Buying food, whether for a family or just for you, is an essential expense. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and the advice and tips below will help to make this affordable for you and your family.
Whether it is shopping for food to cook or enjoying a meal out, we have tips that can help you keep your food expenses to an affordable level.
At UWS we have a very diverse student population and how much a family or individual will have to spend on their food shopping will vary from household to household. A family of 4 will have very different spending needs and habits than a household made up of 1 student living independent for the first time. We want to save you money whatever your circumstances, and have pulled together a range of resources to help you do this, whether you are a seasoned householder or complete shopping novice.
How Much Should I Spend?
The first thing to think about is your available budget. We have a wide range of planning resources and support available on our Money Advice and Budgeting pages. Please take a look at these to help you stay on track with all your bills and university expenditure.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the average UK household spends £60.60 per week on groceries. When we are helping students to budget we suggest thinking about £140 per head, per month to set aside for food shopping.
If you have looked at your shopping habits and you are wildly above these levels, then perhaps you need to review your habits.
If you are unsure what you do spend, a great tip is to keep a diary of everything you buy over a 2 to 4 week period and then you will be clear on how much you actually spend. You will need to include not only your weekly or monthly shopping, but also all those top up shops in between. You will be surprised how much you overspend just by not being conscious of where your money goes. Try out our great Spend Diary tool to help you with this.
Where Am I Going Wrong?
The short answer is, you’re not! The supermarket industry is a multi-billion pound industry in the UK. It is one of the most competitive in the world and the supermarkets work hard to encourage us to part with our hard earned cash. Whilst you may have the best of intentions to stick to your budget, supermarkets employ multiple tricks and psychological tools to try and make us spend more than intended. The good news is you can fight back against this by educating yourself about these sneaky ploys.
- Supermarkets will encourage you to spend more on unhealthy products by putting the fruit and veg at the start of the store so that you don’t feel as bad about buying treats further into your shop.
- They will have in store bakery smells making you hungry as you shop.
- Essential items will be placed around the store and not together, so as you have to move around the store and are tempted to buy other things.
- More profitable items will be at eye level or even worse, children’s’ eye level.
- You may see lots of bright labels in yellows and reds making you think things are on sale when really they are the same price as always.
Even though supermarkets have been reprimanded for range of dodgy pricing tactics, these can still be seen today.
- Be wary of seasonal products being on ‘offer’, such as Easter Eggs or Christmas treats. The cost is often only higher out of season when you don’t actually want the items.
- When a price is advertised as ‘Was £5 now £4’, the more expensive price may only have been charged for a very short time, and the normal price of the product might usually be £4 anyway.
Prices are changed so often and deals are presented in many different ways so it is increasingly difficult for shoppers to understand if they are getting a good deal or not.
- We are often encouraged to multibuy or buy in bulk but often this can lead to waste. Larger packs can be proportionally dearer than buying what you actually needed.
- Multibuys can often be more expensive than the individual items, but we are drawn in by the ‘deal’ signage.
- Different deals will be presented in the same aisle, across a range of brands and pack sizes making it really hard to work out which is cheapest.
- The BOGOF and £1 deal speak directly to our primitive intuition to get what we need for survival.
- Pricing items ending in 9, e.g. £4.99 instead of £5, always draws us in as we see this as being within the £4 range as opposed to within the £5 range.
- We often focus on how much we are getting of what we need and what we are not paying for, so rather than deciding that £5 is quite expensive for 2 tubes of toothpaste, we focus on the free tube we are getting - Even if our normal brand, outwith any offer, is only £1.50.
How can I improve my Shopping Habits?
There are 3 steps to shopping more wisely and saving ££s:
Don’t fall for any sales tricks
Read the section above to familiarise yourself with the tricks used by supermarkets. Now that you have a better idea of how supermarkets convince us to spend more, or buy things we don’t necessarily need, you are far better equipped to avoid these tricks and work out if you really are getting a better deal on your item or if it is worth taking advantage of an offer.
As well as thinking about when you go shopping, planning your meals can make a massive difference to how much you spend. Thinking about what you have planned for the week or month, and then organising your meals around this works brilliantly. You can do this for the whole family, helping to make sure everyone stays healthy and keep your spending on track.
