8 ways to reduce your supermarket food spend

Kara Gammell / 15 August 2016

The average weekly food bill now exceeds £83; find out how you can cut the cost.

Do you feel like your food shop doesn’t go as far as it used to?

Well, you’re right.

According to mySupermarket.com, the average weekly grocery bill now exceeds £83, or about £4,316 a year, so is it any wonder that we’re all keen to cut costs?

Here are eight ways to reduce your supermarket spend.

1: Don’t get caught out by retailer tricks

Manufacturers pay a premium to place their brand-name products at eye or chest-level. The old adage ‘look high and low for something’ really does apply.

When it comes to produce, bear in mind that pre-packed and loose vegetables are often placed side by side. 

It's tempting to quickly grab the pre-packed peppers or parsnips, especially if you’re in a rush or when the aisle is cluttered with other shoppers and trolleys, but it is cheaper to buy vegetables loose.

And don’t forget that ready-to-eat and ripened fruit and veg can be twice as expensive as slightly under-ripe produce.

Supermarkets will also price the same goods at different prices, depending on where they are placed in the store.

If you are buying snacks such as nuts or dried fruit found in the snack area, they will be much more expensive than in the baking products aisle, whilst cotton buds can much cheaper in the baby aisle.

For instance, Tesco’s website will show that the supermarket’s own brand of Cosmetic Cotton Buds cost £1.50 for 200 buds – which seems reasonable. But a quick peek at the Tesco Loves Baby Cotton Wool Buds (300) shows they are priced at just 50p.

2: Think about it before you bin it

Every year in the UK we throw away 7.2m tonnes of food and drink, most of which could have been eaten.

Something as simple as understanding the difference between a 'use by' date and a 'best before' date can help to save money and reduce waste.

The ‘best before’ dates refer to quality, rather than food safety. Foods past their 'best before' date should be safe to eat, but they may no longer be at their best.

However, ‘use-by’ dates refer to safety. Food can be eaten up to the end of this date but not after, even if it looks and smells fine. 

Always follow the storage instructions on packs, and for information on out-of-date food, visit lovefoodhatewaste.com.

3: Do your maths

To ensure you are not paying more than necessary, check the unit price on the sticker (price per 100ml) on items before putting them in your trolley.

In most supermarkets, food will be clearly priced by weight or volume across all stores to make it easier for consumers to compare products and spot the best deals.

Don’t get caught out by special deals – we’ve all seen variants of ‘£1 each, 4 for a fiver’; whilst the supermarkets might not deliberately be so devious, their deals do occasionally work out as a worse option, or may only save you a matter of pennies.

4: Fill your freezer

Stocking up on frozen vegetables can save you a fortune. These cost a fraction of their ‘fresh’ equivalents and the flash-freezing process means that the produce is often fresher, lasts longer and reduces food waste.

Plus, if you keep a hoard of frozen veggies in the freezer, you might find yourself making less last minute trips to the shop – and as such, you’re able to avoid the inevitable impulse purchases.  

How long can you freeze food?

5: Own-brand does not mean low-quality

Buying cheaper supermarket own-brands need not mean scrimping on taste. To find the best own-brands, visit supermarketownbrandguide.co.uk, which reviews thousands of products.

Remember, when buying unbranded products, people who have food allergies or intolerances should check the ingredients to make sure they can eat it. For example, dried milk and wheat are often used as fillers, and cheaper options may not be suitable for vegetarians as they can include gelatin or animal fat.

6: Make your shopping VAT free

Did you know that you can cut the cost of your food shop by avoiding products that are taxable?

VAT law is supposed to split your supermarket shop between two categories; essential foods, which are zero-rated so that you don't pay any tax, and luxury foods that will be subject to a 20pc tax. 

However, because of the difficulty of deciding what constitutes a luxury item, it's possible to buy very similar products at 20 percent less than others because they are VAT-free.

For instance, if you buy nuts and raisins from baking aisle rather than health food section, flapjacks instead of cereal bars or tortilla chips instead of potato crisps, you won’t pay tax on your shopping.

7: Make a list

Use a checklist when you go food shopping, but allow yourself one or two impulse treats. Restrictive budgeting is like restrictive dieting – neither work well for long. 

If you tend to pop to the shop after work and your partner does the same, you could download the Wunderlist app on to your phone and make sure that you don’t accidentally buy the same thing twice.

Discover Wunderlist and more in our list of 10 essential smartphone apps

8: Try somewhere new

If you are looking to cut your food bills, don’t discount the no-frills stores that concentrate on selling good quality produce without fancy packaging, lighting, in-store music, deli counters or bakeries.

Aldi and Lidl now account for more than £1 in every £10 spent on food in the UK, and as they source produce such as cold meats, cheeses and confectionary directly from continental suppliers, you can often get great quality food for at least a third less than at the big supermarket.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.