How to lower your grocery bills
Reduce your household shopping by up to 50%.
Save money on your weekly shop.
The cost of weekly grocery shopping in the UK is rising by around 3.2% a year. This means that your average weekly shopping bill is likely to cost you an extra £144 a year. It cost around £89 a week to feed the average family. However, most families can easily reduce their weekly shopping bills by up to 50% and still purchase the food they prefer, like and enjoy. You just need to try the Downshift Challenge.
The Downshift challenge.
Everyone can reduce their weekly supermarket or shopping bill by at least 30%. In fact, you can halve your weekly shopping bill if you know how, but let’s keep it simple for now and settle for a proven 30% reduction.
Here is how I reduced my weekly shopping bill by 40%, and saved myself over £2100 a year. It’s called ‘downshifting’, and this technique is from Martin Lewis’s excellent Money Saving Expert website.
Downshifting just means dropping down a brand from your normal shopping product. Let me explain, there are four brand levels;
Premium – these are described on the packaging as luxury, superior or excellent. ‘Lindt excellent milk chocolate’ is one example.
Next are your branded products such as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, PG Tips, Heinz soups and Walkers crisps. In short any product with a brand name.
Then we have the Home Brands. These are similar products to the branded products but just carry the brand name of the supermarket. Examples would be Tesco baked beans or Tesco Washing Powder.
Finally, we have the Value range of goods. These are low priced products, normally a supermarkets basic product line. Examples would be Tesco Everyday Value Baked Beans or Tesco Everyday Value Milk Chocolate.
The idea is simple, drop down one brand level on everything and see if you can tell the difference. Here is an example, I normally buy McVittie’s Jaffa Cakes, but I downshifted one brand level and purchased Tesco Jaffa Cakes. Was there a difference in the cakes?
You can only get three results:
- You prefer the McVittie’s Jaffa Cake.
- You prefer the Tesco Jaffa Cake.
- You cannot tell the difference.
If you prefer the McVittie’s cake, you just keep on buying it. No change.
If you prefer the Tesco product or you cannot tell the difference you downshift to buying the cheaper product. After all, you either prefer that product to the more expensive product or you cannot tell the difference.
You can keep downshifting if you wish. You could compare Tesco Jaffa Cakes with their value range, Tesco Everyday Value Jaffa Cakes. A lot of the products I buy are from Tesco’s value range, and I often prefer them to more expensive brands. The point is you only drop down a brand if you prefer or cannot tell the difference between your current brand and the cheaper brand.
So how much will you save? Well, let us see how much you can save by downshifting on the Jaffa cakes.
24 McVittie’s Jaffa Cakes cost £2.38 from Tesco, and 24 Tesco Jaffa Cakes cost £1.50. So if you downshifted from McVittie’s to Tesco Jaffa Cakes you would save 88 pence or 37%. Downshifting from Tesco Jaffa Cakes to Tesco Everyday Value Jaffa Cakes reduces the cost even further, to 89 pence for 24 cakes. This is a saving of £1.49 over the McVittie’s Jaffa Cake price. A massive 63% saving.
Each time you downshift you save around a third of the price of your original product. Many people prefer the taste of the lower priced products. I do.
Do be aware of the effect of brand advertising. A few years ago scientists conducted a test in which they asked a group of people to compare the taste of two different brands of baked beans. The participants did not know which brand of beans they were testing – it was a blind experiment. 70% of the participants rated bean ‘A’ better than bean ‘B’. One brand was the market leader, Heinz baked beans, the other baked beans were a supermarkets own brand.
How many people think that bean ‘A’, the beans preferred by 70% of the participants, was the Heinz baked beans? Astonishingly only 30% of the participants preferred the Heinz beans in preference to the supermarkets own brand of beans. 70% preferred the cheaper beans, and I do mean cheaper because the 415g of Heinz baked beans costs 70 pence. The 420g of supermarket branded beans costs 45 pence. A saving of 25 pence or 35%. A one third reduction.
