A Game Plan To Get Out of the Grocery Store Faster (and for Less Money)

published Sep 29, 2016
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(Image credit: Sergey Ryzhov)

You’ve heard the adage: Time is money. But there is no situation where it holds more true than at the grocery store. The Food Marketing Institute estimates that the average shopping trip should take no longer than 30 minutes—and every minute a shopper spends inside the store after the first half hour will cause them to spend around 55¢ to $1 more.

So if your end goal is to cut your grocery budget, your first step might actually be to try and cut down your shopping time. And how you do that, my friends, is with a little bit of pre-planning…

Step 1: Get to know your store’s layout.

The first step to a shorter shopping trip requires that you do a little reconnaissance. At some point soon, plan a trip to your local grocery store while you’re not there to shop, and bring along a note pad and pencil with you. Your only job is to get your store’s layout down on paper. If you can draw a tiny map, that’ll be gold in your future grocery planning. But if all you have the time or motivation to do is write down aisle numbers with general information about their contents below them (“Aisle 1: Bottled water, juice…,” “Aisle 2: Crackers, cookies…”) that’ll do just fine.

Extra Tip: Grocery stores are the emptiest in early mornings and on weekday afternoons. Even if you can’t usually shop at those hours, they’re a good target time to conduct your recon mission without getting side-tracked.

Step 2: Plan the optimal route.

Before you leave the store, come up with an ideal route—a repeatable path that will get you through every aisle in one fell swoop. There’s no one-size-fits all answer for this; it will depend on your specific store and your personal shopping and eating habits. I like to start in my store’s aisle 2—skipping over the deli and cold items in aisle 1—before zig zagging my way to the other end of the store through every aisle. Finally, I work the perimeter and grab the cold and fresh stuff before walking out the door.

(Image credit: Taryn Williford)

Meal-planning site Mealime suggests an almost opposite approach, tackling the perimeter first to fill your cart with healthy stuff before you hit the dry and frozen aisles.

(Image credit: Mealime)

The point is, do what works for you, but make your grocery route consistent. Then you can take your list or map from Step 1 and mark down the order in which you hit the different sections along your route.

Step 3: Make a grocery list, and sort it.

From now on, after you make your grocery list—whether it’s on your phone’s notes app or on a magnetic note pad by the fridge—you’re going to sort it by aisle, according to your route. If aisle 2’s bottled water section is the first thing along your grocery route, then “Pamplemousse La Croix” should be the first thing on your list. And later down, if you know you’ll hit the diary section before frozen foods, be sure that “milk” and “cheese” follow before “Pizza Rolls.”

You’ll save yourself time if you can learn to draft your list in order in the first place, but even if you have to re-format before a grocery trip, the whole thing shouldn’t take more than a few minutes—and even less, once you start to memorize your grocery store’s floor plan.

The result of all this planning and pre-work? The most efficient grocery trip of your life. You’ll never have to circle back for an ingredient ever again. And the time you save in the store should pay you back in actual, real dollars.