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Supermarket Savings Tip #1: Always Shop With a Grocery List

Over the next month, our focus here is going to be on saving money on your grocery bill. I’ll be sharing a number of fantastic guest posts and ideas from readers, plus I’m going to share a simple tip each weekday for how you can cut your grocery bill. Here’s tip #1:

Supermarket Savings Tip #1: Always Shop With a Grocery List

Before heading to the grocery store, make a grocery list. It doesn’t have to be on some fancy spreadsheet nor does it need to be extremely detailed. But never shop without a list.

A grocery list encourages you to spend less.

Without a list, you’ll usually end up buying whatever looks good. In the process, you’ll likely end up with a number of over-priced, non-essential impulse purchases that aren’t in the budget.

A grocery list saves you time.

Instead of going up and down all the aisles trying to figure out what to buy, when you have a grocery list, you can just look at the list, stop at the necessary spots to pick up what you need to buy, and efficiently make your way in and out of the store.

A grocery list eliminates extra trips to the store.

When you make a list and follow the list, you don’t have to make a second trip at the store later in the week to pick up the three things you forgot to buy during your first shopping trip.

What are some other ways shopping with a grocery list has benefited you? I’d love to hear!

Free Printable Grocery Lists

Want to write out your grocery lists on something other than the back of an old envelope? Here are two free printable grocery lists we’ve put together for you:

Grocery Shopping List :: Contains space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, whether there is a coupon for it, and how much the coupon is for. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

Two-Store Shopping List :: Two separate shopping lists on one page, each of which includes space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, and whether there is a coupon for it. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

photo credit

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  • I have been doing a lot of my shopping online now at with cash back. By doing that, I am not tempted to spend more. When I walk around Walmart planning to buy 1-2 things, I end up coming out with about 100 😉 I never stick to my list, but when I’m shopping online I do!

  • One way that I am able to stay home rather than working is keeping our grocery budget to $100 a week for six people (including 3 teens!) and the primary way I do that is by making a menu plan and grocery list every week. Shopping without a list is a disaster for me!

    I also have a multiple store shopping list on my site if anyone is interested:

  • Laura says:

    My list is stored on my iPhone. Need eggs, type it vs looking for something to write with. I ALWAYS have my phone. Plus with the “reminders” app that comes with the phone, I can easily check off items and they disappear.

    • Christy says:

      We have the Cozi app. Love it! It is a free app. Through Cozi, my husband and I have a shared calendar and shared lists (as many as we want to create). We have a shared grocery list, a shared Sam’s list, and a shared odds and ends for around the house list. So, if I am running low on whole milk for the one year old for example, I put it on the Cozi list. Then, if my husband stops somewhere on the way home from work to pick up something, all he has to do is look at Cozi and see that we need milk. It saves lots of trips and frustration–we used to text each other “stopping at the store, do you need anything?” But if the other didn’t see the text until it was too late…. Also, he commutes and drives right past the Sam’s exit everyday so we keep a Sam’s list in Cozi for whenever he has money in the budget for items we like to get there and feels like stopping. I also make a “big” shopping list once a week based on sales and coupons at Publix and meal plan around it. Of course, I check Cozi when I go to make sure he doesn’t have anything on the list! As 2 working parents, we have found Cozi very useful–the shared calendar is an awesome feature too–now we both know each other’s work schedules (mine is pretty set, but he now knows when I have extra parent nights or meetings or the Sat. school carnival is on, etc.–his schedule varies); it’s easy for him to see what time soccer games are, which Sundays the children sing in church, pediatrician appointments, etc.

    • Leanne says:

      We use Evernote the same way. I don’t have an iPhone but my husband does – we have one Evernote account downloaded on both of our computers and his iPhone, so we can both see the grocery lists, by store, at any time. I’ve found it SO much more productive, because I was constantly forgetting to add something to the list – now I can add from anywhere, as can he, and we forget much less during a grocery store trip. He even ENJOYS grocery shopping now because he can check the check boxes as we find items! (hey, whatever works!)

  • Kelly says:

    Great tip! The links to the lists don’t work. 🙁

  • MaryBeth says:

    I love using an envelope from credit card offers because they are free and they are also very convenient for holding the coupons that I plan on using that shopping trip.

  • Marianne says:

    Perfect timing as I have just committed to doing a ‘Food Diet’ on my blog: My husband and I never used to shop with much of a list (if any) but since I’ve started pricematching and couponing I shop with an extremely detailed list (talk about extremes!). Interestingly, this made grocery shopping so much easier, as I now know exactly what I’m doing at the grocery store, when one would expect that pricematching and couponing would make things more difficult.

  • Courtney says:

    I’m glad you are starting this series. I always look forward to learning more ways to save money!

  • Wendy Jahns says:

    Can’t wait to your next tip on saving money. Thanks Crystal!