There are lots of webpages, blogs, books and Instagram posts that you can access to set you off on the best way to plan for the household meals. The Beginners Guide to Meal Prep & The Best Way to Use a Weekend for Meal Prep give a great overview of how to get started.
If you have your meals planned, you can then easily come up with a suitable shopping list to help you stay on track. If you take a look at our section on Preparation and Cooking, lots of the sites we signpost to have facility to download shopping lists. Cooking in bulk and then freezing is also a great trick. This will ensure that you have meals at the ready. If you plan to have a set amount of meals saved up for the month, you will be less likely to impulse buy and go rogue in the supermarket.
Stick to the plan
You’ve worked out a meal plan and you now have a shopping list...you just have to stick to the plan, (no matter how tempting the deals seem). This can sound easier than it actually is as so many challenges can be put in place to throw you off course, including your mood.
The Money Advice Service found in a 2016 study that, on average:
- People who shopped whilst tired spent an extra £14.53 each time.
- People who shopped whilst hungry also spent more with around 59% of shoppers increasing their purchases due to rumbling tums.
If you make sure that you plan your shopping into a timeslot that isn’t rushed or poorly timed, you are much more likely to stick to a shopping list.
Advanced Tips for Reducing your Shopping Bill
Now that you have learned how to save money and stay on track you might be keen for more great tips.
- Take advantage of online grocery shopping so you are not as tempted by those end of aisle treats. You may find it much easier to stick to your shopping list if you are not browsing in actual aisles, and you may be able to secure discounts or special promotions that are only available online.
- Sign up for any store point’s scheme, such as the Morrisons more card.
- Make use of off peak delivery times to secure the best delivery price. If you are going to keep using the same supermarket think about buying a delivery pass to save as much as possible.
- If there are minimum order limits for the shop or delivery, why not plan your meals with your flatmates to ensure you all secure the most savings.
- Take a look at this article on Cheaper On-line Shopping by Save the Student to make sure you maximise your saving potential.
- For the more advanced online shopper using a site such as My Supermarket to compare each supermarket to find the best deals can save ££s.
- You can utilise a range of supermarket cashback apps to bag cheaper groceries. This is where you make your purchase via an app to secure savings. This article by Save the Student takes you through this step by step with an overview of the best apps to use.
Whoops & Coupons
- Finding out when your local supermarket is most likely to reduce the price of stock and shopping only for discounted items can be a really good way to save money and reduce food waste.
- Look out for yellow stickers, “whoops” stickers, bargain shelves etc. One food blogger and Mum has a great section on her site where she lists each supermarket and explains when they are likely to reduce prices. You can follow her tips and do the same in your local area to bag the best produce for a fraction of the cost.
- Coupons (or extreme couponing) is a great way to save ££s on your shopping. The Money Saving Expert website has a beginner’s guide which gives both an overview and links to lots of great couponing resources. Extreme Couponing UK is a good place to start searching for deals. Or if you prefer to watch guides rather than read up; Living Rich With Coupons has an in-depth video series to get you started.
Many students come to university and remain loyal to the brands they know but this isn’t a good idea if you are keen to get the most out of your student budget. One of the quickest ways to reduce your shopping bill is to dismiss the idea that a certain brand (or even supermarket) is the only way to shop. Budget supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl are a brilliant way to save money on groceries and can also introduce you to new and interesting products. They keep their prices low by avoiding well-known brands, focusing on grocery items that people regularly use, minimising staff and display costs, and stocking much less choice than the larger supermarkets. As well as getting your basic supplies much more cheaply, shopping here may also help you stay more focused on your shopping list.
If you don’t have a Lidl or Aldi available, you can apply similar tactics by using Money Saving Experts Supermarket Downshift Challenge. This focuses your attention on what you need, rather than what the packet looks like. For full details and a video on how this works see the Cheapest Supermarket Guide on the Money Saving Expert site. What’s important to remember is that quite often the same factory that produces all 3 levels of a product (budget, own brand, premium) and it is actually more or less the same item just dressed in different packaging. For an easy way to get started simply switch all of your most basic items such as dried pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes etc. to the budget version.
