Save Money on Groceries by Being an Intentional Shopper

Over the weekend I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things. Since we were set on meats and produce, I found myself wandering the aisles more than usual – seeing what was on sale and checking prices of a few of our favorites.

Before I knew it, my shopping cart was half-full, and I knew my trip to the store to “pick up a couple things” would likely cost much more than the mission name implied. So it goes when shopping without a list.

$38! I spent $38 essentially on junk. Well, it wasn’t all junk, but the very large majority of it was junk. And by junk in this context I mean things that can’t generally be used to make a meal – sodas, chips, a couple dessert items, some frozen items from the “Snack” case, etc. No ingredients, no staples, no meats, no vegetables.

I loaded up the items in my truck and reflected a bit about the grocery trip, wondering how many times I’ve shopped like this in the past and thought nothing of it. I violated nearly every rule in the book of frugal grocery shopping – I didn’t have a list, I had not planned any meals, I was hungry, etc, etc.

I decided from now on I would try to be an “intentional grocery shopper.” That is, I would do a better job of planning before I went to the store. I would seek out only the things I needed to fit my meal plan and nothing more.

How to Become an Intentional Grocery Shopper

1. Plan meals a week (or two) in advance. One of the easiest ways to plan a shopping list is to work backwards. Start by planning a few meals you and your family would like to have over the next several days, then list the required ingredients for those meals. Check your pantry to see what you have on hand and add any missing items to your grocery list.

2. Always shop with a list. I can’t cite any official study, but experience tells me that when I shop with a list I save money. I also forget less things, which requires a return trip to the store which offers more opportunity to spend unintentionally.

3. Shop once a week. The enforcement of this rule alone will make you a more intentional grocery shopper. If you know this is your once-a-week visit to the grocery store you are more likely to plan and make a complete list so as to avoid a trip again later in the week.

4. Use coupons. I am not the best coupon sorter. Some people seem to have it down to a science – it comes naturally to them. Not me. Still, I could probably save $5 – $10 per trip to the grocery store without even trying just by using the coupons in the current Sunday paper. Imagine the damage I could if I actually invested the time to collect and sort them EVERY Sunday.

5. Stay away from the inside of the store. On my most recent trip to the store I did the exact opposite. I avoided produce, meats and dairy and instead wandered the chip and cookie aisles for half an hour. Big mistake – unless I was targeting something very specific. From now on I will stick to the perimeter of the store, for the most part, stocking up on meats and fish, dairy and produce.

What are some tips you use to save money on groceries?