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The weekly shop can make a significant dent in our hard-earned cash, so it’s important to know all the sneaky supermarket tricks that big shops would rather you didn’t find out about.
Here we’ll show you some tricks you can use to beat the supermarkets at their own game and make sure you’re getting the cheapest food possible without sacrificing quality.
1. Snacks near the checkout
Convenient, isn’t it? Supermarkets love to prey on tired, hungry and irritable shoppers. But don’t get caught out like this. Never go shopping when you’re hungry. It might sound obvious, but you’ll end up buying things you don’t need, and often they’ll be unhealthy and expensive. Some retailers have moved towards healthier options in recent years (it’s out with the Mars Bars and in with the Graze boxes and power balls at Sainsbury’s, for example) but the ethos still stands.
2. Pretty packaging
Ooh, the Tesco Finest cheddar cheese looks delicious… but wait a second: it’s all about what’s on the outside.
The reason we don’t tend to buy a supermarket own brand produce is because they purposely package it to appear bland and unappealing. However own, basic or mid-range brands more often than not offer better value for money than Tesco Finest or Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference.
As well as costing less, they’re also often equally as tasty. Why not test a few cheap food options out on your family and see if they can tell the difference? OK, it doesn’t work in every case, but you’ll get to know which items really are the best value.
3. Special offers
We all love a special offer. Big writing and colourful signs make us feel like we are winning and the supermarket is giving us something for free. This is NEVER true.
Suppliers pay the supermarkets handsomely to have their products placed in a prime position and on special offer because they know it will get customers to buy their product, even if they wouldn’t usually. Buy-one-get-one-free offers can be useful, but only if you were going to buy the product anyway. Buy two for £X can also be good, but always remember to look at how much the item costs individually. Then if the saving when buying two is significant, it’s probably worth getting the deal – only if you needed the item in the first place though! If there isn’t much of a saving, ask yourself if you really need two. If you don’t, don’t get it.
Getting 50% extra deals, or a certain percentage, can seem appealing. However, these offers often tempt you to buy a brand you wouldn’t normally get. If this is the case, always look at the price per Kg or per 100g. This will allow you to compare exactly how much you are paying for the amount of product. You’ll often find that even though you get more with the brand on offer, you are actually paying more per Kg or 100g. You should think about waste, too – do you need 50% more cheese,or will it just sit in the fridge going mouldy before you’ve had a chance to eat it?
There is an easy way to avoid these pitfalls – have a shopping list and stick to it. If items are on special offer and seem like a bargain, people are often coerced into buying them. If it isn’t something you use often, or something you weren’t planning on buying anyway, don’t be tempted!
Supermarket stock that doesn’t shift gets reduced – we’ve all seen it. These are not like the bargains supermarkets brag about, they are genuine bargains. Only these bargains aren’t nicely signposted, and can be hard to find.
Take advantage of these real reductions by finding out when your local supermarket gets rid of its stock (this is usually later in the evenings or on Sundays). Much more produce will be sold at bargain prices as it reaches its use by date, and most of the things you buy you’ll be able to freeze so you won’t have to use them straight away. Want a loaf of bread for 20? Asda at 9.30pm is almost guaranteed to reap rewards.
5. Dirty display tricks
Did you know that supermarkets stack their shelves tactically? They put the most expensive items right in your eye-line to make you spend more. Look above and below and you can often get better deals.
This also works on kids that are sitting in the trolley. Items are positioned so they reach out and grab the top of the range products. It’s no coincidence that the finest range of organic cereal is at their eye-line when you’re looking for own brand cornflakes…
The first way to get around this is look at the whole range and compare the prices. Don’t grab and run. Secondly, if you can, leave the kids at home. That way they won’t distract you from finding the best value items or get their hearts set on the most expensive items. Also, men are apparently more susceptible to eye catching displays – so be strong guys, and don’t let the supermarkets trick you!
6. The supermarket maze
Believe it or not, all supermarkets follow a similar overall layout. Fresh produce – including fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy – are all stocked around the outer limits of the store, whereas pre-packed, processed and frozen foods are placed in the centre.
They do this on purpose. It means that to get to the stuff you need for a balanced diet, you have to look at all the stuff you don’t. Then as you work your way through the aisles, you throw in the trolley things you don’t need. You therefore spend more and they make more. Cunning, isn’t it?
