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Want to save money on food shopping?
Food shopping can often be a often dull routine. It can also be a big drain on finances; with tantalising products available for us, there’s more choice and temptation when we shop for food.
However, with a bit of planning, you can save yourself a packet on groceries. Find out how with our seven-step guide.
Quick tips to save money food shopping
There are simple rules to reduce your food shopping bills.
For example, avoid buying things you don’t need and things you simply can’t afford just because you want them.
But who has the willpower to do that?
We thought we’d investigate other ways to cut down on your food shopping that will let you buy pretty much the same products, just at a lower cost. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
Avoid the supermarket altogether
The only way you can really avoid the evils of the supermarket layout is by shopping online.
In store, items are cleverly arranged to make you walk back and forward to get a good look at all those things you really don’t need! Take a look at these eight sneaky tricks supermarkets don’t want you to know.
Thanks to the wonder of comparison websites it’s all been made very easy. Sites like My Supermarket Compare make it easy to which supermarket can give you the best price on certain products.
No, we don’t mean buying every no-frills item you can see! What we mean is; do you honestly and truthfully need to buy premium brands every time? Of course not. Half the time, the only difference is the packaging.
Challenge yourself to take a step down in brands on some staple products, i.e. if you normally buy Andrex toilet tissue, switch it for Tesco’s own brand and save yourself a bundle.
Only those with particularly sensitive bottoms should be able to really tell the difference!
The first thing you smell when you walk through the supermarket doors is the bakery – this is no coincidence! The big supermarket bosses know that hungry people buy more food.
Prepare yourself and eat before you get there.
Avoid impulse buys
Tempting trick – Sweets and magazines are near the checkout tempting us to make last-minute impulse buys. Items we regularly buy tend to be spread around the store so we need to pass more tempting goods. The items that are most profitable are placed at eye level.
Exercise some self-control and ignore the treats the next time you’re queuing!
Look high and low
Another sneaky marketing trick is that supermarkets place their most expensive items in your (and your children’s!) line of sight on the shelves.
As you’ve probably guessed, this doesn’t always necessarily mean the best quality or value.
Think of the future – bulk buy
Don’t do this from your regular supermarket, but at the cheaper stores like Aldi or Lidl.
They do often have some good deals on items like crisps, frozen foods and meat so they’re perfect if you’re planning a party. Also, for products like rice, flour, eggs, salt etc you can buy in bulk and save an awful lot. Only do this if you can store the items somewhere or you know they’ll be used soon.
Get a loyalty card
By using a loyalty card it doesn’t mean you pay any more, but simply earn ‘points’ for every pound you spend in the store.
You can later redeem these for free stuff or money off your shopping trips so there’s no harm in signing up. We all love free stuff!
Points cards – Don’t think loyalty schemes, such as Tesco Clubcard and Nectar, give you something for nothing. Loyalty points schemes are incorporated into pricing policies. So the golden rule is: choose where to shop on price, not because you get points, but always get points when you’re spending there anyway.
Step one: shop online
Our first solution to the food shopping money drain is simple: do not go shopping at all. Of course, we don’t mean starving yourself, just be as lazy as possible and do all of your shopping on the internet.
All the major supermarkets now have online shopping services where you can browse through their products, make up a list and then get it all delivered to your house at your convenience.
Yes, there’s a delivery charge for each supermarket (normally between £4-6), but there are a number of reasons why it’s cheaper than shopping in the store itself.
Online shopping works for money savers
- You can’t be tempted by offers that you see whilst walking around that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. If you don’t need fruit, then you won’t even look in the fruit section online, so you won’t come home with starfruit or a prickly pear just because it’s buy one get one free.
- You can keep an eye on the cost of your shopping all the time, so you can accurately plan exactly how much you are spending and not just rock up to the checkout praying that all the food you’ve chosen is going to come in under your budget.
- Once you’ve shopped online once, you can save your list and then buy the same things each week, with just a few adjustments. This means that you only have to look for a few products to add to the list each week, depending on what you want to eat, and so there’s much less temptation to spend.
Using online shopping will help you make fewer impulse purchases and budget carefully so you make savings even when the delivery charge is taken into account.
Mid-week delivery charges are often less than the weekends and because online you have the leisure of shopping whenever you want, try to avoid weekends at all costs as there will be more choice during the week.
Alternatively, you could try a supermarket which sells food past or on its ‘best before’ date’. Approved Food is one such place. They sell food, perfectly edible and fine to eat, at a discounted rate, and sometimes very discounted. To give you a flavour of some of the deals they offer: they have just advertised a deal on 6 330ml cans of Pepsi Max for £1.50. Get them while you’re still able to.
Step two: food shop early in the morning or late at night
If you really don’t want to pay the delivery charges or you just don’t have the time to wait around for your groceries to arrive, early morning and late-night shopping can help you get some great bargains.
We all know that supermarkets reduce their perishable products in the evenings to get rid of them before they go off and have to throw them away.
Supermarket sell-by dates are often far off the date when the food will actually go off, so you can buy many products without worrying.
Reductions often depend on how close to its sell-by date the item is and what kind of product it is; the best reductions are mostly on higher range meat and pre-packaged foods.
Discounts on bread and vegetables will be smaller, but then so are the original prices. The amount of reduced products varies from day to day and so it’ll get you eating things that you might not have tried before.
A good way of approaching reduced items is to buy luxury items. Often more expensive foods like steak and king prawns end up in the reduced section and can be bought for bargain prices. Both can also be popped in the freezer for a later date if you don’t want to eat them that night.
