The thing about buying groceries

Last weekend’s birthday party was small and simple, but it still trashed my house. And it came just a week after we returned home from vacation. So it should have come as no surprise Monday morning when I started to make Annalyn’s lunch and realized we had no bread.

Really, we had very little real food at all. Monday was here. I had to go buy groceries.

In theory I love buying groceries. Or, perhaps more accurately, I loved buying groceries when my life was easy (aka, in college when I could go to the 24-hour Walmart in the middle of the night if I felt like it). These days, though, it’s a pain in the neck.

I’m not even talking about the actual task of paying for groceries. That part is not as difficult as it’s been in the past – a fact that I am immensely thankful for every time I visit the store. The hard part, to me, is the ridiculous number of steps required to buy groceries.

Gone are the days (if they even existed in the first place) when I could just jump in the car, run to the store, pick up a few things and come home. Oh no. A “good” grocery trip takes about 38 different steps.

1. Plan menu.
2. Check fridge and pantry to see what we already have.
3. Throw away expired or otherwise rotten food.
4. Think of starving children and promise to never let food expire or rot again.
5. Make grocery list.
6. Rewrite grocery list in order of the items’ location in the store.
7. Wonder if anyone else is so obsessive or if you’re weird.
8. Remember it’s better than backtracking and walking in confused circles.
9. Dig the grocery sale flyers out of the unopened mail pile.
10. Circle all the items you need.
11. Plan to take all flyers to Walmart for price matching.
12. Decide it’s not worth the hassle.
13. Take sale flyers to recycling bin.
14. Get your list, coupons your mom gave you and purse, and get in the car.
15. Get back out of the car to find canvas grocery bags in the house.
16. Try it again.
17. Go to the first store.
18. Move grocery items from shelf to cart to conveyor belt to bags to car.
19. Go to the second store and repeat.
20. Consult list to see what you’re still missing.
21. Debate with yourself about going to third store.
22. Decide you don’t really need those other items.
23. Think of four more items you needed from the first store.
24. Start a list for next week.
25. Drive to nearest ice cream merchant and get yourself a treat. You deserve it.
26. Go home.
27. Lug the lopsided, over-stuffed canvas bags into the house.
28. Drop the groceries on the table.
29. Open fridge and wonder why you didn’t organize it that morning.
30. Organize the fridge and freezer.
31. Put cold items in the freezer and fridge.
32. Open pantry and wonder why you didn’t organize it that morning.
33. Decide the rest of the groceries can wait.
34. Regret getting ice cream instead of pizza/nachos/massive amounts of chocolate.
35. Feel guilty about unpacked groceries and pull them out of the bags.
36. Fold bags and put in your don’t-forget-to-take-them spot.
37. Put away a few items.
38. Collapse on the couch and wish for grocery fairies to finish the job.

As you can see, the grocery fairies did not finish the job at my house. And actually, though I bought groceries – and took these photos – on Monday, I still have five items on my table. I might have to cook with them tonight just to clear off the table!

This process right here is why I don’t coupon, people. Buying groceries – store-brand and wholesale groceries that you can’t find coupons for anyway, not that I’m defensive about this – is exhausting. I just can’t imagine adding another set of steps, no matter how much money you promise it will save me.

How do you buy groceries? Do you plan ahead? Is it a simple process? Do you go every few days or [like my uber-organized parents do] once a month? Do you take your kids and make them help, or do you go when they’re in school or otherwise occupied like I do?

Help me out. What makes grocery shopping tolerable in your life? (And if nothing does and it drives you batty like it does me, please, commiserate with me in the comments!)

This post is part of 31 Days of Giving Up on Perfect. All month long, I’ll be writing about my fight against perfectionism and my quest to get on with life, already. For more 31 Days, visit The Nester.

41 Comments The thing about buying groceries

  1. Kristin October 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    This post is fantastic.

    I prefer to go to the grocery with at least my youngest while my oldest is in school. I have six hours of kid-free time when their school schedules overlap (plus my youngest’s naptime) and I have too many other things I prefer to do with that time. Plus my kids like the grocery. I guess they take after their momma. :)

    I *try* to go once a week or every 10 days and I do plan meals and keep an ongoing list of what I need at the grocery as we run out of things. There is a great iphone app called ShopShop and it allows for multiple shopping lists, which I just keep arranged in order of the store.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      Hehe – I hear you on better things to do with your free time! And I’m going to look into that app!

