Cut your food bills

07 December 2010

As food prices continue to rise, here's some handy ways to keep your food bills under control.

Plan ahead

Plan a weekly menu

Sit down and work out exactly what you're going to cook for the next week so that you know what ingredients you will need.

Write a shopping list

Write up a shopping list based around your weekly menu and when you get to the supermarket, stick to it - don't be tempted to impulse buy and end up with a cupboard full of food you don't need.

Shop when you're full!

Never shop on an empty stomach - you'll be far more tempted to buy things you don't need if you do.

Use the internet

Check out

By doing your shopping online with you can track how much your shopping would cost at each of the UK's four major supermarkets (Sainsbury's, Tesco, ASDA and Ocado/Waitrose).

You can then select the basket of goods from the one you choose. It will also tell you when you can 'swap and save'. What's more, you can even compare the calories, fat, sugar and salt in items, so you can make the healthiest possible choices.

Scour the web for voucher codes

If you are prepared to your shopping online, you can often find money-off vouchers on HotUKDeals, and that more than cover the cost of delivery and can chop several pounds off your weekly shop.

It can also be worth signing up to supermarket websites even if you don't shop with them, as supermarkets often send out discounts via email.

Hunt out the best deals

Look out for special offers

Most supermarkets' websites will advertise special offers - like ‘buy one get one free’ - so you can find out what's available before stepping into the supermarket itself. Just make sure you can freeze whatever you don't need immediately.

Check out the 'reduced to clear' shelf

Usually if you do your supermarket shop towards the end of the day, the discounts will be greater. Most supermarkets have a 'reduced to clear' shelf so this is always worth a browse. Just be careful as these items will probably have a short 'use by' date on them, so either eat them quickly, or freeze them if you can.

Visit the deep discounters

Budget supermarkets such Lidl, Aldi and Netto have become a big hit with many shoppers because you can often find better deals there than in the major supermarkets. They manage to keep prices low by reducing shop overheads. You’ll save money here, but don’t expect a free plastic bag!

Buy in season

If possible to save money, try to buy vegetables that are in season. Check out the Eat The Seasons website to find out what's in season now.

Ditch the supermarket

Grow your own

Growing your own fruit and veg, as well as herbs, could knock a large chunk off your grocery bill!

Check out these cheap gardening tips for beginners. And if you don’t have a garden, don't panic! Call your local council to see if they have an allotment free. Alternatively, help to grow a local community garden. Check out the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens for more information.

Go local

Local farmers' markets can be a great place to buy fruit and veg for less. By cutting out the middle man, they can offer good quality food at supermarket-beating prices. Find a local farmers’ market online.

Alternatively, check out your local greengrocers and butchers to see how prices compare.

Local greengrocers and markets can work out far cheaper for fruit and veg than supermarkets.

Buy out of date

Why not consider out of date food websites such as Approved Food and Food Bargains? These fabulous websites sell short-dated and out-of-date food and drink, and as a result, the prices are a lot lower than you’d find in the supermarket – particularly if you’re buying in bulk.

But before you get completely put off by the idea of eating food out of date, we conducted our own taste test at and found that in many cases, the food tasted exactly the same as food that was in date. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, you will still get items that are in date by several months.

Shop sensibly

Buy in bulk

Bulk buying can offer genuine savings, especially if you share out the produce among friends and neighbours. Sacks of rice, for example, are extremely cheap from Asian grocers.

Avoid pre-packaged food

If possible, try to buy food that isn't wrapped up in loads of packaging as it'll be cheaper. Buy your fruit and veg loose, and also purchase more from the deli counter -- cheeses and meats are likely to be cheaper here than those wrapped up in plastic on the shelves. It will also taste fresher.

Buy cheaper cuts of meat

Some cuts are cheaper than others, perhaps because they take longer to cook. But if you're prepared to take a little more time over your cooking, buying cheaper cuts of meat is a great way to save!

Bin the big brands!

Supermarkets’ own label products often contain the same ingredients as their big brand equivalents. They can taste just as good too - and cost a lot less!

You can see how certain products compare in both cost and taste by checking out the Supermarket Own Brand Guide website.

Check your units

It's always worth checking how much an item costs per 100 grams/ kilogramme - sometimes you may find it actually costs more to buy a larger packet than a smaller one.

Watch out for supermarket scams

Supermarkets will try anything to tempt you to buy more than you need. So keep your eyes peeled for cunning tricks such as the smell of freshly baked bread, confusing store layout, clever product placement and relaxing music.

