Try the supermarket downshift: Save £520 a year with one small change
If you consider yourself a cash-strapped student, yet you're feasting on Tesco's Finest Parma ham and M&S brie, you're doing something wrong.
Your years spent surviving on a student loan budget at university is the prime time to discover the art of supermarket downshifting: swap your luxury buys for cheaper alternatives, and you'll knock a shedload off the cost of your shopping basket.
By using the supermarket downshift mentality next time you shop, you can save around a third on your weekly food spending. So if you normally spend £30 a week on food, you can cut that down to roughly £20! That's a saving of £520 a year!
What's on this page?
What is supermarket downshifting?
The supermarket downshift method is based on the premise that supermarkets stock four different price levels of their staple products, with the only real difference between the products being the price tag.
The four levels are:
- Premium brand: Luxury & organic brands such as Tesco Finest or Sainsbury's Taste the Difference
- Manufacturer's brand: The brands we know and love – Heinz, Bird's Eye, Walkers…
- Supermarket own brand: Supermarkets' own versions of our favourite brands, such as Tesco cornflakes
- No-frills value products: Economy packets with basic packaging, for example Tesco Everyday Value chocolate, Asda Smartprice onions or Sainsbury's Basics bread.
More often than not the only noticeable difference between these brands is the packaging, and supermarkets will trick you into reaching for the more expensive packet by placing these products at eye level (and that's not the only trick they use, either).
It's also worth noting that the top two tiers may switch around – sometimes the branded product is even more expensive than the luxury brand. Either way, the principle remains: try to move down at least one pricing tier as part of the downshift.
Can't bear to part with your favourite brands?
Trading down to a shopping basket full of no-frills alternatives can be a massive ask for some people, and if you can't bear the thought of parting with your Heinz ketchup, that's ok!
As long as you try downgrading on some items that are less important to you, such as washing up liquid, cooking oil, sugar and chopped tomatoes, you'll still make a substantial saving. These are all basic student staples that won't make a difference to your life if you compromise on ‘quality'.
How much can you save with the supermarket downshift?
Just in case you don't believe us, we've decided to illustrate the point by comparing some standard student essentials within the same supermarket.
Coffee savings at Tesco
Premium – Tesco Finest Colombian Instant Coffee 100g: £3.19
Manufacturer's – Nescafe Fine Blend Instant Coffee 100g: £2.27
Supermarket's Own – Tesco Classic Coffee 100g: £1.50
No Frills – Tesco Everyday Value Coffee Granules 100g: £0.74
By switching from Tesco's Premium brand to their Value coffee, you can save £2.45, meaning you can afford to juice yourself up for a last minute rush to the essay deadline.
You'll need all the help you can get if you're trying to write a 3,000 word essay in a day.
Cheaper cheese at ASDA
Premium – ASDA Extra Special Handmade Wookey Hole Cave-Aged Cheddar 200g: £2.50 (£12.50 per kg)
Manufacturer's – Joseph Heler Handcrafted Vintage Cheddar Blackstone 200g: £2.00 (£10 per kg)
Supermarket's Own – ASDA Mature Cheddar Cheese 250g: £1.90 (£7.60 per kg)
No Frills – ASDA Smart Price Mild White Cheddar Cheese 385g: £1.89 (£4.91 per kg)
Cheese is one of those things that you don't realise is so expensive until you go to uni. But at just £4.91 per kg, ASDA's no frills cheddar is almost three times cheaper than their premium offering, and less than half the price of a branded cheese!
Bargain bread at Sainsbury's
Premium – Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Ancient Grains Thick Sliced White Bread 800g: £1.25
Manufacturer's – Hovis Soft Medium Sliced White Bread 800g: £1.05
Supermarket's Own – Sainsbury's Soft Medium Sliced White Bread 800g: 55p
No Frills – Sainsbury's Basics Medium White Sliced Loaf 800g: 45p
Toast is every student's comfort food, and saving 80p on every loaf you buy will save you loads in the long run.
Stone-cold bargain ice cream at Waitrose
Premium – Waitrose 1 Madagascan vanilla ice cream 500ml: £3.69 (73.8p per 100ml)
Manufacturer's – Carte D'Or Madagascan vanilla ice cream 1l: £3.50 (35p per 100ml)
Supermarket's Own – Waitrose vanilla dairy ice cream 1l: £2.65 (26.5p per 100ml)
No Frills – essential Waitrose vanilla soft ice cream 1l: £1.20 (12p per 100ml)
Downgrading a few levels on everyone's favourite dessert is a great way to save. Ice cream is ice cream as far as we're concerned, so you won't notice the difference. Plus, a saving of over 60p per litre is amazing.
Tips for saving with the supermarket downshift
So you're up for trying the supermarket downshift? Here are a few additional tips to ensure that you're working that downshift like a boss:
- Taste test no-frills products – Some supermarkets do no-frills brands better than others, so it's a good idea to do the rounds of different supermarkets sampling your favourite staples. Keep a shopping diary and rate products out of 10 to remind yourself what tastes best, where
- Use your judgement – Whilst store cupboard staples are perfect options for downshifting to value products, you might not want to compromise on the likes of fresh meat. Just make sure you choose which products you downshift wisely
- Downshift to a budget supermarket – Supermarkets like Lidl or Aldi can result in some serious savings, as they're almost entirely stocked with budget brands you've probably never heard of (but which taste just as good!). Beware that your Heinz won't be cheaper here, though, as manufacturer-branded products are generally the same price as in other supermarkets
- Remember to do the maths! – Never assume that no-frills value will undisputedly be the cheapest option. Sometimes supermarkets will have good deals running which mess up the whole downshifting theory – in some circumstances you can find luxury products selling for the same price as no-frills. Make sure you always do the maths!
- Use the mySupermarket app – You can check pricing of an item against other supermarkets (and even within the supermarket you're in, in case you're missing something!) using this app. Just scan the barcode and see what comes up before putting it in your basket!
Are you savvy to the dirty tricks that supermarkets pull to try and get you to spend more cash?