Now that you know a little more about how grocery stores operate, here are some basic tips for developing your own grocery shopping strategy:
1. Make a list – Keep a pad of paper in your kitchen dedicated to your grocery list. Throughout the week, as you finish foods or decide that you need something on your next grocery trip, write it down. If you keep track of what you need as it comes to mind, you’re less likely to forget and less likely to have to make multiple trips.
2. Group your items – On said list, try to group your items by store (if you shop multiple places) or by section of the store. I usually write all of my produce in the top left of the page, frozen foods in the bottom right, etc. If I know I need strawberries but plan to buy them from the farmers market instead of the grocery store, I will put them on a separate list or at the very bottom of the page. A clear, organized list will keep your shopping trip quick and on budget. Here’s how I write mine:
3. Plan your meals – Take inventory of your kitchen before you go to the store, decide what you need for the next few days or for the week, and stick to those items. Know going in what produce you’ll need, what proteins, what grains, etc. Don’t go to the store looking for recipe inspiration. I am often guilty of that, and it usually ends up with me bringing home random foods that I didn’t really need.
4. Buy only what you need – Food waste is an epidemic in America. Buying more than you need results in wasting food, money, natural resources, etc. It can also result in overeating – if you bring home more food than planned, you’ll probably eat more food than planned. Don’t buy the bulk items if you know you and your family won’t consume everything. Also, don’t be overly tempted by By One Get One Free offers. “BOGO” means the same exact thing as “half price,” marketers just know that consumers are more swayed by the word “free.” If you know you don’t need or want that second tub of ice cream, don’t throw it in the cart just because it’s BOGO. You will still get the one for half price, and you don’t need to bring home more than you need.
5. Don’t browse – Decide what you need to buy before going, and get in the store and get out. The longer grocery stores can keep you inside, the more you’ll spend. Also, don’t walk in hungry with plans to buy the first thing that jumps out at you. Everything will jump out at you.
6. Read every label – Before you drop something into your cart, read the label. Food companies can make the front of their packages convey a clean, healthy, wholesome image. Don’t be tricked – flip over the package/box/carton/container and read the nutrition facts and list of ingredients. If there are more than five ingredients, or if you can’t pronounce something, put it back on the shelf.
7. Don’t multitask – Try to avoid talking on the phone (or doing any other distracting activities) while grocery shopping. I’ve done this so many times and have ended up mindlessly purchasing stuff that I wouldn’t have if I’d given it a second thought in the store. Be as focused as possible while shopping – it will pay off for your waistline and your wallet.
8. Keep and review your receipts– What was your most expensive item? Will you buy that again next time? What was especially cheap? If you notice that your bag of Fuji apples was especially pricey compared to other items on your list, consider switching to another type next time. Was the amount of broccoli you bought a better deal that you’d expected? If so, maybe incorporate broccoli into more of next week’s meals.
Half of US food goes to waste (This article notes that the average American household wastes 14% if its food purchases. Don’t let that be you!)