Buying food is one of the biggest bills for any family. If you want to cut costs, making the most of the food you buy is a great place to start.
When we’ve been strapped for cash, I’ve worked hard to save money on our food shopping. I pared everything right to the bone when I fed myself for £1 a day for 5 days, raising money for charity on Live Below the Line.
Since then, I’ve blogged about a couple of storecupboard challenges, when we cut food costs by using up the contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. I thought I was pretty thrifty before, but we saved 40% on food shopping one month, and nearly a third when we tried it again.
I definitely found that if we bought less, spent less and wasted less, it cut our bills right back. By making the most of the food we already had, I bought less. Changing my shopping and cooking habits meant we spent less. Reducing food waste is not only good for your bank balance, but also good for the environment. I could do my own small bit towards stretching scarce resources, cutting waste sent to landfill, and reducing the methane it releases.
So this post is the mega round up of all the tips and tricks that help me cut our food costs.
Read on for more than 80 ways to save money on your food shopping, with tips on what to do before, during and after heading to the shops:
Ways to save money before food shopping
1. Check your cupboards, fridge and freezer. See what food you already have in the house. Helps stop buying buying another tin of tuna if you already have four!
2. Focus on food that needs using up first. No point throwing money in the bin.
3. Make a list of meals. Think how to use up what you have. Meal planning doesn’t have to be a palaver – start by jotting down ideas for four or five main meals.
4. Buy what you need, not what’s run out. Stick to the extra items for the meals you have in mind. Hold off replacing stuff you won’t need for ages.
5. Check your diary. Out all week? Avoid buying loads of fresh stuff if you won’t get round to eating it. Know you’re facing a busy time? Include some meals that are quick and easy to make.
6. Plan for packed lunches. Taking your own lunch to work, or on trips out, is massively cheaper than eating out every day.
7. Go veggie. Include a few meat-free meals every week, and you’ll save masses.
8. Allow for leftovers. Leave one night a week for using stuff up, rather than planning a new meal every night.
9. Cope with “can’t be bothered to cook” days. I save a lot by cooking from scratch, but some days I just can’t face cooking. If I have a couple of frozen pizzas in the freezer, it helps avoid the temptation of an expensive takeaway.
10. Think about what you’ve thrown away. If you always end up binning salad bags or your kids always refuse certain foods – buy less, or don’t buy them at all.
11. Make a hit list. If stuff lingers too long in my kitchen, there’s usually a reason. Maybe I don’t really like it, don’t know how to cook it, or need something specific to use it up. List the main items you really want to shift from the back of your cupboard or freezer.
12. Research recipes. Next google recipes for anything you really want to use up, so you can buy any extra ingredients needed.
13. Delay a few days. Can you last for a bit longer with the food you already have in the house? If you stretch out the time between shopping trips, you’ll spend less over the course of a month.
14. Stop shopping. If you don’t want to spend money, shop less often. If nipping out for a pint of milk turns into spending £20 every time, try to buy what you need in one big shop, and avoid the extra trips.
15. Use substitutes. Just because you’ve run out of something doesn’t mean you have to rush straight to the shops to replace it. No potatoes? Try rice or pasta instead. Run out of cereal or milk? Offer toast or eggs for breakfast.
16. Use part packs. Got some odds and ends at the back of the cupboard? Combine them for a single meal, to save money and cut food costs. Cook up two kinds of pasta. Only enough for half the family? Use two lots of leftovers to make a meal for everyone.
17. Write a shopping list. Helps avoid forgetting essentials, and therefore top up trips where you risk spending more. If you have everything you need, you’re more likely to make the meals you planned.
18. Check prices online. Buying more expensive items like washing liquid or dishwasher tablets? Check mysupermarket.com to see where you can find the best offers. You can compare prices on your entire list too.
19. Shop over the internet. If seeing stuff on supermarket shelves means extra items slip into your trolley, try shopping online instead. You may have to pay a delivery charge, and won’t benefit from yellow-stickered bargains. However, it can be easier to identify cheaper options online, easier to keep track of the total, and easier to remove items if you want to cut back.
