There’s been a lot of talk about food prices in New Zealand.
People are saying it’s simply “unliveable” and they can no longer afford to feed themselves.
What they really mean is, they can no longer afford to buy the foods they like to eat.
The reality is New Zealand produces lots of food, and if you buy local, affordable ingredients, you can feed yourself with more healthy calories than you could possibly consume, for just a few dollars a day.
Now, they might not be your favourite foods, and you might not even like the taste of them very much, but that doesn’t matter.
The objective when buying groceries is to feed yourself healthily and affordably.
That means, yes, you can’t eat Pringles and drink wine every night.
What you can do is: Slash your grocery bill to less than $50 a week, invest the savings in assets, and then watch it compound so you can retire twenty years earlier.
Here’s a sample grocery bill (per person) from our good friend Pak N Save that achieves our objective.
If you got me into a good Chinese supermarket or Costco, I could probably make it 15% cheaper, but Pak N Save does the job nicely too:
2kg pork shoulder
2kg chicken drumsticks
2kg beef liver
2kg beef heart
4x daikon radish
1L extra virgin olive oil
1 jar peanut butter
4x loaves bread
1.5kg rolled oats
4kg frozen veg
Price? $179 a month, or $45 a week.
Here’s what a standard day’s eating would look like:
1x bowl rolled oats
2x slices toast with butter
1x peanut butter sandwich
Rice with chicken drumsticks, carrots and onions
Beef liver and roast potatoes
What about drink? Have as many glasses of water as you would like.
This gives you more than 3 meals a day with many healthy snacks in between and is more than a sufficient amount of calories for a healthy person. Even if you do want to eat more, you can literally buy 2x of everything and it will still be cheap. About $90/week (minimum wage in NZ is $750 per week after tax).
So, why do people struggle with food prices?
It’s clear that buying enough food isn’t the problem.
In fact, $45 per week gets you far more food than you should eat in a week.
Yet, I’m sure many will read this and go straight back to spending $500 per week on food and drink.
Clearly, the reason has nothing to do with food prices. It has everything to do with our food mindset in New Zealand.
We have a culture of food extravagance. We can’t eat the same lunch seven days in a row. That would be crazy and sooooo boring. And what about brunch with my friends? I need that! What about beer? What about chocolate? What about ice cream? What about when I’m too tired to cook? You want me to just eat rice and beef liver every day? What am I? A peasant?
But just like your mindset with money can shift, your mindset with food can shift as well.
One thing I appreciated while travelling for many years and living in poorer countries is how they eat affordably just by eating the same basic meal every day. I’ve met elite (international level) athletes who literally just eat beans, rice avocado and banana every day, at a cost of about $1-$2. As I started to embrace a frugal and minimalist way of living, this became not only possible but enjoyable! I love the simplicity of not having to umm and ahh about what I’m going to eat each day. Nowadays my grocery list only has about 5 or 6 things on it, and my grocery shopping is done in about 10 minutes. I cook almost all my own meals, and I really only have 2 or 3 meals that I eat over and over.
This results in me having much more time (and money) to do things I love, like playing sport, reading, surfing, working out, watching podcasts, and writing on moneybren.com!
So how can you develop a healthier mindset around food, so you don’t crave $50 brunches with 2 glasses of wine, and eating a $4 block of chocolate every night?
Think about it this way – you’ve learned to think about money as a tool to build things with, instead of something to just spend on stuff.
Try to think of food as a tool to build with too, instead of something to just eat and get addicted to.
Instead of food being something you find comfort from, something to get dopamine hits from (oh their kumara fries are so goooood), and in many ways, a recreational drug that you can get highs and food comas from, let it instead be just another tool that helps you achieve your goals. Food gives you energy. Nutrients. It’s fuel to keep you going. That’s it.
Interestingly, this has made me much healthier too. I buy foods based on the amount of nutrients I can get from each dollar. Junk food is expensive and nutritionally useless. It doesn’t give me energy. It doesn’t make me function better. So I never buy it. Mince is cheaper than steak, and is essentially the same food with the same nutrient profile. So I buy the mince.
I buy the food that gets the job done for the lowest price.
I’m also a big fan of organ meats – they are up to 5x chaper than premium cuts, and usually more nutrient-dense too. I eat liver/gizzard/heart every week.
Fruits are usually priced by rarity and exoticness, not nutrient density. An apple might be 5x cheaper than a mango, yet a mango isn’t superior in calories or nutrients. So why buy it? Kiwifruit is nutritionally superior to pineapple, but many times cheaper. Buy the kiwifruit.
The irony is, these behaviours have helped me reach a position where I can now afford to eat pretty much anything I want. But my food addictions died many years ago. I still just eat the same 2-3 meals every day (though I do choose the healthier, organic options now) and haven’t found any desire to change.
Changing your grocery bill can change your life
Food is one of the “big three” expenses for most families (food, transport, housing).
If you can shop intentionally based on which foods are good for your wallet, instead of which foods you like and are addicted to, you can literally transform your entire financial future.
Most people spend around $300/week on food.
If you can get that down to $45/week, that’s a saving of $255/week, or $13,260 per year.
That invested in the S&P500 or NZX50 over 30 years will give you:
$2.5 million bucks.
Changing your grocery bill not only made you healthier, it made you a multi-millionaire and retired your earlier.
It’s just math, and it really is that simple.