How to Plan Your Grocery Trips to Save Money

When we spoke about why planning your grocery trips will save you money, I promised to tell you how I plan my trips.

Before I explain how I plan my trips, I must confess: I spend the least of all when I send my husband with a list.

Lists are powerful.

“If you ever walk into a store without a plan,” writes Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar, “it’s highly likely you’re going to walk out the door with something you didn’t intend to buy.”

Do you think it’s any accident that grocery stores place the bakery section — with its pink-frosted doughnuts and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in see-through containers — at the entrance to the store?

Strategic placement could also be why staples like milk, bread, and eggs are at the far end, according to Technorati’s 5 Ways Grocery Stores Get You to Spend More Money.

Here are the ways I plan my trips to help keep things simple and organized, save time and stress, and spend less.

1.  Keep a running grocery list in the kitchen

As you run out of things — or if your kids happen to say, “Mom, when are you going to buy some more kale?” — jot them down immediately.

2. Lock in a grocery trip on the same day every week

We set ourselves up for cook-at-home failure if we don’t have enough food in the house. Grocery shopping, like exercising, is not my favorite thing. But if it must happen every week on a set day, I am much less likely to wriggle out of it.

I actually order my groceries online every weekend. Ask me about online grocery shopping — I love it!

3.  Bulk up the list with weekly sales

It’s just too hard to pick up the sales flyer as you’re entering the store and expect to take advantage of even a tenth of the deals.

Review at home your favorite store’s sales flyer — online or via the circular that comes in the mail or with the paper. Write down foods at a good price that your family likes or you would like to try. This is a great way to vary your diet and try new things.

Keep in mind that some foods always costs less and are unlikely to ever be on sale, such as cabbage, rice, bananas, beans, and eggs. Of the meats, pork, chicken, and ground beef usually cost the least.

4.  Check your pantry and fridge to fill in any gaps

Here is where you want to think about not overbuying fruits and vegetables that can go bad, while making sure you have enough food for snacks, breakfasts, and packed dinners or lunches, as well as any events where you are required to bring food. All this is so you won’t be tempted to buy prepared stuff — the silent budget-buster.

If you’ll need other ingredients to complete recipes, make sure you write those down too.

And that’s really it! Some people use coupons and meal planning, and we can talk about those too. But grocery planning is a super simple routine that can do wonders for cutting our food bills and keeping life organized.

What about you? Do you plan your trips? What makes you call the Pizza Guy?

Photo credits:  list, doughnuts, oranges.

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  • Fred February 6, 2012, 12:01 pm

    I am especially bad at this. I usually have a partial list, but somethings are kept in my head. This leads me to running around trying to remember what I need and inevitable leads to buying things that I didn’t go in the store for.

    • Amy February 8, 2012, 9:41 am

      Hi Fred,

      Yes, I know what you mean. I think it’s all right, as long as foods don’t go to waste or you don’t buy stuff you later realize is too expensive or unhealthy. Thanks for stopping by! Amy

  • Jo@simplybeingmum October 28, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Hi Amy – we are most certainly on the same page. The only one I don’t do is number three. I’m a fanatical meal planner and operate a no waste policy at Chez Wright. I’ve managed to reduce my weekly grocery spend by 50% over the last few months. Planning is the key without a doubt. Really looking forward to digging through your archives! Off to subscribe ! :)

    • Amy October 28, 2011, 1:55 pm

      Hi Jo,

      Just read your post. So many great tips there — I suggest people hop on over to Jo’s blog, Simply Being Mum, for how she cut her spending in half!

      I think it’s amazing that neither sales nor coupons are mentioned once — amazing.

      Thanks for writing in,


      • Jo@simplybeingmum October 29, 2011, 3:14 am

        Cheers Amy! I don’t coupon nor really shop at sales. I was a HUGE fan of online shopping for a few years (reduces impulse purchases, easy to shop from a list), but have recently gone back to physically shopping as I have found that by visiting 4 shops (inc. market) I can get my groceries much lower. For example I have found a shop where I can get some staple items for up to 50% their usual cost. It is taking more time and that should be factored in, but currently it’s working okay, although I am about to do a little experiment comparing ways of shopping and whether I can get it in my £50 budget!

        • Amy November 1, 2011, 9:29 pm

          Hi Jo,

          Yes, I noticed that you had recently forgone online shopping for in-person shopping. I can’t believe you can find some things for 50% less! As you say, it does take more time and effort, but if you don’t mind it and the payoff is big enough, then why not?

          There are other advantages of in-person shopping: being able to touch and feel things, seeing how much you actually have in your cart, and just smiling and chatting with people.

          Thanks for writing in!

  • marian October 28, 2011, 7:42 am

    Here’s an idea that helps me avoids the last minute worry about what’s for dinner.
    When I get the groceries put away, I jot down the list of meals that can be prepared from the fresh groceries (plus the ones still on hand). As I go through the week, I cross them out. There it is in black and white. I find it gives me a tactile feel for variety from day to day. It also let’s me know how the supplies are holding up; and believe me, I can get pretty creative in order to avoid that extra grip to the grocery.


    • Amy October 28, 2011, 1:49 pm

      Hi Marian,

      Wow, that is something I never would have thought of. I love how everyone has come up with their own processes. It’s amazing how much variety there can be in something as simple as grocery and meal planning!

      Thanks for writing in,

  • Lynn October 27, 2011, 8:21 pm

    Even with the best of intentions and careful planning, you may suddenly find you don’t have a key ingredient for a recipe. In that case, it’s nice to know that you won’t have to call the pizza man if your pantry or freezer is at all times stocked with ingredients for one quick meal.

  • Stefanie Cloutier October 26, 2011, 4:08 pm

    Here’s a tip I learned from a friend: go through the grocery fliers at home and make a list of what each store has on sale, that you might want/need. Then, as you’re running around during the week, when you are near one of those stores, you can run in and pick up the sale item(s) without making a separate trip, or feeling like you’re running around to different stores to do your shopping. It does take a little planning, but only a little, and it can really pay off in the long run.

    • Amy October 27, 2011, 7:57 pm

      Hi Stefanie,

      I’d never thought of this strategy! With young kids, it wouldn’t really be “running in” but I can see later on how this would work better. I generally advise people to stick to their favorite store, but this approach would not require extra errands.

      Do you take this approach?