How I Save Money Food Shopping

I've received a few comments and questions on how I do my grocery shopping. I've been working on this area with my fiance for about 6 years now. Food shopping is my third highest spend after House Bills and Transport, so any changes you're able to make in this area have a big impact in your total monthly spend. In this post, I'll just let you know what I've tried and what works for me. 

I think it's important to point to out how our household views food. We like to eat fairly healthy foods overall, but we'll do so as cheap as we can (this CAN contradict the healthy part!). I won't eat anything just because it's cheap, but we're aware that by taking a cheaper option of quality, the 'health' aspect is compromised. My fiance and I are happy with this.  

We shop at Morrison's, it's the biggest supermarket in our town by some margin. The size contributes to the amount of sales and discounts it offers. There is a Sainsbury's in town but it's a lot smaller, maybe 1/3 of the size. The prices aren't as low across the board, and I also prefer the quality of food on offer at Morrisons. 

As an investor, I'm interested in items that give the biggest 'bang for their buck' or the best Return on Investment. I'll share with you what we found worked for us. It may or may not work for you. The only thing I would suggest is to try some things out and see how they work for you. If it isn't working for you, at least you tried. The reason I say this is because I was very skeptical about about trying some of these strategies. I didn't realise it at the time, but 8 years ago I was a food snob. I thought I was 'better' than eating unbranded 'value' Baked Beans because they were for 'poor people' and I could afford Heinz Baked Beans. It's quite shocking writing that, but it's true. The truth is I CAN afford to buy Heinz Baked Beans but I now choose to buy the value option instead. 

I'll share with you some of the strategies we've tried, specifically the ones we think have had the biggest impact on our total grocery spend. 

The Downshift Challenge

I found this concept on Money Saving Expert, and it has saved us so much money over the years. I would put this strategy up there as one of the best for anyone to use.

Supermarket items usually come in 4 different categories: 

The concept is to try 'downshifting' and buying an item one step below what you currently buy. If you like or don't mind the difference, stay with the cheaper option. 

You can continue these steps and work down to the 'Value' in all items if you want to save money. Conversely, if you take a step down and don't like the item, you can move back up but at least you tried it!

Downshifting will save you hundreds if not thousands of £'s over the course of a year, especially for those who by most 'Premium' or 'Branded' items.

Let me give you an example of the price difference. I've looked online at Sainsbury's store, and I'll take a 500g bag of pasta as an example:

If you were to go through one bag of pasta a week, for a year, these are your total annual costs:

This example is fairly typical. Some branded items will be more expensive than the Stores 'Premium' Branded option. There are significant savings to be made from going down to 'Own Brand' items from 'Premium' or 'Branded'. There are significant savings to be made by going from 'Own Brand' to 'Basic' items. The savings from 'Premium' or 'Branded' to 'Basic' are HUGE. You could save up to £85.80 on pasta in one year, that's pretty crazy. This is only one item as well. If you implement this on several items, you could save yourself £1,000's. How many items did you buy in you're most recent weekly shop? How many were Branded or Premium? Have you ever tried the basic or unbranded range? 

We buy the 'Basic' option at Morrisons for a lot of items. Pasta, rice, potatoes, frozen vegetables, frozen meat/fish, tinned and canned items of beans and chopped tomatoes to name a few. We also buy the 'Basic' items for cleaning items and toiletries like toilet cleaner, toilet paper, dish wipes and hand wash. 

However, we do buy some 'branded' or 'premium' items as we don't like the options below. For example, we buy Lurpak butter, and Yorkshire tea bags. You just can't beat a good cup of Yorkshire Tea! My fiance is a big fan of Lurpak butter, and she's converted me now. It's important to have your treats and I would encourage this. We just make sure the treats are rare in our shopping basket and not the norm. 

If you fancy trying it out, good luck, and let me know how you get on!

Compare Prices with - £/ kg or £ / ml

This is something I implemented after trying the downshift challenge. I got into the habit of regularly checking the price/kg or price/ml on all the items I was shopping for. It's fascinating what you'll find out! People sometimes feel that if they buy in bulk they will save money, which in most cases is correct. However the supermarkets are very clever and will try and entice you to buy an offer with a large discount on it, but that price will still be higher than multiple smaller versions of that item. To ensure you aren't influenced by the 'Sale' sign, check the small print for the price/kg or price/ml. 

I find it a great source of information to compare prices for items of different sizes and/or across various brands. I can quite quickly find the best value item now. I also use it to check loose items vs pre-packaged, or fresh vs frozen. 

