Sure, making a simple grocery list isn’t exactly rocket science; just jot a down a few items you need to stock in your pantry and bring the list to the store. But when you’re coordinating holiday dinner, shopping in bulk or simply short on time, a well-organized list can make a huge difference. It can save you time, money and, most important, ward off stress during your supermarket haul. We asked several shopping experts their advice for before-the-store prep.
Use last week’s receipt
Self-proclaimed supermarket guru Phil Lempert suggests starting this week’s grocery list with last week’s grocery store receipt. With that in hand, dig through your cupboard, your fridge and your freezer and cross off the items you don’t need. Be sure to look in the back recesses, because our cupboards tend to have lots of blind spots.
That said, Lempert understands we all need a few impulse purchases here and there, so he suggests drawing three horizontal lines at the bottom of your old receipt. These are for three impulse items you’ll allow yourself to buy. But limit them to three, because impulse purchases add up quickly (as much as 40% of your typical grocery bill!).
Maintain a database
Kendal Perez, a savings expert at CouponSherpa.com, suggests maintaining your shopping list digitally (she uses Google Keep for hers). This way you can simply copy and paste the ingredients of your favorite online recipes into a list. Each week, print out the list and check off the items you need. “This way, you don’t find yourself buying duplicates ‘just in case’ or failing to realize you need something after you’ve already left the store,” Perez explains.
To level up, Perez suggests planning the week’s meals before going through your list. And then, once you’ve got that routine down, start using an online coupon app like Flipp or checking in with Coupon Sherpa’s grocery coupons to craft your weekly menus based on what’s on sale that week.
Create a “plan of attack”
Jenny Butler owns a small business writing family histories and is a supermarket super-saver. “Plan your trip to the grocery store strategically,” she advises. By that, Butler means envisioning a plan of action for once you get to the store. “Organize your shopping list in terms of aisles so you’re not constantly going back and forth within the store to pick up desired items.” As an additional benefit, this reduces the opportunity for impulse buys. As for the list itself, Butler enhances it with the Out of Milk shopping list app on her phone, which further guarantees she will not skip items. It also allows her to maintain different lists for different stores.
Organize by your budget
Natural living blogger Maat van Uitert agrees with Butler’s method of aisle-centric organizing, but she adds another layer: order the aisles in terms of your budget. “Plan to pick up the least expensive items first, the items that are the most versatile (such as canned tomatoes), and items you can buy in bulk. If you reach your budget before finishing your list, you can rest assured your cart will be full of items you can use in more than one meal.”
Don’t miss our best budget-friendly dinners.
Make sure you clearly designate your coupon items
It only makes sense that this tip comes from savings expert, Cherie Lowe, who is also known as the Queen of Free by her many online fans:
“Once you’ve settled on the items that are to be on that week’s shopping list,” says Lowe, “figure what coupons you have and place asterisks beside the corresponding items.” Because you’ve made the list first, you won’t be tempted to buy things you don’t need just because you have coupons.
Check out these 11 ways to save money immediately at the grocery store.
Use visual aids as reminders
You know that feeling: you’ve made your shopping list and checked it twice. But once you’re in the store and standing in front of myriad items, you start to doubt yourself. Did you really see basil in your spice rack? Or was that oregano? (And speaking of spices, have you tried this spice-rubbed salmon recipe yet?) If that’s you, then the founder of PromotionCode, Mike Catania, feels your pain and offers the following solution: Take photos of what’s inside your cabinets. If it seems like overkill, ask yourself if you’d rather purchase that third bottle of dried basil leaves instead.