Student life

How to pay less for food

Last updated: 25/11/20

There are those who love food and those who see it as little more than a fuel for the body. Between both of them, though, there’s still not a single person who enjoys paying for the weekly food shop. It’s an unavoidable chore, but one which can be easily cut down.

Change your when and where

Buying at one supermarket is uneconomical – as is buying at supermarkets at all. Where ‘the essentials’ are concerned, it’s often best to buy from a local, cheap fruit n’ veg shop. They’re terrific for buying in bulk as they offer goods by the bowl, so you’ll pick up more beans than you know what to do with for just £1. Split your buys with someone else to make sure you don’t end up with waste (or a week of identical meals).

If you can find a local butcher (they’re sadly often hidden away but Google will help), not only will you get terrific prices and usually a higher grade of meat, you can also order exactly the amount you need – so you won’t be paying for any excess.

Steer clear of so-called famers’ markets and anything offering ‘artisan’ goods. Chances are, you’ll be getting completely ripped off, so look closely at the prices before buying.

Sometimes, the places you expect to be most expensive aren’t. While the high-end supermarkets may be more expensive day to day, they usually slash their prices drastically when goods are about to go off. Watch out for their distinctive yellow discount stickers, which promise a hefty discount on the best food.

When you shop is as important as where. Head to the shop when they’re putting out the reductions, which tends to be around seven or eight in the evening(or later if your supermarket stays open well into the night) and be sure to look at the whole shelf; the cheaper products are never at eye-level.

Shop when you’re poor. It sounds strange, admittedly, but when there’s plenty of money to spend (for instance, when the student loan first hits your account), then plenty of money is spent.

Change your habits: eat the offers

It’s easy to buy the same week in and week out but this doesn’t favour your budget – prices differ and deals get missed, simply because you’re buying out of habit. Instead, buy to season and your fruit and veg will be much healthier and much cheaper. Pre-packed food is also a waste; you’re paying for plastic you’ll throw away, so buy loose.

Shopping with a list is obvious – but make that list flexible, including things like ‘Meat for five suppers’ and then decide what meat you have according to what’s on offer. Your meals will likely vary much more, too.

A word on meat: it tends to be the most expensive buy, so it’s worth going without for one day a week. For your regular meals, pay for less by building your meals around the cheaper ingredients – as in, mash n’ bangers, rather than the other way around.

Don't trust the supermarket

Consider supermarkets as a corporate incarnation of the Artful Dodger; their aim is to pick your pockets without you ever realising. Ever noticed you’re treated to the thrill of a complete shop tour even if you’re only popping in for milk? They aim to show (read: entice you with) everything on offer. Have an idea what you want and try to avoid being drawn in otherwise.

These offers can encourage you to spend, when you wouldn’t have otherwise. Take ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ deals: they (obviously!) can present excellent value but supermarkets run them to tempt you into buying something you otherwise would have left. Sure, you can put it aside for another time but why spend the money if you don’t want the thing in the first place?

Buy the product, not the packaging

Supermarkets don’t aim to sell the most expensive goods, just the ones they make the most money on. They deliberately try and entice customers with those products, even if it isn’t obvious.

The bottom ranges intentionally have unattractive packaging and unappealing names like ‘Value’, ‘Basic’ and ‘Cheapskate’. The mid-level produce is unlikely to be noticeably better so try the range below the one you usually buy and if you don’t taste a difference, stick with it and pocket the change. It’s easy to do, once your inner snob is kept quiet.

Be a little wary of buying in bulk. It usually represents good value but not always, because supermarkets have wised up to shoppers’ habits. From time to time, they bump up the price on the bigger packs. To get the most for your money, don’t simply by the pack screaming ‘Bigger! Better value’ – read the shelf label instead and compare prices according to cost per ml, or gram, and so on.

If you ever overpay for an item, make sure you know how to claim a refund properly.

This post was contributed by Student Money Saver

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