How To Plan A Grocery List

It's a generally accepted rule of personal finance that if you make a grocery list and stick to it, you'll spend less than if you went into the store unarmed. Not only will you avoid impulse purchases, you'll also make better use of what you actually buy because you will have considered how you'll use it in advance. Making a grocery list sounds simple enough, but there are several things you can do to get the most out of planning a trip to the store.

Take stock of what you already have. Whenever I make my grocery list, I look through the pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what I already have that can be used in future meals or snacks. Maybe I have pasta, but no sauce, or a can of enchilada sauce and plenty of tortillas, but no cheese. By figuring out how to use what you already have on hand, you can reduce your overall bill. Keep in mind that sometimes this strategy can backfire: if you have a can of olives, but need to buy olive oil, crushed red pepper flakes, dijon mustard, and bread before you can turn the olives into olive tapenade, you won't exactly be saving any money unless you have multiple uses planned for those other ingredients.

Plan your list around sales and coupons. To stretch your budget even further, when planning your meals for the week, take into consideration what's on sale and what coupons are available. If you don't get the Sunday paper, you won't get the coupons, but you can still check out most store's weekly flyers on their websites.

Organize your list. If your list has you running from the frozen food aisle to the meat department and back, not only will your trip take forever, you'll also be tempted to buy things that aren't on your list every time you cross the store. If you organize your list by grocery store aisle, you'll save both time and money.

Don't over-purchase perishable items. I hate going to the store, so I like to buy as much food as possible in one trip. However, this sometimes results in perishable foods like fruits, veggies, and cheese spoiling before I can use it all. Be realistic about how much of these items you can eat between store visits so you don't have to toss your money in the trash. This includes not stocking up on something like milk just because it's on sale if you know you won't be able to easily consume it all.

Plan to use your freezer or closet. Bulk buying for items that won't spoil quickly, either because you can freeze them or because they aren't perishable, is a great strategy for saving money on any item you purchase regularly. If you show up at the store and find out that chicken is half off or soda is 99 cents for a six pack, stock up! You'll thank yourself for weeks to come.

Only take what you can afford to spend. If your budget is really tight or you have a bad habit of overspending on groceries, estimate how much the items on your grocery list will cost, then take cash to the store so you're forced to stick to your list and keep your spending within your budget.

With these simple tips, you're now well-equipped to plan a budget-friendly grocery list and save money every time you go to the store.

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The Cost of Convenience: The Pros and Cons of Having Groceries Delivered
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