – say, two hours on the weekend, or whatever suits your schedule and requirements – and get into the kitchen. Find a recipe online and get your bake on! Make muffins, cake, biscuits, slices, home-made muesli bars, tarts – whatever floats your boat, really! Because when you make your snacks at home, you know exactly what goes into them, and you can choose healthier recipes to start with, and/or modify the ingredients to suit your needs. Want to cut back on sugar? Substitute sugar in the recipe for Stevia powder. [I found the best results were from using half sugar, half Stevia, for consistency and flavour] Need to up your fibre intake? Swap some or all of the flour for wholemeal flour. Add in wholesome ingredients like nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit. Oats – one of those underappreciated super foods – go so well in a huge variety of baked goods!

Not only are home-baked goods usually much healthier than packaged, store-bought snacks, they are much cheaper to make, depending on the ingredients you use – and generally speaking, those ingredients will go a long way.

Small changes can make a big difference

If you’re still skeptical about the difference that can be made simply by swapping out unhealthy snacks for fruit and healthy homemade treats, give it a go. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised! Give it a few weeks and you’ll probably find yourself feeling more trim, as well as saving a few dollars at the supermarket. And who doesn’t want that?

Snack Attack Hack

If there’s one thing I can’t stand in life, it’s being hit with a snack attack – the sudden and unbearable need to nibble on something – while I’m out and about, and having nothing at hand to nibble on. Hunger hits hard and fast, and often leaves me feeling a bit queasy, especially if I’m driving. Until I cottoned on to this ‘snack attack hack,’ I would inevitably end up buying something to eat. Chocolate, a cheeseburger, a bucket of fried chicken and chips – whatever was quick, cheap, easy and nearby. It’s an unhealthy habit and not kind to the hip pocket.

The Snack Hack to End All Snack Attack Blow-Outs!

This is a slightly modified version of an idea I read in Peppermint magazine. [If you’re into life-affirming stuff like social and environmental ethics, community, art, etc, go read that magazine. It’s amazing.]

  1. Nibblies – go to your nearest nut vendor and … well, go nuts! Some of my favourite nibbly bits include: almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), cacao nibs (a little goes a long way, so don’t be put off by the price tag! A $12 bag – 300gm – has so far lasted me several months), yogurt-coated apricot balls, and sultanas. Other ideas might be bhuja mix, wasabi peas, savoury coated peanuts – you get the idea. Little bits of deliciousness that’ll last outside of the fridge!
  2. Big container – mix it all up and keep it stored in an airtight container (important for making it last without going stale – cheap supermarket containers tend not to do such an awesome job)
  3. Little container – scoop some of your nibbly snack mix into a snack-sized container when you’re heading out and bam! You are inoculated against the horrors of an Unsatisfied Snack Attack!

Tip: remember to pack a bottle of water, too, because your snack mix could leave you a bit dry-mouthed, and also because home-bottled water is cheap, healthy, and a much better option than a store-bought beverage.

My most recent mix – I tried some chickpea things, but wasn’t a huge fan. Yogurt balls are the best thing ever!

Supermarket Savings Hack

This supermarket savings hack may seem like Captain Obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. Grocery shopping is not a generally exciting activity and it can be pretty easy to slip into a rut, buying the same products week in, week out, from habit. I swear I spend half my shopping trip in a meditative state while my hands just grab familiar objects and toss them in the trolley. However, overhauling your grocery spending requires that you keep your eyes peeled and your creativity switched on.

Shop for clearance items

Like I said – Captain Obvious! But I want to go a bit deeper than just snagging a pack of marked-down chicken breasts and calling it a day. How can you use clearance grocery items to really make a difference to your weekly food budget?

These were all from one shop! With some of the veggies, rice and pasta I have at home I can make at least 3 different meals from these with leftovers for lunches.

Know when to shop

Maybe I’m just late to cotton on, but I had a revelation today: a whole lot of stuff gets marked down the day before the new catalogue comes out. At Woolworths, the new catalogue starts on Wednesday, so Tuesday they mark down all kinds of meat, fruit and vegetables to sell them before they bring in the new stock. Find out when your local supermarket restocks, and go the day before – you just might pick up some bargains. Your best bet is to go around the middle of the day, when the items are most likely to have been marked down already, and before the after-work shoppers come and nab the good stuff.

Choose wisely

Not all clearance items are necessarily going to help your budget. Today I saw scotch fillet steaks reduced from $17 to $13 – an awesome saving of $4. But we don’t eat scotch fillet! And $13 for a packet of meat that won’t even feed the three of us is not economical! As well as scoping for clearance items, take into account the dollar per kilo amount, and ask yourself how many serves you’ll get out of that item. I chose 500 grams of chicken stir fry strips half price at $4.50. That will easily feed my family, with a bit leftover for lunch the next day.

Don’t go overboard

There were four of those marked down chicken packets when I looked, but I only chose two (one for tonight, one for the freezer). It doesn’t help my budget if I spend all my money today just to take advantage of specials, and then don’t have anything left for the internet bill later in the week and cop a $15 late payment fee. I also didn’t want to take all the half-price organic salad mix containers because there’s no way we could use that much salad mix before it all goes bad. Pick what you need and can use, and leave it at that. There will be more specials next week!

Picture how you might use it

Finally, when considering a clearance item, take a moment to think what you might use it for. The stir fry strips I bought were pretty easy to place in the menu: chicken stir fry. When I saw Asian greens on special, I knew I should grab some of those for the stir fry. I also have wok-ready noodles that I bought in a two-for offer yesterday.

Having a rough idea of what you might use a clearance item for can help you to avoid food wastage by using up what you have at home that might go, and buying other suitable items; it also ensures you actually use that clearance item instead of getting it home and realising you really don’t know what to do with it. Have some staple recipes in your head so you can look out for specials on key ingredients – eg, cheap mince to make spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie; chicken thighs for curry; or sausages to cook up alongside veggies and mashed potato.

Share your tips!

Comment below and share what clearance items you like to look out for and how you use them – do you have some favourite go-to recipes? Which supermarket has the best specials in your area? (In my semi-rural part of Victoria, Australia, we’re a bit limited for choice – Woolworths is the easiest for my family).

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