  2. Anna October 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I hate buyo groceries. I hate wal-mart and I get a little hostile about having to give them my money. I shop as infrequently as possible, preferably every 6 to 8 weeks. I meal plan 30 days at a time.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      Wow! 6-8 weeks?! You are a meal planning and grocery buying rock star!

  3. Adele October 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I always leave the canvas bags in the boot of the car so I don’t have to remember them. And I’m not usually organised enough to do the list in order of items’ location in the shop, except for listing fruit and veg separately, I just kind of move methodically through the aisles. My shopping treat is usually a nice takeaway coffee; but this doesn’t help with the checkout panic attack!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      My goal is to keep the bags in the car. It’s the getting them back into the car after bringing in groceries that trips me up!

  4. Anna October 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    *I make a list as I go, but I’m not religious about sticking to the list.
    *I compare my list with the sales. I shop at two stores, mostly.
    *I make the list again, by store.
    *If I have coupons, (that’s a whole other process, IMO) I check the dates and take out the ones that are expired. If there are some expiring, I will probably put the item on my list. Put them all in my purse.
    *Store one- I shop methodically, too, checking my list as I go. I almost never need to go back to an aisle I’ve been in already.
    *I will either find a small place to stand aside, or in the line if it’s long, and flip through my coupons quickly, pull out the ones that I missed before, or ones that I picked up on a splurge. Because I only clip the ones I’ll use, it usually isn’t so bad.
    *Store two- about the same as the other. Fewer coupons.
    *Drive home, scare the kids away, and sit down for ten minutes or so. (homeschooler! I shop with the kids.)
    *Put away the cold items.
    *Leave the rest of the groceries on the floor, for the grocery fairy.

    I stockpile items, which generally allows me to make the meal plan without organizing the shopping to fit. If I have chicken and ground beef, everything else is either stockpiled or planned, and when I want to cook it, I plan it in the next week.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      Oh, how much do I love that you, too, have to take a few minutes before dealing with cold items and then hope for the grocery fairy!?!

  5. liza lee grace October 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Ideally, I go once a week. I plan meals for the week and make a list of ingredients needed for each meal. I cross out things I already have. I then add in other things needed like milk and snacks. Then I rewrite the list in grocery store order.

    I only go to one store, although there are a few items I have to get at a different one. The money savings is not enough nor worth my time and gas to go to different stores. and I keep my bags in the back of the car, although there are times that they all get in the house but not back outside. So I go with what I have and not worry about it.

    I don’t coupon. I used to, but only cut the coupons for things I use. Then, after making my list, I put an asterisk by the items I had coupons for. so I’d save a few dollars a week, but not too much. I quit doing that when I realized that I was keeping the coupon papers to sort through, but the coupons were expiring before I got to them.

    Like I said, that was ideally. Which usually works. But this week, I’ve been to the store every day getting the few things needed for dinner. I’m hoping to go tomorrow to finish out the weekend. We’ll see.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      Your ideal and reality sound a lot like mine. Without all the silly steps. :)

  6. Lori P October 19, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I go several times a month and the trips revolve around what I need with coupons and sales that are available. It almost always means shopping at several stores. It can be time consuming and lots of work, but with the help of my hubby and daughter it all works out :)

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      That’s great, Lori! I might joke about not couponing, but the truth is, I’m a little jealous of those who have it figured out!

  7. Missy June October 19, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I have a master list that remains printed out on the fridge. It contains all that I like to keep on hand. When I run out of something, I circle it. If I plan a new or unusual meal, I add those items. Then when I’m ready to go, I just grab that list (already in order of the aisles at the store – no you’re not the only one!).

    I do two larger trips per month and fill in for more milk, bread, lettuce.

    Sometimes I really try to stretch out the times I go to the store and make do with whatever we have left … inevitably this saves me money. I coupon some, but not obsessively and I rarely stock up way in advance because we just don’t have the space.

    Actually paying for groceries is more challenging now than in previous years and that makes it a cringe-worthy experience to go to the grocery store.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      I understand the cringing at the cost of groceries. I have been there many times and not too long ago! You’re smart to do two trips a month, though. Even though I know better, I still spend way more with more trips.

