With the purse strings for most families getting ever tighter, and no sign of the situation improving, many of us have cut out the luxuries and are now looking for ways to save money on the essentials too. Here are my tips on how you can do just that: 1. Use Approved Food, which is a fantastic online seller of clearance food and drink from the supermarkets and the suppliers. This is not just out of date products, which by the way are perfectly fine as long as it's not the 'use by' date that's been passed, but a lot of Approved Food's stock is simply in the wrong packaging, either because it's been redesigned, or it carries an out of date offer or promotion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this food, and you will save a fortune! Theere are other sites of this type around.
2. Try to find your local ethnic stores and supermarkets, even the Polish or Indian section of your local big five supermarket will yield some fantastic bargains. If you shop around you can find greaat deals like huge bags of basmati rice for a few pounds in Chinese stores; pickled vegetables for less than a pound in the Polish and Eastern European shops; or big bags of herbs, spices, lentils and other dahl in Indian shops.
3. Pound shops and 99p stores also have a great range of remaindered and cut price stock. On a recent trip we picked up jars of sun dried tomatoes, fancy branded gift packs of chocolates and biscuits to stock the pressie cupboard, and tinned goods like soup and chopped tomatoes at 4 for £1! It's another shop around one though, and you do have to go in regularly to pick up the latest bargains.
4. If you do want to stick with the supermarkets, try out their delivery services, you can often get a big discount on your first online shop with the big four. Look out for 'your first shop' vouchers from Tesco and Ocado particularly in magazines and with other junk mail.
5. Try another supermarket. My best friend has just swapped her Sainsbury's delivery for Asda, and saves about £50 a week! You can use a comparison site to compare your shop, but when I've tried this in the past I found it very laborious, so prefer to do my own thing. You may fare better with it though!
6. You may not want to down brand completely at your chosen supermarket, but try popping a cuple of items in your trolley each week just to try, you may be pleasantly surprised! Remember you don't have to go straight from premium to basic, there are usually different stages (and price brands) in between. We recently discovered that a supermarket own brand pasta was preferable to a premium one. If you have older children you could have fun doing your own taste tests, with scoring and everything. I did this with Years 4-6 once and it went down a storm!
7. Allow yourself plenty of time - go for a good look round your local supermarkets, including the usuals, plus Lidl, Iceland and Aldi - would it be worth shopping at 3 places rather than just your usual one? Of course this will be dependent on distance, parking etc. Places like Lidl are fantastic for cartons of juice and tinned goods, so a stock up trip (if you have the space tto store it) every couple of months is well worth it.
8. Alternatively, if you are used to doing big weekly shops and then throwing half of it away, think about only buying what you need. Could you stock up on the basics at the supermarket, then shop at a local greengrocer or market for fruit and veg as and when you need it?
9. Following on from that, make sure you always freeze leftovers quickly, or use them for lunch the next day. Don't leave odd bowls festering at the back of the fridge!
10. Go to the supermarket at 7-8pm on a weekday, 6-7pm on a Saturday, and 3pm on a Sunday. These are the usual markdown times and you may well find some great bargains in the fresh food, fruit and veg, and bakery sections. I took my mum out for this one on Sunday and she got enough bread for a month for less than a pound! Make sure you have some freezer space first though!
11. Don't buy anything at eye level, or rather make sure you look at the bottom two shelves and the top shelf first. This is where the low profit items get shoved because the supermarket psychologists advise putting the best selling, high profit items at eye level.
12. Look out for the red and yellow special offer labels, but make sure they ARE bargains first. What was the before price? What's the single unit price? What's the per kilo proce in compaison with other brands? How much will you actually be saving? What's the expiry date, and will you actually use this product in time?
13. If you can afford it, and the product is a genine bargain, stock up! Buy loads of on offer loo roll or washing up liquid, as long as you have room to store it. (See the point about Lidl above.)
14. In the same vein, build up a larder stock, either from supermarket offers (tortilla wraps are always a good one because they are often on offer and have a long shelf life), or by making a special trip to an ethnic supermarket (lentils, rice, spices), or a discount warehouse if you can get a card. Lidl is also good for this if you can stock up when you see a bargain.
15. If you buy supermarket fruit and veg, buy loose as this is usually the cheaper per kilo price, but do check because sometimes the bagged knobbly value versions may be even cheaper still.
16. Don't follow the supermarket's plan when you shop. Those pesky psychologists again - they're paid a fortune to relieve you of one! Make your own way round and only go down the aisles you actually need to if you want to stick to your list!
17. Unless you are intending to do a stock building shop by just hunting out bargains, take a list - and stick to it. And do adhere to that old chestnut of never shopping when you're hungry (or depressed!)
18. Seek out coupons, online is the place to go, especially Facebook, but you can still find lots of print coupons in magazines and newspapers. Always pick up any promotional magazines and leaflets in supermarkets too, they may not have content to interest you, but they will have vouchers which may be of use to you. Also, make sure you are signed up to all the clubs and groups which are relevant to you - Tesco Clubcard has lots of other sub groups which mail out relevant vouchers regularly, for example. But even with your voucher, a non-brand may be cheaper, so do check before you sling it in your trolley.
19. Use your loyalty cards as much as possible, but NEVER shop somewhere just because you'll get points. Loyalty is great with people, but not with big business!
20. Check your receipt, Tesco is notorious in our area for not updating all of its offers regularly, and with the best will in the world, some offers may slip through the net at any big shop. Before you leave the store, check the offers you thought you had have been taken off your receipt, and if they haven't, head to customer services with a smile ready.
21. Get into the habit of menu planning, using your built up stock cupboard as well as what you buy week to week, but make sure you keep an eye out for future stock cupboard and freezer fillers too, and be ready to adapt your plan if some fresh bargain presents itself. If you are running out of money at the end of the month, there are websites you can use where you type in what you have and it suggests a dish. Stir fries, curries and casseroles are all great ways to use up leftover bits before you go shopping again. And there's not much you can't bung in a pasta sauce!
22. Grow your own - even a window box for herbs, or some tomatoes and peppers on a balcony will save you some money. If you have a garden, all the better. Plus it's great exercise and a fun hobby.
OK, so that's my top tips for money saving at the supermarket and on food buying in general. I know it's a lot to take in, but once you start it will soon become second nature, and no, you won't become a food bore, or someone who can't walk round Waitrose without your smartphone in one hand and a stressed look on your face! Good luck, and enjoying money saving. Now you just have to decide what to do with all the pennies you save...