21. Take a shelfie. A quick pic of your cupboards and fridge will remind you of the food at home when you’re out shopping.
22. Swap shops. Try a cheaper supermarket: swap Waitrose for Sainsburys, Tesco for Aldi. Might have a smaller range, but could still save masses.
23. Mix and match your shops. Know one shop does favourite products for less? I’m not suggesting going to five shops every week, but if I’m near a shop that does some of my favourite products for less, I’ll nip in.
24. Keep money off vouchers in your purse. Get sent money off vouchers by loyalty cards, or spot savings in magazines or newspapers? Put the vouchers straight in your bag. They can’t save money stuck on the table at home. (More on maxing out supermarket vouchers)
25. Check voucher dates. If I get sent a decent discount, like £12 off a £60 spend, I’ll check the dates to make sure I shop at the right store before the voucher expires.
26. Save with your smartphone. Download supermarket cash back apps like CheckoutSmart and Shopmium (use code KFKKAMKL for free Lindt chocolate!) to find offers on branded products. Quidco also offers Quick Snap* and TopCashback has Snap & Save*. Just make sure you buy the exact product and pack stated, and get round to scanning and sending your receipts afterwards. (More on supermarket shopping apps here)
27. Time your shop. I save a lot buying cut-price, short-dated, yellow-stickered food, and aim to shop just after the reductions are made. Near me, early morning is good for our local Co-op, and late Sunday afternoon for Morrisons. Ask a friendly looking member of staff in your local store. (More on yellow-stickered food here)
28. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Eat beforehand, even if it’s only a snack, so you don’t end up piling up your trolley just because you’re starving!
29. Take your own bags. Keep a couple of cloth bags or folding bags in your handbag, to avoid the charges for plastic bags. Stick a bunch of carrier bags in the car boot – and put them back after your next shopping trip.
30. Carry cash not cards. On a really tight budget? Leave your cards at home and just take cash. Then you can’t spend more than you have with you.
31. Walk to the shops. You’ll buy less if you have to carry it all home.
Ways to save money during food shopping
32. Shop alone. If your kids pester you for more expensive products, or your other half adds extra snacks and booze, try to shop on your own! It can also help you concentrate on checking cheaper prices.
33. Step away from the big trolley. If you only need a few bits – grab a basket. Even for a bigger shop, choose a smaller trolley. You’ll buy less if it fills up quicker.
34. Look at the price per kg. When comparing packaged fruit & veg with loose, or different pack sizes, look at the price per kg to find the cheapest option.
35. Use scales. Can’t tell if a four pack of pears is cheaper than loose, or a three pack of peppers is cheaper than a bag of wonky ones? Weigh them, to see where you’re actually getting a better deal. Use the calculator on your smartphone to check which is cheaper.
36. Snap up worthwhile offers. See any super-cheap offers? (Think Aldi Super 6 fruit and veg). Choose the ones your family is likely to eat, swapping for more expensive alternatives on your list.
37. Try tinned and frozen, not just fresh. See if different forms are cheaper, like buying frozen raspberries rather than fresh. Tinned and frozen can be just as healthy, if not more so, than fresh options. Frozen food can also cut food waste, as you can use just the amount you need and stick the rest back in the freezer.
38. Switch to cheaper alternatives. Think chicken thighs, rather than chicken breasts or smoked mackerel instead of salmon fillets. Bulk up on fruit and veg like carrots, onions, apples and bananas, rather than more exotic (read expensive) options.
39. Shop in season. So opt for say strawberries and soft fruit in summer, when it’s cheaper, and switch to apples later in the year. Keep an eye on prices and special offers so you can see what makes sense.
40. Weigh up time versus money. If you buy convenience food like ready meals, jar sauces, chopped up fruit or individual jelly pots, you’re paying extra for someone else to do the work for you. You can cut costs by buying the raw ingredients and cooking yourself – but it’s likely to take longer.
