How to save money in the supermarket – Sharon Duggan

Offering advice on saving money at the supermarket could come across as offensive though I hope not. Some people may have already been trying the suggestions given below for years, others may not be confident at cooking, don’t like cooking or prefer to buy ready-made kits for meals. But if you’re feeling the pinch with the rise in the cost of food, on top of increased fuel and energy prices, then read on as there may be something that’s helpful for you.

I’m certainly struggling financially at present as my business took a really bad hit during the lockdowns, from which it hasn’t recovered very well. I should also mention that back in 1984, when my daughter was born, I was a single parent living in London with no family nearby (they were here in Surrey, near Guildford). I didn’t have a car and life was tough because I was working full-time. I know only too well, therefore, that it is difficult to find the time to cook with young children. I managed to do it though and saved time and money in the long run, plus it meant that we were better nourished. When thinking about how to save money on food, there are some really obvious things that can help:

1. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, eat what’s in season. Supermarkets have encouraged us to think we live in a perpetually sunny place where everything is available all year round. They provide that of course by importing items from abroad BUT this isn’t a mindset that’s good for the planet and it’s certainly not good for our pockets either. In years gone by summer was the only high-fruit season but thanks to modern agriculture and advances in shipping and food storage, many fresh fruits are available all the time. But the less time the fruit travels the fresher it will be. And another benefit of enjoying fruits in season is the cost. If a fruit is shipped, chilled for transportation or not available in abundance, the cost will rise significantly. Food that’s grown in the UK is simply cheaper to buy.

2. Plan all your meals for the week ahead. Doing this saves so much money. For example, by preparing a vegetable lasagne, once cooked, cut into portions and freeze the portions. I usually find that a lasagne will provide about eight portions depending on the dish used (obviously how long this supply lasts will depend on the size of your family).

3. Using your meal plan, write a shopping list and only buy what’s on the list. It’s tempting to buy things that attract your eye as you’re shopping, but the chances are if they’re not itemised on your list, they will just sit in your kitchen cupboard and not get eaten, just like vegetables mouldering in the fridge if they’re not actually earmarked for a specific meal.

4. Invest in some basic flavouring and seasoning. This is down to personal taste but a good supply of stock (eg. vegetable bouillon), soy sauce, mustard, nutritional yeast (which creates a great cheesy taste), Worcestershire sauce, herbs (if you’ve got space, grow some in your garden which will be even cheaper than buying dried herbs), salt and pepper and any other seasoning to flavour the dishes you make, will transform your meals.

5. Buy proper food. Many people today do not eat proper food, they opt for snacking on crisps, sweets, biscuits, cakes etc. which aren’t good for us. They are high in sugar and salt as well as other unnecessary ingredients. The best way to avoid these is just don’t go down the crisp and cake aisle in the supermarket. Avoid the temptation altogether and over time you may live to realise you no longer crave them. Take the measure of selecting a good quality bar of chocolate to have as a special treat at weekends and leave the rest in the shop.

6. Children’s treats. It can be difficult to manage young children’s demands especially at the end of a school day, but if you bake your own cakes and biscuits it will save money and you’ll know exactly what’s in them too.

7. Eat less meat. Meat is expensive and not good for the planet, so why not try going flexitarian and dropping meals with meat in them down to just two or three times a week (and work downwards, not upwards!). Again, while this is much better for the planet, it’s also heaps better for your pocket. Take a stew, for example, instead of adding meat, add lentils and look up recipes that demonstrate how to flavour it well. This doesn’t mean adding lots of salt. I find that when I follow a recipe, I still do a taste test and will generally add a bit more vegetable bouillon or soy sauce. It’s amazing what a difference that can make. We’re fortunate now because practically everything you ever need to know or learn, can be found by searching online or watching on Youtube or Tiktok.

8. Don’t waste food. Once each serving has been provided for those eating the meal, avoid throwing away any leftovers in the serving dish. There’s absolutely no reason to waste food in this way. Leftover vegetables, can be re-used for another meal in so many creative ways. Just put the remaining food in the fridge and add to something new the following day. For example, if you eat eggs, a frittata is a great way to use up leftover veggies, especially leftover potatoes as it’s essentially a veg-filled omelette and the potatoes really bulk it out into a filling meal.

9. Make your own sandwiches for packed lunches. Shop bought sandwiches are very expensive, in fact any form of packed lunch is and they’re usually wrapped in plastic etc. If you add items you enjoy in a sandwich to your shopping list at the beginning of the week, it’s not difficult to provide your own packed lunch at much lower cost. Also invest in a metal lunch box and metal drinks container to avoid single use plastic items.

10. If you haven’t a clue how to cook, then learn. As previously mentioned you can find out so much online. Plus we have a charity bookshop in Cranleigh as well as some book exchanges, so you can pick up a bargain cookery book or two. Cooking your own food is much cheaper than buying everything. Maybe try out a couple of new recipes with a friend to build your confidence and help one another along and then in time, another two new dishes to gradually widen your repertoire of delicious meals.

11. Curb the takeaways. Although we all love a takeaway, if you’re having three or four a week, even two a week, this is really too much and is very costly. Try to only buy a takeaway as a particular treat not a regular event. That way you’ll appreciate the luxury more when you have one.

12. Avoid buying duplicate cleaning products. The chances are there are quite a few duplicate cleaning products in your cupboard and this adds to the shopping bill too. In previous articles I’ve mentioned making my own household cleaners and I’m confident to recommend you only need a few cheap ingredients: washing soda, lemon juice, white vinegar, borax. To make your own household cleaners takes just a few minutes (for example, I can make a year’s worth of washing liquid in about 10 minutes and it only costs about £5 – yes, for the whole year, but again that’s dependent on the size of your household).

There’s so much more you can do to save money at the supermarket, these are just a few examples. When you next go shopping consider some of these suggestions and the manner in which you shop. Are you fairly chaotic or quite methodical? We all need to be careful with our money and how we shop, now more than ever. Hopefully these 12 points are helpful. Start with just one change and see how it goes.

Sharon Duggan
Cranleigh Climate Action

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