Save in October Day 5: Bagging yellow-stickered bargains

Picture of all the food I bought bagging yellow-stickered bargains

My 77p shop!

Yes it’s true.
I’m out and proud.
I buy short-dated yellow-stickered food from the reduced sections in the supermarket.

Now, some people turn their noses up at yellow-stickered food. However, I’m quite happy to save money at the same time as saving food from going into landfill.

So during my October challenge to make small changes that add up to big savings, I’d like to encourage you to give it a whirl too.

Five reasons I buy yellow-stickered food

1. It saves me money on food I would buy anyway, on basics like apples, bananas and bread.

2. I can cram into my budget more varied and exotic (read expensive) food than I would otherwise buy, like rocket and avocadoes.

3. I would rather buy better quality meat and fish with short dates, than spend the same money on cheaper cuts or lower quality food. For example, I  prefer to buy half price sausages with a higher meat content, rather than spending the same money on cheaper full-price versions with less meat and more filler.

4. I hate the idea of perfectly good food going to waste, rather than being eaten. Here’s to saving money and saving the planet at the same time.

5. I do like a bargain!

 My yellow-stickered bargains on day 5

The photo at the top of this post shows my shopping haul of yellow-stickered bargains from day 5 of my October saving challenge.

During this month, I’m aiming to spend less on food. I’ve been trying to stretch out the food in the house, and save money by delaying a big trip to the supermarket.

On day 5, we needed bread and yogurt, so I nipped into the Co-op after the morning school run. Our local East of England Co-op tends to mark down short-dated food first thing in the morning, so there’s often a good selection about 9am.

Luckily for me, it was a particularly good day for reductions. I knew we were running low on fresh fruit and veg, so I could take advantage of things that would need eating quickly.

From the yellow stickered sections I bought:

Fruit: 2 punnets of strawberries (70p each), Cox’s apples (45p), bananas (27p), physalis (40p), plums (59p)

Veg: rocket (25p), 2 ready to eat avocadoes (70p), baby potatoes (25p), chestnut mushrooms (34p), 2 little gem lettuce (29p), a pack of sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn (63p) and a pot of living salad leaves (25p)

Chiller cabinet: a pack of 4 beef quarter pounders (£1.50)

Bread: 4 floured rolls, to eat with the beefburgers (45p), pack of brown sandwich thins (50p) and a Kingsmill 50:50 loaf (50p)

I also bought a punnet of peaches and a pack of yogurt Choobs at the full price of £1 each.

Just in case you haven’t been adding up all the prices at lightning speed, that haul came to £10.77.

If I’d bought everything at the original marked prices, it would have cost £25.75. So by opting for the yellow-stickered versions, I saved 60%.

Even better, I was able to use £10 of the Co-op dividend cheques (see my Day 3 post about maxing out supermarket vouchers), and only had to hand over 77p in cash for £25.75 worth of shopping.

I reckon that’s a good deal.

My top tips for buying yellow-stickered food

1. Know your dates

I think it helps that I take quite a robust attitude to “best before dates”. Some people get really hung up on food safety. Fair enough, I’ve no particular wish to poison my nearest and dearest either.
But remember: supermarkets can’t sell food that isn’t safe to eat. Even food on the reduced shelves has to be fit for consumption, although officially you may be meant to use it that day.
“Best before” dates are based on quality, not safety, so you might risk some slightly dry bread, but you won’t be risking your health.
This contrasts with “use by” dates on foods that go off quickly, like milk, fish and meat. Eating food after its use by date might make you ill.
Often, companies allow loads of leeway on “best before” dates, to try and ensure their products are in tippety top condition when you eat them.
I know perfectly well from doing my storecupboard challenges in February and June last year that dry goods like flour, pasta, rice and noodles taste absolutely fine ages after their “best before” dates.

2. Don’t get hung up on the presentation

Let’s face it, the reduced sections rarely look beautiful. The food is often jumbled together, and the packaging may be dented or damaged.
But just as I’m happy to rootle around in sale rails, or check out charity shops, I don’t need all my food to be beautifully presented. In fact, I’d rather have less packaging and generate less waste to be recycled or dumped.

