4 tools for saving time and money at the grocery store

First, a confession: I’m not a couponer, so if you are looking for couponing tips, you won’t find them here. I shop mostly at Trader Joe’s, which is actually less expensive than most traditional grocery stores, and they don’t issue coupons. At other stores, I buy things on sale but can’t be bothered with coupons. I admire people who do coupon, especially efficiently, but it’s not a skill I want to learn.

Trader_Joe's

Grocery shopping is a time consuming chore that’s long eluded me.  It has been the item on my budget I felt least in control of, and I found myself at the store multiple times every week, despite my best attempts at a comprehensive weekly list.

After almost five years of marriage, not to mention the pre-marriage years of shopping for myself, I finally feel like I am getting a handle on my grocery shopping system.

I’m going to share my current tools, but first indulge me in offering a perspective shift that helped me stop grumpily, ungratefully dreading grocery trips: buying groceries is one way to actively love your husband and family. I realize it can feel like a time consuming chore, and it’s not glamorous, but most acts of love aren’t.

On that heartwarming note, here are my tools:

1. eMeals

eMeals is a service that sends you seven dinner menus each week, complete with a grocery list organized by store layout. One of my biggest frustrations with grocery shopping was not the shopping trip itself, but the time consuming task of meal planning and list making.

I knew about eMeals for awhile before I started using it because I am cheap and didn’t want to pay for meal plans when there are so many free recipes online. When I signed up, it cost $21 for 3 months of meal plans (84 meals.) It’s even cheaper if you sign up for more months, or you can save 15% on all eMeals plans with code “SLOW” until May 15th.

I was spending at least an hour each week planning menus, which means I bought back four hours of my time every month for $7, and I think that’s worth it. In some cases, even on a tight budget, time is a more valuable resource to me than money.

The eMeals plans integrate so they use the same ingredients in multiple meals, making my grocery buys smarter than they would be when I make my own unrelated menus. I haven’t been using it long enough to tell for sure, but I seem to be spending less on groceries.

My other hesitation was that I’m a picky eater, and wasn’t sure I would like all the menus. I don’t, but I also don’t cook 7 dinners a week, so I simply don’t make the ones that don’t appeal to me. I’ve  tried some things I might not usually eat and have expanded my tastes. eMeals offers a lot of different plans, including Paleo and Gluten Free, so you can find one that suits you. (I chose Clean Eating.)

2. Evernote

I use this free app for everything: to do lists, blog ideas, links to articles I want to read, and yes, my grocery list.

My printer is out of ink so instead of printing out the list eMeals sends me, I copy and paste it into an Evernote. I check off items as I shop in the store.

Update: since I originally wrote this post, eMeals has released an iPhone app, so now I use that for my shopping list. If I “skip” a meal on the app, it automatically updates my shopping list! How cool is that?! I kept my recommendation for Evernote in case you don’t have an iPhone, or want to use Evernote for all the other lists in your life.

3. “Our Groceries” app

Mike and I use this free app to synchronize our various shopping lists. It’s free, and we can both access the lists from our phones. I never remember if Mike tells me we need something, so we both add to the list when we notice items that need replacing.

You could use this for your entire grocery list. I love how you just tap an item, and it gets crossed off the list- gives productivity addicts like me a real sense of progress and accomplishment.

4. CASH

Buying groceries with cash is hands down the best way not to overspend. Someone in our Financial Peace University class calculated his grocery total as he shopped, knowing he had a limited amount of cash to spend. He cut his grocery spending in half.

Your brain approaches the store completely differently when you hand over a stack of 20 dollar bills. MIT conducted a study which showed that people spend 12-18% less when they use cash because cash activates the pain centers of the brain in a way that plastic does not.

Question: What tools do you use to make grocery shopping easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable?

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