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Food shopping: how to save money and waste less

For many households around the UK, food shopping is among the biggest weekly expenses. The average household spends £61.90 a week on food and non-alcoholic drinks, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).1

That average goes up to £73.90 a week for households with 2 working persons. Over the course of a year, that’s £3,842. No small fries. 

If you could shave £5 per week off your shopping bill, you’d save over £250 a year. Shave £10 off per week and you’d save over £500 a year. 

This table shows what weekly savings can add up to over a year:
Weekly saving Annual saving
£5 £260
£10 £520
£15 £780
£20 £1,040
£30
£1,560
This table shows what weekly savings can add up to over a year:
Weekly saving £5
Annual saving £260
Weekly saving £10
Annual saving £520
Weekly saving £15
Annual saving £780
Weekly saving £20
Annual saving £1,040
Weekly saving £30
Annual saving £1,560

Depending on your financial situation, you could use that to pay off debts, build your emergency fund, or put it towards another savings goal.

Skip to the tips to save money

Reducing waste

While food is obviously essential, and can bring great pleasure, lots of it goes to waste. 

In the UK, 4.5 million tonnes of food that could’ve been eaten went to waste in 2018, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). That was worth almost £14bn.2

Food production and food waste combined are among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and climate change. Vast amounts of resources – including energy, water, and fuel – go into the process of producing, storing, transporting and disposing of food.

So wasting less could save you money and have a positive impact on the environment.

Here are some tips on how to do it.

Tips on how to save money and waste less food

First, it helps to be mindful of how we end up wasting food. Here are some common reasons:

  • serving bigger portions than necessary
  • throwing away, instead of eating, leftovers
  • storing incorrectly – eg not refrigerating
  • letting food expire without using it
  • not making the most of ingredients – eg throwing out vegetable stalks, or skins and crusts

 

And here are some ways to avoid wasting food.

1. Set a budget

Creating a budget is a great way to make the most of your money. Start by estimating how much you’ve 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 helps 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. This should be 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 next week, including the ingredients. Check which ingredients you already have in and add the rest to your shopping list. 

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, in to the next week’s recipes to save you buying more? 

Think about 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 and to have a plan for how and when you’ll use it – even if that’s just ‘afternoon snack’. This will prevent you 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 money. You may find it easier to stick to your budget if you shop once a week – whether that’s at one supermarket, or at several smaller shops.

And try to find the right shops for you – ones that have the types of food you want at prices that fit with your budget. If there’s something you buy every week, spending £2 less each time would save you over £100 a year.

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 have a 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. No-one likes a frozen curry.

5. Go online

Shopping online is a good way to manage your budget, as you can monitor how much you’re spending with every item you add to your basket. 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.

You can also use apps to track your spending. For example, the HSBC UK mobile banking app will send you notifications each time you spend money from your current account. And the Balance after Bills feature shows how much money you could have left for your budgeting period, once all bills have been accounted for.

Sources

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