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Hand holding grocery receipt with fruit and vegetables in the backgroundIt’s got to be done, and there are lots of things we can do to make it work better with organization.  What do we want?  We want to stay within our budget (have I talked to you about budgets yet?  Don’t worry, I will soon).  We want it to be as painless as possible, possibly even enjoyable and/or satisfying.  We want to get everything done that we set out to do.  And we don’t want it to take longer than necessary.

When we do our regular grocery shopping there are often other errands to be attended to as well, such a going to the post office, the dry cleaners, the charity bin to unload some unwanted items, filling the car and so on.  It will all go much more quickly and smoothly if you plan it in advance.

So, before you think about stepping out the door, you need the following:

- A list of errands to be done.

- All items you need for your errands, i.e. letters to post, library books etc

- Your well prepared shopping list

- Know how much you expect to spend and where the money is or where you need to get it from

- Eat before you go- don’t go shopping hungry

- Make sure you are appropriately dressed.  You should always look your best, and you need to make sure you will be comfortable.  You don’t want to bump into a friend in the street with greasy hair and sloppy track pants on, and you don’t want to be feeling cold walking up the freezer aisle, or get blisters on your feet from walking a long way in high heels.

- Consider taking a bottle of water to avoid buying expensive or unhealthy drinks.

- A plan of which places you need to visit, and in what logical order (supermarket last)

- A calculator

- A pen

- Your master shopping list (for checking prices)

- An estimate of how long you expect your adventure will take

- An intention to fully put everything away properly as soon as you get home, and an estimate of how long that will take too.

- Your re-useable shopping bags if you use them, or your plastic bags to be returned for recycling.  If you’re going around a market without trolleys, you might need your own trolley bag.

Gee, that’s a lot of preparation just to go shopping.  It’s all worth it though.  Make yourself a checklist if you need to.

You need a notebook to do all this, to write your shopping list and meal plan on, and to jot down items to remember for this outing.  I find a shorthand pad is ideal, spiral bound.  If I’m carrying a bag too small to fit the notebook, I just tear out the pages, after all, I only need them for today.

I mentioned in the article about meal planning, the idea of keeping a master list of items you buy regularly.  This really is a very worthwhile thing to do and can save a lot of time as well as money.  Why not run your own kitchen with the efficiency and systems of a hospitality business.  There are items you need to buy most weeks, as well as items you need only buy if you will be requiring them for that week’s menu.  If you run through your checklist, then your meal plan, you will have the most well prepared shopping list possible.

The way I prepare a master list is using an Excel spreadsheet, so that I have the columns already made for me.

The most logical way to group the items is by where you buy them from, that is, which shop or market, or which section of the shop or market.  The categories will be something like this:

Laundry and cleaning
Office supplies/ stationary
Household items like batteries, light globes etc
Pet supplies
Fruit and vegetables
Meat from butcher
Cold items like milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, dips
Frozen food
Canned food
Staples like flour, sugar, pasta, rice, lentils etc
Breakfast cereals
Sauces, vinegars and oils
Herbs and spices
Bread and other baked goods
Gardening needs

You get the idea.  Under each of these categories, you list items you regularly use.  For example under the heading bathroom, you would list toilet paper, tissues, cotton balls, cotton buds, Band Aids, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, soap, razor blades, moisturizer and so on. 

You need a few columns going down so that you can fill in brands, notes and prices next to each item.  Say for example, you have written down rolled oats under breakfast cereal (because porridge is one of the cheapest and most nutritious cereals you can eat).  You write down the brand you like, the weight of the package you buy, the price you pay, and a conversion of that price to a unit price.  For example if it costs, $1.50 for a 500 gram bag, you write $3 per kilogram.  If it’s $3.99 for a packet of 8 rolls of toilet paper, you write 50c per roll.

This list will build itself over time, if you spend 5 or 10 minutes after each shopping trip, filling in the blanks from your receipts.  If some of your purchases tend not to come with receipts, say at the butcher or greengrocer, you may have to either ask for one, or takes notes of the price per unit while you are shopping.  Think of it as an ongoing task rather than an enormous one to be finished.  It will never be finished!  But it is well worth having.

Supposing you are out shopping and you see that olive oil is on special, for $5 off per large can.  If you check your own master list, you may find that the one you buy is cheaper than this anyway, so it’s not worth getting. Or you may find it’s a great saving, so you buy a few of them.  Remember though, it’s only worth stocking up on things you know you use regularly.

Try to keep in mind a goal of buying more things that are good for you and less things that are not.  Read the labels.  Avoid additives, preservatives etc, and don’t touch anything containing trans fats (that’s hydrogenated fat, which is what they do to make a liquid oil into a solid when it doesn’t happen naturally).  That stuff is bad.  Look it up, and I’ll write more about it in the future.  Remember, the fresher and less processed the food is, the better it is for your body.  Get more fruit and vegetables into you, and good stuff like legumes, pulses, nuts, and whole grains. 

After you super successful shopping trip, there’s plenty more to be done.  You’ve got to get it all inside, unpack it, put it all away, possibly divide some items into batches for freezing.

But that’s not all!  The other big, important thing to be done immediately following a shopping trip, is recording your spending.  Get out all your receipts, and immediately note down anything you didn’t get a receipt for while you can still remember it, and record it in your book keeping system, whether that’s on your computer or on paper.  If you always do this, you will have valuable information you can use when working on your budget in the future.  There will be no guessing.   You will know how much money you need, where you’ve been spending it, what you can cut back on and what you can’t.  Without detailed records of what you’ve spent, arranged into categories of course (but I’ll get into that another time), you have nothing to go on.

Yes, keeping a record of your spending is a major part of shopping.  If you rely entirely on your bank statements to budget, you will have way too much money under the category ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘cash’.  That’s no good to you.

So, instead of shopping being something you dread, feel guilty about or worry about, let it be yet another demonstration of how well you can make decisions for yourself and carry them out.  Let each shopping expedition go a little more smoothly and successfully than the last one.

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