You’ve probably noticed that your supermarket shop costs significantly more than it used to, but there are various money-saving tricks you might be able to use to keep costs down.
Food bills rose by 10.1% in the year to October, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which is a decrease from 12.2% in September. This easing happened largely as a result of falling prices for milk, cheese, eggs and vegetables.
We asked Rest Less members for their top tips on how to beat rising food bills, and got some great suggestions.
Here’s our round-up of some of the best ideas to save money on your food shop.
- 1. Plan your meals
- 2. Stick to your shopping list
- 3. Store your food properly
- 4. Get your portions right
- 5. Build in ‘no spend’ days
- 6. Switch your supermarket
- 7. Look for yellow stickers
- 8. Batch cook
- 9. Shop at local markets
- 10. Use a food app or website
- 11. Bulk buy if you can afford it
- 12. Kitchen gadgets could save you time and money
- 13. Think about cooking times when shopping
- 14. Ditch the brands
- 15. Make the most of supermarket loyalty schemes
- 16. Consider eating more vegetarian or vegan meals
- 17. Make your oven do double duty
- 18. Use every part of your food
- 19. Don’t pay for convenience
- 20. Don’t bin perfectly good food
- 21. Cut the cost of fruit and veg
1. Plan your meals
Planning ahead and deciding what you’re going to eat for the week is one of the best ways to save money on your weekly shop. It can help you to reduce your food waste, as you’ll only buy what you need, and it might even help you to eat more healthily, too.
There are many ways to approach meal planning. You could, for example, put together a range of different weekly meal plans and rotate them, or check the best deals at your local supermarkets and plan your meals around them. Alternatively, you could go through what you already have and use up items that are going off or are sitting gathering dust on your shelves.
If planning for a whole week feels overwhelming, start small and try planning a few meals or your weekday dinners, and slowly build up from there.
2. Stick to your shopping list
Whether you’ve made a meal plan or you’ve just got a few things to pick up, make sure you head to the supermarket armed with a list and don’t stray from it. This’ll help you to avoid overspending on food you won’t use, and on nonessentials.
Remember that supermarkets are laid out to encourage you to part with your hard-earned money, and tempt you with their deals, so try not to give in to impulse purchases. After all, a bargain is only a good deal if you actually need the item.
While it may seem counterintuitive, doing your shopping online or opting for click and collect can help you avoid impulse purchases, or buying more than necessary if you’ve gone shopping while hungry or wanting a treat.
3. Store your food properly
Making sure you store your food in the right way will ensure it lasts for longer and save you having to throw it – and your money – away. Here are some of the most common foods we tend to store incorrectly:
British Lion Eggs says that for the longest shelf life, you should store your eggs in the fridge, or in a consistently cool place, rather than in a cupboard or elsewhere in your kitchen.
Milk is probably one of the items in our fridges we grab most frequently, so it makes sense for it to be stored in the fridge door, right? However, this isn’t actually the best place for it. Every time you open your fridge door, it changes temperature slightly, making milk go off more quickly. A much better place for your milk is at the back of the fridge on a low shelf where the temperature is more stable.
Although you might keep the rest of your vegetables in the fridge, it’s not the best place for your onions. Keeping them in the fridge can actually change the starch in the onion into sugar, making them go soft, so the best place to keep them is in a cool dry place.
4. Get your portions right
Packaged food and ready meals not only tend to be expensive, but often come in larger portion sizes than we actually need, and you may be able to get more than a single meal from the same items if you cook meals from scratch yourself.
It might also help you to balance your meals and eat more healthily, as it’ll make you measure out the correct portion size, and learn what this is along the way.
5. Build in ‘no spend’ days
The average UK family spends £720 every year on food that goes in the bin, that’s an average of eight meals a week, according to climate change charity, Wrap, so it’s likely we could all be making better use of the food we have in our homes.
One way you can do this is by building in ‘no spend days’ into your week, where you essentially try to make use of what you already have in the fridge or cupboards.
If you like cooking this could be like an at home version of the television programme Ready, Steady Cook, where you can challenge yourself to make tasty food with limited ingredients. If you’re not so confident in the kitchen, apps like Kitche could help you. Kitche allows you to not only keep track of what food you have at home but also can help you find recipes with the ingredients you have. You can enter a couple of ingredients, for example chicken thighs and onions, and it will generate recipes based on these ingredients, such as a chicken and roasted veg tray bake, chicken stew or a chicken curry. You can download the app for android here and for iOS here.
6. Switch your supermarket
A growing number of people are opting to shop at cheaper supermarkets, which isn’t surprising given the rising cost of living, and doing so can make a big difference to the cost of your weekly shop. Asda recently pledged to fully stock its cheapest brands, Smart Price and Farm Stores, in all of its stores and Tesco promises to price match some of its most popular items with Aldi so it’s worth shopping around to find the best deals for you.
While certain supermarkets are known for being cheaper than others, this doesn’t mean they always offer the lowest prices on everything. If you’re really committed you could scout out the cheapest prices for all of your items, but if you’re already shopping at the cheapest supermarket, it might not be worth it.
