As part of my ‘Finance’ series on how to save money when illness impacts your income, I thought that grocery shopping deserved its own post. It’s never been so important as in recent years with the massive hike in the cost of food.
I know that there are loads of ways to save on your groceries but there are not always the most practical for those of us who are sick or disabled. Some however, are easily done and just need a change of mindset. I found myself a single parent, unable to work due to sickness and learnt the hard way. Here’s some of what I’ve picked up over the last 10 years.
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1. Own brands and Savers brands
With programs on TV like ‘Eat well for Less’ there is a trend for buying own brand and savers brand items more than ever now in the UK. Years ago I took everything on my grocery list down to the cheapest brand possible and guess what? I reduced my grocery spend by about one third each week! If you don’t like the brand, try the next one up next time. Eventually you will get to know which brands you like.
As an example, I spend 27p for 40 savers tea bags and I get 2 cups out of each tea bag. That’s 0.34p per cup! And we drink a LOT of tea!
2. Use scan and shop
Some stores, like Tesco, have the system where you scan your shop as you go around. I love this system for 2 reasons. First, I can see exactly how much I’m spending as I go so that I stay in budget, and second, the checkout is much faster with no packing. I really struggle with the checkouts and queuing but we hardly ever queue for scan and shop.
3. Online ordering
As with using scan and shop, online ordering gives you a running total to help you stay in budget. This is a great way to do your shop when you are too sick to get to the supermarket. Again, there’s no queuing and I even do my shop in my pjs with a cup of my beloved tea. The delivery driver will also help you to unpack in your kitchen, but you do have to put it away yourself!
4. Avoid using convenience shops
Convenience shops like Tesco express and Co-op are notoriously more expensive than their main supermarket counterparts. I avoid them like the plague. With self checkouts in most big supermarkets now you can be just as quick in and out of a big supermarket if you only need a few items. These items are usually fresher as well as stock turnover is higher.
5. Don’t shop on an empty stomach
We’re dreadful for this and really need to make more of an effort. Hubby likes to spring grocery shopping on me when we are already out so we often end up going through the aisles hungry. Hubs is then really bad for throwing in all sorts of stuff we don’t need. I’m more aware of it but even so, I’m guilty too.
6. Meal plan
I see this advice everywhere but it’s not easy when you are sick. We have bad days and better days. That said there are some staple meals that I know I can cook quite easily and do more often so I tend to make sure I’ve got ingredients for those favourites.
7. Bulk buy and freeze
Over the years I’ve realised that it is actually cheaper for me to run a second freezer and bulk buy staples when they are on offer. The key here is to ONLY buy what you know you use a lot of or things that last a long time, such as toiletries. The list of foods that can be frozen is endless. I freeze bread, cakes (homemade and store bought but not with cream), grated cheese, veggies, fruit for cooking, herbs and so on. If you can, look at the long (ish) term gain with bulk buying.
8. Freeze leftovers
This ties in nicely with buying in bulk and freezing. To reduce food waste, freeze your left overs or refrigerate them for the next day. I always have freezer bags and tupperware to pop left overs in to freeze. Tupperware is better as it also reduces plastic cost and waste. I freeze left over sauces, cooked meats (off the bone), soups and stews.
9. Batch cook and cook from scratch
My daughter and I are both gluten free (as well as other allergies) so we need to cook from scratch most the time as gluten free foods are horrifically expensive and choked full of chemicals.
I know this can be difficult to do. It is for me. So what I do is make double the amount of food and freeze half when I can. Also on the weekends hubby will help me to batch cook to stock the freezer. On my bad days I can easily defrost something and add it to pasta, rice or potatoes. We also know that we won’t get sick from our food this way as well.
10. Gluten free prescriptions
If you need gluten free foods, like bread, pasta or cereal, for a medical need you can get this on prescription and it works out a lot cheaper. In Wales our prescriptions are free. It’s a real saving when you consider a half-sized loaf of bread costs about £3.00! I get 8 loaves per month and freeze them.
11. Cheaper cuts of meat
I often buy cheaper cuts of meat, such as stewing beef and offal (much to hubby’s horror!). Offal is very cheap in comparison and more nutritious. Hubby eats what he’s given! Also, cheaper cuts of meat like, stewing beef, can be tasty in stews and soups. The key is to cook them slowly so they don’t go chewy. I like to use my slow cooker for this, which is also cheaper to run than the conventional oven or hob. Win win!
This is my slow cooker. I’ve had it for a couple of years now and I cook all sorts of things in it. Even mulled wine for Christmas! It was a great investment.
