21 supermarket money saving tips
Feeding yourself unfortunately isn't an expense that can't 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 £28-30 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!
21 student supermarket savers
Price match to claim money back
Believe it or not, most major supermarkets are so desperate to beat each other to the best value price spot that they offer price match policies.
Normally this involves them offering you a voucher to make up the difference in price if you manage to find the exact same product at one of their competitors at a lower price.
For example, Asda have a price guarantee that you can use to check your receipt against the other supermarkets and if they are not at least 10% cheaper they will give you an Asda vouch to make up the difference.
Tesco also runs a similar thing called the Tesco Price Promise that says if your shopping isn't cheaper than major competitors then they'll offer to make you up the difference of up to £10.
Another trick to try is that if you've got your heart set on buying a product that's on special but you're staring at an empty shelf as the store has sold out, ask to speak to a manager.
Ask them nicely if they'd be able to offer you a 'rain check voucher' so you can take advantage of the deal when they're stocked back up again – you'd be surprised how well this works!
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, we tend to just squeeze it in wherever we can.
However, for the best bargains, you should try to shopping later in the day, ideally an hour or so before closing time or in 24 hour stores about 7pm. In fact, one shopping ninja mum did her research and put together a 'best times to shop for reduced grub' timetable – check it out here.
All the items that will go out of date the following day will be heavily reduced to get rid of them before they have to be thrown away – just keep your eye peeled for teh yellow 'reduced' stickers.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 the best before end 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 from major supermarkets that are still perfectly safe to sell. Majority of the products you'll find on here are going for less than £1!
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
Again, you've probably heard this one before, and it probably sounds pretty dishwater-dull. But, if you're not much of a list person when it comes to supermarket shopping, becoming one might 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 the same of everything, cause you don't check what's already in them!
Another great thing about shopping lists is that you can sort of plan your meals (and treats) for the week so it's less of a guestimate of what you need and more an exact science.
Do your food shop online
Doing your shopping on the internet is one of the best ways to cut your spending.
All major supermarkets allow you to order online using discount codes that will get you some cash off your shopping cart, and are much more readily available than print coupons these days.
Shopping online 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 way more easy 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 for your groceries will save you cash and which supermarkets to go for, check out our guide to online food shopping.
Try the own-brand challenge
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! If you're unsure about a product, have a look on the supermarket own-brand guide to see what shoppers are saying about it. That's right, there's even a site for it!
This is why supermarkets often place big-brand products at eye-level or in more obvious positions on the shelves in supermarkets – it's cause 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 whole shift to own-brand products here, plus tips on what to look out for.
Squeeze the most out of loyalty cards
Credit: J E Theriot – Flickr
Most supermarkets offer a loyalty scheme (check out out 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 – to keep you coming back for more!
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 as and when you need them.
Look out for online vouchers and deals
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 deals section and see what you can find amongst our daily-updated collection!
We have a lot of deals that involve printing vouchers and using them in store as well as online offers.
Again, the trick is to not get too carried away with wanting to use all vouchers that are available – use your common sense. If tins of tuna are less than half price, but you really don't like fish, this isn't exactly a saving, is it?
Try the underdogs
When it comes to food shopping, we tend to be creatures of habit. You're likely to opt for the same stores where your parents buy their groceries, as this is what you're used to.
Or, quite reasonably, you'll go to the supermarket round the corner from where you live, cause it's easy to get to (even if it's a Tesco Metro with crazy mark-ups).
To make sure 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.
Same goes for shopping at local markets when they're on as well as smaller, independent stores. Shop around and you'll save some serious dollah!
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 all is way more effective than you all going out at different times individually to buy a two roll pack every other day (what even is the point in two-roll packs?).
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…
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.
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 yah?
Don't waste food
This kind of goes without saying, but it's surprising the amount of students 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, instead of throwing it away, experiment by adding something new to it, or taking the chicken pieces out and using that 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.
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!
Get in and out ASAP
Supermarkets are always desperately trying to make you part with more money, and the longer you hang around the more likely that is to happen.
Ignore the fact that they're offering taste tests, free wifi or whatever else and don't be lured in by all the last minute treats they've decorated the till with. Stay focussed, stick to your list, and you'll get things done so much quicker and more efficiently.
Be a shopping ninja and get in and out of there as soon as humanly possible.
Don't shop on student loan day
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 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 help with buying baked beans for the week before your next instalment.
Grow your own grub
Reduce your demand on supermarkets altogether 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 also work out well cheap, 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 14 and blew all your loan too early!), then 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 – pot noodles aren't even that cheap these days 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 and you've always got tomorrow to look forward too.
Cook from scratch
Tempting as it may be to buy that lasagne ready-made from the supermarket, it will work out way 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.
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 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 for buying what's in season whilst you're shopping.
If you try and buy produce that's in season then 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.
Just to end on a nice note, it's always good to treat yourself to a few nice things on occassion.
If you plan 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.
A few wise shopping choices 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?
Have you got any tips for frugal food shopping? Leave a comment below to help out your fellow students!