How to Stop Wasting Time at the Grocery Store

How to Shop Efficiently

Mother and children in fruit and vegetable section of supermarket

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Grocery shopping is one of those tasks where time management and organization clearly intersect. If we're honest, we spend more time at the grocery store than we should:

  • Weekend trips spent aimlessly wandering up and down each aisle without a list.
  • Weeknight stops at the grocery store on the way home from work. This trip is usually followed by a family member calling to ask "What's for dinner?"
  • Emergency trips to the store when you discover you're out of basic ingredients like bread, milk or dog food. Yes, even Rover expects to be fed daily.

What's a working parent to do? This is where advance planning enters the picture, and a little goes a long way. Here's how to organize your grocery shopping in one hour. 

  • Plan Your Weekly Meals

    Create a master list of 12 to 14 meals your family loves, or ask them for suggestions. From this list, choose five or six meals per week to shop for. Make a list of the ingredients you will need to put on your weekly grocery shopping list.

  • Make a List

    Keep a pad and pen or whiteboard in a centrally-located area of your kitchen. This is an easy way for you and your family to jot down what you are running out of during the week. Tell your family to add items to this list when they open the last of a particular item, as opposed to when they finish it.

    If you want to take your list organization to the next level, consider listing the items in order according to your grocery store's aisle layout.

  • Review Your Coupons

    If you clip coupons, compare them against your shopping list while you're at home. It's much easier to organize your coupons at the kitchen counter instead of at the check-out or while you're pushing your cart up and down the aisles. You can still take your coupon organizer with you just in case you see a coupon-worthy item that's not on your list.

  • Find the Right Time to Shop

    Now that you're organized, you can select an optimum time for your weekly trip to the grocery store or you can choose to have your groceries delivered to you.

    Times to avoid:

    • Evenings between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
    • Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
    • Sunday afternoons: While the stores may be less crowded, you'll also find lots of empty shelves after the Saturday rush.

    Experiment with your schedule until you find a time that works for you. But if heading to the grocery store is too much of a commitment, research food delivery services like Peapod, Blue Apron, or Hello Fresh, Nothing beats organizing what food you need and then telling someone to bring it to you! 

  • Commit to One Store Trip

    If saving time is one of your primary goals, commit to a single grocery store. Chasing lower prices at multiple stores often does not pay off; you spend more in time and gasoline than the savings are worth. Also, when you shop at the same store over and over, you learn where everything is, which will help you shave valuable minutes off of your grocery shopping time.

  • Organize Your Shopping Cart

    When shopping, select the largest cart available. Mentally divide the cart into quadrants: one segment for canned goods; one for boxed and pre-packaged items; a segment for refrigerated goods like dairy, lunch meat, and frozen items; and fresh produce.

    When you put your groceries on the conveyor belt at check-out, put like items together and ask your cashier to bag them this way as well. You'll avoid wet cereal boxes because they were bagged with frozen vegetables, and your canned goods won't squish the bananas. You'll also save time putting your groceries away as all pantry, refrigerator and freezer items will be bagged together.

  • Buy Extra Bread and Milk

Many extra trips to the grocery store during the week are for bread and milk. Solve this problem by buying more than you need during your weekly shopping trips. Even if the occasional gallon of milk or loaf of bread goes bad before you use it, the extra time you save will be worth it.