Before I launch in with my grocery shopping tips, I need to present you with Life’s 3 Grocery Store Truths:
- The more time you spend in grocery stores the more money you will spend. If you have a list of 10 things to buy you’ll come out of the store with 15 because you found some amazing deals along the way for stuff you totally honestly need.
- You will often spend a stupid amount of money on groceries only to come home and try to put together a meal, only to find you’ve just bought stuff rather than ingredients for meals. Unless your idea of dinner is shampoo, some peanuts and pasta.
- You will always forget something, something that wasn’t even on your list, but that you realize you needed when you get home and your spouse asks “Where are the teabags?”. This will necessitate another trip to buy that one thing, but you’ll end up buying 4 things (see earlier ‘amazing deals’ point).
These 3 truths add up to us spending way too much money on groceries, wasting too much time pushing a damn cart around grocery stores, and still struggling to put together meals for everyone in the house, despite the investment of all this time and money!
This situation sucks, and I know this because I made all three of these mistakes for 15 years, before finally deciding to do something about it. Yeah I know, 15 years before I did anything — I’m such an Action Taker!
But I now feel able to actually hand out some grocery shopping tips that I had to learn the hard way.
The solution involved planning. I hate planning, because I’m a free spirit maaaaaan. This is why it took me so long to fix things. But eventually the constant loss of time and money forced me into action.
As a result I now:
- save a boatload of money every month
- get better quality food
- make sure everyone in the house iss fed the right things
- stopped running out of anything
- get to sit on my ass a LOT more. #winning
First, the Bad Grocery Shopping Tips
Growing up, our whole family would go to the grocery store together once a week for the ‘Big Shopping Trip’ — to buy everything we needed for the week. This was genuinely an exciting activity in my life each week. How times have changed!
I naturally gravitated to this weekly view of grocery shopping when I had my own household to run.
I’d make a big list of everything I felt we needed, spend a good hour in the store, plus travel time, and then suffer all those problems I mentioned earlier:
- forgetting things
- not having the right stuff for actual meals
- spending too much on items I didn’t need, but that ‘tickled my fancy’ on the way round the store — 100 fish sticks for the price of 50, 4 cheap cakes for next to nothing, a cool looking coffee mug with a cartoon dog on it — you know the drill.
These problems were all of my own making, don’t get me wrong:
- I wasn’t planning meals, just buying random ingredients;
- I relied on a quick check in all the kitchen cupboards and a hastily scribbled list before I went to the store to tell me what we needed;
- I got sucked in time and time again to buying items the store wanted me to buy that I didn’t actually need, those pesky retail geniuses!
It was during the 4th store visit in one week when I finally saw the light. I had forgotten to buy toothpaste and that’s not something you can just get by without, so off I trundled to the grocery store.
I was standing in line with my toothpaste, obviously plus 4 bottles of new craft beers and some sausages, and suddenly I thought:
“What the hell am I doing? I moan all the time about having no time to work on my writing, and if I just had some kind of system where I could just get everything I needed with less time and effort I’d have time coming out of my ears”.
So I decided to find a system. And yeah, you bet I did it while drinking those unnecessarily-purchased 4 beers…
The Good Grocery Shopping Tips
I needed to bite the bullet, and take the achingly dull and mundane step of listing EVERYTHING our household needed on a weekly and monthly basis, perishable and non-perishable.
This was easier once I mapped out the meals I would make for dinner each week, and what was needed for everyone’s lunch both during the school/work week and weekends.
- fruits & vegetables
- dairy products
- dry/canned goods
- kitchen/bathroom stuff
- kids lunch stuff
- breakfast cereal
- drinks & snacks
- frozen food
- random things — herbs/spices, cooking oil, condiments, vitamins, etc
I had a huge list of things now, and I needed to find a way of getting it all with minimal time, effort and money used on my part!
Non-Perishables Bulk Buying
Grocery shopping has changed since I was growing up. You can order online for pick up at the store or even get it all delivered to your home. Stores are trying to win our custom and are trying to make it easier to shop with them.
So I signed up for online ordering with the Big Grocery Behemoth we have here. I started placing a big monthly order for non-perishable things, which was basically everything that wasn’t meat, fruit, vegetables, dairy or bread. So pasta, rice, canned beans, cleaning products, tissues, etc.
This cost about 40% of our total monthly grocery budget. It took me 15 minutes to order online and choose a time slot for delivery that suited me.
I only ordered the stuff I needed because I wasn’t physically in the store to spot all the ‘amazing deals’. So this was a major saver of time and money already.
We have a large freezer so I figured meat was something I could order on a monthly basis too, freezing anything I wasn’t going to need within a few days.
Just as with grocery stores, our local butcher was trying to make buying from them easier, and even had a basic website listing their products and prices.
Having mapped out what meat I would need to make 5–6 dinners per week for 4 weeks, I called them up, ordered what I needed, paid by card over the phone and arranged to pick up at a time when I would be out running other errands anyway.
Again, a big time saver, and the same price as grocery store meat and much better quality.
Limiting grocery store visits
This just left me with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, cold cuts of meat for sandwiches, and bread to buy. These are things I wanted to be fresh, and so would have to buy them a couple of times per week.
Rather than involving over an hour in the grocery store, I could grab these things in 10 minutes from any small store in the area that sells them, so time spent traveling as well as in the actual store was minimized.
And having the mindset of “I’m In and Out of Here ASAP” when in the store meant I was less in Browsing Mode (no more hilarious but unnecessary coffee mugs!).
Short Term Pain : Long Term Gain
By outsourcing most of the grocery shopping, getting the retailers to do most of the work (the butcher even bagged the meat in dinner-sized portions for me, bless him), I spend about 20 minutes per week in a grocery store.
I’ve avoided wasting money on things that we don’t need or won’t actually help me put together a meal too. And we never run out of anything any more.
Sure, the initial audit of our monthly grocery requirements didn’t feel like the most Rock ‘n’ Roll crazy-fun task I’ve ever done, but even for a non-planner like me, I can appreciate how the short-term pain of having to do it has led to the long term gain of having more time and money than I did before!
So those are my grocery shopping tips – I’d love to hear from you if you’ve come up with some of your own!