Have a look at our article Food price barometer: which supermarkets are cheapest? for weekly updates on food prices.
7. Look for yellow stickers
Nearly every supermarket has a reduced food section for ‘yellow sticker’ items that are approaching their sell by date. If you can find out when your local supermarket reduces their food, you can often find some real bargains. Your supermarket may, for example, display meat that needs to be sold that day over lunchtime, and other items later in the day. Many Rest Less members suggest buying these items and then freezing them until you’re ready to use them.
8. Batch cook
Batch cooking meals and freezing them for a later date can be an amazing way to save time, reduce costs and use up odds and ends in your fridge and cupboards. Some people like to ‘feed their freezer’ which basically means they make enough food for all members of the household plus a portion for the freezer, so there’ll always be one extra.
Soups, meat sauces, pie fillings, casseroles, stocks and chillis all freeze well, and making enough for one more portion could be as easy as adding some more diced vegetables to the mix to bulk it out. One Rest Less member likes to throw in a handful of oats into their bolognese to make it go a bit further. Chucking in tins of pulses and chickpeas can also add nutrition and make your meals go further, too. Have a look at our article Eight batch cooking recipes that will last all week for some inspiration.
9. Shop at local markets
If you’re lucky enough to live near a market, they often have some great deals on fruit and vegetables. Some might also reduce their prices towards the end of the day, so it can pay to be patient, although of course you run the risk of them selling out.
10. Use a food app or website
There are some brilliant apps and websites that can help you rethink how you get your food, reduce waste and help the environment:
Olio is a food sharing app that enables local communities to share excess food with each other. When you sign up, you can start sharing food immediately, whether you want to list food items you won’t eat, or pick up some bread from your neighbours. To start sharing, take a photo of the item, upload it to the app and wait for the requests to come in. You can also find and share non-food items like household goods, crafts, toys and hair and beauty products. You can download Olio for Android here and for iOS here.
Too good to go
Each day millions of pounds worth of food goes to waste in restaurants, cafes, shops and local businesses because it didn’t sell. This app lets you buy food cheaply that would otherwise end up in the bin. When you download the app, you can see the businesses that have food available that day in your area and buy a ‘magic bag’ from them. These usually contain a surprise mixture of products that have been put together for you, and they could contain anything from that shop. They cost anything from £1 up to £7, but you’ll always get a considerable discount on the food in the bag. You can download the app for android here and for iOS here.
This website offers you a massive selection of clearance food, drink and cleaning products at discounted rates. Approved Food buys up short life and surplus stock from food suppliers, so they aren’t products that have been rejected at the supermarket. Many products might be past their best before date or were left forgotten in a warehouse but are perfectly safe for use or consumption. Have a look at their deals here.
For more apps that could help you to save on your everyday outgoings, read our article Top money-saving apps.
11. Bulk buy if you can afford it
Supermarkets and businesses will often charge less per item if you buy in bulk. Of course, to be cost effective, the item you bulk buy will need to be something that you’ll use, such as pasta or toilet roll. Some of the biggest savings can be found on meat, where you might save over £1 per kilo when you opt for a larger pack.
The easiest way to see if you are getting a real saving is by comparing the unit price, which all supermarkets are legally obliged to display on their price labels. To save confusion, the unit price will outline how much the item costs by kilogram, 100g, 10g, litre, 100ml or individual item.
You might also find that at certain times of the year some items are a much better value than others. For example, you can often get a good deal on lamb around Easter, so if you can afford to, it can be worth making the most of these deals and freezing the food for use throughout the year.
12. Kitchen gadgets could save you time and money
There are a couple of gadgets that Rest Less members swear by, such as soup makers and slow cookers. They’re cheaper to run than your hob or oven, and are great for using up any food that you might have left in your cupboards to make nutritious meals. Using a slow cooker, it’s easy to batch cook, and make a wide range of food, including cheaper cuts of meat such as beef brisket, taste amazing.
One Rest Less Member likes to make their slow cooker meals last for days. They start by cooking up some meat and veg, and after each meal they have, top up the leftovers with veg and carry on cooking on a low temperature. Have a look at our article 10 of the best slow cooker recipes to save you time and money for some inspiration.
Slow cookers and soup makers can often be found second hand in charity shops or on Facebook Marketplace, so have a look there first before buying brand new. However, they last for ages and can be bought relatively cheaply – for example, you can find a range here.
13. Think about cooking times when shopping
The cost of your food shop is just one half of your food bills, the other part is the amount it costs for you to cook it all.
Some cooking methods cost much more than others, with oven cooking being the most expensive. It could cost you anywhere between 33p and 87p if you cook something in your oven for around 45 minutes, according to Utilita, so opting for slow cooking (16p) or cooking in an air fryer (14p) is cheaper overall. To find out more have a look at our article Five ways to cut energy costs when you cook.
14. Ditch the brands
One of the most obvious ways to scale back prices is to switch to a cheaper brand wherever possible. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While certain speciality products might only be available from certain brands, the same is unlikely to be true for things like pasta, bread or rice.
