Cutting the cost of your shopping bills

With food prices higher than ever (thanks to a variety of reasons we probably don’t want to get into), it’s essential households do everything they can to keep their shopping bills from spiralling.

The latest data from the UN showed that food prices had risen at the fastest pace in over a decade. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index tracks prices around the world of a range of food including cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar. According to the index, food prices in May were 4.8% higher than April – the biggest monthly rise since October 2010 – and 39.7% higher than this time last year (May 2020).

So what can you do to fight back? Switching to cheaper brands is an obvious – and very effective – way to slash bills. Many households have already done this.

But it’s by no means the only option. By changing when, where and how we shop, we can buy exactly the same goods we normally would at a drastically reduced cost.

Here, we take a look at some of the most effective tips we’ve come across. Of course, this is by no means a definitive list, so please share your own bill-busting suggestions in the comments section below.

Before you shop

We’ll start on a fairly obvious point here, but you need to know exactly what it is you need before you start shopping.

Take the time to check what you have in your home in order to avoid ending up with a mountain of pasta or milk.

“This is especially wasteful when it comes to fresh and perishable items that will then go to waste as you simply can’t use everything before it expires,” says Duncan Jennings, co-founder of

Speaking of avoiding waste, those who shop weekly might consider drawing up a meal plan so that you know what you will use (although some might find this too restrictive).

For anyone who shops online, try and be flexible when booking a delivery slot – supermarkets will charge significantly more for sought-after times such as shortly after work. Shifting your delivery slot by a couple of hours could halve your costs.

Finally, have a look around online for vouchers before you buy, using sites to get deals saves extra money on the shop and doesn’t take any time at all.

At the shops

Supermarkets have a host of tricks to get you to spend more, so stick as closely to your shopping list as possible to avoid impulse buys.

Here’s a fairly well-known tip but one that’s worth mentioning again: if you’re going supermarket shopping, go later in the day when many fresh items will have been reduced.

“Often these appear to be a false economy as they are going out-of-date but many of the items can be frozen and then eaten at a later date,” suggests Jennings. “Look out for markdowns and think about using your freezer wisely.”

Avoid the mistake of simply assuming multipacks or bigger packs automatically mean better value. Whether through individual shop error or a sneaky marketing ploy, it can often work out cheaper to buy numerous smaller individual packages than bigger or multipacks. Yes, it’s a pain to have to calculate these things as it adds time to an already dreary experience, but it can save you money.

When you’re at the checkout, don’t forget to make use of any loyalty cards – most major supermarkets have some kind of scheme and you may as well get something back for buying things you needed anyway, no matter how small.

Similarly, consider paying for your shopping using a rewards or cashback credit card then paying it off straight away. It all adds up in the end.

Finally, Vouchercodes’ Jennings suggests that you only take serial bargain-hunting so far.

“Shop around, but not too much. Everyone wants to save money and get the best price they can on essential items, however supermarket hoppers can actually spend more in petrol – or separate delivery charges – shopping around to get the best price than just visiting one supermarket.”

Things to remember for your next shop

For those who shop online, don’t simply re-order your previous shopping list or even select items straight from there for the sake of simplicity. Why? Many of your earlier purchases may have been on a special deal that has since expired or, conversely, you may miss out on a new offer.

It takes longer, but if you want to save money then it’s definitely worth it.

As always, remember that loyalty never pays. Many supermarkets will offer brilliant vouchers in order to tempt you to shop with them – you can get £10 to £15 off your first shop with some of the major supermarkets (usually reserved for online shopping), with no obligation to shop with them again. Money Saving Expert keeps tabs on the latest best offers.

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