The 23 best ways to save money on your grocery shopping
As we roll into 2019 many of us are looking for ways to save, including asking “how can I spend less on food?”
It might seem a daunting task, but it’s actually pretty simple, especially when there are so many different ways to do it.
If you’re wondering how to spend less on groceries, read on for a host of excellent money saving tips.
1 Use a list.
This may seem super simple, and it is, but it is also one of the most effective ways to save money on shopping, not to mention stress! If it’s not on the list, don’t put it in the trolley.
Take the time to start and maintain a list as you use up and run out of things. This will take a few seconds at the time and save you the stress of trying to remember when you create a list from scratch (or shop without one).
A quick double check of the cupboards before you go should see you picking up everything you need, but not the things you don’t.
Do stay flexible – you may find some deals that you really should take advantage of even if they’re not on your list this week – so long as they’re in your budget (see point 2).
2 Set a budget.
Lots of people use the “Envelope Method” – literally dividing cash into envelopes to spend on the various necessities – food, petrol, mortgage/rent, etc.
Personally I don’t subscribe to this method, but I do have a budget based on my average spend.
Setting, and sticking to a budget will help you keep control of your spending as you shop – if you can’t afford everything, decide what to put back.
You have to stick to the rules though, you can’t pinch money from the fuel budget to pay for that must-have dessert or reduced bottle of wine, you can only spend the groceries budget on groceries.
3 Don’t shop when hungry.
Following on from the must-have dessert above, you’ll be much more impulsive and far more likely to buy what you don’t need when you’re hungry. If you want to spend less on food, this is a really easy step to take.
4 Don’t buy pre-prepared vegetables etc.
Fruit, vegetables and food in general that has been prepared for you already costs significantly more than the stuff you need to wash and chop yourself.
Save money on groceries and put those pounds back in your pocket by working on your knife skills for the few extra minutes it takes to do the prep at home.
5 Follow retailers on social media.
Lots of supermarkets post special deals & vouchers on their social media channels – follow them so you find out about, and can take advantage of, the most relevant deals to you.
Do bear in mind that these deals are designed to get you in to the shop to spend, and to spend more than you would otherwise – so be vigilant and stick to your list and budget.
Take advantage of only the deals that benefit you and actually save money on your shopping.
6 Be disloyal.
Just as with your insurances, being loyal to a retailer only benefits them – not you.
There is a very strong chance that shopping in different places will mean you can pick up the various things on your list at the best price. Even when you get loyalty points for shopping somewhere, you’ll still be paying more out of your own pocket than if you’d gone elsewhere.
Most loyalty points are worth 1p or less, and the difference in price will be many times more than that.
Even with the double or triple value you get for converting your points to cash/vouchers/etc. the best you’re likely to achieve is 3p a point. Similarly, don’t be fooled by “bonus points” for a particular product, consider the cash value of those bonus points, and compare to spending less in the first place – especially if you don’t claim and spend your points frequently.
Don’t stick to a retailer because they offer points, shop round for the best deal, but always claim points when you shop at a retailer that offers them.
7 Check the small print.
Bigger isn’t always better, and you may be better off buying two instead of a twin or multi-pack (if you actually need that much).
Check the price by volume, however it’s sold (kg, ml, sheet etc.) and be wise to mixed units. e.g. 62.25p/100g is a better deal than £6.65/Kg.
Consider also how much you can actually use before it goes off, there’s no point in buying multi-packs or big boxes of perishables that you’ll either throw out or force down the family’s throats’ because it’s about to expire.
8 Create a menu.
Having a weekly menu plan is a great way to create a tiny shopping list that makes the best use of everything, and an easy way to save money on food.
For example, a roast chicken early in the week can pave the way for a chicken curry, ratatouille, bubble & squeak etc. all from the leftovers & unused veg.
Taking a few minutes to plan your weeks meals will allow further savings by either picking meals that share common ingredients, or giving you the opportunity to substitute ingredients to achieve the same end (making less, or more of the same, go further).
For some great leftover food recipes check out Love Food Hate Waste.
9 Standardise your shopping list.
Most of us are creatures of habit. We buy pretty much the same things over and over, have a selection of around 10 recipes as our go-to family meals and take the same route to and from wherever we’re going.
Society would have you believe this is a bad thing. It isn’t.
It means you can create a standard shopping list in the order of the aisles in the supermarket.
This will allow you to save money on groceries, as well as time and stress when you get there as it means you can go direct to the things you need.
