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How to Organize Your Grocery Shopping

Create a Plan and Save Time


Mother and children in fruit and vegetable section of supermarket
Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The Problem: Wasted Time at the Grocery Store

Grocery shopping is one of those tasks where time management and organization clearly intersect. If we're honest, we all spend more time at the grocery store than we should:

  • Weekend trips spent aimlessly wandering up and down each aisle without a shopping plan;
  • Weeknight stops at the grocery store on the way home from work. This trip is usually preceeded by a call from a family member with the question "What's for dinner?"
  • Emergency trips to the store when you discover you're out of basic staples such as bread, milk or dog food. Yes, even Rover expects to be fed daily.

What's a working mom to do? This is where organization enters the picture. And a little goes a long way.

The Challenge: Organize Your Grocery Shopping in One Hour

Take one hour this weekend and get organized. Use this step-by-step solution and organize your grocery shopping process.

Step One: Menu Planning

What's for dinner? It's the question most working moms dread, and it's the one that must be answered if you're going to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store during the week. Keep a master list of 12-14 complete meals your family loves such as:

  • Spaghetti, meat sauce and salad;
  • Chicken tacos, black beans and rice;
  • Barbecue chicken, corn on the cob and green beans;
  • Pork tenderloin, rice and steamed broccoli; or
  • One of the many additional options at About.com's Busy Cooks site.

The basic idea is to compile a master list of complete meals from which you can choose five or six per week. Make a list of the ingredients you will need to purchase on your weekly grocery shopping trip.

Step Two: Make Your List

Keep a pad and pan in a centrally located area of your kitchen. This is for you and your family to make note of items you run out of during the week. An even better plan is to train your family to add items to the list when they open the last one of a particular item as opposed to when they finish it.

Add these items to your list of necessary menu ingredients before heading to the store.

If you want to take your list organization to the next level, consider putting the items in order according to your grocery store's aisle layout. For example, my grocery aisle sequence is as follows:

  • Bread, bagels, English muffins, crackers
  • Canned fruits, vegetables, soups
  • Cereals, coffee, tea
  • Sugar, flour, spices, baking supplies
  • Pasta, pasta sauce, rice, noodles
  • Cleaning supplies and laundry detergents

No matter where they might be located in the store, put produce, fresh fruit, dairy, meat and frozen items at the end of your list so that you select those items last just before heading to the checkout counter.

Step Three: Review Your Coupons

If you clip coupons, compare them against your shopping list while you're still at home. It's much easier to organize your coupons at the kitchen counter instead of while pushing your cart up and down the aisles of the store. You can still take your coupon organizer with you just in case you see a coupon-worthy item that's not on your list.

Step Four: Timing Is Everything

Now that you're organized, you can select an optimum time for your weekly trip to the grocery store.

Times to avoid:

  • Evenings between 5 pm and 8 pm;
  • Saturdays between 10 am and 4 pm; and
  • Sunday afternoons - while the stores may be less crowded, you'll also find lots of empty shelves after the Saturday rush.

Experiment with other optimum times until you find one that works for you. For example: I've found the best times at my local grocery store to be Thursday late evening or early Saturday morning.

Step Five: Make a Commitment

If saving time is one of your primary goals, commit to a single grocery store for the following reasons:

  • Chasing lower prices at multiple stores often does not pay off. You spend more in time and gasoline than the savings are worth.
  • When you shop at the same store over and over, you learn where everything is which will help you shave valuable minutes off your grocery shopping time.

Step Six: The Organized Shopping Cart

When doing your weekly grocery shopping, select the largest cart available. Mentally divide the cart into quadrants as follows:

  • Canned goods
  • Boxed and pre-packaged items
  • Dairy, cheese, yogurt, lunchmeat and frozen items
  • Fresh produce and fruits

Use the seat basket for cleaning and laundry supplies. Use the basket under the cart for meats. Bottled drinks and paper goods can be housed on the flat section under the cart.

When you put groceries on the conveyor at checkout, put like items together and ask that they be bagged this way as well:

  • You'll avoid wet cereal boxes because they were bagged with frozen vegetables, and your canned goods won't squish the bananas (a personal pet peeve).
  • You'll also save time putting your groceries away as all pantry, refrigerator and freezer items will be bagged together.

Step Seven: Buy Extra Bread and Milk

Many extra trips to the grocery store during the week are for bread and milk. Solve this problem by buying more than you need during your weekly shopping trips. Even if the occassional gallon of milk or loaf of bread goes bad before you use it, the extra time you save will be worth it.

Ongoing Maintenance

By reviewing and following the steps outlined above on a consistent basis, you can get organized and save time at the grocery store.


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