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But that doesn’t mean all is lost. You need to get your personal finance hat on, pull up your frugal living socks and get to work on making some hardcore cutbacks.
When I first decided to reduce our grocery spend, I thought it was impossible. I set a target of £80 a week, which given all the gluten-free food I had to buy, felt like a challenge.
At first, it was hard. I found myself buying less stuff even though I needed it. This meant that I would have to head out to little Tesco later in the week for a top-up. And we all know that that never goes well.
Over time, I got into the swing of it. I was able to reduce our weekly spend to below £80 and set myself new, lower targets.
Luckily for you, I’ve made a list of all my tips and tricks so that you don’t have to start at the beginning. Take all this in and use it wisely. You’ll be saving money big time.
Top frugal living food tips
1. Look out for the yellow labels
I’m starting off simple here. Yellow labels can offer you some real bargains. But you must be careful.
Not everything that has a yellow label is cheap. Sometimes it is a very expensive product that has been reduced a bit.
There have been times when I have seen products that have yellow labels that are normally part of an offer. Two for £5, let’s say. But even with the discount, they are still cheaper in the offer.
That said, there are some truly amazing bargains to be had out there. And you can save some good money.
It also pays to look for items that you can freeze. This way you’ll be able to extend them past their best before by sticking them in the freezer when you get home.
2. Make your meals around cheap food
When I first started trying to save money on food, I would write a meal plan and then hope that I could buy ingredients that I need to make it for less.
Don’t get me wrong! Meal planning is excellent. But you’ve got to reverse your thinking on this. Think about what food is cheap.
It is not going to work if you write “steak and chips” seven times on your meal plan. So brainstorm the food that you know you can buy for less.
For example, veggies are going to be cheaper than meat and dairy products. Therefore, plan in a couple of vegetarian meals for the week.
If you are not a vegan then think about which meats are cheaper, or how you can make them last more than one meal.
When you base your meal planning around this framework, you’ll find that your costs will go down almost instantly.
3. Shop your cupboards
There’s that joke about the spice cupboard with the pot of 5-year-old cardamom pods and the tin of tuna. If you’ve got a cupboard full of semi-neglected food, then you need to sort that.
If you were to look in my food cupboards, you’d think my family were starving. But you’d be wrong. We only buy the food we need.
Yes, there are some benefits to buying in bulk and I’ll talk about that later. But you also need to not waste the food you have got.
Therefore, I recommend keeping and inventory and using that list as the basis of your meal planning for the next week.
You might find that you are able to make half a week’s worth of meal with what was leftover from the previous week’s shop. Eat that food, before you forget about it.
4. Use Pinterest for ideas
Food boredom is such a big thing in our household. If left unchecked, we slip into this cycle of spaghetti Bolognese, sausage and chips and pesto pasta. Repeat. Again and again.
It was when we got bored that we were most likely to go out and buy something else. Ruining the budget and wasting all my efforts on the meal planning front. (Even if I did just copy and paste last week’s.)
It is especially good if you follow a specific diet, like me. I type in gluten-free recipes and enjoy reading through what comes up.
5. Batch cook
There are double savings to be had here. You’ll save money on your food but you’ll also save energy as you’ll be using your oven less too. And that’s not evening mentioning the amount of time you’ll save yourself.
Batch cooking has huge saving potential because you can benefit from bulk buying ingredients. Typically, the more you buy of anything the cheap it gets.
What you do is purchase lots of one food, cook it, portion it and save it for later. If you do this for three or four different dishes then you could rotate them during the week.
It is also great for saving money on lunches. It can be tempting to buy lunch from work which is costly but when you batch prep you will have a great lunch and save money.
6. Buy in bulk
As I have said above, there is a fine line between buying in bulk to save money and buying food that will collect dust in the cupboard.
If you buy in bulk, then you must keep an inventory and use this as the basis of your next week’s meal plans.
One great place to look for bulk buys is in the international section of the supermarket. Often here they will have the same foods but in bigger quantities. Particularly foods like rice and lentils.
Also, don’t allow yourself to go over budget because you’ve bought four weeks worth of one item. You’ll probably do this every week and then you’ll always be over budget.
7. Use in-season veggies
Increasing the number of vegetables in your diet is never going to be a bad thing. You’ll save money and maybe even be healthier.
Choosing to buy and eat in-season veggies also means that they are likely cheaper. Have you ever tried to buy strawberries in December? They are expensive and taste weird.
It is another factor to consider in your meal planning too. Think about what is widely available and cheap where you are at that time of year.
8. Plan your snacks
If I’m going to mess up my budget, you can bet that snacks are likely the cause. They will ruin me financially (and probably physically).
When I first wanted to reduce my shopping bill, I decided to cut out snacks, because it would do me good. Or some other reason that I managed to convince myself with at the time.
In reality, I was popping down to Tesco Express every other day for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and whatever else I could lay my hands on whilst I was there.
So plan your snacks! Think of ways to create healthier and cheaper versions of your favourite snacks and make sure the budget covers them. Again, hop on Pinterest if you are stuck.
9. Look out for coupons
These still exist. There are plenty of good deals around you just have to look for them and then hold on to them until you need them.
Junk mail is a great place to get coupons. These companies are trying to entice you into their shop and a random leaflet isn’t going to cut it, so they’ll include a coupon or two.
Also, look out for loyalty card deals, such as Clubcard or Nectar. You can often get some extra points with these. They regularly do money off when you get your groceries delivered so keep your eyes peeled for those.
10. Choose your supermarket wisely
Don’t shop at Waitrose if you want to save money! That’s about all that really needs to be said here, but I will continue.
Lidl and Aldi are well known for being cheap but you can get some good deals in other shops. Sometimes it pays to split your shopping up into different shops to make the most of the savings.
Do some experimenting and see what you can find in different shops. Then draw up a plan to make sure you don’t waste time visiting them all.
11. Switch down a level
If your family insists on Heinz tomato ketchup, but you want to go Tesco Value then why not drop down just one level? Go for the middle option and see what it tastes like.
Many of us have favourites that we don’t want to switch but it is worth trying as the savings will be huge. So try dropping everything down just one level.
I read somewhere that laundry detergents and other household items are where we are least likely to switch. Why is that? Something to watch out for next time you shop.
Frugal living and food: the perfect partnership
There are so many savings to made with food and they are a big consideration on your frugal living journey. Dedicate some time to reducing your costs in this area and you’ll be reaping the rewards for a lifetime.
Disclaimer: Remember the information you read here does not represent advice. Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you. Read the full disclaimer here.