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How to save money on food: 20 savvy tips from parents to help your budget stretch further

Finding yourself shocked at the supermarket checkout by the rapidly rising prices? Try these tried-and-tested tips from real parents to save money on your weekly food bill.

By Lucy Cotterill | Last updated Dec 22, 2023

Save money on food shop

The cost of living crisis is affecting many families in the UK, however of all the increasing household expenses, from rising gas and electricity prices to the fluctuating cost of fuel, the rapidly increasing prices at supermarket tills are one of the most difficult to avoid.

Many people have already switched to using the best air fryer or slow cooker to reduce energy costs when cooking, but in order to successfully manage your household expenses during challenging times, it’s important to try and save money on your food bill where possible too.

When it comes to family cooking, budgeting and saving money, Mumsnet users certainly know their stuff. We’ve tapped into real life experiences from parents in the Mumsnet community to create a checklist of tried-and-tested approaches on how to reduce your food bill.

From planning your meals and switching brands, to more simple approaches such as setting budgets and even not shopping when you’re hungry, here are some simple tips for food shopping on a budget.

1. Plan your meals

Meal Plan

Whilst meal planning may require a bit of investment in terms of planning and preparation, the effort certainly pays off - reducing your weekly food bill by ensuring you only buy what you actually need.

It takes less than 30 minutes at the weekend to plan your menu for the following week, picking out some family favourites and fuss-free dinners such as spag bol, cottage pie and chilli.

Next, write a list of the ingredients you’ll need and check what you’ve already got ‘in stock’ in your cupboards before heading to the supermarket. Think about lunches too - is there something you can batch cook that will do nicely for a few meals or that you can store in the fridge for a few days in Tupperware containers?

Meal planning not only stops you from overbuying but can cut down on food waste too. It can also prevent those last-minute dashes to smaller supermarkets, which often tend to charge higher prices than the larger stores.

What Mumsnet users say

“It may sound boring but meal plan so there is no waste. Write a list and stick to it.” PerfectPuppy

“I’ve always done meal planning for the last 32 plus years! When I was a working mum it saved coming home after a busy day, juggling kids and then trying to figure out what was for tea. I got to a point when the kids were about eight/nine that I prepared an eight-week rolling menu. And I had ingredient lists to go with each week. Ok, I know that is incredibly sad and worryingly organised, but bloody hell the effort over a single weekend to come up with it (on Excel to boot) saved me so much time for years to come.” Headbandheart

Read next: The best cookbooks to help you get organised and inspired when meal planning, as recommended by Mumsnet users

2. Do your food shop online

Believe it or not, sometimes shopping online can be cheaper than shopping in-store.

Doing your weekly food shop online can help you see how much you are spending as you go along, make the most of offers and discount codes and reduce impulse purchases. In fact, some Mumsnet users found that they spent far less without the temptation of strategically placed products surrounding them.

Obviously, you need to factor in the delivery cost, but with many supermarkets now offering free or low-priced click-and-collect services or annual delivery passes, you can spread the delivery cost across the year.

You should also look out for ‘new customer’ discounts which can be substantial if you haven’t previously shopped online with a particular supermarket.

What Mumsnet users say

“Shopping online has helped me save money. I can see exactly how much I'm spending. When I go shopping in person I always buy extra and things I don't need.” fedupofthesamest

“I've saved a lot of money by doing a weekly online shop because I don't pick up extras when I pop in for essentials.” donttellmehesalive

3. Batch cook meals for the freezer

Mumsnet users absolutely swear by batch cooking, making meals in large quantities (this can also be done in a slow cooker or pressure cooker to save time) and then popping portions into the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date. Batch cooking is a great solution for busy parents, saving cooking time during the week, but it can also reduce waste and make your weekly shop go further.

If you’re in a rush and short on time, it can be all too tempting to call for a takeaway. Knowing you’ve got meals in the freezer that you can simply pop in the fridge to defrost really reduces the likelihood of poor spending decisions (and is often a healthier choice too).

What Mumsnet users say

“Make and freeze sauces. Make tomato sauce, bolognese, cheese, vegetables, curry. Freeze in usable portions for your family, then defrost to use with whatever, e.g. rice or pasta or fish.” Curiousmouse

4. Opt for meat-free meals

Chances are, we’ve all considered eating less meat in recent years, mostly for health and environmental reasons. But did you know that reducing the amount of meat your family consumes can also be friendly on your purse strings too?

Quality cuts of meat such as steaks and chicken breasts can be expensive, so switching one or two of your meals to meat-free each week can have a big impact on your food bill.