It’ll also mean you bypass the other aisles full of those oh-so-tempting special offers that will do little more than eat away at your budget.
10 Check for sales.
Check for, and know when to take advantage of sales. If it’s something you regularly buy, you can save on your shopping and use them before they perish, snap them up.
Sales and deals like BOGOF (buy one, get one free) are best used on non perishables or long life goods that you have the space to store, like cleaning materials, toiletries etc.
That’s not to say you can’t use them on perishables too though, especially if they can be frozen.
11 Buy in-season produce.
You might be surprised at the difference in price of your staple fruits and vegetables over the year.
Get to know what’s in season, when, and use it more then. It’ll taste better and be a better price than when it’s out of season.
Plan your meals with this knowledge too and you’ll be able to spend less on groceries while also eating tastier, in season food. If you have the space, consider freezing cheaper, seasonal veg for use later in the year.
12 Use vouchers & coupons.
There are several types and sources of vouchers you can use to save money on your shopping.
Brands and retailers both offer vouchers, and you can find them online, in newspapers, ‘junk’ mail, supermarket magazines and so on. As with sales, only use deals that work for you, but do check the small print – some can be used on various products or services.
It is important to know the best price for something though, you may find that the prices are inflated around the time a voucher is released, so it might pay to hold onto it until prices have dropped. You may also be able to combine a brand voucher, a store voucher and a sale price to drop the cost close to zero – so it really does pay to know the minimum price of something with all this taken into account.
Many supermarkets will also allow you to use competitor vouchers – after all, why wouldn’t they?
You could go elsewhere and spend your money, or they could take a hit of a few pennies to a few pounds and reap the reward of not only this purchase, but your goodwill and future custom. It doesn’t hurt to check, that’s for sure, and it could be another way to spend less on shopping.
13 Compare supermarkets.
There are premium supermarkets, and there are budget supermarkets, and there are supermarkets in the middle.
Prices on some things vary wildly between these groups and it is in your interest to get what you want at the best possible price.
Trekking around all of them is probably a step to far, but uploading your standardised list from point 9 to a comparison site like mySupermarket could be a fantastic way to see the best place to save money on your groceries.
They will compare most of the top UK supermarkets and show you where you’ll get the best deal for your basket, you can even check out online with some of them!
14 Use £1 shops & discount shops.
These can be an excellent place to stock up on staples from laundry liquid and deodorant to biscuits and soft drinks.
Know what you normally pay by volume and include these in your regular shopping circuit. Some are even included in the mySupermarket comparison from point 13 to make your research even easier.
Don’t however, think you’ll be saving on everything in there. You’ll be able to spend less on a lot of your shopping, but a 4-pack of scouring sponges for £1 is a lot more expensive than a 6-pack for 65p in your regular supermarket.
15 Time it.
Choose your time to shop wisely. It will vary by area as to the demographic and the time they shop, but with a little trial and error you should be able to find a time that works for you when you’re not hungry, there are fewer people in the shop and they’ve started marking things down.
Typically this would be around the afternoon school run and from 6-7pm.
By picking a quiet time you won’t be stressed by the madding crowd, you’ll find fewer empty shelves and you’ll have more energy to focus on finding better deals so you can spend less.
16 Switch brands.
Many of us can be a bit of a snob when it comes to brands, but there are a few things you should consider that could really help you save on your grocery shopping;
Ingredients such as flour, sugar, cooking oil and butter will taste and work exactly the same, so there’s really no need to splash out.
You’ll pay a lot more for branded frozen food, and typically find there’s a lot less in the bag than if you were to buy own brand. There’s a double whammy of savings here – more food for less money.
Further, many own brands are made in the same place, by the same company, as big brands – using very similar ingredients/recipes – just different enough to be legally not the same thing.
Even when things do taste different, you can ‘fix’ this at home for a lot less. Baked beans for example, I find a dash of Worcestershire Sauce brings the basic store brand up to a comparable level to the expensive stuff.
The brand switches that will really save you money though are more likely to be the cleaning materials – more people are likely to be loyal to these at a massive cost to their budget.
You can still have triple quilted, extra soft toilet paper – but if you buy own brand you get to keep the change. Ditto for the bleach, surface cleaner, scouring pads etc.
17 Look – high, low and in the “wrong aisle”.
Marketers know how to get you to buy. They also know that most people are inherently lazy (no offence). If you can see what you want, at eye level, and the price seems reasonable (the shelf above is ever-so-slightly more expensive) you’ll pick it up and move on.