For example, when you're comparing the same item between 2 different brands that have different size containers. Like a 700ml jar of olives vs a 500ml jar of olives. You can check the price per 100ml on the supermarket label and see which one offers better value. You might find the bigger one isn't always the best value option!

Have a look at the value each item offers next time you shop. Maybe it's just me, but I find it really interesting to see the range on offer. :-)

Weekly or Monthly Meal plans

This was a great money and time saver for us a couple of years ago, but due to my fiances work commitments we're unable to keep to a meal plan like we did before. 
The idea is to plan out exactly what you're going to have for a set period in advance, like a week or a month. We would only plan an evening meal in advance, as we usually have breakfast and lunch separately due to our work hours. 
When my fiance's work hours were fixed, we would plan a month in advance. We would have a menu plan of around 15-20 recipes that we liked, were healthy and fairly cheap, and we just cycled them. 

This strategy is great for saving food and avoiding waste. You can plan how much food you need for each meal in advance and buy the exact amount. We became very good at estimating how many items we needed to fulfill the months menu. (like most things in life, you just get better with practice)

Another spin off benefit to this strategy for us was that it takes the thinking out of cooking. It's nice to come home and know exactly what you're cooking. You can take the meat out to defrost the night before, and when you arrive home you can just get cracking with the cooking. Before we implemented our meal plans, we would sometimes get home together (tired and hungry) and we would get frustrated with each other as we tried to work out what to eat that night. Sometimes we would disagree over what we 'felt' like eating that night, or we might decide on a dish only to find out we didn't have all the ingredients for it and therefore it wasn't the 'same'.

When we started doing living by the meal plan, it made life much much easier. No thinking was required as we know what we're cooking, and we know we have the ingredients. So, we both just got on with it. 

The preparation this strategy offered made life very easy, and I would highly recommend it to any couple or family if you haven't tried it before.

Shopping List

Following on from the point above. Make a list of all the items you need for your menu plan, and stick to it! It's tempting to go 'off list' at times but if you have a meal plan in place, it's easier to stick to a list. On this point, if we find GREAT value in an offer we were unaware of, and we can afford it, then we take full advantage of it. I discuss this more in 'Bulk Buying' below.

Sometimes, we'll even write items down to check if they're on sale or not. If they are we'll buy them, if not we'll leave it. We do this for 'Branded' and 'Premium' items mainly. For example, we mentioned that my fiance loves Lurpak which is a lot more expensive than basic butter. We'll only buy it at the store when it's on offer like 'Buy One Get One Free' or half price. Then we buy in bulk. If it's not on offer, we don't buy it. 

If I only plan on buying 2 items, I don't get a trolley or a basket. I just carry them around with my hands. I'm much less tempted to pick up other items if I can't physically carry them around the store. Similarly, I'll try to use the basket or a small trolley for shopping so we don't feel the need to 'Fill it'. There is Scientific research to suggest that when you're carrying a basket you're more inclined to fill it. The bigger the basket or trolley, the more inclined you are to fill it with items. 

Don't Shop When You're Hungry

This is a very quick, simply strategy for us, but we don't go into a supermarket when we're hungry. It's dangerous!

It will seriously test your resolve. Everything looks appealing, and we just end up chucking everything into a trolley as we imagine eating it all at once! It's hard not to overspend to compensate for your hunger urges. 

If we want to get a shop done in the morning, we now make sure we have a bite to eat before hand, as it tends to save us money!

Buy in bulk

If we find a brilliant deal on an item we always buy, we stock up on it! We look out for 'Buy One Get One Free' or half price items all the time. We do a lot of this for items that won't go off like cleaning or toiletry items. 

The key to making this work for us is to make sure we only buy items that we would normally buy anyway. It defeats the object if you just go around buying sale offers and they end up as waste. 

I like Kenco Millicano coffee (when I'm not on lent!), and I'll drink it everyday. The item is usually £3.99 for 100g (this is one of my treats). So, if I see it on a half price offer of £2, I'll go nuts and buy 6-10 cartons. That might set me back at the time, but I would go through that amount anyway, and now I'm saving £1.99 per carton. I end up saving more money in total (up to £10.99) for having the same amount of coffee. 

......and there you have it. These strategies have worked for us, and I would happily recommend all of them. If you haven't tried any of these out before, be my guest and give it a go. If you do try any, please let me know how you get on, I'd love to know. 

If I've managed to help even one person, try one strategy, just the once...... I'll be a happy man! 

Thanks again for reading and I'd also like to thanks those of you that have left supportive and encouraging comments over the last few posts. I really appreciate it!

Have you tried any of these strategies before? How have they worked for you? Do you have any strategies of your own that you would like to share?

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