41. Simplify snacks. Often, it’s the extras like biscuits, crisps, sweets and drinks that can send food bills spiralling. Save by focusing on the food for main meals. For snacks, offer a choice of cheaper alternatives, like toast and jam. Bake your own biscuits and cakes for pennies not pounds. (Check out the ‘sweet’ options on my recipe page for cheap and cheerful baking ideas)
42. Trade down your brands. Always buy branded? Try the supermarket option. Use own-brand? Try the value range. If you don’t like it, you can always switch back, but if the cheaper version is fine, you’ll save a bundle in future.
43. Look down. A lot of the cheaper options are on shelves near the floor, so don’t just scan shelves at eye level.
44. Try the world food aisles. See if basics likes tinned tomatoes, tinned chickpeas, rice and so on are cheaper with different brands in the world food aisles. Try your local market or ethnic food shops for cheaper options too.
45. Check the fresh counters. Sometimes the prices of for example cheese is cheaper at the deli counter. You also get the chance to ask for smaller quantities than packaged versions on the shelves, cutting costs and potential food waste.
46. Beware of bargains. Seen a special offer? Check if it’s actually cheaper than a different pack size, or shifting to a cheaper brand.
47. Read the small print. If you’re buying a special offer, like 3 packs of meat and fish for £10, make sure you choose items that qualify. Always check the pack size matches the special offer price ticket.
48. Buy in bulk… Often bigger packs of for example rice and pasta are cheaper per kilo than small bags, or a big pot of yogurt costs less than lots of individual pots. If you’ve got space to store it, and know you’ll use it, buy the bigger option. Reduces packaging too.
49. …but don’t buy more than you’ll use. Don’t get tempted to buy bigger quantities if you’ll end up throwing food away. Buy one, get one free isn’t a great saving if it goes to waste. Also, if I buy megapacks of crisps, I know they’ll get eaten far faster than if I buy smaller multipacks less often.
50. Don’t buy early and buy twice. Know why the supermarkets display stuff for Easter and Christmas so early? So people stock up in advance, crack and eat it all, then have to buy it again. If you’re likely to be tempted, shop later!
51. Scan the yellow-stickered shelves. See if you can find stuff you’d buy anyway for less on the reduced price shelves. Just remember even super cheap food is a waste of money if it goes off before it gets eaten. Plus, sometimes even the reduced price on branded food is still more expensive than own brand or value range alternatives. (Here’s the post on yellow-stickered food again)
52. Know your dates: “Best before” or “Display until” just refer to food quality, not food safety. Many foods, especially dry stuff and packets, tins and bottles, taste great for ages after these dates. “Use by” is the important one for food safety on perishable stuff like meat, fish and dairy products. Make sure you eat or freeze food before it’s use by date.
53. Stick to your list. Try to avoid adding unnecessary extras, if you want to keep a lid on the total at the till.
54. Keep a running total. Know you mustn’t spend more than a certain amount? Add it up as you go round – jot it down on your shopping list, or add it up on your phone. Helps focus on what you really need, rather than adding extras.
55. If in doubt, ask: If you’re not sure a particular item qualifies for an offer, ask at the till before it gets scanned. Then you’ve got the chance to put it back or swap it, if you’ve chosen the more expensive version.
56. Use a loyalty card. Don’t choose a more expensive supermarket just for the loyalty points, but if you are shopping somewhere with a loyalty scheme, claim any points on offer. It all adds up. (I benefitted from £300 on loyalty cards during my money saving year)
57. Hand over any vouchers. I try to put money off vouchers on the conveyor belt, so that when I get to the till, there’s no chance of getting flustered and forgetting.
58. Read your receipt. After paying, step aside and do a quick scan of the receipt. Sometimes yellow-stickered items get charged full price, or offers don’t show up. Check before leaving, so you can sort any problems with customer services.
Ways to save money after food shopping
59. Pull fresh stuff to the front. Leftovers that need eating? Veg about to go over? Anything close to its “use by” date? Pull it to the front of the fridge so it gets used up first.
60. Store food carefully. Putting food in the right place, whether cupboards, fridge or freezer, can help it last for longer. I extend the life of onions and potatoes by removing any plastic packaging and putting them in cloth bags with lining to keep the contents in the dark. (These potato* and onion* preserving bags from Lakeland). I also reuse jam jars and plastic boxes as budget options to store leftovers.
