Whether you live to eat or eat to live, there’s no mistaking the fact that at some point throughout the week, you probably need to visit the supermarket to pick up your pantry essentials. Maybe you genuinely enjoy grocery shopping each week, or perhaps it ranks lower than cleaning the bathroom on your list of chores. Either way, there’s probably no escaping it — especially if you want to eat well and avoid takeout containers every night of the week.
If you go about grocery shopping the right way, you can save money while also shaving minutes off the clock. Even if you don’t view it as the worst experience of your week, no one wants to spend multiple hours wandering up and down the aisles of a busy supermarket. A few of these techniques might take some time to perfect, but you’ll be well on your way to speeding up your trip each week if you can follow these tips.
1. Check out the sales before you shop
If you’re a budget-conscious shopper (and let’s be real, we all are to some degree), knowing which sales are valuable to you ahead of time will save you mental energy when you’re actually in the store. Most supermarkets now put their deals online, so check out the coupons and price cuts before you leave your home. Even people with lists can be distracted by huge mark-downs, Good Housekeeping points out, so knowing which ones you want to take advantage of and which ones you can ignore in advance will be a huge help.
Checking out these deals can also help you decide what you want to make that week, the Domestic CEO Amanda Thomas at Quick and Dirty Tips writes. “If I go onto the store’s website and see that pork roasts and chicken breasts are on sale, I can come up with a few recipes that use those two meats,” she explains.
2. Itemize your list by category
You’re already making a grocery list (or at least you really, really should be), so why not go one step further and organize it? If you can group your produce, meats, frozen items, and dairy together, you should be able to get everything you need with one sweep through the store.
Not only does backtracking waste your time, it can also cost you more money in the long run, LifeHacker contributor Thorin Klosowski writes. “You’re also more likely to grab items you don’t need when you backtrack because you also get exposed to advertising twice,” he says. “That bag of cookies might not have looked good on the first pass, but the second time around it might end up in your cart.”
This technique could include making your own list template, based on the store (or stores) you shop at most. It’s worked for some shoppers, and it could work for you as well with some practice. It’ll likely take some effort, though, as only habit will help you remember if black beans are in the same aisle as the taco ingredients or with the other canned vegetables. Another solid tip: Consider sticking with brand favorites week in and week out, unless there’s significant savings by switching for a week. If you like Pace salsa, for example, stick with that every time. That way, you won’t spend multiple minutes picking out staples each week.
3. Get the timing right
Grocery stores tend to be busiest on weekends and Monday evenings, Quick and Dirty Tips points out. You and everyone else has the most free time during those periods, which means everyone is thinking about groceries. If you’re looking for emptier aisles and smaller checkout lines, try adjusting your schedule to go a different day or switch up the time of day you shop.
One contributor for The Kitchn says she shops first thing in the mornings, around the time the stores open. Even on weekends, you’ll normally find an emptier store early in the morning — with the added perk of fully stocked shelves and a fresh staff. If your work schedule doesn’t allow for morning or weekday shopping, try adjusting the time you shop by even 30 minutes or so, to see if there are crowd trends you notice. A simple change could mean fewer evasive cart maneuvers.
4. Pick the right checkout lane
You’ve done the hard work of making the trip as short as possible on your end, only to get hung up with a line for the checkouts that seems to suck all that efficiency down the drain. When you see long lines to wait for the cashier, it might actually be a better bet to stand in line behind the one person with a full cart, rather than the line with four people holding baskets. The reason, as The New York Times reports, is that the greeting, exchange of money, and farewell take a set amount of time per customer. Those interactions can add up, and could take just as long (or longer) than the interaction with one customer who has a full cart.
5. Consider online purchases for non-perishables
Depending on the toiletries and non-perishable foods you buy, you might be able to save money by ordering them online. Once you get the delivery schedule perfected, it will definitely save you time at the grocery store by paring down your list. One writer at LifeHacker describes a few deliveries he purchases through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program, which delivers grocery items to your door.
If you’re trying to save every dollar possible, you might miss out on some great promotional deals now and then. But this habit stabilizes your budget — you’ll be charged the same price every time and you’ll shorten your trip to the store. Time is just as limiting as money, so this really can help.