10 easy ways to stretch your food budget

A few easy tweaks when it comes to the big food shop can save you hundreds of pounds over the course of the year. And none of them involve going without.

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Is food shopping eating up too much of your family budget? With a lot of us feeling the pinch recently, it pays to look at cutting costs. Try these tips to make your pennies go further, and save the pounds week in, week out.

1. Make a shopping list

Spending just a couple of minutes itemising what you need will really help focus your mind. Having a plan of action reduces the chance of impulse buys, saving you time and money!

2. Try buying online

Supermarket delivery slots are hard to come by, but if you can manage to get one then it’s a great way of keeping impulse buys to a minimum, as you won’t be tempted by goodies on the shelves. And as the total is added up with each new item, you can set yourself a limit and then review what you’ve got in your basket, removing one or two less important things if you go over your budget.

3. Make clever comparisons

Make sure you compare like for like instead of automatically reaching for the cheapest. Two boxes of cereal or blocks of cheese may look similar but check the price per weight to be sure that each contains the same amount. It should be displayed on the shelf price ticket, and the lower the price per kilo, the better value it is.

4. Eat before shopping

If you’re hungry when you go to the supermarket, you’re much more likely to overspend on food shopping. All those little treats will be much less tempting if you’re full.

5. Assess your spend

Keep all your food receipts for a month. Run down the list, focusing on the pricier items. Which of those could you live without? Consider cheaper alternatives.

6. Check your fridge

What really gets used each week and what gets binned? For example, if you always end up with half a bottle of flat fizzy drink, it might be better value to buy small cans and use a little at a time, even if a bottle seems more cost-effective.

7. Know your dates

There’s a difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food packaging: ‘use by’ means it may be harmful if you eat it after this date; ‘best before’ means that the quality won’t be as good if consumed after this date.

People often make the mistake of throwing food away once it has passed its ‘best before’ date, thereby getting rid of perfectly good food. If you’re happy with the quality of your food and it’s only just passed its ‘best before’ date, there’s no need to replace it.

8. Store it well

Most food needs to be stored in the fridge once the packaging has been opened. For maximum preservation, the ideal fridge temperature is 0-5ºC. Make sure cooked food is stored in airtight containers, and reseal packaging to keep food at its best for longer.

9. Rely on leftovers

A great way to create savings when cooking is to make a little extra and then freeze it for a later date. Soups, pasta sauces and curries are all perfect for freezing in bags – just make sure they’re properly sealed to you don’t have to clean up leaks! If you allow them to freeze whilst flat you will be able to layer them up and utilise your freezer space to the max.

Always label up food bags before you freeze a meal – frozen food can be really hard to decipher! Include what it is, the date it goes into the freezer and how many it will feed (i.e. 1 x adult or 2 x kids). Many a quick kids’ meal can be organised that way.

They make for a handy meal when you’re in a hurry, and will be much cheaper (and healthier!) than a preservative-packed ready meal. It’s more cost effective to cook a little bit extra than to buy fresh ingredients and start from scratch again.

10. Avoid special offers

Admit it, we’ve all been tempted at one time or another by the mountain of promotions and offers in supermarkets - but is this really helping us to save?
When you’re walking around the supermarket and you see a tempting sale, ask yourself: “Would I buy this if it wasn’t on offer?” If the answer is no, move on to your usual product. You’ll be amazed how much less your shopping bill comes to each week if you follow this principle.

For more tips on how to live well on a budget, see our article on the one rule you need to know to save money.

How do you save when you shop?
We’d love for you to share your tips in the comments section below.