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How to get cheap food
As a reader of Latest Deals you're on the straight and narrow path to strong financial health. You're hunting for bargains and living below your means. Food is a core part. It can be both a great luxury and a great cost. But it can be one without the other.
On this page you will find all the latest discounts for cheap food. Deals and vouchers shared by our community from supermarkets, online retailers, coupon sites and more. If you find a good food deal, please help others by sharing it here.
Eating well is one of the most enjoyable parts of life. Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher who spent his whole life studying and practicing happiness, said food is a key. It is both natural and necessary.
Trouble comes when cheap food results in cheap quality nutrition. In this article, we will explore both questions: how do you save money on food (all food), and how do you get the best quality nutrition for the lowest cost?
- If you don't care about nutrition and just want the tips on how to save money on food, that's fine - life is short! Skip the middle section and scroll down
How to get cheap food with high quality nutrition
As a general rule, cheap food products sold from large retailers tend to have lower levels of nutrition. Expensive ingredients are swapped for cheaper substitutes, such as sugar and salt.
In The Other America by Michael Harrington, published in 1962, it is revealed how the poor are more susceptible to obesity and illness because good quality foods are too expensive. As Jamie Oliver explained, if you're buying cheap food with low nutrition, you're choosing the most expensive way to feed and hydrate your family.
Academic literature confirms money is a big part of it. Yet there are other reasons too. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, published a report citing three 'environments' as having an influence: economic, social, and physical. That means things like taxes, serving size regulations, nutrition labelling, family, school, community, workplace, marketing, nutrition education, parks, exercise facilities, transportation and more. However, I'd add a fourth: genetics.
Finding cheap foods with high quality nutrition is important. Protein, a key building block for growth, strength and healthy internal organs, is often the hardest foodstuff to find on a budget. In The Huffington Post I researched the United States Department of Agriculture Food Composition Database and cross-analysed it with price data from MoneySupermarket to come up with the cheapest proteins you can buy:
- Kidney Beans - £0.33p p/100g protein
- Pinto Beans - £0.62p p/100g protein
- Whole Chicken - £0.70p p/100g protein
- Chickpeas - £0.74p p/100g protein
- Tuna (tinned) - £1.11p p/100g protein
For families on a budget, a tin of red kidney beans (in water) is the cheapest way to get a healthy dose of protein. Beef (rump steak) was found to be one of the most expensive forms, at £4.46 p/100g protein.
So when looking for cheap food we're concerned not just with the price tag, but the amount of good nutrition we get for our money. Some examples of cheap food with high nutrition are:
- Brown rice
- Sweet Potatoes
- Tinned Tuna
- Wholewheat Pasta
- Frozen Vegetables
- Canned Tomatoes
Banana and egg pancakes
If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation and have little money for food, one of the cheapest but most nutritious meals you can make is banana and egg pancakes. But, prevent yourself ever getting into that situation with The 3-30 Money Diet.
As Jamie Oliver has shown with his countless TV shows and books, you can eat well on a budget. He says, “Some of the most inspirational food in the world comes from areas where people are financially challenged. The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow-cooked, or an amazing texture’s been made out of leftover stale bread.”
However, nutritional advice and the science behind it is always changing. Joanna Blythman wrote an excellent piece showing how it was only a few years ago we were told carbohydrates are good and proteins are bad. Margarine over butter and breakfast cereal over eggs. With that pinch of salt in mind:
Cheap food to watch out for
- Ready meals - Sometimes high in sugar and salt
- Low fat / low sugar alternatives - e.g. Mayonnaise (they may use emulsifying agents and added salt)
- Bread - Cheap bread may have more salt (2011 study found 1 in 4 loaves of bread had more salt per slice than a packet of crisps)
- Snacks - Crisps, chocolate, breakfast cereals
- Fructose Corn Syrup - When in your body, this transforms into glucose a.k.a. sugar. But it's not classified as sugar.
Which are the cheapest supermarkets?
The truth is when looking for cheap food there is no one clear winner in terms of the best supermarket. Discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl have a reputation for being cheaper, and often this is true, but sometimes it is not. What you read is often pushed by their marketing efforts. Take a look at this:
In this table of prices from the Daily Mail you can see Aldi is the clear winner at £14.75. But where is Lidl? Further investigation reveals this infographic was created by Aldi itself and pushed by their marketing team.
