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How to save money on your food shopping

Food shopping is among the biggest weekly expenses for households in the UK.

For those with the lowest incomes, more than half of their total weekly spending goes on essentials such as food, housing, and transport, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

If you’re looking to cut back on spending, you can make your money go further by saving on shopping and wasting less – so the food you buy lasts longer.

1. Set a budget

Creating a budget is a great way to make the most of your money. Start by working out how much you spent on food over the last 3 months. Checking your transactions and statements should help. 

Are you comfortable with that amount, or do you want to spend less? If so, by how much? It can be helpful to set yourself a goal.

Then, each time you make a budget – for example, once a month when you get paid – set aside a certain amount for food. Make sure it's realistic – it’s fine to include luxury items as long as you’re spending within your means.

2. Plan your meals

Make a list of your main meals for the coming week, including the ingredients you need. Check what ingredients you already have and add the rest to your shopping list. 

Once you’ve made a list, try to stick to it. Don’t get drawn into offers for things that you don’t need.

If you’ve already got food in, try to account for it in your plan, especially fresh food that may otherwise go to waste. Are there items you could add or substitute into next week’s recipes to save you from buying more? 

Consider the types of ingredients on your list and try to include some cheaper meals. Is there anything you could batch cook to cover 2 dinners?

The main thing is to know why you’re buying each item. Have a plan for how and when you’ll use it, even if that’s just an ‘afternoon snack’. This will prevent you from buying more than you need.

3. Think about when and where you’ll shop

Shopping less often can help you think more carefully about what you buy and save you money. You may find it easier to stick to your budget if you shop once a week.

And try to find the right shops for you – ones that have the types of food you want at prices that fit your budget.

Another idea is to shop on a full stomach rather than an empty one, so you don’t get tempted by hunger pangs.

4. Store your food carefully

Check the best way to store different foods so they don’t go off before you get to use them. Check use-by dates too. If you don’t plan to use something before its use-by date, can you freeze it?

Batch cooking and freezing portions will also help you save money and preserve food. And then, when you don’t have time to cook, you’ve got a ready-made home-cooked meal. Just don’t forget to defrost it.

5. Go online

Shopping online is a good way to manage your budget, as you can keep track of your expenses as you add items to your cart. Some shops offer a similar in-store experience, where you can add up as you go along.

Even if you’re not placing an order, you can check prices online to have a better idea of whether your shopping list fits your budget.

Shopping online helps to stop impulse buying as well.

You can also use apps to track your spending. For example, the HSBC UK Mobile Banking app (available on compatible devices) will send you notifications each time you spend money from your current account. And the Balance After Bills feature shows you how much money you could have left for the month ahead, once scheduled bills (standing orders and Direct Debits) are taken into account.

Small changes can add up

If you shaved £5 per week off your supermarket bill, you would save over £250 a year. Shave £10 off each week and you’d save over £500 a year. 

This table shows what weekly savings can add up to over a year:

Weekly and annual savings

Weekly saving Annual saving
£5 £260
£10 £520
£15 £780
£20 £1,040
£30 £1,560

Weekly and annual savings

Weekly saving £5 £5
Annual saving £260 £260
Weekly saving £10 £10
Annual saving £520 £520
Weekly saving £15 £15
Annual saving £780 £780
Weekly saving £20 £20
Annual saving £1,040 £1,040
Weekly saving £30 £30
Annual saving £1,560 £1,560

You could use the money you save to pay off debts, build your emergency fund, or put it towards another savings goal.