EVERY mum will know just how expensive feeding a family is, whether you’re catering for kids over the summer holidays or prepping back to school lunch boxes.
Setting out a family budget for your food shop is a great way to make your money go further each month.
Whatever the size of your family, understanding how to save money on food can help keep costs down without compromising on variety, allowing everyone to enjoy their favourite dishes throughout the week.
Here experts at Think Money reveal their top tips for how to food shop on a budget, and save money on every meal.
1. Make a list of household items you have
While making a list tells you what you need to get, it doesn’t tell you what you don’t need. Inevitably, we’ve all ended up in the aisles of supermarkets trying to remember whether we’ve already got salt, pepper and the like in our cupboards at home.
But without knowing for sure, we’ll often pick one up just in case we’re wrong.
For this reason, you can shave a little off your shop each week by checking what you’ve already got at home.
If you’re looking for a cheap food shop, this is also a good way to plan your meals.
Rather than going for something that will require you to buy a whole host of new ingredients, take a look at what’s in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer, and base your meal plans around your existing ingredients.
2. Plan out meals for the week
Panning your meals is a must if you’re trying to shop on a budget.
Firstly, by planning your meals, you can buy only what you need and make sure you’re not wasting money on food that will end up in the bin or uneaten.
Added to this, you can focus on the items that you actually need rather than browsing the aisles and picking up whatever takes your fancy.
Lastly, if you’ve got a list of items you want to buy to make your meals for the week ahead, you can cost up how much the shop will be online.
This way, you can make adjustments if you think your shop is going to end up being too expensive when you come to manage your money using a spreadsheet, budgeting current account or app.
3. Stock up on the cheap basics
Most supermarkets now do their own brand or cheaper version of essential items such as tinned tomatoes, beans, rice and pasta.
Additionally, you can often get them in bulk or in much larger quantities, meaning that you can use them as staples for your meals for many weeks to come.
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Spices and dried herbs are another good shout when it comes to keeping your costs down, as they are relatively cheap and can save you from having to buy more expensive sauces or marinades.
For an even cheaper shop, look for versions of these essentials in the world foods aisle.
4. Try to batch cook
Batch cooking is a great way to save money at the supermarket. Many people find this to be the case as batch cooking uses more individual ingredients, which tend to make for a much cheaper shop than ready meals.
Ingredients will also stretch further in batch cooking with just a few simple additions.
Sometimes batch cooking can mean that you end up eating the same meal over and over again. If you want to avoid this, try freezing some of your portions to have another week.
You don’t have to over complicate your meals when it comes to batch cooking either.
There are loads of batch cooking recipes that are designed for families, meaning they don’t take too long to make, have relatively few ingredients, and will cater to the tastes of younger children.
Take a look at some the websites below if you’re looking for inspirations ahead of your next meal:
Best batch cooking family recipes:
- BBC Good Food
- 50 Batch Cooking Recipes – Food Network
- Batch Cooking Recipes – Jamie Oliver
5. Search for coupons online
Weekly food shops can be very expensive no matter how much you budget and plan.
To try and reduce the costs, have a search for any coupons or discounts for supermarkets in your area.
Vouchercloud often has a list of the discounts available for the week ahead, and there are loads of other websites offering similar coupons.
6. Use reduced sections in supermarkets
If you aren’t too fussed about what you’ll be eating in the week ahead, the reduced section could be your best friend when it comes to saving on your shop.
Larger supermarkets will often have plenty of reductions on items set to expire, and so you can pick up a few things to last you the week at a fraction of the cost.
This advice goes slightly against our previous point of planning your shops. If you have a specific meal plan in mind, it could be worth seeing whether anything on your list is in the reduced section.
If not, you can always make minor changes on the fly as long as it doesn’t affect the price of your shop too much.
One thing to check when purchasing reduced items is whether they can be frozen. Plenty of meats and fish can go in the freezer to use at a later date, but most fruit and veg can’t, meaning you’ll have to use it on the day.
Furthermore, although a lot of ready meals can be frozen, there are a few that can’t be kept in the freezer, so check the packaging before you buy.
You should try to keep in mind that something is only a great bargain if you’re going to use it, so avoid picking stuff up just because you think it’ll lead to a cheaper shop.
Lastly, try heading to the supermarket at the optimal times for reduced items.
The rough times of when the big supermarkets tend to start marking up products for the reduced section are:
- Asda – 7:00 PM
- Sainsbury’s – 7:00 PM
- M&S – 8:00 PM
- Co-op – 8:00 PM
A lot of the other supermarkets don’t have set times, so try to figure out when they start reducing items by doing your shop in the evening.
7. Don’t focus on brands
One of the very best ways to save money at the supermarket is to avoid brands. You tend to pay a premium for the brand name, and in many cases, the quality isn’t that different from other products offered up by the supermarket.
For example, a box of Coco Pops is £2.89 from Asda, whereas the own-brand version (which is also slightly larger) is just £1.40 – less than half the price.
And the change in price clearly hasn’t affected the quality, with the cereal rated at nearly five stars with many shoppers commenting that they taste just the same as the branded version.
However, it’s understandable that you might still have your favourites. To test the water, try swapping out a few own-brand products in your shops and see which ones you can live without.
8. Try one meat-free day a week
Reducing your meat consumption can be beneficial for your wallet as well as your health and the environment. By switching out meat just one day a week, you could halve the price of one of your meals.
For example, using Tesco recipes and prices, the ingredients for this beef stir fry work out at around £12.50, whereas the ingredients for this vegetable katsu stir fry cost roughly £7. Additionally, the ingredients for this green lentil curry come in at under £6.50, and the ingredients for this chicken curry are just shy of £10.
This isn’t to say that meat-free is always the cheapest food, as some meat substitutes can be quite expensive and difficult to find. However, one thing you can be certain of is that going veggie can help you save money at the supermarket if you’re smart with what you choose to cook.