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24 Feb 2022

Ease the squeeze: how to save money on your food bills

Follow our top tips for lowering the cost of your supermarket shop

With food prices on the rise, more and more people are looking for ways to cut down their grocery bill. Here's how you can reduce yours, starting this week.

Last month, food prices jumped 2.7%, according to official figures from the British Retail Consortium, with inflation increasing the cost of everything from meat to pasta to margarine.

Nestle, KitKat, McVitie's and Marmite-maker Unilever have all announced that further price hikes are on the way, while Tesco chairman John Allan warns that 'the worst is yet to come', predicting food prices will rise by a further 5% in the spring.

The Which? Money Podcast has heard from people affected by the cost of living crisis and asked experts what you can do to fight back.

Here we've rounded up their tips into actions you can take , and to spend less at the supermarket, with a verdict from our expert.

And if you're struggling to pay for your weekly shop, .

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts.

How to save on food this week

  • Make packed lunches
  • Switch supermarket
  • Try own-brand products

Try preparing packed lunches for the week ahead on a Sunday evening - or cook extra at dinner time and have the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Another way to cut down your food bill is to change supermarkets. Every month we analyse thousands of grocery prices to find out which supermarket is the cheapest.

It's surprising how much you could save just by shopping elsewhere. When we checked the supermarket prices of 23 items in January, we found a £24.78 basket of groceries could cost you almost £10 more at Waitrose.

There are also plenty of savings to be had by choosing supermarket own-brand products. These items can be a lot cheaper than the big brands, and some taste as good as, or better than, the leading brand too, as we found in our recent blind taste tests of Nutella vs supermarket hazelnut chocolate spreads, and Marmite vs supermarket yeast extract.

See all our top picks in our guide to the best food and drink, or check out our round-up of cheap supermarket dupes that beat your favourite food brands on taste.

What to do if you're struggling to pay for food

If you don't have enough money for food, you might be able to get help from a food bank.

The largest foodbank organisation in the UK is the Trussell Trust. You can use its website to find your local foodbank.

You'll usually need to get referred by an organisation in order to use a food bank. You can either ask the foodbank to help you organise an appointment with one of these organisations, or you can get in contact with the organisation directly.

These are some of the organisations that can refer you:

If you receive certain benefits, your child may be eligible for free school meals. You can find out if they are eligible on the Government website.

How to save on food this month

  • Buy in bulk
  • Reduce waste
  • Use-by vs best before dates

Try buying in bulk. Non-perishable goods like tinned foods, pasta and rice are usually cheaper if you purchase them in large quantities from a wholesale retailer, such as Costco or bulksupermarket.com.

Avoid throwing your money in the bin by freezing items that are about to go out of date. The average UK family wastes around £700 of food every year, according to the government-backed Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

And remember: 'out-of-date' can mean two very different things.

If something's passed it's 'use-by date', then it's not safe to eat and you should throw it out. But the best-before date just tells you how long it's in prime condition for. So don't go binning something just because it's passed the 'best before'.

Check out the reduced section in the supermarket for discounted, 'yellow-sticker' items that are about to pass their use-by date.

It's worth asking a shop assistant what time your chosen store usually mark down their prices, in order to make the most of these discounts - as it varies from store to store.

You could also save money using food waste apps. The Too Good To Go app lets you buy leftover food at discounted rates in so-called 'magic bags'. Olio connects neighbours to share unwanted food. Approved Food, which sells food that's passed its best-before date at a cheaper price.

Another way to get discounts on food is to sign up to the loyalty schemes of the supermarkets you use (assuming they're the cheapest in your area). The loyalty schemes are generally free to sign up to and it only takes a few minutes.

How to save money on food this year

  • Plan your shops
  • Avoid convenience stores
  • Consider a cashback or rewards credit card

Planning your meals - and hence your shopping list - can really pay off over the long term.

You may want to consider cutting down on meat and fish - more expensive food items - and incorporating cheaper tinned beans, pulses and lentils into your meals. Here are some tips for shopping cheaply if you're on a vegan diet.

Wise up to supermarkets' psychological tricks. It's no accident that shops often place premium brands at eye-level while value brands are tucked away on the bottom shelf, out of sight.

Ditching convenience stores can also save you money. We've found in our investigations that shoppers can end up spending 9.5% more each year shopping at a Sainsbury's Local rather than a regular Sainsbury's supermarket.

Finally, consider getting a credit card that earns cashback or rewards. This only works if you're able to pay it off in full, every month.

Sainsbury's Bank and Tesco Bank offer rewards cards that can earn you Nectar and Clubcard points, respectively. American Express also offers a Nectar earning card, as well as cashback cards that work at all the major supermarkets, including Aldi and Lidl.

Small changes to your shopping habits can make a big difference

Ele Clark, Which? senior editor of money and shopping

With food price inflation likely to be an issue for months to come, it makes sense to take stock and look at your grocery spending habits.

It won't come as a surprise that some supermarkets cost more than others - but the differences really can be stark. For example, in January, a basket of essentials cost 37% more at Waitrose than Lidl.

That level of difference will significantly add up if you're shopping at pricier stores more often than not. Even the less-ritzy 'big four' supermarkets can find it hard to rival the discounters, with Morrisons coming in at 21% more than Aldi last month.

While neither Aldi nor Lidl offer home delivery on groceries, Aldi does offer click and collect these days - so it might be worth trying if you aren't a fan of in-store shopping but are a fan of bargains.

At Which?, we'll be focusing on the real ways you can make a difference to your cost of living over the coming months - and what government and businesses should be doing to help.

Keep an eye out for more advice from us, and listen to the Which? Money podcast for expert tips and real life stories.