Saving Green: How to Make a Grocery List

When Sam and I first started on our “Super Saver” plan, I did a couple things. The first was to look at our budget, and figure out where all of our money was going (going out to eat, shopping, frequent trips to the grocery store, and of course on our pets).

We decided then and there to try a “no spend month” (more on that later). Our second step was to organize and plan a comprehensive grocery list.

Being the Data Girl that I am, I made it in Excel with pretty color-coded lines:

See?! Pretty data
But…if you aren’t an Excel fan, there are a bunch of listmaking apps (Todoist, Wunderlist, to name a few) out there that might float your boat as well. Or, if you’re old school you can always go paper and pen. The keys are: Go in with a list, always stick to your list, and limit yourself to one trip a month.

By sticking to our list we have been able to keep our groceries to $300 per month for two people, using now coupons and only shopping at five different stores (and I do it all in one day).

Six Steps to Making a Super Save Grocery List

1-Meal Plan: Make your menu for the month

Write out a plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. For us, breakfast is usually homemade oatmeal energy bars and fruit. Lunch is usually leftover dinner, roasted veggie freezer burritos, salad, or rice bowls. For dinner I rotate through about 15-20 go-to meals, most of which can be frozen or prepped ahead. We keep snacks of trail mix on-hand, nut butter, veggies, fruit, whole grain crackers and ingredients for sweet treats like dark chocolate, pumpkin brownies and banana cookies.

2-Look Before You Buy: Assess your pantry

Go through the items that you have on hand, and assess. No need to buy more salt, spices, olive oil, or whatever, if you’ve got it on hand. We have a fairly full pantry, so generally we don’t need to buy items like oatmeal, brown rice, flour or sugar every month (but we do go through a lot of staple whole ingredients). Check your quantities and make sure it will last.

3-Make Your List: Base it on your needed ingredients

Now write down all of the ingredients you will need to buy to complete your meal plan. Try to think of the quantities you will need for the entire month. Obviously there will be a few perishables that won’t last that long. We typically grow our own lettuce, and get it from our CSA in the summer, so we rarely buy greens (which wilt quickly from the store). I find that the majority of vegan ingredients are less perishable, and will last throughout the entire month with careful planning and storage. Admittedly I do occasionally make a mid-month run for bananas, and almond milk if Sam’s been on a cereal kick.

4-Pick your top stores: Narrow down your route

Reasonably I can run to four or five stores on my shopping day. Maybe you can do more, or maybe you only have access to one or two in town. We have two grocery stores with competitive prices where we shop. I have a Costco membership. I am a member of the natural foods Co-op in the next town over. I have found that it’s a little cheaper to get certain toiletry items at Walgreens or Target (though I’m very careful about selecting cruelty-free brands).

Consider the places you like to shop, and what they offer. Narrow down the route to those with the most of your items for the best prices.

5-Research your best prices: Make your Best Price List

Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred stores, visit each store’s website, and check the prices. Yes, this part is kind of tedious and they won’t all be on there, BUT you only have to really do it once for the whole list, and then you can just add and remove as you go.

Also, I know that certain stores—Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, might have better prices on one or two items BUT rather than run around to seven different stores (not my idea of the best Saturday ever), I find that it’s better to stick to the stores that carry the majority of my list.

So I wrote down my best possible price on the items that I plan to buy, and then coded it by store (so it can be easily sorted). I colored each section (produce, frozen foods, sundries) so that each store list I can quickly scan and see how to execute my plan of attack. I suggest you do something similar that will help you quickly split up your list.

6-Shop and update: Revamp as you go

That’s it, guys. Then you just shop.

I stick to my list when I go to the store; I buy only the items on my list. I try to buy bulk as much as I can, and bring my containers and bags along with me. Once I’m done, I just update my price list with the actual amount I spent. If you want to rotate through stores (one or two per week), or take it to the next level, you can coordinate the store visit with sales (for example, if you buy a lot of canned goods, time your trip to match the case-lot sale). Sign up for email alerts from your favorite stores to keep an eye on the sale pattern.

However, for us, time is money and I’d rather spend our precious Saturdays outdoors having fun than visiting another store. Thus—once a month we have a “shopping day”.

Nothing to it, right? That’s how we make a Green-Saving Grocery List. Just remember to bring your own bags, boxes, and plan the most efficient route.

How do you do your shopping? Do you use a list? Do you shop one a month, or are you hooked on your weekly grocery day?