Tips for quick grocery shopping

GroceriesGrocery shopping is a necessary evil. Does anyone look forward to their weekly visit to the grocery store? If you’re like me, you defer these duties to your spouse. My wife has the grocery shopping down to a science. She tries to get in and out of the store as fast as she can. Don’t we all?

Here are some tips that she has to make your grocery shopping visit easier to deal with:

  1. Make a meal plan: Decide what you’re going to eat this week and what you’ll need to make that happen. (Erin will write more on this specific topic next week.)
  2. Make a list from your plan: Not only will this help you remember what you need, it also discourages you from picking up things that you don’t need.
  3. Separate the items on the list into their own sections (dairy, condiments, cereal, produce, etc.). This will reduce the chances of having to double back for something that you forgot in another section.
  4. Go shopping at off-peak hours. The less of a crowd the faster the shopping goes. Avoid weekends. (My wife goes before work early in the morning.)
  5. Sale items above all: Look over your weekly sale items before heading to the store. Saving money on groceries is a good thing.
  6. Get physical. Don’t be afraid to elbow fellow shoppers to get to the checkout ahead of them.

Ok, so that last one is a joke, but I hope these tips help you use your time more wisely. The less time you spend in the grocery store, the more time you spend doing something you actually enjoy.

45 Comments for “Tips for quick grocery shopping”

  1. posted by Marcus on

    For those of you who do choose to make a meal plan there’s a great tool on Allrecipes.com that allows you to transform your menu into a shopping list that is pre-divided, eliminating about eighty percent of the pre-shopping work. Also, you can adjust the serving sizes and the menu and shopping list will adjust accordingly, which is great for smaller families). It’s not the most perfect tool or interface, but I find it was worth learning in order to save time and effort in the long run. Now I just point and click as to what we’re going to eat for the week, print up the list and then cross off what we already have and add the extras (like snacks and such from the weekly circular) that I want to pick up. I figure I save about thirty to forty minutes planning and shopping each week… that really adds up over the course of a year!

    Plus, I use the scan-and-go device at my local grocery store to cut down on shopping time. I find that cuts off about five to fifteen minutes waiting in line… and it means that I can go during peak hours, which is good because I need to work during the week.

  2. posted by Steph on

    Also, don’t write a check. (Or stand in line behind someone with a checkbook in hand.)

    People, if you have a checking account, get a debit card. Please.

  3. posted by Michele on

    Great ideas. I’d add only that sticking to a very strict meal plan, and buying only what’s on your list to fulfill that plan, can be more expensive than some other strategies. (For a very good discussion of extreme penny-pinching strategies for groceries, see The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn.) But definitely, planning ahead of time, before you leave the house, is a huge time-saver.

    Also: I do go grocery shopping on weekends — I try to go early on Saturday morning. The only other people in the store are those who shop like me: quickly and efficiently, especially since there’s nobody else in the way.

  4. posted by adora on

    I have a hack to tip#3!

    It is hard to write the list by sections as you think up what to eat and buy. I just write them all as it pops up. Then go over with multiple color highlighters. Green for Produces; Pink for Meat; Blue for Freezer; Orange for Bakery & Deli; Yellow for all other items on the shelves.

    When I’m at that department, I only look at the color coordinated items for that area. i.e. When I’m at Produces, I only pick up all the Green items.

    I have a notepad magnetized to my fridge, which anyone in the family can write the items wanted. There is no way they would write by sections, and I don’t want to rewrite the list.

  5. posted by Kathryn on

    Shop at a store like Aldi or (if that’s too lowbrow for you) Trader Joes, where almost everything comes in one size and one brand, and there are somewhat fewer choices. This really cuts down on time if you’re a comparison shopper.

  6. posted by Cate on

    One evening during a free 30 minutes, I went to the grocery store I frequent the most, and made a list of each isle in their order (ie: dairy, frozen veggies, ice cream, liquor, etc.) and then created a master list on a word program.

    Now, when I make my weekly grocery list, I write the item under the column for that item and I can go isle by isle (or skip unneeded isles) and never have to go back to the back of the store becuase I’ve forgotten something.

  7. posted by David Worley on

    You can also use a website like http://www.bulkhome.com to do bulk shopping online. If you plan out far enough in advance, you can buy bulk ingredients (flour, sugar). It’s also got free shipping.

