Last October, food prices rose at their fastest rate in four years: 4% up on the year before. So, how can we manage our money better when it comes to what we eat?
According to the Money Advice Service, the UK average spend on food is £58. However, the size of your household and where you live will impact this amount: your total may be lower or substantially higher. Nonetheless, by following a few rules, you could potentially save hundreds of pounds a year and also help protect our planet. As the Independent reports, "24% of global agricultural freshwater is used to grow food that’s never eaten", generating unnecessary greenhouse gases in the process.
Eight simple rules for lowering your food costs
1. Set a food budget
Whether you shop daily, weekly, or monthly it’s important to set a food budget. Naturally, this will fluctuate depending on the time of the year and special occasions, but it pays to be realistic. Work this into your household budget and make sure you stick to it, but don’t forget to include an allowance for occasional treats and events.
2. Write a shopping list
The Money Advice Service says if you use a shopping list, you could save up to £200 a year. Remember, loose fruit and veg is often cheaper than pre-packaged, plus there’s less environmental impact. And if you take a trip to the frozen food aisle you could save even more. There’s a myth frozen fruit and vegetables aren’t as nutritious, but this isn’t true. Plus, it tends to last longer as you only use what you need at the time, so there’s less waste.
3. Take the supermarket own brands test
Try cheaper own-brand products – particularly for basics such as flour, sugar, oats and rice – as you probably won’t notice a difference in taste.
4. Meal plans
Plan a week in advance and go through your cupboards to see what you already have in stock. Could you find a way to use up what you have? Think creatively: why not add a spare broccoli to cauliflower cheese? Could you use meat bones to make your own stock? If something’s about to go off and you don’t have time to eat it, could you turn it into a meal and freeze it for another day?
And don’t forget to store your food in date order, with newly-bought goods at the back and things that need eating up at the front: you’re less likely to discover something has gone off without realising.
5. Note down what you throw away
For a few weeks, write down everything you throw away. This will stop you from buying products that always end up in the bin. Aspiring to whip up a green smoothie every morning is commendable, but if you simply don’t have the time, you’re never going to use all the ingredients – and fresh produce goes out of date quickly.
If you’re throwing out everything that’s gone past its best before date, you could be doing so unnecessarily. ‘Best before’ refer to the quality: it’s likely it’ll still be fine to eat. For best results, do the ‘sniff test’: does it smell ok? Then it’s probably fine. However, don’t confuse this with ‘use by’ dates which are about safety: if that date has passed then the food is definitely best avoided, even if it looks or smells fine.
6. Be smart where you shop
Discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl can provide excellent value for money and they are proving a hit with shoppers: Aldi has just overtaken Waitrose as the nation’s favourite supermarket. And don’t forget to compare prices with local greengrocers or fruit and veg stands. The latter often have ripe produce at a fraction of supermarket prices - it won’t keep for long but you can pick up what you need on a day-by-day basis.
Online shopping is another viable option. Although you’ll need to pay for delivery, off-peak delivery slots or annual passes can keep costs low, plus there is a time saving benefit too.
Sites like MySupermarket can help you determine the best deals in some of the country’s main stores, and you can also order directly through them: customers report saving up to 30% on their grocery shop.
There are also recipe box delivery services such as Hello Fresh and Gousto. They might seem a little more expensive, but they’re designed to avoid wastage and might be a good alternative for those who find they eat out too often and want to give cooking a go.
7. Be strategic in store
Look above or below eye level to make sure you don’t miss the best deals. But don’t be tempted by ‘special offers’ you don’t need: stick to your shopping list to avoid temptation and impulse purchases.
The time of day you shop can also help you in your quest to save money: groceries are often marked down in the evenings. And remember to take any vouchers or loyalty cards with you – but don’t be tempted to spend more money simply to get more points unless it’s something you genuinely need.
8. Work with the local community to avoid unnecessary wastage
Or why not do your bit and get involved in a local initiative? The Community Fridge Network is nationwide, and growing. It’s an opportunity to give your surplus groceries to members of their community who can’t afford to go shopping.
These simple rules can help you reduce waste, lessen the impact on the environment and lower your food bill. Give it a try and, before you know it, you could be saving hundreds of pounds a year.