We often do a pop up challenge on our campuses where we get students to taste various items from different price brackets and try to guess which is the cheaper. More often than not, the cheaper actually comes out the tastiest
Preparation and Cooking
Learning to cook and planning your meals might not be the first thing on your agenda when you come to university, but it can save you lots of money in the long wrong.
Use our Meal Planner to plan your weekly menu, prepare your shopping list and work out what you have in the fridge or freezer that needs used up.
Use our Afoodable Guide to get you started. This cookbook features lots of tips for gaining confidence and saving money in the kitchen.
Already read our Afoodable Guide? Then check out The Afoodable Guide: The Sequel for more recipes, tips on meal planning, and ideas for keeping your costs down while eating well.
There are lots of resources available online and via apps to help inspire you in the kitchen. We have collated a few of them to get you started.
If you don’t feel very confident in the kitchen and want basic student recipes…
- Recipes made by students for students
- Blog/Vlog based
- Easy to follow and use simple ingredients
If you like everything in 1 place, easy to follow guides with visuals and the option to download shopping lists…
Try BBC Good Food
- You can use on the web or via an app
- There is lots of variety and recipes can be ordered by specific topics such as vegan, one pot, student budget
- All recipes are given a difficulty rating
- Each only have around 4 steps
- You can create a profile to save recipes
Or for the more advanced try Big Oven
- Has shopping lists and planners
- More than 500000 recipes
- Let’s you add in your own recipes and ideas
- Again available on line or via an app
If you are looking to make quite fancy food but without the price tag …
- All focused on healthy eating on a budget
- All quite easy to follow recipes but with impressive results
Once you have your inspiration you will be able to plan your family meals around both your schedule and what produce is available to you. This will make it much easier to make shopping lists and to manage to stay on budget.
Reducing Waste = Saving Money
A staggering 7 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK each year. This equates to each household in the UK putting around £700 per year in the bin. Apart from being very environmentally damaging, this is very poor budgeting. As a student, you simply cannot afford to be wasting food. If you have read up on our Shopping and Cooking sections, you will want to be making the most of what you have bought and created. This section looks at how to make the most of the food you do buy/cook and how to make this go further.
Make friends with your freezer
Many people struggle to make smaller meals and end up cooking for 3 when they are only a 1 person household. If you buy some cheap food containers (or wash out any plastic take away or large yoghurt cartons), you can simply freeze what you don’t eat.
There are also many everyday foods that will last longer in the freezer. If you are looking for inspiration try Save the Student – Surprising Foods You Can & Can’t Freeze. You can also plan to cook meals to freeze, try BBC Good Food Freezable Family Recipes. Or if you are feeling a bit fancy, Jamie Oliver has some great Freezer Friendly Recipes, and The Happy Foodie gathers from a range of celebrity sources.
Switching some fresh ingredients to frozen can also both save money and cut waste. Good examples to switch are fresh berries, fresh vegetables and fresh fish. The frozen variety are the exact same product but will cost a fraction of the price.
Cook in bulk
You can bulk freeze meals such as chilli, curry, bolognaise, casseroles etc., portioning them out so you can easily defrost a single serving when needed. This will help you with your meal planning and shopping so you can be sure to have a store of tasty meals available when you need them.
Buying ingredients in bulk is also more cost effective than buying in little lots. If you house share, this can be a great way to save money with your housemates. When you are doing this, why not try swapping to cheaper cuts of meat such as chicken legs/thighs instead of breasts (on average a saving of 50%) or beef fillet steak to beef skirt (on average a saving of 70%). BBC Good Food have an interesting guide on How to Buy Beef to give you a better insight into this.
Bulking out the meals you make with pulses, grated vegetables or small portions of tasty treats like chorizo or left over bacon can also make food stretch for longer and use up less meat, costing you less overall.
Love those leftovers
Trying to avoid left over food in the first instance is a good place to start, but it can be inevitable. Buy some inexpensive food clips to keep packaging closed, extending the freshness of these items.
Save the Student have some great tips in this article on How to Keep Food Fresh for Longer.
Think about using your leftovers in inventive ways. This Buzzfeed post has some interesting ideas on what to do with What’s Left in Your Fridge.
Reducing Environmental Impact
If saving you money isn’t enough of an incentive to make some changes, then you might want to know more about the impact excess food waste has on the environment. For in-depth hints, tips, recipes and more take a look at Love Food Hate Waste.
