Big budget month day six: save money on food

In the latest article in our series, find out how to cut your shopping bills - and become healthier too!

We’ve all been there – a weekly trip to the local supermarket ends in a gasp as you spy the bill totting up. Flash forward to a week later and half the stuff you bought is languishing in cupboards, or worse, being thrown away.

It’s wasteful and it costs you money. But there are a few simple things that I’ve picked up on to stop this happening – and it won’t mean you’ll only be eating budget brands!

Draw up a food planner

Spend some time drawing up a food planner for the week ahead before you head to the shops, so you’ll be shopping for meals not food. There are a few pointers to remember when doing this:

  • Where possible, factor in nights where you’ll be eating out or getting a takeaway.
  • Look at food magazines, books and websites for recipe inspiration. Recipes that use fewer ingredients are the most frugal (and usually easiest to make), so keep an eye out for these.
  • Plan meals with similar ingredients so you’ll be able to make use of large packet sizes.
  • Plan at least one night a week where you’ll eat the leftovers from another night. Better yet, if you’re factoring in lunch on your food planner, make enough so you’ll be able to siphon some off for lunch the next day. Further maximise your leftover potential by visiting for tips and recipes on how to use up your leftover ingredients.
  • Look out for ingredients that make the most of basic, store cupboard ingredients such as spices, oils, flour, rice, pasta and so on, so that most weeks you’ll only be buying the fresh produce at the shops.  

Make a list

Now this is pretty obvious, but make sure you make a list of what you need for your trip to the supermarket. Again, there are a few points to consider when making your list:

  • Keep a close eye on your store cupboard ingredients, and don’t add these to your list if you don’t need them that week – there’s no need to stockpile unless there’s a special offer on.
  • It might sound a bit geeky, and it is, but if you write your shopping list roughly in aisle order (i.e. group all the dairy, meat, fresh produce, tinned goods etc together), you’ll get round the supermarket in half the time and you’ll avoid wandering into tempting territories (i.e. the dreaded biscuit aisle!)
  • Check your recipes for ingredients that are expensive but don’t really do much for the final product. For example, you can usually cut out garnishes such as parsley, and substitute something like groundnut oil for sunflower or olive.
  • Don’t write ‘treat’ foods such as chocolate and crisps on your list – and try your best to avoid these aisles. If they’re not in your meal planner, you don’t need them!

At the supermarket

One of the most effective ways of sticking to a list is to use online shopping as you won’t have the opportunity to be distracted by all those tempting offers. Use to compare the cost of your weekly shopping bill at five of the major supermarkets (Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado), and order from the cheapest supermarket to save even more money.

But if you just can’t do without that real world experience, there are some ways you can avoid picking up bad shopping habits:

  • Before you pick up anything else, head to the 'reduced aisle' if possible. Check out what they’ve got, but don’t just buy things because they’re reduced unless you’re going to eat them straightaway. Look for things that ARE on your shopping list or produce such as meat that can be frozen.
  • Stick to your shopping list and don’t be tempted by offers that aren’t in your food planner. However, don’t hold back from stocking up on store cupboard ingredients that you use regularly if you see a good deal for a product that has a long-life or that is easily freezable.
  • Only go shopping once a week. Don’t make the mistake of “nipping to the shops” to pick up something extra as you never leave with just the one thing.
  • Take your own bags – not only will you collect extra loyalty points in many stores, you’ll think carefully about how much you’re buying.

Don't forget to also keep your eyes open for supermarket scams! You can read more about these in The seven biggest supermarket scams.

So that’s it, a few simple tips that should help you to save money. In the past I could easily rack up a £40 or £50 shopping bill and not really know what I’d spent it on. Now I spend roughly £25 a week (and try my best to stay within this limit) following these rules. Not only that, but as a result of planning properly, healthy meals and not popping to the shops for treats, I’ve become a lot healthier too!

Don’t forget to check our Frugal Food blog every week and Frugal Recipes for top tips for cheap recipes. You can also share any tips you have for saving money at the checkout in the Comments box below.

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

More essential budgeting tips:
Big budget month day one: how to plan a budget
Big budget month day two: looking at your spending

Big budget month day three: setting your goals
Big budget month day four: make sure you're not missing out on money
Big budget month day five: cut your transport costs



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