Independent investigations are much better, for example Peterborough Today went round all their local supermarkets during Christmas and discovered Iceland was the cheapest:
The truth is it pays to be disloyal. The cheapest supermarket depends on the products you are looking for, and the best way to save money is to shop around. As I wrote in the Daily Mail and The Sun, you can save up to 60% on your weekly shop by going to different supermarkets. I visit up to seven including Poundland.
You will discover that some are cheapest for certain categories. For example, Iceland tends to have the cheapest high quality meats. ASDA George often has the cheapest school uniforms, and Aldi may have the cheapest nappies. Poundshops have the cheapest batteries and gardening accessories.
It completely depends on what you're after. However, you need to consider transportation costs to get to the supermarkets. If you live next to Tesco but there's a Lidl 10 miles away, it doesn't make sense to drive there (read how to get a cheap bike). Shopping in multiple supermarkets makes sense if you have many with a few miles. If you don't, then you'll want to find the cheapest and stick to it.
How to save money with Aldi and Lidl
Latest Dealers love Aldi and Lidl. These discount retailers have sparked a new pricing war and offer great value for money. For cheap food they're a must. You won't find many big labels, normally it's just their own home brands. Vegetables, meats, bakery, snacks and more are all lower in price than you'd normally expect.
If you haven't shopped here before, you may have the stereotypical view of them only stocking discount low quality items. This is not so. You'll find your smoked salmon and humous, frozen lobster and Wagyu beef steak, champagne and local craft beers. If anything, these discount retailers are empowering Brits to enjoy higher quality foods for less.
Over half of Brits now shop at either Aldi or Lidl, with £1 in £10 going through their tills. As Management Today writes, there's no sign of them slowing down.
To save money on food, try switching to a cheaper supermarket. Put your fear of a downgrade in quality to the test. Do you notice a negative difference? If not, stick to it.
Save money on food with The Downshift Challenge
The Downshift Challenge was created by Martin Lewis. He explains families can save over £1,000 a year by switching to a lower-tier brand. Usually there are four tiers:
- Premium - Words like 'finest' or 'extra special' imply it's a treat.
- Branded - Products like McVitie's Jaffa Cakes or Kellogg's cereal.
- Own brand - These tend to be presented in a similar way to manufacturers' brands, but with the supermarket's own take on it.
- Value - With names like 'basic' or 'savers', the presentation is deliberately stark to imply it's cut back to the bones.
If you buy premium, switch to branded. If you buy branded, switch to own brand. If you buy own brand, switch to value. Similar to testing a cheaper supermarket, see if you notice any negative difference. If you don't, stick to it!
Use The Downshift Challenge as an opportunity to save money on food. It's very easy to get started and is great as a guiding principle to save money, rather than get into all the little tips and tricks such as coupons, freebie hunting and more (which I'll go into more detail below).
What are the alternatives to discount retailers?
Aldi and Lidl are not the only supermarkets you can shop at to save money. There are some online goodies too.
Approved Food is a favourite of Latest Deals. It stocks unsold, unwanted, and almost at the use-by date cheap food. With a giant warehouse in Manchester it fulfils thousands of orders a day. At present it's an online only operation, where you shop just as you would for Ocado.
The Approved Food warehouse with founder Dan, right.
You can save up to 80% off the recommended retail price by shopping here. Every day it hosts bargains such as Ferrero Rocher for 1p (yes, 1p), alcohol and other non-perishables. You can't buy meat or fresh vegetables.
- Approved Food has a minimum order value of about £20, and charges for delivery. You can usually find a free or discounted delivery code here.
Eatbig is another online retailer selling cheap food, this time in bulk. If you have lots of storage space this may be perfect for you. With non-perishables such as tea, coffee, sweets, spices, noodles and pastas on offer, you can save some money purchasing in bulk.
ClearanceXL is similar to Approved Food in that it sells cheap produce reduced-to-clear from supermarkets and other retailers. You can usually find groceries for 60-80% off the RRP. Delivery is £3.99 and the website is hard to use. But if you can get over that, there are bargains to be found.
Finally, there are an increasing number of smaller pop-up shops appearing in cities. EasyFoodStore, for example, has opened an experimental shop in North West London where all items are just 25p.
