How To Grocery Shop

I know I talk a lot about costs and shopping, but I don’t think I’ve ever mention how I shop.  It’s not pretty.  But I’ve gotten used to it and the routine helps.

First, let me tell you what stores I have at my disposal.

  1. Stop & Shop – Conventional Grocery Store w/ a small natural foods section and an organic store brand
  2. Shaw’s – Conventional Grocery Store w/ a small natural foods section and an organic store brand
  3. Trader Joe’s – Smaller Grocery Store with a large selection of organics and a store brand that doesn’t use GMO’s
  4. Whole Foods – Large selection of natural and organic foods featuring a lot of local items
  5. Jot Lot – A large ‘discount’ store known mostly for household items but has a large food section with an increasing amount of organics
  6. There are many other local stores in my area that I have stopped shopping at due to the lack of organics, they proved to be a waste of time .

I have caught on to the fact that I am a very good shopper and I wish I could share it but it comes so naturally it’s hard to tell what I do differently from others.  My sister spends more than me at every store and I know I eat waaaaay more than she does (both bigger portions and more frequently).   I have a thing for numbers so it’s easy for me to compare prices between stores from memory so I always know where to get something for the lowest price.  My sister ‘likes’ Shaw’s – not me!  Many of their items are marked up at least $1 more than Stop & Shop; yes, it’s prettier and the customers are more polite but does that really matter?  When I am retired and living on scraps am I going to remember that nicely dressed women who chatted me up while we were in line one Sunday afternoon?  Stop kidding yourself.  Sure it’s a P.I.A to drive to 3 different stores but for the tiny extra effort, I save about $20/trip and get the things I want!  Plus my sister and I do it together so it’s more fun.

The fundamentals:

  • Pay Attention!  First of all, if I had kids, they would not be going to the grocery store with me!  You just can’t concentrate!  Don’t be on the phone or in la-la land, pay attention to what you are doing.
  • HAVE A PLAN!  You should be getting your menu together for the week.   A good place to start is www.supercook.com; just punch in what you already have and browse recipes that use those ingredients.  Try to use all of an ingredient; if you buy a bag of celery for soup but only use 3 stalks, find another recipe that uses celery.  Supercook will help you do that too!  Freeze anything you’re not going to use (stocks, sauces, cooked vegetables, bread, leftovers, etc.)
  • HAVE A LIST!  And I don’t mean jot down “milk, eggs, bread” on a sticky note on your way into the store.   This is the hardest part of shopping.  Once this is done you can breeze through the store without much work.  You should be making your list throughout the week.  Running low on T.P?  Put it on the list!  You may think, “But I will remember something so important”, however the key is to have a complete list, to trust that you don’t have to get anything that is not on the list.  This takes practice but saves you from impulse buying and/or ending up with items that just go to waste.
  • Don’t pay more than you have to! Obviously coupons are a great way to save money, but they are hard to find for organics.  Every month Whole Foods puts out a booklet with coupons and recipes, I always grab one.   Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon.  Cut coupons for items you use, after you make your list of what you need, look to see if you have a coupon.  Check the internet for store flyers, check for your list items and see where you can get them cheapest this week.   Adjust your shopping list accordingly, separate the list by stores and what you’ll buy at each.  For the items you’re not sure where to buy, put them to the side of the paper and check the prices as you go.  Feel free to stock up on item you know you’ll use (before they go bad) if they are on sale – don’t feel obligated to do so if you can’t!  This is hard for me, when I see savings I want to act but sometimes I don’t have enough that week for stock-ups.
  • Have a limit.  You may not have to stick to a number, but shot for it.  If you go in thinking you’re just going to shop, you’re going to spend.  If you say I only have X amount of dollars and I need so much, you will automatically stop yourself from impulse buying (for me, it’s until I finished my list! I always throw in a treat at the end of my visit as a reward) .

Once I have my list together I eat something that will satisfy not only my hunger but my desire for food.  This will keep me from wanting everything I see!  I like to start at the cheapest place I can find.  It used to be Trader Joe’s but now it is Job Lot.  I can always count on chips, spices, cereal, stocks, juice, Bob’s Red Mill, olive oil, soups, and pastas to be in stock.   I then move on to Trader Joe’s for the next level.   Staples I always get there are bread, fruit, half and half, milk, cheese, pizza dough, snacks, spices, frozen veggies and berries.  From there we go to a conventional grocery store to get paper goods and any organics they might have.  Finishing, of course, at Whole Foods.

This all sounds so easy now but let me tell you, 7 months ago it was anything but!  It was a nightmare!  But like anything else, it got easier with time and practice.  I think paying attention to prices and remembering where my favorite items are sold the cheapest is the most beneficial.

Don’t give up!

Here’s an article I just read that kinda backs up my strategy!

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