I dreaded grocery shopping, but it’s my household job: how I made my chore less loathesome

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I really, really dislike grocery shopping. It seems to take time out of my day and stores are hard to navigate and I always forget what I need and blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I never want to do it.

But friends: NO LONGER!

Not since I made a system — everything I dislike doing is better with a system which removes the barriers to success. Now I finally have a grocery system — or at least most of one.

By using a system, I don’t have to make some of the lower-level decisions each week. The sorts of decisions which sometimes cause indecision and often derail my plans to buy food for the house.

These simple changes helped me quite a bit, and they make up the Happy Shopping System for Frustrated Grocery Consumers in America and Across the World (HSSFGCAAW):

The first tenet of HSSFGCAAW:

Plan the week’s meals before you shop

 I’ve talked about E-mealz before. It’s a service which provides a meal plan for each week. There are a number of types of plans — low fat, vegetarian — and lots of good recipes. I like it less for the recipes, though, and more for the forced practice of different types of food. 

For example, under E-mealz I tried my first lasagna. I learned my way around the crock pot, too. Now I mostly use it for reference — to fall back on — and I’m still using the meal planning skillz to make grocery shopping better.  

It’s just as easy to do this without using a meal planning service. This month I picked a few Indian recipes from Manjula’s Kitchen which use overlapping ingredients. It’s made it easy to keep us in dinners without scooting out for groceries every other day.

The second tenet of HSSFGCAAW:

Be loyal to your grocer

We moved to a new neighborhood with this house, so I spent quite a while trying out all our groceries. Now that I know which Hy-Vee has the best combination of price, selection, and convenience, I don’t stray.

It’s nice that the store is a good fit, but I think I really chose it to be my favorite grocery because its layout made the most sense. Its lighting didn’t irk me. Clerks were friendly and all that. Feeling like a place is pleasant makes me happier about the grocery shopping chore.  

The third tenet of HSSFGCAAW:

Shop when the sun is up

Duh. Avoid the evening crowds. If you can’t grocery shop during the day, choose an off-peak hour for sure.

The fourth tenet of HSSFGCAAW:

Buy a big bag

This was the tip that tripped my trigger the most. Do you have an IKEA bag? A FRAKTA? (I love how IKEA names look.) These are the secrets to making my grocery shopping more enjoyable. 

The FRAKTA is an industry marvel. It’s made of a space-age material which defies rips, tears, and spills. It is the most durable grocery bag you can buy! And the FRAKTA is hiding one more secret: It is bigger on the inside than on the outside

I don’t know how, but on several occasions one of these babies has held my entire load of groceries. And with the patented ergonomic design, it’s still mostly easy for me to lift into my car! 

Okay. Am I the only one who systemizes grocery shopping? What sorts of easy changes make your food chores more likeable?

Comments on I dreaded grocery shopping, but it’s my household job: how I made my chore less loathesome

  1. I use every single one of these tips and they really work! Another perk of grocer loyalty is taking advantage of the special coupons you get from your loyalty card.

    Another tip I’d add is to get a big freezer. For about $150 I got a floor model freezer from a warehouse club and I can stock up on meats I buy frequently when they are on sale and also buy in bulk. It makes cooking/meal planning so easy if you know you’ve got stock in the freezer to rely on.

    • My grocer doesn’t offer loyalty cards (Publix), which initially kept me away from them when I moved here because their prices appeared more expensive. But then I poked around them a couple times, and realized they make up for lack of loyalty cards with regular sales on a rotation that makes sense. Nearly every staple of a diet goes on sale once a quarter, and most of the sales are on items that don’t expire for at least 6 months, so stocking up is totally an option. Those that have much shorter shelf lives are on sale based on season or based on normal consumption – so hot dogs and ground beef were on sale nearly the entire summer, veggies and fruits go on sale just before and after peak seasons, etc. It’s a bit more time consuming to learn their habits, and I seriously hope ALL publix follow a very similar cycle, but once you have it down, its cheaper than Walmart most weeks!

      • LOVE Publix! They also have the best store brand products. Who needs to pay the extra 0.50 for Philly cream cheese, when Publix brand is just as good!? and their bakery…mmmmm…

        • Oh to have a Publix! One of my least favorite things about moving from FL to NM is losing Publix. The stores are bright, the isles are wide, the customer service is great, the various stores have comparable quality, and they have a wide range of ethnic/world foods (Get with the program and get some linguica, NM!) The lack of all those makes grocery shopping in NM really depressing.