How to get cheap food with reduced-to-clear yellow stickers
Many supermarkets offer reduced-to-clear yellow stickers for cheap food. This is when products have reached the end of their best before date and the supermarkets need to flog them.
Yellow sticker hunting is a popular activity amongst fellow Latest Deals members. Our Facebook Group is full of pictures. In 2016, I lived for 365 days just on yellow stickers which was featured by The Mirror, MSN Money and more.
You can save huge amounts of money while buying luxury items you couldn't normally afford. How does a life of champagne, lobster and chocolate truffles sound to you? These are all items I found during the 365 challenge reduced to pennies.
When is the best time for yellow sticker shopping? I created these phone backgrounds to help:
They are free to download and will serve as a little nudge to search for cheap food. Just by delaying your trip to the supermarket by a few hours could save you money.
Supermarkets tend to have several markdowns each day. The discounts get bigger as the day progresses. For example, Tesco is known to start marking items down right from the beginning at 8AM. It may reduce prices by about 25%. Then at 4PM this may increase to 50%, and at 8PM the discounts will be 75%.
However, there's no guarantee that anything will be left at 8PM. This is where yellow sticker shopping becomes a fun challenge.
The phone backgrounds are meant to serve as guidelines only. You will discover every supermarket is different. To find the optimum time ask a local member of staff. Find the person doing the yellow stickers and ask them at what time things get marked down.
Waitrose and M&S also do yellow stickers (or sometimes orange and red), and these supermarkets are where real bargains can often be found. Being 'luxury' supermarkets they're often overlooked by deal hunters. And yet, because of the higher price points they can have the biggest reductions.
Aldi and Lidl do not normally do reduced-to-clear items, and there has been controversy over the amount of food waste as a result.
How to buy in bulk and batch cook
Batch cooking is the art of planning meals in advance, bulk buying and saving money on the volume. This is a popular strategy by Latest Dealers to get cheap food.
A cornerstone of The 3-30 Money Diet is to plan ahead, bulk buy and cook multiple meals at once. Whether it's lasagne, chilli con carne, or tacos, what's the one ingredient they all share? Mince beef. Batch cooking means you can buy a larger pack of beef and use for all these meals. The cost per gram ends up being less.
- Our Food Frenzy Chat thread is full of recipe ideas and pictures of cooking in bulk (or just on the cheap).
Cooking packed lunches for all the family is another great way to save on food. Every Sunday I roast a whole chicken which I then eat with salad throughout the week for lunch. This ends up being about 20% of the cost of meal deals, which while looking as if they are cheap, are not in comparison.
A quick tip if you're making packed lunches for many is a frozen sandwich loaf: Get a loaf of sliced bread and make as many sandwiches as you can in one go. Only put in the core ingredients, for example, ham and cheese. Then put back in the loaf bag and freeze. Every day, remove one sandwich from the bag and put any fresh salad inside. By the time it's lunch, the sandwich will have defrosted. Quick, cheap and easy.
How to get cheap food with coupons and freebies
If you have the time and are patient, this is a great way to get a steady stream of free food. How To Live For Free, the #1 Amazon Best Seller (three years running) by Deepak, contains template letters to send to companies as well as detailed tips to get free food: from restaurants, events, food festivals, volunteering on farms, fruit picking, dumpster diving and much more.
How to get cheap food at restaurants
'Restaurants' and 'cheap food' are not two things that often go together. Eating out can be an expensive luxury, especially in comparison to cooking at home. Before we dive into tactics to save at restaurants, consider whether a free recipe online and a trip to the supermarket may be cheaper (it will be).
- Vouchers - Unless you can get it for free, always use a voucher code. Latest Deals has thousands of vouchers from big chains such as Domino's, Pizza Express, Toby Carvery and more. Simply search the voucher section for the restaurant you're after.
- Restaurant Club Cards - Gourmet Society Card and TasteCard are paid for memberships (you can get a £1 trial) which gives you up to 50% off thousands of restaurants. The former is better for independent restaurants in your local area, while the latter is better for high street chains. They both offer digital apps, websites and sometimes paper guides.
- Free Tasting Events - New restaurants employ a marketing tactic of offering free food and drink on their opening night or week. Sometimes this is called a 'soft opening' and could just be half price food. Twitter is a great way to find them. Search your local area for "soft opening" or "free tasting".
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