Thrifty Living: Make a plan and save a packet at the supermarket

Buying your food and groceries at the supermarket is one of the biggest regular outgoings for most families in Britain. But with a bit of forward planning – and by following a few easy rules – it's very easy to knock thousands of pounds off your shopping bills every year.

Shop around

Although most people do almost all of their grocery shopping at their nearest supermarket, you may find that you can cut the cost of your bill by switching to another chain. Even if there's not a branch of Tesco, Asda or Sainsbury's any where nearby, you may find that you are still in an area that qualifies for home delivery from these stores.

If you spend more than a certain amount – usually between £50 and £100 per shop – you'll often qualify for free delivery too, so if you shop online, it's best to leave longer gaps between each order, to ensure that you spend more each time you shop.

The best way to check which store has the cheapest prices for you is to visit the website mysupermarket.co.uk. This site allows you to compare the prices of thousands of different products at four of the UK's biggest chains – Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose. By inputting your regular shopping list into the site, you can see how much your bill would come to at each of these stores – and you can also identify any special offers that are running at the time.

The site's "swap and save" feature is particularly handy – showing you how you could save money by switching to different brands, or by taking advantage of a store's current deals. It may turn out that it makes sense to vary your shop from week to week, depending on who offers the most savings.

On a regular basket of groceries, costing £100 at Waitrose, we discovered we could save over £30 by switching to Asda, and taking up mysupermarket's suggestions for product swaps.

Trading down

Another easy way to make savings is to ditch the big supermarkets altogether. Using chains such as Lidl, Aldi and Iceland can work out even cheaper than the mainstream stores – especially when it comes to certain items, such as fish. Unfortunately, you can't order online from Lidl, but you can check out what it's got on offer. The same goes for Aldi. But both stores have a shopping list feature on their websites – which allow you to place items on a shopping list, which can then be printed out before you head down to the store. (Although if you're a true thrift-seeker, you'd be better off writing the list on a piece of old receipt, rather than wasting expensive printer ink and fresh paper!)

To find out if there's a Lidl or Aldi in your area, visit their websites – lidl.co.uk and aldi.co.uk. If it turns out there's not a shop near you, it's also worth remembering that you can save money in your own supermarket by trading down to a cheaper brand. Most supermarkets now have three or four tiers of the same product, starting with a premium brand, and working down to a basic, no-frills product. Clearly, in some cases, the trade-off for your savings is that you'll end up with a far inferior product. However, there are many basic own-brand products which are very similar in quality to other more expensive branded goods.

Moneysavingexpert.com claims that by taking the "downshift challenge" you can make a typical saving of around £800 a year. And this doesn't have to mean resigning yourself to a diet of no-frills baked beans and toast. If you like eating cornflakes for breakfast, for example, you could spend £2.16 on a 375g packet of Dove's Farm Organic Gluten Free at Sainsbury's – equivalent to 57.6p per 100g. For 27p less, you could pick up a 500g packet of Kellogg's cornflakes (37.8p per 100g), while for just 99p, you could get a 500g packet of Sainsbury's own-brand (19.8p per 100g). Finally, there's the Sainsbury's basics corn flakes, priced at just 46p for 500g – which works out at 9.2p per 100g.

Another way to save some valuable pounds at your local supermarket is to do your shopping in the evening. Between 7pm and 9pm, many supermarkets slash prices on fresh produce by as much as 75 per cent – and this isn't necessarily just food that's going bad. Fresh products usually have a sell-by date, which is a day or two before the use-by date. So, while the store needs to get rid of it by the sell-by date, it may still be fresh and perfectly edible for another day or two.

Finally, try to waste less. The British are notorious for buying far more food than they need – much of which ends up in the bin. Try to plan your shopping trips a little better, so that you only buy what you need. Equally, however, make sure you save by buying in bulk if there are longer lasting items on your shopping list.

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