  8. posted by Beth on

    Similar to Cate, I have a word document that has everything I normally buy organized by aisle, but I included a blank line next to each item. I print out the whole document each week and then write the quantity I need next to each item. I also include some blank lines in each aisle for write in items. My mom started doing this when we got out first computer years and years ago. It makes all the difference.

  9. posted by Karen on

    I try to plan in a slightly different order – I look at the weekly specials first, and then plan my meals for the week. That way, I can take the best advantage of sale prices. I also keep track of staples in my freezer and pantry, and stock up when there are sales.

    I also keep an ongoing grocery list throughout the week. I used to keep it on the fridge, and now I keep it on my computer so I can access it from work or home. That way, if I think of something I need, I make a note and can add it to my list the next time I go shopping.

  10. posted by Lori on

    Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t mind grocery shopping. I have a pretty stable routine of hitting Costco, Heinen’s (locally owned and high-quality grocery chain), and Trader Joe’s once a week. I don’t chase sales, and I don’t shop in those mega-stores that have more floor space devoted to overpriced toiletries and seasonal tchotchkes than to food. I think the key to my system is that we don’t eat a lot of prepackaged food and I make sure I always have basics on hand: frozen chicken and fish, tomato sauce/puree/paste, rice, beans, pasta, onions, potatoes, garlic, etc. When we run low on something, it goes on the list, and we’re almost never out of staple items. Each week I plan on a couple of “special” dinners and add to the list accordingly, but on the other days we have leftovers or one of our “staple” meals from the pantry.

  11. posted by Phil on

    Here are the biggest time savers for me:

    1. Premade list in an app like Splash Shopper or Remember the Milk. The advantage of these apps is that you can tag products by meal. For instance the @hamburgers tag brings up all the ingredients for a hamburger dinner.

    2. Have individual items sorted by store and by aisle. This is the biggest time saver of all. I can do a full week’s worth of shopping in 15-20 minutes because I know where everything is.

    3. I bring two or three collapsible crates into the store along with one or two canvas totes. These are quicker for the boxboy to pack, quicker to stow in the car and faster to unpack at home. Plus there is no plastic bag clutter at the end!

  12. posted by G on

    I always make sure I have staples on hand, and look through those before I go to the grocery store. I make a list of things to round out what will make a meal, and add things that are on sale if they are staple items. I usually go on a weeknight, around 7 or later, after the after-work rush. I mostly just shop in the produce section and go through the other sections pretty quick to grab other things I might need, like bread and eggs and the occasional snacks. When I shop in the processed food aisles, I park my shopping cart at the end of the aisle, grab whatever I need and walk back to my cart with everything in hand so that I don’t spend too much time dawdling over processed foods. I buy lots of meat when it goes on sale and freeze in small portions.

  13. posted by Jim on

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote on my blog about when I used to work for a grocery wholesaler/distributor and the tricks used at store level to make people spend more. Here is the last article, It will take yout to the other first two.

    http://gettingaheadinlife.blogspot.com/2008/01/grocery-shopping-202-buying-in-bulk.html

  14. posted by Gillian on

    Many years ago the newspaper printed a shopping list every week. I adapted it and kept it on the computer. I print it and post it on the fridge, highlighting things as they come to mind. I generally pin it to a clipboard for my shopping. I also leave a corner of it blank for all the write-ins that aren’t on the list, and have worked with this system since before computers.

  15. posted by jesse on

    I write out the aisle numbers on an index card (that I keep with my “to do” GTD list) so that any time I think to add something, I just pop it under under that aisle since I shop at at small 7-aisle food co-op. I can never remember the difference between aisles 5/6 so i just combine them and figure it out when I get there. I also menu plan but do prefer local stuff so a lot of times I just put “squash” or “veggies” on the list and grab what’s local/in season.

  16. posted by Elena on

    I always consult the sale flyer before making my list. I stock up on buy-one-get-one-free items that I use regularly and won’t perish. I always keep one in my regular pantry and store the rest. You can also use coupons in conjunction with these BOGO offers and save even more. Huge money saver.

