7 Smart Strategies When You’re Grocery Shopping for One

published Oct 20, 2016
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Grocery shopping for one may seem like the easiest thing in the world in theory—buying for just yourself should be an automatic money-saver, right? But if you’re shopping solo and you go in without a plan, it’s hard to keep yourself in check when it comes to impulse purchases and knowing what you really need. And using up food all by yourself before it goes bad can be a challenge, too, so you have to shop and cook smarter. The good news is, it can be done, and it’s not that difficult, as long as you have a strategy and stick to it.

Keep a running list of everything you have

Before you even attempt to make a shopping list (and you definitely should have a shopping list), take inventory of your fridge and pantry. Make a note in your phone of anything that’s about to go bad or expire, and which spices and non-perishables you’re almost out of. Then, you’ll always know what you have and what you need to use up—you won’t be stuck standing in an aisle trying to remember if you have enough ketchup (especially important when you live alone, because there’s no one to frantically text to double check the fridge while you’re at the store). And, if you pay attention to what foods you already have on hand, you’ll be less wasteful with your food and wallet.

Plan your menu first, then stick to your list

If you’ve ever tried to blindly make a grocery list, you know how hard it is to figure out what to buy and what you can do with it. Rather than list foods and ingredients you want first, take a few minutes to plan out your meals for the week, then compare those meals to the ingredients you already have (you know, from that handy inventory list you just made). Whatever you don’t have, add to your grocery list—and when you get to the store, only buy what’s on the list, and stay away from impulse purchases. And the best part of menu-planning when you’re dining solo? You can pick whichever meals you want without consulting anyone.

Cook your meals in bulk

When you’re planning your menu, consider cooking foods that can be made in bulk. It’s convenient for two reasons: one, you save so much time and energy cooking a few times a week as opposed to every night, and two, buying ingredients for larger quantities of the same dish is a lot less expensive than buying tons of different ingredients for a different dish every night of the week. And if you make too much, you can always freeze the excess for easy meals when you’re out of groceries or too tired to cook—just heat up, and enjoy.

Join a loyalty program

Rather than shopping at several different stores, pick the one that best fits your needs and stick with it. Sign up for the store’s loyalty program, and depending on how their program works, you’ll get major discounts and potentially even earn cash back over time. If you join a loyalty program at 5 different grocery stores, your purchases will take much longer to add up, but if you only shop at one place, you’ll likely find the loyalty program much more rewarding.

Eat before you go to the store

If you’ve ever gone grocery shopping on an empty stomach, you know these things to be true:

  1. You will convince yourself that you need a hundred items that aren’t on your list.
  2. You will buy a snack just so you can eat it on the way home.
  3. Between your hunger and the head-spinning realization that you’re surrounded by too many options for the same foods (seriously, why are there 20 different brands of elbow macaroni?), you’re likely to pass out in the check-out line.

Do yourself the biggest favor and eat a meal or a hearty snack before you venture off to the store, and you’ll be much more likely to spend smartly.

Avoid the prepared foods section

Say it with me: The prepared foods section is a trap. It’s only there to take advantage of you in those times when you’re hungry or feeling too tired to cook, and before you know it, you’re spending $10 on a container of potato salad that’s not even that great (or Kickstarter worthy). You’re better off spending $2 on a bag of pretzels to hold you over while you cook something else, or popping over to frozen section to get vegetables you can steam in the microwave to minimize the effort you have to put in to cook dinner.

Buy frozen/canned produce

Speaking of the frozen section, frozen (and canned) fruits and vegetables are your friend. When you’re the only person eating the food you buy, sometimes it feels like no matter what you do, the produce you buy always goes bad before you can use it up. Some fruits and vegetables you’ll probably still want to buy fresh, depending on how you plan to use them, but if you’re going to cook them or use them in smoothies? Buy them frozen or canned so they don’t go bad. If you use them up, great—the cost isn’t all that different from buying them fresh. And if you don’t get around to using them, they’ll still be there waiting for you next week (or next month, or, you know…whenever).

So you grocery shop solo? Have any helpful advice to share?