Personal Finance

NimbleFins Tips | How To Get Free (Or Cheap) Food

Many of our readers are keen to save money on food, so we've researched ways to get free or cheap food from different sites and stores across the UK. If you know of any other good ideas, please tell us and other readers in the comments!

With the recent rise in the cost of living, keeping an eye on your finances couldn't be more pressing. As well as considering more significant expenses such as the cost of rent or a mortgage along with energy bills, the cost of food is another essential commodity that has recently been subject to dramatic price hikes.

A recent NimbleFins survey found that the average UK household spends £3,312 on groceries and a further £1,716 on takeaways or restaurants per year. In total, this gives an average yearly spend of £5,028 on food. When compared against the average UK salary of £24,600, this would suggest the average household is currently spending approximately 20.5% of their salary on food.

For those who are worried about increasing living costs or simply want to reduce their total spend on food, we've compiled some of the best resources to help you find food for free or at a heavily reduced cost.

Apps For Cheap Food

Food may cost more than it ever did, but that doesn't mean we're any better at using it up in its entirety. In particular, retailers and restaurants often have a surplus of food left over, and unless this is purchased or given to employees, it will end up in landfill.

In recent years, a number of schemes have been set up to reduce food waste, and this solution means people are able to purchase leftover goods at an absolute steal. In some cases the food is completely free. While various cheap food apps exist, Too Good To Go and Olio are two of the most prominent food apps in the UK.

Too Good To Go Food App

Like many cheap food apps, Too Good To Go has a dual purpose in that it helps to fight food waste by repurposing unsold food in shops and restaurants, while also making it possible for people to purchase food at a heavily discounted price.

Too Good To Go is updated daily, and the contents will depend on the participating stores or restaurants near you. For example, you can order a 'magic bag', in which the contents of your order are a surprise. Or, you can order bags categorised by size, whereby you'll be told what the bag contains before you can order it. Bags can also be categorised by food type, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, baked goods, vegetarian, supermarkets or general groceries.

Depending on the retailer, it's possible to pick up a Too Good To Go bag at short notice or reserve well in advance, which is extremely beneficial for planning ahead with your meals or budgeting.

A quick scan of the participating stores and restaurants in London found a Pret lunch bag for £4 with a £12 retail value, with 50% of the profits also being given to the Pret Foundation, which helps poverty, homeless and hunger.

Elsewhere, we found a £3.75 Leon bag worth £11.09 and a £3 magic bag worth £10 from Spar. In total, the app has almost 20 million users, and its popularity continues to grow year on year.

Olio Food App

Olio is yet another food app that allows you to get food that would otherwise go to waste. However, the food is available from individual households rather than shops or restaurants.

Once again, the idea with Olio to reduce waste but within your community specifically. Best of all, everything on Olio is free, aside from a 'borrow' section relating to non-food related items such as household appliances or tools.

Setting our location to London revealed over 20,000 'Olioers' nearby. What's handy here is that you can also type in an ingredient or food type, allowing you to get specific with the foods you may need for a particular meal. So, if you're running short for that spaghetti bolognese or Sunday roast, Olio will ensure you don't have to fork out any more for your meal, while simultaneously connecting you with those nearby who you may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Our search revealed all the essentials such as bread, milk, fruit and vegetables as well as pastries and other delicacies available for free in our area.

Fast Food Apps

Fast food outlets such as McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Krispy Kreme, Subway, Greggs and Burger King will often reward users for downloading and interacting with their apps by offering free food for doing so.

For example, you can receive a free Krispy Kreme doughnut just for downloading the Krispy Kreme app or a free side at KFC when you sign up for the KFC app.

In addition, many fast food outlets will also have special prizes and incentives for app users, not to mention the ability to build loyalty points which can also be redeemed against free food.

End Of Day Discounts - Yellow Sticker Food

Refrigerated foods and baked goods have a short shelf life, meaning supermarkets also have to battle food waste if such goods aren't purchased in time.

End of day discounts offer the perfect solution while also allowing you to snag a bargain. Often, discounted perishable food will be placed in a certain corner or shelf within the store with a yellow sticker attached. Most commonly, goods will be placed in the reduced section towards the store's closing time as the item nears the end of its use by or best before date.

The type of food available will vary per supermarket and even per day. But, expect to see the costs of any goods that do have a yellow sticker attached reduced from pounds to pence.

Dine At A Training Restaurant

Those studying to work in hospitality, including in the kitchen and front of house need to gain qualifications to be able to get employment in their chosen career. To do this, they attend courses and carry out practical assessments, which you can be a part of as a restaurant diner.

As well as helping students to gain experience, you'll also get a cheap meal out of it, with one training restaurant offering a three-course meal for just £8.50 per person. Even in regular restaurants that are on the cheaper side of the market, a similar meal offering could cost £30, and for high end restaurants, the cost can easily total three figures.

Food Coupons

Akin to the methods seen on Extreme Couponing, it's also possible to use coupons to receive free goods or obtain generous discounts on supermarket goods or food delivery apps.

As well as looking out for coupons given out by loyalty schemes printed on supermarket receipts, voucher codes also have a section that's dedicated to cheap food, drink and grocery deals. Likewise, Honey is a browser extension that automatically scans for coupons on your behalf whenever you're at an online checkout.

