10 money saving ideas to cut down on your food expenses

A recent survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that approximately half of UK adults are now buying less food when grocery shopping.

As the cost of living crisis bites, we've rounded up some tips to take a chunk out of your food budget. 

Click here to find out about emergency support from local food banks

1. Know how to approach the supermarket

Many of us visit the supermarket on a weekly (if not more frequent!) basis. But did you know that supermarkets are designed to encourage us to part with as much cash as possible? From treats near the checkouts to the placement of expensive products at eye level, it can be easy to overspend without realising.

To get the most out of shopping trips, make sure you have a list prepared and (this is the important bit) stick to it! It's also worth searching the shelves for the most cost-effective products - they are often hiding at the bottom or very top of the shelves where people are less likely to look. 

You can also maximise your savings by shopping at certain times such as late evening when products are being discounted, or after bank holidays for discounted seasonal items.

This article from Which? also helpfully lays out what supermarkets are doing to help with the cost of living crisis.

2. Try online shopping

If stocking up on unnecessary items at the supermarket is too tempting, why not try online shopping? Some retailers offer intial discounts for your first shop if you spend over a certain amount, and you can also filter by offer and price to make sure you get the best deals.

3. Switch your products 

If something is more expensive, it's got to be better, right? Nope. Lots of branded products are simply more expensive because of the identity of the brand - and many of us can't difference between familiar products and cheaper alternatives in blind taste tests anyway. 

According to Money Saving Expert, 'downshifting' or going down one brand 'level' (e.g. if you usually buy supermarket premium brand, try the standard supermarket brand) can cut the typical grocery bill by 30%! 

4. Maximise your use of coupons, loyalty points and discount codes

Many supermarkets have their own loyalty schemes, and building up points can be a good way to save. You can also keep an eye out for coupons, or check magazines and newspapers for discounts, although these are becoming less common nowadays.

Find out more on the supermarket coupons page of MoneySavingExpert.com.

5. A free lunch?

It's famously said that there's no such thing as a free lunch, but as it turns out, that's not 100% true! Some places such as Greggs have recently been offering free hot drinks or food items if you sign up to their loyalty scheme or download their mobile app.

Additionally, big chain restaurants are often reviewed by mystery diners, whose job it is to order food and file a report about the experience with a company such as Mystery Dining by HGEM. On top of getting a free meal, some companies even pay mystery diners for their time - bonus!

6. Get app-happy

Apps such as Olio and Too Good To Go became really popular during the pandemic and have remained so since. Olio allows people to give away free food and household items to their neighbours, whilst Too Good to Go lets customers take home mystery bags of food that haven't been sold from restaurants, cafes, takeaways and shops for a fraction of the normal price. 

7. Children's discounts 

Feeding children can be expensive, especially when you consider school holidays, packed lunches and family days out. A number of restaurants and supermarkets have 'children eat free' schemes which can help you to save money on eating out. Check out a list of the establishments currently offering discounted or free meals here.

8. Plan your meals

As obvious as it sounds, planning what you're going to eat for the week and shopping accordingly can not only help to save cash, but also cut down on food waste, which essentially amounts to putting money in the bin. Planning your meals encourages you to make the most of what you already have in the house, and also gives you a chance to work out how best to use up leftovers and what meals you might be able to batch cook - saving energy and time in the process.

Here are some healthy, budget-friendly meal planning templates to give you some quick inspiration: 

9. Make the most of your freezer

Freezers are a secret weapon in helping cut down on the cost of food. Buying in bulk and batch cooking meals for the freezer, or buying food close to its sell-by date and freezing it can account for excellent discounts.

10. Community larders 

Community larders or pantries are discounted food shops which allow you to buy a certain amount of food (e.g. £15 worth) for much less (e.g. £3 or £5). The prices and savings vary from place to place, but the items are always extremely discounted when compared to your average food shop.

Although many community larders are attached to community centres, charitable organisations, or churches, they are not food banks and differ in that you do not have to be referred in order to access one, although some require you to have a membership. They do however aim to soften the blow of cost of living rises on local people.

You can find out if there is a community pantry or larder near you by searching on Google or social media, or by asking at your local church or community centre.

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