So, to find the best savings you have to actually look – at the higher and lower shelves, just where they won’t catch your eye – to find the better deals. Have you noticed that own brand is typically at ankle level?
Many items are found in several places throughout the store, and luckily for you at different prices.
You can save money by shopping for things like soy sauce and snacks in the right places. For example, spices and sauces in world foods aisles are likely to be less expensive and in larger packs.
Similarly, the bably aisle will supply you with cotton buds, wipes, soaps and moisturisers in larger packs at better value than those you’d find with the deodorant & shower gel.
Snacks such as trail mix, nuts, dried fruits etc. can all be found in the baking aisle without the “snack” label and associated premium.
18 Free-from is an expensive marketing trick.
Free-from is an easy way to target people by making their lives easier. However, gluten and wheat must be listed as ingredients in the UK, so if it’s not listed and doesn’t say “may contain” it’s GF or WF, but you don’t have to pay the marketing department extra for doing the work for you.
The same applies to the likes of Aldi and Lidl, they don’t have free from aisles, but they do have plenty of free from products – most Batts products for example are GF (do check the label!).
For more on food labelling, see this post from the NHS.
19 Buy the wrong thing.
Many very similar products, labelled for different things, carry an incredible price difference. You as the savvy customer can take advantage of this to reduce your shopping bill. You might have to do a little thinking outside of the box, but a couple of tips for you (at opposite ends of the spectrum):
Tinned plum tomatoes are usually better quality, and cheaper than chopped tomatoes. The chopped tomatoes are the ones that didn’t make it into anything else. Stick a knife in the tin when you get home and presto – better quality chopped tomatoes.
Nappy bags can present a considerable saving over dog poo bags, and Mutley will never know the difference.
20 Leave the kids behind.
No, not at the supermarket.
As we’ve all experienced, the little treasures get disinterested fast and the added stress of managing them will take away from your capacity to action the tips above to make savings on your shopping.
Similarly, it can be very tempting to give in and get them some of the “I want’s”, or even to treat them for good behaviour, both of which add unnecessarily to your bill.
If you can, shop without them.
21 Know your dates.
The differences between best before, display until and use buy are important and worth knowing, especially as they can really help you save money on your grocery shopping.
Best before means exactly that – the manufacturer believes the product will be at its best when used or consumed before that date. You can still use it after, and may not even notice the difference. Especially if it’s been stored properly. We throw away millions of tons of perfectly good food unnecessarily – don’t let it cost you money.
It is legal to buy food after the “best before” dates and there are several specialist places you can do this at a good discount.
Display until is purely something for the shop staff – there will still be a use by or best before date somewhere the packaging, this is the one that affects you.
Use by dates are the ones that affect food safety. Don’t use anything after it’s use by date*, even if it looks and smells ok. This is quite simply because it could put your health at risk.
* A use by date can be extended by freezing, but be sure to follow the instructions on the packet. See Love Food Hate Waste for more on freezing food nearing it’s use by date.
Get familiar with when your chosen supermarkets apply ‘yellow stickers’ and be sure to check for these too. There are normally some great deals to be had, although I have found that the gannets tend to hover around the reduced section at my local and descend as soon as the stock is on the shelf.
Consider also that aged meats usually taste better, so you could grab a bargain on something that’s been discounted near it’s expiry date.
The Food Standards Agency has more detail on these dates here.
22 Abandon your shopping.
Not literally, but I’m sure you’ve noticed ad’s and discounts around the internet and in your social media feeds for things you’ve been looking at recently?
You could work this to your advantage by not checking out straight away and waiting to see if you get an offer with a discount pop up to tempt you back. Chances are you’ll only be able to do this once though.
23 Use cashback sites.
By using sites like TopCashback & Quidco, you can get cashback on your purchases. Retailers offer commission to websites for referring customers to them (just like this one), but it doesn’t affect the price you pay.
Cashback sites pass some or all of the commission on to you, so you get the money back on purchases you were going to make anyway.
This applies to more than just saving money on groceries too, you can save on household goods, holidays, utilities and insurances, etc.
Anything you were planning on buying, it’s worth checking if there’s cashback available.
And there you have it, 23 ways to save money on your grocery shopping. For more money saving tips see 5 things you can do when money is tight and 2019’s top money saving apps. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow on social media for more of the same!