You don’t need to cut out all meat or suddenly turn vegan, but simple approaches such as 'Meat Free Monday' or serving a veggie lasagne rather than a mince one can certainly help, whilst doing your bit for the planet too. Alternatively, switch to cheaper cuts such as chicken thighs, which tend to be more affordable.

What Mumsnet users say

“We eat meat two to three days a week, then eat vegetarian the rest of the week to keep food costs down.Mamiamamia

“If you eat meat and fish, stop, or restrict to once or twice a week. Base your meals on veg, pulses and a carb. Our food bill has been cut by two-thirds, without needing to cut back in any other way, or do any special preparation. I've also lost two stone and we've never felt healthier.” 5128gap

“My best tips are to go low meat rather than no meat (so using meat as a flavour rather than a main source of protein, eg. with chorizo in a stew with beans and peppers, or bacon bits on top of cauliflower cheese), and to buy lots of mince/sausages/burgers as these tend to be both relatively cheap and frequently marked down.” SarahAndQuack

5. Look out for supermarket deals

Supermarket Deals

Whilst shopping, look out for supermarket deals such as BOGOF (buy one get one free), 3 for 2 deals, discounts and reductions, particularly on the items you use regularly. If something you buy is on offer and you have the space to stash it away, buy it when it’s cheap, rather than paying a potentially higher price tag at the point that you’ve run out. This works well for long-dated items, but also for household products such as washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and dishwasher tablets.

That said, approach deals with caution - don’t be tempted to buy products purely for their bargain price tag. Consider if it’s a product that you or your family will actually want to consume, as it’s only a good deal if you will actually use it.

Many Mumsnet users have embraced supermarket comparison sites such as Trolley and My Supermarket Compare which allow you to check which supermarket has the lowest retail price on specific products. If you live close to a number of different supermarkets and are prepared to shop around, this may also bring additional savings to your food bill.

What Mumsnet users say

“If you have cupboard space, buy what you use when it's on offer or cheap. So if you always eat the same brand of beans, don't walk past them on BOGOF because you don't ‘need’ them in that shop, buy them! If you do this with everything that stores well, you end up not running out of stuff and always paying the cheapest price.” pawpaws2022

“There's an app called Trolley that you can install and add a shopping list of your frequent purchases to. It shows you the prices of those items in all the major supermarkets and sends you alerts if there are price changes on them.” ​​FatAgainItsLettuceTime

“Try You can load your shop and it compares it across all the supermarkets.” BummyKnocker

6. Make meals with leftovers

Before you throw those leftovers into your waste bin or compost, consider whether they can be used to make another meal instead. Some simple puff pastry can turn the leftover veggies from your Sunday roast into delicious pies for Monday’s evening meal. You can use your food processor to turn those scraps of veg left at the end of the week into a delicious soup or pasta sauce. Any food you can salvage is one less meal you need to fund for your family.

Whilst it can be tempting to buy pre-made soups, salads or pasta sauces for convenience, it’s also often much cheaper to make your own, using up items that may otherwise get thrown away. Homemade pasta sauces are also likely to contain far less sugar and can be packed full of hidden veg that your children won't even know they are eating. Make small portions and pop them in the freezer, then simply defrost and heat them through when you’re ready to enjoy them.

What Mumsnet users say

“I’ve been on a mission to ensure we don't waste any food this year. I’ve been incorporating leftovers into new meals, e.g. today leftover pizza sauce, slightly wilted carrot and some slightly soft tomatoes will be made into a pasta sauce together with some leftover chicken mince.” Emmie412x

“I like the challenge of using everything up, although it is so much easier now I am mainly WFH as leftovers can be easily used up in lunches too.” Wildernesstips

Read next: A multi-cooker like the best Instant Pot can help you make soups, stews, sauces and much more with leftovers - don’t miss our guide for the models Mumsnet users love

7. Switch supermarkets

It can be easy to stick with what you know purely out of habit, but if you’ve been shopping at the same supermarket for some time, it might be time for a switch-up.  Shopping around or changing supermarkets could save you significant money. Even if you don’t want to switch your entire shop, you may find picking up even some of your weekly essentials elsewhere can cut back some of the overall spend.

It’s worth noting that at the time of writing, most supermarkets are all offering competitive options and incentives to combat the cost of living crisis, but according to Which?, Aldi is the cheapest supermarket so far in 2023, closely followed by Lidl and ASDA.

