Does your grocery shopping seem to take you hours on end every time? Does it leave you exhausted, and with no time, energy OR money to do much else? Do you often over spend, simply because you were not organized enough?
If you are anything like me, then you have definitely struggled with this. Time and time again. You make the “perfect” grocery shopping list, only to forget it on the counter. Or worse, the list wasn’t so perfect in the first place because it was done on a whim.
Yep, I was that girl who spent too much, forgot half the crap she had to buy in the first place, and got home with a crap-ton of groceries after shopping ALL day.
Needless to say, my budget was shot, we had a ton of some things, and zilch of other must-haves. And if you think I cooked after such a tiring day, then you know absolutely nothing about me, the self-proclaimed Cooking Hatress 😉
I was always soooo frustrated with myself. Even when I started using coupons to shop I had trouble keeping my spending of time AND money under control. Unfortunately, bad habits are the hardest to break, and thus it took me ages to get my marbles together.
The good news is that grocery shopping does not have to be such a chore. It’s taken me a while, but I feel like I finally got it. Thru countless, and painful hours of suffering, I think I have now devised what steps are of extreme importance before going grocery shopping. And the best proof I have that this works is that my husband now doesn’t dread going grocery shopping with me on the weekends!
How to plan your grocery shopping trip
I know I have said this before, but I’ll say it again. You need a budget. It’s not a matter of being broke or not. A person who doesn’t have a budget, or doesn’t budget right, could easily burn their money.
Having a budget gives you the best guideline and insight of how you use your resources. A budget is the one tool that allows you to have a measure of control. It completely eliminates the guess work when it comes to your spending.
When setting up your grocery budget, always be honest and realistic. Keep in mind your family size, their special dietary needs (if any), and of course, your income. You simply cannot eat fancy steaks all the time on minimum wage. It’s just not doable, unless you go into debt to live above your means, which I would never recommend.
Check ads and sales
Never, ever shop or meal plan using your “moods” as your guide. Mood shopping is a recipe for financial disaster. Instead, check your local store ads and see what’s on sale at the time. You can then either make a list of what is a really good deal, or circle it in the ad. If you’re checking the ad online, the apps or websites often allow you to create a shopping list there as well.
All stores have sales cycles. Once you have been doing this for a while, you can pretty much prepare so when a screaming deal on meat comes around, you have a little extra cash to stock up. Keep those ads handy. You will need them later.
If your budget is your guide to control your spending, then your meal plan is your cooking guide. If you do not have a meal plan then your shopping is more random. This will undoubtedly lead to overspending, over-stocking, or even frequent take out runs.
Create a meal plan for the week/fortnite/month and use it to help you figure out where your resources (money) need to go. Use the ads to help you decide what you will cook by using (mostly) what’s on currently on sale.
Remember me mentioning over-stocking? Yeah, I did a LOT of that years ago, when I first started using coupons. I had no budget in place, and no meal plan, so I just ran around like a headless chicken chasing deals. The deals where insanely good. The problem was I often ended up with too much of one item, and none of another much needed one.
Using the meal plan you have dutifully created go thru your pantry, cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Make a list of what is needed to prep those meals that you already have on hand. No need to buy more tomato paste if your cupboards are drowning on them, right?
Pick store or stores to shop
This is where the ads come in handy again. Use them and your meal plan to decide where you are going to shop. That could mean one store, or several. Honestly, it will all depend on how much you are shopping. Also, the having the ad will help you decide if it is truly worth the $.50 “savings” to go to one store just for milk. Most of the time, it’s not. Remember that driving around town means wasting more gas AND time.
To maximize the use of your time, make sure you assign importance points to those stores. What this means is that unless a store stop will give you significant savings, you might want to consider skipping it. Instead, get that one item or 2 at the #1 store where you will get the most items from your list.
Create a list per store
Once you have decided how many stores you are stopping at, it is finally time to make your grocery list. Or lists, if you are shopping around. Yep, that’s right. You should keep your lists separate to make it more streamlined. What’s more, you should at least try to make your lists as organized as possible.
To do this, consider making use of the layout of the stores. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I have spent more time going from one end of the store to another, just because I didn’t list elbow noodles, and spaghetti noodles together. Ugh.
Not entirely related to grocery shopping, but oh, so important! If you are hungry when you go shopping, your chances of buying stuff that’s not on your list increases. Everything just looks soooo good!
You don’t need to stuff your face with a full meal. Just make sure you eat enough to sustain you for as long as the shopping trip takes. And if you are shopping with little people, a.k.a. kids, make sure they eat too. Nothing can derail your carefully prepared shopping trip more than a child screaming bloody murder because they are starving.
Plan your stops strategically
If there is one thing I am almost fanatical about, is of how much time I do not want to waste driving around. Fanatical enough to have written a post about it, which you can read right here. To me, it feels like an unnecessary waste of time, and gas. Plus I really despise driving.
Regardless of how much you love or hate driving around though, I advise you plan your trip so that you start with the store that’s further away from your house. This is because, grocery shopping can be super tiring. By going to the nearest store last, you will then be that much closer to home. And to be done with it.
*Here are other tips that, while not absolutely necessary, I believe could make one heck of a difference:
Leave kids at home, if possible
I know that it is important that our kids have some real life experiences. You know, the ones that do not happen in an app, or a YouTube video. However, little kids can be incredibly distracting. If at all possible, leave them at home with a responsible adult. Or better yet, if your children are school-aged, do your shopping while they are in school. You will do it all much faster, and with less interruptions.
Use cash or pre-loaded store gift cards
I know for some people, carrying cash in their purse seems like a scary thing. I get it. Thieves are a pest, and they are everywhere. However, having cash on hand is very important to keep your spending under control. It eliminates the ease of just swiping your card, and budget be damned.
Another option that I know some people prefer is getting store gift cards. Most places even allow you to do this online, so all you have to do it load it on their website, and print it out. Just make sure that you load the budget amount. And use your calculator while you shop, to make sure you stay within your limit.
Go during slow hours
I think I don’t have to tell you this, but here it goes anyway: Never go grocery shopping on Friday around 4 PM or later, unless you have absolutely no other choice.
While the slow hours could mean less cash registers open, it also means that the lines will be far shorter. The aisles will also be mostly empty, and you will have the chance to shop in peace, and quickly.
How to plan your grocery shopping trip
If this was too long, and you scrolled down to the bottom, here is a quick summary of the points made above:
- Sales ad check
- Meal plan
- Pantry inventory
- Store selection
- Make lists per store
- Plan your trip strategically
Now that you have seen what this post is about, you can go back up and read it all. I promise it will be helpful, and will make your grocery shopping trips much more successful. And if it seems like a ton of work, don’t let that discourage you! All this prep might come add up to an hour or so, maybe even less. And the more you practice it, the faster and better you’ll get at it.
Did I miss something? What else do you do to be prepared to shop? Go ahead and share with us in the comment section! Inquiring minds want to know 😉
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