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Saving money on your food shopping

Top tips for making your food budget go further

Posted: 25 April 2008
by Maria Muennich

Once you have a family you are quite likely to find that you need to be more careful with your money than you were before, particularly if you go down to one or one and a half incomes. Family food will be one of your biggest monthly outlays, but it's also one of the easiest areas in which to save money, so here are a few ideas for how you can do just that.

1. Make a proper budget - If you don't already have one, then the first place to start taking your food shopping in hand is to make a proper budget. Work out what you can reasonably afford to spend on food each month and then you know what your limit is. After that, anything you spend under your budget is money saved that could be used elsewhere.

2. Don't shop when you're hungry - When you're hungry you're naturally drawn to looking for quick-fixes, which are usually both expensive and unhealthy. Well-presented products will have your mouth watering far more quickly than usual, and what's more, your brain and will power will be low, compromising your judgement.

3. Make a shopping list - Those impulse buys are understandable, but they are often the culprits when it comes to bumping up your grocery bill. Try making a shopping list and sticking with it and don't go for those 'two-for-one' or special offers unless it's something you actually need or can usefully stock in the freezer. When you don't have a list you're far more likely to visit every aisle in case you miss something you needed. And if you do find you end up browsing the aisles and buying things you didn't come in for, list or not, then you might want to consider trying online shopping - which will also save you time.

To help you make a good list, and to keep waste down to a minimum, try planning your family's menu for a week or two ahead, and then try to stick to it!

4. Make your own - Supermarket shelves are groaning with processed food that years ago we would never have thought buying ready-made. Ready meals and pre-prepared products are marketed as good time-savers, but not only are they usually loaded with unnecessary salt, sugar, additives and unhealthy fats, but they're also extremely expensive when you stop to think about it.

Many ready meals don't, in any case, save as much time as you would have thought when you can make many simple and nutritious meals quite quickly and easily. Instead of buying ready meals for your freezer, why not cook double of some meals and freeze the second portion so you always have something quick and healthy to eat in the freezer for days when there's no time to cook.

Items like soup, pizza, pancakes and cookies/biscuits are quite quick and cheap to make yourself and you also know exactly what goes into them.

Likewise beware of 'quick and easy' semi-processed and packaged products like sachets of quick and easy porridge, pre-cut vegetables and cake/biscuit mixes - these usually offer little more than fancy packaging and a heavy price tag. Making porridge from regular oats coudn't be much easier to start with, and who can't chop a carrot?!

5. Check the prices on 'value packs' - We often buy in bulk to save money, but is your value pack really better value than the smaller package that is exactly the size you need? Compare prices to be sure as 'value packs' can, in fact, be more expensive. Also even if the bulk price is better value, don't buy it unless you know you can make use of it before the best before date or store it in the freezer.

6. Time it right - Buying pre-packaged backery products may seem to be cheaper than buying fresh, but most supermarkets with in-store bakeries, and in fact most bakeries, will probably reduce items at a certain time of day - be tuned in to this and you can pick up some great fresh bargains and this it the time to get some of those more expensive treats like speciality breads.

7. Try house brands - Most families have at least a few big-name brands which they buy out of habit, and sometimes these will be worth the plentiful extra pennies they cost taste-wise. Very good versions of many products can, though, be found in the supermarket's own brands at considerable savings, so don't assume that more expensive necessarily means better, and give some of the other brands a try.

8. Look at price by weight - Packaging is a whole science unto itself, and the bigger a box or jar appears does not necessarily mean the more there is in it. Try to get into the habit of comparing prices by weight, rather than the overall price, you will probably be surprised by some of the differences.

9. Keep your fridge / freezer organised - However big or little your fridge or freezer, try to keep it well organised and resist the temptation to over-stuff. Yes, it's a drag, but when you can't see items easily you quickly forget what you have and before you know it you're throwing out food because you missed the best before date, or because it's been in the freezer for half a decade. This undoes all your hard work of shopping well - nothing is a bargain if you end up throwing it out!

10. Avoid waste - The average family throws an awful lot of good food away each week, either because it's gone past it's sell-by, or it's left over. A well-organised fridge and meal plan should cut down on things over-looked in the fridge, and making the most of left-overs is an art in which most families were well-versed just a couple of decades ago. If you need inspiration for using left-overs there are several helpful recipe books for tasty left-over re-inventions and plenty of good recipes to be found online.

11. Eat more vegetables! - Health experts and nutritionists are always telling us to eat more fruit and vegetables, and changing the balance on your plate can save your wallet as well as your waistline. Try eating less meat and more vegetables, while still making sure you get a good supply of protein-rich foods other than meat and fish. Also, cut back on all those expensive and fatty foods. (Do remember though that young toddlers do need far more fat than adults do in their diet, so low-fat dairy products aren't for them. While they also need plenty of fruit and veg, young toddlers don't need these in the same proportions as adults).

And finally....

12. Cut eating out to a minimum - All the careful saving at home will be for nought it you and your family eat out frequently, and it can cost you even more money if you end up wasting food you had in your fridge ready for a meal. Of course there will be times when it's unavoidable or it makes the most sense to eat out, but if you have an eating out habit then this is one of the first things you want to cut back on to reduce your food shopping bill (yes, money spent eating out counts towards your food shopping!).

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