Saving Money on Food and Groceries

See also: Top Tips for Saving Money

Food is many households’ biggest weekly expense. There is obviously no way to cut out your food bills altogether—after all, we all have to eat! However, there are plenty of ways to reduce your shopping bills. It is also helpful to think about the amount of food that you waste each week. In the UK alone, it is estimated that we produce 14 billion tonnes of food waste each year, often throwing out perfectly good food because it is past its ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date.

This page describes some changes you can make to your behaviours and habits that will help to reduce your food bills. Some of these are small, and others are much bigger—but all will help. As an added bonus, many will also help the environment, and reduce your impact on the planet.

A Range of Approaches

Reducing your food bills is never going to be a one-hit task.

You may need to change your behaviour in many different ways to get the best possible savings. Shopping is one area, but how you keep and use food is another, including your chosen methods of cooking. This can also affect your electricity and gas bill, depending on the fuel that you use to cook, so there are many knock-on effects on other areas of your household budget.

Changing Your Shopping Habits

The obvious place to start reducing your food bills is at the supermarket, as this is where most people buy most of their groceries these days.

However, even that is not obvious. Even before you reach the supermarket, you may be able to make changes that will reduce your bills.

  • Shopping in bulk can be much cheaper.

    Recognising that many people do not have the spare cash or space to buy in bulk, it is nonetheless often the cheapest way to buy. ‘Cash and carries’ are still available in some areas, but these have also often given way to internet-only shops that can supply large quantities of goods, such as laundry or dishwasher detergents and toilet rolls, relatively cheaply.

    It’s also a good idea to stock up on expensive products like laundry detergent when they are on offer in your regular supermarket. This will avoid you having to buy at full price.

  • Ordering online can save you falling prey to ‘bargains’

    Even if you prefer to shop in smaller quantities, it is still worth considering shopping online.

    This makes it easier to stick to both a list and a budget, and avoids you falling prey to carefully placed special offers and bargains that you would never normally consider.

  • Changing your supermarket can make a big difference to the price of your weekly shop

    Changing the supermarket where you habitually shop—even if you buy exactly the same goods—can also mean considerable savings (see box).

    Which is the cheapest UK supermarket?

    In January 2022, Which? carried out a study of UK supermarkets. Researchers checked the price of a basket of 23 products each day, and compared the average over the course of the month.

    They found that there was a difference of nearly £10 in the average cost of the basket of 23 items between the most expensive and the least expensive supermarket (£24.38 in Lidl vs. £33.94 in Waitrose)

    Source:, 15 February 2022: Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda: which is the cheapest UK supermarket?

    Over time, and with a bigger basket, these figures can really add up. Even if you prefer to avoid discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive ‘mainstream’ supermarket was still more than £6.

  • Cutting out the non-essentials is a quick way to reduce your bills

    We all buy things that are not really essential. Sugary and savoury snacks, puddings and soft drinks are often very pleasant—but they are not essential, and neither are they actually very good for us. They can also be surprisingly expensive.

    Cutting out these non-essentials, and focusing on what you really need is a good way to improve the quality of your diet without increasing the cost.

    On the plus side, vegetables are often quite cheap (although fruit can be expensive, especially out of season), so you can increase the amount of green in your meals without costing the earth.

    It is worth saying at this point that ready meals are both expensive and often highly processed. This means that they are not as good for you as making your own meals from scratch. However, in a busy household, it can often be a challenge to cook food from scratch every day. It is important to find your own balance in this area, without feeling guilty about it.

    There is more about how to improve the quality of your diet in our pages on food, diet and nutrition.
  • Making a list—and sticking to it—can help to ensure that you only buy what you need

    One of the obvious ways to stick to a budget is to make a list of what you really need before you go shopping.

    It also helps if you plan your meals ahead of time, and only shop for what you actually need.

    TOP TIP! Avoid food shopping when you are hungry

    You are much more likely to buy things that you don’t really need when you are hungry—and also to be more susceptible to clever marketing activity like the smell of fresh bread around the store.

  • Swap big brands for own brand goods

    You can save a surprising amount of money by swapping big brands for supermarket own-brand products.

    Most of us have our own personal ‘red lines’ about this: the brands that we absolutely will not swap under any circumstances. However, swap out other brands and see what you think. You might even find that you like the own-brand product better.

