I know this sounds like kind of a silly topic. Like, how hard can it be to go grocery shopping? We’ve been doing it for most of our adult lives and should have it figured out by now. But, I actually believe many of us are rather tortured by grocery shopping and don’t even know it. It always gives me a bit of anxiety and I’m always so relieved when it’s over.
Jerry Seinfeld does this hysterical stand-up comedy bit about the stress and confusion that is often triggered by shopping at the supermarket, and it’s worth watching now, before we get started (apologies for the fuzziness of this video): Supermarket Experience by Jerry Seinfeld
Regardless of whether or not grocery shopping stresses us out, I think we can sometimes do it wrong, or not know what we’re doing, shopping haphazardly, spending more money than necessary, and making all kinds of simple mistakes. As a frugal goddess who is very interested in food, health, and saving money, I have developed some really useful systems to help me with my grocery shopping.
MAKE A DARN LIST, PEOPLE!
I know not everyone is a fan of the list. If you already create a grocery list before you go shopping, you are ahead of the game and good for you! But for those of you who don’t, please try this, at least just once, and see for yourself how it completely lightens the burdensome load of taking a trip to the grocery store. Here is the problem with not creating a list. When you finally get into the store, you are bombarded with so many different stimuli, it’s so easy to lose focus and to get off track. Also, if you are trying to plan your meals for your week, in your head, in the middle of a store, with other people all around, it’s near impossible. In this situation, you might just end up buying a bunch of crap that doesn’t make any sense, and/or that might be too expensive, just so you can get out of the uncomfortable situation of actually being in the store.
Making a list for the week is actually stressful in and of itself, so it’s best to get that out of the way when you are at home in your comfort zone, before you enter into battle. It’s difficult because you have to sort of imagine what your body needs for your future. You have to envision what you may or may not be hungry for, and you have to make sure you don’t forget anything. I actually keep a running list in my phone. As SOON as I run out of something, or notice that I’m running low, I add it to my list. If I don’t add it when I first notice, I will most likely forget. Then, when it’s time to go shopping, I sit myself down beforehand and literally imagine my meals for the week. Do what you need to do in order to just hunker down for a few minutes, and MAKE THAT LIST! Otherwise, you’re utterly defenseless when you enter the store, and it’s all downhill from there.
ALWAYS USE REUSABLE TOTE BAGS
Prepare for a guilt-trip-laced threat…
If you are not currently using reusable tote bags to go grocery shopping, you are contributing to the utter destruction of our beautiful planet in a very real-time, impact-heavy, ozone-depleting, coral reef-killing, tree-murdering, selfish kind of way.
Aside from that however, using reusable tote bags actually makes grocery shopping SO much easier—especially if you are shopping by yourself. It sounds like such a simple thing, but another part of the anxiety produced by food shopping, is the manual labor part of it. There’s that stress of making multiple trips to and from the car (or even worse, if you live in a city, you have to find ways to manage carrying your groceries all in one trip, potentially up multiple flights of steps, ugh!). Even if you use those grocery carts—which I never used when I lived in a city, because they always seemed to add to my already existing struggle—these reusable bags are still a grocery shopping staple.
All reusable tote bags have large shoulder straps and are so incredibly sturdy. So, you never have to worry about them busting on you, and you can easily sling one or two bags over each shoulder, leaving your hands free to open your darn door, use your key, scratch your head, or whatever you need to do. These bags also hold way more than any paper or plastic bag could ever do. AND, they only cost a buck! You can purchase them when you check out, they are always available.
Finally, not that this makes much of a difference in your wallet or in the world, but a place like Whole Foods rewards you for bringing your own bag(s). The reward is only $.5 and they always ask if you want to donate your refund, which of course I always do (and you should too). Still, it’s a win-win all around. To quote Kevin Bacon from A Few Good Men, “These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.”
SHOP AT DIFFERENT PLACES FOR DIFFERENT THINGS
This concept sounds like I’m adding to the burden of your grocery shopping experience, but there is a method to this madness.
Fruits, vegetables, and meats, should really be purchased at a location that has a reputation for quality. Whole Foods is very pricey indeed, but I often go there for my produce and meats. You can also go to your local farmer’s market. Both options are great. In general, I also think it’s important to only buy organic produce, and nitrate-free/free-range meats. It’s a bit too much to get into now but the meat industry in this country is quite corrupt, so it’s important to stay away from mainstream meat. If you can find meat that is labeled nitrate-free and/or free-range/grass-fed, you are doing better than most. Also, if you can’t always buy organic produce, then at the very least, look for local. It’s important to buy local because it contributes to the environment (all that fuel burned to transport produce from one location to another), and it nurtures your community. Local farmers, not big-business farmers, need our support, so shop local and/or organic whenever you can.
Once you go to the fancy store for your whole food ingredients, then you can go to the more mainstream, low-budget, supermarket kind of store, for everything else—toilet paper, milk, snacks, any and all processed foods. These days, the mainstream grocery stores have fairly healthy options for lots of products also. For instance, I only buy organic milk, but I save a chunk of change when I buy it at a regular grocery store, rather than a fancy schmancy Whole Foods. So, I go to Whole Foods for my special items and for EVERYTHING else, I shop cheap. Ultimately, when I shop this way, I usually end up saving close to $30 each week.
As I said, this extra trip sounds like a pain the booty, but it really helps mentally to do it this way also. When I’m on my way to Whole Foods, I’m in “healthy and quality food” mode. I have a singular purpose and I don’t get side-tracked. Then, when I take my trip to the regular grocery store, I’m in my “low-budget, mediocre quality, essentials” mode. And then when I notice how much money I save (Whole Foods doesn’t have discount-brand anything in their inventory, so if you only shop there, you are forced to buy their expensive lines of products), it makes it all worth it. I even shop on different days to space it out, so I don’t feel overwhelmed going from one store to the next.
How is that for methodical madness?
If these ideas sound enticing, brilliant, genius, etc., it’s because they are! The next time you go shopping, try giving some (or all) of these methods a whirl, and try to enjoy this process as much as humanly possible. These things have helped me so much with my grocery anxiety. And although I can’t say I am quite at the point of enjoying the dreaded chore of grocery shopping, I can tolerate this task much easier now that I have my nifty sisty (abbreviated version of the word “system,” altered for the sole purpose of rhyming) in place.
Goddesses, you are welcome.
Andreas Gursky, “99 Cent,” 1999, Chromogenic print face-mounted to acrylic, © Andreas Gursky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, Germany; Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York and Monika Spruth / Philomene Magers, Cologne/Munich, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco