Grocery Shop Like a Boss
I might as well be five.
Grocery stores have me looking at every colorful sign and red price slash mark sale.
It’s easy to get distracted. Even with a list and a plan.
I used to find myself spending way too much time at a grocery store and when I got back I realized I didn’t even buy everything I needed.
Finally I created a system that has made my shopping experience ten times easier (plus I actually got everything on my list).
In this article I will teach you how I construct my shopping lists, practical advice for navigating any grocery store, plus a bonus list of over a dozen ways to save money shopping.
How to Make a Shopping List
1. know what you need
The first step in making a shopping list is knowing what you need.
I create my grocery list based on that weeks meal plan. Once I have the meal plan in front of me I can easily see which ingredients I will need to make each dish. I start filling out my shopping chart (download shopping my shopping list) based on like items.
When you are in the store it doesn’t make sense to go from getting butter, then apples, and back to the dairy section for yogurt. Having similar food items grouped together on your list means less back and forth throughout the store.
My shopping chart groups like items together (which I would love for you to use!). But if you are using an app on your phone or a plane old piece of paper just make sure you have similar food items in the same place. It will save you lots of time.
2. take inventory
Once you have all the food items written down in your shopping chart make sure you don’t already have what you need. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see if you are about to buy something you already have.
3. separate by store
I do this with three highlighters. My usual shopping locations are Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Costco. And I will hit all three in one day because I’m crazy like that. If you want to fill out three separate lists (one for each store) that’s fine with me. Know what you need to get for that shopping trip and write down what you need accordingly.
4. feed yourself first
I know this literally has nothing to do with making a list. However, I’ve never had a successful shopping trip where I got everything on my list when I was hangry.
I will be thinking about chips when I’m looking at cucumbers and I’ll mindlessly forget the very thing I was trying to check off my list. Do yourself a favor and sit down and eat something filling before you head off to the store.
5 Quick Grocery Shopping Tips
1. stay on the outside
As a general rule of thumb junk food in the center aisles of the store. Chips, dips, cookies, and ice cream will all get you caught in the middle of most grocery stores. Try to stay on the perimeter and avoid the ‘inside’. If you are diving in to an aisle for a specific item on your list think of it as a “get in and get out” scenario.
This can be a very fun game for kids – a secret mission to get one item and hurry back to the bin of apples. The center aisles can be rivers of lava or a deep hidden maze. It’s astounding how quick they will forget that they wanted Oreos when they have a fun task at hand.
2. tired, hungry, rushed
Three strikes you’re out. Any of these, let alone all of them put together is a disaster waiting to happen. My favorite time to shop is after breakfast when I’m fed, alert, and energized.
3. avoid peak hours
I know this doesn’t work for everyones schedule, however, if you can avoid heading to the store at peak hours your shopping experience will dramatically improve.
The best time is generally 8:00-10:00 am and 2:00-5:00 pm when there are the least amount of shoppers in the store.
If you are going after work it’s likely you are hungry and trying to come up with a dinner idea fast. Usually we all end up buying things that wasn’t on our list and isn’t the best for our bellies.
You know your list. Don’t be swayed by the sales. For instance, buy one get one half off [insert favorite junk food] packages.
5. stick to your list
Sound redundant? Grocery store layouts are designed to get you to buy things that you don’t need. If you took the time to itemize your pantry, make a meal plan, and write out a list then you deserve to follow it through.
How to Save Money on Groceries
stick to your list
Make a shopping list and stick to it. Don’t wander in grocery stores. We all inevitably end up in the center of the store somewhere between cereals and cookies. Respect the list.
you don’t need to fill your cart
Only have a few items? Grab a basket. If you know you are going to need a cart – don’t feel like you don’t have enough stuff if it isn’t filled to the brim (and see above).
eat with the seasons
If you buy fresh berries in winter it will not be cheap. Eating with the seasons will ensure fresher produce and less money.
Don’t rule out your farmers market. I often find when produce is in season it will be cheaper at the farmers market than at Whole Foods.
don’t be afraid of frozen food
And don’t be fooled by fake frozen meals. When I’m talking frozen I’m thinking broccoli, fruit, and other whole foods. Beware of bags of frozen vegetables that have added salt, butter, or other ingredients besides said vegetable.
If you know you aren’t going to get through that organic bag of spinach before it rots in your bottom drawer try throwing half in the freezer and adding it to smoothies later.
If there is food you aren’t going to get to before it rots then chop it up or blend it then bag it and have it at a later date. Nothing is worse than seeing delicious fresh food go to waste. Don’t buy what you know you won’t eat.
Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans! I’m obsessed with buying these items in dried bulk bins from grocers. Cooking your own beans is much more cost effective than buying them canned (although I understand the sake of convenience).
In general I have found nuts and seeds to be much cheaper in bulk bins versus boxed by brands. The other great thing about bulk bins is you can buy as much or little of the product as you want.
Buy the generic brand or grocery store brand. Generic brands or the stores brands often have almost identical ingredients. Take the time to do some comparison shopping.
If you’re looking for a specific food item that isn’t readily available in our boring North American cuisine try branching out from your big chain grocery store.
There are small independent grocers that provide authentic food from different cultures. In Seattle I have go to a specific shop I go to just for tahini, another shop for dried mushrooms, and my favorite corner store for spicy chillies.
On top of that – many mom and pop shops have an impressive and affordable selection of fruits and vegetables. A city girls version of a farmers market that is open seven days a week. Try supporting the local little guy.
I’m pretty casual about coupons. Most of the time the offers aren’t for anything I was thinking about buying. Seeing the red slash in the price gives me FOMO, suddenly I feel the need to buy the red meat on sale, even though I’m basically a vegetarian.
Don’t get sucked into buying things you didn’t want or need in the first place. Same goes with sales in your grocery store. Just because it’s a good deal doesn’t mean you should buy it.
If you want to start buying organic but it’s not within you budget to buy strictly organic produce then know your dirty dozen and clean fifteen.
Follow your grocery store’s social media account. They tend to post special deals or discounts that sometimes only apply to followers.
skimp on superfoods
Although nutritionists like myself talk about the benefits of superfoods like chia seeds and bee pollen, you don’t need those specialty items to eat healthy.
Spinach, peppers, and peas all are superfoods to me. If you want to start incorporating some of the nutrient dense superfoods start with ones that really interest you. Slowly over time buy them and incorporate them into your pantry (but only if you want to!).
get in the kitchen
I understand that it’s easier to buy ready made dressings and meals. Becoming connected to your food and the things you are cooking Homemade meals, dressings, cook your own beans, condiments. Less Processed Foods = cheaper and healthier.