Top tips to save hundreds on grocery bills

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Rising food prices and the cost of living crisis are putting enormous pressure on household budgets. Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters

Rising food prices are contributing to the cost of living crisis, with the average UK household facing a £271 increase in food bills a year.

Grocery prices were up 5.9% year-on-year in April – the biggest increase since December 2011 – and around four in ten (39%) people have admitted they have bought less groceries in the past two weeks thanks to the rising cost of living to have.

Simple steps like avoiding costly convenience stores, shopping for the best prices, and opting for cheaper non-branded products can help lower your grocery bill.

Here are some top tips from consumer group Which? that could save you hundreds of pounds in groceries costs.

Avoid convenience stores and save hundreds of pounds a year

While it’s not an option for everyone, avoiding convenience stores could save shoppers hundreds of dollars each year.

Which? found that customers can spend 9.5% more each year shopping at a Sainsbury’s Local (SBRY.L) than at a regular Sainsbury’s supermarket.

The consumer group analyzed the average prices of 48 items at the two largest convenience chains, Tesco Express (TSCO.L) and Sainsbury’s Local, and compared the costs to the same items at their supermarket counterparts.

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The highest weekly price difference between Sainsbury’s and Sainsbury’s Local during the period studied was £10.20, or £322 over the course of a year. Meanwhile, a Tesco Express grocery basket cost an average of £279 more over the course of a year.

For those who have the opportunity to go to a regular supermarket instead of a convenience store, it’s worth making the switch.

If you’re looking for the best prices, you can save £9.21 per basket

It is often worth looking for the best prices in different supermarkets.

Every month Which? analyzes thousands of grocery prices to find the cheapest supermarket, compares the price of a shopping cart to groceries in some of the largest supermarkets and often finds huge price differences.

For example, Lidl was the cheapest supermarket in March 2022, with a basket of 21 groceries costing an average of £26.83. The same or equivalent items from the most expensive supermarket Waitrose are £36.04 – a saving of £9.21.

Don’t refuse the supermarket’s own brands

Shoppers can also make significant savings by opting for supermarket private label products over expensive branded items.

These items can be a lot cheaper than the big brands. In a series of blind tastings, which ones? found that many supermarket own brands are not only cheaper, but also sometimes taste better than their well-known branded counterparts.

The consumer group tested everyday essentials like baked beans, orange juice, honey-nut cereal and coffee and found that shoppers who were willing to swap could save hundreds of pounds a year without compromising on taste.

For example, if you switch from £3.60 Innocent Orange Juice for 1.35 liters or 27p per 100ml to The Juice Company Smooth Orange Juice from Aldi which is only £1.69 per 1.75 liter carton or 10 pence per 100ml could save shoppers nearly £100 a year.

Find different gears and look up and down

Shoppers can save by scouring the supermarket more carefully for the cheapest items. Which? found that some products, including rice, sauces and baking ingredients, can be found in several different supermarket aisles at different prices.

For example, rice and chickpeas can be cheaper in the world foods section than other parts of the store. Likewise, sultanas and cashews often cost less in the baking department than dried fruit and nuts or snack aisles.

Supermarkets often place their less profitable items high and low on the shelves and those they want to promote at eye level. Shoppers should scan the shelves thoroughly, looking up and down.

Stock up if you can

Grocery prices can vary from week to week, fluctuating by as much as 284%. Price swings, or “yo-yo” pricing, mean it’s often worthwhile for shoppers to stock up when items they regularly buy are discounted.

This approach can work particularly well for pantry items and products that can be frozen.

Get rewarded for your spending

Shoppers can sign up for in-store loyalty programs to earn points and save money when shopping.

Many programs offer loyal customers exclusive discounts, rewards, charities and contests.

The consumer group found that customers could save between 50p (with Sainsbury’s Nectar) and £5 (Iceland) for every £100 they spent using a supermarket loyalty scheme.

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However, those savings could easily be canceled out if the shop’s prices are higher than the competition. So while it’s always worth enrolling in programs offered by stores you already use, you probably shouldn’t change where you shop just to earn points.

Don’t be fooled by discounts

Supermarkets often place vertical signs with offers in the middle of the aisle to attract shoppers’ attention. While special offers can be helpful, they can encourage shoppers to buy items they didn’t mean to buy.

When working out whether the price is actually reasonable, Which? suggests that buyers look to the cost per unit or “per 100g” rather than the overall price of the pack – this makes it much easier to compare the product to alternatives.

It’s also worth noting that “value packs” don’t always offer the best deal. Sometimes buying two packs of five is even cheaper than buying a pack of ten.

Write a list and stick to it

Supermarkets target different types of groceries in different areas of the store to ensure customers walk past as many shelves as possible, even if they’re just there for a few basic items.

The simple step of making a list and not getting distracted by other products is an easy way for shoppers to save money. In unfamiliar stores, however, it can be more difficult to stick to.

Which? found that dairy and bread are at the back of most stores, fruit and veg is at the front, and beverages and frozen foods are at the back.

Try shifting down a gear

Supermarkets typically offer a range of different ranges of own brand products, from basic and cheap brands to premium products such as Tesco Finest. There are decent savings by stepping down a tier – and often the budget option tastes just as good.

Be flexible with best-before dates

Foods with an expiry date must be consumed before midnight of the expiry date or they may be unsafe. However, best-before dates are much more flexible and don’t have the same security issues.

Groceries close to or even past the best before date are usually perfectly fine and often heavily discounted. If you find something in the closet that’s past its sell-by date, give it a sniff—if it smells good, it should be okay to eat.

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