Feeding yourself isn’t an expense that can be avoided. But spending a fortune at the supermarket is – especially with our expert saving tips!
Supermarket shopping can often end with you shelling out a lot more cash than you expected, especially as they employ a whole host of dirty tricks to try and get you to spend more money!
However, if you’re a bit smarter with your shopping, you’ll find that you can live a life of (relative) luxury and eat like a king on a shoestring budget.
The average student spends around £27 a week on food, but we have years of supermarket bargain-hunting experience that can help you slash this to as little as £15 a week – that’s a saving of around £800 a year, just by changing your food shopping habits!
Fun trivia! How long does the average person spend food shopping per year? Answer at the end!
Ways to save money at the supermarket
Shop at the right times
Most of us don’t really think about the time of day that we choose to do our food shopping. When you have lectures, seminars and a busy social life to work around, you tend to just squeeze it in whenever you can.
However, for the best bargains, you should try to shopping later in the day (ideally an hour or so before closing time, or about 7pm in 24 hour stores). In fact, one shopping ninja mum did her research and put together a ‘best times to shop for reduced grub’ timetable.
All the items that go out of date the following day will be heavily reduced. The shop just wants to get rid of them before they have to be thrown away, so keep your eyes peeled for the yellow ‘reduced’ stickers.
There’s no reason why you can’t freeze what you buy if you want to eat it at a later date, and remember that best before dates aren’t set in stone.
On the topic of reduced grub, it might be worth checking out Approved Food – a website that only stocks clearance food (that is still perfectly safe to sell) from major supermarkets. The majority of the products you’ll find on there are going for less than £1!
Check out the reduced section
Credit: Stuart Chalmers – Flickr
The reduced section isn’t just for food that’s approaching it’s best before date. You’ll be able to find all kinds of stuff there, like products with damaged packaging or other minor faults. Whatever the issue, if you see the yellow sticker, there’s a bargain waiting to be snapped up.
This corner of the supermarket is usually best stocked towards the end of the day (when the ‘best before date’ food migrates over), but there’ll almost always be something on the shelves, no matter when you shop. Yellow sticker bargains galore.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach
You’ve probably heard this one a zillion times before, but how many times have you broken the golden rule and ended up spending an arm and a leg on salty snacks? Never, ever shop when you’re hungry!
If you haven’t eaten all day and then head to the supermarket, you’re going to throw anything and everything into your trolley. Have a bite to eat before you go to avoid manic hunger-fuelled overspending!
Plan your meals
Credit: blairwang – Flickr
Again, you’ve probably heard this one before, and it probably sounds pretty boring. But if you’re not much of a list person when it comes to supermarket shopping, becoming one might just be a good idea! You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the impact it can make on your shop, and your savings!
Not only will it save you money, but it will also ensure that you think properly about what’s going in your basket before you arrive to all the distractions of the supermarket.
It’ll also prevent you from filling your kitchen cupboards with three of the same of everything, because you’ll know what you do and don’t need!
Do your food shop online
Doing your shopping online is one of the best ways to cut your spending. All major supermarkets allow you to order online, and most have discount codes that will get you some cash off your cart.
Shopping online also protects you from the dangers of being tempted by fancy product displays in stores, as well as smells whafting from the in-house bakery that make you want to buy up the entire cake selection.
Shopping behind a screen makes it much easier to compare product prices, as sites like mySupermarket allow you to compare your shopping basket across all major supermarkets to find where has the best price. When you’re comparing prices, make sure you always check the price per kg as well as the price tag, as this can be a bit misleading.
For more details on why shopping online will save you cash, as well as which supermarkets to go for, check out our guide to online food shopping.
Try own-brand products
If you’re a bit of a food snob, you’ve probably never considered buying supermarket own-brand products. If you’re a savvy shopper, you’ll know how much sense it makes to give this a try.
For many branded foods, the contents are often extremely similar to supermarket own-brand alternatives, and in some cases even better! The only difference is the sometimes ludicrous price gap.
This is why supermarkets often place big-brand products at eye-level or in more obvious positions on the shelves in supermarkets – they actually make more money on the mark-up on products that aren’t their own brands (because they cost more!).
Set yourself a bit of a challenge, and next time you go shopping, only buy the supermarket’s own-name brands. You could save a huge chunk of money, and we’re pretty confident you couldn’t tell the difference in a blindfolded taste test – give it a try if you don’t believe us!
