How a Simple Shopping List Can Save You Big

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Uh-oh...your cupboards are looking bare. Time to hit the grocery store. You’ve got your wallet at the ready so out the door you go, prepared to stock up your fortress. But wait — where’s your shopping list? You didn’t make one? Big mistake.

Grocery shopping without a list is like planning an attack without a battle plan. Think of grocery shopping as waging war in the marketplace. The store’s mission is to get you to spend as much money as possible and your mission is to keep as much of it as you can. Your grocery list represents your means to that end. It enables you to accomplish your goal of getting in, securing precisely what you need, and escaping with your bank account intact. The enemy is unpreparedness, which leaves you vulnerable to costly confusion and impulse buying. You also run the risk of launching an incomplete mission, which will mean another confrontation with your adversary in the form of an extra trip to buy what you forgot.

Let’s make a shopping list that will keep the mission of buying your groceries and household supplies on track. Let’s do it as streamlined, efficient, and economical as possible too. Because every shopper is unique, as is every store and circumstance, take into account your own shopping style along the continuum of rigid to free-form. The goal is to create a useful tool that works in harmony with the way you shop. Here are some general practices to bear in mind to make your best shopping list. Don’t leave home without one.

Make a grocery list template. This will serve as your strategy guide as you plan each grocery procurement mission. You won’t run the risk of forgetting what it is you need to include on your list once you create a template. You’ll also be spending time making the template more efficient, instead of spending time reinventing the wheel every time you shop.

Create a master list of household staples. Write down what you use on a daily basis by brainstorming and by consulting your last few grocery receipts. This step is simply to save yourself time so you don’t have to rewrite a list of the same things over and over again.

Flesh-out your grocery list to include extras, like snacks, beverages, special occasion foods, and supplies. Remember what’s necessary for all meals (and in-between them) and any specialties needed for parties or events.

Organize your list by aisle or area of the store. This will ensure that you get what’s needed the first time in each department, avoiding backtracking. And honestly, the time saved isn’t even the best benefit. When you don’t have to wander back and forth at the store, you’ll also be less tempted to buy stuff that catches your eye because you’ll see overpriced merchandise less often.

Update your list according to season. Store offerings, as well as your needs, change with the seasons. Revisit your template several times a year to include what you didn’t think of a few months ago.

Remember to save your old lists though, because seasons cycle around each year, and your old lists will become useful again every few months.

Incorporate sale items. Before you shop, peruse the store’s sale flyer, adding items you need that are on sale in order to save on things you use. It’s also a good way to plan a splurge when something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy goes on sale. Instead of trying to find flyers before you go to the store, it’s more efficient to update your list when the flyers show up in your mailbox. If you are really organized, you can put in the sales items on your list and when the sale will expire. Then, you can safely get rid of all your flyers and the clutter from these mailings.

Create your list of something that can be taken with you. Writing items on a dry erase board may be convenient when you’re in the kitchen but it means either your list stays at home or you have to copy it on something portable, doubling your effort. It’s better to use good old-fashioned paper or a portable electronic device. I use my iPhone and that works just fine because I always have the device with me not only when I’m ready to edit the list but also when I’m shopping. There are also dry erasable notebooks that are thin and can be written and re-written with ease. Give those a try if you are looking for a way to keep your lists handy and you just don’t like using your phone to keep track of your list of items.

Add items directly to your list as you realize you need them. Don’t wait — do it now before you forget! I already talked about doing it when the grocery store flyers come, but add items onto your lists whenever they pop into your head too. That’s why a phone is so great for the list. You take it out, type the item in, and put it back in your pocket. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Plan the dishes you want to cook. Based upon what you have on hand and what’s on sale, create a meal plan and add ingredients you don’t have to your list. By planning it out, you also avoid the risk of finding out that you forgot to buy a certain ingredient halfway through your cooking. I remember how my friend forgot to buy tomato sauce and only found out halfway through the party when she was preparing for the spaghetti sauce everyone was supposed to eat that day. It wasn’t a big deal because she just went to the store to get it, but then it also meant that she missed an hour of the fun of our gathering while she was scrambling to buy what was needed.

Shop alone, unless you are shopping with your savings army. Untrained tag-alongs cause extra spending. Don’t let those shopping with you detract you from your mission.

Making, taking, and sticking to a list makes your shopping easier. It also makes the journey more complete, and in the long run, more economical. Prepare your list ahead of time, get in, get out, and save.

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