With bills high and Christmas looming, it’s an expensive time of year. The key to keeping on top of your spending is identifying essentials and finding ways to cut back on non-essentials. Today I talk you through how to slash the cost of your weekly food shop. With top tips from expert on all things thrifty, Penny Golightly, you’ll be amazed how much you could save!
How much do you buy?
Food tends to be a household’s biggest spend after your rent or mortgage, so this is a key area to look at when looking to save money. Many of us overspend on food because we fail to plan ahead. Whether we’re forgetting to cook or freeze fresh foods within their sell-by date or just buying too much of the wrong stuff, it’s time to make a date with your fridge and cut down on food waste - it’s one of the worst ways to waste money.
If you share the food shopping with your partner, kids or housemates, it’s time to collaborate and start comparing receipts. You need a clear idea of exactly how much your household spends on food every month – and that includes your takeaways and pub lunches. Without communicating properly about what’s needed in the kitchen, you’re bound to be doubling up on foodstuffs (which can lead to waste) or you’ll be constantly ‘popping out’ for a few items and coming back with a whole bagful.
Put up a chalkboard in the kitchen and add to it every time you run out of something essential. Encourage everyone you live with to add to it throughout the week, and try to shop once a week - on the same day – so you get into a pattern.
How much do you need?
Do a quick stock take of what you have in the fridge (and freezer and cupboards) already, and put together a list of items you need to add in order to produce a series of meals. The most efficient households put together a dinner plan at the start of every week, based on what’s in stock. This will clearly inform your grocery shopping list and reduce the tendency to impulse buy. Make sure also that you have a good supply of kitchen staples like eggs, milk and flour in all the time. This will save last-minute dashes to your expensive convenience store (which inevitably turns into a mini-spree).
Where do you shop?
Driving miles between supermarkets because some offer better deals than others can be a false economy when you factor in petrol and parking, but it’s not a bad idea to know who’s offering what. Get signed up to newsletters for all your local supermarkets, and if you haven’t already ventured into online shopping I recommend giving this a go too.
Most large supermarkets offer an online delivery service which also lets you store your shopping list for next time, so you can edit and add to a duplicated list rather than trawling from scratch each time. And plenty offer decent money off your bill when doing your first online shop – see Ocado, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose for particularly generous introductory offers.
Visiting your local market for fresh fruit and vegetables won’t only ensure you get your five-a-day; you’ll come home with a bagful of produce that’ll cost less and probably last longer than supermarket alternatives. Making a habit of going to the market weekly will streamline your supermarket shop too.
Can you make your own?
A homemade chilli con carne made in bulk can cost as little as £1 a portion. The labour involved in making enough for two is not much different to making a batch for, say, eight. Getting into the habit of cooking from scratch and freezing leftovers is both a time and money-saving trick. Other cheap and healthy meals you can whip up in bulk and stick in the freezer are:
- Shepherd’s pie, cottage pie and fish pie
- Cauliflower and macaroni cheese
- Vegetable soups
- Vegetable stew / beef bourguignon
- Stuffed peppers / mushrooms
- Fish cakes
- Lasagne and vegetable lasagne
Can you buy in bulk?
A Costco card is the hottest ticket in bulk buying, so make friends with someone who has a card or apply for your own if you run your own business. Beware of the temptation to impulse buy here, but make use of their superb offers and get signed up to their email newsletter so you know what to look out for on your visit. Not everything is a great deal here, but it can be great for household staples like kitchen roll and toothpaste. Their meat counter tends to be great quality and minimally packaged. Health warning: go in with a list, and limit your visits to no more than once a month.
- Visit your supermarket deli counter for meat and cheese - don’t be intimidated by it! Contrary to popular belief you’ll often find your fridge staples cheaper (and less over-packaged) here than on the shelves. You can also ask for exactly how much you want (or how much you want to spend) which will reduce waste.
- That Sunday roast chicken will go further than you think. Strip the leftover meat for sandwiches in the week and boil the carcass to make stock for soup or gravy. The same goes for lamb joints.
- Try buying more own-brand products next time you shop. Do you really need those premium tinned tomatoes? How much difference will it really make once it’s stirred into bolognaise? None!
- If you’re big meat-eaters at your house, try a few meat free dinners during the week. This will lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your fat intake. Butternut squash risotto, anyone?
- Invest in a juicer and whizz up leftover fruit, ice cubes and a dash of milk into a delicious and healthy morning smoothie.
- Blitz stale bread ends in your food processor and freeze the breadcrumbs in a food bag for pie toppings.
5 top tips from Penny Golightly
1. It’s good to have a plan
Menu planning is one of the single biggest ways to save on food, allowing you to make the best of your resources and reduce waste. The benefits don’t stop there either; it’s an easy way to create a healthy, balanced diet, and you’ll have favourite dishes to look forward to. Use seasonal ingredients when they’re fresh, plentiful and cheap to keep things interesting.
Have a set day each week when you make you create your menu - there’s even a movement in the states called Menu Plan Monday if you’re looking for inspiration. Check your diary before you start to plan your meals, especially for nights when you’ll be out or home late, as you won’t always want a full meal or something that takes a long time to cook.
2. Resist sales and marketing ploys
Supermarkets use so many tricks to get you to part with as much money as possible. For example, they route the air vents from the bakery to the front door of the shop so you immediately feel hungry, they place their biggest profit-making products at eye level on the shelves so you see them first, and some of their special offers are confusing and don’t save you much at all.
Get wise to it: know what products are really worth so you can tell offers are genuine, have a snack at home before you shop, look high and low on the shelves to find the real bargains, and stick to your shopping list.
3. Shop around
Don’t tie yourself to one supermarket if you have a choice. If you’re planning on using one of the biggest shopping chains, use a comparison site such as MySupermarket to work out where your basket will be the cheapest.
They show you special offers and substitutions to bring the price down further too, and you can then decide whether to shop in person or buy online. The site also lets you set alerts that tell you when your favourite products are being discounted. If you like a tipple, use drinks comparison sites like BringABottle.co.uk and QuaffersOffers and before you shop. When buying wine, consider a bulk buy to enjoy case discounts.
4. Don’t be a brand snob
If you usually stick to well-known food brands, switch some of your purchases to supermarket own-brand offerings which are similar in taste and quality, but cheaper in price. Worried that you won’t like it? Read reviews online for free at consumer websites such as Ciao.co.uk and SupermarketOwnBrandGuide.co.uk.
Try cheaper supermarkets such as Lidl, Aldi, Netto, and Morrisons if you haven’t done so before, and you might be surprised by the quality of their produce. Consider discounters such as Approved Food, who sell food that’s past its ‘best before’ date but is still safe to eat, and grocers selling Chinese, Japanese or Middle Eastern foods.
5. Avoid food waste
Buy only what you need, and make clever use of leftovers to reduce waste. There’s lots of information about this at LoveFoodHateWaste.com, including food storage tips and clever recipe ideas.
If you regularly find you have surplus food, try having one week each month where you eat up what’s in the fridge, freezer and cupboards, and buy few or no other groceries. ‘Shopping in your own cupboards’ can be a fun challenge, and save a lot of waste and cash.
A massive thank you to Penny for sharing her fab tips for saving money on your groceries. Got a tip you’d like to share? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you.
I’ll be back soon with more thrifty money saving and money making tips. Good luck saving!