          I have to shop around at different stores mostly because otherwise I can’t possibly afford enough produce for the little fruit bats that pass for offspring in my house… I should be better about bringing sales and seeing if people will price match.

  2. Great suggestions! Another perk of meal planning is that you end up saving money by not buying a bunch of stuff to rot in the fridge.
    I plan my meals with my store’s flyers so I know what meats (in particular) are on sale. It’s a nice starting point as far as “what do I want to eat this week?”

    • So much this!

      My mum has a terrible habit of buying what she imagines she might want or need when she goes shopping. For about 6 months she was buying a green pepper every time she went shopping. When I was cat sitting I threw out 2 that had gone off, unused, and found another 3 in the back of the fridge. Another time it was tinned chick peas which luckily don’t go off but took forever to get through.

      It’s also great if you don’t have much storage space. We currently have a tiny fridge, with a freezer compartment about the size of an ice cream tub and one small cupboard for food. So only buying what we always use or ingedients for specific dinners is a huge help. This week I knew we didn’t need tinned tomatoes so I was able to use the space for soup and have some more variety at lunch.

  3. My dad is a genius. He made an Excel sheet checklist for grocery items. He sorted items by aisle and all you have to do is checkoff an item. The items purchased most frequently are larger font and/or bolded to make them easy to find. He keeps a stack of these grocery lists on the kitchen counter. It’s pretty brilliant.

    • I love your dad! Great idea! My dad was the family shopper and coupon clipper. He taught me to write things on the shopping list (standard magnetic notepad on the fridge) in the order in which you find them in the store. Most stores are at least somewhat similar, but knowing your local grocery helps. Produce first, canned goods in middle, frozen last…I’ve tried Droid apps but I always go back to a paper list.

      I live in Boston and don’t have a car, so I have to shop a lot more often, and adjust what I can buy to what I can carry on a crowded bus. This means I go to a more expensive local market or Whole Foods more because they are closer, but it’s still cheaper than husband’s take-out habit. When my husband agrees to drive us on a stock-up trip, that’s when I get a boatload of cans, paper goods, and other heavy/bulky stuff. I am the captain on grocery trips because I tend to plan meals or gauge the stock of cans, and I’m better at knowing the store layout and delegating. Take us to Home Depot and the roles are reversed.

      p.s. husband is a very good homemaker in many ways, he just sucks at groceries.

    • I did this when I was 10 because I kept getting put in charge of the list and was tired of the scribbling or people being too lazy to write things on a list or worse, abbreviating oddly so you had no idea what you were buying. I just made a list of all the staples we bought regularly, and left a few empty spots for people to write in special requests. Organized it in the order we’d pick things up. First time we used it, we cut the trip in half from the time before, and bought twice as much stuff. WIN!

  4. I also adore the Ikea bags — but for a different reason, they are AWESOME for lugging laundry! None of the other baskets or bags I’ve had have allowed me to tote TWO loads at once 😀

  5. I’ve just recently started meal planning. It’s really helpful to plan breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and a desert for every day! It’s keeping us al healthy too! But the best part is that I’ve got our prices down! I’m feeding two adults and a toddler, for 8 dollars a day! I’m not sure how good that is for most people, but for my family, it’s a really good start!
    Oh, so what helped this budget the best was that we’ve started shopping at a farmer’s market! For $20 we got so much fresh produce (and hummus!) It’s all delicious, and so now we don’t even buy chips or cookies!

  6. I actually don’t mind grocery shopping, once I get past the whole “having to leave the house” thing.

    I don’t plan out my whole week ahead of time; I sort of do the opposite. I buy mostly the same stuff ongoing but try to stock up on things when they’re on sale, so I’ll plan our meals around those.

    I always look at the sale ad as soon as it comes out and use it to make my grocery list (which I have an app for on my iPod Touch) before I go (I also look over the fridge and pantry to check inventory). Having a list makes it easier not to get too distracted by other things in the store — my list is split up by store section, so I just go from one to the next and don’t even bother with most of the aisles. Buying things on sale, and with coupons, makes the whole thing more fun for me. It’s so satisfying when I get my receipt back and it has a high number under “Your Savings.” =)

    I think the IKEA bag would be too big/heavy for me (I’m a wimp) but I always bring 3-4 reusable bags (I just put all of them inside one).

    Also, I always keep a camera with me when I’m out and sometimes take pictures of things’ prices to compare later at other stores. I mostly shop at Publix, but some things are definitely cheaper elsewhere so I try to keep that in mind when I shop.

