Cost of living: Northland mum’s creative ways to shop smarter and keep food costs down

Northland mum Anna Gentry has some great advice for families wanting to beat rising food costs. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Skyrocketing food prices may be the No 1 worry for New Zealanders right now, but they don’t faze Northland mum Anna Gentry.

The mum of four, who lives on a lifestyle block near the Ngunguru River in Whangārei, works hard on her land, growing, harvesting, preserving, dehydrating and trading fresh produce and goods with neighbours.

Though Gentry has always prided herself on being reasonably self-sufficient, even she admits the relentless food price hikes are causing her family to think of ways to up the ante.

“Rather than having chickens because it’s a nice thing, we’re raising chickens to ensure we’ve always got eggs,” she said.


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“We’re raising meat birds as well, so we can eat chicken to try and beat these costs.

“Our goal is to make it [the land] provide more self-sufficiency to the family.”

There are seven mouths to feed in Gentry’s household; her three teenage daughters, 24-year-old nephew, 10-year-old son, her partner and herself.

Gentry has been growing her own food for the family for the past two decades, and sharing the excess with the coastal community.


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Last year her over-zealous pumpkin garden produced nearly 300 pumpkins and helped feed many neighbours in the face of surging food prices.

While Gentry doesn’t have to fork out for vegetables or fruit, and they’re OK for meat as one of her daughters works on a nearby farm, “so we can put an animal in the freezer, which goes a long way”, she still needs to shop at the supermarket.

But she has many tips to keep costs down.

Because of the way Gentry shops, buying items in bulk when they’re on special, she doesn’t have a set weekly budget.

She estimates some weeks she’ll spend $250 and others $450, depending on the best deals.

“I’ll stock up on butter and cheese when they’re on special and won’t buy them when they’re not on special.”

Gentry also abides by basic rules of not shopping when you’re hungry, sticking to a list, and keeping to basic ingredients.

Anna Gentry and daughter Gaia Aplin aren’t fazed by soaring food prices as they grow their own produce.  Photo / Michael Cunningham
Anna Gentry and daughter Gaia Aplin aren’t fazed by soaring food prices as they grow their own produce. Photo / Michael Cunningham

She avoids processed foods and buys avocados from roadside stalls “where they’re a lot cheaper”.

Gentry just bought a dehydrator and plans to make healthy dried snacks from bananas, apples, pears and feijoas.

“You can make your own vege stocks from celery, carrot and kale; just chop it up, dehydrate it and grind in some salt.


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“You only have to look at what’s on the ingredients at the supermarket ones and go for it.”

Gentry is a big believer in getting to know your community and “what they have that’s not being utilised”.

“Northland is full of citrus and feijoas from now until winter, and a lot ends up on the ground.

“When I was young, my father would squeeze me a glass of grapefruit juice before I went to school. Share what your excess is with your neighbours, and make the time to create the meals.”

Gentry also gets creative with her trades, recently swapping horse manure for feijoas.

“Rather than money being the vehicle for trade, trade what you’ve got to give some diversity. We turn horse poo into feijoas.


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“There’s a real strength in knowing the community.”

The cost of paying for groceries is now the biggest worry for Kiwis usurping the cost of housing, according to new research from Canstar.

Stats NZ figures show food prices rose 12 per cent in the year to February 2023, while fruit and vegetables rose 23 per cent.

And there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight, since Cyclone Gabrielle tore through the North Island, decimating crops.

Eating healthy vegetables and fruit just got even harder, with lettuces and cabbages costing about $7 each and cauliflower priced at about $8 each, at both New World and Countdown.

That’s why it’s better to learn to eat and grow vegetables in line with the seasons, Gentry said.


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Now is a great time to get planting for winter: versatile vegetables like kale, perpetual spinach, parsley, spring onions and chives, which can be used in salads, soups and coleslaws.

“We’ve got one month of warm weather to get things in the ground.

“Plant greens that make food go further. They really give and give – even if you’re not a gardener, they’ll grow like weeds.”

Preserving apples, pears and feijoas is also a good idea. “So you can make apple pie or crumble in the coming months.

“There is an abundance currently on someone’s trees or on the ground and we forget that in the north, but now is where you want to make sure you collect your bounty to help us get through.

“Use what you’ve got while you have it. Even if you’re throwing it into a soup pot and freezing it for later on.”


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Whangārei Budgeting Service works with a wide range of people from across all social spectrums.

Chief operations officer Adam Dade said most were on a fixed income and food was “one of the only spends they have that has a level of flexibility around it”.

“What we are seeing is that people are having to rationalise where they spend their income, and the advice that we provide with this is that knowledge is power.

“You need to understand where your outgoings are, and where you can tighten your belt.

“We would advise anyone who is struggling to come and talk to us. We work with all people in a confidential, non-judgmental way and can support families to understand their financial position.”

Whangarei Budgeting Services’ top food-saving tips

Use budget apps: gives you a breakdown of where you spend your money, or compare the cost of grocery items across supermarkets with the app.


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Meal plan: Understand what you’ll need for the week and buy this. Think about leftovers; if you’re having chicken, use leftovers for sandwiches and the bones to make stock.

Look for bargains: If mince is on sale, buy two or three, portion it up and freeze some for later.

Buy frozen or tinned: They’re cheaper than buying fresh and won’t go off in a few days like fresh vegetables do.

Download the Heart Foundation’s Cheap Eats cookbook: A collection of low-cost, healthy recipes designed to feed the family –

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