Don’t Step On The Grocery Grenade

As a professional organizer, I often hear my clients report some variation of the following:

“We don’t have time to go shopping. We usually run through the drive-through for burgers pizza!” Boom!

“I wanted to buy healthy cereal, but the kids kept screaming for Frostie Bites.” Boom!

“My spouse just called to say we’re out of milk again. And bread, too.” Boom!

“I just spent $30 at the convenience store on my way home last night, and there’s nothing to eat again.” Boom!

They’ve been hit by the grocery grenade. That’s when failure to plan your grocery shopping blows up in your face, making you much more likely to buy expensive but unhealthy drive-through fast-food, spend too much money for quick convenience and get sabotaged by supermarket obstacles.

Being organized when you go grocery shopping saves times and money, helps you plan and prepare more nutritious meals, and prevent mealtime wars. Consider these basic steps for making peace with grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping without a list is like going on a trip without a map or directions.

  • Experiment with the idea of actually planning your meals more than 30 minutes ahead of time. Let your kids help you search cookbooks for simple cook-head and easily prepared meals, consider weekly themes around a particular food or ethnic cuisine that uses many of the same ingredients for multiple dishes.
  • Keep a running grocery list posted in the kitchen, divided by basic food categories (beverages, produce, meat, snacks, etc.) and non-food categories (like cleaning and laundry supplies). The categories prompt you to remember what’s missing.
  • Set up a template grocery list in the computer and print off a small stack every few months. Or, buy nifty reusable laminated write-on/wipe-off version at — it’s called the Easy Minder Grocery List and Coupon Kit.
  • Don’t wait until you run out of something. Treat your groceries like your gas tank—when you’re down to a quarter-full in the milk jug or cereal box, put it on the list!

Coupons and special pricing circulars can offer great deals to the consumer, but you need to keep your wits about you at the store.

  • Only clip coupons for brands and items you already use, or that your family is willing to try. Coupons are a form of advertising, so if you wouldn’t buy a brand or product if it were advertised on TV or the radio, a few pennies shouldn’t be that persuasive. A good price on foods that no one will eat is a lousy deal.
  • Check the expiration dates on coupons. I’ve seen coupon converts get to the checkout line with carts piled high and fistfuls of expired coupons. It’s not a pretty sight!
  • Mark items for which you have a coupon with a bit “C” on the grocery list. Paper clip the coupons to your grocery list (or to your money) so you don’t forget to give them to the cashier.

The last thing you want to do when you leave the office or finish the carpool is to head to the grocery store. You’re tired, you’re hungry, and invariably it’s raining. Well, listen to your intuition, because there’s a better way.

  • Shop weekly, at off-peak hours like weekday mornings or before school lets out instead of weekends or right after work.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry or cranky; you’ll be more tempted to make impulse purchases that are high in fat, sugar and “Oh, no, you didn’t!” content.
  • Shop when someone else can watch your children. If that’s not possible, bring along a small, healthy snack like Cheerios or raisins in a zip-lock baggie to keep youngsters happy. Let older children help by matching coupons or crossing items off the list.

If you set out on any journey without a clear notion of your destination, without packing the proper provisions and without surveying the land, you might get where you want to go, but it would be more stressful and more expensive. The same is true of any trip to the grocery store.

  • Note where you park as soon as you get out of the car. There’s nothing worse than roaming the parking lot with melting ice cream while you search for your car. Consider your position in terms of immovable landmarks like cart returns rather than the color of the car parked next to you.
  • Use a printed map of the store aisles, if one is provided, to buy non-perishables first. Then, you’ll never have to double-back for or be tempted in the cookie aisle.
  • Head to the bulk aisle if you are shopping for a large household or a small army. Don’t always buy in bulk-a gallon of something that will spoil or ten pounds of a product that goes stale before you finish it is really more expensive than a smaller package with a higher unit price.
  • Next, move around the perimeter of the store-get fresh produce, then meat, fish and dairy, and pick up your frozen foods last. Keep cold foods together to maintain the low temperature.
  • As you take items off the shelf, organize similar items together in the shopping cart. Once at the checkout, unload each category separately: canned goods, beverages, frozen/cold foods, cleaning supplies. Have breakable/crushable items bagged last. When similar items are bagged together, it’s easier to UNPACK and STORE items in an organized way at home.
  • Unpack in the opposite order of the way you shopped: frozen items, then refrigerated or perishable foods, then canned/boxed foods and non-food items last.
  • Check your register receipt for ACCURACY! You can save a register tape for a few days in case you need to return something to the store; then TOSS IT OUT!

Remember, if you plan ahead, you can shop faster, take advantage of discounted coupons and specials and make healthier food choices for your family. Make peace with grocery shopping, and don’t step on the grocery grenade.

Copyright © 2005 Julie Bestry and Best Results Organizing. All rights reserved.


About the Author:   Julie Bestry is a professional organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Her most recent book is 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business. For information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at

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