61. Put kitchen towel in the bottom of salad drawers. Helps soak up any moisture, and delays veg going off.
62. Make friends with your freezer. Don’t waste money buying yellow-stickered stuff that goes off. When you unpack your shopping, get stuff you don’t need that day or the next straight into your freezer. Bread, meat and fish all freeze really well.
63. Break up big packs. Big pack of mince, bacon, chicken etc? Separate it out into smaller bags or boxes before freezing, so you can just take out the amount you need in future and avoid wasting extra.
64. Avoid freezer roulette. Label stuff clearly, to avoid UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) that then never get eaten. I tell myself I’ll remember – but then I don’t. Turns out condensed milk is not a great substitute for coconut milk in a curry…
65. Eat from your freezer. No point stashing bargains and leftovers in your freezer all the time, if you never get round to eating it.
66. Keep an eye on your fridge. Rootle around every few days, so you spot stuff that needs using up before it’s too late.
67. Love your leftovers. Get creative with using up bendy veg or softening fruit, rather than leaving it until they have to be binned. Think smoothies, soups, stews, stir fries, omelettes and so on. Chop stuff up and chuck it in the freezer to use later.
68. Get cooking. Cooking at home will save megabucks compared to eating out, ordering takeaways or relying on ready meals.
69. Forget the takeaway, try a fakeaway. Love pizza? Make your own. (Here’s the recipe we use for Friday movie and pizza nights). Keen on curry? Rustle one up. Likely to be loads healthier and certainly much cheaper.
70. Start a storecupboard. Storecupboard essentials like herbs, spices, curry paste and salad dressing ingredients can liven up even the most basic meals. Adding one or two items each week makes it possible to try new recipes without breaking the bank.
71. Grow your own. Even if you haven’t got a garden, a few pots of herbs on a windowsill will save loads compared to buying plastic packets.
72. Get in with gardeners. Even if you don’t grow stuff yourself, do you know anyone who does? We’ve benefitted from apples, plums, redcurrant and courgettes, when friends and family had too much to eat themselves.
73. Tap into Olio. Olio is an app designed to cut food waste. It works by connecting neighbours and businesses to share surplus food rather than binning it. Reckon it works best in urban areas where there are lots of people nearby, but worth a dekko.
74. Cook once, eat twice. If you’re cooking a family meal, make twice as much and keep half for another day. Box it up and get it in the fridge or freezer quickly though, to remove the temptation for second and third helpings!
75. Stick it in a slow cooker. Save time and money by using cheaper cuts of meat, and less energy to cook it. Bung in the ingredients in the morning, and come back to a home-cooked meal.
76. Stretch your meals. Add veggies to make meat go further. Think stir fried chicken with loads of colourful veg, or adding grated carrot and chopped celery to bolognaise.
77. Bulk up on carbs. Typically, carbs like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes are cheaper than a big chunk of meat. Offer loads of filling alternatives to keep meal costs down – think yorkshire puddings with roast meals, piles of mash with stew, bread and butter with a main meal.
78. Get the kids involved. Picky eaters? I sympathise. Cut food waste by asking for meal ideas they’re keen to eat. Get them involved in cooking, and they might be more willing to try the end result. (I live in hope)
79. Serve smaller portions. If you end up throwing away food left on people’s plates, give them smaller portions to start, then offer extra if they’re still hungry.
80. Check your meal plan. Lacking inspiration? Pull out the list of meal ideas, to remind you what you planned to cook.
82. Keep a running list. Jot down when any essentials run out – keep a list stuck on the fridge, or blackboard on the kitchen wall. This can help limit top up shops, if you buy several things you really need at the same time.
Oof. If you’ve read this far – congratulations! I hope this post saves you a ton of money on your food shopping.
If you’d like to see how I put it into practice, here’s a post with the Story of A Shopping List, as an example of one of my money-saving supermarket trips.
Now over to you – how do you cut your food costs? Do share your ideas in the comments, I’d love to hear.
*indicates an affiliate link, so anything you buy through it will help support the blog, as I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Many thanks!
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