My Grocery Shopping List

I should probably start by saying that I hate grocery shopping. On the other hand, my household insists on eating, and we can’t afford to hire a housekeeper or eat out every single meal or even exist on takeout, which means someone has to buy groceries. My husband offered to take on the job if I’d take over maintenance on the cars. Uh…

Given that I was stuck with the job, I decided to put some organizational skills to work to smooth out the process as much as possible. In particular, I wanted to eliminate the two hassles that irritated me the most:
1) I wanted a way to create a complete list of the groceries that were needed. No more emergency runs to the store for that forgotten strawberry jelly and two cans of tuna!
2) I wanted to progress through the store efficiently. No backtracking from the Dairy section all the way back to Produce because I forgot to get the raisins while I was there!

I’ve been tinkering with my system for nearly a year now, and I thought I’d share the current version. It seems to be mostly working well, but suggestions for improvement would be most welcome. (Yes, you really must hate a chore to devote this much time to minimizing it.)

The list itself

The core of the system is the form I created to use as my shopping list. It’s not complex: A single 8.5″ X 11″ sheet, in landscape orientation. Margins of .3″ all around. I inserted a table with four columns (the full width of the paper) and 14 rows, and then copied the table in again. The result is a sheet of paper divided into eight ‘mini’ shopping lists, each roughly 2.5″ inches wide and 5″ long.

I filled in the first line of each mini-list with the name of one of the ‘areas’ my grocery store breaks down into: Deli, Produce, Dairy, Meat/Fish, Frozen, Bakery, 1st, and 2nd/Unknown. The first six labels are self explanatory — the specialty areas, generally located around the outside walls of most grocery stores. The store I use (which calls itself a superstore) has divided the interior shelves into three subsets of aisles, two for the ‘usual’ things you find in a grocery, with a third in between full of …well, whatever. Beach toys, charcoal grills, plants, clothing. 1st and 2nd refer to the two chunks of ‘grocery’ aisles.

Use of the list at home

I print out ten or so copies at a time. The entire stack is stuck onto the front of my refrigerator by four strong magnets. A pen on a plastic coil thingy is hung on a magnetic hook beside it.

  • Throughout the week, whenever I (or any other resident) notice that something is getting low or has been used up or simply decide it would be good to have on hand, the item gets written onto the appropriate mini-list.
  • The night before I do the shopping I go through the grocery store circular and write onto the list the ‘special sale’ items I want to take advantage of.
  • Finally, I plan menus for the upcoming week — generally just what the main course and side dish will be — and add to the lists whatever is needed for those dishes that I don’t already have in the pantry. For example, last week the decision to make stuffed peppers meant I added only a pound of hamburger and four green peppers to the list, because all the other ingredients were on hand.
List on fridge

Final preparation of list for usage

I extract the topmost sheet from the magnets, and cut the mini-lists apart. I stack all eight up, and punch a single hole in the upper left corner. (Scissors and a single hole punch are kept in a kitchen drawer.) Then a single ‘hinged’ ring binds these eight lists PLUS my store’s ‘membership/discount’ card AND my debit card into one neat little stack. (Yes, you’re allowed to punch holes in credit/debit cards, just avoid the magnetic strip and any raised print. Get a ‘spare’ card to use for this, if you don’t want your main card defiled.)

At the grocery store

All I take into the store is that ring with the lists and the two cards. I ‘wear’ the ring on my left thumb — no more dropped or lost lists for me! I can easily consult the lists, and both hands can still be used pretty freely for grabbing those 14 pound tubs of kitty litter or wrestling fruit into clingy plastic bags.

List on fridgeOnce inside the store, I move smoothly from area to area. Having a list of just those items in that department really helps me focus. Instead of being distracted thinking about items that are in other areas (What flavor of ice cream should I buy? Should I get one or two dozen eggs?) I see just the relatively small number of items I need to think about at the moment. Radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, grapes, oranges. Zip, zip, zip, into the cart they go.

Before I divided up my list, I often found myself backtracking for an item I’d overlooked in the entire jumbled list, sometimes the full width of the store. Now I virtually never have to retrace my steps even within an area. I march steadily along, tossing stuff into my basket, a model of organization. I am Hannibal astride my elephant, unstoppable and triumphant! (Hey, these little fantasies can help motivate you to do chores you dislike.)

Once I’ve acquired all the items needed in a particular area, I rip that list off the ring and crumple it into my pocket, and move on to the next area. Once all eight lists are crumpled, I am DONE. Head directly to the shortest checkout line, scan the two cards, and escape from the store! Hallelujah! (Yes, I do hate grocery shopping. I think I mentioned that once before.)

A couple of points someone may wonder about:

  • Yes, this isn’t the way to spend the least money possible on groceries. I don’t use coupons, I don’t cherry pick the specials from multiple stores, I don’t use a calculator to figure out if the 12 oz can at 1.39 is a better deal than the 14 oz. can at 1.59. OTOH, when an item is on sale at a significantly low price, I do pick up several for the pantry and so over time a large proportion of what we eat was actually acquired at a sale price. Bottom line, reducing how much time I spend grocery shopping is more important to me than cutting grocery costs to the absolute bone. YMMV.
  • Yes, this system requires that everyone who adds items to the list know which area of the store they are found in. This hasn’t been much of a problem. Most things are obvious, once you internalize the difference between fresh produce and canned/bottled items. In addition, that last mini list is labelled “Second/Unknown.” When someone doesn’t know where an item belongs they put it there. I move items onto the correct mini-list at the same time I add circular sale items.

That’s the whole system! Between not having to backtrack while in the store AND not having to make at least one ’emergency’ grocery run each, I figure I save at least an hour and a half a week. Which may not sound like a lot, but 1.5 X 52 is 78 hours! Nearly two full work weeks worth of my time moved from the ‘Have to do a detested chore’ to the ‘Have fun!’ columns. I love it.

I’d love it even better if I could save yet more time, so if you have suggestions, please share them here.

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