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40 ways to save money on food bills

Fiona Leake
Fiona Leake
  | Edited by Fiona Leake
Updated 4th February 2021

Many of us wish that we could save money on food bills as it makes up a significant portion of our monthly spending. It can be easy to overspend in supermarkets, buying more food than you need or the more expensive branded products. Read our tips for food shopping on a budget and start saving!

In this guide

Average household food bills UK

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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average annual food cost for a typical UK household was around £4,805 in 2019. A typical UK household averages at around 2.4 people.

The weekly food cost for the average UK household is around £92. 

These numbers will increase the larger the household. As you can see, we spend thousands each year on food and could be saving a great deal.

Food shopping on a budget

Rethinking the way you spend your money on food can save you hundreds of pounds. It’s easy to overspend on your food shop as supermarkets are designed to encourage you to spend money. However, if you follow our top tips, you can save money without sacrificing the quality of your food.

Here are some supermarket spending tactics that you need to be aware of:

  • Treats by the till - treats and magazines tend to be impulse buys, hence why they are right by the till where you can impulsively buy things.
  • Large store layout - frequently bought items tend to be far away from each other, encouraging you to walk around the whole store and buy more.
  • Eye-level products are more expensive - the most expensive versions of products tend to be at eye-level.

Here are our top tips on how to save money on your food shopping...

40 tips to save money on your food shop

1. Create a healthy meal plan for the week

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Create a meal plan for the coming week. This is also known as meal prepping. You can base your menu on food you have in stock, meaning you’ll buy less from the shops. Having a plan in place will also stop impulsive spending on takeaways or running to the supermarket multiple times to buy dinner. 

You can get your family involved and ask everyone to pick a couple of dinner ideas for the week. This way, everyone will look forward to mealtimes and you’ll be spending less by sticking to a strict menu.

2. Write a shopping list

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After scanning your cupboards and creating your meal plan, you can write down a shopping list for the ingredients you need. You already know your menu for the week so a shopping list is easy to make.

If you stick to your list, you won’t be tempted by items you don’t need and you’ll avoid double-buying products you already have at home. 

3. Buy frozen rather than fresh

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Not everything you buy in the supermarket should be frozen but your fruit and veg, for example, are a lot cheaper to buy frozen than fresh. 

Frozen food also leads to less waste and you can save what you don’t use for a later date without it going off.

4. Buy in-season produce

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Fruit and vegetables are cheaper when they are in season. They also taste better and it’s more sustainable for the planet. Just some examples of seasonal fruit and veg are below.

Seasonal UK fruits and vegetables to eat in the Spring and Summer:

  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Raspberries
  • Cherries
  • Cucumber
  • Leeks
  • Beetroot
  • Asparagus

Seasonal UK fruits and vegetables to eat in the Autumn and Winter:

  • Pepper
  • Pumpkin
  • Apples
  • Rocket
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Mushrooms

5. Buy supermarket own brand products

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You’ll be surprised how similar in taste and quality supermarket own-brand products are in comparison to popular branded alternatives. Branded and own-brand products are often even made in the same factory with almost identical ingredients.

Own-brand products are also cheaper and will shave a significant amount off your weekly food bills.

6. Understand 'best-before' and 'use-by' dates

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You don’t need to throw food away that’s reached its ‘best-before’ date. Best before means that the food quality is best before a certain date. Whilst it might not be as fresh, as long as it smells okay and hasn’t gone off, you can still eat it. 

However, ‘use-by’ dates are about safety. If food has gone past its use-by date, then it’s unsafe to eat and could be contaminated. Even if the food looks okay, never eat food past the use-by date.

7. Batch Cooking 

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Another way you can save money on food is to batch-cook meals such as chilli and lasagne. You can freeze what you don’t eat for another meal. Look for batch cooking recipes online.

Batch cooking ensures that you always have a meal ready to go in the freezer. You’ll use large amounts of ingredients that might have gone to waste. 

If you see mince on offer, for example, make the most of it and buy loads. You can then go home and batch cook it, freezing it for future meals.

