The cost of living crisis is eating away at household finances across the country. While some higher costs such as utility bills are unavoidable, others can be reduced by smart boxing.
Last week, Toby Walne was given a mission: to reduce his weekly grocery bill. Aware that many grocery stores offer special discounts, he researched how easy it was to get them, when to get the best deals, what tricks he could use to get good deals, and from whom. retailer.
He also used his phone to see if food apps that offer to stock up on cheap or free food are as good as they claim. It didn’t all go to plan, but the result was the purchase of food worth around £40 for just over £14.
What a catch: Toby Walne with a selection of discounted food he found while shopping at Waitrose
8 AM: NOT THE BEST POSSIBLE START
You have to get up early in the morning to avail grocery discounts by using food saving apps.
The TooGoodToGo free shopping app is one of the most popular – with sales of ‘magic bags’ of goodies worth £10 or more selling for less than half price. Caffe Nero and Starbucks cafes are among those that have subscribed to the app’s offers, as are Greggs Bakery and Spar.
By logging in just after 8am, I had already missed some deals that had happened the night before. But I was still able to buy a £4.50 ‘magic bag’ from Starbucks in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire which could be collected after 6pm. I paid by credit card. The bag, it said, offered “a selection of delicious wraps, paninis, crunchy salads, treats, yogurts, juices, healthy snacks and your favorite pastries.”
I also bought a £3.09 ‘magic bag’ from the Spar convenience store, worth at least £10. That said, I could get anything from cakes and pastries to fish and meat. I licked my lips in anticipation. I was told I would have to wait until after 7pm to pick up my items.
Too good to be true? Unfortunately, a big yes. Just after 3 p.m. I received a text from TooGoodToGo about my Starbucks magic bag. Magically, he had disappeared: “Hello, it turns out that the store has no more food to collect today, so we have refunded your payment!”
Three hours later, I received the same text about my Spar magic bag. Gone in a puff of smoke.
Maybe other shopping apps would allow me to spend and save at the same time. App Olio offered free food to other subscribers who might otherwise throw it away. But those were slim choices where I live. Within half a dozen miles of my house, I could only find free baby food (no thanks) and a jar of ground meat (as unappealing as baby food).
Finally, I gave the food discount app Karma a go. Strangely, he thought I was in Stockholm rather than Bishop’s Stortford. Karma offered a ‘vegoboxen’ for 92 crowns (£7.50), a third of its normal price. A mix of vegetarian meatballs, tomatoes and other delicacies.
Unfortunately, I had to travel to Sweden to collect my basket of vegetables. Not feasible on so many levels: the cost and the likelihood of my flights being canceled. An ominous start.
MIDAY: A SUPERMARKET SCAN FOR DISCOUNTS
Having failed to get any discounted food through these apps, I decided to hit the road to see if I could hunt for any bargains in-store.
Supermarkets reduce the price of certain items during the day, usually because they are perishable and have an expiry date.
At lunchtime in Bishop’s Stortford all I could find that was a bargain was pizza, reduced from £3.75 to £2.99 at Sainsbury’s. It was marked with a yellow sticker, with an expiration date of the same day.
I grabbed the pizza, which was made with Italian ham, Napoli salami and Spanish chorizo – all placed on hand-stretched sourdough. Large enough for more than one serving.
Marks & Spencer staff said they offered yellow sticker food at the start of the day and at 2 p.m. – and sometimes later.
There was nothing to offer when I visited. There were no magic bags on display at Spar, but there was one item discounted for a quick sale – cookies with two days to go before they expired. Normally costing £1.25, they were available for £1. In the grip of bargain fever – buying for a discount rather than out of necessity – I handed over my one pound coin.
Speaking to staff at several stores, it became clear that the best time to hunt down the yellow stickers would be 6 p.m.
EARLY EVENING 6 PM: THE SHELVES TURN YELLOW
I consider shopping at Waitrose to be a luxury. It is therefore a pleasant surprise to discover that it is generous in its use of yellow stickers, indicating reduced prices.
There were great deals to be had at the back of the vegetable aisle – as well as at the front of the store’s meat section.
I picked up a box of £2.60 strawberries for £1.25. Although they had passed their best before date, they looked fresh – and as I discovered later that night, they tasted delicious. Manna from heaven.
A fancy dish of chickpeas, spinach and quinoa has been reduced from £2 to 75 pence. A dish that would normally impress Gwyneth Paltrow’s sidekicks, but this time drew me in. The basis of three meals.
I also bought rocket salad for 99p (normally costing £2), two bright red peppers for 95p instead of £2.10 and two large cod cakes for £1.35 (retail price £4, £50). Enough for two good meals, at least. I had less luck at the nearby Sainsbury’s supermarket. Its “last chance to buy” section had been stripped of most items.
All that was left was a rather sad £2.25 fruit pot of apple, mango and strawberry priced at 25p. Bags of mixed vegetables (perfect for a stir-fry) and lettuce were both available for just 10p, down from £1. I took them before heading to a Tesco out of town a mile away.
7:00 PM: ‘CS’ TIME… FOR THE BIGGEST SAVING OF ALL
I timed my arrival at Tesco to perfection. Half a dozen eager shoppers eagerly awaited the arrival of the end-of-day bargains. Among them was James Knights, 45. He said: “In a moment the staff will come with the latest store bargains for the day. You know they are final because they have a “CS” sticker on them. It stands for ‘colleague shops’ which means nothing to me other than it represents the cheapest price at which Tesco will offer these products. It’s when people like me jump up.
With perfect timing, a Tesco assistant arrives with a green basket laden with choice meats now costing a third or less of their original price. This meant I could get your fill of two mint lamb steaks, costing £1.35 instead of £4.50. Four hearth chicken tikka steaks cost £1.62 (original price, £4.50) while six Thai-inspired pork loin medallions cost £1.35 (retail price: £4.50) .
A £4 pack of 20 slices of breaded ham was a little over 28p (retail price, £4) and would provide enough filling for a week’s worth of lunch sandwiches.
As for sweets, a pack of two custard tarts were bought for 10p, compared to 70p. There was a real sense of camaraderie as the group shared their food shopping tips with me. The most popular was opting for foods that can be frozen, as they are sold on their final best buy date. Being able to put it straight into a freezer extends its life until the time you want to make a meal out of it. Another was to build friendly relationships with supermarket staff who can advise on the best time to show up, as yellow sticker times can vary from store to store.
I was also told not to be too picky or rely on just one store – as it can be a fluke for what is available. Menu choice increases by visiting more stores.
But Josephine Hall, 58, said bargain hunting sometimes goes wrong. “People are snatching groceries from you,” she said. “I saw tears flow.
I SAVED MONEY… AND HELPED THE PLANET
So if you decide to go bargain hunting for food, may I end with some golden tips.
First, leave your search for discounted food until late in the day (around six o’clock).
Two, don’t go with a shopping list. Be totally flexible about what you are willing to buy. This may mean an overload of meat one evening, salad the next.
Third, make sure you have enough space in your freezer to accommodate foods when they expire.
And finally, don’t be ashamed of what you do. After all, you’re reducing food waste and, in a way, helping to save the planet.
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