Smarter Grocery Shopping on Aisle 5
Your trip to the grocery store once a week, two weeks, or whenever all you have left is moldy bread and a container of mustard, can end up being one of two experiences: quick and painless, or a time and money suck. It’s as simple as that.
This post won’t be about clipping coupons or going to five separate grocery stores just to get the sales on every single item for which you’re looking. Sure, coupons are great. If you happen to come across them, I suggest you look and see if there are any you can use. A couple of places online you can look for coupons that are printable are and .
If you also feel compelled to visit multiple supermarkets, by all means go ahead. I don’t have a car, so I just go to my local ShopRite and get all of my food from there. Luckily, it is not overpriced and I can get everything I need. If you do have a car, weigh the time spent and extra gas used versus the actual savings you’ll get from visiting multiple stores. It wouldn’t be worth it for me, but the choice is ultimately yours.
Stop dreading going to the grocery store today — follow these five easy steps, and you’ll have a constantly stocked kitchen, more money in your wallet, and time on your hands. Common sense? Sure, but if it wasn’t a problem, you wouldn’t be staring at a cupboard with old Cheerios and no milk, would you?
1. Know how much you have budgeted to spend. Whether it is $50 per week or $150 per month, know exactly how much you have to spend for each trip to the grocery store. It’s like calculating your net worth before starting any part of your personal finance plan — you can’t move ahead until you know exactly what you’re working with.
2. Before you leave, take inventory of all the food and drink you need. By digging through your refrigerator and cupboards, you’ll know what is missing and what you already have.
3. Write it down. Write it down. Write it down. This is so important that I wrote it down three times. Three. Write down EVERYTHING that you intend on buying at the grocery store after you’ve taken your inventory. This way you don’t forget anything, and it may trigger any other food you need that you neglected to remember before. I like to write down my list in a reporter’s notebook (we have plenty of those at my office), but feel free to put it on your smartphone, planner, whatever is small enough to carry with you. Which leads to …
4. Take your list with you to the grocery store. What’s the point of writing it down if you don’t take it with you to the supermarket? You need to have a concrete plan — or list — of which groceries you really need to purchase. Remember your list and take some canvas bags. Why canvas bags? I’m not much of an environmentalist, but most stores now will take off 5 cents for each bag you use to checkout (instead of using paper or plastic ones). Not only are they reusable, but they are more durable. They cost one dollar a piece at my local ShopRite. Think of it this way — if you use five canvas bags each week you shop, you’ll save $13 dollars. Is it a lot? Not really, but it’s enough for a few beers at happy hour.
5. Buy everything on your list — nothing more, nothing less. The real reason why lists are great is they keep you grounded. They help keep you disciplined as you rifle through the aisles trying to avoid temptation. As I pick up each item, I like to write down the price of it next to its place on my shopping list. I keep a running total of how much I’m spending so I do not go over my budget. I suggest you do the same.
Really, the key here is knowing ahead of time what you need and writing it down. If you don’t and just tell yourself, “I’m picking up a few things,” you will buy products you didn’t plan on and spend way more than you wanted to.
I know this because I used to work at a supermarket when I was in high school. The aisles and products are set up to purposely entrap you. As a cashier, I can’t tell you how many times I’d hear, “I just came in for a few things,” as I rang up their $100 order. All I know is that I wish I had a dollar for each time it happened. I’d be in early retirement.
Getting smart with your finances also means getting smarter with your spending habits. All the budgeting in the world won’t help if you can’t discipline your spending. Groceries are one small step toward this aim. Today, bread and eggs. Tomorrow? Who knows? Putting yourself in the habit of writing things down and planning ahead of time will not only benefit your finances, it’ll improve all aspects of your life.