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How do I save money on food? 7 tips for spending less at the supermarket - amid cost of living crisis

Food prices have been driven up by a mixture of Covid, Brexit and the Russia-Ukraine war with more hikes set to come

Brits are facing the biggest squeeze to household budgets for decades amid a cost of living crisis driven by rocketing inflation.

As well as steep rises to energy bills and the cost of a tank of fuel, the UK is having to contend with a major hike to food prices.

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It means many people across the country will struggle to maintain a healthy diet.

While supermarkets have said they too are struggling with higher costs, some have launched incentives to help consumers and others have announced commitments to keep their prices down.

Making a shopping list can not only save you time, but it can also save you money (image: Adobe)

But as well as being part of the solution, retailers are also part of the problem given they are businesses which need to turn a profit.

So with money tight, how can you save on your supermarket food shop?

NationalWorld has put together some simple solutions to help.

1. Plan ahead and write a shopping list

Planning what food and drink you will need over a specific time period will help you budget shopping more easily.

By turning this meal plan into a shopping list, you then also reduce the chance of making impulse purchases - those little items you don’t need but which often find their way into your trolley thanks in part to subtle marketing tactics.

Shopping in supermarket aisles allows you to make more informed purchasing decisions (image: AFP/Getty Images)

The BBC Good Food website has dozens of cheap recipe ideas, while authors such as Jack Monroe and Miguel Barclay have cookbooks for people eating on a budget.

When drawing up a meal plan, it’s worth remembering that scratch and batch cooked dishes can be cheaper - especially if they can be frozen.

2. Avoid falling into retailer marketing traps

Shops employ subtle marketing practices that try to steer you towards certain products or parts of the store.

End of the aisle shelving is one area where supermarkets often try to tempt shoppers through deals that often look better than they actually are.

For example, the price of a medium-sized pack of teabags might have been reduced, but bigger packs on sale in another part of the store could still offer a cheaper price per teabag.

You can only make this sort of comparison if you shop down the aisles, where you can see all the available options and make an informed choice.

And even when you’re in an aisle, you should bear in mind that the cheapest deals are not usually at eye level.

It’s worth scanning higher and lower shelves to see if there are better options.

The UK CPI rose 0.1% between December and January, meaning goods and services cost 5.5% more than they did a year ago (image: AFP/Getty Images)

For example, you’ll often find supermarket own-brand or value products on lower shelves.

They tend to be cheaper than branded items but closely match them for quality.

3. Join loyalty schemes (but shop around)

Loyalty card schemes can save you money, although not all of them offer immediate savings.

Tesco Clubcard holders can access special discount prices on popular items both in-store and online.

Tesco Clubcard vouchers also appear digitally in the supermarket’s app or online (image: Getty Images)

If you do large, routine shops at the retailer, the Clubcard Plus scheme (where you pay £7.99 for two 10% discounts per month) could be economical - but you should check your numbers to be sure before signing up.

Sainsbury’s (Nectar), Morrisons (My Morrisons), Waitrose (MyWaitrose), Lidl and the Co-op also offer loyalty schemes which give money off future shops or specific items.

However, unless you’ve got a good deal or you only have one big store in your area, it’s usually more cost effective to shop around than rely on loyalty discounts.

So check online before you buy and hedge your bets by signing up to all the schemes.

Seasonal food can work out cheaper in supermarkets (image: AFP/Getty Images)

If you are shopping around, factor in these additional considerations:

  • How much it will cost you in fuel or fares to get to another store?
  • Is the alternative store closer to the town or city centre? Smaller urban stores tend to be more expensive than larger out of town sites
  • How much more time will shopping elsewhere take? Time is money and your personal time is the most valuable commodity there is.

4. Shop and eat seasonally

Retailers tend to discount UK fresh produce when it’s in season.

For example, during the summer months, strawberries often have one or two crop flushes where a lot of fruit suddenly becomes available.

When this happens, supermarkets usually stock larger packs and push prices down.

Rhubarb is currently in season in the UK (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Currently, the following foods are all in season:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • New potatoes
  • Lettuce, rocket and salad leaves
  • Spinach
  • Rhubarb

To find out more about what British produce is in season and when, head to the Eat The Seasons website.

5. Get fruit and veg from the frozen aisle

The frozen aisle tends to be an overlooked part of the supermarket.

But, as well as tending to be cheaper, frozen fruit and veg is just as healthy as fresh.

The only downside to frozen veg is that its texture can often be lost in the defrosting process.

However, if you’re batch cooking things like curries, chillis or casseroles, you won’t notice.

6. Head to the world food aisle

Another under-appreciated area of the supermarket is the world food aisle.

Here you can find common food items in unfamiliar packaging that are often cheaper.

For example, you can often make big savings on soy sauce, spices and packets of rice and lentils.

7. Time your supermarket shop

Shopping at unpopular times - especially in the evening - could save you cash.

As closing time approaches, supermarkets tend to discount fresh items.

These reductions usually get bigger as time goes on.

So, you could grab tonight’s dinner for a fraction of the price if you time it right.

To have the best chance of success, scout out your local store at different times to find out when the yellow stickers start to appear.