Cents & sensibility: Grocey bills
Still spending a fortune in the supermarket? John Hearne gives his top tips to cut that bill down to size
1 MAKE A LIST, CHECK IT TWICE
Make a list of dinners and lunches you're going to put together over the course of the week and use that to write your shopping list. That way you'll avoid buying stuff that you think you might need but which will end up at the back of the press for two years. And before you put anything on the list, make sure you don't already have it.
Once you've made the shopping list, try to stick to it. Avoid impulse buys.
2 RUN DOWN INVENTORIES
Those spare ribs have been in the freezer since June. Either eat them or throw them out. If your freezer compartment is always full, maybe there's stuff in there you could actually use instead of going out and buying more.
3 LEAVE THE CHILDREN AT HOME
Supermarkets just love children. Notice how all the really nice stuff is at child height? All those supermarket tantrums are carefully orchestrated by supermarkets as a means of bullying you into buying overpriced stuff. If you can't leave the little dotes at home, negotiate with them before you go in: "If you do not roll around on the floor screaming like a stuck pig because I will not buy you a box of Milk Tray, I will bring you to the playground . . ."
4 TRADE DOWN
If you haven't already, at least check out the own-brand stuff. Some of it is perfectly fine, and all of it is a whole lot cheaper than the branded stuff. Still not convinced? Bring home some own-brand products and try a blind taste test on your family. The UK money tips website lovemoney.com recently conducted a blind taste test to see if tasters would actually go for the more expensive stuff. It turned up mixed results.
While premium bread and beans still outranked own-brand equivalents, tasters actually preferred the own-brand cereals and tea.
If the idea of switching down from your favourite brand of tea fills you with horror, you could at least consider it for store cupboard basics such as flour, rice and pasta.
If you do prefer branded goods, it's worth noting the results of the National Consumer Agency's most recent -- and largest ever -- branded grocery price survey, released last month. It found that the prices in supermarkets have dropped by about 14pc between January 2009 and July 2010.
Interestingly, the survey also found that when it comes to branded goods, at least, there is virtually no price difference between Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Superquinn. So it really doesn't matter where you shop if you're not opting for a discount supermarket.
5 EYES OPEN
Stick to the list, but keep your eyes peeled for marked-down items. At the meat counter you'll often find items that are on the way out of date. Get them home and eat or freeze as soon as you can. 'Reduced to Clear' shelves are an ever-more common feature of supermarkets these days.
Check them out, but take care not to buy just because it ticks the good value box. Only put it in the trolley if you are actually going to use it.
6 KEEP IT COUNTRY
Local butchers often have the best value of all, plus you'll be keeping your spending local. Fruit and veg are always at their cheapest when in season. Out of season, they're often being flown in from a country where they are -- and that's expensive. Cook according to the seasons and save yourself some money.
7 NO FRILLS SUPERMARKETS
Aldi and Lidl have been instrumental in whipping the rest of the supermarkets into line in the past few years. If you haven't already got into the deep discounters, check them out. You don't get shelves or muzak, and that eerie silence can take a bit of getting used to, but the prices are hard to beat.
Watch the specials, though. Every week, they'll offer something -- it could be anything from a spot welder to a wetsuit-- and it looks like such incredible value that you'll convince yourself that all your life really needs is a spot welder or a wetsuit. Don't give in. It will only end up under the stairs.
8 SUPERMARKET TRAPS
Some supermarkets have gone out of their way to convince us that their store is a nice place to be. There are cafes and music, the smell of fresh- baked bread and cooking demonstrations. All are designed to relax you -- and your grip on the purse strings. Is there anything shops love more than an impulse buyer?
The logic runs that one frappuchino and a little Michael Bolton and you'll fill your trolley full of Baileys and Ferrero Rocher and come home without the nappies or the milk. Don't let your guard down.
Note how frequently supermarkets change their layout. I thought the logic behind this was to drive me crazy, but I read someplace that really, they're trying to make you wander down aisles you wouldn't normally wander down and thereby spot things you wouldn't normally spot, and then buy them.
My local supermarket also plays this game called 'Find the Eggs'. Are they beside the sausages like they were last week? No! Then over beside the big fridge with the yogurt like a few months ago? No, they're not. Now, I just give up and leave without the bloody things. The other thing supermarkets do is place the expensive version right in front of your nose, and put the cheaper versions way up high or way down low, hoping you're too lazy to either stretch or bend.
9 LOYALTY SCHEMES
Take the time to sign up and collect those points. You'll be giving them oodles of personal shopping information that they can then use to market things to you. But on the upside, you can rack up some very tasty discounts.
10 CHECK OUT THE SPECIAL OFFERS
All those handouts that come through the door usually end up in the bin without even being opened, but it's well worthwhile to hold on to them and have a flick through as you're making your list. And if you miss them in the letter box or the local paper, check out cheapeats.ie or thriftypages.ie -- both give a rundown of what's on offer at all of the big supermarkets each week.