Every time you downshift a brand you save around a third on the price you were previously paying and you keep saving a third every time you purchase the cheaper, preferred product.
Thousands of people have participated in the Downshift Challenge and most of these people have saved around a third of the cost of their weekly shop, and so can you. I knocked around £40 off my weekly shopping bill and saved over £2000 a year. Just downshift one or two brands, until you have a product you are happy with and stick to buying those products every week. A shopping list helps, although I do my shopping online.
You save across the entire range of your weekly shop. It’s not just food, you save on household products, personal care, magazines – everything. So get saving. I saved around £40 a week on a weekly shop of around £100. What will you save? Give it a go.
You can use the www.mysupermarket.co.uk website to compare brands. Just suppose I wanted to compare the price of cornflakes from Tesco’s. I would click onto the Tesco logo on the website and input ‘cornflakes’ into the search box. All the cornflakes on sale at Tesco’s appear on the screen. Say that I normally buy Kellogg’s cornflakes, priced at £2.69 for a 750g packet. I compare and contrast the cornflakes and decide to drop a brand to Tesco cornflakes, priced at £1.85 per 750g packet. I save 84 pence or 31% by switching. If I prefer the Kellogg’s cornflakes I go back to buying Kellogg’s cornflakes, if not I buy Tesco’s cornflakes. Do I leave it there? No, I drop down another level and try Tesco Everyday Value cornflakes at 31 pence per 500g packet.
MySupermarket allows me to compare the price of commodities by weight. Kellogg’s cornflakes are 35.9 pence per 100g. Tesco Everyday Value cornflakes are priced at 6.2 pence per 100g; that is just 17.3% of the cost of the Kellogg’s cornflakes AND I CANNOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO. By purchasing the value range cornflakes, in preference to the branded cornflakes, I have reduced my cereal costs by 82%.
One last example. Tesco’s Everyday Value Hair spray, 300ml, 37 pence, Tesco Family Hair Spray, 300 ml, 70 pence and Pantene Smooth and Sleek Hair spray, 300ml, £2.78.
By dropping down one or more brands you can save a fortune. Not just on groceries but your entire regular household shopping.
A worked example.
Let me take you through an actual example. I shop at Tesco’s online and my normal shopping bill is around £95 to £100. My last shopping bill was £97.15.
My weekly Tesco shopping bill is shown below.
There were promotional savings of £6.37, making my final bill £90.78
A few weeks later I undertook an identical shop but dropped down one or more brands. My bill came to £61.27, minus £2.13 in promotional savings and 25 pence in coupons. A total of £58.89 for the week.
If you ignore the promotional and coupon savings the last week’s bill was £35.88 cheaper than the first week’s bill. That is £61.27, compared to £97.15 – a 37% saving. So by changing down a brand I reduced my weekly shopping bill by £1865 a year.
The final bill was not the cheapest I could have achieved. There are many products on the bill that I could obtain at a lower price. The Radio Times, priced at £1.60, compared to a cheap TV magazine, such as ‘What’s on TV’, priced at 54 pence, for instance. The final bill consists of products that I have tried and am happy to continue purchasing.
Some are the result of changing down one or more brands, Heinz Cream of Chicken soup 400g, priced at 89 pence, to Tesco Cream of Chicken soup 400g, priced at 65 pence.
Some of the savings come from purchasing cheaper products within the store’s product range. For instance purchasing Tesco Everyday Value back bacon 300g, priced at £1.64, in preference to Tesco Unsmoked Back Bacon 300g priced at £2.79.
Good value for money.
Some products were not of the same standard as the original products I ordered, but were retained because they represented outstanding value. Tesco toilet tissue, 4 roll pack at 67 pence compared to Andrex toilet tissues, 4 rolls, priced at £2.19 and 2 litres of Tesco bleach, priced at 29 pence compared to 2 litres of Domestos original bleach priced at £3.00! Now Andrex and Domestos are superior products to their Tesco counterparts, but the Tesco products are over 5 times cheaper than their branded counterparts and they still do the job!