  17. posted by Steve on

    I find your advice to push ahead of others to gain a place in line disturbing. I’ve lost track of the number of folks who’ll add to their mental clutter to get a car length ahead or save a minute or two. Life is too short. I’ve always thought that the reason we try to simplify our lives is so we have more tranquil surroundings and less stress to distract us from the important, essential things, like our relationships with others. Pushing in front of line is a lot like getting rid of your clutter by dumping your extra stuff on your neighbor’s lawn.

    If the price of your less cluttered life is to add to the difficulties of others to make your life better, then I’d rather have more mental clutter (read: ethics).

    By the way, since my wife and I both work and shop, we share a google document with our ongoing weekly menu and grocery list on it. The grocery list is on the top. The menus are underneath. If either one of us uses something up or realizes something is needed, we can add to the list. If one of us has time to shop on the way home, we check the list before leaving work. We print off the existing grocery list, and then erase the items we intend to buy from the list. This way, the other knows if there’s stuff needed or not. Either of us can also have a craving or an idea for a meal and then update the menu.

  18. posted by Christine on

    I have a good trick for meal planning and shopping. I have a tiny, two-ring binder that holds 3×5 index cards. Whenever I cook something that I really like, I make up an index card that just lists the title, ingredients needed and the location of the full recipe (cookbook name and page). I have it divided into sections (vegetarian, poultry, meat, fish, etc.). When I plan meals for the week, I just pull out the cards of what I want and make up my grocery list. Also, I have a whiteboard in the kitchen where I write down anything else I need as soon as I run out of it (spices, cleaning supplies, personal care items, etc). I shop only once a week and only get what is on the list. Since I have been doing this I have been saving about $100 a week. I get through the store a lot faster, too only buying what I really need.

  19. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Steve … “Ok, so that last one is a joke”

    Matt only meant #6 for fun. Obviously we don’t support knocking people over to get ahead in line.

  20. posted by Di on

    There are times when I’m not above just contracting a delivery grocery service. It all depends on my schedule for the week!

  21. posted by michelle on

    @Christine
    I do the same thing – my cards are not quite as organized yet, though. I also try to list the ingredients on the card by type (produce, dairy, meat, staples) which helps in creating the master list and coordinating the weeks menu (eating two meals with spinach to use up the rest of the bunch/package we bought for the first meal). We find it also helps us eat a bigger variety – (we remember to have the risotto again we tried and enjoyed, but then never made for 3 months).

    I also use Handy Shopper for my Palm/Treo. I always have my Treo with me and can add or shop whenever I have extra time on the way home. I can add items to the list as I think of them and it’ll automatically reorganize the list depending on the store I’m going to and the aisle/categories. It’s a great little app and best of all, it was FREE!

  22. posted by Brooklyn on

    If you’re in a major metropolitan area, you also likely have a grocery delivery company. Mine is Peapod and it’s only occasional more than a few cents more expensive that the regular grocery stores in my neighborhood, plus there’s the convenience and time-saving quality of not having to spend time traveling to and from and walking through the store. Peapod has a regular shopping list that you can design and automatically add to orders that includes your basic staples that need consistent replenishing. Plus, it has great sale items too.

    As someone who works from home, not having to stop work except to put away groceries when they get here is extremely handy.

    It takes a step away from your grocery store process in addition to the traveling. Making your list IS doing the shopping. When you add something to your grocery list, you’re already adding it to your cart. And if you have consistent internet access, whether at home or on your treo/blackberry/iphone, you can do it the instant you think of something.

  23. posted by Wobagi on

    If you happen to go shopping without a list, remember not to go there hungry. Otherwise you will end up with more than you need, mostly unnecessary stuff.

  24. posted by Gayle on

    Are you kidding? Grocery shopping is the most fun I have all week!

  25. posted by Elaine on

    I find early Sunday morning to be the best time for me to do grocery shopping. My totally unscientific theory is that all the partying-people are still asleep, and many of the early-risers are in church. Saturday afternoon, OTOH, is a nightmare, and that’s from someone who enjoys grocery shopping.

  26. posted by TC on

    You guys are making me want to CRY. I ADORE grocery shopping. It’s one of my favorite things to do! I also combine it with my walking-for-exercise obsession, so that I end up going several times a week and only buying as much as I can carry at one time. No burning of fossil fuels on the way to the store for me! Plus I bring my own canvas bags, because I’m only going to need one or two anyway! But that’s for an eco blog, I guess, not here. Here, I can say, however, that when you only buy what you need at each time, you never overclutter your cabinets. Or at least in theory you don’t.

