Strategic Shopping Saves Money, Avoids Waste and Is Easier Than You Think


How often do you crack open a container of sour cream to find fuzz, or discover a plum putrefying in the fruit bowl? When eating on a budget, waste can be your worst enemy. Letting hard bought groceries go bad is as good as stuffing bills down the disposal. But, armed with a premeditated shopping list, based off simple menu planning, you can conquer over-shopping and save time doing it. Remember, to the planner go the spoils (or, er, the not-spoiled)!

Menu Planning 101
Planning a menu can be as easy as long a you pick out three or four recipes to prepare throughout the week. These might include something new,or a signature dish that resides in your mind (in this case it’s helpful to jot down the ingredients).

Menu planning is essential in warding off supermarket wanderlust, the aimless perusal of market isles, resulting in impulse buying and ultimately, wasted resources. We’re all susceptible to the lure of abundance, especially when we lack purpose. You might spy a particularly ravishing bunch of radishes and with the best of intentions think, “Oh, I’ll find some way to use these.” But, if you’re like me, those highly perishable heads are more likely to rot in the crisper than dazzle on the dinner table.

The List
Grocery stores are organized by categories of food, so why not plan accordingly? Divide your shopping list by supermarket sections; it’s absolutely the most efficient way to shop. When in a rush, I’ve bypassed this step and rued the day I did, when carting back to the produce isle, yet again. Even if you haven’t planned a menu, take five minutes to break down your shopping list. It will save you from wasting priceless time and aggravation.

Here are the categories I like to use:

  • Produce
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Dry Goods
  • Frozen
  • Deli

When you know what you’re looking for, you’re far less likely to find things you don’t need. So, work from the recipes you’ve chosen for the week to create a basic shopping list and go from there.

When compiling your list, condense similar ingredients to prevent overbuying. If one recipe calls for two eggs and another for one, why buy a dozen? Opt for the six-pack instead. Since food is packaged in all shapes and sizes, there are times you’ll be forced to buy more than what’s required, but this needn’t mean mold. Once you’ve compiled a basic shopping list, you can deliberately fill in staples and snacks, based on the items already being purchased. Perhaps a recipe calls for ½ cup yogurt; you might choose to get the 32-ounce container and a bag of granola for breakfasts. Or, you see that only three stalks of celery are used in Wednesday night’s chowder; sounds like ants on a log and a batch of tuna salad are in your culinary future.

And remember to shop your pantry. Before heading out to the store, cross check your shopping list with what you have on hand to avoid doubling up or buying a new box of brown sugar, when the half cup you need is already sitting on the shelf.

Technology that does the work for you
Online shopping sites such as Fresh Direct allow you to shop by recipe, automatically placing the necessary ingredients in your cart. Let them do the planning and the shopping! is a free online recipe site that allows you to create a personal recipe collection, which you can then share with other members. An “add to grocery list” application makes it easy to compile a shopping list from thousands of member recipes.

MasterCook is a $20 computer program that allows you to create a database of recipes from any source. Pick the week’s recipes from your database and let the master condense common ingredients and create a shopping list grouped by supermarket sections. Just hit print.

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