We’re into the second year of extremely high food price inflation, and it’s hitting a lot of households very hard financially. Consumers have been reacting to it by making several savvy changes to their shopping habits.
For example, grocery spend in December 2022 was slightly up on the same time last year due to these higher prices, but the total spend was somewhat lower than the general level of food inflation because people also put fewer items into their grocery baskets. There have also been increased numbers of shoppers moving over to budget supermarkets in an attempt to trim their bills.
The frozen food sector has seen major changes too, with many people switching from fresh to frozen vegetables to save money and prevent waste. However, households on the lowest incomes have tended to steer away from frozen food in general due to fuel poverty and fear of losing freezer contents if their power is cut off.
What I’m doing here to save money on groceries
There’s no doubt that two years of high food price inflation and other bills going through the roof have left most of us cutting back and/or seriously struggling, and I don’t want to make patronising or tone deaf comments as some commentators have recently – I’m not going to pretend it’s fine to live on just oats and water for breakfast all week, or tell people to ‘learn to cook’ or ‘learn to budget’ for example.
I don’t have all the answers for everyone, there clearly needs to be a comprehensive and complex political/legal solution to effect change for the whole country amongst other things, but I can tell you about what’s working best for me right now. In particular, the planning stage has become more important to keep track of.
At the moment I’m trying to stick to the same weekly food budget that we set last year. Obviously as prices have risen it means I have less buying power with that same spend so I’ve had to make several compromises and shop around more carefully.
Here’s what I try to do before I shop:
- Start with a menu, and design it to avoid food waste
- Look at what we already have in the fridge, freezer and cupboards
- Prioritise main meals
- Plan most meals around household favourites, letting everyone say what they want (within reason) – it’s something to look forward to & can prevent waste
- Use cheap, filling ingredients as the base for most dishes – you might like these £1 meal ideas from BBC Food
- Make it healthy if possible, and if not then make it as filling as possible
- Choose quick-cooking recipes to save fuel, or use all the space in the oven
- Plan for leftovers to make other meals easier
- Don’t forget breakfasts, lunches and snacks when planning
- Remember ‘groceries’ isn’t just food – include toiletries & household products if appropriate
- Put the week’s menu somewhere obvious & make people stick to it
- Create a shopping list
- Set a budget and stick to it
At the shopping stage:
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach (regrets, I’ve had a few…)
- If possible, try not to rush – snap decisions aren’t always good decisions
- Work out where the basket will be cheapest (try Trolley.co.uk price comparison)
- Stay away from supermarket own brand premium ranges – they rarely live up to their promises & big/fancy brands can be cheaper
- Experiment with own-brand budget ranges (look for online reviews if there’s time)
- Balance ‘the cheapest shop/shops’ against travel or delivery costs
- A single ‘big shop’ usually works out cheaper than a few smaller shops
- Always, always use a shopping list
- Be careful with ‘special offers’ unless they’re for regular purchases, in which case be flexible
- Keep a tally while shopping, and take less essential items out of the basket if necessary
- Use vouchers and/or cashback offers, and collect loyalty points – but don’t get tricked into buying things that aren’t needed
- If buying online, be careful about minimum required spend, substitutions policy and reliable delivery (wrong, out of date or missing items can mess up that budget)
As times get tougher and tougher I realise that my shopping habits are becoming far more rules-based and less spontaneous, and there’s a strong sense of running just to stand still in the face of rampant inflation.
From a personal perspective I’ve decided it’s worth making that extra effort to make sure the food bill stays within a fixed budget, simply so I’m not worrying about it eating into payments for all the other household bills.
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Do you have any tips of your own for planning your grocery shopping, or saving on food? Please share them in the comments below.