  27. posted by Sara on

    I am shocked that some of you are saying you find weekends the quietest time to shop. Where I am, the stores are a zoo on the weekends! I try to go Friday night while everyone’s out to happy hour or dinner. If not, another weekday night is usually good.

    As far as strategy, I have a notepad magneted to my fridge. When I run out of something I put it on the list. Then I plan meals for the week and put those items on the list. Then just before I go I rewrite the whole list in the order that I walk through the store. Just this week I also updated to be a little more “green” and got a wipe-off board for the first phase of this process, so I only need to write one paper list per week instead of two.

  28. posted by The Chatty Housewife on

    The “crazy ebay mom” link on the post below titled “a year ago on unclutterer” doesn’t work. It takes me to an auction advertising website.

  29. posted by Josh Forman on

    If you have a Palm or WM device, you can get Handyshopper, which lets you enter in the aisle for each item at various stores. When you’re in a store, you change the view to that store, and the aisle numbers (and last price if you decided to enter it) appear.

    Additionally, I asked for the list of aisles (by category) to take home and enter in for each item. This could be useful even if you don’t use a mobile device.

  30. posted by SavingDiva on

    I really struggle with making meal plans (at all and ahead of time), but I’m working on it.

    I think a lot of people that shop at Trader Joe’s took your advice (#6). Last week, a woman hit me with her cart while cutting the checkout line (I have a bruise on my shin to prove it).

  31. posted by Joel on

    Planning menues is simple if you keep a few simple steps in mind:
    1) Buy whatever main course is on sale and use it. A lot. When boneless chicken breasts are on sale, which they are about every three months where I live, I buy enough for two months and keep it in the freezer. There’s a kajillion different ways to prepare chicken that keeps it tasting new and tasty.
    2) Stock up on canned goods like soups, sauces, veggies and so forth when they go on sale…which is usually two to three times a year. Nothing is simpler than coming home after a day of work and throwing together a qucik meal in under 30 minutes.
    3) I buy in bulk only if I’m truly sure I’m going to eventually use the item. I use an online company called http://www.bulkfoods.com Great company, good prices, a fair shipping policy and some of the best prices I’ve seen for foodstuffs anywhere. I always bulk my order together so I get free shipping.
    4) I also do my grocery shopping on the weekends…usually Saturday morning around 9AM or so…and the store is usually quite empty. I tried shopping at places like Trader Joe’s but found their prices are not worth the trip.
    Hope this helps!
    Peace

  32. posted by John on

    First my setup. I have downloaded the specs from my local grocery store to my PDA. My home PC is setup to automatically link to the store the night before I plan my food shopping. That way I have an up-to-date layout of the store, and any grocery rearranging that might have occurred. After having a family meeting, meal planning, and feeding this into my PC for automated list generation, my list is automatically printed out at 7:00 am on Saturday morning. After checking SmartRoutes for the most efficient route to the store, I head off. Once at the store, I don my heads-up-display and head into the store. The display gives me instant readouts of any potential sales of items that are on my list, or of any items on my list that are low in stock. From there it’s easy. I love shopping.

  33. posted by Lib4 on

    Very simple trick….you go to the grocery store to buy a milk and end up spending $50.

    Next time you go shopping buy 3x the amount of milk you will need and avoid running to the grocery store twice a week. You may spend an extra $3-$4 on wasted milk but at least you save $40/wk

  34. posted by Caroline on

    Arranging things by aisle, even roughly, really works.

    Once I was visiting a friend who lives in Boston. She is carless, so she grocery shopped by renting a Zipcar for 1 hour. That meant she was time-constrained — if you don’t return the car on time, you pay a serious penalty. Since we were both poor college students at the time, we planned to eat in for the time I was there, so we agreed to just go shopping together and split the bill. I made the grocery list having never been to the Star Market (now Shaw’s) before, but knowing that canned goods were likely all on one aisle, dairy products likely all together, etc. We were in and out of there inside of 30 minutes, and she was amazed.

  35. posted by Nikki on

    I don’t worry about sorting my list by aisle. I wear a pedometer to the store and consider backtracking as bonus steps toward my goal!

