Figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that the average cost of food rose by just over a quarter between 2008 and 2018, but a minimum food budget for a single person rose from £29 to £44 a week, a rise of just over 50%.
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The best ways I’ve found to save money and find cheap food are as follows:
How to Save Money when Shopping for Food
- Write a menu and shopping list before you go shopping so that you are not tempted to buy unnecessary food. Supermarkets want your money and are experts at enticing you to buy more than you really want.
- Avoid shopping for food when you are hungry – your willpower will be weakened and you’re likely to buy cheap food!
- Try the supermarket comparison site to find cheap food. It compares the cost of your supermarket trolley at the major supermarkets including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s, Aldi, Iceland, Waitrose, Ocado and M&S. Although it checks the prices online they are usually the same price in store. It also suggests alternative options that may include cheap food.
- Check for coupons before you go shopping. Supermarkets often give money off coupons so check if you have any when you have prepared your shopping list. The online site Money Saving Expert regularly updates its page showing a list of food coupons here
- Don’t be tempted by supermarket offers, such as Buy One Get One Free, unless you really want the two items. Also check that their offers will genuinely save you money – sometimes their offers are misleading!
- Don’t forget to look at the higher and lower shelves for your items – you are more likely to find cheap food here. The items supermarkets want you to buy tend to be at you eye level – or in the case of sweets, at the eye level of children.
- Try a different brand – sometimes (not always) you can’t tell the difference. Sometimes it’s just the packaging that makes the item more expensive. I’m not suggesting you replace all your favourite branded products with cheaper ones, but try a couple each time you go shopping.
- Buy discounted food that’s close or past its best before date or with damaged packaging. You will often find a section at the supermarket selling cheap food. Remember:
The use by date is about safety.
Use By Date
Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use by date, but not after. You will see use by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-prepared salads. For the use by date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions.
Best Before Date
The best before date is about quality and not food safety.
The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture may not be as good. The best before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.
Difference between use by and best before dates (Food Standards Agency)
- Save money by purchasing food that is close or past its best before date online from Approved Food
- Use budget supermarkets. I regularly shop at Lidl and have noticed a big reduction in my food bill. Unfortunately I cannot buy everything I need from there so have to then shop at one of the larger supermarkets. Admittedly it takes more time to do my shopping but the savings are worth it.
- The supermarkets offer different schemes to make your shopping cheaper. Tesco has launched a new price match promise if your shopping could be cheaper at Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons. Sainsbury’s offer a similar price guarantee but it requires shoppers to collect a coupon for the difference if the shopping would have been cheaper at Asda. Morrisons’ shoppers can continue to earn points for shopping, getting 5 loyalty points for every £1 spent, on items over £1.
- Divide your trolley to take advantage of ‘price match’ promises offered between the different supermarkets – Tesco v Asda, Sainsbury’s & Morrisons, where Tesco promise to refund the difference when groceries are cheaper at their rivals. The trick here is to separate your purchases into those you will pay full price for and those that have been discounted. At the checkout present those full price items first and pay for them. You may receive a price match voucher. If you do, give the voucher to the cashier when you purchase your trolley of discounted shopping items. By separating your purchases, your discounted shopping items will not reduce your spend and you are likely to get a greater price match discount voucher. A similar scheme works with Sainsbury’s v Asda.
Save money by purchasing cheap food that is close or past its best before date online from Approved Food
If you are really struggling, click here for places where you may be able to get free food and/or cheap food at greatly reduced prices.
Healthy Eating on the Cheap
In a recent study researchers found that 50% of all food purchased by UK families is ‘ultra-processed’. In other words, the food has been designed to look appealing and taste good – but it lacks nutritional value. There is loads of information telling us what we should be eating, including the NHS but the problem is that it costs more to eat healthily!
Here are some suggestions to cut the costs so that you can eat well:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables. Buy seasonable vegetables and look out for ‘ugly fruit and vegetables’ which often cost less. Also check market stalls for cheaper fruit and vegetables.
- It’s often cheaper to buy a sack, or half a sack, of potatoes from a farm shop than buying bags of potatoes from the supermarket. As long as you are able to store them in a cool dark place they should last a couple of months.
