If you need to cut back on your weekly grocery bills, our simple tips will help you to make the most of your food budget!
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As the cost of living continues to increase, more and more people are having to cut back on their weekly food shop.
Food is one of the biggest expenditures in most household budgets, but it’s also where most people look first when they need to make savings. We can’t easily cut our mortgage or rent payments and other household bills are generally fixed, but we can trim a little from our grocery budget.
I originally wrote this post around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, for another website that I used to run. Some of the tips in that original post are no longer relevant so I’ve updated them and also added a few new ideas that didn’t exist in the noughties.
If you’ve lived through previous recessions and financial crises, you may well already be aware of many of these tips. But this time around, the rapid rise in electricity bills, food prices and petrol costs is hitting more households than ever. And of course, some people will be experiencing these economic conditions for the first time since leaving their parent’s home.
So here are 10 simple tips that will help you to spend less on groceries and make the most of your food budget:
Keep track of your store cupboard
You can’t make the most of your shopping budget if you don’t know what you already have on your shelves.
So your first step towards saving money on food shopping is to make sure you keep track of your store cupboard. Of course in this scenario, your store cupboard also includes your fridge and freezer.
How to keep track of your food stores is really up to you, and it’s important to choose a method that you will stick to. You might want to make a list in a notebook that you can take with you to the supermarket, or you might prefer to set up a spreadsheet or document that you can access on your phone.
Make a list of your stores divided up under different headings: fresh, frozen, tins, storecupboard. Then check it over before you go to the supermarket to help you to avoid buying something that you already have on the shelf at home.
Make time for meal planning
For many people, planning meals for the week ahead is a simple way of saving money on their grocery bill.
There are various ways of doing this and again, it’s important to find the method that suits you. You could choose to plan weekly, fortnightly or monthly but it’s probably easier to start with a weekly meal plan initially.
Start by writing down a list of all the meals that you and your family like to eat on a regular basis, and use these to plan your meals for the week ahead. Remember to make plans for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and leave a few empty slots here and there for trying out new recipes.
Another option is to plan a number of weekly meal lists and write them out on record cards. Then on the reverse of the card, you can write the list of ingredients that you need for those meals. Each week you select one card and not only is your menu already worked out for you, but your shopping list is half written as well!
Plan your route round the shops
Once you’ve written your list and checked what you already have in stock, it’s important to stick to your list.
So it can help to write your list in the order of the aisles in your supermarket or the shops that you will visit. Depending on your list, you may be able to avoid some of the temptations lurking on the shelves by missing out those aisles altogether.
If you’re worried about overspending, you could try only taking the right amount of cash to cover your list, which will force you to stick to your budget. Keep track of your costs as you go around by adding it up on your phone or you could use your supermarket’s self-scanning option if they offer one.
Finally, there are a couple of supermarket shopping cliches that are actually true for many people. First, shopping without the kids (if that’s possible) will often save you money. It’s easy to give in to pester power or buy them a quick treat and those costs soon mount up.
And never go shopping while you are hungry. It has been shown time and time again that people spend more in supermarkets when they are hungry. So make time for a quick snack before you go.
Make use of the reduced section
Supermarkets set out their aisles in a particular way to encourage you to spend more in certain areas. But if you want to save money on your food shop, it’s a good idea to change your shopping route.
First go to your store’s reduced section to pick up any items off your list that are reduced. You might also see some bargains that you can pop in the freezer for another week.
Next check the frozen foods section to see if any of the fish, meat and vegetables you need are available there. Frozen produce is nearly always cheaper than fresh, so this can be a great way to make some savings. The tinned produce shelves should be your next port of call, for the same reason.
Once you’ve ticked off what you can, you can pick up the rest from the fresh food aisles.
Make the most of special offers
When you’re grocery shopping, there’s one simple rule: if it isn’t on your list, don’t buy it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the most of special offers.
The trick is to check online first so you can see what discounts and offers your supermarket is running. As well as the regular in-store and online offers, some supermarkets might also offer you personalised vouchers through their app. You can use these as the basis of your meal plan, but make sure that the offers are genuinely going to save you money. If you wouldn’t usually buy these products or can’t use them in time, that’s not a good deal.
An exception to this is discounts and offers on non-perishables like cleaning goods, personal care items and tinned products. If you see these reduced and you’re happy to use that brand, then it makes sense to buy as much as you can afford and have room to store. This represents a genuine saving, which isn’t always the case when you see luxury foods on 2-for-1!
Check out different places to shop
If you have an Aldi or Lidl nearby, and you’re not already shopping there, it’s really worth taking a look.
These days they sell more of the familiar brands compared to when they first opened in the UK. They also sell plenty of European brands and own-brand products that can be very good value for money. You may take a while to work out which brands you like, but you can make real savings.
Freezer stores like Iceland and Farmfoods can also be a source of good food bargains. You might have a free leaflet delivered to your home or you could take a look at their website to see their latest deals.
If you have a local market, these can be a lot cheaper than supermarkets for fruit and veg. You may also be able to buy good value meat and get some good advice from the butcher or fishmonger. They should be able to advise you on the cheapest cuts and the best ways to cook them.
Farmers’ markets are also worth checking out, just don’t get sidetracked by the delicious cakes and treats at your market if they aren’t in your budget!
Do your shopping online
Some people find that they actually save money by buying their groceries online and having them delivered.
You may have to pay a delivery charge but a 6 month delivery pass often works out cheaper. Online grocery shopping removes the temptation of all those ‘special offers’ and new product displays, which makes sticking to your list a lot easier. And they often have a page dedicated to their current special offers, which can inspire your meal planning.
You might also want to try some of the discount websites such as Motatos or Approved Food. These are basically an online supermarket selling discounted food that is close to its best before date. Remember that unlike a Use-by Date, the Best Before Date is only a guideline. Food is safe to eat after this date as long as you check that it looks and smells OK.
Change what you eat
Meat tends to be one of the most expensive items on your shopping list. So unless you are already vegetarian or vegan, one way to cut your groceries bill is to cut down on meat.
You could try adding in one or two meat-free days each week or switching to cheaper cuts of meat. You could also reduce the amount of meat in a recipe and pad it out with extra vegetables or pulses.
There are loads of delicious meat-free recipes around these days, which will satisfy even the most ardent carnivore. Cheaper cuts of meat often benefit from slow cooking so you could save money on your electricity bill as well!
Cut down on food waste
Another way to make the most of your food budget is to make sure that you aren’t wasting food.
A 2020 report found that UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food each year. Apart from being bad for the environment, that’s a lot of money to be throwing away!
So make sure that you’re storing your food properly, and buy a fridge thermometer to make sure that it’s running at the right temperature. Opening the plastic packaging on fruit and veg or popping a sheet of kitchen roll into a bag of salad leaves can help to keep them fresher for longer.
Being aware of the dates on your food can help you to make sure that they get used up in your weekly meal plans rather than being destined for the bin. And don’t forget that many foods can be frozen, either raw or once you have cooked them. This is a great way to cut down food waste and cut the cost of your weekly food shop.
Make the most of your freezer
If you’re lucky enough to have a good sized freezer, or maybe even a chest freezer out in the garage, then the reduced section should definitely be your first stop at the supermarket.
You’ll often find yellow stickered meat and fish that you can freeze when you get home, and this can be a great way to save money. You can also freeze other fresh produce such as milk and cheese when it is close to its use-by date.
Make sure that you freeze the food as quickly as possible and take it out of the freezer in good time to defrost. Generally that will mean transferring it to the fridge 24 hours before you need to use it.
And of course you can also freeze leftovers and batch cooked meals, which can be a real timesaver as well as saving you money.