Evolution of a Grocery List

Grocery Shopping List

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I’m not sure about everyone else, but when it’s time to make a grocery list, I have a hard time remembering what I need.  Usually what happens is that I make a list and then get to the store and realize I forgot to put a bunch of stuff on the list or I didn’t check to see if I needed certain items.  Or I get home and realize I forgot some items I really need.

To make my grocery list more accurate, I adopted a practice years ago that has served me well.

  1. As soon as I get home from the store, I put a clean list on the refrigerator.  I’ve been using Franklin Covey’s classic size menu planner for years.
  2. I immediately put items on the list I know I’lll be buying next week.
  3. I add to the list as I think of things or when I notice we’re low on something.  I don’t wait until we’re out of something to buy more – as soon as I open a new jar or bag, I put the item on the list.
  4. The day before I grocery shop, I make my menu and finalize the list.  But except for the items needed for the meals I’m making, the rest of it is pretty much done.

To demonstrate, here are several photos of my list as it evolved during the week:

Grocery List

Grocery List

Grocery List

Grocery List

Grocery List

Grocery Shopping

This method works great for me and saves me time and frustration when I’m getting ready to go grocery shopping.  Do you use a list?  How do you be sure you remember everything?

How to Go OVER Budget at the Grocery Store

Shopping List

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I spend a lot of money at the grocery store.  That’s because:

  1. We eat nearly all of our meals at home.
  2. My husband always takes his lunch and several snacks to work every day.
  3. My husband likes to eat and eat well.
  4. I feed other people frequently.
  5. My grocery budget includes household items like cleaners, pet food (for one large dog and a cat), diapers for the grandkids, makeup, etc.

I used to do a pretty good job at sticking to my budget but in the past several years, I haven’t tried as hard.  However, I want to do better.

When I went to the grocery store this past week, I made a detailed list complete with price estimates and it added up to $183.  I wanted to spend no more than $200 so that gave me a little leeway if I discovered that I forgot something.  By the way, I don’t add in tax because I estimate high on individual items to cover the tax.

Anyway, when I got to the checkout, my bill was $223.30.  Oops.  I went over my estimate by $40 and over my budget by $23.

grocery receipt

When I got home, I analyzed my grocery list to figure out where I went wrong.  Here’s where I messed up:

1.       My biggest problem resulted from the “leeway” I mentioned earlier.  Leeway seems like a good thing because I always forget an item or two or there’s a great sale.  But if leeway isn’t handled carefully, it can be very bad.  When I think I can add a few things because I have a little room in my budget, unless I carefully keep track, that extra $15 will easily turn into $30.  And when I grocery shopped this week, I added $36 worth of extra stuff.

2.      Not being realistic.  I always buy a 20 ounce coke at the checkout.  It’s my reward for shopping.  It costs about $1.60.  Sometimes I buy a second one to share with other members of my family.  Since I KNOW I’m going to buy one or two, I need to add that to my list.  If I KNOW I’m going to buy something, I need to put it on the list!!!

3.       Underestimating the cost of an item.  Most of the time I’m pretty accurate with my estimates but once in a while I miss the mark.  When that happens, rather than tossing the item in my cart anyway, if I’m really serious about staying on budget, I have to make a decision.  If I add the overpriced item, something else has to go.

My granddaughter loves those packages of breadsticks with dipping cheese.  Normally you can buy a pack of 5 for $1.15 but they were out of them.  I didn’t want to disappoint her again (I didn’t get them last week) so I ended up buying a bigger box and more expensive brand for $5 instead of the $1.25 I budgeted.   I also opted to buy a package of chicken cutlets instead of normal chicken breasts (for a recipe for chicken roll-ups that require thinner pieces of chicken) and it was $5 more than I budgeted.  I should have purchased the normal package of chicken breasts and cut them myself.  I just wasn’t thinking.

4.       Not being careful when I make my list.  When I made my list, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.  I was in a hurry and threw it together.  As a result, I got to the store and realized there were several items I needed that weren’t on the list.  If I had been more careful in my planning, those items would have been on the list.

5.       Not being committed to staying on budget.  Even though I wanted to stay on budget, I wasn’t truly committed to it.  I went in with the attitude that it wasn’t a big deal if I went a little over.  That attitude DOES NOT WORK – at least not for me.  The only sure way I know to solve my attitude problem is to go to the store next week with the exact amount of cash I want to spend.

Grocery List

After analyzing my spending at the grocery store this week, I know what I need to do when I go shopping next week.  If you have problems staying on budget, what are your problem areas?

How To Whittle Down a Grocery List That’s Too Expensive


So you made your grocery list.  You added it up.  And it was $50 more than you budgeted.  Uh oh.  What now?!  When that happens to me, as it does frequently, here’s what I do to get it where it needs to be:

1.       Look for items you can put off until another week.  I had several items on my list this week that were getting low but weren’t out yet.  So I skipped them for a savings of $23.