  • Karin says:

    When you talk about a grocery budget of $100 a week or whatever, are you including non grocery items like toiletries, laundrynsoap, cleaning supplies, light bulbs, etc?

    • Jessica says:

      For me it does. I have started having a $100 a week budget for my family of 5, and that includes all cleaning, toiletries, paper products, and even diapers. I just started it last month, but I have made it work for the month so far. By stocking up on stuff when it was super cheap, I was able to have enough extra for a week when I needed diapers or something and just wouldn’t get a lot of other things that week.

    • That varies from person to person, Karin. For us, we are averaging $50 a week (there’s my husband and me currently). I include all groceries, household/cleaning items and health & beauty products in that number.

      I think it’s important to find a way that works for you. For me, if I gave myself $150 for food and $50 for other items, I’d end up blending it all together by the end of the month! I hardly spend anything on household/health & beauty because of couponing.

  • Yvonne says:

    Now that I have read your book, we have started using cash for our groceries and household items. I am loving shopping this way and I never thought I would! I have always been a ‘list’ shopper, but the cash helps me make better choices. Thank you!

  • Marie says:

    Having a list really does save time and money! The only time I might add something to my list is when I go to Aldi’s. As I walk in there is a chalk board listing any new markdowns. Once I walked in and it said $3off fresh boneless chicken breasts. I immediately went to the case to check prices and was shocked to discover that most would end up being less then .99cents!! I ended up buying 30lbs. for under .99cents a pound!!! It’s been 7 months and we still have chicken in the freezer.
    If I don’t have a list I am lost in a store. It really keeps me focused.
    I would say another tip at the grocery store is NEVER go when you are hungry. You will tend to impulse shop and buy a bunch of extra stuff because it looks good.
    Plus when I have a list I can streamline my errands and I know exactly what I need at Target, AldWalgreens et.c.

  • Kimberly says:

    I sometimes write my list in the order that my favorite grocery store is laid out….especially if I only have a few items. Helps me stay on track.

    • Mary says:

      I do this too! It’s especially helpful when shopping with children.

    • Katy says:

      I have a Word document that I print to keep on the fridge with my most common grocery items organized by the store I frequent most regularly. I just need to circle the items I need or add to the aisle where the items will be found. I got tired of writing the same things every shopping trip. The store has been organized the same way for years. If management was smart they would rearrange and trip me up. I mostly only deviate from the list when I go to a different store and notice different sales.

  • Victoria says:

    I find a list really helps me stay focused. It also helps prioritize if money is running low of $$ at the last grocery store I stop at. Like this week, I was visiting an out of town friend who had a Sam’s Club in her area. Wanting to make the best use of the gas for the trip I stopped in at Sam’s and picked up items that we were low on that I buy there, I picked up enough to last us at least a month since I don’t go by one often. However that made me short of money for groceries at other stores. So when I got to my last store, I went through my list one last time, and scratched off a few snack items and decided to bake a bit more this week instead, so I could stay on budget, despite the spending to save splurge at Sam’s Club.

  • heather says:

    My list includes notes on which items I have coupons to use, which require in store coupons, which should give extra bucks or other store rewards, which to check for peelies, and so on. This ensures that my couponing efforts are working (plus, I watch the ringup for errors. )

  • Tablet says:

    Even though I always use my list, I still end up needing a trip to the store by the end of the week…for whatever I forgot to put on the list 🙂

  • Diane says:

    This might sound funny, but sometimes keeping a grocery list helps me realize I can go another week before we get groceries. If there aren’t too many items on it and we still have fresh produce in the fridge, I’m likely to delay grocery shopping another week (unless there are a few exceptional deals on staples we’re running out of).
    I always write down the coupons I use on my list, what the price is I’m price matching (in case the store already under-priced them which happens pretty often between competing grocery stores), what coupons I need (which I have in an envelope for that trip). And I make my list according to the grocery store layout so I can just start at the top and end at the bottom and then check-out.

    • Andrea says:

      I used to make a special trip to the store for one or two items. But that wastes a lot of time and gas, so now I wait until I need at least 10 things. I’m hoping that I can eventually get my act together enough to only go when we need 20 things or more 😉

  • Marsha says:

    I use Google docs to store a master shopping list that’s organized on the page in the way that I walk my usual store (I shop primarily at one grocery that works for me). The sheet has the items I typically buy (along with some empty spaces for “wild cards”) alongside two check boxes, one to check if I need to purchase the item and one to check if I have a coupon for that item. Along the right hand margin of the page is a meal list of items that I’m planning to make from the things that are checked on the master, along with what website or cookbook (including page) the recipe can be found. My coupon box is organized the same way, in the order that I usually walk the store, which works better for me than alphabetically or by item or manufacturer.

