Living off the bargains found on the supermarket shelves can save you quite a bit but it is a challenging task.
You have to be prepared to eat a strange assortment of foods, most likely past their sell by dates. You'll probably also find that if you shop too late in the evening every decent deal will be long gone. You could even find yourself throwing a few elbows to get in front of other hopeful bargain hunters.
A colleague at our sister paper, the Liverpool Echo, decided to take on the challenge of feeding her family with discounted yellow sticker food and recounted her experience below.
It was a time when our bank accounts were feeling a little battered and bruised.
In an attempt to keep the costs down, I decided I would try to feed my family only using foods that had been reduced with yellow stickers.
We all love a bargain, have a nosey at the yellows then boast to our families while trying to make them guess what rock-bottom price we really bought those six French baguettes for.
Money saving tips
So it was going to be fun, right?
WRONG. It was not fun, I did not have a good time. I am sick of seeing the inside of supermarkets and my freezer is still full of bread.
But this is what I learned along the way;
I had to go to the shop A LOT
It was so hit and miss that I had to go to the shop a lot, which, if you are not strict with yourself, can be costly. Especially if you go when youre hungry, suddenly all sorts of things look delicious and they were never on the list.
It also takes up a lot of time. Time I didnt really have, and didnt want to spend hunting for 5p food. My husband on the other hand, loved it.
The savings. The bargains. The pure excitement a conveyor belt of yellow stickers brought him made me feel like a terrible wife; is this the only joy left in his life?
There is a lot of bread involved
We have all been there in the supermarket when a member of staff wheels out the metal shelves and you instantly know it is filled with yummy baked goods for just pennies. And it is understandable why there would be so much bread, it has a shorter shelf life and spoils easily. But it also means I am sick of the sight of a reduced loaf.
I dont care that it has poppy seeds or Omega 3 in or on it. I dont want to see another batch, bap, roll, or whatever you call it, for about two weeks – Ill be fine after that.
Doughnuts are great in bread and butter pudding
Because there was a lot of baked goods that were cheap I ended up with a lot left over and they were going stale fast.
So I threw them all into a bread and butter pudding, and it was great. Doughnuts really soak up the mixture and make a great addition to the dessert.
You are going to need freezer space
If you are really looking to save money, buying yellow sticker items is a good place to start. But they are reduced because they are going out of date, so you either need to eat them very soon or freeze them. I still have a few pies in the freezer that will help to keep the cost of future meals down.
Of course, if you are anything like me, chances are you might just forget about them all together until you finally decided to defrost the freezer because you can no longer close it and find a lump of conjoined food at the back with no real expiry date and dont dare watch it defrost for fear of what might emerge from the ice (nope, never done that before…. Never….)
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Here's a top tip. Make sure you can actually freeze them. (No, I didnt make that mistake and end up binning a microwavable ready meal because the mash potatoes had begun to separate into some sort of jellied mush).
It was not always healthy
OK, I am the first to say that I dont always get my five-a-day.
But I am mindful about the food I feed my son. Pie for three days is not OK, so I couldnt actually feed my family solely on items bought with yellow stickers. It was often the case that you could get the main protein, fish, pie, cold meats, but needed to be supplemented with food from the cupboards.
You are going to have to look differently at sell by dates
I have been known to eat out-of-date food. Now when I say out-of-date, I mean after the sell by date, the use by date is something else entirely and should be treated with caution. Sell by and best before just mean that the produce isnt at its best after that date, but you can still eat it.
Food hygiene stories
That said, yoghurts are often yellow stickered, and they are already off right? Well, yeah, I ate them past their use by dates, and I lived, they smelt and looked fine. I am not suggesting you do this, or that it is a money-saving hack, but just something I am OK with. I am only talking a day or two. And I never do this with meat because that would be stupid.
Really check the savings
Sometimes the reduction just wasnt worth it. A few pennies off something you werent really going to buy isnt really a bargain. And if you are not keen on it, it can create unnecessary food waste.
Food and Drink
Sometimes the cupboard was bare
We all know the evenings are the best for the yellows, but sometimes you can be too early and there would be nothing there.
We found that between 8pm and 9pm was the best. If you get there too late it will have already been cleared out by other bargain hunters. There are always two specs to scope out and each local supermarket has a different place (sneaky, I know).
Usually there is a metal rack filled with breads at the back by the rest of the bakery items – but sometimes they will throw you off guard and put it at the front by the entrance where your elbows are your new weapon of choice to get the best deal.
And then there is the fridge section; a lone section of fridge space that a stealthy staff member comes and fills, quickly, before the rush, before they are elbowed. Here you will find the cold meats, yoghurts and other fridge produce.
Eating & drinking out
You can buy odd food combinations
So, my husband is keen for a bargain, sometimes to the point where I started to think it had clouded his judgement.
Five pence fish is not something I think is appetising and yet they are there in the freezer right now.
I cant bring myself to cook them, I am not sure I ever will. But the yellow sticker does something to you.
It can make you think four tubs of hummus are a good idea, because they are just 10p, why not? You have got to keep a level head when you see the yellows, be cool. Look at the item and ask yourself, Am I really going to eat this today?
If the answer is no, put it down and step away from the reduced section before your husband comes up behind you and whispers “go on, you know you want to buy them… six pieces of squid for less than a pound… we never eat squid at home, but less than a pound….”
This was an experiment I never want to replicate and is very much based on chance.
But, it did force me to think out some meals and use up food I might have just thrown away.
If you aim to go shopping at 8pm you are bound to wander into some sort of bread-based bargain, but only if it was already on your list or you know that you are definitely going to eat it or freeze it.