They also keep staples such as bread and milk towards the back of the store in an attempt to get you to walk past almost everything else to find them. Plus, if you’re looking for tea bags, it’s no coincidence that biscuits are just next to them.
Supermarkets pair up like-for-like products knowing that you’re more likely to end up buying both. You can beat them at their own game. Help your health and your wallet – stick to the perimeter. If you have to go into the middle, use the aisle signs to go straight to the product you need. Then you won’t be looking at tempting and unnecessary items.
7. ‘Convenient’ bags and packets – loose is cheaper
When you’re whizzing round the supermarket thinking about ten things at the same time, it’s easy to opt for pre-packed items. But, buying items like fruit or vegetables loose is invariably cheaper than buying them in bags or packets. This is because the supermarket has to pay someone to pack them. They also have to pay for the materials and the overheads for the factory where they pack them, which all add up to a bigger price tag. Do it yourself for free. You’ll also help the environment by saving on packaging and producing less waste – something that we all should be considering during our weekly big shop.
8. Weight comparison
Supermarkets have to give the price per weight or volume of each item. It’s almost always written underneath the price in much smaller writing. This is great for shoppers, as it means we can work out the value by looking at how much the item really costs per 100g or kg. This way we can easily see how much we are really paying for an item.
This should help us compare the prices of similar products. However, to trip you up, supermarkets tend to show the price per unit in different amounts. For example, they might mark own brand orange juice as 52p per litre but Delmonte orange juice as 8p per 100ml. This is meant to confuse you and stop you being able to compare prices.
It’s easy to beat them if you know your metric measurements, though. A litre is 1000ml so that means that a litre of Delmonte costs 10 times 8p – 80p. This is actually more than the own brand, but it seems like it’s less when you just look at it because of the smaller unit measurement. Don’t let them fool you. Get measurement savvy and get the most for your money.
Make your food go further
Make some adjustments at home you won’t have to go to the supermarket as often, which is one easy way to solve the problem of over-spending.
Keep a good supply of canned, frozen and dried foods that you know everyone in your household will eat. That way, even when your fridge is looking a little sad, you’ll still have options and won’t have to rush out for expensive extras at the corner shop.
According to the excellent Love Food Hate Waste website we throw away nearly 7 million tonnes from our homes every year, which costs us £12.5 billion annually. That’s £60 per family, per month, and it’s largely related to dishing up portions that are too large. You can check out the Love Food Hate Waste Portion Planner to avoid this. They’ve also got some brilliant recipes for using up your leftovers, and they’re not complicated – so think before you throw!
Preventing food waste should be one of your top priorities. As well as making a significant environmental impact, you’ll theoretically be saving a third on your food bill. There are easy ways to make your food go further, too – find out here why you definitely don’t need to pour just-off milk down the drain.
Top shopping tips
Here’s just a few extra tips to help you save as much as you possibly can:
- Compare prices: Before you go shopping have a look on My Supermarket. You can compare prices of any items at all the major supermarkets. This way, you’ll be well prepared when you reach the shops.
- Avoid the supermarket if possible: Try not to visit the supermarket when all you need is two pints of milk. You’ll just end up buying things you don’t need, as well as wasting time and petrol. Instead, shop more locally to avoid temptations.
- Go veggie: Try eating one or two vegetarian meals a week and you’ll be able to cut back on the meat you buy and save a small fortune.
- Eat seasonally: Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season – not only is this better for the environment, it’ll help your wallet too! Produce shipped from overseas incurs more transport costs and is therefore always more expensive. You can even skip the supermarket entirely and go foraging if you live in or near the countryside. See some easy tips for growing your own fruit and vegetables here.
- Buy in bulk – sometimes: It’s not always cheaper to stockpile food or buy in bulk if you end up throwing loads of food away. However you can buy staples (like rice and pasta) in bulk since they work out cheaper and last for ages. You know you’ll always use them,too. It’s worth checking out the bargain supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl for these kind of products as well as for things like salt, sugar and flour. .
- Don’t get tempted: Once you’ve been round the supermarket and got everything you think you need (want), go through the basket. Ideally do this just before you get to the check-out. Do you really need that jar of Cajun fish relish? Or was it just displayed enticingly? Take out items that you don’t really need before you get to finally pay for your goods.
Got more of your own savvy shopping tips? Share them with the other Money Magpies in our comment section below.