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Grocery Shop Quickly and Within Your Budget

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I'll admit it (just to my fellow dads) that I don't like to shop for groceries. (I'm not much of a shopper for anything) But when I have a need to go, I have found some keys to making the process work for me--to take less time and not been in cold sweats at the checkout stand because of the size of the grocery bill.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: About two hours per week

Here's How:

  1. Check out the ads. In most areas, grocery store ads arrive in your newspaper or mailbox weekly. Rather than just saving them for cleaning windows, take a quick look to see what is on sale at which stores. Getting a general feel for the prices of the things you will need and often buy is a good first step.
  2. Plan your menus. Going to the grocery store without a plan will result in your buying the wrong things and forgetting the right ones. We try to plan out two weeks so we minimize the number of trips to the store during our pay period. We use a master menu list to plan for all the meals we will be eating at home. This is the foundation of the shopping experience.
  3. Take inventory. Once you have the meals thought-out, it's time to do a quick look around to see what you have in the cabinets, freezer and refrigerator. Compare it to the ingredients you will need for your meals and then make a quick list of what you are missing to prepare what is on your menu planner.
  4. Make a shopping list. A good list is the real secret to shopping quickly. We tend to waste a lot of time running around the store, back and forth. So use a list that is organized the way the store is organized, putting like items together. You can use our recommended shopping list or make one of your own, but make sure it is in categories. Keep all the dairy items together, and separate from the produce, which is separate from the meat, etc.
  5. Go back to the ads. The most efficient shoppers I know rely on one major store to do their shopping, but they keep some flexibility in case another store has a screaming deal on something they need. Review the ads one more time for just such deals. If you find one, then put the initial of the store next to the item on your master shopping list to remind you to get that item at the other store.
  6. What about coupons? I am a big fan of coupons, but I'm not obsessive about it. For one thing, coupons are sometimes good, but only on things I usually buy and only if the brand is one I use. So as they arrive at the house in the mail or newspaper, if it is something I frequently buy, I clip it out and put it in an envelope. Then I run through the coupons quickly on shopping day to see if anything aligns with my shopping list.
  7. Take your supplies. Again, if you want to be quick about the shopping experience, take along what you need but only what you need. Your list, a pen to cross off things, your checkbook or debit card and your coupons. If you are environmentally conscious, or your store doesn't offer them, bring along bags for bringing groceries home.
  8. Go and stay focused. If ice cream isn't on your list, don't take your cart down the ice cream aisle. Follow your list, going through each aisle where you need something only once. You'll be amazed at how fast it can go when you take a few minutes to get ready. And if you only buy what's on your list, the price will be right, too.

Tips:

  1. Eat before you go. When I'm shopping hungry, I tend to buy a lot more than I really need.
  2. Have a needs list at home. We have a white board in our kitchen where all of us write down things we need or run out of before shopping day. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of preparing a shopping list.
  3. Go early in the day. The store is generally less crowded and you'll have more selection of meats and produce.
  4. Try store brands. You can usually save quite a bit buying the off-brands offered in most chain stores. And the difference in quality is usually not even noticeable.
  5. Get a store savings card. A growing trend with grocery stores is a customer loyalty card where you can get special savings not available to other when you use the card. You can often save quite a bit painlessly.

What You Need

  • Menu plan
  • Grocery list
  • Coupons
  • Store savings card
  • Pen
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