Abu Dhabi: Grocery bills tend to take a heavy hit with the addition of every new member to a family, and Iman Khamis has been working to manage hers ever since the birth of her daughter 14 months ago. Setting a monthly budget, the family-of-three from Egypt considers it an achievement to stay within the set amount.
“We are a household with two working parents, but it definitely takes a fair amount of discipline and budgeting to ensure we don’t overspend on groceries each month. I would say I use a few tried and tested tips, but I also know that I am learning every day on how to do better,” Khamis, 39, told Gulf News.
Family and household
Khamis is a senior executive assistant at a communications firm. She has been living in Abu Dhabi with her husband, an IT consultant, for four years.
“We were quite comfortable as a couple, and our finances did not feel particularly stretched. When we welcomed our daughter however, a lot of expenses were added, including ones that you don’t expect would cost quite so much,” Khamis said.
Take diapers, for instance. Babies go through countless diapers in their first year alone, and each pack costs a fair amount.
We find that we spend less when we shop as a family. Not only does it expose our daughter to an engaging activity but it also helps us rein in our impulses for junk food and unnecessary purchases.
“We prefer a fairly expensive brand, and we don’t want to change it since my daughter is comfortable in them and hasn’t had any rashes. But it also means that we spend quite a bit on these,” Khamis said.
In addition, the family added a live-in nanny as well, and this means that groceries need to cater to her needs as well.
“We set aside Dh4,000 a month for groceries. Obviously, this includes spending on foodstuff, household supplies and toiletries for us all. If we can spend less than this even by a little, it’s a win,” Khamis said.
The family shops weekly, spending Dh700 on average during their trip to the hypermarket.
“I was less careful about where we shopped earlier. But now I notice that some items, like rice and tissues for example, are priced significantly higher at a supermarket we used to frequent. So we’ve chosen a particularly hypermarket somewhat close to our home, and we head there one afternoon during the weekend,” she explained.
Khamis makes sure to adopt an envelope-based budgeting system to manage expenses, and she says it has always been particularly effective.
“I learnt this from my mother, and it really is a good way to stay within pre-set limits,” she said.
So at the start of the month, Khamis puts set amounts of money into six envelopes: groceries, clothing and shopping, emergencies, outings, and fuel and transport.
My husband is very supportive, and he helps me as much as possible to stay within budget. We also closed all our credit cards, and use only debit cards; it is just so much easier to overspend when you don’t account for how much cash you actually have.
“My husband is very supportive, and he helps me as much as possible to stay within budget. We also closed all our credit cards, and use only debit cards; it is just so much easier to overspend when you don’t account for how much cash you actually have,” Khamis explained.
Fresh foods are a major part of the family’s shopping.
“We try to eat clean for our daughter’s sake, so fruits and vegetables are a must,” Khamis said.
The family’s list of essentials include meat, chicken, zucchini, potatoes, onions, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, apples, bananas, peaches, papaya, avocadoes, prunes and watermelon. Eggs, bread, milk and juices are some of the other food items.
“One thing we make sure to get is a variety of cheeses: smoked, Gouda, halloumi – we love our cheeses,” Khamis said.
Saving bit by bit
The family does look for deals wherever they can, often buying in bulk things that are less perishable.
“So I look for sales on things like oil, toilet paper, detergent and even baby formula. Even when we buy multiple canisters of detergent, I know none of it will go to waste,” she added.
Khamis also looks for savings on frozen items.
“I often buy extra chicken for the house. Of course, finding space in the freezer can be a challenge, but it is worth the money saved,” she added.
The mother-of-one has also adopted a different buying strategy for diapers.
“I always look for online deals and buy diapers and wipes in bulk. We buy an 84-pack of diapers, which cost Dh98 online through Amazon. The same pack costs Dh120 at the store. Similarly, the water wipes we prefer are Dh154 for 12 packs online, but cost Dh212.75 in stores,” Khamis said.
Once an item has been bought in bulk, Khamis makes sure to account for it in the next week’s list.
“I closely track what we have at home so that I don’t buy items that we already have, especially perishables,” Khamis said.
Groceries as a family
Another thing the family does is make as much food at home as possible.
“It takes a bit more time, but I find it costs less and is healthier when I bake biscuits and cakes for my daughter instead of purchasing them,” she said.
“We also find that we spend less when we shop as a family. Not only does it expose our daughter to an engaging activity but it also helps us rein in our impulses for junk food and unnecessary purchases,” Khamis added.
But it isn’t just the small things that matter; Khamis finds that a regular look at spending patterns helps minimise them.
“I had to take a close look at our shopping budget to figure out that our spending was more at one supermarket than the other. Sometimes it can go unnoticed, so it helps to try and keep track of individual costs whenever possible,” she said.
Iman Khamis’ tips to save on grocery spending
- Buy non-perishables in bulk whenever possible, and keep an eye out for online deals.
- Split your earnings by allocating envelopes for the different types of expenses you have each month.
- Spend only the money you have: use debit cards instead of purchasing on credit.
- Make a list. You spend a lot more when roaming around the supermarket without a proper list.
- Keep track of what you already have at home so that you don’t buy too many perishables.
- Shop as a family, and get everyone on board with the spending budget.
- Take a regular look at your grocery spending to determine where you may be spending more than you need to.