Now anyone that's followed my blog will know that until very recently, I worked at a local supermarket as my side hustle job. I started working in the store during the first lockdown when I was put on furlough, and this is how I managed to earn some extra money to help keep the bills paid.
It's a very different world, shopping in a supermarket as it is working in a supermarket, and I learned a great deal about the supermarket's inner workings during my time as an employee. I thought I would share some of my favourite tips and tricks with you!
If you place a supermarket delivery order, avoid the early morning delivery time slots. This is because the stores will have pickers come in to grab your order off the shelves very early in the morning. The issue is that they are generally trying to pick your order before that night's delivery has been put on the shelves, meaning that many of the shorter life products may not be on the shelf yet, so the picker may not be able to find what you ordered. Therefore you are far more likely to get a substituted item or an out of stock on your order. Book a later delivery slot if you can, as generally, the products are then available on the shelf, and you shouldn't get as many substitutions or out of stock issues.
Talking of substitutions, it's not the picker of your order that chooses the product for substitution; it is actually picked by head office. When the picker tells the system it doesn't have a product, the system will automatically suggest a different item for you to choose instead. Sometimes you get some weird substitutions; I remember once getting a Pot Noodle suggested as a substitution for a bag of flour, and although many pickers wouldn't actually pick that, you may get a picker who picks it, mainly because the pickers have time targets to pick an order by. The quicker they pick your order, the less hassle they will get from their supervisor, so they grab what the system says and move on!
Look down! Supermarkets are a bit crafty, and you will generally find that products on the shelf, at eye level, are generally the higher-margin products that the supermarkets want you to buy! You will find that if you look down a few shelves, you will find similar products, only cheaper! They may not be the big brands, but generally of a decent enough quality, and every penny not spent is a penny saved!
Do you really need to buy the big brands? Yes, sometimes there is a taste/quality difference, but as an example, recently, I heard how a worker in a cheese factory would cut up large pieces of cheese, and this same cheese would then be split into different packages for different supermarkets, and the same cheese was going into the value range bags, as was going into the premium cheese bags, which is why I will never not buy the value range cheese again! Needless to say, it's not just cheese this happens with, which is why value ranges are, on the whole, well worth considering switching to in order to save money. Read my recent report on the value ranges for more information on how value ranges stack up.
Slice and grate your own cheese! Look at the price per kilo difference between blocks of cheese, sliced cheese and grated cheese. The image below shows that exactly the same cheese is up to £2.75 per kilo more expensive by buying it already sliced/grated. Sure, I know it's handy to have it grated/sliced for you, but is it worth the extra money? The extra cost is often well hidden as well; if you don't look at the price per kilo information on the price ticket, you will often find that the pack price is similar. Looking at the images below, all the packs are around £2, so the supermarket hopes you will think it's the same price, so I might as well buy it already grated, but you are getting less cheese, so losing out while the supermarket is raking it in! Also, grated and sliced cheese has added potato starch to prevent it from sticking together or going into lumps, so you are paying more money and not even getting as much cheese, as some of the contents are potato starch! Invest in a decent grater, grate your own cheese and save money!
Of course, it's not just cheese that costs you more by buying it pre-prepared, sliced chicken breast ( it's the same chicken as the whole chicken breasts), so cut your own; it's on average around £1.50 a kilo cheaper to slice it yourself!); pre-prepared vegetables and marinated meats are cheaper by buying the products un-processed and preparing and/ or marinating them yourself. I've come across meat with a marinade, nearly £3 more expensive per pack, purely because it has spices added to the pack. Invest in a value brand spice jar or a packet mix, and it will work out cheaper to spend 5 minutes marinading it yourself!
Frozen is cheaper! You will often find that a frozen product variant is cheaper than a fresh version, and often it's the same thing! Frozen meats, ready meals, pizzas etc usually are less expensive than the fresh variant and here's why: When a fresh product, and by fresh I mean refrigerated or made with ingredients that haven't been previously frozen, the supermarket will add a surcharge to the price, and this is to cover wastage. The extra amount added to a price for you to buy a 'fresh' item is there to cover the cost of the fresh items that have to be thrown away because they didn't sell or had to be reduced in price to clear. They don't want to lose profit, so they overinflate the prices initially to cover these losses, to keep their margin as high as possible, even after having thrown items away! Fresh items are often more likely to be damaged in transit, so this surcharge also covers this.
