The Art of the Grocery List

You open your fridge only to find a lone beer, some (probably expired) leftovers, and 32 varieties of condiments. Your pantry is down to kidney beans and that one weird flavor of pasta sauce you bought by mistake five months ago. You know you’re out of groceries and realize that it is time to make The List.

You sit at the table trying to think of what food normally fills your kitchen, but somehow, you are unable to recall what you eat on a day-to-day basis. Even if you can remember some of it, you seem to always need three additional grocery runs later in the week for forgotten items.

If this is a regular occurrence for you, you need a better system. You probably spend hundreds of dollars and several hours a month grocery shopping so you might as well be organized about it. As a neurotic Type A person, this comes naturally to me, but over a third of millennials actually make their grocery list last minute.

So how do you get better about it? To start, get a magnetic notepad at the Dollar Tree and leave it on your fridge. Any time you’re close to running out of something, add it to the list.


Here’s a fancy Chopin Liszt notepad for the music-lovers out there.

But don’t add the items to the list serially—add them in an order relative to where they are in the store. I always start in the produce section at Wegmans and end in the frozen aisle, so tomatoes go at the top of my list and toaster strudel at the bottom.

This will help immensely when once you get to the store. Before I started doing this, I would frequently realize I forgot an item six aisles away and would have to make a return trip. If you go shopping during busy hours, you’ll often get stuck behind the slowest moving person in the store during this adventure.

If you want to get really serious about your list-making, get one going for each store you visit. This way, you’re not skipping over items that you need to get somewhere else; you can check things off in order as you go along. And of course, make sure the lists are in store order according the store you’ll be buying them at. 

You’ll also need to train others in the ways of the list. The system will not work if other members of the household are selfishly eating all of the baby carrots and not telling anyone about it. If it’s proving to be a struggle, allow them to add items to the list willy-nilly as they run out and then spend a few minutes before each shopping trip dividing them by store and putting them in order.

So yes, it’s a little neurotic, but it will save you time and money in the long run. It prevents you from having to run back to the store every few days and from wasting time while you’re there. Plus, the less time you spend at the grocery store, the less opportunity you have to impulse buy items that aren’t on your list or in your budget.

The best part of this system is that it doesn’t take a lot of work—just a few seconds to jot down what you’re running low on—and it’ll save you time, money, and sanity in the long run.

5 thoughts on “The Art of the Grocery List

  1. I actually managed to get my family pretty well-trained at adding things to the list, which is now a mini dry-erase board on the fridge. A couple of years ago, I switched to a grocery list app that lets me organize by aisle. Now I can add items in any order, and still have my list in aisle order. But what I really want to say is, I miss Wegmans!

    Liked by 1 person

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