What Mumsnet users say

“I shop in Aldi or Lidl to keep overall costs down. Lidl do a veg box at the tills with split bags and almost out-of-date food for £1.50. There is normally up to £8 worth of food in it.” Beautifullymad

“I do my main food shop in Aldi. A family of five and I plan meals. My food shop averages around £95. (I have to avoid the middle aisle!)” frazzledfragglefromfragglerock

“We do all our shopping at Aldi so no branded items here. The quality is great, as are the prices. I don't know why anyone would buy e.g. Hovis bread at over £1 when Aldi's own could be half the price.” FuggyPidding

8. Switch brands

Are you a creature of habit and still reaching for the big brand names just because it's what you’ve always had? Are you convinced you can tell the difference between big brands and cheaper alternatives? You may just be surprised.

Recent industry insights have shown that often the products are made in the same factory and in some cases taste testers couldn’t tell the difference when comparing branded products and the supermarket’s own. Whilst there are some brands you may not be willing to sacrifice, try switching to some own-brand products and cheaper ranges and taste test them before ruling them out. They can often be around half the price of the competing branded products.

What Mumsnet users say

“I only buy branded ketchup, Coke, tea and mini Babybel. Everything else is own brand. Just start with the cheapest and work upwards if you aren’t happy.Footnote

“I always thought I was a brand person but the tomato ketchup in Aldi is 58p and the Heinz is £2.99 and I honestly can't tell the difference.” youdoyoutoday

9. Take a packed lunch

Packed lunch

As working parents, it can be all too easy to forget to prepare a lunch for ourselves, especially if you’re rushing around making packed lunches for everyone else whilst trying to remember whether it’s a non-uniform day or not. The result? You head to the shops on your lunch break and rely on meal deals, expensive sandwiches or takeaway coffees - the price of which can stack up incredibly quickly.

Finding time to make yourself a sandwich before you leave for work (or even the night before if you have more time then) can save you major £s and you can make them exactly how you like them. Alternatively, if you’re working from home, why not make a larger portion of your evening meal so you can have leftovers in the fridge ready for the morning? Just pop them into the best lunch box or bento box ready to grab and reheat when you’re hungry. Plus, if you really don’t want to ditch your morning coffee completely, why not reserve it to be a special Friday treat?

What Mumsnet users say

“I started bringing my own lunch because I felt a lot of shop-bought sandwiches were rubbish and my homemade ones were better. I buy nice bread and rolls at weekends and freeze them, I save a fortune. If occasionally you buy lunch as a treat then it's not so bad." needanewnamechange

Read next: Fancy going one step further? Upgrade your sandwiches with some delicious homemade bread - our guide to the best bread maker has plenty of Mumsnetter-approved options

10. Use loyalty cards

From Tesco Clubcard to ASDA Rewards and Sainsbury’s Nectar card, many supermarkets reward their customer’s loyalty by providing points, vouchers and special member-only discounts.

In many cases, the points earned from your weekly shop can be used to get money off future transactions, be transferred to vouchers for local attractions, or be used to secure low prices specifically for loyalty card holders. Each supermarket loyalty scheme works slightly differently, but if you aren’t already a member, now is a good time to sign up.

What Mumsnet users say

“Definitely worth getting a card. There are a lot of items that are cheaper with a Tesco Clubcard, and if you build up enough points you get sent a voucher for money off your shop. They do price match on lots of staples with Aldi so it is possible to do a cheap shop in there if you’re not fussy about brands.” Danikm151

“I used the ASDA Rewards app for the first time this week and it's by far the best supermarket loyalty scheme I've seen so far. Just did my normal shopping and got nearly £5 back to use next time. ASDA is one of the cheaper supermarkets anyway so it works out quite good.” Burnt0utMum

11. Seek out the yellow stickers

Yellow sticker items were initially launched as supermarkets' approach to reducing food waste, but are obviously a great way to spend less money on food too. Any food items that are due to go out of date that day or are no longer in prime condition are given a yellow sticker, often reducing the price to a fraction of the original RRP.

In the current climate, yellow sticker items are understandably quite competitive and we kindly suggest you only buy what you need. That said, looking out for items such as reduced bread or meat that can be frozen and enjoyed at another time is a great way to reduce your household’s food expenditure.

Most supermarkets have a designated section in the store where yellow items are placed. Whilst yellow sticker items can be added to the shelves at any time of day and will vary from store to store, Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert found that the most common time for items to get reduced is early evening, when the inventory for the following day is completed. Yellow stickers can offer food reductions of up to 75%.