A saving is only a saving if you actually needed it in the first place, otherwise, it's an expense! The BOGOF, 50% off, 2 For £X type deals are only great if you actually need those products! The manufacturers pay the supermarket an eye-watering amount of money to have their products on the end of an aisle or a promotion shelf because the manufacturer wants to boost their sales. The supermarket loves a manufacturer funded special offer (it's not the supermarket discounting down those deals, it's the manufacturers, and they have to pay the supermarket a fee to make sure the supermarket doesn't lose margin on the product), as it's a great way to make you spend extra money, and boost its takings! Try not to be drawn into these types of deals, as you didn't intend to buy that item more often than not, so you have now spent money you didn't need to spend!
This looks like a great deal, but did you need all those items? Is it cheaper to buy a couple of frozen pizzas and some garlic bread, which is just as filling and probably a few £ cheaper? Impulse buys can be expensive if you don't look at your other options before buying. If you hadn't actually planned to buy pizza and sides on your shopping trip and purchased this deal because it seems good value because it mentions it's up to £8.85 cheaper than buying the other items separately, you haven't saved money; you've just spent money you didn't intend spending! You are now £10 worse off... Often items on promotion have had the price increased in the past few weeks to 'discount' the product later on and show it as a special offer or bargain buy! I use a price tracker app from Trolley.co.uk, which lets me search prices for certain items at 13 different stores, including supermarkets, to tell me if the price is good, average, or a massive bargain! This means I don't 'panic buy' loads of a product because the signage/point of sale states it's a great deal (save £x, while stocks last, etc.,) as I search for the same product using the app, which shows me the price for the item, at the supermarket's competitors. If it's similar or better, I will curb my spending and only buy what I need! The app has a handy price guide (which doesn't work on everything but is generally pretty good), which shows you a price history graph, which lets you know if the price has recently been increased or decreased and what the pricing was before. It helps you to work out if this offer really is good. As a test, a quick check of a special offer bathroom product, priced at £1.75 today in Waitrose, shows that two months ago it was selling for £1, so I know the deal isn't that special after all, but it also tells me Tesco have it as a Clubcard price for £1.25, so I could get it there and save 50p, or I could nip into Savers and get it for £1, so it gives me options. I wouldn't use it on everything, but it's handy to determine if a deal really is a deal!
Shop yellow! Make use of the supermarket yellow sticker products to grab a bargain, but try and time it right! Most supermarkets will discount a product twice; once in the morning, at between 10% and 25% off and then again in the evening, on which items haven't been sold during the day, and price them at up to 90% off, depending on the supermarket's reduction policy. The supermarket I worked at, Morrisons, would make the first reduction on products dated the next day, the night before, around 9 or 10 pm. They would either be put out that night for customers to buy at a reduced price, depending on how much was left on the shelf from that's days reductions, or they would go out the next morning. The next evening, from 5 pm, the store would then start the 'finals', which is up to 90% off a product to clear what's leftover. The final discount amount depends on which department of the store you are buying from. Products such as ready meals, fresh meats, dairy, dips and products such as coleslaw, pies and pastries will generally be 90% off. The system only automatically discounts 80% off, however, the store can upgrade the discount to 90% to clear through the excess products at the manager's discretion, and it usually does go out at 90%. The produce department, which is fruit and vegetables, typically reduces down to 90% off as this is usually the department with the highest number of reductions and the greatest chance of having items not sell, so they want to get it sold; otherwise, they have to mess around with the hassle of throwing what's left away, which is wasteful, and also very time consuming, and labour intensive. Some leftover items might go into a Too Good To Bag for the next day (more on this in a minute). Bread and cakes usually are 80% off, apart from 'free from' or speciality bread, which usually goes to 90% off to clear, as they tend to be less popular and need to reduce as far as possible, or they will likely have to be thrown away. The butchery, delicatessen and instore bakery departments typically reduce to 80% off at around 7 pm but can be a little earlier depending on staffing numbers and the number of goods that need to be reduced. If there is a more significant amount of goods to be reduced, they may reduce the products down to 90% off, but that's less likely, as the stores try and protect their margin in those areas if they can.
Regarding yellow stickers, try not to get too over-excited with the bargains! Remember, they have a short shelf life, so only buy what you know you can store or use; I've certainly been someone who's gone a bit discount crazy, and got home, had nowhere to keep it and ended up throwing things away, which is a waste of money, adds to the food waste problem, and has also meant someone else didn't get that item, that they could have used because you bought it unnecessarily! Try and have a plan in your head when buying the bargains, and if you know that actually, you may not be able to use it, put it back!
Always use supermarket cashback apps to make savings on products. Apps like CheckoutSmart, Shopmium and GreenJinn, could save you hundreds over a year. Also, make sure you have signed up for supermarket loyalty schemes, and always scan them! I know it sounds obvious, but the number of people who miss out on discounts because they haven't scanned their loyalty card is crazy; it's saving money at the end of the day!