  7. I make my meat purchases based on what is on sale as well. Then I make our meal plan for the week. I check out the coupons every week too, both the printed ones from the newspaper and the digital ones that my favorite store has on their website. One of the things that motivates me most when shopping is keeping up with how much money I am saving!

  8. I do the meal plan and list thing, and I have one primary store that I stick to. The one thing that drives me mad about shopping is forgetting something and having to retrace my steps or feel like I’m walking in circles; I can’t stand that sort of inefficiency. But because I am familiar with my favorite store’s layout, when I add things to my list, I put them on the paper in the general order that they come up in the store. So there are spaces in between items, and the spaces get filled in as I add items. So for instance, produce is at the top, as is french bread, since the bakery section is right next to produce in my store. Canned beans go next to canned and dried fruit, since they share an aisle. Milk and yogurt are at the back of the store, so they’re near the bottom of the list. I put frozen things last, so I pick them up on my way out and they don’t thaw while I’m shopping. It works like a charm for me, as long as I shop at the same store each week.

  9. I make my shopping list according to how I navigate the store – it usually prevents me from forgetting anything, plus it makes the trip more efficient in that I don’t have to retrace my steps. Also, if I haven’t been good about menu planning, I tend to buy meat that’s On Special (i.e. “please buy this and use/freeze by tomorrow – we marked it down and everything”) so I save a bit.

    Personally I love grocery shopping, but it helps make things easier.

  10. Yes, as a small farmer I would like to say: Go to your local farmers market on the way to the grocery store! You can often find much better deals on incredibly fresh produce that should keep much longer than the crap from the grocery store. Depending on the season, you can often get great bulk deals on stuff to put in the freezer, too! And, of course, it’s fun for the whole family and great for your local economy.

  11. This post is so timely as we just did our first e-mealz meal last night. I was tired of the whole- ‘what do you want’ ‘dunno, you?’ ‘dunno’ then getting takeout thing so we are trying this more organized approach. I am a little disappointed in this week’s lack of fresh vegetable incorporation, it’s mostly all canned goods but we shall see how it goes. Even if it’s less healthy than I would have hoped it will still be better than getting Chinese three days a week.

  12. I just recently created a system to pair up my couponing and sale-searching with my love of NOT cooking. First I create a meal-plan for the month. I make sure to add easy, quick, but well-balanced meals. Alot of the meals use the same ingredients to reduce waste. Then I create a list based on that meal plan and I make sure to include the quanities needed of each item. Then, I start searching the sales by using the weekly ads found on the web. I created a sale/coupon/grocery list excel that I use to keep track of which items are on sale at which stores and which coupons I have for them. I keep the meal plan on the side of the fridge. I go shopping each week to take full advantage of the available sales and to stock up a bit for the next month. It has cut my stress, along with time and money spent in half. 🙂

  13. I kind of like grocery shopping, except for the fact that somehow I always end up at the grocery store at 2pm Sunday afternoon…which is when everyone shops. Even still, what I’ve found that makes it easier is to keep an ongoing list throughout the week(s) on the fridge so we can write down what we need as we run out of it. If I didn’t do this, I would never have things like dish soap or peanut butter because I would just always forget them. Another thing that helps is to bring a buddy if you can. My husband and I generally do the shopping together so that one person can navigate the cart through throngs of people and the other person can man the list and make sure we get everything we need. One last thing is something that I did as a kid. My dad would always do the grocery shopping and any time I would go with him, he’d get both of us a doughnut from the bakery to eat on the way home. I find ending my grocery trip with a delicious treat makes shopping way more enjoyable.

  14. ahh! i’m so glad you mentioned E-Mealz again! the first time you wrote about it i thought, “hmm…sounds intriguing.” i wasn’t really being serious about planning meals then, but knew we needed to. then we did a re-evaluation of our budget…um…hello meal plans. i find it challenging to plan for only two (i feel like a lot of food goes bad and i HATE wasting SO much). plus, i’m not much of an iron chef. i have no ideas about variety. so, i signed us up yesterday. i went shopping and went $20 under budget for the week and now have something to make every day (plus recipe). i hope this will at least introduce to the process of meal planning and budgeting for food and help me learn to cook a greater variety of things. so far, so good!

