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I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 17, and I’m pretty sure my mom forced me into getting it so I could go on grocery runs for the family. She was so adamant about me passing the exam that we practiced in an empty lot for hours parking and stopping and three-point-turning until I got it perfect. It was probably the day after that DMV lady took my picture that my mom slapped $40 and a grocery list in my hands.
So I learned how to shop at a fairly young age, but I perfected the art of grocery shopping when I learned how to budget and meal prep. Here are my quick steps on grocery shopping thrifty and efficiently:
Before you can make your list, you have to plan ahead. What would you like your next day, week, month look like as far as meals? If you are like me when I lived off of $100 a month for groceries, I would plan one grocery trip per week with the same items in each trip. Ramen noodles, pork chops, bread, canned tuna, eggs. Think about what you want for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. Then, you are ready to make Your List.
Make your list.
You can use your notes app on your phone. I love how you can add little check boxes on the iPhone. Or, you can use plain ol’ notebook paper. Divide your list into categories: Produce, Pantry, Meat, Fridge, and Other. If you are meal prepping, I highly recommend Dropbox for all your recipes.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make now or in the future, always look for a good deal. Coupon clipping doesn’t take a lot of time. Just browse through the local grocery store’s digital coupon list, clip the ones you need, and make little notes on your List to remind you to pick that certain brand, amount, size, etc. Also, check Ibotta for cash back deals. Don’t use coupons as an excuse to buy things you don’t need.
Shop for exactly what you need.
You may be tempted to grab extra items along the way, but STAY FOCUSED! We are on a mission with this list. Think of it as a quest. It’s okay to get yourself a little treat every now and then, but limit it to one item. Stick to generic brands whenever possible, except when it comes to non-grocery items like pet food and laundry soap. Check the price tags for the fine printed “price per” line. It will break down the price to help you decide between the 12 double rolls versus the 24 regular rolls of paper towels. Math is hard.
Arrange your cart.
Your trip through the grocery store should be as follows: produce, cans, meat, more dried goods, non-grocery items, dairy. Your cans should be on the bottom with produce on top. Meat towards to front of the cart in individual plastic baggies so you don’t get juices everywhere and cross-contaminate. Heavy and non-grocery items underneath the cart.
Be kind and patient with others.
When you walk into the store, take a deep breathe and repeat your “be patient” mantra. Otherwise, the entire experience in the store is will be filled with a lot of sighing and rolling your eyes at slow people.
Arrange your items on the conveyer belt.
Your cashier and bagger will appreciate it, plus it will make unloading at your house more seamless. Group the fridge items together, then dried, then non-food, then super heavy items. During the checkout process, make light conversation and don’t talk on your cell phone. Remember to get out those coupons ahead of time, too!
Load your own car.
As much as a large tip to the bagger would make their day, it’s best to take your own items to the car to get some exercise. It’s good for you! Put your eggs and bread in the front seat so they don’t get smooshed along with that candy bar prize that you got for yourself (Yeah, I saw you slipping that one in from the checkout line!).
Scan your receipt.
As soon as you get in the car, scan your receipt with the Ibotta app. If you wait until you get home, you’ll either forget or lose the receipt. Every little bit of savings helps!
Put away & organize.
Don’t keep things in my pantry or fridge that you’re not going to use in the immediate future, unless it’s a spice or special ingredient. Extra impulse buys or leftover items from that diet you tried once should either be eaten soon or thrown out. This will help reduce clutter and help your sanity in the long run.
Make sure to check out my Meal Prep guide for what to do once you actually get the food home.