8. Eat your leftovers

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There are countless ideas and websites online that you can browse for ways to use up your leftover food. If you make the most of all the food you buy and never throw anything away, you’ll end up spending less!

Here are some ideas for using leftovers:

  • Leftover vegetables - stew them, freeze them or even blend them up into a healthy soup. 
  • Leftover salad - mixed in pasta or risotto dishes. 
  • Leftover fruit - make desserts such as pies, cakes and banana bread.
  • Leftover bread - turn them into breadcrumbs, croutons or a bread and butter pudding!

9. Supermarket price comparison 

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Use the Latest Deals app to compare supermarket prices and choose the cheapest option for your shopping. Our free tool compares prices at Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Iceland, Aldi, Waitrose and Ocado. Type in the item and see where it is cheapest to buy from.

You can also look at food shopping online as there are some online exclusive offers. On top of this, having a basket online gives you more time to contemplate your purchases and minimises the likelihood of impulse buys.

One thing to note is that supermarket prices change daily. So, don’t use a comparison for your shopping until the exact day and time you are planning on purchasing. You want the cheapest offer on the day as that could change tomorrow.

10. Grow your own food

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You can grow vegetables and herbs in your garden. This will save you money, giving you constant access to fresh, healthy ingredients without having to go to the supermarket.

This is also a great activity to do together as a family, teaching children about where food comes from.

11. Never go food shopping hungry

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If you go shopping when you’re hungry, you’re much more likely to overspend and buy tempting food that you don’t need. Always eat something before you do your food shopping to prevent impulse buys. 

Another thing to be wary of is when you pop to the shop to buy one thing. If you just need to buy some bread, don’t pick up a basket, you’ll end up buying other things you don’t need to fill the basket.

12. Take advantage of supermarket coupons & vouchers

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Many supermarkets hand out free coupons when you do your shopping. You can collect these and combine them to make huge savings on your weekly food shop.

You can also find voucher codes online that can contribute towards huge savings. Many supermarkets online offer discounts for your first shop or savings when you spend a certain amount. 

13. Don't get tricked by ‘special offers’

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Supermarkets often advertise misleading discounts that aren’t quite as good as they sound. For example, they might exaggerate the original price of a product, to make the special offer seem much more impressive. 

Don’t buy things just because they are on offer, only buy items you need.

14. Make the most of cashback credit cards

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Many cashback or rewards credit cards are partnered with supermarkets. This means that if you shop in the same supermarket each week, you can build up a huge amount of points and cashback. 

This money or points can then be used to make your food shop cheaper. 

15. BOGOF wisely

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Buy one get one free (BOGOF) deals are often very tempting and can lead to unnecessary impulse purchases. 

For example, a BOGOF deal on perishable items that you already have at home isn’t worth it. 

However, BOGOF deals on something like toilet paper will be worth it. This is because toilet paper won’t go off and it’s something that you normally buy.

16. Don’t forget about your supermarket loyalty card

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Everyone swipes their Nectar or Clubcard when they go to certain supermarkets. However, many forget to ever use those points they’ve built up! 

Next time you’re doing a big food shop, why not use some of your points to save some money? Clubcard points can expire if you don’t use them in two years so don’t leave it too late.

However it’s worth noting that Nectar usually doubles the value of your points at Christmas time.

17. Reduced-to-clear yellow sticker discounts 

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If you time your supermarket trips right, you can reap the rewards of huge discounts on reduced-to-clear food. 

This is when supermarkets reduce the price of food going out of date that it hasn’t sold. Most supermarkets use bright yellow stickers with reduced prices, however Aldi’s stickers are red, and Morrisons are orange.

Supermarkets reduce prices throughout the day. Each supermarket is different and you should ask your local store manager when they reduce items and where they put them. 

Most supermarkets stagger the discounts throughout the day. For example, they may give a 10% discount at midday, 25% in the early afternoon, 50% by the evening and up to 90% before store-closing. Marks & Spencer supermarkets are known to be different, reducing items in the mornings. 

