By Ria Newman
THIS WOMAN has saved more than twenty-thousand-pounds in nine years by eating reduced sticker foods – and she hasn’t spent a penny in two months.
Civil servant Laura Gaga (40) from London, UK, has been scouring supermarkets for bargains for the past nine years after a colleague introduced her to reduced sticker groceries in 2011.
As a student, Laura frittered money away on clothes and socialising, regularly being overdrawn and taking out loans to repay her credit card bills.
She became more responsible in adulthood but was a fussy eater and would regularly spend £50 a week at the supermarket on plain meals like spaghetti Bolognese and shepherd’s pie.
But once she discovered how to sniff out a bargain buy, shopping became a ‘huge high’ and Laura was ‘giddy’ with her success, experimenting more with vegetables and spices.
Over the course of nine years, Laura estimates she has saved around £20,000 by drastically cutting back on her weekly shop, going from £50 a week to just £10.
If she doesn’t know a shop’s schedule for reducing food, she keeps track of staff with the yellow sticker guns, keeps an eye on customers loitering in the aisle and asks staff members to ensure she doesn’t miss out on a bargain.
Laura finds it easy to stay healthy with budget options and is more mindful of her nutrients after going vegan in January 2018. She is quick to snap up staples like pulses, legumes and nuts when they are reduced.
One supermarket reduced haul of fruit, yoghurt, houmous, sausages, cakes, Pukka pies and more should have cost more than £50, but Laura paid just £13.29.
She was down to spending just £10 per week on groceries but hasn’t spent a penny since September 2020 after rediscovering the Olio app which helps connect people to neighbours and shops so unwanted food doesn’t go to waste.
Laura decided to see how long she could go without food shopping after she collected a haul of three large bags of food given to her by a woman moving to a new house. These bags included opened packets of spices, pasta, lentils, beans, and tinned tomatoes.
She has also picked up hauls of reduced items that weren’t purchased in shops, all completely free. Recent items have included a Ginsters vegan pastry, a mushroom cottage pie ready meal and three cartons of Mighty Pea plant-based milk.
She decided to challenge herself by seeing how long she could go without buying groceries and is now in her third month. As well as Olio, Laura collects unwanted food from family and friends, and has picked grapes and fallen apples at a local vineyard and orchard.
Laura says the key is to not be fussy and not have a specific shopping list. Instead, she keeps staples like fruit and vegetables in the house, often freezing them to make them last longer, and chooses her meals around what freebies she picks up.
Now, she enjoys bending recipes to suit what she has at home, making treats like chocolate brownies using chickpea water, peanut butter and dairy-free chocolate spread and experimenting with new flavours.
Another creation was a potato, lentil and green bean curry made using surplus foods from Olio, including a tin of green beans with a best before date of 2018.
“Money used to burn a hole in my pocket as a child, and as a student I was forever in my overdraft,” Laura said.
“I ran up credit and store cards on clothes, shoes and socialising, then take out loans to repay my overdraft.
“I became more responsible with money as I matured and settled into full-time employment, but with food I was still spending fifty-pounds a week on groceries.
“In 2011, a work friend brought a yellow sticker meal into the office for his lunch. I’d never really noticed reduced priced foods before, but after that I started looking for them.
“As soon as I started spotting them, I was on a huge high. I felt ecstatic and even a bit giddy to grab a bargain. I loved working out how much it should have cost and comparing the difference in price.
“I was constantly telling everyone about my bargains and thinking about what meals I could make with them. It was such a change after being so fussy with my food. As a child my staple meal would be rice mixed with ketchup, and my family always joked about how fussy I was even into my late twenties.
“I’d eat the same foods over and over, the same choices whenever I dined out and I’d always choose very plain foods. If I had a burger at a fast food chain, I’d want only small onions, no cheese and the gherkins removed.
“Now that I am more limited by whatever is on offer, I experiment with what I can find and make a lot out of a little. I recently made homemade baked beans for breakfast using mung beans.
“Shopping from the reduced crate has widened the range of foods I eat. Seeing the food marked down encourages me to buy them and create different meals. No one would consider me a fussy eater these days.”
In September 2020, Laura rediscovered Olio – a mobile app for food-sharing that aims to reduce food waste.
“I was amazed at what I collected from the app. There was so much that I knew I couldn’t justify shopping for the time being,” Laura said.
“I decided to see how long I could go for and I’m now in my third month. Some of it is from supermarkets at the end of the day, and other items are local people who have unwanted food that they don’t want to chuck. I also get surplus food from family and friends.
“I am partial to a holiday and take up any chance to travel – and with the money I’ve saved, I can. Aside from my mortgage, I have no outstanding debts, no loans, overdrafts, and no balance on my credit card.
“This is a way of life for me now. It’s become the norm, so I even take it for granted at times. When I see other people’s responses to my hauls I’m reminded of how impressive the savings are.”