- Buy larger cuts of meat. Don’t buy pre- cut slices – cut them yourself. For example, cook chicken breasts yourself and cut them into slices. Pre- cut meat is always more expensive.
- Don’t buy a cooked chicken as it’s cheaper to cook it yourself.
- Reduce the amount of meat you eat and replace it with vegetables and pulses.
- Take advantage of the versatile egg! There are so many dishes you can create and it is so cheap and nutritious. Click here for more information.
- Cut out wastage. So much food is wasted and when you waste food you waste your money. Menu planning helps avoid this, as does storing your food properly. Read the food labels for guidance on storing food.
- Avoid take-aways! They can be cheap but they’re rarely healthy.
- Make packed lunches instead of buying them. Include the provision of packed lunches when you plan your menu.
- Grow your own vegetables and herbs. Admittedly this can be time consuming, but if you have the space you will certainly have fresh and nutritious produce – with no food miles. Some produce can be grown on a patio or even indoors. Try just one or two items. There’s plenty of information online on how to do this.
- If you have the space, what about keeping chickens? They certainly produce the most wonderful eggs. However, there is an initial outlay and you do have to care for the birds and keep them clean. Again, there is plenty of information online about keeping chickens and DIY chicken coops. We rescued ex battery hens – see our video below.
Cheap Meal Ideas
Hopefully you’ve managed to find some cheap food after reading the above. Included here are some budget recipes that will help to save you money when cooking for your family. If you are looking for cheap recipe ideas for a single person, then click here.
Can’t Afford Food
You are not alone. For all sorts of reasons there are many people going without food in the UK. Food poverty has silently slipped into the UK over the past decade and the situation is getting worse. It affects the young and the old alike and is hurting people from all parts of the UK. There is, however, some help out there for people who can’t afford food. For example:
- The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 400 food banks giving emergency food and support to people in crisis across the UK. You need a voucher to get food – but these can be obtained from Citizens Advice, Doctors, Health Workers, Social Workers, to name a few. To find your nearest food bank click here.
- There is also the Independent Food Aid Network which has the details of other independent food banks run by community centres and churches. They have different requirements for who qualifies for help. To find your nearest food bank click here
Pay As You Feel
- The Real Junk Food Project has opened two ‘pay as you feel’ supermarkets – one in Leeds and one in Sheffield.
- It has also opened a number of cafes that provide meals to everyone regardless of their financial situation – if you cannot afford to pay you don’t have to. To find your nearest café click here
- The Empty Plate Café in Worthing serves hot, healthy & nutritious meals using the Pay As You Like’ concept. This is very similar to Pay As You Feel in that if you cannot afford to pay you do not have to.
Pay It Forward
- This is the advance purchase of a cup of coffee, a cold drink, soup, a sandwich or a full meal for someone who needs it. It is also known as ‘Suspended Coffees’ and there are over 2000 places that offer suspended coffees. To find a café that operates this scheme click here
- Community Fridges are run by local groups. In each area there will be three appliances – two industrial sized fridges and one industrial sized freezer. One of the fridges and the freezer takes perishable food that would have been wasted and redistributes it to people struggling to pay bills through local community networks. The other is an ‘honesty’ fridge open to all members from the community regardless of their personal circumstances.
- To find a community fridge click here
Too Good To Go (App)
Too Good To Go offers ‘Magic Bags’. These contain all the delicious, perfectly edible food that stores and restaurants have to throw out at the end of the day. Some great examples of this unsold food is from bakeries that have to bake fresh everyday or restaurants that didn’t sell all the food they had prepared. However, you won’t know exactly what you’re getting until you pick it up.
An App that lets you order food from restaurants, cafes and bakeries that is destined for the bin – at a fraction of the menu price.
Olio connects neighbours with each other and with local shops and cafes so surplus food and other items can be shared and not thrown away.
In addition to the other suggestions on this page, click above for ideas to cut your costs when you’re living away from home.
I hope that this blog has given you some ideas on how to save money and find cheap food. There are probably other ways to find cheap food and save money and I would love to hear your suggestions. Please share if you think this post could help anyone. Thank you.