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Surviving on a shoestring: tips for navigating the grocery store on a tight budget

One in seven people report that they have skipped meals due to the rising cost of living, according to a recent survey.

Rising energy prices have led one survey respondent, Jackie Rudd from West Suffolk, to skip meals two to three times a week on her limited budget.

She said that during the last week of each month, meals are missed if she has no money for food. If she cannot afford a loaf of bread, then there is no lunch; if there is no milk, then there is no breakfast. Basic groceries have become more expensive, with loaves of bread shrinking in size and increasing in price.

This article provides advice on how to cope with financial difficulties and where to find help if you are unable to buy food.

Use ingredients you already have on hand to create new dishes

Before you go shopping, take stock of what you have in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards. Then plan meals using those ingredients. is a website that offers thousands of recipes for dishes you can make with ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

Use surplus food bags

Too Good To Go has partnered with Aldi across all 990 of its UK stores.

The supermarket is offering surplus food bags, or ‘magic bags’, which contain a range of grocery products that are approaching their sell-by or use-by dates. As a result, shoppers get to take advantage of discounts of up to two thirds off their usual prices. The bags cost £3.30 each and contain at least £10 worth of food.

To get a ‘magic bag’ from Aldi, download the free Too Good To Go app and search for your nearby store. Reserving a bag is easy: just select the time you want to pick up your bag, then collect it from the store at an allotted time.

You can also get surplus food bags from supermarkets, cafés and restaurants including Budgens, Caffé Nero, Costa, Greggs, M&S Food, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.

Get free food and help prevent food waste

Olio is an app that enables users to get access to free food. It's a community of people and businesses who donate unwanted food to each other.

After you download the Olio app and select your local area, you can view items being offered in the vicinity.

To collect your free food, you will need to visit the store where the promotion is running. There is no referral needed, and it is usually run on a first-come-first-served basis.

Consider switching to a cheaper supermarket

Aldi was named cheapest supermarket in the latest analysis of 43 branded and own-label groceries, with an average basket price of £74.81 compared to Waitrose's £96.59.

Supermarkets often offer free and reduced-price food options for those in need.

Asda, a supermarket chain in the UK, is running a promotion called 'kids eat for £1' that has no requirement to purchase an adult meal at the same time. It also offers a similar promotion for those over 60: soup and a bread roll for £1. Both schemes will run until the end of March.

Morrisons has a deal in which children can eat free when an adult purchases a meal costing over £4.49.

Loyalty schemes and targeted discounts can make the difference between profit and loss.

Supermarket loyalty schemes are free to join, and can help you make savings on your grocery shopping.

Lidl Plus members receive £2 off their next shop, Nectar at Sainsbury's members get at least 50p off their shopping and Tesco Clubcard holders earn £1 when spending £100 or more.

Some supermarkets also offer targeted discounts. For example, the Iceland supermarket chain offers 10% off a shopping basket for customers aged 60 and over on Tuesdays.

Check your eligibility for benefits

EntitledTo and Turn2Us are free online calculators that can help you find out if you qualify for any benefits.

Claiming benefits can open up other sources of help. For example, children in England who attend government-funded schools may be eligible for free school meals if their parents receive certain benefits. In England, children in Key Stage one (reception class, year one or year two) will be eligible for free school meals if they attend a government-funded school and live with parents who receive certain benefits.

The cost of living payments are also linked to certain benefits. The £900 cash boost, available to those on means-tested benefits, including those on Universal Credit, Pension Credit and tax credits, will be paid in three installments over the course of the financial year.

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment that replaces six benefits and is aimed at helping people who are of working age, have less than £16,000 in savings or other investments, and who work a minimum number of hours per week.

HouseHold Support Fund

The Household Support Fund helps low-income households with essential costs, such as food, clothing and energy bills. Check with a local council office to see if you qualify.

Healthy Start Scheme

The Healthy Start scheme provides nutritional support, including fresh fruit and vegetables, to pregnant women and families with young children.

The NHS Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and parents of young children to enable them to buy healthy food.

If eligible, you can receive a card with money loaded onto it that you can use at certain shops and supermarkets to help buy the essential foods for your family.

Sainsbury's is extending a government-funded health initiative to Wales and Northern Ireland. The grocery chain is topping up the NHS Healthy Start scheme by £2, and it has also extended the Healthy Start coupon initiative to 11 April 2023. Customers in England who use a Healthy Start card when shopping at Sainsbury's will automatically receive a printed coupon worth £2 to use on their next shop.

Learn how to find and access your local food bank

Food banks are community organizations that can help people who cannot afford to buy the food they need. You usually need to get a referral from a social worker or other professional before you can go to one, but some food banks allow people to just walk in and ask for help.

The Trussell Trust has the largest network of food banks in the UK. Its website provides a list of locations near you. You can also contact your local council to see if it offers emergency food aid through its welfare services department.

To receive a referral to a food bank, contact the following organizations:

Citzens Advice

A social worker

Jobcentre Plus

Your GP

Contact local charities and non-profit organisations for financial assistance.

If you are in a financial crisis and need help, contact one of the following organisations:

Citizens Advice 0808 223 1133

Money Advice Service 0800 138 7777 

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