Five Ways to Get Out of the Supermarket Without Overspending

Grocery shopping is tricky anytime, but especially challenging when you’re on budget. On one hand, having everything you need in one place is convenient. But on the other hand, having so many options can sabotage every intention you have of sticking to your budget. Supermarkets are filled with everything you need and everything you don’t need, too.

Don’t expect a supermarket to help you avoid overspending. The place is specifically designed, decorated and arranged to encourage and increase impulse spending. They want you to spend more and they know how to persuade you to do it. With that in mind, consider these five ways to beat them at their own game:

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of the first rule of grocery stores: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

Don’t bring plastic or checkbook. Cash—currency, clams, folding money, smackers, greenbacks—this is still the way you should be paying for your supermarket purchases. What? Not convenient? Well, of course not, silly. That’s the point. Convenience is the reason you’ve been dropping the equivalent of a mortgage payment for food every month. Making the process a bit less convenient is an easy to way to slow that mindless drain on your income.

Don’t grab a shopping cart. Most of them have wobbly wheels anyway, so just walk on by when all you need are those few items. Surely you can carry the “few things” you need. Or get one of the hand-held baskets. The point here is that you won’t be buying more than you can carry.

Don’t dawdle.This is not the place you want to hang out just to soak in all the great sights and smells from the bakery, deli and rotisserie chickens. If you weren’t hungry when you arrived, you will be soon enough. Get what you need and get out of there. For every ten minutes you delay, plan on spending about another $40.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sandie

    Hi Mary, I usually learn so much from your posts and agree with 99% of what you say. But I cannnot agree with all your grocery shopping advice. If we want to do most of our cooking at home, then it takes time to plan and obtain all the ingredients at the grocery store. We don’t have time for quick trips all week using the little baskets. If enough preparation goes into our weekly trips, then we shouldn’t have to go the rest of the week and be food sufficient at home. And yes, I completely agree about not going hungry!!
    Although i use cash to pay for most of my local expenses, i do use my ATM card to pay for groceries. I may try using cash to see if I spend less but remain efficient.
    As always – I love your blog.

  • Lisa Anne Thomas-Perez

    Another option would be to use the online grocery order and pickup at the store, so you don’t need to go in to the store. Some stores such as Walmart do not charge for this service. It saves time as well.

  • Barb

    A couple ideas –
    1. Just before you go to the checkout “unshop”. Go through your items and decide which ones you really don’t need or that you could get cheaper elsewhere and put them back on the shelf.
    2. At that same time, gather all your coupons, rain checks, and other discounts. If you rush up to the checkout, it’s way too easy to forget them until you’re in the parking lot and it’s too late!
    Also, I admit to using my credit card because of the 3% back at grocery stores.

  • Dianne De Mink

    Hi Mary,
    I have someone else shop for me for $5.00 a week (think kids, nighbors,student or a twofer [anyone who will shop for you when they shop for themselves]). Particularly helpful for those who no longer drive and little $ for extras.

  • Pat

    i made a directory of the grocery store where I shop regularly, with a list of the items in each aisle. When I use up something from my pantry or find a recipe that calls for an item I don’t have, I jot it down on a magnetized tablet on the side of my fridge. When I make my grocery list (I generally shop once a month) I get that list and sit in front of my computer with my store directory in front of me. I make my shopping list in the order of the aisles in the store. At the beginning of each aisle where I will need to get something I note that aisle number in the margin. When I get to the store I only go down the necessary aisles. It may take a little time to create the directory, but this method saves me time because I don’t have to traverse the entire store and it saves me money because I buy only what is on my list. By creating the list on my computer it is easy to make changes when the store moves something.

  • Pigoff

    I have to use a cart even if I only get a loaf of bread other wise I hurt to much standing for long periods of time. I usually make a list and take my coupons along with a list of what coupons are on my card. I very rarely buy things that are not on my list unless they are on clearance. I use KrogerKrazy’s must do deals list every week. I usually buy $100 of groceries but after my card savings and coupons it is usually about $40.