Cost of living crisis: Top tips to save hundreds on food bills

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·Finance Reporter, Yahoo Finance UK
·6 min read
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cost of living crisis  A shopper carries a basket in a supermarket in London, Britain April 11, 2017. British inflation shot past the Bank of England's 2 percent target last month, potentially adding to uneasiness among some officials at the central bank about keeping interest rates near zero. Consumer prices rose by a stronger-than-expected 2.3 percent, the biggest annual increase in nearly three-and-a-half years, pushed up by an increase in global oil prices and the impact of the Brexit vote on sterling. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Rising food prices and the cost of living crisis are putting huge pressure on household budgets. Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters

Rising food prices are adding to the cost of living crisis, with the average UK household facing a £271 per year rise in food bills.

Grocery prices were 5.9% higher in April compared to a year before — the biggest increase since December 2011 — and around four in 10 (39%) people have admitted they bought less food in the past two weeks thanks to the rising cost of living.

Simple steps like avoiding costly convenience stores, shopping around for the best prices, and opting for cheaper non-branded products can help reduce your grocery bill.

Here are some top tips from consumer group Which? that could save you hundreds of pounds on food costs.

Avoid convenience stores and save hundreds of pounds a year

While it isn’t an option for everyone, avoiding convenience stores could save shoppers hundreds of pounds each year.

Which? found that customers can end up spending 9.5% more each year shopping at a Sainsbury’s Local (SBRY.L) rather than a regular Sainsbury’s supermarket.

The consumer group analysed the average prices of 48 items at the two largest convenience chains, Tesco Express (TSCO.L) and Sainsbury’s Local, and compared the costs with the same items at their supermarket counterparts.

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The highest weekly price difference between Sainsbury's and Sainsbury's Local during the period studied was £10.20, or £322 over the course of a year. Meanwhile, a basket of groceries from Tesco Express cost on average £279 more over the course of a year.

For those who have the option of going to a regular supermarket rather than a convenience store, it pays to make the switch.

Shopping around for the best prices could save £9.21 per basket

It often pays to look in different supermarkets for the best prices.

Every month Which? analyses thousands of grocery prices to find the cheapest supermarket, comparing the price of a trolley of groceries at some of the biggest supermarkets and often finding big price differences.

For example, in March 2022 Lidl was the cheapest supermarket, with a basket of 21 groceries costing an average of £26.83. The same or equivalent items from the priciest supermarket Waitrose cost £36.04 — a £9.21 saving.

Don't dismiss supermarket's own brands

Shoppers can also make significant savings by opting for supermarket own-brand products over expensive branded items.

These items can be a lot cheaper than the big brands. In a series of blind taste tests, Which? found that many supermarket own-brands are not only cheaper, but sometimes they also taste better than their well-known branded counterparts.

The consumer group tested everyday essentials such as baked beans, orange juice, honey nut cornflakes and coffee and found that, for those willing to swap, shoppers could save themselves hundreds of pounds a year without compromising on taste.

For example, switching from Innocent orange juice at £3.60 for 1.35 litres or 27p per 100ml to Aldi’s The Juice Company Smooth Orange Juice, costing just £1.69 per 1.75L carton or 10p per 100ml, could save shoppers nearly £100 a year.

Search different aisles and look up and down

Shoppers can save by looking around the supermarket more carefully for the best value items. Which? found that some products, including rice, sauces, and baking ingredients, can be found in multiple different supermarket aisles at different prices.

For example, rice and chickpeas can be cheaper in the world foods aisle than they are in other parts of the shop. Similarly, sultanas and cashew nuts often cost less in the baking aisle than the dried fruit and nuts or snacking shelves.

Supermarkets often place their less-profitable items high and low on the shelves, and the ones they want to promote at eye level. Shoppers should scan the shelves thoroughly and look up and down.

Stock up when you can

Grocery prices can vary from week to week, fluctuating by up to 284%. Price fluctuations, or "yo-yo" pricing, mean that it is often worth shoppers stocking up when items they buy regularly are discounted.

This approach can work particularly well for store-cupboard items and products that can be frozen.

Get rewarded for your spending

Shoppers can sign up for supermarket loyalty schemes to earn points and save money on their shopping.

Many schemes offer exclusive discounts, rewards, charity donations and competitions to loyal customers.

The consumer group found that customers could save between 50p (with Sainsbury's Nectar) and £5 (Iceland) for every £100 spent when using a supermarket loyalty scheme.

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However, these savings could easily be cancelled out if the shop's prices are higher than those of its competitors. So while it's always worth signing up to schemes offered by shops you already use, you probably shouldn’t change where you shop just to earn points.

Don't be duped by discounts

Supermarkets often place vertical signs with offers on in the middle of the aisle, with the intention of catching shoppers’ eyes. While special offers can be helpful, they can encourage shoppers to purchase items they hadn’t intended on buying.

When working out whether the price is actually decent, Which? suggests that shoppers look at the unit or "per-100g" cost rather than the overall pack price — this makes it much easier to compare the product against alternatives.

It’s also worth noting that "value packs" don’t always offer the best deal. Sometimes buying two packs of five is actually cheaper than one pack of 10.

Write a list and stick to it

Supermarkets purposefully spread different types of groceries across different sections of the shop to make sure customers walk past as many shelves as possible, even if they’re only there for a few basic items.

Taking the simple step of making a list and trying not to be distracted by other products is an easy way for shoppers to save money. However, this can be more difficult to stick to in unfamiliar stores.

Which? found that in most stores dairy products and bread can be found at the back, fruit and vegetables are at the front and drinks and frozen items are at the far end.

Try shifting down a range

Supermarkets usually offer a number of different ranges of own-label products, from basic and value brands to premium, such as Tesco Finest. There are decent savings to be had by moving down a tier — and often the budget option tastes just as good.

Be flexible with best-before dates

Food with a use-by date must be used by midnight of its expiry date or it could be unsafe. However, best-before dates are far more flexible and don't have the same safety issues.

Food near or even after its best-before date is usually perfectly fine to eat and often heavily discounted. If you find something in the cupboard that's gone past its best-before date, give it a sniff — if it smells fine, it should be OK to eat.

Watch: How to save money on a low income

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