Take the downshift challenge to cut grocery costs
Don't believe the hype. Supermarkets say finest - or costliest - is best. But try the Downshift Challenge and you could save 30% a year, without noticing the difference. For a family which spends £100 on their weekly shop, for example, a 30% cut would mean you save a whopping £1,500 over the course of a year.
MSE Update Fri 28 Feb: Supermarket comparison site Mysupermarket has announced it will be closing down on Sunday 1 March. For more details see our Mysupermarket grocery comparison site to close in days MSE News story.
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The gap in price between 'premium' and 'branded' products can be small, and in some cases branded goods may actually be more expensive. When we last checked in October 2016 this was the case with Morrisons, as lots of its own-brand premium range products were on offer.
The best isn't the most costly
Whether it's bacon, biscuits, baked beans or bolognese sauce, if something costs more it's got to be better, right? Wrong. Shops' phrasing and promotional language hypnotises us into thinking the best is the most costly.
While the packaging looks more opulent, look beneath to the actual product you're getting and sometimes you won't be able to tell the difference.
The four main brand levels
Supermarkets separate their products into different categories, using loaded language to give you the choice of how 'luxury' or 'basic' you want to be.
Named with words like 'finest' or 'luxury' to imply it's a treat.
Products like McVitie's Jaffa Cakes or Kellogg's cereal.
These tend to be presented in a similar way to manufacturers' brands, but with the supermarket's own take on it.
With names like 'basic' or 'savers', the presentation is deliberately stark to imply it's cut back to the bones.
Take the Downshift Challenge
To fight back and save big, try the Downshift Challenge. The theory is simple. Drop one brand level on everything to see if you can tell the difference. If you can't, then stick with the cheaper product.
The next time you shop, swap one of everything to something just one brand level lower. So if you usually buy four cartons of Tesco's own-brand orange juice, this time buy three and one Tesco Everyday Value. If you use Asda Extra Special cheddar, drop to Pilgrim's Choice.
The point of this system isn't to force you to drop down a brand level on everything, but to ensure you're not spending money for no reason. If you can't tell the difference with the lower brand level goods, then why pay more for it?
If higher brand goods are on promo, don’t drop
Let's not go too extreme. If there's an offer on a higher brand making it cheaper than downshifting, stick with the higher brand. Try comparing prices on cost per gram.
Taste with your mouth, not your eyes
It's far better to taste with your mouth than your eyes. So try giving family members a blind taste test, with no packaging to ensure it's fair.
Martin once held two consecutive parties for a large group of nurses for a TV show experiment. Unbeknown to them, one was high-brand goods, the other a brand level down. On their voting, the £100s cheaper party won. So never assume costlier means better.
Downshift supermarkets too
You can also try this is at different supermarkets, including some of the pile 'em high type where you can load up on basics, such as Aldi and Lidl. The key to the challenge is trying new things to see whether you're wasting cash by overpaying.
Use coupons to boost the saving
Supermarket coupons can help you get posh brands for less than value. See a full, updated list in the Supermarket Coupons deals note.
Why not draw up a coupon battle plan before hitting the supermarket? Systematically file coupons in a concertina folder, splitting into sections such as meat or veggies.
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Downshift cleaning products and cosmetics
Rather strangely, often people are more likely to stick with branded washing powders, shower gels and other cleaning products than food. Yet these products don't even need tasting and the saving is huge. So try downshifting these too.
Then again, Old Style MoneySavers wouldn't forgive us if we omitted to say you can clean the whole house with white vinegar and lemon juice (read more on Old Style Cleaning and full info in the charity book Thrifty Ways).
Don't assume downshifting is worse nutritionally
Often lower-cost products can be better, as there are fewer flavourings, colourings and chemicals. Always check the label if this is a concern.
Don't stop downshifting
Once you've successfully downshifted, try it again a few weeks later. You may be able to drop yet another brand level on some goods and save more.
Downshift ingredients further
If you're cooking food, half the taste comes from your talents in the kitchen. So often you can get away with downshifting more, as you'll make up for it with time and skill.
Find the tastiest own brands
To help find which own-brands smack the bottoms of posh ranges, read reviews on SupermarketOwnBrand. The site pits own-brands against their brand name rivals and gives a mark out of ten.
Reviews are written by food critic Martin Isark, who's gradually tasting his way through the big supermarkets.
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