Tips to help you reduce your food spending

28 February 2020

A comprehensive food shopping guide packed with hints and tips to help you budget better and cut your costs, every time you pop to the shops and supermarkets.



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

Well, you’re right. But worry not. Here are 27 essential 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.

2. Think before you bin it

Every year in the UK we – scandalously - throw away millions of 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Always follow the storage instructions on packs, and for information on out-of-date food, visit lovefoodhatewaste.com.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 sums

To ensure you’re 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’. While 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 fewer 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.

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 20% 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

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

8. Use the big discount supermarkets

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.

Figures in late 2019 revealed that Aldi and Lidl now account collectively for more than a 14% market share among UK supermarkets. These big two budget supermarkets source produce such as cold meats, cheeses and confectionery directly from continental suppliers, and you can often get great quality food for at least a third less than at the big supermarket.

9. Eat at home

Not only can you save lots of money, you know exactly what you are eating. Some of the healthiest foods are also the cheapest.

10. Use basic staples as the heart of your meals

Rice and potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates and as cheap as – well, chips. Aside from these two larder stalwarts, your core staples could be: bread, eggs, pasta, tinned beans – not just good old baked beans, but also cannellini beans, butter beans, kidney beans and so on.

Keep a supply of pasta sauce – better still, passata, adding your own herbs and spices.

Look out meanwhile for meat, and fruit and vegetables, on special offer.

11. Plan ahead

Last-minute preparation and hasty extra trips to the supermarket are the enemy of budget eating.

12. Take time to choose the cheapest option

Locating the most budget-friendly choice can knock pounds off your weekly bill. Use comparison websites such as mySupermarket to compare the cost of your regular items.

13. Buy food whole

Foods that are not chopped up by someone else – whole chicken, pineapple, melon and so on – are cheaper and probably healthier.

14. Don't ignore frozen vegetables

Frozen doesn't have to mean unhealthy. By all means choose fresh in-season vegetables at every opportunity. But out of season, you will probably pay a big premium for food that has travelled across continents. If chopping vegetables is a problem, you are probably already choosing this option.

If you spot fresh fruit or veg that can be frozen, marked down to a rock bottom price in the supermarket, buy it. Then prepare it if necessary and freeze it.

This works for loads of fruit and veg. With blueberries and raspberries, freeze them spaced out on a tray to start with then put in a bag once frozen; you can remove the skin from pineapple and chop it ready to add to smoothies; and sweet peppers and chillies can also be chopped and frozen. Don't forget runner and french beans either - just blanch them first and freeze.

15. Not just vegetables – frozen fish too

'Fresh fish' at many supermarkets has often been previously frozen – the store should label it as such. Fish from the freezer aisles can be far cheaper, but still full of goodness. Canned fish, such as sardines, still contain plenty of goodness and are very inexpensive.

16. Avoid sugary cereals for breakfast

Expensively packaged and advertised processed cereals will drain cash. Try own-brand muesli – or make your own. If cereals are not for you, eggs are very versatile and easy to cook.

17. Make a sandwich or fill a pitta bread for lunch

Try using scraps of meat or fish and salad vegetables for a cheap and filling midday meal. If you are out for the day or at work, you can save several pounds per day compared with cafe lunching.

18. Cut down on meat

Dried beans, peas, lentils, pulses and the like are healthier and cheaper than meat products. If you cannot bear a totally meat-free meal, then stir fries, soups and stews can make a little meat go a long way.


19. Double-check the price per unit

Once you’re in store, it’s important to compare costs. But rather than look at the total price, make sure you look at the price per 100 grams – or per 100 ml.

If you’re doing a big shop, it's a good idea to carry a calculator around with you so you can keep track of how much you're spending overall.

20. Look for good in-store promotions

Keep an eye out for buy-one-get-one-free deals and other offers, and take advantage of these to stock up on basics, such as toilet paper, toothpaste and washing powder, or on items you'd normally buy.

Remember that bulk buying may make sense for some items, but could turn out to be a false economy if you’re buying perishables – or items you don’t really need.

21. Make use of loyalty schemes

Sign up to loyalty schemes, such as Tesco Clubcard and Sainsbury’s Nectar, and make sure you have your card at hand so you can collect your points, rewards and vouchers.

By saving these up, you can get money off your grocery spend a little further down the line – or treat the family to a great day out.

As well as loyalty schemes, also make use of vouchers and coupons from newspapers, magazines, flyers and discount websites.

22. Use a basket

If you’re only buying a few items, pick up a basket rather than a trolley. That way, you won’t get tempted to buy more.

Also never shop when hungry or you could end up at the checkout with a pile of things you don’t really need – and none of your essentials.

23. Switch to shopping online

Consider doing your weekly shop online, as that way you can’t get seduced by in-store promotions and clever marketing, which keeps your impulse buys to a minimum.

Most stores will allow you to save a ‘favourites’ basket meaning you don’t even have to look at non-essential items.

Shopping online will not only save you money, but also time as well, as you can arrange to get your groceries delivered to your door at a time that's convenient for you.

If you do change to online shopping, research delivery costs for you chosen supermarket – some offer much cheaper delivery charges if you buy a monthly or annual delivery pass for specific timeslots, or free delivery if you spend over a certain amount.

24. Search on the low shelves - not the high ones - when grocery shopping

This is easily forgotten when you shop – but always worth repeating. Premium brands that generate the biggest profits are mostly placed at eye-level, so it pays to scan the whole shelf for what you need. Simple but true.

25. Use free apps to reduce grocery shopping bills

Use the likes of the mySupermarket app and others which allow you to create a shopping list of groceries, then work out where it would be cheapest to do your shopping.

Even better, the barcode scanner allows you to check the products in your own cupboard to see where they are cheapest on that day. You can also set it so you'll get an email when your favourite items are on offer. This is useful for higher prices items such as champagne.

26. Support local suppliers when grocery shopping

Buying fruit and vegetables from markets stalls and independent grocers, which are generally much cheaper than supermarkets. Find your local fruit ‘n’ veg stall and buy what’s in season, which will be better value.

If you have butchers or fishmongers where you live then pay them a visit. If it’s not close enough to visit weekly, do so monthly and freeze what you need.

27. Buy your grocery shopping in bulk

Buying in bulk is a good option as long as you have decent storage at home or in the garage for piles of boxes of washing powder, cereal, rice and loo roll. Cash-and-carry giants like Costco.co.uk and Booker.co.uk can be money-savers.

Costco charges a fee for individuals to shop there, and membership is open to many employees as well as business owners.

Bookers is free but only for business owners and the self-employed. Amazon.co.uk also offers plenty of cheap deals on tinned goods.

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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.