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Making Grocery Shopping Work for You

Grocery shopping
Image by KitAy

Ah, grocery shopping. The bane of my existence. At least, it used to be the bane of my existence.

Can you hear the hope infused in those words? Used to be.

Listen. I stink at plenty of things when it comes to home management. I'm still such a work in progress. So, don't hate me when I say that this is one thing I've figured out how to do well.

Today I'm going to share my secrets for successful grocery shopping. I should probably make a fancy infomercial, and sell these secrets on late night television for big bucks, but because I'm such a generous gal I'm going to let you in on my strategy for free.

This post isn't really about saving money at the grocery store--although some of the tips I mention will have that as a side benefit. This is really about how to take the headache out of grocery shopping and get it done quickly and efficiently. One trip to the store--no darting in and out all week long. Arriving with a plan and getting the job done instead of wandering the aisles aimlessly. That's what I'm going for here. Are you ready?

1. I start with a menu plan.
OK, I know that for many of you, this is a total no-brainer. You may find it hard to imagine that I, along with other naturally disorganized and scatterbrained home managers, would actually go to the grocery store and just put random things in our carts hoping it all works out in the end. But some of us do operate that way. And that's how I used to shop! But no more.

Every Friday (or occasionally Saturday morning), I sit down and plan every single meal for the week including snacks. I figure out exactly what ingredients and supplies I need for every day and put it on the list. I think about events to which I might need to bring a dish, guests we might be hosting, etc. No stone gets left unturned here.

2. I keep an ongoing list.
Any time I see that we are running low on something, I write it on the grocery list immediately. Sometimes I try to trick myself into thinking that I'll just do it in a minute, but for the most part I know that if I don't do it right that second, I'll forget about it. Generally, this is how I keep up with staple items in the pantry.

Secondly, if there is anything that I can't find or can't afford at the grocery store that is on my list, I make sure to transfer it to my next week's ongoing list. Since I started shopping with cash, I find that things can be a bit tighter, and sometimes I find myself needing to put something back that I don't absolutely have to have for that particular week. But I make sure to transfer it over, because if it's a staple item, I'll probably need it for sure the following week.

3. I schedule the time that works best for me.
Part of what I used to hate about grocery shopping was the difficulty of taking my small children with me to the store. Inevitably, I would end up going when they were tired or hungry. Tired and hungry children do not mix well with grocery shopping. (I think I hear a sister shouting "Amen!" from somewhere in Internetland.)

So, now I plan to go Saturday mornings when my husband is home and can stay with the littles. This ensures a faster trip, greater ability to focus on the task at hand, and more fun time with my family in the end. I've also found Saturday mornings to be surprisingly less crowded. Plus, I find some of the best markdowns at my particular grocery store on Saturday mornings.

Now. For the tip of all tips. This one coming up is really the one that has saved me more time than all the others combined. (This is the one that's infomercial worthy.) Can you handle the suspense?

4. I mapped out my store.
I had experimented with various online shopping lists that had categories for certain food items. Produce, baked goods, meat and seafood, frozen foods, etc. But I found that I still ended up wandering back to an aisle or two looking for something that was out of place or didn't fit on the premade list. Frequently, I would spend an inordinate amount of time looking for something that didn't seem to be anywhere! Then I would spend more time looking for an employee (why do they all disappear when you need them?). Finally, I would find the taco shells with the Matzah bread.

So, I took matters into my own hands. One day when I had lots of time (and no children), I took a notebook to the store and walked every aisle. I recorded every single item I typically buy and the aisle on which it was found. In fact, I even wrote down what order these items appeared on the shelves as I was walking through. This took quite a bit of time initially. Oh, but the time it has saved me since!

I now have a master grocery list on my computer for this particular grocery store. I print off several at a time to keep in my home management journal. Each week I transfer one to my active list spot, check off the items I need throughout the week, add to it when I make my menu, and then BAM! I speed through the grocery store like a Nascar driver.

My present record is 45 minutes. That is I'm gone from my home for 45 minutes. I walk out the door and 45 minutes later, I walk back in with all my groceries. Pretty cool, huh?

Now, I realize that some of you are multiple store shoppers. That simply means that this could take you that much longer to put together. But, it also means that it will save you that much more time in the end. Occasionally, I do shop at another store in town that I haven't mapped out. And when I do. . .the misery and despair hits me afresh. So, try it!

And that, my friends, is how I made grocery shopping work for me!


Jenn @ Beautiful Calling said...

You have been a busy poster today!

BC (before children) my husband and I grocery shopped as our date night. Pizza and shopping. That was also BB (before budget!). We were one of those couples who would stroll around the store and just randomly put whatever caught our eye into the cart. It was lovely.
Now that we are on a budget and I have a baby and two year old...our grocery shopping night is not working out so hot!
I'll try the itemized MENU, and making a MAP and try it for a MONTH. I'll let you know how it goes :)

Brianna @ Heart(h) Management said...

Look at you being all alliterative! :) This was supposed to automatically post at midnight for Wednesday--wonder what happened? My other scheduled posts have been acting funny, too. Oh, well--better late than not at all!

Yes, let me know how it goes, Jenn!

Jodee Leader said...

Holy moly! Are we sisters? I do this exact same thing! I have a master (typed) grocery list on the frig and it corresponds to the aisles in the grocery store I shop at. We just check things off as we run out of them. Check out here for my post on this:


Happy meal planning!

Gina said...

I'm one of those multiple-store gals, but I still do it with a menu plan, a stockpile list, a planned out trip, two toddlers, and very early in the morning (better for the kids, me, and the grocery store workers). It's going okay. I do think about shopping less often, but I think it would cost me much more than what I'm doing now.

Sherry said...

I'm a multi-store gal too. I only do it once every two weeks though. My hubby and kids sometimes go. They learn shopping, too. :D Mapping out the stores definitely helps to make it easier and faster. :D

Hadley said...

I really need to do this. I might go get a cup of coffee and get to work.

I agree that making a detailed menu is a wonderful idea. I've been doing the minimum planning - dinner time - and we are not having very delicious or nutricious lunches and snacks around here!

Anonymous said...

Sister geeks unite! I have a master grocery list too, and though my friends laugh at my nerdiness because it's organized according to the layout of my store, they DO NOT laugh when I'm out of the store in half the time it takes them to shop. Hey, it pays to be organized and know your territorry.

(Yes, why are the sprinkles with the oatmeal?)

Amanda @ Mommy's Idea Book said...

I agree, the organized shopping list is the best time saver ever. I have been doing my list by aisle for a while and I bet it has cut my shopping time by at least a third, if not in half.

You're right, those pre-made on-line grocery lists just don't quite cut it.

I set up my by-aisle list on a spreadsheet with lines in between each aisle, then I added what I needed to buy each week, or took off what I didn't need. That way the only things listed on my sheet were what I actually had to buy that week.

Great tips!!

Brianna @ Heart(h) Management said...

@ Jodee: I couldn't access your post, but I'm glad that someone else has figured this out. (It doesn't surprise me, but does put a damper on any plans to take it in the direction of infomercials.)

@ homesweetcircus: Yes, why ARE there things in such crazy places?

Anonymous said...

Dad's already in the process of publishing it on the internet for $9.95. LOL
So proud of you! But do you use turn signals?

Brianna @ Heart(h) Management said...

@ Mom: No, but I probably should for the safety of all involved. Tell Dad that everything he finds here is under copyright.

Sarah H. said...

Awesome! I do all those things too...it really helps to save time!!

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