A fanatic’s guide to supermarket savings

Many families spend hundreds of pounds a month buying groceries in the supermarket. Here are some frugal, if fanatical, ways to cut that cost.

 We spend billions in major supermarkets every year. In fact, analysis by Barclays suggests that UK shoppers are likely to spend around £6 billion in supermarkets this month alone.

But many of us don’t really trust the major retailers, especially following last week’s Panorama investigation into how consumers are being misled. I made the mistake of having a supermarket internet order arrive while I watched it. I nearly wept into my receipt.

Here are some of the best ways to fight back:

Work out the cost of convenience

The success of supermarkets is down to their convenience. Where else can you shop for milk and baby clothes and a new iPad? But if you knew how much that convenience cost you, you might well be motivated to buy some groceries elsewhere.

I compared my fruit and veg shopping bill at Tesco and my local market and found that the big supermarket was 50% more expensive than the greengrocer’s stall for fresh produce.

Organise your shopping list

Writing a list can really help you cut back on your spending, but organising it properly can help even more.

If your list is in no particular order then you’re more adrift in the aisles. You risk covering the same ground more than once, or aimlessly searching the shelves. That puts you at increased risk of making impulse buys.

Only visit aisles you need

If your list is organised then you can avoid unnecessary aisles, helping you avoid being sucked into buying something you don’t really need.

Simply trudging up and down every single aisle is long, boring and potentially costly.

Try somewhere new

For years, I only shopped at the big four supermarkets. It wasn’t even a conscious decision; I just automatically looked for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA or Morrison’s.

But there are some brilliant budget supermarkets on our streets, like Lidl and Aldi, not to mention Wilkinson’s and various pound shops. These are especially good if you want to stock up on cheaper non-perishables, like cleaning fluids.

Enlist the kids

Shopping is far easier if you can leave your offspring at home, but that’s not always possible. Instead of letting them fill the trolley with expensive unnecessary stuff, enlist their help in your penny pinching.

Promise them one small treat if they spot a money-saving opportunity that you’ve missed, such as a cheaper packet or a misleading deal. This also helps keep them entertained.

Know the scams

Supermarkets are designed by marketing gurus to be attractive and make you spend. It’s very hard to resist their tactics, but being aware of them definitely helps.

From fresh bread smells to relaxing coffee bars to the layout of the aisles, make sure you understand how you’re being manipulated. Read ‘The seven biggest supermarket scams’ to get up to speed.

Limit your visits

My house is a three-minute drive from two huge supermarkets, and a five-minute drive from another two. It’s all too easy to visit every day and just pick up what I need immediately, especially when I have a baby in tow – he doesn’t have much stamina for a big shop.

But if you go five times instead of one, you’re unlikely to just spend a fifth of your budget each time. Extra trips almost always mean extra spending, so do one big rigorous shop and avoid the temptation to ‘just nip in’.

Downgrade your products

There’s a vast difference in price between the premium and economy products in a supermarket. But some of the cheaper options are perfectly good – as I found in my very first Penny Pincher column.

You don’t have to downgrade your entire shop straight away (although think how much you’d save…), you can always trial one or two cheaper products each week.

Compare unit pricing

This is important if you want to avoid being ripped off. Don’t assume that bigger packs mean better value – even if the manufacturer has printed ‘BIGGER PACK – BETTER VALUE!’ across the packet.

All too often these are actually worse value. Check and compare the unit price or price per kilogram, usually printed underneath the price tag on the shelf. Most phones have calculators if you need help with the maths.

Compare prices without leaving your house

The website mySupermarket.co.uk lets you compare your shopping basket at four different supermarkets, to check you’re getting the best price.

A quick check can really make a difference. In my article ‘A traditional family Christmas for £200’, I found a price difference of almost 50% between the cheapest and most expensive supermarket.

Not only that, the website tells you when you can save money within your preferred supermarket; for example, when a larger box is better value or when you can trade down and save.

Its customers shave an average of 20% off their bill each time, meaning potential savings over a year of £800. That’s definitely one way to fight inflation!

Find the best time to shop

Ask the staff at your regular supermarket when the best time to shop for discounted products is. For example, my nearest supermarket starts discounting bread and other baked goods at around 8pm each day. It varies from store to store, and even across different departments, so ask the staff.

Complain

We’re not great at standing up for ourselves in the UK. But if a product isn’t up to scratch and you don’t return it then that’s money simply down the drain.

This is a small amount of effort for a big potential saving.

Keep notes

One for the real fanatics now. Keep a small notebook and write down the prices of your regular shopping. That way you can watch for price changes and trends. Importantly, you can also spot when the supermarket is marketing something as a better deal than it really is.

After all, Panorama found that some supermarkets were advertising products as ‘Now £1.99!’ – the price had sometimes gone up, but the word ‘now’ suggested a saving.

Shop with a friend

I’m a big fan of food co-operatives as a way to save cash, but even just shopping with a friend can save you money.

That way, you can make use of buy-one-get-one-free and bulk-buy offers and simply split your purchases.

Check your receipt

You need to have your wits about you to get the best deals in supermarkets, and that doesn’t stop at the till. Always check your receipt to make sure you’ve received the discounts you were promised. You’ll be shocked at how often you have to complain.

Obvious but important

There are many ways to save money in the supermarket that you know, but probably sometimes forget. Here are some obvious but vital tricks…

  • Don’t shop hungry
  • Write a list
  • Don’t fall for two-for-one promotions unless you need the products
  •  Stock up on non-perishables when they’re on offer
  • Keep your coupons in your wallet so you remember to use them
  • Cut waste by making a meal plan before writing your shopping list
  • Avoid processed food, cooking from scratch can be cheaper

Your supermarket savings

That’s my list of tips, but you know the drill by now. If you have any suggestions for cutting back the cost of your household shopping, please share them below.