Families struggling to make ends meet during the cost-of-living crisis may be struggling now more than ever as inflation has unexpectedly soared again.
Inflation rose to 10.4% in February from 10.1% in January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with food prices hitting their highest level in more than 45 years. In fact, the consumer brand is which? has found that the cost of some essential groceries has more than doubled in the past year.
But savvy shoppers can find plenty of ways to reduce their grocery bills, promises personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles, founder of financial advice website MoneyMagpie.
“Prices are rising everywhere, but the most worrying are staples like pasta, bread, milk and eggs. That really affects the poorer families – we’re not talking about caviar,” she says.
“You can still have cheaper, more nutritious meals, you just can’t buy as much fun stuff – you have to use your money to buy the basics because they’ve gone up so much and that could mean the kids can . I don’t have chocolate cake.
“But there are many ways to save money in your grocery store if you plan ahead and are careful.”
Here are clever money-saving suggestions from Birtles and children’s author Annabel Karmel…
1. Shop online
“Online shopping will help you cut down on impulse purchases and budget carefully so you can make savings,” says Birtles.
She advises buyers to buy private label rather than branded goods, as they tend to be cheaper.
2. Use social supermarkets and apps for discounted groceries
“There are many places where you can get free or cheap groceries for the family – of course there are food banks, but there are also social supermarkets that sell groceries at discounted prices to people on lower incomes. They fill the gap between supermarkets and food banks,” explains Birtles.
There are also apps like Olio that connect you, neighbors and local businesses. It means excess food — whether it’s produce near its sell-by date at local stores or your neighbor’s surplus vegetables — can be shared instead of being thrown away.
The Too Good To Go app offers inexpensive surprise bags of unsold groceries that would have been wasted by local restaurants, cafes and shops, and Approved Food sells groceries that are either nearing or nearing their sell-by date at bargain prices.
3. Choose wisely when and where you shop
Birtles says if you shop at the right time – usually early in the morning or late at night – you can get lots of discounted groceries.
“I’m a big fan of yellow stickers on sale groceries, and your freezer comes in handy if you buy a lot of yellow-sticker groceries,” she says.
It might also be a good idea to shop at your local market, which can be cheaper than supermarkets and you can snag great bargains just before they close.
“They have less choice, but because the vendors don’t want to take anything away, they often sell off the products cheaply towards the end of the day,” says Birtles.
4. Make your own
Buy cheap canned tomatoes to make homemade pasta sauces, Karmel suggests.
“Creating a homemade gravy with a can of chopped tomatoes is not only delicious, but imaginative,” she says. “Just add garlic, onions and dried herbs and you have an authentic, tasty sauce without the supermarket price. In addition, you know exactly what is in it and can be sure that nothing is added.”
5. Let the children help find the cheapest items
Birtles says it can be good to get the kids involved in finding the best deal.
“It teaches them how to handle money,” she says. “As long as they’re not the kind of kids who whine about wanting this and that, it may be worth taking them.” Send them off to look for the cheapest bag of sugar or whatever, and you can teach them how to weight, depending on their age. This is good training for them!”
6. Top up doses
Not only is canned food convenient, it saves waste and money, and can be just as nutritious, Karmel says.
“Use a can of chickpeas to make a veggie curry, mini falafel, burger or quick hummus. Beans and legumes are fantastic because they’re so versatile, affordable, and packed with nutrients,” she says. “Canned fish is another big cost saver — it’s high in protein and iron, so it’s a great food to add to your family’s diet.”
7. Buy for batch cooking
“The ultimate cost-saving trick is batch cooking,” advises Karmel. “I like to make a bolognese sauce with mixed onions, leeks, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, carrots and my secret ingredient, apple. It is delicious!
“I also find it helpful to roast a chicken early in the week as it can be used to create many nutritious and tasty dishes such as pasta dishes, croquettes, quesadillas, curries, pies and sandwich fillings.”
8. Buy cheaper cuts of meat
“There are cheaper cuts of meat that are absolutely fine — I grew up eating liver and bacon and liver and onions,” says Birtles.
Karmel adds, “When shopping, don’t overlook cheaper cuts of meat like chicken thighs, which actually contain more iron than chicken breasts and are perfect for stir-fries.”
9. Explain to the children in a fun way that money is tight
Talking about money with kids isn’t always easy, but Birtles advises parents to turn it into a game or quiz to get the younger ones excited.
“Turn it into something fun if you can,” she suggests. “We don’t want to worry them, but at the same time it’s helpful for them to understand what the situation is like and if you can’t buy everything they want in the stores, it’s not that you’re angry, but it is so hard for everyone and you all have to work together.
“Families that talk things over do better than families where the parents keep the difficult things to themselves.”