Friday, September 7, 2012

My Strategies for Tackling Grocery Shopping Effectively

I used to have a very difficult time grocery shopping.  I would go to the grocery unprepared, and just go off memory the things I thought I wanted to buy for the week.  Needless to say I frequently forgot things I needed, requiring 2nd and 3rd trips to the store, but I also ended up buying a lot of junk food and impulse items that were a bust for my budget and waistline.  These days I am much more organized, and it is so much easier to get the weekly shopping done, even though I go to 3 stores to do it.  I rarely go over my budget, I only occasionally miss something, and I seldom buy impulse items.  What are my strategies?  Two things:  Plan ahead and make a list.

The first thing I do to tackle my weekly shopping is I sit down and plan a menu for the week.  I've made this easier for myself by making another of my family's go-to dinners.  I have made a list in Word that is categorized by type of meat, or pasta or miscellaneous for things like breakfasts for dinner or soup and sandwiches.  I can only afford 2 or 3 "big" meals a week where I buy meat or ones that require a lot of ingredients.  The other days are more simplified with things like spaghetti or sandwiches.  So i start off with the "big" dinners that I try to base on what's on sale at the grocery that week.  I get my store's sale flier in my email every Tuesday, and I go through it and make a mini list on my shopping list of sale items that I like and use frequently with their prices.  (My store has a price guarantee policy, so if I write down the sale price I can make sure I get my guarantee.)  Then I fill in the other days with my "easy and cheap" dinners, and one day a week is reserved for Take reprieve from cooking duties for a day.  It's crazy, though, because I don't usually even eat the take out, so I have to make myself something else AND I'm the one who has to go get it.  Half the time I think it would be easier to make another dinner!  But also Jeff pays for the take out, which gives my grocery allowance a little break and saves me from having to skimp more on our dinners.

Sometimes I take the dinner list around to each family member and tell them to choose 1 dinner.  That way I'm sure to be making something each night that someone requested.  And sometimes they say, "You can thank me for this dinner tonight!"  lol.

After I plan a menu by choosing off my Dinner List I start my grocery list.  There are many ways to do a grocery list.  Some people categorize by food group, others by aisle.  I prefer to do mine by each meal of the day; dinners, breakfast foods and lunches, and miscellaneous.  Find a method that works for you, but I'll go ahead and show you what my list looks like each week to give you some ideas.  Here is a pic of how it is arranged, and you can click on it for a larger view.
I fold the paper in half, lengthwise.  On the top right half I start by writing down the sale items and prices, so I can try to plan some things around what's on sale.  Next, I move to the other side and plan my daily dinner menu.  Then I go to the top of the page and list the ingredients each day I will need to make those dinners.  On the right side I divide the space up between lunch and breakfast items.  There is a place under the daily ingredients where I put miscellaneous items that don't fit into a category.  Last, I have a small space on the bottom left to put in snack items.  It's a small space for a reason! :)

I mentioned earlier that I shop at three different stores each week.  I go even further by highlighting, using a different color for each store, the items I will buy at each place.  I know pretty well which items are least expensive at which store, so it's a quick scan process, but it makes shopping day sooo much easier.  All I have to do is look for yellow items when I'm at Wal-Mart, or orange items when I'm at Fry's and green when I'm at Sprouts.  I'm also a little obsessive about my shopping lists because I take it one step further and write the estimated prices of each item above the item, then I go through, add up the totals, and make sure I'm within my weekly budget.  If I'm too high I go back and make changes.  I pretty much have my list-making down to a science and it only takes about 30-45 minutes of my time.  But the difference having a list makes when doing the shopping is worth so much more than a few minutes of one of my days.

While I'm shopping I have in hand a calculator to add up my groceries as I'm going along to make sure I estimated accurately and that I'm staying within budget and a pen to mark off the items as they go in my cart.

After my shopping is done I cut out the weekly menu and put it on the front of my refrigerator.  Just because I wrote down "tuna casserole" or whatever on Monday doesn't mean I'm required to have it on Monday.  By putting the list on the refrigerator I can a) remember what I planned for the week and b) each morning choose one meal from the week that I will make that day.  I know that Tuesdays and Thursdays are football practice for Matthew and night class for Sami, so I don't choose involved dinners on those days.   I know that Saturdays and Sundays are usually better for the more involved dinners.  Fridays are usually Take Out.  But, our schedule and plans often change so I also need to be flexible.

My method does not have to be the one you adopt, but I highly recommend finding a way to make a list that works for you.  Using a list, in the long run, will save you time, money and calories...and for me it also saves a lot of stress!

Do you have suggestions that work well for you and might be helpful to others?  Leave your ideas in the comments and share them with everyone.  If you'd like you can drop me a line at

Shop Happy and Smart!
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