I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time grocery shopping.
And I mean, a lot of time.
Partly because I genuinely enjoy it. Partly because I have trouble making decisions. Partly because, well, it’s kind of a necessity.
Now, are you spending your grocery time and money as best you could?
If you’re looking to level-up your grocery shopping game, you’ve come to the right place. Check out our top tips and tricks for making grocery shopping a bit easier on yourself.
Have a plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail, am I right? The grocery store can be overwhelming to the untrained eye (Lights! Colours! Smells! Music!), especially if you have an unhappy toddler sitting in the cart. Do yourself a solid and create a plan before you go to the store.
What exactly do you need to plan? Let’s break it down.
How much you’ll spend
We’re all about saving money here at Moola…it’s kind of our thing. We also think that the number one way to secure financial freedom is by budgeting. Budgeting is basically just a plan for how you’re going to spend your money, and it’s really important to have one.
Create a weekly or monthly grocery budget for yourself to avoid overspending at the store. This budget should be separate and distinct from your eating out budget.
Whether you choose to create a monthly or weekly grocery budget is really up to you. There are definitely pros and cons to both ways of doing it:
- Monthly: Having a monthly budget can be helpful because it gives you a bit more flexibility with your spending. Maybe last week you had to stock up on pantry staples and spent a bit more than usual at the store. You compensate for it by spending a little less this week. As long as it stays within your monthly budget, it’s okay. This is a good option if you feel like you’ve already got a pretty good handle on your finances.
- Weekly: Maybe you do better with micromanaging your budget and that’s okay. Try dividing your monthly food budget by 4 to give you a weekly budget. Most people go to the grocery store once a week, so you can think of your weekly grocery budget as how much you can spend each trip. This gives you a little less flexibility, but lots of control over managing your money.
I personally employ a weekly grocery budget in my life. I treat it like a game trying to stay under a certain amount each week. I keep a running tally in my head of how much everything costs, but feel free to use the calculator and notes section on your phone when you’re just getting started.
Can you tell I really love budgeting?
What you’ll buy
Don’t get me wrong, I love the wander-the-aisles-and-see-what-speaks-to-you method of grocery shopping. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, I end up forgetting something I need and buying something I don’t.
For that reason, I always try to have a plan for what I’m going to buy before I go. This is usually in the form of a list I’ve scribbled out for myself, and over the years, my lists have become a lot more sophisticated.
Here are the best ways to revolutionize your grocery list:
- Keep a running list on your fridge: Sure, you can look in your fridge on Saturday and write down what you need, but then you run the risk of forgetting hummus because you already recycled the container. Get a magnetic notepad and a pen on your fridge and write down what you need the moment you realize it. Think of it as a brainstorm of your grocery needs (don’t worry, we’ll organize it all later).
- Separate needs and wants: Now it’s time to take your brainstorm and make a note of your wants and needs. This is a good idea if your grocery budget is a little tighter than you’d like it to be. For example, I like having coconut oil in the house, but I primarily use olive oil. When I run out of coconut oil, I mark it as a want. Extra money in the budget this week? Looks like I’ll be having coconut curried lentils and silky soft hair.
- Take pictures of your fridge and pantry: Maybe you’re more of a visual person and that’s awesome. Take pictures of your fridge and pantry before you go to the store. That way you’ll know exactly what you have at home, including how much of it you have left. This also helps you prepare for what you may need to buy soon (the mayo is looking low) and can help you stock up on things when they’re on sale.
- Organize your list according to the layout of the store: This is an advanced technique that can save you loads of time in the long run. Take your grocery list and organize it based on your store’s layout. It may look something like produce, then meat, then dairy, then cereal, etc. That way, you won’t have to wander all the way back to get a lemon when you’re in the condiment aisle.
- Don’t know the lay out? Group like things together: Maybe you’re not quite there yet and that’s okay. You can still save yourself some time by grouping like items together. I like to organize my list by fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, dry goods, snacks, and everything else. If the items aren’t exactly next to each other, they’re usually still within the general vicinity of other items in the same category. This helps me remember everything I need to buy.
Turns out there’s a lot more to your grocery list than you thought, huh?
Where you’ll go
If you shop at multiple stores like me, then you’ll want to plan where you’ll go first before hand. For me, that usually means going to the place where I get a lot of frozen food last (Costco), and going to where I’ll get my dry goods first.
It may also be helpful to keep a cooler bag in your car to keep perishables from spoiling, depending on how long you’ll be out for.
Which brings me to my next point.
How long you’ll be there
If time limits stress you out then by all means, stay in the store as long as you like.
I find that planning just how long I’ll be in the store however helps me stay on track and not dilly dally.