Wholesale Food

There are many wholesale food specialists who supply restaurants, the catering trade, local councils and more—yet retain their retail operations. For example, a quick Google map search for 'wholesale butcher near me' can turn up butchers like Heanens in London who can be a source of restaurant-quality meat for really good value. Many offer home delivery, too.

Supermarket Loyalty Cards

The majority of supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Lidl and Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have reward cards that allow you to collect points to redeem against your shopping, plus a whole host of other benefits.

Although not strictly a supermarket, Boots also has a Parenting Club Card giving you 8p back for every £1 spent, with the store being particularly popular for baby food and newborn formula deals.

Compared with doing your weekly shop and not totting up points each time, it's well worth being rewarded with free or discounted items at your favourite supermarket or store. You could even save the points up for a rainy day, so long as you check that your points won't expire.

Also take a look at our UK grocery cards comparison. With a Nectar Credit Card, if you spend £2,000 in the first three months, you'll receive £100, which you could put towards your weekly shop. This option could be handy if the £2,000 was used to pay for regular expenditures that you would have had to pay for anyway, meaning no additional expenses will be incurred, and you'll receive points in return.

Wonky Veg Boxes

While you’d think that only the condition of the vegetable should matter, retailers find items which aren’t aesthetically pleasing actually don't sell very well, once again causing food waste.

Many supermarkets now have a 'wonky veg' section located near the checkouts or at the front of the store to combat the issue. Often, it's possible to purchase a large crate of vegetables for as little as £1, making it easier than ever to stay healthy and reduce food waste, all whilst saving money in the process.

Forage For Free Food

Don't forget that nature can also be a source of free food in the form of foraging. Although foraging isn't designed to replace healthy, nutritious meals, it can be a way of creating a delicious sweet snack or even brewing your own custom beverages for a greatly reduced cost.

Some of the foods that can be obtained from foraging include raspberries, blackberries, sloe berries, bilberries, elderflowers, samphire and dandelions. So whether you decide to make a sumptuous berry crumble with blackberries and raspberries, or even a spot of sloe gin with gin berries, the star ingredients can often be found for free.

Of course, always ensure you forage for food in areas where it is both legal and safe to do so. Check the plant you are picking is correct, and also be sure to leave enough of the item behind for wildlife.

Brushing up on food foraging regulations is always advised for those new to the practice to ensure you don't fall foul of the law, and likewise that the produce you pick is of good enough quality to consume.

Food Banks

For those who are seriously struggling to put food on the table, there is help available in the form of food banks. While the idea of visiting a food bank can seem daunting, those who have set such organisations up are there to provide help and support when you need it most.

If you're unsure where to find your nearest food bank, Trussell Trust has created a list of food banks across the UK to make it easy to access the help you need. It's also worth asking within your local community as new food banks continue to pop up all the time in the wake of the cost of living crisis.

Who Qualifies For Food Banks?

Every food bank will have its own set of criteria when it comes to who is eligible for support.

However, you’ll usually need a referral to a food bank, with on_current="true" url="https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/help-if-on-a-low-income/using-a-food-bank/" title="How to use a food bank" nofollow="true"Citizens Advice[/link being one such resource that can provide food bank referrals.

To ensure you are not turned away from a food bank, it's also a good idea to take any documentation with you that proves you are currently unable to feed yourself or your family.

Free & Cheap Food FAQs

How To Get Free Food

Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for free food from a food bank. For general money saving or waste reduction, Olio allows you to find people giving away food for free near you.

How To Save Money On Food

Delete food delivery apps to reduce the temptation of buying a costly takeaway. In addition, plan your food shopping in advance so that you’ll only purchase what you need. Batch cooking can also make the food you do purchase last for longer, especially if you focus on goods that can be frozen which offer a better shelf life.

How To Eat Healthy On A Budget

Look to incorporate healthy snacks, particularly fruit such as apples, tangerines and bananas in your diet, which don't require cooking to eat. If you have a juicer or blender, then it's possible to make delicious, filling healthy drinks that cram in lots of vitamins and nutrients with every sip. Also, switch to low-cost supermarkets such as Lidl, Aldi or Asda which sell healthy food at a vastly reduced cost.

How To Save Money On Food Shopping

As well as writing and sticking to a shopping list and only shopping in low-cost supermarkets, a handy tip is to only go food shopping after eating. Many studies have shown that shopping for food on an empty stomach can lead to making impulse purchases, in addition to purchasing unhealthy foods to satisfy cravings.

Which Restaurant Apps Give Free Food?

Most fast food restaurants, including McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Subway, offer free food in exchange for downloading their app. Some restaurants will give you a coupon for free food after signing up, and others may offer incentives, including free or discounted food over time. You can also receive a free cookie from Subway on your birthday for signing up for their loyalty card.

In Summary

Although the rising cost of food is naturally a worry for many households, a positive note is there have never been so many apps and resources where free or heavily reduced food can be found. In particular, many apps also help those who are struggling with the cost of food while preventing food waste in the process. Before you do your next supermarket shop, it is definitely worth seeing which rewards, coupons or discounts you can pick up, in addition to signing up for a points card. If you’re struggling with the cost of food, then don’t hesitate to seek help from Citizen’s Advice or any similar community initiative.

Rachael O'Flaherty

Rachael O’Flaherty is a freelance writer who graduated from Teesside University in 2012. Her background is in digital marketing and journalism, with a particular interest in money saving hacks. For more information, see Rachael's Linked In profile.

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