2.       Instead of buying something pre-made, make it yourself.  I eliminated 8 ounces of shredded cheddar on my list.  I have a couple of blocks of cheddar in the refrigerator so I can grate my own.  I was buying it pre-shredded for convenience.  I also skipped buying a graham cracker crust – I have graham crackers and can make my own.  And I reluctantly scratched off a frozen pizza.  I can make it myself much cheaper.  Skipping those three items saved $9.50.

3.       Substitute a cheaper item.  My menu included a Goat Cheese Arugula Pizza which called for arugula, something I don’t normally buy.  Rather than buying my normal green leaf lettuce, spinach AND arugula, I could have skipped the spinach or green leaf lettuce and used the leftover arugla for our salads this week.  Or I could have skipped the arugula and used spinach on the pizza.  Either way, by skipping one of the three, I saved about $3.

4.       Use what you have on hand.  One of my recipes called for a red pepper.  I actually have some chopped red pepper in the freezer but I put a red pepper on my list anyway.  Eliminating the red pepper saved $2.

5.       Buy smaller packages of certain items.  I saved $2 by buying a smaller bag of kitty litter.

6.       And if you’re still not where you need to be, sometimes you have to change a menu item to something cheaper.  If one of your menu items is more expensive, replace it with a cheaper meal.  But make sure it’s something your family will really eat or you might end up going out to eat that day or making an extra grocery store run for something more pleasing.  I’ve done that!  It doesn’t pay to plan meals you won’t eat.

7.       Shop at a different store – one with cheaper prices.  Sometimes you don’t have to take any items off your list as long as you can get them cheaper.  I used to stop exclusively at Hy-Vee but now I’m shopping at Wal-mart.  But if my budget is really tight, the very best way to make it work is to shop at Aldi and Wal-mart.  It’s amazing how a shopping list that doesn’t work on paper will suddenly work.

After all those modifications to my shopping list, the total went from $213 to $172 which worked perfectly for my $175 budget.

What strategies do you use if your shopping list adds up to more than your budget?

10 Tips For a Successful Grocery Store Trip


Grocery shopping isn’t my favorite thing.  It’s expensive and time consuming.  But it has to be done and here are 10 ways to make it easier, or at least more successful.

1.       Don’t shop hungry.  I can’t believe how much more I buy, or at least want to buy, when I shop hungry.  I wouldn’t have believed this tip was really true if I hadn’t experienced it personally.

2.       Shop alone whenever you can.  Kids and spouses tend to make your grocery trip take longer and cost more.  Unless, of course, you’re shopping with your spouse and they happen to be the grocery store police.  When my husband goes with me, I don’t spend as much.  If I pick something up that I really shouldn’t buy, he says:  “Do we really need that?”  And I begrudgingly put it back. So if your spouse or children help you spend less, then by all means, take them along.  However, that’s not normally the case. Most of the time, shopping alone is best.

3.       Shop with a listLately I’ve been going back and forth between feeling too busy to plan or just not wanting to.  So I’ve been shopping with a partially made list.  That is never good for me!  When I shop with a partial list, I come home with a bunch of stuff I don’t need and a bigger bill than I expected or wanted.

4.       If you’re trying to spend only a certain amount, make a detailed list AND add it up before you go!  I don’t want to shop with a calculator or add as I go, so I make an extremely detailed and thorough list and write down the expected amounts next to each item.  I round up the amounts (instead of $2.50 I’ll write $3) and am generous with my estimates.  The “extra” covers the sales tax.

5.       Have a plan for stuff you forgot to put on the list.  Have you ever gotten to the store and seen a product and realized you need that but it isn’t on your list?  That happens pretty often to me.  Here are a couple of ways to handle that situation.

  • You can skip the item and hope for the best.
  • You can skip something else you may not have to have and get the forgotten item instead.
  • You can build a little extra into the list for forgotten items.   When my husband shopped with me, he liked buying new things to try.  So rather than mess up the budget when he wanted to purchase some weird fruit or vegetable or other product, I allowed $10 for “surprises”.  It worked great!

6.       Timing – which day to shop.  I’ve moved my grocery store day to Tuesday for now.  It’s not my preference but it works best for my schedule.  Moving it from Wednesday eliminated a lot of stress from my life.  So regardless of which day is best for sales or other discounts, choose the day that works best for YOUR schedule.

7.       Timing – what time of day to shop.  I’ve tried every time of day –  morning, afternoon, evening.  If I go when it’s busy, there are more checkers and sackers but also more people to work around.  If I go when it’s not busy, there aren’t as many checkers or sackers but there also aren’t as many people to deal with.  So I guess you have to pick which factor bugs you the most and choose a time based on that.  For me, I prefer morning when it’s not as crowded.

8.       If your grocery store doesn’t carry a product you want, you can sometimes ask them to get it for you.  I’m not sure if that would work for Aldi or Wal-mart, but for major grocery stores like HyVee or Price Chopper, I’ve had success asking them to get a product for me.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but they eventually get it if they can.

