I like organization and lists—especially when I go grocery shopping. I always feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices and food available at supermarkets. Even with the intention to make a quick trip to pick up one item, I easily get side tracked by fancy displays for new products and my sudden urge for cookies. Until I started using Mint.com and saw how much I spent shopping, I didn’t make myself accountable for how much I spent on food. I also ran out of room to put my newly purchased food away because I had so much already in my cabinets.
As a result, I decided to use my go-to-tool for my own accountability—a list. Specifically, a grocery list. However, this list contains more than just the items I plan to buy. It’s a road map for efficient and money-conscious grocery shopping.
Start with a list
Making a list of items you need helps start you on the right track to efficient grocery shopping. Ask yourself what items you use most often, what items need to be replenished, and what items you’ll need to prepare meals throughout the week.
Look actively throughout your kitchen so you don’t end up buying multiple or too much of one thing. Having duplicate items in your pantry can be helpful; however, you want to make sure those items get used rather than tossed in the trash. Also carefully searching your kitchen can help you pinpoint things you need to replace.
Look through your Sunday newspaper
Once you have a list you feel meets your needs, look through the ads and coupons in your Sunday paper. Compare prices for items at different stores and mark next to the items on your list which store offers the cheapest price. Also look for coupons. If you can find a coupon for an item already on sale at the store that’s extra cash in your pocket!
Just be careful. Often coupons stipulate a certain quantity you’ll have to buy to redeem the coupon. Ask yourself if it’s worth your time and money to buy five boxes of cereal to get .50 cents off all five boxes. Will you use five boxes of cereal before they go stale? If you answered no, it’s probably best just to go with one box.
Plan which stores you need to visit
You’ve got your list of items, which stores have these items on sale, and all your coupons organized, so you’re ready to hop in your car and go, right? Not quite…
Look over your list again. If you have 15 items on your list and three of them are on sale at the store on the other side of town, is it worth your time and gas to drive there for just three things? Probably not. Maybe you can get those couple of things at the store you plan to go to or maybe you can get them later in the week on another shopping trip or on the way home from work.
Eat a snack or meal before you go
Now you’re ready to hit the store, but you feel that slight hunger pain in your stomach. Before you rush out the door, take the time to eat a healthy snack before shopping as it cuts down on impulse buys at the store.
Numerous studies, like the one done by University College London, note that drops in metabolism due to hunger push us to make more rash choices. Once the same participants ate, researchers found that people in the study made more informed decisions.
I know I’m super irritable when I’m hungry and the last thing I want to do is immerse myself in a place full of delicious food. So not only am I hungry and cranky, everything looks amazingly good—especially that bag of processed potato chips. When I’m hungry, I don’t think clearly and make poor choices. All I can think about is how I want to be done with shopping so I can eat. Consequently, I rush through the store grabbing whatever entices my appetite and takes the least amount of effort to prepare. Before I know it, my cart is full of junk food and microwaveable meals. When I’m not hungry at the store, I tend to think about healthier meal choices and stay away from the snack food aisle altogether.
Stick to your list
You finally made it to the store! Now stick to the list you committed time to making. If you have ten items on it, focus on where to locate those items in the store. Pass up the end caps with sale items and the person giving out free samples. These are all marketing tactics to get you to spend more money.
Actively cross items off your list as you put them in the cart; this helps you continue to whittle down your list as you move through the store to your next item distraction free. Once you cross everything off your list, head straight to the register ignoring the candy bars that surround you at the checkout.
Taking time to prepare and think about what you need when you go grocery shopping will help save you time and money later. Additionally, thinking about the items you buy weekly may help you make healthier choices when purchasing food for you and your family. Before your next shopping trip, try making a list to keep your budget and health on track.