In fact the savings should have been ever greater because on the more expensive shop I forgot to order the dog food, and since our dogs normally eat Pedigree dry dog food, priced at £5 per bag, my first bill should have been £102.15, not £97.15, and the savings should have been £102.15 minus £61.27, a saving of £40.88 a week. A saving of £2125.76 a year or 40%.
In the cheaper shop I ordered Tesco’s Senior Chicken dog food, priced at £3.29.
Our animals will eat anything, and yes I was in the dog house for forgetting to order the dog food on the more expensive shop!
Do you get what you pay for?
There is an old saying that states, “You get what you pay for”. It implies that if you pay more for something then the more expensive item is of better quality than the cheaper item. Unfortunately, very often “You get what you pay for” is a dangerous myth. In 2013 the consumer group Which published the results of a survey to find the best Cream of Tomato soup. 100 members of the public were asked to rate 11 soups for taste, texture, appearance and smell, to find the best soup. The winning soup was Sainsbury’s Cream of Tomato, followed by Tesco Cream of Tomato and Aldi Soupreme Cream of Tomato. Heinz Classic was joint fourth with Waitrose Cream of Tomato. Baxter’s, Campbell’s Condensed and M&S came joint last.
Now the Tesco and Sainsbury’s soups both cost 69 pence, Heinz cost 89 pence and both Baxter’s and Campbell’s soup 95 pence. Aldi’s soup cost just 42 pence. So if we list the soups in order of preference we get:
Sainsbury’s 69 p.
Tesco 69 p.
Aldi 42 p.
Heinz 89 p.
Baxter’s 95 p.
Campbell’s 95 p.
Which concluded that supermarket own brands can be cheaper and tastier than their branded alternatives. This is not true across the board, which is why you should always compare supermarket own brands against branded products. Which concluded that if you switched just 10 branded items you regularly put into your shopping trolley for 10 own label products you would save hundreds of pounds a year.
So do you get what you pay for? Sometimes, but very often the exact opposite is true, the cheaper products are far superior to their more expensive counterparts, and knowing that will save you a fortune.
Special offers. You can save a significant amount of money by looking for special offers when you shop. Most supermarkets list their special offers on their website and in store. Do not buy an item on special offer just because it is cheaper. I only purchase a product on special offer if I need it, want it and it is on my shopping list. Last week I saved 60 pence on jelly, £1.25 on snacks and 28 pence on Tesco drinks. A total saving of £2.13 on a grocery shop of £61.27, (excluding promotional savings). Well that £2.13 represents a 3.5% saving – it all adds up. Often the store will list their special offers on line. Tesco’s are listing; offers by department, all offers, top offers, half price, only £1, save 1/3, buy one get one free and multi buys. Worth a look. Tesco are knocking 5 pence off every litre of fuel when you spend £50 or more in store. Look out for these promotional savings; they can save you a lot of money.
The importance of writing out and sticking to a shopping list cannot be emphasized enough. Supermarkets encourage you to impulse buy.
Purchase you’re shopping online; you will save a fortune in travel costs, time and energy. My delivery charges are minimal. I pay £7.50 a month, that’s £1.73 a week and for that I get my groceries delivered not just to my door but into my kitchen. You could also collect your groceries in store using the ‘click and collect’ service. You can even order your groceries using your mobile phone!
Plan your meals, make out a shopping list and purchase only the items on your list. Never impulse buy, make out your shopping list if you are hungry, (you will order more), and never if at all possible shop with children. When it comes to spending, children know every trick in the book and then some. I know, I am a parent.
Do make use of all those vouchers that come with your store card. I always check my emails for store vouchers. I just saved 99 pence on my Tesco Price Promise. I check my Tesco Club card vouchers and coupons regularly. Use it or lose it! Use shopping voucher and coupon websites to hunt for bargains, vouchers and coupons. Check out the ‘Supermarket Coupon List’ on the Money Saving Expert website. Coupons and vouchers can be collected from marketing and promotional leaflets or mail, online, and in local newspapers or magazines. You can also get cash-back on your purchases.
