Please tell me I’m not alone. Please tell me that you’ve also had an experience at the grocery store that goes a little something like this:
You arrive in a hurried mess because you’ve put your trip off for way too long. You immediately realize you left your list at home and you are hungrier than you’ve ever been in your entire life.
Your children begin to beg for every brightly colored package stocked at their eye level. Items seem to fall into the cart without you ever touching them. Once you make it to the checkout, you have an immediate moment of remorse because you haven’t been paying attention to any sort of total.
The friendly cashier transforms before your very eyes into a storybook-style villain as she cackles the amount due, which is well beyond your budget. Terror strikes your heart. You, my friend, have been groceried.
How can you avoid a trip like the ones I used to experience? One word — intentionality. While I can’t control the parking lot or an unruly cart, I can help you from overspending. Here are a few of my favorite tips to keep your grocery store experience much more pleasant and predictable.
Shopping on a whim is never a good idea. Want to improve your grocery IQ? Don’t determine what you’ll purchase while you’re at the store.
You need to begin thinking about what you will buy long before you find yourself in the aisles. Whether you use pencil and paper, a spreadsheet or an app, draw your battle plan.
Already have it?
It’s never a good idea to plan what you’ll buy around what “sounds good” in the moment. Instead, open the cabinets, fridge, freezer, pantry, anywhere you keep food, and determine what you already have.
It should take you only a matter of minutes, and it will prevent you from purchasing duplicates or letting food expire or go to waste.
Build a meal plan
Meal planning and grocery getting are intricately tied together. As you begin to account for the food items already in your possession, build a meal plan based on what you could prepare without buying a single item.
Then, evaluate what you could whip up by purchasing only one or two items. Add those items to your grocery list. Knowing what you’ll be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner will provide a framework for what you really need to purchase and what is unnecessary.
Glance at weekly ad
While you don’t have to pore over it like an ancient historical document, it is is a good idea to know what is on sale at your local grocery store. It might be a good week to choose one fruit over another or pick a particular cut of meat.
Knowing what’s on sale before you hit the aisles can defray temptation. Cereals, sweet treats and more will seem less tasty if you know there’s a more affordable option.
Even if you have to rough-draft a list and then recompose your thoughts, it’s a good idea to develop an organizational style suited to your personality and most frequented store.
Typically I like to roughly organize mine by aisle. This makes finding the items much more linear while shopping. Maybe an alphabetical list suits you well.
Maybe you have your own shorthand for denoting coupons and the number of items to be purchased. Think through your list-making process.
If you’re regularly forgetting a list, try using an app on your phone. One of my favorites is Favado, which allows you to add items from your store’s weekly sales as well as anything else you might need.
Cash is your friend and protector at the grocery store. If you commit to spending cash in lieu of plastic, you’ll watch your cart’s collection more intentionally. You’ll be willing to put back items added on impulse.
If for some reason you discover you truly need a bit more than you brought in cash, by all means use your debit card as a backup. But, a cash-only plan will keep you from blindly picking up things you might not really need.
Passivity at the grocery store always leads to an oh-no moment of overspending. Intentionality is the cure.
Sure, it might still be busy. Sure, your kids may still bargain for the jumbo bag of chips and a gallon of ice cream. But with your trusty list in hand, you’ll be cool, calm and collected ready to take on the treacherous aisles, keeping that outrageous villainous total at bay.
Victory and a balanced budget shall be yours!
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. Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.