Shopping has been a huge adjustment for me. It’s been a struggle to get my mind around the price of everything in Australia, and just knowing where to buy the things you need is an everyday challenge. So, for the expats and those thinking about moving, here’s the shopping wisdom I’ve collected so far. Please leave a comment if you have more tips!
First, let me say that I’m a bargain shopper. If it says “% off,” followed by a large number, I’m there. Even better if someone has owned it before me. This post is not about high-end name-brand 5th Avenue shopping. If that’s what you’re looking for, I guarantee you will have no trouble finding it.
For the rest of us:
First order of business when I arrived was furnishing our apartment. We had a bed and a chair that the previous tenant left and … yep, that’s it.
- Good news – Sydney has an IKEA! It is a ways out of town, so I recommend taking a car. If that is an absolute impossibility, or if you come away with pieces too large for your vehicle (as we did), they do contract with a home delivery service that is pretty reasonable at about $50 for up to $500 worth of merchandise. Our pieces arrived the very next day.
- About 30 minutes outside of Sydney is the most amazing mecca of home shops, the Homemakers Mega Mall. It is just what the name implies – a three-story mall with one furniture store after another. It’s in an industrial neighborhood, so if you drive up and down the block, you’ll find even more home stores, as well as discount electronics and appliances stores.
Big Box Stores:
- The big box store we like here is KMart. While prices are higher than in the U.S., they are drastically less than most other retailers. They have most things you’d expect to find at a U.S. KMart.
- If you go to the KMart at Bondi Juntion, it is worth a stop on the top floor of the mall to the Reject Shop (it is really called that). While the name sounds dreadful and the place is pretty cramped (the Australians would say that it’s “a bit dodgy”), the prices are stunning (and, hey, a lightbulb is a lightbulb anywhere you buy it right?).I usually stop there first to see if they have what I’m looking for before going downstairs.
- Big W is a lot like Wal Mart, only less of everything. The prices and selection are similar to KMart.
- Before moving here, I was thrilled to learn that Target was in Australia. Target is the mecca of all things good in Big Box stores – great prices, good style, and comfortable shopping. Coming from an American perspective, Target has been the biggest disappointment for me. First, it is set up more like a department store. The focus is on clothes, some few housewares, toys, and a few smaller sections. There is not much in the way of hardware, gardening, sporting goods, etc. And, the prices are more Dillard’s than Wal Mart. Be forewarned, this is not the Target that we Americans know and love.
One thing that you won’t find at KMart is much in the way of medicine and medicine-related items. For that, you’ll need to go to a free-standing shop marked “Chemist.” You’ll find that these shops sell a combination of medicine, vitamins, soaps, and perfumes. Be aware that you’ll probably have to talk to the chemist to get many medicines, including cold medicines, and any pain medication more than Panadol.
Even at home, I did a lot of my shopping at second-hand stores. I happily frequent them here, as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about “op shops”:
You’ll most likely find yourself in one of two places:
Salvos = Salvation Army
Vinnies = St. Vincent de Paul.
In the several I’ve been in, I’ve found the housewares sections to be nearly useless. The clothing is where it’s at, though most of it tends to be on the nicer side (for instance, I went looking for a pair of running shorts, and my Salvos did not even have a “shorts” section in women’s clothing). I’ve also had great luck with books, scoring one best-seller after another for $1 or $2.
If you find yourself in Kings Cross/Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay, it is worth the trip to the tiny but wonderful church shop at the Wayside Chapel. You’ll walk past some tough looking characters, but this is one of the most grassroots and effective charities for the homeless in the city, so you know your money is going straight to a good cause. Plus, they have great clothes there.
I know that there are many, many more second hand shops that I haven’t discovered yet … to be continued.
Ah grocery shopping, that never-ending adventure. Because it is a pricey proposition, many people do their grocery shopping in several stops. One store may have the best price on meat, while another is great for produce.
Our current system is a little like this:
- Once every week or two, we make a pilgrimage to Aldi. If you’ve ever been into a Save-A-Lot, you know exactly what Aldi’s is like. It’s the sort of store where everything is still in shipping boxes, you have one brand to choose from (usually an off-brand), you will not find everything you need, and you will bag your groceries yourself. In return, you’ll get amazing prices. This place is perfect for stocking up on staples and non-perishables.
- There are two main grocery stores, which are pretty similar to American grocery stores – Woolworths (“Woolies”) and Coles. You can do all of your grocery shopping at these two stores, and they like to compete with each other on prices. Many of these will also have a bottle shop (“bottle-o” attached) where you can buy your wine, beer, and liquor. They have frequent sales, so keep an eye out! At Woolies and Coles, you’ll also be invited to present your loyalty card when you check out. Woolworths and associated stores (including Big W and electronic store Dick Smith) use the orange “Everyday Rewards” card, which earns you Qantas Frequent Flyer points. Coles and their stores (Target, KMart included) use the “Fly Buys” card, which weirdly enough, does not earn you airline miles, but points that you can redeem for stuff. These cards are also good for getting discounts on fuel (petrol). They’re obsessed with fuel discounts here.
You are now a step ahead of me – you won’t have to look at the cashier like they’re speaking Chinese when they ask if you “have any Fly Buys.”
- One other fun little store is Harris Farms, which has a few locations around Sydney. It is not a full grocery store, but it does have a lot of produce, bread, and a seafood counter. It also has a lot of interesting dry goods and some exotic items. It’s a bit like a little Trader Joe’s (minus the amazing prices).
- (Edited 2015: Since 2011, Sydney has also had a Costco!).
One final key for U.S. expats to know is that your Craigslist type service here is Gumtree. Find your used futons and surf boards, your flatmate, and your next blind date here. This is the real one-stop shopping.