Celebrity Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also has a range of campaigns to help the UK reduce its waste production. The War on Waste was part of a documentary series on BBC television and the website is also full of tips and ideas you can use.
Other great ways to reduce environmental impact and save money is to eat seasonally and ideally local produce. Something as simple as going to your local butcher and buying a value pack (e.g. 5 items for £25) can not only save you money but reduces your carbon footprint and gives back to the local economy.
Websites such as Eat the Seasons can also help you to stay on track, reducing both cost and impact.
Approved Food is another interesting site that will help you to purchase goods that are perfectly safe to eat but past the “Best Before Date”. If you are worried about eating food past this date or confused by food labelling in general both the Food Standards Agency and NHS Eat Well have good guides on this. Remember if you freeze things safely and within the guidelines, it will be perfectly fine to eat.
Eating Out and Takeaways
Some of the biggest ‘money leaks’ we see are eating out, buying lunches, coffees and takeaways. Having a treat now and then is important but when this becomes an everyday occurrence, it’s no longer a treat and is simply a bad habit that usually costs much more money that you think it does.
Planning ahead with packed lunches is a great way to save on the expense of eating out for lunch every day. Make this a family or household commitment and get everyone involved. Sandwich making is an easy task to give your kids and everyone can then enjoy the benefits of saving money.
Before you shop, look at your diary for the week ahead and see when you won’t be home for lunch and add lunch items to your shopping list for these days. Get into the habit of preparing lunches in the evening if time is a bit tight in the mornings.
It doesn’t have to be boring sandwiches everyday either. If you have planned ahead, you can have a week of different lunches - think about soups, salads, wraps, fruit, yoghurts and leftovers from yesterday’s dinner.
To give you some inspiration we have gathered some websites with some great ideas for a yummy but easy lunch:
Easy Lunchboxes has a great selection of ideas, including pictures
The Kitchn explains How to Make DIY Noodle cups
Eating Well has a large selection of Cheap Healthy Lunch Ideas for Work
BBC Good Food has lots of Healthy Lunch Ideas for Work
Sainsbury’s features 6 Tupperware Friendly Lunches that are really easy to put together.
BBC Good Food has a specific Eat on a Budget section, with a weeks’ worth of dinner and leftovers inspiration to solve your lunch worries
Bring Your Own Drinks
How much do you think you spend on coffee, tea, bottled water and soft drinks each week? Let’s assume you buy a coffee each day, a bottle of water, a can of soft drink with lunch and maybe a couple of extra coffee’s every few days. That adds up to a whopping £610.50 in an average academic year. Compare that with your student funding and you will see that it is a frightening figure. Just think what else could that kind of money pay for?
Its’ an easy trap to fall into and can really eat into your budget. Why not try the Money Advice Services Quick Cash Finder tool to see how much your actual spend is on these items. Is this something you could easily change? Bringing in a hot drink in an insulated mug or flask would be a quick way to save ££s. Investing in a refillable bottle and bringing in your own cold drinks can keep you hydrated and your wallet full.
Britain’s High Streets have seen a 34% increase in fast food outlets since 2010, which, along with an increase in our waistlines, has also put a strain on our wallets. With ease of ordering just a tap away using Just Eat, Hungry House or Uber Eats, more and more people are tapping the app and emptying their bank account.
The occasional take away is a great reward for a hard study session but it shouldn’t become a regular meal. Why not try cooking your own “fakeaway” versions of your favourite meals rather than paying far more for the take away version? You can incorporate this into your meal planning to stay on track both with your budget and your healthy eating plans. Some great recipes can be found on Lean Student Chef; Pinch of Nom and even Jamie Oliver has a section dedicated to the fakeaway on his website.
We all deserve a treat now and then and eating out can be a great way to relax and celebrate. On a student budget, there are lots of ways to do this and still save money. Take a look at Save the Student 16 Easy Ways to Eat Out on a Budget for inspiration.
To find great deals local to you, sign up for deal sites such as 5pm.co.uk; Groupon; Wowcher and Living Social. This can also be a good way to find out about events and meet new people. Money Saving Expert also has some great Restaurant Vouchers and deals.