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6 Simple Ways to Create an Effective Grocery List

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It’s 5:00 p.m. You just left your desk, and you’re on a mission to race through the grocery store as quickly as possible before picking up your kids by 6. You’re hungry, you’re cranky, and there are a million things you need to buy. Can you do it?

Yes, if you create a well-planned grocery shopping list.

There’s more to creating a grocery shopping list than just writing down the random items that you realized you needed in the previous week. With a little planning, your shopping list can help you make it through the grocery store in less than 30 minutes while still ensuring that your dinners for the following week consist of more than canned corn and Pop-Tarts.

1. Plan what to buy

The main reason to create a shopping list is so that you remember the items once you get to the store. I know many people use Evernote and other programs to create their grocery lists, but I find that I remember everything better (even when I forget my list or phone at home) if I take the time to write out my list by hand. Regardless of what you use to create your list, you still need to spend some time creating your list based on what you actually need to buy.

Shop your pantry inventory

Part of planning your shopping list means that you aren’t buying more of things that you already have at home (unless you want a pantry stocked full of Pop-Tarts and canned corn). If you keep a running list of items in your pantry, you’ll be able to easily see which items you need and which ones you already have.

Shop the sale ad

Every Sunday (or when you receive your store’s sale ads and plan your menu), spend five minutes reviewing your local grocery store’s sale ad. Circle the items that you need. Watch for sales that require you to buy a certain number of items in to get the sale price, though. If you don’t need 10 cups of yogurt, can you mix and match with other items?

2. Keep a running list

I keep a running grocery list on the side of my fridge. As I run out of an item (or start to get low), I make a point to write it on my list. Even if it’s not on sale and you know you won’t buy it for a while, write it down. If I don’t write it down right away, I will forget to buy it!

3. Organize your list

You know what you need to buy, but your list is an absolute disaster and you can’t actually read it without some serious interpretation. Especially if you’re writing items down throughout the week, this is an easy mistake. I learned the hard way (after many long shopping trips and forgetting lots of important items, even though they were on my list) that this isn’t the most effective way to shop. If you create an organized list, your shopping experience will be better. Also, your pantry won’t stay empty, even after an expensive, intensive shopping trip.

4. Lay out your list in the order of the store

Every store is different, but organize your list so that you don’t have to bounce around as you shop. If you need eggs, but eggs are found in the middle of the store, write them on the middle of your list. In my store, the produce is by the door, so I always list that at the top of my list, followed by meat, which is near the back, then dairy, and then frozen items. Organize your list so that you can read it in chronological order as you walk through the store. Before I started organizing my list, I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to buy something (even though it was on my list) because it was written at the top of my list when the item was at the end of the store.

5. Describe the items

This is so helpful, especially if you need to buy a certain quantity to meet the sale criteria. This also helps if you can convince someone else to do your grocery shopping, like those rare times when the farmer swings by the grocery store on his way home from work. Write the item name, followed by the quantity, then the price. For example, if I need canned green beans, I would write it on my list like this: Gr. Giant Can. Beans (6) 10/$10 (C). This also tells me that if I can only find five cans, I’ll need to buy one more of another 10 for $10 sale item to meet the requirements of the sale.

6. List coupons

In the example above, I included a (C) at the end of the line to remind myself that I have a coupon for the Green Giant beans. This helps me remember to find the coupon at the checkout lane (I often fold the coupons inside my list or, if I have a small list, put them in a special pocket inside my purse. If I don’t mark the coupon items, or if I don’t have them already separated from the rest of my coupons, I’ll never remember to use them when I check out.

If you want more information on couponing or saving money in a grocery store, I’ve also learned a lot from taking the Grocery University course. It’ll teach you how to coupon from the ground up, and it even includes a bonus “rock bottom price list” so you can make sure that you’re always paying the lowest price.

When I’m grocery shopping, my mission is to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Without an organized, detailed grocery list, I’d never remember all the items that I needed (or keep my sanity).

Creating a detailed grocery list may seem like more work in the beginning, but it really has made my shopping (and my pantry) much more efficient. How do you stay efficient (and sane) in the grocery store? Share your tips below!

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Friday 23rd of October 2015

Good tips! I always combine my menu planning and grocery list, too. I make 4 categories (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and household items) and write down what we'll be having each day. My breakfasts and lunches are super simple (oatmeal, cereal, fruit, leftover, etc.), but I am more detailed on my dinners (homemade pizza--chicken, peppers, etc.). I also make sure to include the price next to each item. That way I can total up the cost at the bottom of my menu plan to ensure that I remain under budget.


Friday 23rd of October 2015

Thanks, Sarah! I love the idea of totaling up your grocery list to compare to your budget! I just do it so I can find the sales easier (and don't buy six jars of Prego when Ragu's on sale or something silly like that). ;) We're creatures of habit in our house, so we keep breakfast and lunch simple, too. In fact, I usually don't plan those (other than making sure I have enough staples like fruit and leftovers in the fridge).