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How to do a food shop on a student budget

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nottingham chapter.

Student budgets are always a struggle to stick to but, during the cost-of-living crisis, the need to reduce food costs is even more of a necessity. I am not a money saving expert but as a student in her last semester of university, over the years I have developed some go-to tips that ensure I am able to stick to a low-cost weekly shop. I will share my top ten tips for how I keep my costs low.

  • Make meal plans!
    • This encourages you to shop more sensibly, not with whatever your body wants at the time you are browsing the store, everyone knows it’s a bad idea to shop while hungry so this method reduces impulsive spending. This means you forget less; buy more of the things you need and don’t spend unnecessary money. Also, food recipe companies like Hello Fresh and Gousto put a huge mark up on their meals so taking a little time to plan out meals means you can use the same recipes but buy the food yourself for half the price.
  • Do one weekly shop
    • Doing this, as opposed to buying as-you-go for individual meals each night means you can use the same thing across a couple of nights and you won’t be tempted to pick extra stuff up on the way. For instance, if every time you go out to the shops you buy an extra bag of crisps, an extra bottle of coke, an extra bag of cheese, your food shop will gradually add up and become a lot more expensive from these unplanned items.
  • Don’t shop at the locals
    • The smaller supermarkets and corner shops like Sainsbury’s local, Tesco Express or McColls have huge mark ups on all of their products– they know you are shopping there for convenience, and they will charge on average around 10% extra on certain products and on some products this can be even more. So for every £25 spent, you lose an extra £2.50, multiply that by ten trips to the shops and that’s £25 wasted on the same products.
  • Look out for the Lidls and Aldis
    • I know that these supermarkets get a bad name, but the quality really isn’t that different, yet the food is significantly cheaper. Plus, they have loads of really great products that you can’t get in any other stores (especially their cheap protein yoghurts and puddings for all the gym-goers!). Alternatively, you could get half of your shop from one of these shops and any of the non-negotiable branded products you need, you can still get from other shops.
  • Bulk buy
    • Of course, not everyone is blessed with the luxury of a large enough fridge to do this. But if the space is there then try and buy larger packets of food as the price per unit is always less. Even if you don’t think you will use the whole thing, you can either freeze it or split the cost and items with a friend to make it cheaper for you both.
  • Freeze your food
    • This is slightly linked with the previous point, but whether you are bulk buying or not you can freeze your food and take it out as you need it, this prevents food waste and means less trips to the shops to replenish cupboards.
  • Get a loyalty card/app
    • Whether it’s a Tesco club card or the Lidl plus app they’re free to download and you can get multiple benefits including discounts, vouchers and partner offers. It all adds up and there’s nothing to lose in doing so.
  • Buy your veg loose
    • This way you can buy exactly the amount you need, not wasting money on packs that are too large that lead to food waste. Also, in general, loose veg is less money per unit because you aren’t paying for the convenience or packaging of it.
  • Assess the necessity of the brands
    • I know it has to be Heinz, but sometimes there is very little difference between the supermarket own brand and the actual branded products. Quite often, the branded products are twice the price of the non-branded ones, so next time you are faced with the choice consider, is it worth double?
  • Look out for the reduced products
    • Reduced products range from products with a short shelf-life that can be eaten on the day, to ‘wonky’ vegetables, that may not get chosen as, despite tasting the same, they look different or warped in shape. If you’re heading to Lidl, they sell £1.50 boxes of fruit and veg, made up of products taken from packets that cannot be sold, due to damaged packaging or one unsuitable product in a multi-pack. The reduced section is the cheapest source of food, so it is useful to get to know what time your local supermarket reduces the products and where in the store these items are situated!

Hopefully these tips are useful to you, they have helped me afford to eat well as a student, even in these more expensive times.

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Scarlett Wood

Nottingham '23

Third Year English Student at University of Nottingham ❤️