What Mumsnet users say

“I buy loads of yellow sticker items. Our local Co-op has things extremely cheap and I just freeze stuff to use during the week.” Babyroobs

“Try yellow label shopping - i.e. shop when supermarkets do their final reductions. I save £££ this way.” confusedofengland

12. Use the Olio and Too Good To Go apps

Originally launched to tackle the environmental challenges of food waste, the Olio and Too Good To Go apps have grown hugely in popularity since Covid and the cost of living crisis and are both well regarded amongst Mumsnet users.

Olio allows members to post unwanted items for free to people in their local neighbourhood. This can be food or other items such as toys, toiletries and household products. The aim? Food that would otherwise go in the bin can be eaten and enjoyed by others in their community.

Too Good To Go works slightly differently, teaming up with local restaurants, cafes and food outlets to offer heavily discounted 'Magic Bags' filled with food that would otherwise go out of date. The quality of Too Good To Go Bags tends to vary on the store and is essentially a lucky dip, as the contents will depend on the items available on the day.

Hit lucky however, and you can have a bag of items you can easily freeze or enjoy as an evening meal for a fraction of the original price.

What Mumsnet users say

“One idea might be to use Olio (an app where food is shared so it isn't wasted) or a community fridge or social supermarket. The community fridge in my nearest big town gives a bag of food to anyone who asks, each day.” SuperLoudPoppingAction

“I have been using Too Good To Go for a couple of years and it's great. The best bags are the M&S/BP garage ones which usually have great stuff in them and are good value. We have three teenage kids in the house so everything gets hoovered up quickly.” Stroopwaffels

“I'm also a regular user of Too Good To Go. It lists all the outlets in your chosen radius, e.g. local Spar, Costa, Greggs etc and you reserve a 'Magic Bag' which is paid for online, usually about a third of the cost. You then collect it after a certain time once they've checked their sell-by dates. It's a lucky dip but has been well worth it for what I got.” Grandadwasthatyou

13. Grow your own

grow your own vegetables

If you’re prepared to be a little green-fingered, growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is a great way to reduce the cost of buying fresh produce at your supermarket. It’s also easier than you may think, even with limited or no garden space.

Potatoes can be grown in grow bags for the smallest of outdoor spaces, whilst herbs, salad cress and radishes can even be grown on your windowsill.

A recent survey by consumer group Which? found that growing your own fruit and veg could yield substantial savings on supermarket prices. Not only this, it’s a great way to teach children about where their food comes from and may encourage them to try something new.

What Mumsnet users say

“Grow your own if you can. Potatoes, for example, can easily be grown in large tubs. Herbs along windowsills.” Themoneypolice

“There are various things you can grow on a windowsill. Beansprouts are super healthy, grow in less than a week and literally just involve you soaking them and then rinsing them each day. A packet of mung beans is really cheap and will make a mountain of bean sprouts. Spring onions can be regrown by putting the white ends in a glass of water. Herb packets are cheap and good for growing on windowsills for an endless supply.” Lemonblossom

14. Check the weights of what you’re buying

If you really want to ensure you’re getting good value for money, keep an eye on the prices and weights when buying, e.g. the cost per kg or cost per gram. This information is usually displayed on the aisles next to the current retail price.

Whilst not all supermarkets make this easy to work out, it can help you choose between two pack sizes and figure out which one provides the lowest price per unit. For example, a bag of satsumas may come in two pack sizes, and buying the larger pack may work out significantly cheaper when considering the cost per satsuma.

What Mumsnet users say

“When you are in the shop and go to pick up your regular (say) apples, look at the price per kilo and compare it with the other apples on offer. There's almost always something cheaper. And that's just one item. Do that with everything and the savings will soon mount up.” takeitandleaveit

15. Buy seasonal fruit and veg - it's cheaper

We’re all told to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but many of us find our shopping basket price rises significantly when we do. There is, however, an art to buying fruit and veg at a more budget-friendly price and this is by focusing on food that’s in season.

Buying items such as raspberries, cherries and strawberries outside of the summer season will cost significantly more, usually due to the fact they’ve been imported and not grown locally. Instead, buying winter seasonal fruits such as plums, kiwis and oranges will be noticeably more affordable.

The Aldi weekly super six offer is a great place to start - six in-season fruit or vegetables that are reduced significantly in price.

