How to save money on your food costs
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

Grocery bills have soared over the past two years as food inflation reached record levels. We look at ways to reduce the cost of your weekly shop.

We’re all feeling the cost-of-living squeeze, and for many grocery bills are as big a worry as energy bills, especially if you have a big family to feed.

However by being smarter and savvier about how and when you shop, you can reduce the cost of your trips to the supermarket. 

1. Shop early  

In general, going to the supermarket early in the morning AND early in the week means the shelves will be better stocked as fresh deliveries will have been made. 

This means you’re less likely to have to substitute your shopping list for other (potentially more expensive) alternatives. 

It also means you won’t have to waste time and fuel driving to another store or coming back the next day for any important items that you couldn’t find.

Sundays and bank holiday Mondays are definitely days to avoid If you have a big family and like to do a big weekly shop in one go. 

However shopping late in the evening can also be beneficial sometimes…

2. Shop late

Most supermarkets discount soon-to-go-off meat, fruit and veg at the end of each day. So popping into your local store late in the evening and heading for the discounted section might get you some cheap food. 

3. Substitute for cheaper alternatives  

Irish households spend more on branded groceries than most of our European neighbours. 

Non-branded alternatives are often almost just as good and can be a fraction of the price. 

And when it comes to fresh food and drink in particular, like steak, pasta, milk, chicken, pork, bread, eggs and bacon, the produce has often come from the exact same farm or factory, meaning you’re literally just paying extra for the label.

People will usually have their few things that they’ll NEVER substitute, which is fine but ask yourself if every second item in your basket needs to be branded?

4. Seek items out of reach  

Supermarkets have lots of cunning little tricks that they use to make you spend more. 

A well-known one is that the products which make them the most profit (and are usually therefore the most expensive) are placed mid-shelf in your line of sight. Easy to see and reach. 

The cheaper products are often top shelf or bottom shelf. Harder to reach.

So scan the shelves fully and don't just buy items in your line of sight.

5. Make a list

Ever notice that all your staple items such as cheese, milk, bread and cereal are often in completely opposite corners of the shop, forcing you to wander around more aisles and invariably spend more money?

And similar to Vegas casinos, most big supermarkets don’t have windows either - as they don’t want you to notice the passage of time. 

So if you want to spend less, the best thing to do is to make a list and stick to it. 

It also means you won't forget something and be forced to make another trip to the supermarket or pop to your local convenience store instead. Which brings us on to your next point…

6. Avoid 'express' supermarkets and convenience stores 

Doing your weekly shop at a big supermarket will usually be cheaper than its 'express' counterpart.

For example many items in a Tesco Express store can be around 10% dearer than a normal Tesco.

And while Spar and Centra stores are great for convenience, you'll usually pay for it.   

7. Compare the price per unit - not just the price

Buying in bulk is usually better value, right?


Quite often it can be cheaper to buy items of fruit and veg separately. 

Meanwhile, the 24-pod detergent that you like can sometimes be more expensive, pod for pod, than the 12-pack one.  

What’s more, supermarkets constantly run special offers, meaning that the fresh orange juice you like with your morning breakfast can sometimes be cheaper to buy in two one litre cartoons rather than two litres. 

So how do you know what represents the best value? 

Simple - compare prices based on unit price or price per unit of measurement. In other words, compare prices based on the price per kilogramme, per pod, or per millilitre etc. 

This might seem complicated to work out. But thankfully, under EU rules, the unit price (price per unit of measurement) must be clearly displayed in shops on barcodes beside the actual price. Though it’s amazing how many people either don’t know this or don’t see it. 

So by looking at this you can determine what represents the best value and ensure you’re not overpaying or being fooled by gimmicky offers.

8. Shop alone 

If you’ve younger kids it may not be possible to go to the supermarket alone. But it’s usually best if you want to save on your grocery costs.

Having a child or two in tow often means you’ll get a bit distracted and be harangued for putting something sweet into the trolley. 

Shopping by yourself means you’ve a better chance of sticking rigidly to your list. 

9. Bring your own shopping bags

Some supermarkets now only sell long-life plastic bags, which can cost up to €1 per bag.

So always remember to bring your own bags so that you don't end up forking out several euro just to carry your shopping home with you. 

10. Ensure you have your vouchers or loyalty card

Most supermarkets now have a loyalty programme. It might be a money off voucher (Dunnes and Supervalu) or a card that gives you cheaper prices (Tesco). So make sure you have these to hand when paying for your shopping. 

11. Cut the excesses

Do you really need to buy bottled water? If you live in a soft water area, then tap water cooled in the fridge will often taste very similar to what you buy in the shop.

Do you really need all those cleaning wipes? Buying a bottle of cleaner and some reusable cloths will save you money. 

If you like shredded cheese, then buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself is cheaper.

Do an audit of your grocery shopping to see if there are things you can cut out. 

12. Get acquainted with your local butcher, greengrocer, florist and pharmacy etc

Supermarkets are great for convenience - but they're not always great for price. 

Quite often it's cheaper to get your meat, vegetables or beauty products in the local butcher, greengrocer or pharmacy down the road.

What's more, the quality of the food will often be better than what you'll find in a major chain supermarket and you'll be supporting your local high street too. A real win-win. 

13. Buy less meat 

We're not saying you have to become a vegetarian or go vegan. But eating a bit less meat each week will be good for your diet, your pocket and the environment. 

Consider making a healthy soup with left over veg in the fridge. Or add some eggs to your meals instead if you need lots of protein. Or simply make your meat go further by adding rice, lentils, pasta, beans, grains or root vegetables to a recipe.

14. Reduce your food waste 

Reducing food waste will mean fewer trips to the supermarket.

Buy some good quality, air-tight containers for things like pasta, cereal, crackers, and coffee to keep these items fresher for longer.

Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark place, ideally under 10º, otherwise the light and warmth will cause them to photosynthesize and sprout. It’s also crucial that potatoes be kept away from other fresh produce, particularly onions, as they release ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process.  

And remove your fruit and veg from any plastic packaging when you get back from the supermarket. 

‘Freeing’ your fruit and veg from its plastic before putting it in the fridge will help keep it fresh for longer and again mean less food going into the bin.

Foods like celery, asparagus and herbs should be washed, have their ends cut off and be placed in a small container of water. 

Berries should be washed and dried and placed on a paper towel in a container.

And don’t be afraid to buy frozen veg like broccoli, cauliflower, peas and carrots. It’ll last way longer and most studies say frozen veg actually has more vitamins and minerals than fresh veg as the freezing process locks in the nutrients. 

And if your fruit and veg seems a bit past its best for a stand alone dish, consider making a meal of it. 

For example vegetables can be made into a nice soup or stew and potatoes can be made into a casserole. 

Save money on your other costs

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