How to save money at the supermarket

Fighting back against food inflation

by Nicky Selwood, Writer

From loyalty cards to yellow stickers, paying less for your weekly shop is achievable with these handy hints and tips.

Fierce competition between supermarkets has led to the first monthly drop in food prices for more than two years, according to the British Retail Consortium. We are, however, still feeling the pinch, so how can you save money at the supermarket?

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Write a shopping list

Knowing what you need to buy can help to avoid impulse purchases, so write a list and try your best to stick to it. Of course you might see good offers that you just have to pick up (more on these later), but knowing roughly what your meals will be for the week stops you from over-buying.

If you don’t have time for a full list, take a look in your freezer, fridge and cupboards before you head off shopping too. Taking a quick photo of what’s already at home is a handy hack to help you remember.

Doing this stops you buying things you don’t need and will also reduce any food waste – everything you throw away is wasting you cash. UK households still throw away around £2 of food each day according to the climate action group WRAP – that’s over £700 in a year.

Switch your supermarket

We’re often drawn to the same supermarket. Maybe we’ve always gone there, or maybe it’s just the closest one. But it’s definitely worth trying out some alternatives to see if they can bring the price of your shopping down.

Though sometimes going out of your way to visit more than one can be counterproductive – your time might be better spent doing other things.

Compare prices 

One of the best ways to see if it’s worth going elsewhere is to use a price comparison site. These will tell you who sells the product you want for the cheapest price, and sometimes show you price history too, so you can work out if a special offer is actually special at all.

My favourite is Priceable as it shows me multi-buy options, which I find really useful for finding the best deal price, especially when it comes to toiletries.

Check for cashback and coupons

Before you embark on your weekly supermarket trolley dash, take a look at cash back apps like Checkout Smart, Green Jinn or Shopmium

These apps give you money back for buying particular products, sometimes as much as the entire value, therefore making the product free. Just pick up the product, make sure you get a receipt and upload a photo when you get home.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for coupons too. From magazines and newspapers to Facebook and Instagram, always be on the lookout for coupons.

And if you’re shopping online there are often vouchers for newbies to save a decent chunk on your first shop.

Understand the supermarket tricks

Supermarkets invest a lot of time into the psychology of how you shop. They’ll start you with fruit and veg not because it’s practical, but because they make us feel better about what we’re buying – look how fresh it all is.

Then they make you push that trolley through all the aisles before you reach the essentials (that’s why milk is often at the back), hoping you’ll pick up extras en route. Sometimes they rejig the layout to force you to explore areas you’d normally pass by.

They also keep big brands at eye level, hoping you don’t look up and down to cheaper and own brand alternatives. 

Then it’s all the chocolate at the tills – tempting you as you queue. And don’t go shopping when you’re hungry – studies have actually shown that you will be more inclined to buy more.

Switch to own-label 

Consider buying the supermarket’s own-label products – they’re comparable to the bigger named brands but will cost you less.

There are always some products where you’ll never taste a difference – I mean, can you honestly say you can taste the difference between Tesco kidney beans and Napolina kidney beans, once they’re mixed into your spicy chilli? You will however, notice the difference in price – 33p versus £1 a tin.

For other items many are actually made in the same factories as the well known brands, though that doesn’t mean they will be made to the same recipe or taste exactly the same. 

But there’s a chance you’ll actually prefer them. You’ve just got to try them to find out. Waitrose essential baked beans for example are now my favourite – having overtaken Heinz in the ‘I’ll never swap’ beans taste test!

And you can do the same with things like toilet rolls, washing detergent, dishwasher tablets and other household products. Own brand are often pounds cheaper than the popular brands and if you look at what’s in them, you’ll find very little difference. 

My favourite own-label saving is Tesco’s washing liquid. It cleans clothes as well as any of the brands I’ve tried yet costs just 6p per wash, compared to Persil, for example, which costs 16p per wash. That saves me 10p every time I put a wash on. 

Shop the world food aisle

Take a stroll down the world food aisle next time you’re in the supermarket and you may find yourself some bargains.  Things like spices come in much bigger packs and are much better value than the small spice jars we normally buy and rice can be bought in bulk for a much cheaper price. 

Keep an eye on the prices though as they do fluctuate and some things can cost more than the regular price. Read Andy’s top tips for shopping in the world food aisle.

I’m a big fan of the cheaper coconut milk they sell in world foods but I have found the tinned tomatoes are of a poorer quality, but give them a try and find your favourites.

Spot the yellow labels

Reduced food and drink can save you money but don’t be tempted to buy too much if you’re not going to use it, however good a bargain it is. 

But if it can be frozen, then go ahead and stock up on those bargains. Food like meat, dairy and fish can be put straight in the freezer when you get home. Here are our tips on freezing food.

Try to find out when reductions take place at your local supermarkets so you don’t miss out. Most stores will start marking down prices from late afternoon/early evening, but obviously it varies by store and by day. 

If you do find the golden hour at your local supermarket, and it isn’t too much of a bun fight, then consider timing your weekly shop for around that time.

Swap to already frozen produce

And it’s not just reduced items or leftovers that can go in the freezer. Since frozen foods last longer than fresh, many tend to be cheaper than their fresh counterparts, as there is less spoilage and waste for the cost to cover. Just consider the price of fresh raspberries against frozen raspberries. 

As I’m writing, a quick look at the Sainsburys website and fresh raspberries are £11.27 per kg whilst frozen are £7.14. And that’s just one example. There are so many products that are cheaper from the frozen aisle. 

Plus keeping your freezer full will actually save you energy and therefore money! So there’s your excuse to try more foods from the frozen aisles! 

Tinned or canned food also tends to be cheaper than fresh, again because of its long shelf life, so take a wander down the canned aisle to see what you can find.

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Stock up when your favourites are on offer

If you have room for it (and can afford it), buying in bulk is a good idea. So if your favourite cereal is on offer, buy enough to last you a few months or longer. 

Though don’t over buy as you run the risk of not getting through things before they go off. This works best on consumables with a long shelf life.

Check price per unit

To help you work out the cheapest pack size, or even compare prices of different brands, check on shelf labels to find out the price per unit. They’ll be things like per 100g or per 100ml. It’s not perfect but it can help. Read Andy’s advice on using price per unit to help you find the best value products.

Use loyalty cards

Don’t forget to use your supermarket loyalty cards, especially as the current trend is to offer lower prices to loyalty card holders. Many will also require you to activate vouchers before you shop to get money off, so don’t forget to do this. 

I often find myself remembering in the supermarket car park! We have a great comparison article of the supermarket loyalty cards and although they all have their pros and cons, and can save you money when shopping, I don’t think any of them are good enough to dictate where you shop.

One thought on “How to save money at the supermarket

  1. So, basically, to save money, buy the stuff you need at the cheapest price you can find it, don’t buy too much so that you don’t waste any, and take advantage of any special offers or vouchers you can find.

    Who’d have thought?

    If there’s anybody who couldn’t have worked this out for themselves there’s absolutely no hope for them anyway. Sit down when you’re tired? Wear a jumper when it’s cold outside?

    I’d love to get paid for writing this stuff, but didn’t think it would be necessary.

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