    It took me a while to come up with this system, although I think it was worth the wait. I shop less than every two weeks but can usually get in and out in less than 45 minutes and under $150 for the four of us. Being organized is key!

    • Crystal says:

      Wow! I’m inspired by how organized you are!

    • Cassie says:

      I have a friend that also does this. I haven’t mastered this system yet, but it works for her!

    • Andrea says:

      Love the idea of organizing the coupons in the order of the store. Thanks for the tip.

      • Marsha says:

        I hope it works for you as well as it has for me. The hardest part is setting it up, but if you know your brands and have an overall sense of pricing it’ll be fine. For example, canned tomatoes can be found in the “health” aisle (Muir Glen and the like), the “Italian” aisle, the “Mexican” aisle, and sometimes the regular canned veggie aisle. Likewise dried beans, which in my market are in four places, and coconut milk, which is in three, etc.

        If you typically shop at multiple stores, it will feel complicated at first since every store is organized differently. Organize for your main store, though, and you’ll get a feel in not too long for where the various coupons are in the organizer. Good luck!

  • Jessica says:

    I not only have a list but I print out deals outlined on my favorite couponing forums.

  • Heather says:

    I put a “c” next to items that I have a coupon for, which helps me remember to use them.

  • Diana says:

    I never shop without a list! But that’s just how my brain works–visuals are very important 🙂 And the other thing that helps me get in and out and avoid “extras” is to put the list in the order that I walk around the store. Produce, yogurt, canned things, raw meat, baking supplies, paper, chips, dairy, and juice. It’s not hard to remember when you use big categories like that. (But I do not have a “buy-only-what’s-on-the-list” rule for myself–nearly every week there’s something I forget to put on the list that I actually need, like baking soda or a spice or eggs or something.)

  • I try to keep it really simple. I have $160 a month (month!) for 3 people, for food, household items (cleaners, paper products, tp) and toiletries, so I have to be mindful of all of it.

    You know how sometimes you print coupons and there are 2 on a page, then a decent size blank area, or a coupon that prints with a big ad under it? I use those trimmings (back side of the ad) to write my grocery lists.

    I end up doing a lot of my shopping at Walmart because it’s 2 miles away and all the other stores are 12+ miles away. Our Walmart is really good about the matching policies, thank goodness. Anyway, I’ve come up with little codes for myself that keep me on track.
    M = match
    * = coupon
    S = safeway
    A = albertsons
    K = king sooper
    Sf = sunflower market
    W = walgreens

    So if Sunflower Market has sour cream on sale for 99cents, on my list it will say:
    sour cream M Sf 99

    If Safeway has cheerios on sale for 1.50, and I have a coupon it’ll say:
    cheerios (size of box) M S 1.50 *

    This looks a lot more complicated here than it does on my list! It really makes it easy for me to see at a glance what I need to pick up. Also, the items end up grouped by store because I make the list when I look through the ads.

    Walmart doesn’t even require the ads right now, but I still bring them if I have them, just in case. I also look for cashiers I ‘know’, because sometimes they will pull someone from the stocking crew who is less familiar with matching, and I always feel bad for that person if they get me. 🙂

  • Kacie says:

    I use the Grocery iQ app on my iPad. I feel a bit pretentious carrying it around the store but oh well. It lets you make a grocery list, including how many of each, how much, etc. It also lets you save favorites and it has a history so you can easily select the things you buy the most. I also enter in notes about any sales or what coupons I have. I don’t always do awesome about sticking to my list, but it sure does help. Now I just wish I was better at finding the best deals to keep my grocery budget low. Being very close to Walmart headquarters means we don’t have too many grocery stores with good prices.

    • Melissa says:

      I also LOVE Grocery IQ – have it on my iphone. And the latest update lets you scan barcodes with your camera and sync it to multiple phones/ipads, so it doesn’t matter whether I do the shopping or Hubby does, we both have the updated list.

  • I am a list maker to the extreme! I have started getting in a good rhythm with meal planning and so every two weeks I write out a list of meals for that period and then I go to the store to get precisely the items I need. There are occasional trips in between for bread, luncheon meat, milk, fresh produce, etc., but your list of reasons for bring a list 😉 is spot on. Sticking to the list has proven to save me time, money and it keeps my family healthier by avoinding the impulse purchases!!

  • Lisa says:

    I am now a list-maker and I couldn’t agree more… a menu plan, a detailed list and a plan of what stores to “hit” on a shopping run have saved me time and money!

    I used to shop at Wal-mart, exclusively, thinking it was the cheapest. Before my “list” years, I just ran up and down the aisles throwing stuff into my cart… I’d come home and hope that they would “magically” combine themselves into meals! Inevitably, I would have to run out after some key ingredient!

