How Meals in Perth can be Affordable

Recently, a friend of mine expressed her shock when I told her my weekly food budget for my family is $100. Whenever I do the grocery, every item that goes into the basket will be tallied in my mind like a cash register. Even my wife doesn't know I do that. She definitely won't do that if I ask her to, as she cited mental sums being her "weak area."

It isn't as difficult as we think.

Firstly, when you do grocery shopping often enough, you can almost remember the prices of your regular items like how you remember the price of Teh C at the coffee shop you often visit. There is no difference really. Even if you don't know the prices well, that doesn't stop you from keeping within budget. It helps but it isn't essential.

In the area I live in, most of the days, the green vegetables here will be sold in bunches that cost $1.00 each, $0.69 on better days. That brings me to the next habit, I round up. Even if I am getting a discounted item that day at $0.69, that would be $2.00 after I popped 2 bunches in. Then I move on. A bag of pears at $3.68? Why not? $6.00 spent. A slab of 1.2kg gravy beef at $12.88. I can do with some beef this week. $13.00 .... $14.00 for those who cannot add 6 + 13 properly. There is no excuse you can't do 6 + 14. So $20.00 done and moving on, and so on. Tomatoes, milk, it doesn't matter. The shit gets done the same way.

I do my shopping quickly, decisively and I never bust a budget ever. These days I rarely do the grocery due to my busy schedule but I will try to fully take over this task from now on.

Are food that cheap in Perth, as compared to Singapore? Not really. However the prices of food items are dynamic. For example, a kilogram of ginger may cost $9.99/kg in Winter and $15.00/kg in Summer. So you can be paying 50% more for the same thing at a different time. In Singapore, prices are more or less constant (constantly increasing) and there is not much difference in price across different shops all year round. So, there is one less thing to worry about in Singapore.

"$100 a week for the whole family? You must be kidding, I have to spend $1000 a month for my family in Singapore leh!" the friend exclaimed.

One day, I would like to invite her to Perth for a short holiday show her.

Before that, it is all paper talk. It isn't that difficult to do a breakdown. There are only 7 breakfast, 7 lunch and 7 dinner. As I only prepare dinner (I don't take breakfast or dinner), all I need to do is to keep dinner around $10 each. Impossible? Probably, but it really depends how you see yourself in relation with the idea of consumption. There are people who think that eating tau gei as one of the dishes in a meal is 'pathetic' and every meal must have meat or fish to be nutritious enough. I don't buy these shit from the nutritious camp, unless they are someone like Encik G, who is disciplined like a monk. The normal ones have no qualms in sinking $10.00 for a fast-food combo meal or $3.00 for a cup of bubble tea "occasionally."

No doubt, when my children grows up, consumption is going to increase. At the moment, we (2 adults, one 4 yo, one baby) will not find too much trouble doing meals for the family within $10.00. Take for example, 500 grams of dried pasta cost around $1.00 at most supermarkets, $0.70 if you know where. 250 grams of pasta will be sufficient for all 3 of us (excluding baby) for a meal. Ground mince is available at $7.00/kg for beef, $9.00/kg for pork. 

Pasta (250g) - $0.35
Ground pork (250g) - $2.25
Ground beef (250g) - $1.75
3 tomatoes - $1.00
2 onions - $0.60
1 carrot - $0.30
a few bulbs of garlic - $0.40
powdered Parmesan cheese ($6.00 for a rather big box that easily last 20 meals or more) - $0.30
1 bay leaf, salt and pepper (negligible)
herbs (easily grown here, don't even need much space for it)

Total: $6.95

That's good enough for us, but probably not for the Pastamania diners, some whom consider the meal incomplete without garlic bread or potato wedges sides.

But you can't eat pasta everyday right?

Sure. Some of you eat fried rice for a meal right? Want to know how much it cost for me to do 3 portions for my family? I don't think it is unimaginable to do that within $10.00.

How about Bak Kut Teh? In case you are unaware, we can buy herbs and spice easily here. We can either mix and match or buy a pack of pre-mix at $2.50 each. I use soft bones (it is available here) because it is easier to chop, equally meaty, much cheaper than ribs and have virtually no sharp edges for my young daughter to chew on (she is fully capable of self feeding any types of meals by now). These go for $6.00/kg.

Soft bones (1kg): $6.00
Pre-mix spices (much cheaper if you buy the spices): $2.50
Rice: $0.50?

Total: $9.00

How about a few dishes?


Soft bones (250g): $1.50
3 Potatoes: $0.60
1 onion: $0.30
1 carrot: $0.30
1 sweet corn: $1.20

Subtotal: $3.90

Tofu with fancy minced pork sauce (quite a large plate)

1 piece of tofu: $0.90
Ground pork (100g): $0.90
Few bulbs of garlic: $0.20

Subtotal: $2.00

Cabbage + carrot stir fry

1/4 cabbage: $0.40
1 carrot: $0.30
garlic or dry shrimps: $0.30

Subtotal: $1.00

Pan-fried Chicken

A slab of chicken breast (250g): $2.50
salt and herbs: negligible

Subtotal $2.50

Grand total: $3.90 + 2.00 + $1.00 + $2.50 = $9.40

You can have baked rice topped with cheese and a few sides at the same budget. Or a beef stew casserole with lotsa thick chunky beef and veg. The other day I made roast pork for Judy and Ho Kiat to try out. (they liked it) That slab of pork belly cost $13.50. I cooked a couple of sides (I cannot remember what) but I am sure I didn't exceed $20.00 for the meal. It was for 4 adults and 1 child. How bad can it be?

It doesn't necessarily mean I cannot have good food or costlier ingredients. If I go under $10 for a couple of meals, I can easily exceed it for the next meal to include fish or other nice stuff. By having a rough budget of $70.00 for 7 dinners, I will have $30 for breakfast and lunch (only Jen and Albany take them) How much bread ($1 a loaf), cornflakes, oats, muesli ($2-4 a pack each?) can you eat a day? For lunch, Jen eat simply by cooking whatever food in the fridge or pantry (unless she goes out with friends where a cup of coffee cost $3.50 alone)

I'd love to have my friend's budget of $250 a week. It will be nice but it is not really necessary. We don't feel inadequate or being short changed with our current set up. The meals are nutritious and kept balanced whenever possible. The portion is usually enough, sometimes we even have leftovers. (there you go, fried rice)

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