How to Stop Wasting Time at the Grocery Store

7 steps to help you create a plan and save time

Mother and children in fruit and vegetable section of supermarket
Make your grocery trip a fast and happy one with these tips. Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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 mom to do? This is where organization enters the picture. And a little goes a long way.

Here's how to organize your grocery shopping in one hour

Step One: Plan your weekly meals

What's for dinner? To help answer this question create a master list of 12-14 complete meals your family loves such as:

  • Spaghetti, meat sauce and salad;
  • Chicken tacos, black beans and rice;
  • Barbecue chicken, corn on the cob and green beans;
  • Pork tenderloin, rice and steamed broccoli;
  • Or ask your family what their favorite meals are, and they can't say something that is already on the list.

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.

Step Two: Make a list

Keep a pad and pan or white board in a centrally located area of your kitchen. This is for you and your family to write down what you are running out of during the week. Train your family to add items to this list when they open the last one of a particular item as opposed to when they finish it.

If you want to take your list organization to the next level, consider putting the items in order according to your grocery store's aisle layout. For example, my grocery aisle sequence is as follows:

  • Aisle 1: Bread, bagels, English muffins, crackers
  • Aisle 2: Canned fruits, vegetables, soups
  • Aisle 3: Cereals, coffee, tea
  • Aisle 4: Sugar, flour, spices, baking supplies
  • Aisle 5: Pasta, pasta sauce, rice, noodles
  • Aisle 6: Cleaning supplies and laundry detergents

And so on.  

Step Three: Review our coupons at home

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 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.

Step Four: 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 pm and 8 pm;
  • Saturdays between 10 am and 4 pm; and
  • Sunday afternoons - while the stores may be less crowded, you'll also find lots of empty shelves after the Saturday rush.

Experiment with other optimum times until you find one that works for you. For example: I've found the best times at my local grocery store to be Thursday late evening or early Saturday morning.

if heading to the grocery store takes up too much for your time research local 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!  But if you can't commit to this option let's continue with our plan.

Step Five: Commit to one grocery store trip

If saving time is one of your primary goals, commit to a single grocery store for the following reasons:

  • Chasing lower prices at multiple stores often does not pay off. You spend more in time and gasoline than the savings are worth.
  • When you shop at the same store over and over, you learn where everything is which will helps you shave valuable minutes off your grocery shopping time.

Step Six: Keep your shopping cart organized

When your shopping, select the largest cart available. Mentally divide the cart into quadrants as follows:

  • Canned goods
  • Boxed and pre-packaged items
  • Dairy, cheese, yogurt, lunch meat and frozen items
  • Fresh produce and fruits

When you put groceries on the conveyor at checkout, put like items together and ask that they be bagged 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 (a personal pet peeve).
  • You'll also save time putting your groceries away as all pantry, refrigerator and freezer items will be bagged together.

Step Seven: 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.

Edited by Elizabeth McGrory