To get the best bargains you’ve really got to get to know your local supermarket. Take notice of when those reduced sections are piled high and when there’s slim pickings and then change when you shop accordingly.
Step three: shop at the local market or greengrocer
Yes, we say it time and time again, but the veggies and fresh produce you’re getting at the supermarket aren’t as good quality or cheap as what’s on offer at your local market.
We’re not talking organic, farmers’ market kind of produce (although these can work out very good value for seasonal fruit and veg).
In fact, your local market or greengrocers can actually be up to 30% cheaper than the supermarket.
It’s also great to go towards the end of the market. You’ll have less to choose from, but because the vendors don’t want to take anything away with them they often sell off produce cheap towards the end of the day.
If you’re concerned about how long the fresh produce will last, you can always freeze whatever you can’t use and with vegetables, just buy fewer. The advantage of the market is that everything is loose, so if you only want one specific vegetable, you’ll never be obliged to buy a three pack.
Step four: shop at a wholesale supermarket
Exclusive wholesale warehouse supermarkets are shrouded with mystery – those secret places where people go to buy enormous tubs of penny sweets, huge ketchup dispensers and mammoth boxes of frozen pizzas for very little money.
What is clear is that you can save a lot of cash, not just on food, but on electrical items, clothing, pharmaceuticals and toiletries.
Although they proclaim to be rigidly exclusive, joining one is much easier than you might think.
All you need to join Costco is:
- An original copy of a current utility bill (i.e. gas, electricity, telephone) from a business address or business bank statement and a VAT registration.
- An original copy of a current utility bill from a business address or a bank statement and two pieces of business ID (i.e. business cheque, letterhead, invoice to your business address).
If you do run your own business, you’ll have all of these things and so if you aren’t a member of a wholesale supermarket, you should get membership now.
If you don’t have your own business, but are self-employed or a freelancer, you can legitimately apply for a membership using the ID that doesn’t include a VAT number, as you should have a bank statement or utility bill for your place of work (i.e. your home) and you should have invoices.
For Makro, the rules are a bit stricter, but if you’re self-employed then you’re legitimately allowed to apply.
If you have your own business you need:
- VAT certificate of incorporation from Companies House or a copy of a business bank account statement, two recent purchase invoices over the value of £50 each and personal photographic ID of the cardholder.
or for the self employed:
- Recent correspondence from HMRC (Inland Revenue), photographic HMRC registration card or a copy of a recent business tax assessment, two recent purchase invoices over the value of £50 each and personal photographic ID of the cardholder.
Although not everyone can get a membership there are many who can.
Check out the websites of Makro and Costco for more information.
Step five: avoid pre-packed and pre-prepared food
Food shopping after a long day at work is painful and makes us lazy shoppers.
The supermarkets know this too. It’s for this reason that they sell pre-packed and pre-prepared food; to make more money from our laziness.
So to save money on your shopping, do not buy pre-packed or pre-prepared food. We’re not talking ready meals here but the beans that have been trimmed, broccoli and carrots that have been chopped up or chicken that’s been cut into strips.
Buying this kind of pre-prepared food means you will really pay through the nose. For example:
- Tesco loose broccoli costs £1.68/kg, the packaged head of broccoli costs £2.99/kg and broccoli florets chopped up and sold in a bag cost £5.42/kg – that’s almost three times the price of the loose broccoli.
- Loose carrots at Sainsbury’s are currently 55p/kg and ready-to-cook carrot batons are £2.50/kg – two and a half times the price.
- At Asda, loose red onions are 65p/kg, packaged red onions are £1.67/kg and sliced onion is £1.97/kg – again, significantly more expensive (and when it’s all chopped up it won’t nearly last as long as an onion in its skin will).
It’s clear that we’re not talking about a couple of pennies, so fight your laziness and try to buy loose produce in the supermarket. It should be cheaper and will be just as good quality.
Step six: Don’t waste food
According to the website Love Food Hate Waste we throw away £10 billion worth of food every year, and a third of it is unopened! So make sure that you cut down on food wastage by:
- Shopping with a list. Plan meals for the week and only buy what you need according to your list.
- Not being tempted by buy-one-get-one-free offers. If it’s something you’d buy anyway then go for it but put one of them in the freezer if possible.
- Using the freezer a lot more. Milk, bread and cheese can be frozen and fruit and vegetables can be cooked and frozen too.
- Using your fridge more. Fruit and veg lasts much longer if you chill them.
- Finding creative ways to use up leftovers. Love Food Hate Waste has some great ideas and you can find more recipes in Sarah Lockett’s food column.
Step seven: Keep your RECEIPTs
Supermarkets offer refunds if you could buy the same produce cheaper elsewhere. Check your receipt!
- Tesco, Asda, and sometimes Sainsbury’s offer refunds on products available cheaper elsewhere.
- Waitrose and M&S have “basics style” ranges which are often cheaper or as cheap as in other places, so people shouldn’t just assume the budget places will be cheaper on everything.
- Aldi and Lidl are definitely worth a look/ They buy select brands and lots of ‘similar own brand’ products. The upside of this is that they do extensive testing to see which of the many brands people think are the tastiest – so chances are, you’re getting the best anyway.
- Apps such as Huy Yu give you points for your receipts. All you need to do is keep your receipt and scan it with the app. Each receipt scanned is worth 5 points. Got 500 points? You can then exchange them for a supermarket voucher. How good is that?
Have you saved money when food shopping? Let us know in the comments section below.