12. Make your own detergents and cleaning products
I have multiple chemical sensitivity so I switched over to making my own detergent for washing and cleaning a few years ago. There are some great posts about it on Pinterest (I really recommend Pinterest) and ordered the ingredients from Amazon. I really love the almond scent Castille soap. Making the detergents wasn’t any more challenging than following a recipe. I do prefer to make liquid detergents though as they are less fiddly for bad hands and no moulding is required. I’ll have to type up some of my favourite recipes. The added bonus to making my own detergents is that it works out a LOT cheaper than even the store own branded products, not to mention less chemicals. I haven’t yet managed to make a usable shampoo but I’m still working on it.
Moving away from the items on your list, there are other ways to save on your grocery bills too.
13. Use store reward cards
All the big 4 supermarkets have reward cards. For every £ that you spend you are rewarded points on your card. Most of us in the UK are well familiar with these. Make sure you have one for every supermarket that you use. I have 3 fobs on my keys so that I don’t forget to have them with me. I use these cards for petrol as well as groceries so the points add up quite quickly.
Typically, I either keep my points for Christmas time or I exchange them for vouchers for free family fun in the summer. You really should be taking advantage of this as it’s essentially free money.
It’s not as easy to coupon in the UK as it is for our American neighbours but it is possible.
I get coupons posted to me by Tesco clubcard, I cut them out of free magazines when I see them and print them from websites. My favourite website is caringeveryday.co.uk where you can get coupons for upto £8 off selected non-food products! Now that’s worth the minutes it takes me to print them each month.
Some supermarkets (down to manager’s discretion) allow a certain number of ‘courtesy coupons’. This is when they allow you to use the coupon without buying the item. This only works in certain stores though and with coupons for branded items. You can’t use a Morrisons coupon in Tesco for example. It’s worth asking next time you checkout as stores don’t tend to advertise this. Sadly, our store has recently stopped doing this.
15. Discount shops
Don’t forget to shop the discount stores now and again, such as Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and even Home Bargains. You might not be able to get everything in these stores but they are worth popping into now and again to stock up on longer lasting foods, or frozen goods. I bulk buy more in these stores.
I have to say that I’m really impressed with the meat in Aldi and even many burgers and sausages in there are gluten free but without the extra cost. Aldi have also just announced that they are expanding their free from range. I’m waiting for it to come to our store.
Even though these stores don’t have loyalty cards or many coupons, in my experience they still work out a lot cheaper and save me the hassle of looking for coupons.
16. Take you own bags
Since the 5p tax has been brought in for bags it not only pays our pocket to reuse our bags but it also helps the environment (which is why the tax was brought in). If you took your own bags everywhere you shopped the savings add up over time.
17. Gift cards
I wrote a post a while back about an app on my phone called Zeek. Here you can buy gift cards for all sorts of UK stores both online and on the high street. This includes supermarkets. I used this app for years to get reduced cost gift cards for Morrisons and Tescos with savings of upto 5% for supermarkets. (Upto 25% for some stores.) It only takes a few minutes to order the gifts cards and they are delivered to your door. You do need to be a bit more organised with this one and be in to sign for the cards when they arrive in the post. This app doesn’t always stock all stores as it’s where people sell gift cards that they don’t have use for so it pays to check frequently and be opportunistic with this one. Click here to see my post about Zeek and to sign up and get your first credit.
18. Perks account
I don’t use Zeek any more for groceries (but still do for other stores) as hubby now has a membership to Perks through work. See if your employer or the employer of a close relative has the option of a Perks account. We can buy gift cards for supermarkets through Perks with even more discount than I’ve typically seen on Zeek. You receive a reloadable gift card (you only pay postage to receive the card) and keep topping it up as you use it up. We top ours up after each pay day and we have our food money then put aside for the month.
19. Food banks
Finally, if you really are badly struggling as I was 9 years ago, you can get help from the Trussel Trust Food Banks. This is a charity that has been in the news a lot over the last 8 years since the financial bust and it has helped many families. I didn’t know about it when I really needed it. Be aware though that you need to be referred to them by either your GP or health visitor (if you have children). This is to make sure that the charity is there to help those who really need it.
Conversely, if you are making ends meet and still saving with the tips above, why not donate a few items occasionally to your local food bank? In the run up to Christmas I like to buy a batch of selection boxes when they are 2 for 1 and pop them in the food bank. It’s a little something extra for little ones to have under the tree. Other items that are usually needed (and often overlooked) are toiletries, feminine hygiene products and nappies. You can always check out the website for your local food bank to see if there are particular items that they have a shortage of.
If you have any more suggestions then please add them in the comments. I’m always on the lookout and you might be able to help others out as well.