Supermarket’s own brands are often great quality and can be a fraction of the price of branded items, so switching to them can provide huge savings. For example, a bottle of Ketchup in Sainsbury’s is £2.80 for a 460ml bottle of Heinz ketchup, but the same size Sainsbury’s own brand ketchup is only 65p, a whopping saving of £2.15.
If switching to cheaper brands fills you with dread because you’re worried they won’t taste the same, take it slowly. There’s no need to switch from every branded product to your supermarket’s savers range straight away, instead you could choose a few items each week to switch out and see which ones you do and don’t like.
15. Make the most of supermarket loyalty schemes
Most supermarkets have loyalty schemes that offer exclusive deals, vouchers and discounts to their customers, and if used wisely, they could save you money on the things you buy most frequently. You can read about the different supermarket schemes available in our article Shop loyalty schemes: What are your points worth?
One thing to bear in mind with loyalty schemes, discounts and vouchers is that they’re only a good deal if you were going to buy the item anyway. A good deal is always tempting, but try not to get drawn into buying things you don’t actually need.
16. Consider eating more vegetarian or vegan meals
Meat is expensive and you can easily reduce the cost of your supermarket shop by including more vegetarian, or even vegan meals each week. Meat replacements can be just as expensive as meat, so if you want to cut out meat, then beans, pulses and lentils can be a great option at a fraction of the price.
There are some fantastic recipes out there, and you’ll barely notice that they’re missing meat. Have a look at some of our vegan recommendations in our article 10 sweet and savoury vegan recipes or some vegetarian meal ideas in 14 healthy and easy vegetarian recipes.
17. Make your oven do double duty
Using your oven a lot can increase your energy costs, so make yours work twice as hard by cooking more than one thing at a time. For example, one Rest Less member suggests putting a couple of potatoes in to bake for a meal later while baking a cake. You could plan to oven cook two meals at once to maximise your energy usage.
Of course, putting more things in the oven can affect cooking times, so you may have to cook things for a little longer or hotter than you would if you had cooked them separately.
18. Use every part of your food
In the UK we waste more than 9m tonnes of food each year, the vast majority of which comes from household waste. A little bit of knowledge and some creativity could mean that even if you are great at using up all the food you buy, you could make your food go further by eating parts that you might have thought were inedible.
There are a surprising number of foods that are perfectly edible:
Cauliflower stems and leaves
Pretty much the whole of a cauliflower is edible, including the stem and outer leaves. Rather than cutting the florets off the stem, leave them attached and cook as you normally would. You can use the leaves as you would kale or cabbage.
Don’t bin any vegetable scraps you have when cooking, whether that’s onion skin or carrot peelings. Keep them in an airtight container in your freezer and use them to make vegetable stock. Just put your scraps with some water (enough to cover the veg), salt and pepper in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, strain and you’ve essentially made vegetable stock for free.
Before you toss that piece of cheese that’s been lurking in the back of the fridge in the bin, think about whether you can use it. You can still use hard cheeses, like cheddar or parmesan, even if they’ve gone hard. Try adding a parmesan rind to your bolognese while it cooks, or blitz dried cheese in a food processor and use it to top pasta dishes or salads.
However, if your cheese has gone mouldy, think twice before eating it. Although some cheeses are meant to be mouldy, like stilton, this is a cultivated mould as opposed to an unwanted mould. While many hard cheeses are entirely edible if you cut off the mould, plus a little extra, whether you fancy it or not is up to you. Soft cheeses are a little tricker, however, as the mould can penetrate, and if any of the mould is red or black, it’s best to throw it out.
19. Don’t pay for convenience
Whether it’s a ready meal, a bag of pre-diced onions, a sachet of pre-cooked rice, or an extra tin of chopped tomatoes, convenience items will always cost you much more than unprepared items. If you are able to and have the time, preparing and cooking things for yourself could more than halve the price.
20. Don’t bin perfectly good food
Knowing the difference between use by, sell by and best before dates might help you save perfectly good food from going in the bin.
Best before dates and sell by dates are more for retailers to manage their stock levels, so if you’ve got something that’s past its best before date, it may be absolutely fine to eat.
However, you should pay attention to use by dates. These are scientifically developed based on when food starts to grow harmful bacteria, so while it’s up to you whether you still eat the item, you ideally shouldn’t if it’s past the use by date.
21. Cut the cost of fruit and veg
Fresh fruit and veg can be expensive, but there are ways to save money on them:
Not only is buying seasonal fruit and veg more sustainable, but it’ll also save you money as products tend to be cheaper. BBC Good Food has a useful calendar of what’s in season throughout the year.
Odd shaped fruit and veg won’t change the taste of your food and you can often get some great deals on produce that looks a little different. Whether it’s oversized, tiny or just looks plain strange, most supermarkets will have a wonky vegetable range at a cheaper price.
Grow your own
This option obviously requires time, space, knowledge and patience so won’t be for everyone, but if you have a garden, you might consider growing some of your own fruit and vegetables. Salad fruits and vegetables can be a great place to start if you’ve never grown anything before, or you could try your hand at potatoes and carrots if you’re feeling confident. If you don’t have much space then growing your own herbs is a great alternative. You could try repotting a herb plant you buy from the supermarket, or sowing your own.