Grocery Shopping Smart: Tips for the Supermarket

by AJ Pettersen · 17 comments

Since graduating from college and living mostly with my fiancé, I have been doing most of the grocery shopping. She works 36 hours a week, while I have more free time to run errands. Figuring out an effective way to grocery shop has been a process for me. I have shopped without lists, with lists, without many ideas, and with too many ideas. It has been an experiment to say the least. At the end of 6 months going through the grocery shopping routine, I have learned a few techniques that work.

More Visits, Less Groceries


This was a new idea for me. In college, I would buy the exact same groceries every two weeks: milk, cheese, noodles, beef, etc. I probably repeated a shopping list once or twice. Now, my fiancé and I would be traveling back and forth between two places often (home and the city she works). This meant an increase in the frequency of grocery shopping trips was a must. I now go about once a week, sometimes twice if I find I wanted something I didn’t have on the list originally. Frequent shopping has allowed for less wasted food and an easier time carrying items into the apartment.

David’s Note: This is a perfect example of how you should really do what works for you. Most people will tell you that you can save more money by going to the supermarket less frequently because of gas costs and the increased potential of buying what you really don’t need. But obviously, if making fewer trips meant buying way too much food that ends up in the garbage can, then by all means, go as often as you need to.

Planning Meals

My fiancé and I started this one about a month after we moved into our new apartment. In the past I typically cooked easy meals and repeated them often. I realized this may get old with two people, so I decided to branch out, but finding worthwhile recipes is difficult in an online world full of options. We put our heads together and started searching for recipes we would like. We used sites and applications, such as:

  • Pintrest
  • Foodnetwork.com
  • BigOven
  • Epicurious

Each of these offers their own unique advantages. Using a specific set of sites offered continuity for meals and an easy way to find past meals we enjoyed. By planning out each meal throughout the week, I have been able to buy the right kind and amount of groceries on each trip.

Buy Enough for Leftovers

With my fiancé working 12 hour shifts, she needs to pack a meal each time she goes to work. This is typically the leftover food from something we ate the night or afternoon before. By cooking twice as much as necessary for one meal, we can save a few dollars a day. She doesn’t have to purchase food at the cafeteria and I don’t have to cook anything new. Leftovers are simple savers of time and money.

What Works for You?

How do you shop for your groceries? Using these three techniques, my fiancé and I have been able to eat delicious meals without wasting food, time or money. Of course, these are just a few examples I learned over the past half year and I am still an inexperienced shopper. I would love to hear how other people approach grocery shopping.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean March 7, 2012 at 6:52 am

It’s an interesting suggestion, although personally, I’ve stuck to shopping for groceries once every two to three weeks. I do agree that it can lead to buying stuff in excess and go to waste but I try very hard to not let that happen, checking expiry dates particularly painstakingly for every item, for example, as well as factoring in the consumption by leaving out days where I might be eating out, and so on.

-Jean

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Jules March 7, 2012 at 7:42 am

We live within walking distance from two supermarkets. I typically buy the “constants” (breakfast supplies, lunch supplies, coffee) as needed, and food for dinner depending on who feels like cooking. I try to stick with what’s on sale, of course.

We make lots of extras and freeze them in old peanut-butter jars. But every now and then, we still find a squishy kiwi in the bottom of the crisper.

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George March 7, 2012 at 7:54 am

- Correctly ordered lists, store-specific –
My wife plans out the grocery list and appropriate coupons/deals, and I often do the actual trip to execute it. One thing that has helped me so much speed-wise is that she quickly rewrites the list for me in order of where it will come in the store, aisle by aisle. Seems like a minor change, but it saves 10 to 30 mins on-average every time by not having to constantly be aisle-hunting and back-tracking. The one exception is the frozen section items…those are always last no matter where in the store they are but luckily they are often in a single area of the store. :)

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AJ Pettersen March 7, 2012 at 11:13 am

Jean, the time between trips has a lot to do with traveling between two locations.

Jules, it must be great living that close! Bringing home what you want to eat that night is convenient.

George, this is an idea I will need to use. I sometimes have a tough time moving efficiently through the grocery store. Setting up the list by the location of items is genius.