Why not try a different supermarket. Lidl store’s have some great bargains. However, you have to go a very long way to beat Aldi – Which best supermarket 2013 – plus a host of other awards. Their ‘Swap and Save Challenge’ optimises the ‘Downshift Challenge’ because that is exactly what it entails – downshifting to a cheaper product. If the challenge is still ongoing check out the savings on the Aldi website, www.aldi.co.uk, just click on, ‘Swap and Save Challenge, under ‘Entertainment’.
Shopping in bulk or from a specialised outlet can save you a lot of cash. Many people have told me how much they rate Iceland for value for money. Worth buying a freezer for, or so I am told. They are currently trialling a delivery service and they offer a bonus card. Check them out at www.iceland.co.uk.
You can purchase items with a long shelf life, in bulk from www.amazon, www.ethicalsuperstore.com and www.shortersclub.com. Shorter’s club beats the other outlets by a mile. Savings of over £500 a year are easily attainable by the average shopper. Give them a try. Remember to factor in delivery costs and storage space. Why not team up with friends and relatives and order in bulk – form a ‘Bulk Buyer’s Club’.
You can stock up on whole foods from www.sumas. There is no delivery charge, but there is a minimum order size, currently £250, so you need to belong to a buyer’s group to benefit.
You could shop from a cash-and-carry outlet like www.costco.co.uk or www.booker.co.uk. Costco charges a £25 a year membership fee, but membership is open to many employers and business owners. Booker is free, but membership is restricted to business owners and the self-employed. Why not form your own business? Do check the ‘best before’ dates on bulk buy items and remember that just because something is sold in bulk does not necessarily make it a cheaper buy!
You can pick up some great deals by shopping just before the store’s close. Many food items are disposed of after the store closes, even though they are perfectly safe to eat. Often these food items can be identified by the yellow tickets attached to them – these indicate the items are nearing their ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ dates. I buy all my sandwiches and cream cakes last thing before the store’s close and whilst many prices are ‘knocked down’. Some nights are better than others for this type of bargain. Just ask in store. It is OK to eat food after the ‘best before’ date, but never eat food after the ‘use by’ date.
You can save up to 70% on your grocery bill by purchasing close to, past and best before food and drink from www.approvedfood.co.uk. It is perfectly legal and safe to purchase ‘best before’ groceries. They even deliver to your door. Plan your weekly meals, buy from Approvedfood and eat within 7 days and massively reduce your shopping bill. It’s a no brainer!
My next biggest tip is simply stop wasting food. We throw away around a third of the food we buy. That is crazy! Plan your meals, buy only what you need and review and rotate your foodstuffs on a regular basis. Set aside a regular time each week to review your food stocks. Use those nearing their ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ dates first. There is no point in buying food only to throw it away. Try the www.lovefoodhatewaste.com website for helpful information and tips.
Many local outlets offer branded products at reduced prices. Just ask around your friends for local information. My friends came up with B&M, Poundstretcher, Littlewoods discount store and many more. Local knowledge is invaluable, so use it.
Finally, if you do have unwanted, none perishable food items please do not dispose of them in the bin donate them to your local food bank. In fact why not donate on a regular basis. See www.trusselltrust.org for more information.
By undertaking the ‘Downshift Challenge’, shopping in the cheaper supermarkets, planning your meals and making a shopping list to avoid impulse buys, collecting shopping vouchers and coupons, were appropriate buying in bulk and/or from a Cash and Carry outlet, shopping for last minute bargains, avoid wasting food and making use of local offers you can easily reduce your household shopping costs by up to 50%.
I hope that you have found this post helpful and informative. Please feel free to post any suggestions or comments below.
James S Boughey
This post is based on a chapter of my book ‘The Recession Buster Challenge’, available from www.Lulu.com priced at £13.36 + p&p.
This post may contain affiliate links.