9.       Don’t linger.  The longer you stay in the store, the more you’ll spend.  So get in, get your stuff and get out!  Your budget and your schedule will thank you.

10.     Shop on the same day each week.  If you shop on the same day each week, your grocery trip is already built into your schedule so you don’t have to try to figure out when to go.  It also helps with planning.  When I make my list, I plan for one week.  It’s easier to plan when I know I need to buy enough for one week.

What are your tips for making grocery shopping more successful?

Bringing my Sky-High Grocery Bill Back to Earth!

my problem and how I’m solving it!

Problem:  I spend too much at the grocery store.  Well, maybe not too much but more than I want to.  While working on the budget for July, I realized the monthly money would go a lot further if I could cut back on groceries a bit.  In all honesty, I’ve tried before and have failed miserably.  But I’m going to do it this time and I’ve enlisted some help from Elizabeth who has written a series of articles on couponing and other ways to save money.  You can read those articles here.

I contacted Elizabeth a couple of weeks ago and explained my situation.  This is the gist of what I said:

  • I’m spending more at the grocery store than I want to.  Right now I’m spending about $200 to $225 per week.  My goal is to spend $150 per week.
  • That grocery budget feeds two of us plus a dog, a cat, and various family members who eat dinner with us regularly.
  • My grocery budget includes dog food, cat food, kitty litter, toiletries, cleaners and paper goods.
  • We eat the majority of our meals at home.
  • My husband, David, eats a LOT and he likes healthy stuff like rice milk, walnuts, Greek yogurt, natural peanut butter, unsweetened applesauce, V8 Fusion, whole wheat bread, etc.
  • I don’t like shopping or cutting coupons.
  • I currently grocery shop once per week at HyVee.
  • My budget also includes diapers and a few other kid-friendly items for the grandkids.
  • I’m constantly trying new recipes for this blog.

Elizabeth asked to see a few of my grocery receipts which I gladly provided.  She reviewed three weeks worth of receipts and made some suggestions.  As a result of our conversation, these are my assignments for this week (week one):

  1. Organize & prepare inventory of freezer and pantry.
  2. Find salad dressing recipes.
  3. Make cleaners including all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, laundry soap & dishwasher soap.
  4. Try Aldi’s next week.
  5. Make a menu from what I have on hand so I can stock up on sale items (Elizabeth’s number one way to save money on groceries is stockpiling.)

So we’re off!  Follow along with me as I attempt to trim my weekly grocery budget.  Check back next Monday to see how I did and see what my next batch of assignments will be.  And please feel free to share your strategies for saving money at the grocery store.

Grocery Gateway-Opening the Door to Savings Through Stockpiling and Coupons

by Elizabeth Scholes

Coupons, stockpiling, looking at sale ads . . .  what images and feelings are conjured up when you hear those words?

For some, it brings the thrill of a good deal and the exciting challenge to save money.  For others, it brings dread because of an already too-busy schedule.  And for others, it possibly brings a total blank slate of wondering what that even means and how on earth to do it.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I was a mom of a toddler with another baby due any day.  I have always enjoyed cooking so our little family of three was generally accustomed to eating home cooked meals most of the time.  I gave no heed to sales, prices or stockpiling.  My sister-in-law mentioned the idea of coupons to me and told me how much she was  saving.  I attended a coupon class a month after our second son was born and have been hooked ever since.  Our family’s household/grocery budget* BC (Before Coupons) was roughly $400/month for a family of three.  At this time, we are a family of four spending $280/month.

This is a loaded subject that is, I’ll admit, somewhat confusing and challenging.  I can assure you it is well worth your time to take a look at your family’s needs and lifestyle in light of what I will share with you.  I will attempt to educate you as well as challenge you to either start “the coupon thing” or take what you’re already doing one step further.

Let’s take a little quiz together . . .  remember, be honest!  No one is tallying grades except you.

   My family eats at home at least 4-5 nights a week.
   I tend to have a good idea of what meals my family will eat each week.
   I know how much the individual items cost that my family consumes/uses on a regular basis.
   I know the difference between a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon.
   I know how much my family is spending each month on grocery/household  items.
    I have an adequate supply of food in my pantry/freezer to make a
spur-of-the-moment meal if necessary.

Tally up your score. If you answered “no” to at least half of these questions, or even any of them, tune into my posts each week and learn something new!

Here’s my savings challenge of the week for you:  Think about your answers to the  questions above and decide on one or two things to work on.  Here are some ideas:

  • Eat at home one more time than usual.
  • Start a price list during your weekly grocery trip to track how much items regularly cost.
  • Keep receipts so you know how much money you’re spending on grocery/household items.

Remember, it’s the little steps that add up to the most savings!

(*household/grocery refers to all food, cleaning, paper goods, and toiletry items)

Elizabeth’s articles will be appearing weekly on Fridays until we’ve all learned how to save all the money we can at the grocery store.