So, if you know that you’ll eat the food before the use-by date, then these discounts are a fantastic way to make your food shop much cheaper. 

However, don’t be tempted to buy everything with a yellow-sticker on it just because it’s cheap. You don’t want to waste food and money.

18. Abandon your online shopping basket

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One of the easiest ways to bag discounts is to fill up your virtual shopping basket online and then close the tab and walk away. 

If you don’t complete an order, some supermarkets will often email you a discount to encourage you to purchase your full shopping basket. 

The only way for this trick to work is to make sure that you are logged in when online shopping and have an account set up. This way, they will have your email address which means they can contact you with a discount. 

Test it out today by adding something to your basket online and leaving it. A few days later, you might be treated to a discount in your inbox. 

This might not work every time but it’s worth a try!

19. Don’t be afraid of food past its best before date

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As we’ve mentioned before, you can eat food past its best before date. However, did you know that it's also legal to sell food past its best before?!

Websites such as Approved Food specialises in selling food past its best before date. The food is still safe to eat and is significantly cheaper than buying food from the popular UK supermarkets.

20. Visit local market stalls

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If you’ve never visited your local market before, you could be missing out on some very cheap food! Fruit and vegetables from markets are usually much cheaper than supermarkets.

Channel 4 Dispatches found that markets could be up to 35% cheaper than supermarkets. Supermarkets are more convenient but you are paying the price for that convenience.

Remember, you can also get away with haggling at markets so don’t be afraid to ask for a cheaper price.

21. Go for cheap cuts of meat

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We don’t always need the most expensive cuts of meat to enjoy a nice meal. For slow-cooked dishes, get away with using cheaper cuts of meat thanks to the high-fat content which gives a great flavour to stews and casseroles.

Meat can be expensive so save money by choosing the cheapest option.

22. For the basics, pay basic

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Do you really need 4-ply toilet paper made out of bamboo?! For the basic items such as tissues and toilet paper that you use then throw away, go for the basic, cheapest option.

The same applies to ingredients like flour, sugar and oats etc. 

23. Avoid pre-packaged food

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Buying loose carrots, apples and oranges, for example, is much cheaper than buying them packaged.

The same applies to meat. If you buy sliced ham from the deli counter, it can work out as much as £6 a kg cheaper than buying it packaged. Supermarket deli counters are a hidden gem, everything is often much cheaper and nicer than the packaged alternatives.

The same applies to ready meals. They are often overpriced. You can buy fresh ingredients and make it yourself, saving you a lot of money.

24. Go to cheaper supermarkets

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One way to save money on food bills is to shop at cheaper supermarkets. Discount supermarkets such as Lidl, Aldi and Jack’s may be cheaper than other popular supermarkets and the quality doesn’t differ much at all. 

Use our supermarket comparison tool to find the cheapest food shop for your usual purchases. 

25. Track your supermarket spending

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If you are shopping online, it’s easy to keep track of how much your basket is adding up to. However, when you're pushing your trolley round the supermarket, you can be shocked when you go to the till and see the grand total.

Most supermarkets offer fast track scanners that allow you to scan items as you add them to your trolley. Seeing how much you are spending will put you off adding impulse food items to your trolley.

26. Don’t be loyal - go for the cheapest food shop

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Food prices fluctuate between different supermarkets, so you don’t need to go to the same supermarket every single week. For example, meat might be cheap from one supermarket but other essentials are cheaper from another.

Always hunt for the cheapest option, even if you have to keep switching supermarkets.

27. Never buy from a petrol station store or small supermarkets

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Petrol stations and small branches such as Tesco Express are much more expensive than standard supermarkets. The price difference has something to do with the higher running costs of smaller stores, which results in higher prices.

Even if you just need a few things, you should still head to the bigger supermarkets and save money.

28. Try cash-and-carry

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Cash-and-carries such as Costco are great places to shop if you have a large family. You do need to be a member to shop at cash-and-carries though, you’ll be eligible if you run the right type of business or work at certain organisations.

