With the cost of living crisis sending food prices up, personal finance journalist Andy Webb shares his top tips for saving money at the supermarket
When I visit the supermarket it feels like every single item has got more expensive. Even if that’s not true across the board, once you get to the till those extra pennies here and there are really adding up.
And some staples have jumped up significantly. A recent study by the Office of National Statistics tracked prices of essentials over a year. Pasta increased by almost 50%, bread by 16% and rice by 15%.
So how do you combat the creeping cost of your groceries? Well there are some simple tricks you can try that’ll reduce what you spend and help you get the best value from your shopping on top.
1. Plan what you need to buy
There are a few advantages of thinking ahead before you get to the supermarket. First up, meal planning is a great way to ensure you have enough food in for the whole household for every meal, preventing last minute dashes to the more expensive corner shop for extras.
While planning, check what you already have so you can use these up and cut out food waste (if you forget, a quick trick is to take a photo of your fridge and cupboards before you go to the shops!).
Then your plan can turn into a shopping list. This is a great tool as if you stick to the list you’ll avoid the "special" offers and treats that tempt you spend more than you planned.
And you can take this a step further by shopping online instead of in-store, taking you completely out of an environment that’s engineered to make you buy extras or certain brands.
2. Change what you buy
We’ve all got our favourite brands and supermarkets, and it can be hard to ditch these for cheaper alternatives. But doing this can make a huge difference. Look for own brand items which are often made with similar recipes but cost less.
It’s worth at least giving it a go and seeing if you really can tell the difference. It might be you end up just swapping one or two items—but that’s still saving you some cash.
"Don’t forget to check if you can pick up the same items for less elsewhere in the shop"
I also like to check out the "price per unit" information on the shelf. Often this will be per gram or per litre and you’ll be able to see if you’ll save money by changing to a different size pack or different brand. You’d be surprised just how often the smaller bag is cheaper than the larger "value" options. Occasionally this can get a little confusing, for example you might see bananas in a bag priced per banana versus loose ones priced by weight—that’s impossible to compare!
And don’t forget to check if you can pick up the same items for less elsewhere in the shop. You might find bargain spices in the world food aisle, or cheaper toiletries in the baby section.
3. Take advantage of discounts and deals
Special offers can be a huge help, but you do have to be careful. Many, such as Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGOF), are designed to make us buy more than we need. But if you are certain you’re going to use something then bulk buying when they’re on offer will bring savings. I tend to do this for non-perishibles like toothpaste or anything I use every week.
You’ll need to check a discount really is a discount too. Often you can find multibuy offers only take off a penny or two. And there could be a cheaper alternative on the shelf that’s not part of a promotion.
Coupons are handy, and can be found online and in many supermarket magazines, though only do this if you actually want to buy what’s on offer.
"Special offers can be a huge help, but you do have to be careful"
More and more you’ll also be able to get special prices via loyalty schemes and apps. Tesco’s Clubcard is essential to get their lower prices, while the MyWaitrose scheme offers weekly vouchers via their app (you can get paper alternatives if you prefer).
And I’ll always take my trolley on a drive-by of the reduced sections in case I can pick up some yellow sticker bargains. Of course, only buy what you’ll actually eat and check that food can be frozen if you don’t think you’ll consume it in time (some things have been prefrozen).
4. Prevent food waste
Finally, you’ll save a decent chunk of cash by avoiding throwing out food. There are two parts to this. On one hand, there’s forgetting you’ve got something and it’s gone off before you can use it—so keep an eye on the dates. And the extension of this is throwing out stuff that’s past its date but is still perfectly safe to eat.
The distinction here is between "use by" and "best before". "Use by" dates are all about safety, so you’ll see them on things like meat, fish, eggs and dairy. These dates are important, so eat or freeze items while they are in date (though you might get away with a sniff test on things like milk).
"Don’t chuck out those tinned tomatoes just because they’ve 'expired'"
"Best before" on the other hand is just a guide to the quality of the product. As long as items have been properly stored they’ll be fine to consume after the date, they might just not be at their best. So don’t chuck out those packs of crisps, tinned tomatoes or cans of beer just because they’ve "expired".
And remember that the freezer is your friend here. You can freeze more than you’d imagine! From leftovers from last night’s dinner and the last slices of bread or cake through to bananas (peel and chop them up first to add to smoothies), wine (put in ice cubes trays and use for cooking) and hard cheese (if you grate this before freezing it’s easy to quickly add to pasta and pizzas).
Andy Webb is a personal finance journalist and runs the award-winning money blog, Be Clever With Your Cash
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