We have a whole guide on how to go about the shift to own-brand products here, plus tips on what to look out for.
Squeeze the most out of loyalty cards
Most supermarkets offer a loyalty scheme (check out our guide to the best ones right here) where they’ll offer you points on your purchases that can then be redeemed against future shopping trips.
We’d recommend getting a loyalty card from all supermarkets in your area that offer them, as the key to saving is not to let loyalty cards dictate how and where you shop.
When you sign up for a loyalty card, they’ll gather information on the type of products that you typically buy. To persuade you to visit their stores more, they’ll often send you vouchers that they think you might use.
But remember – only use the voucher if you really need the products they’re offering! Most vouchers have a long expiry period, so start collecting them all together in a safe place and use them as and when they’re actually needed!
Look out for online vouchers and deals
Credit: Violet Giddings – Flickr
The web is awash with deals and vouchers for pretty much every store that you can think of, so before you head out to do your shopping, have a quick search in our student deals section to see what you can find amongst our daily-updated collection!
We have loads of online deals, as well as offers that involve printing vouchers and using them in store.
Again, the trick is to not get too carried away with wanting to use all the vouchers that are available – use your common sense. If tins of tuna are less than half price, but you really don’t like fish, it’s not exactly a saving, is it?
Scan your receipts and get Amazon vouchers
Is your wallet, purse or bag lined with a layer of receipts that you keep meaning to throw away? Well before you do, don’t! They could help fund your next online shopping spree.
There are plenty of apps out there that will reward you for scanning in your receipts, including Receipt Hog and Shoppix, and the good news is that you’re usually able to scan the same receipt into multiple apps. In other words, you can get double the rewards (or more) for just one shop!
Before you get your hopes too high, bear in mind that the payout per receipt is fairly small – you’ll be looking at anything between 50 and a few hundred receipts before you can get a £5 Amazon voucher. But scanning them in takes no time at all, and since you’ll be doing the shopping anyway, it’s literally free money!
Try the underdogs
Credit: William Murphy – Flickr
When it comes to food shopping, we tend to be creatures of habit. You’re likely to opt for the same stores as your parents, since this is what you’re used to.
Or, quite reasonably, you’ll go to the supermarket round the corner from where you live, as it’s easy to get to (even if it’s a Tesco Metro with crazy mark-ups).
To guarantee you’re making the best savings possible, shake things up a little bit. Budget chains such as Lidl and Aldi offer some brilliant deals for those who are willing to venture out of their comfort zones.
The same goes for shopping at local markets when they’re on, as well as other small or independent stores. Shop around and you’ll save some serious dollar!
Buy in bulk
If you live in shared accommodation, think about having an arrangement with your flatmates so you can all save a bit of money when it comes to shopping for the flat.
Buying in bulk is often cheaper, so if you pool your cash for certain items, it could knock a big chunk off your weekly bill.
For example, buying toilet paper in bulk and splitting the cost between you is way more effective than you all going out at different times individually to buy a two pack every other day (what’s the point in two-roll packs anyway?).
Make sure you always do the maths before buying in bulk though, as sometimes you’ll find that you’re not actually getting a better deal – despite what the supermarket would like you to think. And on that note…
Don’t be fooled
From time to time, some of the deals you’ll come across at the supermarket can seem too good to be true… and that’s because sometimes they are!
It really pays to stay on your toes and do the maths on so-called “special offers”. Don’t just trust the brightly coloured discount signs that are designed to make you think you’ve found a bargain – your phone comes with a calculator, so there’s no excuse for being fooled.
We’ve exposed common tricks used by retailers to get you to spend more in this tricks of the supermarket guide, so make sure to check up on that too, yeah?
Don’t let your food go to waste
This kind of goes without saying, but it’s surprising the amount of students (and everyone else, actually!) that let leftovers or food in their fridge turn to mould.
If you’re just not in the mood for that chicken salad for the third night in a row, you have options. Instead of throwing it away, experiment by adding something new to it, or taking the chicken pieces out and using them for a pasta sauce.
There are loads of resources online for using up leftover food, and we’ve got a great guide to help you perfect your culinary techniques in the kitchen. Or if you’ve got a bit of a surplus of food for the whole week, check out our list of foods you never knew you could freeze!
Plenty of foods are also good to eat after the best before date has passed, and you can even bring some foods back from the dead.