  36. posted by Elizabeth on

    I do my shopping once a month with occasional side trips to the store on the other weeks IF a weekly sale is outstanding. I usually shop on the second Thursday of the month because most of the local grocery stores have their 12 hour sales during that time and those sales are pretty good. I have a big freezer and a pantry and a make shift root cellar that I check before heading out to the store. This appraisal only takes a few minutes before I leave home. Then I walk down each aisle and gather only what I’m out of. I don’t make a list but I look at everything on the shelves and that usually reminds me what we need since I just took inventory before arriving at the store. Then, through the month I make my meals according to what I have on hand, not the other way around. I have a $150-200.00 month food budget for the 6 of us that I rarely go over unless I run into an amazing sale. Then I stock up. This way has worked for me for years. I now rarely go over budget and we eat pretty well!

  37. posted by Sandra on

    I work in a grocery store, and I am crazy about organizing. Here are my tips:
    I made a master grocery list in Excel, by sections of the grocery store. Each section has blank space, so you can fill it in as you think of it, but it still ends up categorized. Ground beef goes under Meat, fries and milk under Dairy/Frozen.(they are always together) Also I made the space under Produce much bigger than Snacks and Pop.
    As for times of day to go, you can work Mon-Fri and still have quiet times. Saturdays the store is dead from 7am to 9:30 am, and again from 7pm ot 10pm. Sundays 8am til 10:30 and 6pm-8pm are great times to shop. Monday and Friday are the busiest weekdays, but any night after 7pm is quiet.

  38. posted by Bakari on

    Not sure if someone else has said this already, but avoid using shopping bags (paper or plastic) when going to grocery store. I purchased 5 re-usable bags from my grocery store which pays back about 5 cents/bag each time I use them. I try to keep them under the seat of my car so I can just crab one or more of them when needed.

  39. posted by Hnurre on

    Use Future Girls
    http://www.futuregirl.com/craft_blog/

    Meal Planner:
    http://www.futuregirl.com/craft_blog/2007/12/meal-planner.html

    A great way to make your shopping more efficient!

  40. posted by Carmella ella on

    I love grocery shopping!! It’s the first step to creating something delicious and wonderful for your palette! I think it is crucial to have a list so you don’t forget items but also look at sales.. Yogurt could be on sale so you want to stock up this week and save possibly $10. You never know!!

  41. posted by Leslie Cook on

    There’s an online tool that helps with tip #3. The site, http://www.clanjive.com, allows you to create a shopping list online for free. It keeps an internal database, so when you all something like mayonaise or oranges, it add aisle information.

    Later you can send the shopping list to you cell phone and the list is ordered according to the shopping aisles making it easy to use the list as you go. Look at http://www.clanjive.com.

  42. posted by msh on

    Great minds think alike! I too am a list maker, it’s too easy for me to forget things, especially if it’s something I don’t buy all the time. It’s sorted by aisle as well. The sale ads are great to get ideas for meals not to mention the savings.

    I don’t dislike grocery shopping but on the other hand, it’s not on my “fun things” to do list.

    A Happy New Year to everyone as well!

  43. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    These are some great tips, and I use many of them myself. I find the easiest way to separate your list into sections is to use a master grocery list. I think it is best to create your own because every household is different in what they consider staple items and what they like and dislike to eat, plus all grocery stores are laid out a bit differently. However, if you need to see an example you can check out a free printable grocery list at:

    http://www.household-management-101.com/printable-grocery-list.html

  44. posted by Shaun on

    I hate having to go to the supermarket because of the people who don’t seem to have a plan or treat it like a social gathering and block aisles whilst having inane conversations loudly. Just move and let me get my stuff and get out.

  45. posted by Nurit on

    Hi,

    (1) Check out the various grocery store sales fliers for items that you need or frequently use and compare prices. It could be advantageous for you to shop at 2 or more different stores, based on which one has what on sale. Comparing prices may seem like an actual task, however provided that the stores are in close proximity, it really is worthwhile.

    (2) You shouldn’t be afraid to shop at a dollar store! Dollar stores are often your best source of cost savings and again, the merchandise supplied has evolved quite a bit in quality. The reason products are so inexpensive is that dollar stores purchase in large quantities from manufacturers. A manufacturer could for example have adjusted their packaging and doesn’t want the old packaging on the shelves in the supermarkets, hence the dollar stores purchase that product at a massive discount. You will get exactly the same product for 1/3 of the normal price tag!

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