24 supermarket money saving tips
Food might be an unavoidable expense, but spending a fortune at the supermarket is (thankfully) very avoidable – especially with these budget food shopping tips.
Supermarket shopping can often end with you shelling out a lot more cash than you expected.
But, 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 £23 a week on groceries, 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 over £400 a year, just by changing your food shopping habits.
How to save money on food shopping
Here are some tips on how to save money at the supermarket:
Find the best times to go food shopping
For the best bargains, you should try to go shopping later in the day (ideally an hour or so before closing time, or at about 7pm in 24-hour stores). In fact, one shopping ninja mum did her research and put together a list of the best times to shop for reduced food.
All the items that go out of date the following day will be heavily reduced.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.
Once you've found a bargain, make the most of reduced food items by freezing as much as you can to eat them at a later date, and check out our tips for using food that's past its best. Plus, 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!
Use supermarket cashback apps
With supermarket cashback apps, you can be reimbursed for up to 100% of the cost of some food and drink items at the supermarket.
One of our top picks is Shopmium, which gives you a sign-up bonus of 100% cashback on a nice treat (previous examples have included Nutella and Ben & Jerry's ice cream). Plus, you get £3 credit for referring a friend.
Before heading out to do your food shopping, always check on cashback apps to see if there are any products on there that you need. If you're planning to buy similar things anyway, you can save yourself some money by getting cashback.
Shop the world food aisle
For cupboard 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.
Plan your meals before going to the supermarket
When it comes to saving money at the supermarket, shopping lists are key. Making a weekly meal plan before going food shopping and writing out all the ingredients you need will massively help you cut the costs of your shopping.
You'll be able to stay focused on the foods you really need at the shop, and it'll become much easier to keep track of what you're spending each week.
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.
Scan your receipts to get vouchers
Is your wallet bulging with receipts that you haven't got around to throwing out? Good! Those receipts could help fund your next online shopping spree.
There are plenty of apps out there that will reward you for scanning in your receipts, 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.
But, 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. Scanning them in takes no time at all, though, and since you'll be doing the shopping anyway, it's literally free money.
Always check the reduced section
The reduced section of supermarkets isn't just for food that's approaching its best before date.
You'll likely be able to find a range of things there, such as 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 stickers galore.
Avoid wasting food
This probably goes without saying, but it's surprising how many students (or people in general, actually!) 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.
Plenty of foods are also good to eat after the best before date has passed, and there are loads of resources online for using up leftover food.
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.
And, we have plenty of tips on making the most of foods that are losing their freshness.
Get leftover food on Olio and Too Good To Go
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 not got enough? Well, if you ever find yourself in that situation again, head straight to 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 out these bad boys before heading to the supermarket (or worse, the takeaway menu).
Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables
When planning your meals for the week, have a think about what food is in season.
Produce that's in season will have travelled fewer food miles. This means that buying seasonal food will help you to reduce your carbon footprint, and it will likely work out cheaper than something that's been shipped from the other side of the world.
And, as a general rule, avoid paying for any pre-packaged fruit and veg. The plastic coverings only add to the price and, again, aren't as good for the environment.
Buy supermarket own-brand products
It's easy to get into the habit of sticking to particular brands that we know and trust. But, if you've yet to discover the beauty of own-brand products, you're in for a money-saving treat.
For many branded foods, the contents are extremely similar to supermarket own-brand alternatives, and in some cases even better. The only difference is the packaging and (sometimes ludicrous) price gap.
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.
We have a whole guide on how to go about the shift to own-brand products here.
Never shop for food when hungry
You've probably heard this one a zillion times before, but how often have you broken the golden rule and ended up spending an arm and a leg on tempting snacks?
If you haven't eaten all day and then head to the supermarket, you're going to end up throwing anything and everything into your trolley. Have a bite to eat before you go food shopping to avoid hunger-fuelled impulse buys.
Do your food shop online
Doing your food shopping online is one of the best ways to cut your spending. Most major supermarkets allow you to order online, and some 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 wafting from the in-house bakery that make you want to buy up the entire cake selection.
It's also much easier to compare product prices online, as you can access the prices of products at other major supermarkets. And, when comparing costs, be sure to check the price per kg to ensure you're getting the most out of your money.
For more details on how shopping online can save you cash, as well as which supermarkets to go for, check out our guide to online food shopping.
Squeeze the most out of loyalty cards
Most supermarkets offer a loyalty scheme (check out our guide to the best ones here) where they'll offer you points on your shop that can then be redeemed against future purchases.
We'd recommend getting a loyalty card from all supermarkets in your area that offer them, as the key to saving is not letting 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 are valid for ages, so start collecting them all together in a safe place and use them as and when they're actually needed.
Become a flexitarian
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.
Buy food 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...
Be wary of bad supermarket deals
From time to time, some of the deals you'll come across on your food shop can seem too good to be true... and that's because they sometimes are.
It really pays off 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 got a guide that exposes common tricks used by retailers to get you to spend more, so make sure to check up on that too.
Shop at budget supermarkets
When it comes to food shopping, we tend to be creatures of habit, and many of us will be tempted to go to whichever supermarket is closest (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. Cheap supermarkets 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 food markets, as well as other small or independent stores. Shop around and you'll save some serious cash.
Don't shop on payday
Shopping as soon as your Student Loan or salary hits your student 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 and buying baked beans until your next instalment.
Grow your own food
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 a lot easier than you might think. Not only does growing your own fruit, veg and herbs work out much cheaper, but it also gives you a smug sense of self-satisfaction.
Have a frugal day each week
If you're looking to save some serious cash, it's well worth having one or two super frugal days a week.
On these days, make a conscious 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 the next day's meals to look forward to.
Cook meals from scratch
Tempting as it might be to buy that ready-made carbonara from the supermarket, it'll work out so much cheaper to buy the ingredients and make it from scratch.
If you're lacking a bit of culinary confidence, try these essential cooking tips to make life in the kitchen a breeze.
Send back poor-quality food
Ever noticed those messages on the back of products that say that if you're not happy with something, you can send it back? We bet you've never actually tried it.
But, if you're less than impressed with your latest soup or chocolate spread, you could consider 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.
Use supermarket student discount and deals on your food shop
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 among our daily-updated collection.
We have loads of online deals, as well as offers that involve printing vouchers for use 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?
And, don't forget that you can get student discount at supermarkets. With the More for Students scheme at Morrisons, you can get exclusive discounts and offers. Co-op also offers 10% off to students with a TOTUM card.
And, 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...
Want to cut down your spending even further? We've got plenty more tips for saving money on food in our guide.