You Might Be Grocery Shopping from the Wrong List

You Might Be Shopping from the Wrong List

Last month, we slashed our grocery budget–including household items–to $200. At first, it seemed like an ambitious, if not unlikely, goal. However, with some strategic planning and careful shopping, we came in at just under $193 for two people. For an entire month of groceries. One of the best strategies I used throughout the month was to overhaul not where I shopped, but what I shopped from–namely, I had been using the wrong grocery list.

Any List is a Good Start

If you shop from a grocery list, you’re on the right track, no doubt about it. There is nothing worse than making a trip, navigating the crowds, and finding yourself pulling out of the parking lot only to realize you forgot the milk, bread, or whatever grocery staple fled your mind when you spied colorful, fresh produce pumpkin spice chai. With a grocery list, you’ll be more purposeful in the store, you’ll be less likely to find unnecessary items lurking at bottom of your cart, and you’ll save yourself from making repeated trips.

Working with Sale Ads is Better

In addition to making a grocery list based on items that you need, adding sale items strategically to your list can pay off big time. If Mr. P and I are going to eat meat that week, I’ll price out a few of my local stores to see what they have on sale. The same holds true for fruits, vegetables, anything really. I do limit myself to no more than three stores that are essentially next to one another, because I figure my time amounts to something and gas can be expensive. Sale ads are also the key to couponing success. It’s not enough to simply clip or print coupons. If you’re looking to score big, use sale ads to match manufacturer and store coupons to the already-low advertised price. But stick to your list. Otherwise, you’ll end up with free contact solution even though no one in your family wears contacts. True story.

Shopping with Your Fridge in Mind is Magical

The most effective way to slash our grocery budget was to start with a list of what we had, not with a list of what we needed. Once I decluttered my cabinets and inventoried my refrigerator and freezer, I realized that I had purchased lots of sale items in the past with no plan to put them to use. As a result, I had jars of sauce but no pasta, tortilla chips but no salsa, basil but no mozzarella.* Once I had a better sense of the items that I already purchased or had growing in my garden, then I started looking through sale ads to figure out how to complete the meals. Not only was I able to use a surprising amount of items that were already flirting with their expiration dates, but I also stopped myself from buying multiples of things I already had.* Using more of a backwards design model to my grocery shopping list led to significant savings.

*If you have homegrown tomatoes and homegrown basil and you aren’t eating it as a caprese salad, you’re doing gardening wrong. Unless you’re a vegan. Then I understand. 

**At one point, I had five 28 ounce cans of organic diced tomatoes. In a house with no pantry. Not smart.

So Tell Me…How do you shop for groceries? Do you having any tips or tricks for slashing your grocery budget?

You Might Be Grocery Shopping from the Wrong List

15 thoughts on “You Might Be Grocery Shopping from the Wrong List

  1. The fridge thing alone probably saved me $50 this week! I actually took the time to look at what we had at home before going out and mindlessly doing the same grocery shop I do when we’re nearly out of everything. Instead, I realized we already had at least two dinners’ worth of leftovers, so I didn’t buy any extra dinner stuff, and a quick check in the pantry let me pick up a paltry head of cauliflower and two spices, and still end up with a hearty veggie stew, thanks to what we already had.

    And also – soooo many congrats on hitting the under $200 grocery budget! Very, very, very impressive. Well done!

    1. Saving $50 in a week is huge. That stew sounds amazing. I am going to have to remember that now that it’s officially fall fall here 🙁 Brrrr!

  2. Congrats on reaching reaching your grocery budget goal! That’s awesome.

    I really need to start implementing using store fliers to determine where to buy certain items but I’m becoming a master at shopping from my fridge.

  3. I just decluttered my pantry, fridge and freezer, and made a list of pantry and freezer items. I definitely see some of the same trends (Really, 4 types of Oatmeal???) But the list is also helping me think of good ways of using what I have, and when I finish my No Spend month I think it will help my grocery list stay more focused on what I need.

    1. I can’t wait to read about your No-Spend Month. The inventorying was so eye-opening for me. I completed some meals that I had started to prep for, and I’ve found new uses for other things. I just used our Cajun seasoning mix on roasted chickpeas, and it was scrumptious!

  4. Decluttering is magical in the kitchen, though I have to be careful to be instock on baking ingredients- I hate running out of those.

    My biggest frugal grocery tip is to shop with your week in mind. If its going to be a busy week, there’s no shame in having hummus and dippers or frozen pizza for dinner.

  5. I shop Safeway and use their app on my phone. I get the “just for u” deals and keep our budget at 200 a month. I shop weekly but if the chicken in on sale I stock up because that’s the most expensive item I buy! I’m a vegitarian so I eat pasta mostly. Pasta is only a dollar a box and sometimes cheaper! Thanks for your tips!

  6. I love this! Not only do your methods cut back on $, but they reduce food waste, as well. We’re trying to get back on the bandwagon with planning our trips. Right now we have an app that helps us not forget any needs, but at did a lot better with money when we did meal planning centered around sales ads.

    1. Yes, food waste is a major pet peeve of mine. It entertains my mother to no end now, since I was such a terror when it came to refusing leftovers as a kid.

  7. Congrats on hitting the mark! Unfortunately, with our health problems, it’s novel that we make it to the store, so I’ve about given up on hitting different stores for better deals.

    Then again, these days I stick to a very limited grocery bill. I’ve given up on ever figuring out what Tim wants ahead of time. So we stock up a few munchies for him around the house — cereal, muffins, whatever — and keep frozen meals, protein bars and bread (for peanut butter toast) for me.

    But lists are still vital. You don’t want to get to the store and not know whether you need more milk. Or, in your case, organic diced tomatoes.

    1. I think the key is finding what works for your family, which is exactly what you’ve done. I always appreciate your comments. They’re great reminders that there is no “one size fits all” in personal finance. That’s what makes it personal, right? 🙂

  8. I agree that working with the sale ads and your current stock in mind is really important when building your list. I also look at some nearby competitors for prices, and if they’re available, I look at next week’s flyers so I don’t buy something that’s going on sale a few days later. I’m a traditional coupon clipper, but my wife likes to search online after we’ve built the list to see if there are any digital coupons or printable coupons that match up. Overall we do pretty well, but I’m impressed with your sub-$200/month bill!

  9. These are great tips. We also use the Google Docs app on our phones so my husband and I can both access the shopping list and so it’s harder to forget the list at home. Another time saver is to list items in the order they’re located around the store. It eliminates a lot of backtracking and wandering, but learning where items are located requires shopping consistently in one store.

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