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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

Six helpful tips to save money on food shopping in Austria

High inflation means that costs are rising in Austria, including in supermarkets and grocery stores. Here are some tips to help you if you're feeling the pinch or want to make your money go further.

Six helpful tips to save money on food shopping in Austria
With the cost of living rising, here are some tips for saving on your Austrian grocery shop. Photo: nrd/Unsplash

Some savings tips work whichever country you’re in: avoid shopping when hungry; plan meals ahead of time if you can; check products from the top or bottom shelves (usually cheaper than those placed at eye-level!) and compare prices by weight rather than by unit.

On top of these general frugal habits, there are some tricks that might be less relevant outside Austria, so here’s a quick rundown.

Reduce waste and cost

Over the past few years, a number of new mobile apps designed to combat food waste have arrived in Austria, helping you do your bit for the planet and save money, too. 

The main player, Too Good To Go, gives you the chance to “rescue” old food that might have otherwise been thrown away by supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and bakeries. After downloading the app, it’ll show you available offers within a certain radius of where you live or work. Sometimes you might strike gold with an incredible bistro or hotel brunch for a fraction of the usual price, other times you may end up with a mountain of bread products and cakes from your local bakery.

You can also find bargains by looking for discounted items in supermarkets close to their best before dates, particularly on Saturday evenings before the Sunday closure.

And your local neighbourhood may have a Buy Nothing or similar Facebook group where people will share details of food they’d otherwise throw away.

Sign up to loyalty schemes and offers 

These won’t always net you huge savings, and you need to watch out for being enticed to buy more than you otherwise would have down, but it’s worth signing up to your favourite supermarkets’ loyalty scheme or app. There’s Billa’s Jö Bonus Club, which also works at Penny Markt, Libro and a handful of other stores; Lidl Plus; the PAYBACK scheme for Unimarkt which also works at stores like DM and even Burger King, and MPreis has a loyalty card scheme.

While it won’t shave loads off your shop, if you let the points build up on the family shop, you might get a nice surprise when you can use that to pay for some groceries further down the line. The other benefit of these schemes is that you can get personalised discounts and offers based on the products you tend to buy.

Think about where you buy what

This can take some planning, but often pays off. Rather than going to your nearest neighbourhood shop, you could plan to do the bulk of your shopping either at one of the cheaper brands — Penny Markt, Lidl or Hofer — or at a bigger store if you go to Billa or Spar, which generally means lower prices than the small inner-city branches, plus wider availability of their discounted own-brand items.

And international supermarkets are another way to unearth treasures. Buying spices, for example, is often cheaper if you can find a grocery store specialising in foreign goods, and it means greater variety. At these kinds of neighbourhood stores you can also sometimes track down those hard-to-find home comforts, rather than paying a premium. The store with the widest variety in Vienna is Prosi, and in Salzburg there’s Asiatische Spezialmarkt, but smaller shops are also worth a visit.

Check out your local markets too, as sometimes these are the place to get vegetables, meats and spices for a bargain, and support local traders. But it’s usually cheaper to head outside city centres, where the major markets may have become gentrified or hiked up their prices after featuring in tourist guides, and find the markets still mainly frequented by locals.

Think like a restaurant 

One of the best ways to get into a budget mindset with food shopping is to think in a similar way to a restaurant owner. If you study the menu of the next restaurant or cafe you go to, you’ll generally find variations on a theme that use and reuse a selection of ingredients. That’s to ensure that the chefs can order food in bulk and avoid waste by using the same ingredients in different dishes, meaning they can still be used if some dishes aren’t selling well. 

So how does this apply to everyday folk? Well, meal-planning and buying staples you can use over and over again in different ways can be a great way to make your budget go further and avoid wasted food. For example, a sack of potatoes costs barely anything and can be used in a myriad of different ways.

And think like a local

Even when you’re using these savvy shopping techniques, it will still often be the case that foods and ingredients that aren’t traditionally popular in Austria will cost more than those which are.

Food is often a strong link to your roots, so it’s worth stretching your budget for those special items that will help you feel at home, but for your day-to-day meals, you might want to consider a more local menu and adapting your eating habits to match the products you can find most cheaply in Austria. 

Avoid quick delivery services

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, you’ve likely noticed a whole range of new app-based shopping services that promise to get your groceries to you in record speed. While we absolutely won’t judge anyone who uses these services, they’re unfortunately not a great idea if you’re trying to save money. Why? Because their business models generally work by adding a slight mark-up to each of the products they sell – and because you usually have to pay a delivery fee, and a tip for the drivers is recommended.

The one exception to this rule is taking advantage of any ultra-generous sign-up offers as a one-off treat. Some of the grocery delivery brands offer as much as €20 off a €40 shop for new customers, or €10 off a €30 shop. If you don’t normally spent that much, stock up on basics you know you’ll use and which don’t go off, like pasta, tinned goods, coffee and tea. 

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COST OF LIVING

Cost of living: Why glühwein costs more at Vienna Christmas markets this year

Visiting a Christmas market in Vienna is a must-do seasonal activity. But this year – like everything else – it will cost more money. Here’s why.

Cost of living: Why glühwein costs more at Vienna Christmas markets this year

When buying a glühwein (mulled wine) at a Christmas market in Austria for the first time, you might be surprised at the price.

The good news is that the first cup of glühwein is not really twice the price – you have to pay the deposit (Pfand) for the mug, as well as pay for the drink. But the bad news is that this year the prices have gone up, especially the cost of the Pfand.

Viennese Christmas Markets operators are justifying the high deposit prices for the Christmas mugs with inflation costs, broadcaster ORF reported. 

FOR MEMBERS: How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

In some markets, the deposit can cost up to €5 (Stephansplatz market prices). A glühwein, for example, might be advertised as costing €4,90, but once you get to the stand, you will be asked to pay €9,90. 

“Inflation and the cost of producing the cups and also the logistics of the whole cleaning service have gone up a lot now, and that’s why the four euros,” explained Hannes Dejaco, who runs several large Christmas markets in Vienna.

How can I get the Pfand back?

The deposit for a glühwein mug is only temporary, so when you return the cup you get your €5 back. 

Most Christmas markets have a set area to return the mugs (called Pfand Rückgabe) and get your money back. But if not, simply return the mug to any stand that sells beverages.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas Markets in Austria

Of course, if you want to keep the mug as a souvenir, then it will cost the €5 that you paid for the deposit.

Finally, a top tip for anyone attending the markets for the first time: take cash.

Many Austrian businesses still like to operate in cold, hard cash and there’s no guarantee that the market you visit will accept card payments. So visit the ATM before heading for a glühwein.

Useful vocabulary

Mulled wine – Glühwein

Deposit – Pfand

Deposit return – Pfand Rückgabe

Cash – Bargeld / Bar

Christmas market – Weihnachtsmarkt / Christkindlmarkt

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