It’s also worth checking out this student’s app that helps you come up with recipe ideas from whatever you have left over in the fridge, as well as BigOven, which does a similar thing!
Don’t let other people’s food go to waste
It’s all well and good us telling you what to do if you buy/cook more than you need, but what if you’ve got less? Well, if you ever find yourself in that situation again, get your hands on Olio and Too Good To Go.
These apps are marketplaces for getting rid of excess food, and while Olio is home to individuals with something to give away, Too Good To Go lets restaurants and cafes sell their additional stock at a knockdown price!
If you’ve got nothing in for dinner, you should definitely check these bad boys out before heading to the supermarket (or worse, the takeaway menu).
Shop the world food aisle
For staples like rice, spices and sauces head to the world food aisle to save up to 75% compared to domestic equivalents.
It’s not that the quality is any worse (in fact it’s often more authentic!), the only reason for the price difference is down to the brands not being as popular or well known.
Shopping when the good old student loan has just hit your bank account is basically a recipe for disaster.
Excitement at seeing your balance out of the red for once is likely to turn you into a baller, throwing anything and everything into your trolley without even batting an eyelid.
You might feel like you’re swimming in an endless pool of gold, but the reality is that your loan will run out quicker than you think, and next thing you know you’ll be running to the bank of mum and dad for money to buy baked beans until your next instalment.
Grow your own grub
Reduce your need for supermarkets by growing some food of your own! You don’t even need to have a nice garden to grow things like cress or potatoes – just a window box, indoor pot or upcycled bin will do nicely!
Trust us, it’s not that hard. Not only does growing your own work out much cheaper, but it also gives you a smug sense of self-satisfaction.
Have a super frugal day
If you’re looking to save some serious cash (or maybe you don’t have a choice cause you didn’t listen to tip 17 and blew all your loan too early!), it’s well worth having one or two ‘super frugal’ days a week.
On these days, make a serious effort to eat as cheaply as possible (but still healthily if you can – nowadays pot noodles aren’t even that cheap anyway) with meals based on grains and veg.
Sure, tomato pasta can be a bit dull, but having it for lunch and dinner one day a week will save you some serious dosh. Plus, you’ve always got tomorrow to look forward to.
Cook from scratch
Credit: Richard Gillin – Flickr
Tempting as it may be to buy that ready-made lasagne from the supermarket, it’ll work out so much cheaper to buy ingredients and make it from scratch. Not to mention you’re learning life skills too, yo!
If you’re lacking a bit of culinary confidence, check out our guide to basic skills that will make you a pro in the kitchen.
Get stocked up on your kitchen cupboard essentials, then head over to our cooking section to give yourself some easy inspiration for meals.
Meat eaters, just bear with us for a minute please! If you’re a vegetarian or vegan you’ll already know how much cheaper your food bill can be by cutting out the meat.
Ditching the meat for just a few days every week can save you a tonne of cash. There are loads of great veggie recipes out there to try, and you’ll still get to eat meat sometimes – it’s just a matter of mixing things up a bit.
It also means you’ll start appreciating meat a lot more when you don’t expect to have it every day.
Send it back
So, those notices on the back of products which say that if you’re not happy with something then you can send it back? We bet you’ve never actually tried it!
However, if you’re less than impressed with your latest shower gel or chocolate spread, then don’t worry about sending it back and telling them why.
The address is normally freepost, and if you include an explanation and your receipt, the manufacturers are likely to send you a refund or a freebie to console you.
We know you’ve probably got enough to think about now, but do spare a thought whilst you’re shopping for buying what’s in season.
Produce that’s in season it will have travelled less food miles to get to where you are, and as a result it will likely work out cheaper than something that’s been shipped from the other side of the world to satisfy our year-round cravings.
Treat yo’ self
Just to end on a nice note, it’s always good to treat yourself to a few nice things on occasion.
If you factor a few treats into your shopping list, you’re less likely to splurge on tempting special offers when in the store or later in the week when you’re craving your chocolate fix. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
So, it seems a few wise shopping choices really can save you a fortune when it comes to stocking up your kitchen cupboards. If you can eat better for less, why spend more in the supermarket?
Answer to trivia: The average person spends 60 hours a year food shopping — that’s 43 minutes per week!
Have you got any tips for frugal food shopping? Leave a comment below to help out your fellow students!