Deciphering supermarket deals

Avoid these common mistakes when shopping at the supermarket.


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The problem with special offers in supermarkets is they’re, well, not all ways very special.

Three-quarters of us spend more than we planned due to special offers, and often those deals aren’t even the best value on the shelves. Misleading language, complicated deals and the desire to bag a bargain sometimes make us spend more than we should. So how do you know if it really is a good deal?

To make sure you don’t get fooled yourself, you first need to understand some of the mistakes we all make when buying food and drink on special offer. 

You’re hardly making a saving

Ever see those multi-buy deals for yoghurts where it’s three for £1, yet they only cost 35p each? That’s a grand saving of 5p you’re making. Or the price cut sign that reveals you’re actually only saving a few pence.

These are useful, albeit small, discounts if you want those items anyway, but not if you’re only buying because of the offer.

You could have bought a cheaper option that’s not on offer

Supermarkets put the items they want you to buy at the end of aisles or at eye-level, and these are often ones on special offer. So it’s easy to assume these are the best value available and throw them in your trolley.

But if you actually turn down the aisle, or look high and low on the shelves, you might find a different product that’s not on offer, and still cheaper!

You’re confused by the discount you’re getting

It can sometimes feel like you need a maths degree to know how different deals compare.

Say there are three different 300g packs of cheese all costing £3. You’ve got the option of 33% off one, 50% extra free on another, and buy two save £2. Which is better value?

Well they actually all mean the same! It’ll cost you £2 per 300g, so the only difference between the offers is how much cheese you get.

It’s easy to think you’re getting more than you actually are, so it’s worth checking!

You buy more than you need

Many multi-buy special offers, such as “Buy One Get One Free” or “Three for £10” deals, are just making you buy more than you actually want – and that can lead to you throwing things out. So you might actually be saving money by spending more per item but buying less of them.

You buy things you don’t really want

I’ve certainly done this.  You see something you wouldn’t normally buy, but since there’s a special discount you decide to give it a try. This is particularly a risk with supermarket cashback apps.

Sometimes you do get to try some premium brands for the price of a standard item, but more often than not you could still buy something you’re perfectly happy with for less.

You think bigger is better value

Just because a larger pack is called a “value pack”, it doesn’t mean it will be the best value. Of course it could be, but supermarkets are trying to get you to just grab what appears the best option without checking that it really is.

The same goes for multipacks, where it can often be cheaper to buy items individually. 

The shortcut to working this out is to look for the price per unit. This should be on the shelf label. Use this to compare different special offers, different sized packs and even different brands to see which is actually the cheapest. Though it’s not always perfect.

You can buy it as part of a special offer more often than full price

From crisps to crumpets, there are products I regularly see on offer more often than I see them at full price. Wine is probably one of the worst offenders. 

This means that the lower price is really the price the supermarkets want you to pay and you’re not really making a saving. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s bad value – unless you buy it the higher price!

The mySupermarket app is fantastic for finding out if the price is above or below the average price, as well as see the price history for the last 11 months.  You can also compare prices between supermarkets. You’ll be able to find out if one supermarket is cheaper than another and check out the different offers available.

You’re not actually buying something on offer

We’re trained through years of shopping to look for things like big red stickers and assume they’re a discount or special price. But sometimes these are just prices. It doesn’t mean they’re bad prices, but again, don’t assume you’re picking something up for less than normal.

More on supermarket savings

The problem with price per unit food comparisons


3 thoughts on “Deciphering supermarket deals

  1. Barry rennison May 16, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Supermarkets often have display posters with what you save in larger print than what the actual price is. It is easy when you are shopping to misread.

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