Saving Money in the Grocery Store — One Weird, Workable Idea

Years ago, with four children in tow, I spent one day a week doing the grocery shopping.

Dream Big — that’s what kids do every time we take them shopping. Dream Big! poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

The night before I scoured the ads, marking this place for brown sugar and butter, that one for grapes and toilet paper, still another for vanilla extract. By the end of the day, we had hit pretty much every grocery store in the mid-sized town where we lived; the car was packed; the kids were tired; and nobody felt particularly good because lunch consisted of stuff off the cheap menu at the local Fast Fried Food Emporium.

Did I save money?

Well, I felt like I did, but I always knew that there was a lot more in the trunk than what was on my list (did I mention the four kids accompanying me?), and every time I entered another store, I left with more than what I intended to buy, often, significantly more.

And then one day, epiphany hit. We were in Store H, and the last item on the grocery list was at Store I, which had laundry detergent on sale (I make my own now, but that’s for another article). The Toddler was . . . acting like a toddler; the two oldest were skillfully manipulating my tired and distracted state; the four-year-old needed to use the bathroom, RIGHT NOW — oh wait, he didn’t need to use it anymore — and I thought, forget it. I’ll pick up the laundry detergent here, even though it’s $1 more.

I would so much rather be home than in a grocery store. Sophie and Rose, an affordable print available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

And I did. We stuffed everyone and the groceries back in the car, drove home, and called it a day, that is, after we unloaded everyone, carted in all the groceries, picked up the ones that fell out of the bags onto the cement driveway (pickles, in a glass jar, I believe), changed the four-year-old — you know how this goes.

That night, when everyone was in bed but me and the Norwegian Artist, I thought about the laundry detergent. Yup, I paid $1 more for it, but I also didn’t buy anything else at Store I. And then I realized, whenever I walk into a store, even if I am only there to buy one thing, I never leave without dropping at least $25.

Okay, so that sounds really simple and obvious, but when it comes to saving money, it’s actually fairly profound. Maybe you have a willpower of steel, which is why your jeans are never too tight, but I don’t, and when I walk into a store — and nowadays I don’t have those four noisy, chaotic, demanding, messy, lovable companions pointing out all of the colorful items that were arranged expressly to attract their notice — it’s hard not to say, “Hmm, that’s a good deal; I’ll pick up two,” or “I forgot about peanut butter. Oh, and chocolate chips. And I really haven’t treated myself to a magazine for a long time.”

While it’s true that we do forget things on our list, most of the time we can function without them until next week — assuredly this is true about the chocolate chips, and the magazine’s generally free at the library. If I don’t see it, I don’t buy it; and if I don’t walk into the store in the first place, I don’t see it.

Use your money — and your time — for the things that actually matter, including art. Take Time for Tea poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

So here’s the weird idea that actually works: limit the number of stores you walk into each week. The dollar you would have saved by driving 6 miles to the next store (oops, there goes the dollar you saved) is rapidly consumed by the extra items you purchase, and if you don’t see them, you don’t buy them.

The money you save on understandable impulse buying can then be put aside for a more thoughtful, concerted purchase, one that will provide you with more pleasure, longer, than a jar of peanut butter.

This article originally appeared in ThoughtfulWomen.org.

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4 Responses to “Saving Money in the Grocery Store — One Weird, Workable Idea”

  1. Donna Middleton says:

    Milk is the one item that gets most people into the store and they rarely leave without buying more than just milk.

    I was able to solve that problem. I have had a milk man for over 25 years. I know I pay more per half-gallon, but over the years I have saved hundreds of dollars by not buying other items when I went to the store just for milk.

    • Donna: I’m betting that you’re getting a better quality product than most people — and worth the extra cost. We ourselves keep dairy goats, so milk “arrives” every morning. You’re right — milk, bread, bananas — those are the big three that get people in and buying more.

      May you have a cold glass of milk and a hot chocolate chip cookie!

  2. Chrissy says:

    My sons have some food intolerances and we try our best to eat real food…no margarine or canola oil or Lunchables…lol. I had a similar epiphany recently…a normal shopping day is SIX stores because I just cannot buy real lard at the same place I buy my produce and the place we get our pickles (ooh..love our jars of Bubbie’s and all the probiotics that come therein) charges twice as much for pastured butter. I am working on figuring out how to go to one store a week, in a rotating schedule. The hardest part is convincing myself to pay 8 cents more per lb for bananas on the weeks I won’t go the place with the cheapest bananas. I think I have a mental problem…Frugalitis. It is the compulsion to be frugal. I am seeking professional help.
    Anyway…one store a week!! This would be amazing…I will save so much time. Time I will spend cooking, I am sure! Haha

  3. Chrissy — it sounds like you are not frequenting places with brightly colored boxes and cans and bags — when you buy basic, as it sounds like you’re doing, there is less temptation to impulse buy. I mean, what are you going to do — slip in some einkorn with the emmer? So much of what we buy that we don’t need comes in pink and orange and yellow and fluorescent green packaging, and that’s not referring to the peel on your bananas!

    I do hear you on that 8 cents — but factor in the time and the gas — it may compute.

    And extra time? Ah, knitting.

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