Friday, 4 March 2011

How to save money when you're out shopping

Last night was shopping night. The vastness of my local superstore always looms scarily and I need to prepare myself for the onslaught. Everything about a supermarket is designed to make you spend more than you intended. The lighting, the store layout, the width of the aisles, the product placement, all have been carefully thought out by psychologists to encourage you to buy, buy, buy.

So you have to have your wits about you when you enter a supermarket and there are a few tricks you can use to help hang on to your hard earned cash!

Make like the Scouts: Be Prepared!
First of all you need to plan your meals and know what your staples and favourites are. If you want to have ready meals in your freezer that will save you money on bought ones and take-outs then you have to know what you can do and what will keep.

You need to keep an eye on how much space you have in your freezer. That huge bag of salmon fillets might work out at less than 50p each but unless you have room to freeze them you're going to end up throwing them out.

Beware of the BOGOF
When you set off for the supermarket make sure you have a list. Know what you want, how much you need, and stick to it. You think that BOGOF celery looks like a good deal? Well, firstly, do you LIKE celery? Enough to eat two whole heads of it in a week? Because it'll go off if you try to keep it much longer than that. But if you're planning to make soup to freeze, then it's a bargain.

In my case it's a waste of time, effort and cash to have deals on biscuits. They usually WILL keep longer than a week - but not in my house. I shall just end up having one with every meal and maybe just another little one, and perhaps a couple before bed? And before I know it I've eaten two whole packets in spite of my good intentions to make them last a month. This is no way to save money.

Bargain or bum?
By all means check the bargain bins and Oops shelves. But don't buy things unless you can use them. A couple of packets of near-their-sell-by ham is great if you're catering for the cricket team tea tomorrow. What are you going to do with them otherwise? (OK - I make sandwiches for packed lunches and freeze a week's at once but even I get fed up with ham if I have to eat it every day.)

You might find after bank holidays that the bargain shelves have some rare treats on them. Supermarkets buy in lots of luxury goods for festive seasons because people want to spend more on long weekends. But they can't shift things after life goes back to normal and the prices are exceptionally good because they need the space. I've picked up quite a few jars of anchovies for less than a pound that way.  What do I do with anchovies?  Wait till I do Storecupboard 3!
And is it a bargain? 'Was £3.45, NOW £3 is only a good deal if you actually want the contents of the pack. If you're buying it just because it has an old price crossed off you've just wasted £3!  Even worse - some supermarkets will offer you 'was £3.45, now £3.40'. Perhaps not.

Take a look around for the things that you DO buy and watch out for bargains on them. Don't be too tied down to your list. For example, if it says roast beef for Sunday lunch but they're offering duck at a really good price, leave the cow till next week and indulge yourself.

There's a reason you haven't heard of them
Don't buy brands you don't recognise just because they're half the price of the things you usually get. Unless they offer you a taste of them and you're sure they are just as good. I promise you that the second (and sometimes third) packet will sit at the back of your cupboard uneaten. If you really want to try something new just buy ONE packet - however good the offer looks.

How's your maths?
It seems obvious but check prices! That's a 500g box of something for £1.20 and it's reduced from £2.50 so that's a big saving, right? No, not if there's a 300g box next to it for 60p. (I'll wait while you work that out) And always check that the 'buy three for only £1' deals actually work out cheaper. Believe it or not people have been known to fall for '30p each or three for £1'.

Above all, keep a rough check on the cost of your trolley load as you go round. You know how much you have to spend and you can stop before you reach it. Add it up as you go along. Work to the nearest 50p and always round up totals. That way you'll get a pleasant surprise when you come to pay. If you haven't got everything on your list but you've over spent, decide NOW what you can leave behind. It's too late once it's gone through the checkout and you're facing the bill. You planned to spend £50 but the total says £76? You have no-one to blame but yourself.

It's not all that bad
OK so I won't end on a nasty nag. You CAN find some real bargains when you want to as long as you're careful. If you're flexible with your cooking you can take advantage of things in season. If you know that jam season is coming, buy a box of sugar each week so you can stockpile it for when you need it. Same with Christmas. Buy one thing extra a week from September onwards and you'll have a great store and won't be facing a huge shopping trip when the streets are heaving.


  1. All sounds good to me. It makes supermarket shopping a little more bearable if you can be a thrifty genius ;-)

  2. Strong advice... I'd add a "lifestyle" note: don't plan too many big projects off of one shopping trip. If you're making a vat of soup to freeze, don't also plan on the puff pastry and the Asian spice pastes. One major use of a sale item is more reasonable.