Keep to a time limit

Don't spend hours and hours wandering around the supermarket aisles. The longer you spend there, the more you're likely to spend. Just get what you need as quickly as possible, pay, and leave.

Collect loyalty points

Sign up to a loyalty card, such as a Tesco Clubcard or Nectar card, and whenever you go food shopping, you'll earn points. You can then spend these points on groceries in the future, or redeem them against days out, petrol, gifts or hundreds of other goodies.

Earn cashback

If you can afford to pay off your credit card bill in full each month, use a cashback credit card to do your shopping and you’ll earn a bit back every time you spend! Just make sure you definitely pay off the balance in full each month - otherwise you'll be hit with a hefty rate of interest which will outweigh any cashback benefits.

Compare cashback credit cards with

Check your receipt at the checkout

Getting home to find you've been charged twice for an item you've only got one of can be frustrating. And more often than not, we can't be bothered to trek back to the supermarket to complain. So make sure you check your receipt at the checkout to find out whether there are any errors.

Only buy your groceries

Don't add toothpaste, soap, shampoo onto your grocery bill as this will quickly make it more expensive. Make sure your food budget is for food only!

Frugal cooking

Invest in a slow cooker

A slow cooker will allow you to buy cheaper cuts of meat and turn them into delicious stews and casseroles.

Check out these delicious slow cooker recipes.

Start batch cooking

Cooking large amounts of food all at once should save you time and money because you're using less energy in the preparation. Once it’s cooked, divide it into meal-sized portions and pop them in the freezer.

Check out the Beyond Baked Beans website for lots of manageable and healthy recipes for those on a tight budget.

Learn to preserve food

Buying in bulk is all well and good if you're going to use it all. But if half of it ends up in the bin, it's not worth it. Learn to preserve food by freezing or canning.

Don't waste anything

According to the government's Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), UK households throw away 6.7 million tonnes of food every year. This waste costs the average home over £420 a year, rising to £610 for a family with children.

WRAP's website - LoveFoodHateWaste - contains lots of handy tips for reducing food wastage. Check out the official guidance on the difference between 'use by' dates and ‘best before' dates, for example.

Swap and save

When it comes to food shopping, we all know that buying in bulk and choosing own-brand goods help save the pennies.

But there are plenty of other ways to squeeze your costs. Here, I'm going to look at food swapping - how slightly altering the goods in your trolley can dramatically slash your food bill.

Swap 'snacks' for 'cooking ingredients'

Many of the dried fruits and nuts in the 'healthy snacks' aisle can be found costing a lot less in the 'baking ingredients' section. Don't be taken in by the pretty packaging!

Swap bought desserts for homemade crumbles

We're big fans of homemade crumble. It's easy to make, you can rustle up a huge one for well under £2, and you'll even be getting one of your 'five a day'.

Swap fresh juice for longlife

When was the last time you tried longlife juice? It's actually very nice as long as it's properly chilled

Swap fizzy drinks for sparkling water + juice

This switch should boost your health as well as your bank balance, as you'll really be cutting back on your sugar intake.

Swap white for wholegrain

Many wholegrain products cost no more than their white equivalents. And they'll work out cheaper in the long run, as they'll fill you up for longer and you won't be as likely to buy pricy snacks between meals.

Swap minced beef for minced turkey

This is another switch that's good for your health as well as your wallet - turkey is one of the leanest meats around.

Swap fresh vegetables for frozen

These days, vegetables are frozen in ways that mean the nutrients are properly retained. Fresh veggies are lovely, but if money is tight, try substituting them with cheaper frozen alternatives once or twice a week.

Swap fresh fruit for tinned

Again, you won't want to do this all the time - but it will shave a few pounds off your bill and there are now plenty of tinned fruits that don't come in syrup.

Swap tidy slices for off-cuts

Keep an eye out for meat and fish off-cuts. The bits cut off to neaten up slices are often packaged up themselves and sold at a really low price. If you're going to cut it all up anyway, what's the difference?

Swap meat for pulses

Pulses are generally much cheaper than meat and provide lots of low-fat fibre and protein. If you don't want to skip the meat altogether, use half as much, add pulses to bulk out your dish and freeze the rest of the meat for another day.

Swap bought pizzas for build-your-own

Creating your own pizza will save you a couple of quid - and you'll also be able to choose the exact toppings you like.


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