    It is also worth experimenting a bit with the different own-brand ranges. Most supermarkets have a bargain range, a mid-range option, and a premium range. If you usually buy the premium, try the mid-range instead for some products and see if you notice the difference in the product, as well as the price.

  • Avoid top-up shopping and convenience stores

    If you can, buy everything in a single weekly shop and avoid ‘topping up’ at convenience stores.

    Smaller shops almost invariably charge more for products, because they are less able to buy in bulk. They also have a smaller range of products, so you end up compromising. Even small branches of the big stores, like Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express in the UK, tend to charge more than the bigger stores.

  • Take advantage of loyalty schemes and discounts

    Most supermarkets now have loyalty schemes, which offer discounts related to the card and your previous purchases. Some of these are almost useless: the ‘products that other people like you bought’ (for example, dog food when you don’t have a dog). However, others will be goods that you buy regularly. Several also offer cashback once you have spent a certain amount.

    It is worth taking advantage of these offers to reduce your bills.

    Some supermarkets also offer passes for delivery of online orders. This means that you don’t pay each week, but pay for a month, six months or a year. If you shop online regularly, this could be worthwhile.

  • Get your timing right to take advantage of marked-down food—and know your labels

    Supermarkets often discount and mark down food that is reaching its sell-by date. They usually do this in the evening. Get to know when your local supermarket does this, and aim to shop after that time. This will allow you to take advantage of these discounts.

    ‘Sell by’ and ‘best before’ labels are only for the shop’s convenience. The only label that you really need to worry about is the ‘use by’ label. You need to use (or freeze) food before midnight on the ‘use by’ date, or it could be dangerous to eat.

    Make sure that you use or freeze discounted products ON OR BEFORE midnight on their ‘use by’ date.

  • Buy seasonal and local produce whenever possible

    Buying fruit and vegetables when they are in season (that is, harvested in your own country or region without being grown in a greenhouse) is almost invariably cheaper than buying imported produce. Seasonal and local produce also has fewer ‘food miles’, so you can assure yourself that it is better for the planet.

    Knowing what is in season when will enable you to shop for what is best—and often cheapest.

    Growing Your Own: An Alternative to Shopping

    One way in which you can reduce your food bills is to grow your own vegetables. You probably won’t be able to keep yourself supplied all year round, or with everything that you want—but every little helps.

    Even if you only have a small amount of space, such as a balcony or small courtyard, or even just a windowsill, you can still grow a few things. You will also discover that home-grown fresh vegetables usually taste much better than their shop-bought cousins too. You might even get the ‘grow your own’ bug and take on an allotment.

Cooking Wisely

How you cook can also affect your household bills, including your food bill.

For example, using a slow cooker is both economical with the electricity, and also a good way to prepare food so that you have a meal waiting when you get home. Leaving the oven on the timer can also allow you to come home to a prepared meal, although this may not be very economical for just a jacket potato!

Cooking more than one meal at once (for example, two meals’ worth of Bolognese sauce for pasta) will mean that you have a meal in the freezer for when you are busy.

Preparing several meals at the weekend, or on days when you are not working, will mean that you don’t have to cook when you get home from work.

All these options help you to avoid the ‘need’ for takeaways, processed food or expensive bought ready meals when you don’t have the time or energy to cook from scratch.

Avoiding Waste

A phenomenal amount of food is wasted each year. However, there are several ways that you can avoid adding to this.

First, try planning your meals before you shop, and only buy what you know you plan to use. This will avoid having food going off in the fridge or cupboard.

Second, keep an eye on your fridge. Check that you are eating up perishable food, including leftovers, so that you don’t have to throw things away. If something is getting towards its use-by date, either use it or freeze it. Freezing portions of leftovers will mean that you have ready meals available when you need them.

It also pays to be a bit imaginative in how you use up leftovers. You don’t necessarily have to eat exactly the same food each day. For example, a rice salad could become the base of a stir-fry another day, perhaps with some leftover chicken added to it. The remains of a roast chicken on Sunday could be used to make a pasta sauce on Monday, or used in sandwiches on Tuesday.

Home composting means that you can recycle fruit and vegetables without feeling too guilty if things go past their best.

A Final Thought

This page has a wide range of suggestions for reducing your food bills. You may want to try all of them, or you may feel that some of them are just a step too far for you—and that’s fine.

The point is not to do all or none. Instead, it is to find some options that work for you, your family, and your lifestyle, and then use them to reduce both your bills and, ideally, your environmental impact.