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Updated: 30 May 2022

How to spend less at the supermarket

Top tips to help you save money on your supermarket shop, from avoiding convenience stores to switching grocery ranges
Ellie Simmonds
Woman reading labelling on a carton

Grocery shopping is a big household cost, and food price inflation isn't helping. But there are steps you can take to save money on your supermarket bills.

1. Shop around

It might sound obvious, but where you do most of your grocery shopping can make a huge difference.

Every month we analyse thousands of grocery prices to reveal the cheapest supermarket. We compare how much the biggest supermarkets charge for a trolley of groceries, including everything from bread to toothpaste – and you might be amazed by how much the differences can be.

For example, in January 2022 shoppers would have paid a huge 37% more at Waitrose, the priciest supermarket, compared with Lidl, which was cheapest.

So if you can switch supermarkets, it often pays to do so – and it's particularly easy if you shop online, provided a decent range of supermarkets will deliver to you.

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2. Avoid convenience stores 

Avoiding convenience stores could save you hundreds of pounds each year.

Which? analysed the average prices of 48 items at the two largest convenience chains, Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local, and compared the costs with the same items at their supermarket counterparts.

Sainsbury’s prices varied the most, with our research showing that you could be paying 9.5% more over the course of a year for exactly the same groceries by shopping at a Sainsbury’s Local rather than a regular Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Find out how the other supermarkets fared and which products had the steepest mark-ups in our convenience store investigation

3. Choose own-label over big brands

Which? regularly holds taste tests on everything from cornflakes to hot chocolate to find out how well-known brands fare against own-label alternatives.

Perhaps surprisingly, the big brands are often beaten by cheaper supermarket versions. And sometimes, our tasters simply can't tell the difference – perhaps because branded and own-label products are often made by the same people in the same factories.

Find out where you can save money without sacrificing flavour with our guides to the best food and drink.

4. Stock up when you can

You probably know that grocery prices can vary from week to week. But did you realise they can fluctuate by up to 284%?

Our statisticians crunched more than one million prices in Which?'s biggest-ever pricing investigation to uncover just how much, and how often, the prices of branded products in our supermarkets change.

They exposed some eye-opening pricing secrets, from the grocer that almost always beats its rivals on the cost of branded groceries, to the supermarket where you’ll pay almost four times the amount for the same product on some days than others.

This so-called 'yo-yo' pricing means it's worth stocking up when items you buy regularly are discounted, so you don't have to buy them when they're full price. But of course do factor in use-by dates – this approach can work better for store-cupboard items than things you need to eat quickly.

5. Join a loyalty scheme

Loyalty schemes are big business for supermarkets. Many have changed in recent years, so they're no longer simply about collecting points but instead now offer exclusive discounts, rewards, charity donations and competitions to loyal shoppers.

But exactly what the benefits are worth and how they compare can be confusing. That's why we've done the hard work for you and compared loyalty cards

Our research reveals you could save between 50p (with Sainsbury's Nectar) and £5 (Iceland) for every £100 you spend when you're using a supermarket loyalty scheme. 

However, these savings could easily be cancelled out if the shop's prices are higher than those of its competitors. So while it's always worth signing up to schemes offered by shops you already use, you probably shouldn’t change where you shop just to earn points.

6. Wise up to supermarkets' psychological tricks

Whether it's through the smell of freshly baked bread, the sparkle of fairy lights in winter or the aroma of floral displays in summer, supermarkets want to keep shoppers feeling happy as much as possible. Why? The more comfortable someone is, the more they're likely to spend.

Every supermarket tries to build up a subconscious image in shoppers' minds to reinforce its brand. It's particularly clear at Christmas time, when they create festive displays and use warm colours and merry jingles to encourage us to spend more than usual, but it happens all year round in subtler ways.

Go in knowing how long you want to spend in store and what you’d like to buy: write a list in advance and stick to it. Don’t be persuaded by the Christmas soundtrack into buying chestnuts you're never going to eat.

7. Work out what you're really saving

Ever had to step around a special offer display before you've even got into the shop? Anything that forces us to change direction makes us pay attention, as do signs that move or flash. 

One of the supermarkets’ most effective tricks is to place a vertical sign in the middle of the aisle. Our eyes naturally scan from left to right, so breaking up that flow encourages us to stop and read an offer. 

Of course, special offers can be really helpful – but only if they're on a product you were already planning to buy. So when your attention is captured by a promotion, think about what made you stop and look: is it really something you need with a good discount? Or have you just been sucked in by clever marketing?

When working out whether the price is actually decent, look at the unit or per-100g cost rather than the overall pack price – it will make it much easier to compare the product against alternatives. 

And remember, so-called 'value packs' aren't always the best deal. You'll sometimes find that buying two packs of five is actually cheaper than one pack of 10.

8. Try shifting down a range

Supermarkets have a number of different ranges of own-label products, from basic and value brands to premium. There are decent savings to be had by moving down a tier – and often you won't be able to taste much difference. 

It's worth a try to see how much you can save and which products you don't mind buying from a lower range.

9. Know the difference between use-by and best-before dates

Food with a use-by date must be used by midnight of its expiry date or it could be unsafe. 

However, best-before dates are far more flexible and don't have the same safety issues. Food near or even after its best-before date is usually perfectly fine to eat and often heavily discounted.

If you find something in the cupboard that's gone past its best-before date, give it a sniff – if it smells fine, it should be OK to eat.

10. Write a list – and stick to it

Ever noticed that the milk is at the very back of the shop, the bread at the other end and the washing-up liquid somewhere in the middle? Supermarkets do this on purpose to make sure you walk past every shelf, even when you're only there for a few basic essentials. 

Find out where the things you need are in the shop and head straight for them, trying not to be distracted by other products. It's an easy habit to get into in your local supermarket, but more difficult when you're somewhere unfamiliar. 

Remember that in most stores dairy products and bread can be found at the back, fruit and vegetables are at the front and drinks and frozen items are at the far end. Some stores like to move their produce around though, so keep your wits about you, write a list and stick to it as much as you can. 

If you can't help but browse, try shopping online where it can be easier to stick to a list and not get distracted. And, of course, the old advice 'never to shop when you're hungry' is still very true.

11. Search different aisles – and look up and down

Bizarrely, some types of product, including rice, sauces and baking ingredients, can be found in multiple different aisles at different prices. So if you're after rice or chickpeas, for example, check out the world foods aisle as you might find they're cheaper than they are in other parts of the shop. And if you're after sultanas or cashew nuts, check out the baking aisle as well as the dried fruit and nuts or snacking shelves.

There are plenty more examples where it pays to look around the supermarket more carefully.

Supermarkets often place their less-profitable items high and low on the shelves, and the ones they really want you to buy at eye level. So make sure you scan the shelves thoroughly and look up and down.

12. Nab an early evening bargain

Many supermarkets heavily discount perishable items in the early evening as the use-by time approaches, so it can pay to shop at this time.

However, you'll have to be flexible about what to buy and of course make sure you use (or freeze) the items before they go off.