Cashback on your regular food shop is less likely than if you bought a telly off the internet, but there is a way to get something back! If you know how much you are likely to spend in the supermarket, buy a gift card for the supermarket from a cashback site such as KarmaCashback, TopCashback or Quidco, as you will then receive cash back on the gift card purchase. The average cashback rate is about 3% on a supermarket gift card purchase, and so for every £100 you spend, you will get around £3 cashback. Now I appreciate that's not a life-changing amount of money, but its 3% off your shopping bill, and if you were to keep that in your cashback account throughout the year, you could then cash it in at Christmas, and it could pay for your Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings! You can also buy supermarket gift cards to pay for fuel at supermarket petrol stations, and once you start buying your fuel this way, your cashback account starts to grow quickly! Cashback on gift cards is also paid immediately to your cashback account, so there is no annoying waiting for cashback to clear; you could use it straight away!
Take carrier bags with you; most stores charge around 20p each for a bag, which adds up. Most the plastic bags are bags for life these days, so if you have broken bags, take them to the shop with you and the supermarket will replace them for you free of charge, don't just throw them away; I know I'm guilty of just throwing them away, I've probably trashed about a thousand!! Also, if you have fresh meat, as for a meat bag, they will supply you with a carrier bag for your meat at no charge.
Use food waste apps such as Olio or Too Good To Go to take advantage of great clearance pricing, or even free food, that would otherwise go to waste. You can pick up some great deals and reduce food waste. Supermarkets will use these services to eliminate as much excess food as possible. Supplying these app services with products is tax-deductible for the supermarkets. In the case of some supermarkets, they can claim money from their suppliers to cover the food they couldn't sell and had to give away, so it's actually beneficial for them to be involved in these initiatives financially, as well as not having to throw so much away, reducing their wastage cost and labour costs, plus makes them look good in the public eye because they are helping to prevent food waste, and to help feed the nation!
Don't shop hungry! There is a reason many supermarkets have counters selling hot food or that the bakery bakes all day long - the smell! Yes, indeed, the supermarket knows that by pumping around the smell of freshly roasted chickens, or freshly baked bread, your brain will go into a 'feeding frenzy' and you will be drooling, and your tummy will rumble, and even though the counters generally make a loss financially, all the other things you pop in your basket, while in your 'feed me' phase, makes up for it! I used to work in a restaurant, and our manager always made sure we had onions frying in the kitchen, as the smell was yummy, and it got people hungry, and they ordered more... same principle with the supermarket!
Watch out for the impulse buys at the till! Many a checkout line is lined with racks of yummy looking impulse items such as chocolate bars, drinks, crisps, sometimes bakery products, and products such as batteries and mobile phone SIM cards. You, especially the kids, may well reach for these high-margin products while waiting to be served! They can make a dent in your food bill, especially batteries and other 'essential items' - The margin on batteries and SIM cards is enormous; it's no coincidence they are by the till; we've all thought, oh, I might need some batteries, I will get some while I think about it... Kerching for the supermarket, ouch for your wallet! New rules were due to be implemented to ban the unhealthier (the junk food phrase is being used for products that will be affected), items being offered as multi-buys. You often find these by the tills (the buy two chocolate bars for £1 type offer) in October 2022. However, this has now been postponed to 2023, in theory, to help people with the cost of living crisis, so it will likely change in 2023. Still, I'm sure the supermarkets will have a new trick up their sleeve to make sure we part with as much money as they can get from us!
The best thing you can do to save money when shopping in a supermarket and not be sucker-punched into buying stuff you don't really need is properly look at what you already have in your fridge and cupboards and make a list; and stick to it! Yes, it takes a bit of planning, but the financial ramifications of not sticking to a list can be huge! The supermarkets know that, on average, a third of all shoppers with a shopping list don't stick to it and buy extra things, and the supermarket head offices have whole departments full of people thinking up new deals, special offers and marketing ploys to try and get you to part with more cash then you wanted to spend and buy more items than you intended, as it makes the supermarkets millions of pounds every year! The supermarkets are very good at what they do; once you are in their store, they will do everything in their power for you to spend as much money as they can squeeze out of you, so be wary, think twice before adding a product to your trolley! Do you really need it, can I find it cheaper, could I earn cash back on it, is the deal as good as it seems, and is it the most affordable way to buy this type of item today in this store? If the answer is no to any of those questions, pop it back on the shelf, go and get the other things you need (from your list!), and if, after having had a few extra minutes to think about the product, rather than being spontaneous. If you still really want it, fair enough, still, chances are you will have forgotten about it or decided against it, and you just saved yourself some hard-earned cash, and these days we all need to reduce our spending as much as possible, bills aren't getting any cheaper!