As much as I’d love to have the time to shop exclusively at my local market, I’m a mere mortal with two kids, and the idea of making numerous trips every week to my local town centre with screaming munchkins in tow is enough to make the coolest of cucumbers rather stressed. So, I join the hordes and take the (slightly) less stressful option of supermarket shopping for a large proportion of our family’s consumables, utilising the market for ‘special buys’ and particular cuts of meat or fish, roughly once a week.
So how do I do the supermarket run without breaking the bank or compromising on quality? I can’t be doing with collecting coupons or making budgeting spreadsheets; I just don’t have the time (or the inclination) for that. So I try to use common sense (despite hubby *kindly* saying I have very little of that.)
Here are my five simple steps to bossing your supermarket shop :
1. Start in a good place
Ok, so everyone knows that you shouldn’t do your weekly food shop in an empty stomach, but I think you need to extend the concept more widely. If you’re stressed or harangued, you’re inevitably going to end up buying in panic, being unable to concentrate on the task in hand and grabbing things mindlessly. This is exactly what happens when I take my pre-schooler to the supermarket. I get so concerned with keeping him quiet and stopping him harassing other shoppers that my grocery list goes out the window. I barely notice the steals on offer in the bargain aisle; I grab the nearest thing, not the cheapest. Economy is least on my list of priorities when I’m that frazzled. I sometimes manage to leave the kids with hubby, or a friend, which allows me to be calm, collected and make sensible choices. So wherever possible, plan your trip wisely, not when you know you’ll be stressed or hungry or harassed by little
Shop around (but not too much)
The great news for consumers is that with the advent of discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl, all supermarkets are as competitive now with pricing as ever. Less than 15% of people’s average household income is now spent on food, in comparison to over 30% in the 1950s. But you can still shop around to find the best place to find the best deals on the regular items in your trolley. You can find a great tool at mySupermarket which helps you compare the cost of your shopping trolley at major UK supermarkets. Most mindful shoppers get a feel for where they can get value products though. I tend to do 50% of my monthly supermarket shops at Asda, where I know I can get pretty much everything I need, including baking products (which I go through quickly), then do the other 50% at Aldi or Lidl where prices are generally lower. And when I’m there, I stock up on ingredients that I know I use a looot of and can get less expensively, namely chocolate and ice cream. (Don’t judge me, please). But be sensible; there’s no point driving 5 miles out of your way just to pick up some cornflakes because you can get them 20p cheaper elsewhere. And driving yourself crazy visiting different supermarkets multiple times a week will not only use up valuable (and costly) petrol, but your patience. Common sense is the name of the game.
Write a list, but don’t be inflexible.
If you’re the kind of person who does a full supermarket shop without a list you’re either superman or Jeff Bezos. For mere mortals like myself, meal planning and list writing is essential to minimising waste, saving cash and feeling *reasonably* organised. Avoiding impulse buys and only buying what’s on your list not only saves you money, but can make your trip speedier. However, I would advise you to have an open mind. There is no point sticking rigidly to your plan of turkey risotto if you get to the bargain aisle and chicken is majorly reduced. See what’s on offer, and if something is easily replaceable, go for it. I sometimes, especially if entertaining on for Sunday lunch, will leave that day of my meal unplanned, and choose a joint on special offer once in the Supermarket. Just make sure you have a good selection of condiments and accompaniments to make each option viable.
4. Seize the yellow stickers
I’m one of those people who makes a beeline for the bargain aisle, hunting for the best reductions on fresh produce. I don’t take it as far as staking out the scene at optimum time (my schedule doesn’t permit), trolley at the ready for the biggest discounts (4pm onwards is when the greatest savings can be found) but I sure am a yellow sticker fiend. Try to find produce that can be frozen (bread and meat are my best buys) and plan to eat fresh fruit or veg the same or next day. Be careful though; a bargain isn’t actually a bargain if you’re buying something you don’t need or can’t replace something you already had on your list. And think twice before buying 20 tubs of discounted natural yogurt; there’s only so much dairy one person can eat.
5. Take the downshift challenge
I’ve written about this previously, (see my post Three easy peasy ways to save money on (good) food) but it really is a good way to test yourself to see whether brand loyalty is costing you needless pennies. Try dropping just one brand level down on the usual products you buy to see if you can tell the difference. There’s a lot to say for fancy packaging and a recognisable logo, but in reality, does the quality of product really match up?
I find that I buy almost everything ‘own’ branded (e.g. Asda’s own cereals, pasta etc.), except when there are good reductions on products I really like (I really do love Kellogg’s own Fruit and Fibre, and Haagen Daaz ice cream). I’ll even buy basics flour, butter, oats and passata, and my kids love the basics yogurts as a snack. But, I won’t compromise on quality; if something’s not up to scratch, I won’t get it. I buy good quality chocolate, coffee and tea, and never scrimp on the quality of supermarket meat (that’s if I don’t get it from the local market). But of course, everyone had their own priorities and to some extent it’s a case of trial and error. Why not test your family one week a la BBC 1’s ‘Eat well for less’ and have fun guessing what swaps have been made.
So why not see what you can do to spend less at the supermarket this week?I don’t promise miracles, but use a teeny bit of common sense (assuming unlike me, you actually have some), and you could be making savings that your wallet will thank you for.