Cheap groceries: cut your food and drink costs with these tips and tricks

If you're worried about sky-high food prices, we've put together a comprehensive guide to slashing your costs for good.

Food price inflation sky-high, but easing

The rate at which supermarket prices are rising may have eased in recent months, but it still remains staggeringly high.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that food price inflation fell marginally to 12.1% in September.

While that's undoubtedly better than the staggering 19.2% rate seen back in March, it's still well above the rate at which most of our incomes are rising.

If you are facing a struggle to keep on top of your weekly food bills, there are many things you can do to cut costs without having to cut back, which we'll run through next. 

This is a pretty detailed list so, although you may already be doing some of these things, there are likely a few more you haven't yet considered.

Plan your grocery shop

Sign up for our weekly deals roundup

Every week, we list the best deals at the major supermarkets, including Aldi and Lidl, arranged by supermarket and meat/veg/storecupboard etc.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the roundup sent to you at midday on Friday, or head straight to our weekly supermarket deals roundup (updates on Thursday afternoon).

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 on your weekly menu and 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!

An obvious one, but never shop on an empty stomach

Cut costs by shopping online

Use a grocery comparison site

No supermarket will be cheapest for everything in your weekly shop.

With that in mind, it's worth comparing how much items cost at each of the UK's major supermarkets with a tool like this one from Latest Deals.

You can then select the basket of goods from the one that saves you most. It will also tell you when you can 'swap and save' on specific items.

If you want, you can even compare the calories, fat, sugar and salt in items, so you can make the healthiest possible choices.

Use apps

Choose from a host of meal-planning apps, which cater to anyone from a single diner to a hungry family.

The Change4Life Smart Recipes app, created by Public Health England, will give you loads of recipe ideas that are actually easy to fit around a busy schedule, feed four adults and cost less than a fiver a pop. Brilliant!

Have a go at BigOven for using up the leftover ingredients and those store cupboard items that you just can’t find a use for.

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.

Shop at every supermarket once

Most supermarkets give new online shoppers a sweetener with some money off their first shop.

For example, at the time of publishing, Sainsbury's is offering £15 off your first shop (minimum spend £60) with the code SCPPC23FE15. 

Find out who has the best delivery deals

Some supermarkets offer special deals on delivery as well as delivery passes to save on the cost of getting your groceries to your door.

Read more at The cheapest supermarket online delivery deals.

Hunt out the best supermarket 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.

If the offer is on perishable goods, make sure you have space to 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' food shelf, which is always worth a browse.

These items will have a shorter 'use by' date on them, so either eat them quickly or freeze them if you can. 

Young mum Sam Shelford used a combination of the clearance aisle and cashback schemes to save up £5,000 and take her daughter to Disneyland.

Visit the deep discounters

Budget supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi 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 Harrods experience!

Buy in season

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!

If you don’t have a garden, call your local council to see if they have an allotment available.

Alternately, help to grow a local community garden. Check out the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens for more information.

Foraging for seasonal food – a sort of wild equivalent to pick-your-own – has also increased in popularity during the recession.

The British countryside is packed with edible vegetables, fruits and fungi, and as long as you adhere to a few basic safety rules, it can be a fun day out as well as a money-saving exercise.

There are some great wild food recipes on this page of the Woodland Trust's website. And if it's blackberries you're after, there's a free downloadable guide from the National Trust dedicated to spotting them, picking them, and turning them into all sorts of delicious dishes.

The Go Self-Sufficient website has various guides dedicated to foraging for seasonal greens, berries, meat, fish, mushrooms and nuts. And finally, check out foraging tips from Galloway Wild Foods.

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. Of course, some do increase prices because demand is so great, so compare prices properly as you go.

Alternately, 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. Find your nearest one here.

Buy out of date

You might not be able to make it to an East Anglia Co-op but why not consider out of date food websites such as Approved Food or Star Bargains?

These fabulous websites sell short-dated and out-of-date (but safe) 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.

If you are completely put off by the idea of eating food out of date, it’s also worth noting that, in some cases, you will still get items that are in date by several months.

Eat your neighbours’ food for free

Think Freecycle, but with food.

On OLIO, you leave a post about the food you have that’s going to waste and then somebody comes round, or you meet in a mutual location, to pass it on.

All the food should be given away for free or for a small donation to charity.

Be a savvy shopper

Buy in bulk  when suitable

Bulk-buying food and drink can offer genuine savings, especially if you share out the produce among friends and neighbours.

Sacks of rice, for example, are often 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 invest a little more time in 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.

Read: when own-brand goods beat branded

Stack those coupons!

Make good use of coupons that come through your door and that you cut out of magazines. Teaming those with special offers can save you a hefty amount.

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.

Check your units

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

Watch out for supermarket tricks

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 you'll earn points whenever you go food shopping. Morrisons has its own loyalty scheme, Morrisons More.

You can then spend these points on groceries in the future, or redeem them against days out, fuel, gifts or hundreds of other goodies.

If you find an old Tesco Clubcard you can use it to scrape back unused points from the past two years.

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!

For example, you can make use of the American Express Nectar card to earn up to 20,000 Nectar points (effectively £100) in the first three months.  

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.

Read our roundup of the best cashback credit cards on the market to see which one best suits you.

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 22 superb slow cooker tips and tricks from our sister site, loveFOOD.

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.

As you've probably guessed, our sister site loveFOOD has tons of budget and batch-friendly recipes.

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. 

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 delights

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 long life 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 pricey 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 and 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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