Costco buys food in bulk and sells them at reduced prices. Often these are branded products that are much cheaper than what the supermarket will retail them at. Almost everything is sold in large quantities in Costco. Therefore, it’s best to shop there if you have a large family and know that you’ll eat it all.

29. Don't buy squeezy bottles

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This might be surprising but ketchup and mayonnaise are cheaper to buy in glass bottles rather than the squeezy bottles. 

Try to always go for glass - it’s less plastic too!

30. 'Finest' ranges can cost more than branded food

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Whilst we encourage you to buy supermarket own-brand as it’s often cheaper, this doesn’t mean you should go for the top-ranges.

For example, Tesco Finest or Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference may be more expensive than their branded alternatives. Instead, go for the most basic own-brand versions.

31. Avoid snack packs

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Anything that comes in small packaging often costs more. For example, small boxes of raisins and cereal or mini packets of biscuits. There is more packaging in these products than the bigger counterparts.

Buy the full-sized version and you’ll be getting more product and won’t be paying extra for all of the packaging.

32. Use ingredients for more than one dish

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Don’t buy ingredients with just one meal in mind. You’ll end up throwing away what you don’t use as you don’t have another plan for it.

So, when meal planning, try to make sure a lot of the ingredients overlap so you won’t have to buy different ingredients for every meal.

33. Don’t be afraid to complain to supermarkets

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Many of us are too polite to complain when products aren’t up to scratch. However, if food is mouldy when you buy it or isn’t up to standard, complain to the supermarket. 

You’ll get a refund so you haven’t wasted money. Ocado has been known to give a bottle of wine to apologise!

34. Buy mixed size packs of eggs and ‘ugly’ veg

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Mixed packs of eggs are great for scrambled eggs and omelettes, they are also cheaper than uniform packs of eggs.

Also, veg that might be misshapen or ‘ugly’ is often priced cheaper than ‘perfect’ veg. Guess what, ‘ugly’ veg tastes the same!

35. Stockpile supermarket food sales

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Stockpile anything that you can store long-term such as flour, rice, and frozen foods. 

If there’s a sale on any of these potential ‘stockpile’ items, you can buy loads when they are cheap. You can then have a huge stock of food you use regularly. This will save you money in the long-run as you won’t have to buy these items weekly. You also bought them when they were at their cheapest price in a sale. 

It’s always a good idea to have a stockpile as you can whip up a dish, even if you are low on ingredients.

36. Store food properly to make it last longer

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Food waste is one of the biggest culprits for having high food bills. According to the BBC, the average UK household has £50 worth of food waste per month or £600 per year.

Learn to store fresh food properly and you’ll end up eating it all, reducing shopping trips and saving you money. 

Here are some food storage tips:

  • Store potatoes and onions in a cool dark place. Don’t leave them in plastic but cover them in paper towels so they don’t damage each other by the gases they release.
  • All other veg should be stored in the fridge.
  • Store raw meat and fish on the bottom shelf in the fridge as it’s the coldest.
  • Dairy and pre-prepared food should be on the top fridge shelf.
  • Organise your freezer - food pushed to the back won’t get eaten which is a waste of money.

37. Clear out your food cupboards

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Before you do your next big food shop, make sure that you’ve cleared out your fridge and cupboards. You’ll be shocked at how many meals you can scrape together using food that’s been left over the course of the week. 

You’ll save money by shopping less. 

38. Always bring a packed lunch

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Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, always make packed lunches. Popping out for a meal deal on your lunch break isan unnecessary expense.

Instead, invest in some Tupperware and make yourself a healthy sandwich or take last night’s leftover dinner to work. 

39. Ask for a doggy bag in restaurants 

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If you’ve treated yourself or your family to a meal out, make sure that you get your money’s worth. We tend to over-order or get full when eating out, which means you can have a lot of food leftover.

There’s no shame in asking for a doggy bag. You’ll be sorted for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner!

40. Learn to cook

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One of the best ways to save money on food bills is to learn to cook meals from scratch. Buying takeaways or convenience food is always so much more expensive than buying basic ingredients.

If you learn to cook, you can turn those basic ingredients into something delicious.

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