  8. Jessica October 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I keep a white board on the side of the fridge for my list, and it also has the days of the week on one side so I can plan meals there. I try to do that on Sundays when our ads are in the paper, then I shop Monday morning while my son is in preschool. I transfer my list to an app on my phone that automatically puts them in the order they come in my store. And, I keep my canvas bags on a hook right by the door to the garage so I don’t forget to take them with me. Of course, this is all “ideally”. Right now I’m early in a pregnancy and just the thought of food makes me nauseated, so I haven’t been meal planning for a few weeks! We’ve been scrounging for food or just eating cereal a lot lately. That is really hard for me to let go of!

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      I keep a running list on the side of the fridge, too. And there for a while, I was planning meals there. I need to get back to that! I hope you feel better and move on from cereal dinners soon!

  9. Emily October 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    :) Love this post, and your 31-day series! Great new blog to read!!! :)

    1. I get my shopper (flyers) on Saturday, so during the day sometime I look them over and circle anything that’s a great deal. During the week I’ll go and buy groceries for the next week – and plan meals around what’s on sale.

    2 My fridge is always packed; there is always something to eat (and unfortunately, something to toss on garbage day). But the kids don’t have to worry about what to pack for lunches – there are a ton of choices.

    3. I printed out a grocery list by area (deli, frozen, bread/cereal, and so on) on my computer and I put one on the clipboard with the ads and then I can write on there where it is, how much it is, how many I’m buying, etc.

    4. I also try to keep my grocery bags in the car, but don’t always get there. Our local stores offer paper bags, so I use them over for recycling and don’t feel bad getting those.

    5. We are in a small town, and there are really about 5 stores that offer groceries (not counting the 2 drugstores that have a few items). I typically go to one a week – whoever has the best deals. If there are awesome deals at the 2 stores I get ads for, I do go to both. If neither has a good ad, I go to the Save-A-Lot (and then I really hope I remember my bags – they don’t have any there). It’s not a bad system all in all.

    :) Have a good time shopping! Oh, and I go when my two boys are in school. No way I’m taking them – I spend twice as much, and don’t get everything on my list because they’re asking for other items instead.


    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:07 pm

      You’ve got a great system, Emily! Thanks for sharing!!

  10. Erin October 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Yes, yes! I AM obsessive about my grocery list!

    And I hear you about the rest of it, too. :)

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect October 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      Whew! Glad I’m not alone. :)

  11. Tonia October 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I hear ya! lol I would love to shop just once a month. It would save a lot of money – being that organized. I shop at Kroger as husband is a manager. This makes it too easy for us to say “bring home xyz” so I have to be careful.

    I try to use some coupons, but I have to say I could never be a true, dedicated couponer. I value my time more.

  12. Tonia October 24, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Oh, and I totally rewrite my list according to the store layout – it’s a smart time-saver. :-)

  13. Jennifer Young October 25, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Is Peapod available in your area? I just used it for the first time this week. I was very sick and we were out of *everything*. I used a coupon code to cover the delivery fee. I was a little worried about stuff like produce and lunchmeat, but everything was absolutely perfect. I hate hate hate taking my kids grocery shopping, so I think I’m going to use this as often as I can. (They also gave me a code for free deliver for 2 months with my order!) I am in love.

  14. Jen S. July 19, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Too funny! I have the same grocery routine! I need a better one for sure.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect July 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      Right?? There has to be a better way!!

  15. AnnieB July 20, 2013 at 8:16 am

    I have managed to train my family to write what they need on the ‘fridge list or the Prep and Pantry app I found. If it’s not there, I don’t buy it and tough to them. I go to the store on my way home from work. I don’t need anyone putting items in the cart behind my back. LOL It’s cheaper going by myself.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect August 1, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Love that, Annie! My husband knows to do that…but more often than not, he forgets. And…okay…sometimes I forget to look at our list, too! We’re in progress, I guess!

  16. Sherry July 22, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    I get groceries once a week (until I realize I forgot a few things). This is pretty much how it goes:
    1. Realize I need to get groceries as I’ve run out of stuff to make.
    2. Look at flyers (sometimes) and make list (noting to self to check fridge before leaving).
    3. Leave for store (while forgetting to check fridge).
    4. Back out of garage, realize I forgot bags, go into house and get bags (but don’t check fridge).
    5. Go to first store (where there were no sales but they have Starbucks). I’m going to need some caffeine to do this! Decide to buy some stuff there anyway because they have car side pick up!
    6. Go to the second store and repeat. Minus the car side pick up. Debate getting a kid to help me take stuff to my car (did I mention I’m not that old and very capable of doing this myself).
    7. Debate third store. Depending on time, items left on list & hunger level.
    8. Go home.
    9. Get the hubby to bring in the groceries while I sit on the couch. I need a break.
    10. Listen to the hubby say ‘there’s no room in the fridge’
    11. Decide to organize fridge where I find two things:
    a) stuff I thought I had has gone bad (hence I didn’t buy)
    b) stuff I bought that I already have that I didn’t think I had.
    12. Decide the rest of the groceries can wait but eventually do them while leaving bags on floor. 13. Fold bags (three days later) and put away.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect August 1, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Haha! Sherry, you nailed it. That is EXACTLY how it goes sometimes!!!