What Mumsnet users say

“When buying loose, focus on bulky seasonal veg like cabbage and carrot. They provide a lot of nutritional bang for your buck as they are cheap, and fill you up in the way that starchy foods like pasta do.LaDameAuxLicornes

“You need to eat more seasonally, when things are cheaper. Also, skip faddy, imported stuff like avocado and pineapple.” MissSusanScreams

Read next: The best recipe boxes to help busy families eat more fresh food

16. Don’t shop when you’re hungry!

Again, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how many people forget. Going shopping when you are hungry makes you psychologically more likely to buy more, purely because you’ll be tempted by items that are appealing at that moment. Bizarrely, shopping when hungry can also encourage other poor purchasing decisions, with research showing that hungry shoppers tend to buy more non-food items too. Who’d have thought it?

To shop more economically, try heading to the supermarket just after you have eaten - this way, those unhealthy temptations and cravings are less likely to rear their ugly head and it’ll be far easier to stick to your shopping list.

What Mumsnet users say

“Going shopping straight after dinner so you are already full helps me. If I shop when hungry it's awful!” biggreenhouse

“I always buy masses of crap if I shop hungry. So eat before you go, or buy online.” SuperSocks

Read next: Perfect your indulgent fakeaways with the best deep fat fryer, as recommended by Mumsnet users

17. Check what you have in the cupboards before you go

Checking food cupboards

We’ve all been there, right? You come back from the food shop with another four tins of beans only to realise when unpacking that you’ve already got eight in the cupboard. Unless they’re on offer, buying through habit can result in you spending cash on things you don’t need, wasting money that could have been utilised elsewhere.

Take a few moments before you leave to scan your cupboards, fridge and/or pantry, making a mental note of the items you need and those that you definitely don’t. Even better, look at creating some kind of inventory, making it quick and easy to see when you're running low on your favourites.

What Mumsnet users say

“I just have a quick look in the fridge and cupboards before I go shopping and jot down a list!” BlancmanegeBunny

“I have a 'not to buy’ section on my shopping list where I put things I commonly buy either out of habit or when on offer but that we don't need that week.” ZoeQ90

18. Buy frozen fruit and veg

The cost of buying fresh fruit and veg can soon add up, especially if you’re buying out of season. Most fruits also need to be eaten quickly, with many of us finding they’ve started to go soft or discolour far faster than we can consume them.

Opting for frozen fruit and vegetables can not only reduce waste but is often more affordable too. You can also take out the exact quantity that you need, meaning your initial purchase will also last far longer than buying fresh.

What Mumsnet users say

“I eat a lot of frozen veg - it's cheaper, doesn't go off and it's just as nutritious.” NannyR

“Go to Iceland. Our freezer is packed with lots of veg and bags of berries from there, rarely more than £1 a bag. Usually, we get whole green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and frozen berries from there. I find buying both fresh and frozen to be cost-effective. A lot cheaper than the highly processed food.” Troels

19. Buy products in bulk

If you have sufficient storage space and the cash to do so, buying essentials and regularly used items in bulk size packs and quantities can offer a significant saving when compared to buying individual small packs and portions. This works best for items with a long shelf life such as pasta, coffee and laundry detergents, but can also be useful for kids' school lunch snacks and tinned food.

That said, choose these items carefully, as you need to avoid the temptation to eat them all as soon as they arrive. Unless you want to be eating the same dinner every night for a week, it’s also not recommended for items with a shorter use-by date, no matter how much cheaper it may appear.

What Mumsnet users say

“I love to buy huge packs of things, then decant them into smaller, more manageable jars - this works for all dried and/or long shelf life foods. Also, multipacks of tins are generally cheaper than buying separate tins.MarioPants

“I always buy in bulk, so much easier to buy every few months than every week and usually much cheaper. I use Costco for toilet rolls, kitchen rolls, aluminium foil, tea bags, coffee beans, laundry liquid and conditioner, and buy 3kg bags of pasta and sugar from the supermarket.” Agadorsparticus

20. Set a food budget - and stick to it

Last but not least, a tip that requires you to pay close attention to your spending is to set a food budget and stick to it. Work out how much you can afford to spend on food each week and move it to a separate bank account, knowing that once it’s run out, you won't be able to buy any more.

Whilst this technique isn’t foolproof, the very act of attempting to budget can encourage you to pay closer attention to your purchases, seeking out cheaper priced items on the lower shelves or questioning whether you really need to buy that expensive snack.

It’s fair to say in the current climate this is the most challenging tip to master, with many Mumsnet users admitting they’d tried but failed, inevitably needing to top it up towards the end of the month.

What Mumsnet users say

“Decide what a reasonable amount to spend on food is, and put it aside each week. Once it's gone, it's gone.” HumdrumGuga

Read next: The best George Foreman grill for family meals