  15. I really dislike planning meals for the week. We always end up changing our mind about what we want to have. So, I plan out 3 meals and make sure that we have all the ingredients on hand. Then, we can either pick from the list or decide on something different. A lot of our meals are decided by what produce we have (or were given) and needs to be used.

    For most of my dry goods and specialty shopping, I go to Giant Eagle. I know where everything is and they have a kids’ area that I could leave the kids in. Now, however, my oldest (10) has aged out of it and the baby is too young, so we only leave the middle child there. It still helps because the older boys are the ones that get on each other’s nerves the most. The 10 yr old can push the cart and entertain the baby and I can shop. I like the Giant Eagle because they have a lot of specialty items and a large kitchen/ deli/ bakery section. Plus, their fish is almost always sushi quailty. Zack and I used to make it a date, by dropping the boys’ off, getting a coffee and exploring what new foods they had available.

    We use the local smaller store for produce and other items that need to be replaced on a more frequent basis (coffee & half & half).

  16. I hate grocery shopping also and do a few of these things. Other things I do is to take a list of every item I need so I don’t forget something and have to go back. We also schedule the grocery store for the same day/time every week so that we can’t draw out the inevitable. I also sometimes like to go to the farmers market and get fun, fresh foods to change things up, and we’re dreaming of the day we buy a deep freezer and can order Schwans!

  17. I always keep 1-2 of my grocery totes in my car so that if I need to pick up few random items for a particular meal or treat I’m making it doesn’t seem so bothersome to pop in to the grocery store on my way home from work.

  18. My boyfriend also hates grocery shopping (even though I kind of love it) and last time we went he was like “grrr I hate shopping because it takes forever! grrr!” So he organized our list according to department and the layout of the store and it only took 10 minutes!

  19. It’s absolutely showing my Geek side. But after grocery shopping, I input what groceries I bought into a spreadsheet. Also make sure to include store, price, oz etc. So every time I buy the same thing (hello Nutella!) it shows. It also shows where the cheapest place to buy it with the most oz’s was. So eventually I’ve got this meta shopping list that includes pretty much everything I buy in a year (barring trying new recipes). I wrote down in what order the aisles are in, and kept in mind what order I liked to shop. Made the list accordingly, and when I’m going grocery shopping, I simply check the ingredients I need to buy, and print that particular list out. I know that their are programs online that can help you do the same thing, I just happened to do it myself. Complicated at first. But the geek in me really really loved inputting all that data LOL!!

    • As a kitchen manager, I LOVE this idea! I keep trying to put it into practice, but for some reason, having it for my vendors and having it for my house just never works out the same way.

  20. I always plan 7 – 10 days worth of meals and try as much cross over as possible. (If I get tortillas for burritos – I can use some for wraps. Carrots for salad and stew. etc) As I pick each meal, I write what I need for each (which I don’t already have in the house and then create my list.
    I also organize my list by item type…
    Dairy, meats, breads, frozen, vegi, fruit, canned/boxed, other (soaps, personal items). That helps me to avoid forgetting things.

  21. I absolutely love grocery shopping, but that’s probably because I grew up poor and it was the only fun we had as a family.

    Now that I’m an adult, I plan at least two weeks worth of dinners and probably 5 different types of lunches so I can buy in bulk (like at a Gordon’s Food Service). I also plan out where I buy each item so I can make each grocery trip quick and easy–it also cuts down on unnecessary impulse shopping! Because we’re on a tight budget, I only try 2-3 new recipes each month.

  22. I plan for a two week block and only go to the grocery store if I need to pick up fresher items. I cook 5 days out of the week (my husband has food catered at work on Thursdays and then we go out once a week). I do one slowcooker meal a week, on Tuesdays when I don’t get home til 10pm. The other days I try to variate the type of meat. For example, I limit red meat to once a week, usually tilapia/salmon once a week, shrimp once a week, and the rest chicken or pork. We have pasta maybe once a month because I’m trying to avoid carbs with dinner.

    I shop at Costco and Safeway. Costco is good for meats that I can freeze, breads, and paper/cleaning products. Safeway is used mostly for produce and things I only need small amounts of. I get my apples at Costco though, cause I usually eat one a day.

  23. We don’t shop at walmart… I am an impulse buyer and a trip to walmart can cost me serious cash. I only Shop at Kroger and a discount supermarket. I buy what is on sale and then plan around that. a couple weeks ago I got a microwavable egg scrambler, Fridays new chickeny thing,and 2 boxes of toaster strudel for 50 cents each. I only take the amount of money i can spend on food in the store with me.

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