Few will be surprised to learn that more shoppers across the UK are searching for new ways to cut the cost of a supermarket shop, but now a report has found that people are relying more on yellow-sticker items, buying food close to its expiry date.
According to Barclays, two-fifths of households - 38 per cent - turned to the reduced-toclear aisle in April. No wonder, given that 89 per cent of us admit to worrying about food inflation.
When there is less to choose from - and often many other people going for the same items - it can be hard to know which is the smartest thing to put in your basket. Especially if you’re worried about eating it all before it goes off. But don’t be disheartened.
Expert budget shoppers who’ve been buying like this for years have plenty of tips and tricks for the rest of us.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Which? has just carried out a survey of the best times to find great discounts in each supermarket. Aldi (where the reduced stickers are red) and M&S usually apply discounts towards the end of the day, though it varies from store to store. Asda and Lidl sticker up twice a day, usually early on and towards closing time. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose said their staff may apply yellow label discounts at any point during the day.
Fiona Hawkes, who runs the personal finance blog Savvy in Somerset, has been a fan of supermarket discounts for a decade, since she and her husband decided to get serious about saving for a property and began to check the reduced section in the Co-op on her way home.
“While the best yellow-sticker bargains are usually found in the evenings, it’s worth checking the reduced-to-clear section no matter what time of day you shop,”
says Hawkes. “I’ve found items reduced by 90 per cent at 9am, and Sundays are great for discounts from 12pm.”
The best approach is to ask in your local stores if they have a regular timetable for making reductions.
And it isn’t just time of day: my top yellowsticker purchase to date was a 10p Waitrose Christmas pudding on Boxing Day. Hawkes says that even if you don’t feel like buying food between Christmas and New Year, it’s the best time of year to make great savings.
WHAT TO BUY
Budget recipe expert Mimi
Harrison uses a weekly budget of £20 to squeeze the most out of every shop and create stacks of £1 recipes for her Beat the 38%
Budget blog followers, from one-pot meatballs and rice to veggie tacos and a vegan roast dinner. Her first cookbook is out in June.
proportion of who turned reducedto-section of in April
Harrison says you can buy all sorts of products nearing the end of their good-to-eat life, but what matters is how you treat them. “I find the best savings are meat or fish, so I like to make these savings and either cook it the day of purchase or freeze it immediately.”
Hawkes has found great meat and fish bargains through yellowsticker shopping, including 49p gammon joints, 18p steaks, and king prawns reduced to 5p. “Meat is one of the best things to buy, as it’s often the most expensive part of a meal,” she says. “It can be frozen or cooked on the day of purchase if you’re worried about keeping to use-by dates.”
“Baked goods such as bread and cakes are winners when it comes to yellow stickers,” she adds. “Bread freezes well and things like naan and pita can help to bulk up meals cheaply. You can even buy and freeze whole iced birthday cakes that have been reduced in price.”
When it comes to cupboard essentials with longer lives, Harrison recommends buying whatever you can - “the bigger the better” - given we don’t need to worry about the expiry dates as much with dried and canned goods.
But she does warn not to lose out on whatever you’ve saved by using these up more quickly than if you’d bought them at normal price. “It’s easy to run out of bulkbought products if you feel like you have a never-ending supply,” she says. “Something to be conscious of, which I sometimes forget, is to ensure you consume the products at the same rate you would if you’d bought them on a smaller scale.”
IS IT WORTH IT?
Harrison is careful to weigh up the value of every item that appears “cheap”. If it’s a bulk buy, for example, she’ll work out whether she can eat it or if it’s freezable, as she doesn’t want to create waste. With fresh produce, she looks at the cost per kilo and whether it’s easy to portion up and freeze. “If it’s better value and a yes to both, it’s going in my trolley.”
She recommends taking the long view if this seems too much extra faff on top of your typical shop. “After a while, you’ll notice which products are great to buy larger quantities of and capitalise off those savings. They can really add up over the course of a year.”
PAST THEIR BEST
Some shoppers fear that food at the end of its shelf-life might not taste great, but Harrison says a little creativity can perk up even the plainest of produce. “Get creative and adapt ingredients to the flavours you know and love,” she says. “You could buy a can of yellowlabelled baked beans for 25p and then use a tiny quantity of pantry items, such as a pinch of sugar and paprika, a splash of soy sauce, and season with salt and pepper - a tiny fraction of your cupboard essentials to elevate the flavour of a product that’s a fifth of the price of competitors.”
Hawkes says that soft or prepared fruit, bagged lettuce and pre-made salads don’t last, so only buy them if you’re sure you’ll eat them on the day of purchase.
‘Beat the Budget’ by Mimi Harrison is out on the 8th June (Ebury Press, £16.99)