It can also help you stick to your budget. If you give yourself 30 minutes to shop, then you’re more likely to follow your list and buy exactly what you need, rather than wander around and see what speaks to you.
It can also be helpful for children to give them an exact time frame of how long you’ll be at the store. Saying you’ll be there for 45 minutes can help them stay on track as well.
Take the time to plan now to save yourself time in the future.
Don’t go hungry
Seriously. Just don’t.
One study showed that when you go to the store hungry, you’re more likely to choose high-calorie foods and make impulsive buys.
I know I definitely throw one too many bars of dark chocolate in to my basket when I’m feeling peckish.
The same can be said for kids – make sure your little ones are happily fed before forcing them on a grocery store trip. Or better yet, have some snacks in hand ready to give them when they start begging for the cereal on the shelf.
Many grocery stores have even started offering fresh fruit like bananas and oranges for free that you can give to your kids while you shop. While the free cookie in the bakery is always a good backup, start with the fruit.
That makes everyone’s life a bit easier.
Shop the sales
Before you head out to do your weekly shopping, be sure to check their fliers.
Stores will advertise their deals of the week, sometimes even including exclusive door buster deals that aren’t otherwise advertised.
Checking the fliers online and in store will ensure you’re the first to know about any sales. It will also help you plan your shopping easier because you’ll be able to see what store has what on sale.
This can save you loads of time when you do your shopping.
Shop on the weekdays or mornings
There is nothing more anxiety-inducing than a crowded grocery store. Navigating a cart through the grocery store at 12 pm on a Sunday is enough to make a grown man cry, not to mention a small child.
If you can swing it, try to do your grocery shopping first thing in the morning on a weekday. Studies have found the best time to shop is Monday – Thursday, as long as you go early or midday. Not only does this option give you the least crowded grocery store, it also gives you access to the freshest produce.
When I was in college, my favorite time to shop was on Wednesday mornings. The kale was never picked over and all of the aisles were fully stocked.
Of course, that’s a little hard to do now.
Other good times to grocery shop are late at night (think 9 or 10 pm) or as soon as the store opens on the weekend. Rumour has it, you can be in and out of Costco with a full cart in 20 minutes if you go as soon as it opens on Saturday morning.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
Choose the line with the least amount of people
One line has 6 people in it, but each person only has a few of items.
Another line has 2 people in it, but they both have full carts.
Which line do you choose?
According to science, you should probably choose the one with the least amount of people.
That’s because it takes people a minute or two to say hello, hand over their rewards card, pack up, and pay for their items. In contrast, ringing up an item only takes a couple of seconds.
If you’re really short on time, take the counterintuitive option and choose the line with the full cart. You’ll only save yourself a minute or two, but sometimes, that’s all you need.
Some other interesting line tidbits to keep in mind? Choose lines to the left (most people veer right) and avoid lines where the cashier is obstructed by view. Because…science.
Go by yourself
While it may be more fun to grocery shop with a friend, it’s probably going to slow you down. Grocery shopping by yourself is the best way to ensure your time and money are spent as best they can.
A few things happen when we grocery shop with others, say a partner, a friend, or a child:
- We get distracted easier: It’s hard to pay attention to buying what you need when there’s a screaming child next to you. If you can swing it, keep the little one at home while you shop in order to help keep you on track. Otherwise, it would be good to time your trip around nap time or first thing in the morning, before the kids are cranky and tired from a long day.
- We encourage spending in each other: I don’t know about you, but my friends are really big in to the “treat yourself” notion. Want those cookies from the bakery? Treat yourself! Having this kind of energy around can make sticking to a budget near next to impossible.
- We waste more time: Shopping with my partner always meant talking about the food we saw, planning what we were going to eat that week, and then wandering back through the aisles to pick up things we forgot because we were talking. Tell your significant other to stay at home this time and let you do the shopping. That way, everyone wins.
Make your trip to the grocery store an act of self care and go at it alone. Chances are, you’ll get twice as much done in half the amount of time.
Order your groceries online
If I still haven’t convinced you that grocery shopping can be a good time, then try ordering your groceries online. You can do this from online retailers like Amazon Pantry or directly from the store yourself.
You can then pick up your groceries in store or get them delivered right to your house.
It may cost you a few extra dollars, but it’s worth it if you’re trying to avoid dragging a couple of kids through the store after a long day of work.
Be sure to read all about how you can save money online shopping before you buy to save you a few extra bucks in the process.
Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be hard
With a solid plan, a solo trip, and a few strategic choices, grocery shopping can be as easy as freshly baked apple pie from the bakery.
You may even find yourself looking forward to those Saturday morning grocery runs.
You can also check out Moola for gift cards to grocery stores to help you budget better.
Have any more grocery shopping hacks? Comment below and let us know!
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