Avoid shock at grocery check out

Is there anything worse than being in the check-out line and wondering what on earth you’ve just purchased to add up to so much? Instead of staring blankly as the total climbs, take control of your shopping experience.

These grocery shopping tips aren’t for extreme shoppers. They are for REAL people, like you and me, who are limited on time and probably don’t equate going to the supermarket with a spa treatment. You don’t have to spend hours of your life. You don’t have to clip coupons until your fingers bleed. But you should have specific strategies to win that you employ every time you hit the aisles. Let’s get down to business and save you some money, shall we?

Never shop without a list

Want to tear down your budget and end up with a bunch of junk you don’t need and probably shouldn’t eat? Go ahead and hop in your car to head to the grocery store without a list. Friends, you’ve got to have a written plan. Good intentions don’t equal success. Start by opening your fridge, freezer, pantry, car trunk (OK maybe not there but wherever you keep food) and seeing what you already have on hand. This will help you use items before they expire AND guarantee you don’t overbuy. Whether it’s your phone, a piece of scrap paper, or the FREE Printable Meal Planner I have on Queen of Free, you can do this and it takes maybe 15 minutes of time.

Set a timer

Grocery shopping shouldn’t be a drawn out escapade. Your goal is not leisurely. Get in, get out, get only what you need is the name of the game. This is easier for some than it is for others. So, if you need to, set a timer on your phone so that you don’t waste minutes or money wandering the aisles. When the timer goes off, game over. It’s time to get to the check out and get the heck out of Dodge.

Shop the perimeter

Items in the grocery store are strategically placed, friends. There is a rhyme and reason to why the milk is in the back of the store. I find that I make the best economic and health choices for my family when I shop around the perimeter, avoiding the center aisles that are often filled with junk foods and extras. Proteins, dairy, produce e — these are the foods that keep you fuller for longer and save you more money. Pay close attention to where items are placed, too.

More expensive items are typically at your eye level and loss leaders — those great deals that the grocery store uses to pull you in to shop there — are typically at the back of the store so that you have to pass by many items to get to them. Think smart defense when you hit the aisles and you’ll save plenty.

Don’t shop at weak hours

There’s not a particular window of time that you have to head to your favorite store (although I’ve always been taught that Wednesday morning is the best time for the freshest foods at the best price). But you know when your resolve is the weakest. When you’re hungry and tired, you’re more likely to make mistakes. For me, it’s dangerous to shop after 9 p.m. (I call it the rule of the Gremlins). For you it might be first thing in the morning or your lunch hour. Just pay attention to when you are most likely to overspend and avoid going during those peak weak hours like the plague. NEVER and I repeat NEVER shop hungry. You won’t be able to resist the Ding Dongs and the Kettle barbecue chips and the gallon of ice cream (oh is that just me?).

Put back items

This is my favorite grocery shopping tip of all time. Before you check out, scan your cart. Find three to five items that you don’t need. I promise you that unless you’re a list commando something has jumped into your cart. Remove and return these items to their shelves (or hand them back to the cashier). You’ll easily save around $10 and not have to clip a single coupon.

You can DO this. Friends, don’t shop with a defeatist “meh” attitude. Head into the aisles like a warrior, ready to win. When you hit the parking lot, do a victory dance and think of me —with the rest of the crowd — roaring for your success. Win, baby, win.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.”