Have you noticed how expensive it’s getting at the supermarket lately? I’m regularly sent pictures from readers who’ve spotted big increases in prices of things like teabags and eggs, not to mention a certain spreadable product…
Prices are rising for a wide range of reasons, but the measure by which we monitor this is worrying. Inflation hit 11.1% this month, and food price inflation – the price an average basket of groceries costs – is up even higher, to a whopping 16.2%. This is the highest rate for 45 years. Some of the biggest increases seen recently are in the cost of essentials like milk, margarine and pasta.
All of which means we’re going to have to make a few changes to the way we shop, eat and live to save some cash this Winter. Let me be clear about one thing though. I cannot believe that in 2022 I’m having to write about saving money by making hard choices about things we need to live. It’s clear that much more needs to be done to help the people who are struggling the most.
The return of the shopping list
Many of the big supermarkets have reported that their customers are becoming much more frugal, with shoppers reverting to cash to keep on top of their spending and setting maximum limits, after which they’ll return goods rather than pay for everything in the basket.
In recent years, we’ve got used to wandering the aisles of the supermarkets and buying things on a whim. That meant we were susceptible to all kinds of sneaky tricks, like questionable multi-pack deals and impulse buys. Often these offers have been proven to be misleading or poor value in the past.
To combat this, bring back the shopping list. Working off a list is a great way to keep on top of your spending – and you can price things up online too.
Use loyalty cards and vouchers
I used to be a big loyalty card sceptic as I didn’t want supermarkets and retailers to know all the ins and outs of my shopping habits (particularly my booze bill) and then sell or use that data. But recently I’ve thrown in the towel and I’m willing to compromise.
The reason for that is supermarket loyalty schemes can help you cut your costs, though some of the deals have become a bit stingier recently. Recent research by Which? found that you could save between 50p and a tenner for every £100 you spend. It’s a little late in the day now, but many supermarkets also allow you to maximise your savings with their own Christmas Clubs too.
If you are buying petrol, you can reduce your bill or increase your points by using specific supermarket brands – or even earn money back.
There are also voucher deals and offers with the various schemes. Check online to see what’s available before you leave the house though – as always, it makes sense to have a think about whether the offer is really a good deal or not.
I’m not a fan of voucher code websites. Some of them are pretty useless and the offers are just the same discounts you get on the actual brand’s website. But there are some great deals to be found on trusted organisations, like Money Saving Expert: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/discount-voucher-codes/Oh, get used to clipping the discount coupons from the paper and flyers too!
Look at what you’re throwing away
I hate throwing food away, though the fact that I’m useless at cooking means I’m not an ambitious shopper. I thought I was doing quite well at using up most things, until my neighbour bought me a small composting bin for the kitchen for fruit and veg, which filled up far quicker that I wanted to admit. Even if you don’t have composting facilities nearby, it’s worth doing this, just so you can get a feel for what things you are throwing away. Then you can make a pragmatic decision about the fresh food you buy in future.
Fruit and veg are essential to any diet, but are often the first things to get binned. There are a couple of ways to tackle this. For example, have a look online at the lists of the fruit and veg that last the longest. Apples and citrus fruits, potatoes and onions all live much longer than we assume – and there are a few surprises in there too. Sorry kids, brussels sprouts last a long time too.
If money is tight, go frozen. Frozen fruit and veg is much cheaper and lasts longer and if you’re too busy to cook up a fresh meal, you can still make sure it’s balanced. Stock up on tinned goods too as they’re often much, much cheaper.
Watch out for the ‘city tax’
If you live in a town or city, then you’re often at the mercy of the ‘city tax’. This is where smaller versions of the big supermarkets are you only realistic option for buying goods. These outlets are notorious for being more expensive, having much less choice and not offering all the best savings deals. My local supermarket has an annoying habit of only stocking bread that goes out of date the next day.
If you’re stuck in a city, then club together with a group of friends and do your shopping together. Invest in a basket on wheels – yes, like your granny – and share the load on a trip to a bigger supermarket. If you allow yourself to be annoyed about being ripped off, you’ll be willing to travel further for a bargain.
Get the most out of your freezer
Frozen food is often cheaper and doesn’t go off for much longer. So maximise your freezer space by defrosting it. We all hate this job, but it’s worth doing. Ice build-up in the freezer can actually result in an increase in the energy required to run it. As a general rule, once the frost has grown to over half a centimetre, it will be having a significant impact on your freezer’s energy consumption.
Unplug the device and empty it. You can wrap up frozen goods in towels, paper or anything to keep them relatively insulated. Pop in a bowl or two of hot water to spread things up and give it 15 to 20 minutes before you start scraping the ice with a wooden or plastic tool. Don’t use a knife. I killed a freezer this way, because I’m a fool.
Tempting as it is, don’t go mad and overfill the fridge or freezer when you’ve made space, as this can also result in the machines having to work harder and using more energy.
My top tips for saving cash on grocery shopping
- Focus on the key kitchen essentials that last – past and rice, spices, tins, dried goods. These items can be used in countless meal options and will last so you won’t have any waste.
- Avoid doing a big shop straight after pay day because physiologically the more cash you have in your account, the more you’re likely to spend. Shop mid-month when making the money last will be more on your mind or withdraw cash and use the shopping list to stay within your limits.
- Neighbour pooling is a great way to save on food if you have limited storage space – particularly in the fridge/freezer. Speak to neighbours and family, find out what they’d buy with you then split the item you’ve bulk bought along with the cash.
- Shop seasonal. At certain times of the year there are discounts on goods linked to religious festivals, holidays, events and more. After these events, you’ll get big discounts on these items too, despite some having long sell by dates.
- Pick the ugly option. There’s nothing wrong with ugly fruit and veg – and some shops specialist in these supermarket rejects which you can bulk buy very cheaply.
- When you buy fresh food, don’t think of just using it in one meal. Cook it up, make soups, get creative. Fruit smoothies can be saved in the freezer too. Get a recycling bin for fresh items – it will focus your mind on the food waste and you’ll use it more.
- Warehouse clubs – think the old Costco/ Booker model. Warehouse retialers usually have membership schemes (borrow a card!) and this is where the super bulk items are lurking!
If money is really tight, then why not use food sharing apps like Olio, where food that isn’t sold is redistributed for free.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James