I take grocery shopping seriously. I’d often join my mom when I was a kid, following her around Kroger, grabbing things on lower shelves, checking out the latest Little Critter book in the magazine aisle.
Then, I became a grown up. I had to buy my own food. I learned a valuable lesson during my first trip to Kroger on my own during my first summer internship away from home: Food is expensive. I lived on chicken and potatoes that summer, mainly because they were filling and relatively inexpensive.
It’s been *gulp* 12 years since my first solo grocery shopping trip, and I’ve honed my habits like an athlete. By doing so, I’ve been able to save a lot of money for the Thompson Wolf Pack (aka me, Rob and Roscoe).
And the truth is, I love to shop for groceries. I like surveying the selection of food, imagining all the things I will cook and how we won’t have to eat out and, therefore, will save money. And for someone who loves food as much as I do, being in a store full of it is heaven. And I think I’ve turned it into a personal challenge in which I have to figure out which items to get at which stores for the best value.
Sift through your cookbooks and Pinterest boards
Before you get your grocery list together, you need to decide exactly what you want to cook. Yep, I’m talking meal planning. DON’T PANIC. It’s really not as hard as you think.
Take some time the day before your grocery trip to sift through your favorite recipes or look on the internet for something new. Don’t forget to take your own schedule into account when you’re planning your meals for the week. If you have plans most nights of the week, forgo tedious recipes for simple ones that you can make ahead of time and/or quickly. Hint: breakfast for dinner aka brinner aka some bacon and fried eggs is always a good option.
Bring a list or GTFO
Forgetting my grocery list is amongst the worst things in life, right up there with making a sandwich with the end pieces of bread or your DVR clipping off the end of your show. A list keeps you on task. It’s like a set of rules when you go to the grocery store. True story: I’ve been known to turn around and go home if I pull into a grocery store parking lot and realize that I’ve forgotten my list.
I picked up this little tip from The Kitchn blog: I created a template of the basic groceries I get (not name brands just types of products). I organized the items on the list by where they are in the store (yes, I know the layout that well). But I also leave some blank spaces.
A list centers me. It’s easy to get distracted by everything going on in a grocery store, especially as they keep getting bigger and bigger to load in more merchandise that has nothing to do with eating.
Order of operation is key
Remember when you had to learn which order to solve math equations – everything in the parenthesis first, exponents, etc.? Well, there’s a rigid order I follow when it comes to which stores I visit first. I always start with the basics, so Aldi is my first stop. I tend to do the bulk of my shopping there (my love for this store runs deep, y’all), but it’s a good first stop because it’s the cheapest place to get staples like flour, sugar and canned goods. But as much as I love Aldi, I know I can’t get everything there, especially personal hygiene stuff I like, certain cleaning supplies and good coffee (no offense, Aldi). That’s when I head to other grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s, Lucky’s, Paul’s Fruit Market and Kroger to fill in the blanks. And we’re also dipping our toes into farmers’ market season, so keep that in mind, too.
Over time, you’ll eventually learn what you like from particular stores and whether or not you’re willing to make a special trip to get it. For example, the Italian sausage from Lucky’s is HEAVENLY, but I only stop there if I have other items to make the best use of my time and gas money.
(Blogger’s Note: For those who follow me on Twitter, you know a post about grocery shopping across Louisville is coming. I just needed to crank this one out first.)
Decide what’s important to you
Some of you might be giving me some mean side-eye right now. Lists? Planning? Multiple stores? I get it, y’all. Time is a limited resource. We’re all super busy. Take a moment and decide what matters to you and your household when it comes to groceries. Is saving money the priority? Buying local? Organic only? A combination of all three? None of the above? Once you have your grocery priorities in check, it will be easier for you to develop your own game plan.