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Jean March 11, 2012 at 1:59 am

That is quite true. My grocery store is actually not too far off, about say 20-30 minutes from home but the checkout lines are very long almost all throughout the day, so that is one reason behind my motivation to go there as infrequently as possible!

-Jean

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Jeff Crews March 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

What are your thoughts on buy one/get one? I do that all the time!

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Job Classifieds March 8, 2012 at 4:27 am

thanks for the suggestions.. But are you sure this could be applicable in all the places

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Architect March 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

I use the coupon matchup suggestions for each store from WeUseCoupons.com. Then I also use the circulars to spot the best deals. I’ve also made some food in bulk to freeze, such as burritos for less than 25 cents each.

Another issue to be aware of is the cost of driving to each store. Using google maps, knowing your car’s mpg, and the current gas price, you can calculate each round trip cost. I did that and put it into a spreadsheet and discovered that trips are costly! So, I now combine trips with other errands or I simply don’t go to the store unless it is for a large bulk purchase.

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Susan E March 8, 2012 at 6:46 pm

We live close enough to shop regularly at four stores, so we shop frequently. This is a money-waster for us because we always buy extras that we don’t really need. However, I have done two things that have made shopping easier and saved a lot of money over the years.

I made a spreadsheet with prices (by pound, ounce, etc.) of items we usually purchase at every store where we shop. That way I can shop at the store where the item is cheapest. I wouldn’t drive 10 miles to save 5 cents a pound on apples, but with a variety of stores nearby, we can choose where to go.

I also made a list with the stores where we shop and the items we buy frequently at each store. I also put the items in the order where they’re found in each store, and printed several copies. When we get low on something, we circle it on the list. Then we just take the list and go shopping. We don’t have to try to remember what we need and where it is when we get ready to shop. When I’m out of lists, I revise them as necessary and print more.

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PFM March 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I make sure to check the ads/website of the store before I go, make a list and bring coupons with me. I only rarely buy things not on the list. It took me a few months to get the hang of things, we’re lucky to have 5 grocery stores within 3 miles so I now know which one generally offers the best price on the item I need. I try to wait until I need enough from 1 or 2 stores before I venture out.

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Marbella March 9, 2012 at 1:52 am

I go shopping 3-4 times a week, but I get nothing extraneous, only what we eat today and tomorrow. Here in Spain is that fresh produce, very little frozen, vegetable shops, fish shops, butchers, etc. It is possible to shop economic by having good control on prices.

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Manuel March 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Interesting suggestions. Thanks for sharing!

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Carl Lassegue March 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Other than the usual (eggs, chichen and bread) I tend to buy only things that are on sale or BOGO. They change every week so that keeps it different enough for me so I do not get bored.

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FrugalRican March 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Personally, I go once a week. Fortunately for me, I live close to my local supermarket, and just 2 minutes, is a farmer’s market with some of the cheapest and yet, BEST, produce I’ve ever tasted.

I make sure to make a list of the grocery items I need, specially if they are on sale. I make sure to stick to the list and whatever I might have missed, I’ll leave til next week. I have a pantry full of extra food, just in case…. because I know that if I go back during the week to pick up just ONE item, I’ll come out with about 7 or 8.

And that’s… not frugal.

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Dana March 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I stick to one store. Their prices are really good. Their sales are really good, and their coupon policies are perfect. Most of the coupons I use are for a dollar off quantity of one (sometimes two). Any coupon under a dollar gets doubled and often I used coupons for a particular brand when I’m not even buying the exact product on the coupon. It works most times. Example: I used a Hefty Trash Bag coupon for 1.00 on Hefty paper plates that were on sale. I only clip coupons for items I normally buy. I buy milk usually at the normal price (its rarely on sale). I check the circular every week, and grab the items I have coupons for. I usually have multiple coupons for items and stockpile when they’re on sale. And I watch the register like a hawk. If something on sale (or off) rings up wrong, and it’s under $10 dollars, I get it free. If it’s over $10 dollars, I get the first one free and the rest at sale price.

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Michael N. March 9, 2013 at 6:09 am

Like my grandma always said…. “Don’t go to the grocery store hungry.”

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