    Now, I try to plan my menu around what I have in the freezer (or what is on sale in the stores that week) and just pick up “stock up” items (items our family uses that are on sale) and odds and ends to complete my meal plan. I do have to shop at more stores but I rarely spend more than $30 in a store… it is just in and out with the essentials!

    Thanks, Crystal, for all your help! I think we are saving $1,000 to $1,200 / year in groceries and I am sure we could save more… but we like to indulge in “favorites” sometimes…

  • Jeannine says:

    Yes, a list is grand. Check your sales first, check your pantry next. If you have basic cooking skills you can use things in different ways then intended or advertised. For instance the Kraft crumbles that just came out I plan to use the shredded cheese as shredded cheese and the bread crumbs in meatloaf.

    I was just shopping yesterday with a list and it helped me move quickly throughout the store. I also am trying to ponder my path more. For instance taking a few seconds to plan my route around large stores to save time and potentially money.

  • Christine says:

    Whatever happened to the “31 Weeks Series”?

  • Katherine says:

    My husband and I always shop at Aldi’s and Price Chopper. I make my list using the Price Chopper circular, and once the list is completed, I rearrange it in the order of the aisles. Then I write the price next to the item, and then I write the value of whatever coupons I have next to the price.

    The produce department is right near the entrance, so we start there and work our way to the other end of the store and then head to the check out lane. If you write your list in order, you’ll only go in the aisles where your products are located and you won’t be “tempted” by other products. Plus, it saves you time, and when you spend less time in the store, you’ll spend less money.

    We shop at Price Chopper because they let us use internet coupons (some stores around here do not accept them) and have a gas rewards program. The savings from the gas, alone, makes it worth the while. However, we do stop at Aldi’s first because it’s on the way to Price Chopper, and I use my Price Chopper list to pick up cheaper (I simply compare the final post-coupon price on my P.C. grocery list to the Aldi’s price) produce and typically cheaper items like orange juice, milk and specialty cheeses. If an item is the same price at both stores, we buy it at Price Chopper because it will count towards our gas rewards.

  • Shopping with a list is essential. It helps you not to purchase things you already have which wastes money.

  • Anne says:

    I write out my grocery list in the exact order I’d find it in the grocery store (if I am familiar with that store’s layout). I keep a running list on the fridge and jot down whatever we’re running low on, what’s on sale or what I’ll need for my week’s meal plan. The day before I go, I write out all the things I need in the order I’ll see them in the grocery store and bring that as my shopping list.

    I also write a (c) next to the items where I have a coupon so make sure I don’t forget to use any coupons!

  • Melissa says:

    I’m SO glad you are doing this! With no end in sight of an improving economy and basics going up, up and up, this series will definitely help our home. Thank you!

    Many Blessings,

  • Marie says:

    Besides making a list here are some other tips:
    1. Never shop when you hungry or close to a meal time
    2. Coupon or price match when possible
    3. Use an online site like to input the ingredients you have on hand for recipes so you can make your groceries stretch longer
    4. Look for easy substitutions
    5. Learn how to make some things at home to save money like buttermilk, ketchup etc.
    I know Crystal will probably have alot more.

  • anon says:

    I should have read this post BEFORE heading out to the store this morning, as usual without a list. I forgot the dish soap (again!!) and had to go back for it (because we were completely out). At least I didn’t forget the cat food. Those little beasts would have been VERY unhappy had I forgotten their food!

  • Beth says:

    My favorite *grocery list* idea came from a coupon class I took from the writer of The Intentional Home. I use a variation of the meal planning page she gave out and it included a “getting low on” section. So as I go through the week, I add items as I notice and do a quick check around before I do the final list. Then I just have to fill in the other items needed that week after i check for sales on the “low items”. This kept me alert to what was low rather than over purchasing for a sale on something we had plenty of or waiting until we were really out and I had to get something, sale or not.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I made a document that lists the aisles of the stores I shop at (walmart on one side, meijer on the other), and I print this out and put it with my weekly menu plan so I can jot things down during the week- in the appropriate aisle! Then all I have to do when I shop is follow the list around the store. It saves me a lot of time, not going from one side of the store to the other and back again because I forgot something! And it is such a simple and quick thing to do. I also do what another reader said and mark my list with CVS or WG or Walgreens beside the items I want to price-match, and use an asterisk for coupons.

    You may be talking about this in another post, but another thing I do to save time is have all the coupons I plan on using already pulled out and placed in the front of my coupon holder, in the order I will find the items in the store. It has saved me lots of time and money, knowing what coupons I have to use and not stopping in each aisle to dig out coupons (sometimes only to find they had expired!). It sounds so simple, but I used to do just that!

  • Christy says:

    Thank you for the lists! They will certainly help with the next shopping trip! I have just recently started writing the prices down and this will make it easier! We have been using cash for a year or more and it makes it better knowing about what our total should be before we get to the checkout.

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