3. Use your eyes and nose instead

Rather than sticking rigidly to the dates on the packaging, I’d rather look at the food itself. Is the lettuce already going a bit brown, are the tomatoes squidgy, is there any mould on the raspberries? Does the meat or fish smell?
If so, I wouldn’t buy it even if it was normal price and well within the official date. I find a lot on the reduced shelves that is in excellent condition, and don’t buy anything else.

4. What to buy?

Personally, in trying to keep our food low cost but healthy, I usually cook from a scratch. Therefore I focus on fresh fruit and veg, meat and fish, and bread products (loaves, muffins, bagels, sandwich thins, hot cross buns that kind of thing). I don’t buy much processed stuff normally, so I don’t pick up many reduced tins and packets. I occasionally buy short-dated milk or cream, but only if I know we’ll eat it in a day or so.

5. Focus on food you can eat fast or freeze

Remember, cut-price food is only a bargain if you actually eat it, and don’t end up throwing it away.

No matter how cheap or how great the fresh fruit and veg look, if we can’t eat it quickly I won’t buy it.

Similarly, there’s no point in buying extra bread, meat or fish if the freezer is already full, and I know we won’t eat it that day or the next.

6. Be flexible

Yellow-stickered shopping works best if you don’t have a rigid meal plan and are willing to swap things around. I’m happy to eat rocket or little gem lettuce instead of say iceberg. The kids are happy to eat Cox’s apples rather than Braeburn, and strawberries instead of raspberries.

When I saw the half-price beefburgers, I headed back to the bread section in search of burger buns, and found some floury rolls that worked well.

7. Research the best times

For any particular shop, try and find the times when food is marked down. Some supermarkets make further reductions later in the day. Personally, I’ve found 9am at our Co-op, and 7.30pm in our local Morrisons are good times to check.

The Money Saving Expert website has a useful table with a rough schedule of when different shops make reductions at point 23.
Kelly, who is the queen of yellow-stickered cooking over at Reduced Grub, also has a series of posts about when specific stores cut prices. Look for the Categories section on the right hand side of the site, and click on “Reduction time” to find the relevant posts.

Obviously, jobs and family commitments can make it impossible to shop at good times for reductions. Certainly when my children were babies I could never hit the supermarkets in the early evening, but now they’re older it’s sometimes possible.

8. Plan ahead

I swoop on rarely-found cut-price food for the freezer if I reckon it will be useful in future, even if I don’t know exactly when. I’m thinking here of big joints that come in handy when we shedloads of visitors, or the tin of chestnut puree I’ve been hoarding for Christmas. I posted previously about how a large bit of pork came in very handy for last minute guests. Planning ahead can save a lot compared to rushing out the day before and paying full price.

Running total for the October Savings Challenge – Day 5

Save more: still £10.15 from balance tidying my current account. Still no £2 coins in change.

Spend less: £14 vouchers used against today’s shopping and a previous trip.

Earn more: £10.60, from withdrawing the money earnt using the Shopitize supermarket cashback app.

Total: £34.75

Over to you

So am I preaching to the converted – do you buy yellow-stickered food? Or would you rather run a mile than shop from the reduced sections? I’d love to hear!

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  1. 10th October 2016 / 11:16 am

    A brilliant post for any 'yellow sticker' shopper ditherers 🙂

    Just go for it folks.

    I have found some brilliant bargains in the past, although not so many recently with my Challenge being ongoing. Once this challenge is over I will be back trawling the shelves at all times of the day or evening. But for now I am happy to use my vouchers to buy specifics, but saying that I always look for the yellow stickered foods first and have still been known to swap things in my basket if I come across something similar on the reduced shelves.

    The Co-op will be our supermarket of choice next year when we launch our new Challenge, so thanks for the heads up on reduction times. It's all in the planning and thinking about stage at the minute as we really weren't going to do another challenge year … but then we got talking over the weekend and things changed 😉

    • 10th October 2016 / 11:19 am

      Oh exciting to hear there will be a new challenge next year! Glad you've benefitted from yellow-stickered food too. Am assuming you have a Co-op dividend card, as the annual dividends are a good thing to have.

  2. 17th October 2016 / 9:21 pm

    Brilliant post. It's scary how many people only go by the dates. As you say, use your eyes and nose. I would also say: use your common sense.

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