Debt payoff strategy: slash your food budget

By Emma Lunn

Food prices are creeping upward. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, January 2013 food prices were up by more than 4% compared with a year earlier. So, with food getting more expensive, how can you preventing it from eating up more of your budget?

Here are some tips for cutting your food costs to free up money for debt payments or emergency savings. The good news is you don't necessarily have to compromise on the quality of your meals.

Plan a menu
Jen Walshaw writes the Frugalicious Food blog, which shows people how to eat healthily on a budget.

"My biggest advice would be to menu plan," she says. "Then only buy what you need to make those meals. I cook from scratch, so do not buy processed or ready meals, which add a lot on to a shopping bill." frugal-shopping

If you still end up buying too much, save it for later to reduce future shopping bills.

"Use your freezer," Walshaw says. "If you think that something is not going to be used, then either cook it and freeze it, or freeze it. Cheese, milk and butter can all be frozen. There is no need to waste any food."

If you live alone, try to cook regularly rather than existing on ready meals. Dishes such as curries and chilli can be cooked in bulk and separated into portions, frozen and eaten at a later date.

Know where and when to shop
Buying all your food from top-level supermarkets can cost you more than using smaller alternative shops.

"I would suggest using budget food shops such as Aldi and Lidl."  Walshaw says. "Get to know your local butcher and grocer and markets, too."

If you find shopping in a big supermarket more convenient, look out for shop-own brands, which vary in price and sit alongside more widely available brands. Simply dropping down a brand will save you money.

"Tesco Value," for example, is much cheaper than "Tesco Finest," while, in Sainsbury's, food in the "Basics" range is much cheaper than "Taste The Difference."

As for when to shop, supermarkets tend to reduce prices on perishable items after about 7pm each evening.

Eat your dinner before you head off, as shopping while you're hungry could mean you'll end up buying snacks and junk food you don't really need.

Cash-back sites
Strategic shoppers can also save money on their supermarket spend by using cash-back sites. Both Top CashBack and QuidCo have launched supermarket schemes in the past few weeks, which mean shoppers can earn cash back on in-store purchases as well as online.

To use TopCashback's Snap & Save scheme, for example, consumers snap a picture of the receipt with a smartphone and submit it through the app. Any eligible cash back is credited to their account. Before snagging a cash-back deal on one of these sites, however, make sure you ask yourself whether the item is something you would have bought anyway.

Shopping online
Doing your grocery shop online makes it easier to stick to a list and prevents you from being tempted by sights and smells in the supermarket.

MySupermarket.co.uk can help you work out which is the cheapest supermarket for your shopping list. Once you've chosen your items, you can click through to the cheapest store and order online.

Reward credit cards
If you regularly shop at a certain store, check if it has a loyalty programme tied to a credit card. The Tesco Clubcard and Sainsbury's Nectar card both offer loyalty points that can be spent in store or on other products, such as days out and entry to theme parks. Remember, however, to treat store cards with caution. Unless you can pay off your bill in full every month, interest charges will cancel out any rewards you earned.

See related: Thrifty bloggers share easy ways to get frugal, Debt payoff strategy: selling your stuff

Published: 25 February 2013