  17. Tracie July 23, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Your list sounds about right! My problem is finding a good time to go to the store. My husband used to work 4 – 10’s, which gave him a weekday off. I loved it! I could go grocery shopping at 11 in morning on a Tuesday and it wasn’t busy. He changed jobs and now works M-F, which I love. He is home all weekend giving us more family time. But grocery shopping on the weekends takes me 2+ hours because it’s so stinking busy. I hate giving up that kind of time on the weekend. And yeah I should just get up early on Saturday and go…..but that doesn’t happen.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect August 1, 2013 at 11:31 am

      UGH, buying groceries on the weekend is the WORST! I understand working around a husband’s schedule. Mine works nights so I either take my kiddo along or go when she’s at school (when I’m supposed to be working)! If only we could get just a few extra hours a week…! :)

  18. July 29, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I used to enjoy grocery shopping but I don’t as much anymore. I used to make a grocery list and menu the day before and then go to the store every Thursday afternoon. For years I did it that way.

    Now that I have an empty nest and I’m home full-time, I can’t seem to find time to make a list or shop! I’ve changed my grocery store day every week and have tried every day of the week but I can’t get that regularity I used to have. Like you said, grocery shopping has become a “pain in the neck”. My schedule is just so crazy! Right now I’m trying to go on Saturday mornings. I’ve managed to go two weeks in a row! Wow! I think that’s a record.

    1. Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect August 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

      You are BRAVE to go on Saturday mornings!! In all my disorganized trips to the store, it seems like Tuesday mornings are the quietest…too bad Monday morning is what works best for my schedule right now! :)

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  20. Bonnie August 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Grocery shopping should be much easier now that we are empty nesters. But it isn’t. I hate doing it now. So much so that I just seem to get a little at a time to hold us a few days. And every time I check out I wonder how we managed with two boys with huge appetites.

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  26. Becca @ The Earthlings Handbook January 14, 2015 at 11:41 am

    My best tip is to make a separate shopping list for each store. That article has assorted details on my shopping strategy.

    I work full-time outside the home, so most of my grocery shopping happens on Saturdays. One of the big surprises with my new baby is that she’s good at grocery shopping: Sits calmly in the cart, looking around, and usually doesn’t demand nursing until we are getting back into the car. Her big brother stayed home with Daddy while I went to the store, until he was about 3 years old…and then when he was about 6, he started being so bossy and nasty in stores that I had to leave him home sometimes, most notably “No more grocery shopping until after the baby’s born!!!” when I was 6 months pregnant and his behavior in Trader Joe’s made me cry! He loves shopping, so that long punishment made a big impression, and he’s been better since and has become particularly helpful with unloading the car while I take the baby into the house.

    My pantry is in the basement (because the kitchen is too small, and we like to stockpile) but I do have a grocery fairy! He’s this nice bearded guy who happens to live in my house :-) and is so grateful that I do the shopping so well AND get both kids out of his hair for an hour+, that he doesn’t mind hauling the food downstairs and lining it up on the shelves.

    One of the stores where I shop is part of my fitness plan: It’s in a converted old factory, and the floors aren’t level; it’s on a hill, and there’s a really steep slope from the entrance up to the parking lot, which also isn’t level. So I check out with my ankle hooked in the underpart of the cart to keep it from rolling away–great for the inner thigh muscles–and push the cart up the hill–strength training–and do an elaborate dance to heft the groceries into the trunk while repeatedly catching the escaping cart–cardio workout and great for the reflexes! :-)

    We sometimes get a treat while shopping (especially if Costco is the first of multiple stores, because it has a snack bar) but more often we bring travel mugs of water that stay in the car to keep us from getting dehydrated and snappish, and on the way home from the last store we discuss what snack we will have as soon as we get the cold things put away. I usually have coffee with my snack, which helps a lot to prevent me from collapsing in exhaustion.


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