My finely-tuned grocery shopping process that saves me time, money, and sanity!
How would you rate your grocery shopping skills? On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “They’re a complete disaster” and 10 being “I rock it!” where would you fall?
If you’re unsure, let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you have a plan, or do you buy whatever you feel like that day? How satisfied are you with your selections later in the week?
- Do you often find yourself either buying too little so that you’re running out of food, or buying too much so that you’re throwing a lot away?
- Do you dread grocery shopping? Does it make you feel unorganized or overwhelmed?
- How well do you stick to your grocery budget? (Do you even have a grocery budget?)
- Are you satisfied with the quality of food you’re buying for your family? Is it as healthy as you’d like it to be?
After thinking over those questions, how would you rate your experience? Would you like to improve it?
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing a short series on homemaking processes. In it, I’ve shared tips for tackling some of our least favorite duties.
More in this series:
- The One Change That Transformed My Laundry Game
- Turning Chores Into Triggers: Changing Our Attitudes About Our Most Dreaded Chores
- How to Simplify Meals to Save Time & Energy
Today, in the last post of the series, I’m going to share my ultimate grocery planning process. This is a system I have adapted and honed over the last several years for optimum savings of time, money, and sanity. This is the process that helps me feel organized, prepared, and confident as I head out to the store.
Of course, this is just what works for me, so feel free to take it, leave it, or make it your own. But I think you’ll find at least one nugget of grocery gold that you can use to raise your shopping rating.
**Links in this post may be affiliate links. This means that if you click that link and purchase the product, I may receive a small compensation. I am, however, committed to honestly assessing the products mentioned. Please read my disclosure policy for more details. **
WHY YOU NEED A PLAN
Let’s start with why you absolutely need a plan if you want a great shopping experience. I have three big reasons: It saves time, it saves money, it saves sanity.
How a Grocery Plan Saves You Time
As you read through my process below, you might think, “How in the world does this save me time?” Simply bopping over to the store and buying whatever looks good might seem like the quickest way to shop. But it’s not. A little planning up front can actually save you a lot of time in the long-run.
- It saves you time in the store because you won’t be wandering all over the store, backtracking, searching, and trying to make pricing decisions.
- It saves you time in return trips. When you have a plan and a list, you won’t have to go back to the store every couple of days for things you need! (Unless you forget something on your list … or your milk guzzlers go through your supply twice as fast as expected … *ahem*)
How a Grocery Plan Saves You Money
Having a plan saves you money in SO many ways:
- You can shop sales and get items at rock-bottom prices.
- You can plan your meals around what’s on sale (more on that in a bit).
- You won’t buy (as many) impulse items.
- You will know how much you’re going to spend ahead of time, preventing you from blowing your budget.
- If you do have a week that goes over budget, you can either modify it or adjust your budget for the next week.
How a Grocery Plan Saves Your Sanity
Having a grocery plan completely saves my sanity. Here are a few reasons it keeps me sane:
- It keeps me within my budget, which is a big deal for me because I’m the one who manages our finances.
- I feel prepared for the next week. I am so not a girl that thrives on spontaneity and unpredictability. I don’t like living by the seat of my pants, and I don’t like having to make quick decisions. And I really don’t like feeling behind or unprepared. So having a grocery plan relieves a lot of stress.
- It makes my grocery shopping trips as short as possible, which, with two little kids, is an absolute must!
MY ULTIMATE PLANNING PROCESS
Now that I’ve thoroughly convinced you that you need a plan (… right? 😉 ), let’s talk about how I plan what to buy.
My very first step is to look through the sales for the two stores I shop. Why do I shop two stores? For the best combination of value, quality, and variety. I shop ALDI as much as possible (because it’s awesome) for all my produce and staples because their prices are significantly lower than other stores in town. But, unfortunately, they just don’t have the variety or specialty items that I need sometimes. So for that, I go to my other store of choice, which happens to be Hy-Vee.
What Sales Do I Look For?
- The first thing I look for in the sale ads is meat sales. Meat is hands-down one of the largest chunks of my grocery budget, which means it’s also the biggest potential source of savings. So whenever I find meat at great prices, I stock up. Some of it I use in the week to come; some of it I freeze for later.
- The next thing I look at is produce sales. As I said, I get almost all my produce (other than what we grow ourselves) at ALDI because it is significantly cheaper. I make sure I have plenty of fresh fruits and veggies for meals and snacks through the week.
- Next up: pantry staples. I look to see if there are any incredible deals I can’t pass up on items I use on a regular basis. However, since I started shopping at ALDI, this has become less of a priority since their prices on staples are usually cheaper than even sale prices at Hy-Vee.
Finally, I round out my list with foods for snacks. I allocate whatever money is left in the budget after meat, produce, and pantry staples for healthy, real food snack items. A few of our regular items are snack meats, cheeses, nuts, Triscuits or other mostly-real food crackers, popcorn, and blue corn tortilla chips.
RELATED POST: How to Cook Real Food on a Budget
How One Little Change Led to Big Savings
You’ll notice nowhere in this run-down did I mention consulting my meal plan. That’s because I make my meal plan after my grocery list, not the other way around.
I used to make my meal plan and then make my grocery list with everything I needed for those meals (as most people do), but then I discovered that I could save a lot of money by reversing that order.
Now I create each week’s meal plan based on what’s on sale, what’s already in my (well-stocked) pantry, and what’s in my freezer. Occasionally, I will have to add an item or two if there’s something I really want to make, but that’s not my norm.
MAKING MY GROCERY LIST
What do I use?
To make my list, I use a simple spreadsheet. This makes it easy to add, remove, and change things around as I’m making decisions. Plus, it’s an easy way to keep a running total, helping me stay under budget.
I keep a template spreadsheet that I fill in every week so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. When I open up the template for the next week, I can keep my regular items, like milk and eggs, and change the rest. This saves quite a bit of time.
How do I know prices?
Because I shop the sale ads, a lot of the prices are given to me. For non-sale items at Hy-Vee, I look up the prices using Hy-Vee’s AislesOnline. For ALDI items, I have a spreadsheet I got from Frugal Minded Mom with a comprehensive list of prices for common items. It’s literally the best thing ever.
The final grocery list
The last step in my grocery planning process is to create the final list I’ll take to the store. I used to write my final lists on paper, but after a few too many times of leaving it at home, I decided to go digital. I now put it in my notes app on my phone so I know I’ll have it when I need it.
In addition to the name of the item, I also include the price (just in case something in the store doesn’t line up with the ads, which has happened a number of times) and the quantity I want to get. And, of course, I write this list in order according to the layout of the store. This saves a ton of time and minimizes the risk of forgotten items, so if you’re not already doing this, I highly suggest you start.
This may seem like a long and complicated process, but I assure you, it’s not. It probably takes longer to read it than to actually do it! And, as I said before, you don’t have to follow my process to a “t.” Use what works for you, and adapt the rest to your style. But however you do it, I strongly encourage you to find a system of grocery planning that works for you. It will save you time (in the long run), money, and lots and lots of sanity.
(Oh, and if you need any help surviving with little ones once you’re in the store, here’s a little trick I learned for taming grocery store tantrums!)
Alright, now it’s time to go forth and plan those groceries!
Recommended Further Reading:
- How to Create a Menu Plan That Works For You!
- How to Cook Real Food on a Budget
- How to Budget the Right Way
- 9 Secrets to Feeding Your Family Well (When You Don’t Have Time)