Shopping is a necessary part of life, which we sometimes enjoy and sometimes dread. We all need food and clothing, as well as those random things necessary to keep our house and yard fixed up. I’m totally the kind of person that when I see something I think our family “needs”, I just want to get it now. I try to be organized and go in to my shopping trip with a plan, in an effort to stop my impulse purchases, but it sure is hard to resist a sale when I see it! When you get ready to head to the store do you prepare ahead of time with a list? Do you write it down or just keep it in your head? What about coupons – do you use them? Or do you watch for items to be on sale before buying them? I’ve developed a few habits over the years to combat my natural impulse tendencies and help make sure I get home with all the items we really needed. I’d love to share some tips with you to help make your shopping experiences more organized too and please share your tips in the comments – we all have room for improvement!
~Make a list~
I am a list maker by nature, but even my non-list-maker husband has found they are very helpful when it comes to heading to the store. I keep a list for our favorite stores on our information center so when we start to run low on an item we can write it down. Our family puts things on the list when an item starts to get low, in the hopes that we can purchase a replacement on sale before we run out completely. This prevents us from (usually) needing to run to the store to pick up one item in a pinch because it’s never on sale when we NEED it!
When I get ready to run my errands, I start by making a list (**see side note below) for each store. I double check sales/coupons and create a list of what we actually need to purchase this week for our meal plan, home projects, or outings. Then I decide how many places I can actually stop and write a list of the stores I want to hit during my trip. I make sure to toss my lists, coupons, and any return items into a bag so I can grab it before I head out the door. When I’m at each stop I take my list and cross off the items as I put them in the cart so I can see what is left or what needs to go on the list for a different store – this also helps when I need to send my husband to the store because then he doesn’t have to stress about forgetting something! I also make sure to cross my stops off my errand stop list so I can see the progress I’m making and make sure I don’t forget a stop on the way home.
**Side note – there are tons of ways to organize your lists for grocery shopping. The main store for our family is a store that includes household items as well as groceries. I separate items into two columns on my list…one side for the home goods and clothing and the other side for groceries. This is how the store is designed and helps me not miss things as I’m shopping, so I can start at one end and work my way to the other without having to backtrack. I have a friend who knows the local store so well that she organizes her list based on where the items are found in the store. She makes her weekly list and then puts the items in order from front to back of the store. This helps her not miss things as she’s working her way through the aisles.
Personal Tip: Our family has chosen to be a one income family, which means we rarely can just go purchase everything I want without racking up debt. So I’ve also created a running ‘wish list’ that I keep in my files. Any time my husband or I say “it sure would be nice if we had ___” I add it to the list. Then in those moments we have a bit extra in the budget we can pull out the list and prioritize what we want to spend our money on. This doesn’t work perfectly because I’m an impulse shopper for the smaller items, but I try my best to not purchase anything immediately so we can make sure we are spending our money wisely and not just creating more clutter in our house.
The beauty of living in the USA is that we have tons of different stores with similar items to purchase from. There are a million clothing stores and grocery stores, not to mention all our online options, so use this to your advantage! Don’t ever just purchase the first item you see without at least checking other options first. For instance, if you find a book you’d like, even if it’s on sale, write down the title (or take a picture of the cover if you’re like me) so you can check at another store and online to find the best deal. This goes for everything you purchase, but certainly on bigger items like furniture or cars. Sometimes sales are better and sometimes they aren’t so don’t allow yourself to be fooled into a purchase just because of a sale or clearance sticker. As you do more comparison shopping, you’ll start to figure out what store has the best deal on certain items, as well as the items you are willing to pay a little more for because the quality lasts longer.
Personal Tip: Let me give you an example with some of my grocery shopping habits: I don’t usually have the energy or time to cart my children to a ton of stores every week to shop all the best sale items for groceries so we have three main stores we shop – our local grocery store Meijer, Aldi, and Sam’s Club. I don’t shop all of them every week, but have over time figured out what items are cheapest from each store. Buying in bulk from a place like Sam’s Club or Costco isn’t always cheaper so you MUST pay attention. Inevitably I can’t remember which store is cheapest, so I’ve created a document that keeps track of what I’ve found to be the best deal between the sales, bulk, and regular prices in our area. I keep it handy to check the best prices when I’m making my shopping lists.
Unless it is something our family needs immediately (like milk) I try to wait and purchase items when they are on sale. Grocery stores routinely rotate sales, so if you pay attention to the weekly ads you can see ahead of time if some of your family favorites are on sale a certain week and stock up while they are at a discount. (Personal Tip: If you choose to buy in bulk or stock up on items be very diligent about storing the extras in a place you can easily see them. And make sure you check your stash before you go purchase more!) There are certainly some items that never go on sale, but for the most part, if you are patient, you can find everything your family needs on sale (or find a coupon for it).
I struggle the most to find home improvement items on sale, but I know if I was more diligent about checking weekly ads I could save money in this area too! If you REALLY want to be organized it would be helpful to track the sales you prefer to shop (this works well with groceries especially because they are usually on a rotation) so you can know how long before your favorite items will be on sale again. If you search for them, there are plenty of online sites that do some of this work for you, posting the best sale items of the week or coupons and discounts that are available for your favorite stores. (Please share any sites you use in the comments because I’m always looking for new options.)
I go through stages with my coupon use. For a while I was very diligent about hunting out coupons from the newspaper or online and matching them up to the items on my shopping list. But let’s be honest, it’s a TON of work so I’ve chosen to scale back in recent years! Here’s the deal with coupons, at least in my experience.
- Many coupons are for products that are new, so if your family has personal preferences for certain items or you are brand loyal, you may not be as successful at using coupons.
- Coupons may require you to purchase multiple items. Often a coupon is only good if you buy two or more of a designated item. This is great if you are trying to stock up, but it’s not ideal if you only need one of an item. The coupon will force you to spend more money to save money, which in the end isn’t truly a savings. Make sure you pay attention to the quantity listed so you purchase the proper amount to get your discount.
- There are two main kinds of coupons – manufacturer coupons and store coupons. Most places allow you to use one of each kind of coupon, called stacking, to increase your savings on items. It’s essential to pay attention to what is listed on the coupon so you know what type it is because you can’t use two of the same type on one item.
- You can find coupons in print, like newspaper inserts or store ads, as well as online from sites like: http://www.redplum.com/ or a gem like this: http://www.couponmom.com/ who has done a ton of work compiling coupons all in one place. Be sure to check a specific store website too because they often have online options you can print too.
- Keeping coupons organized is essential. It doesn’t do any good to spend time cutting coupons only to leave them in an unorganized stack and never use them again. I keep mine in a small accordion file that fits in my purse because I don’t keep a huge stash of coupons at any one time. I have a friend that uses a binder method that works well for her – check this site for an example: http://thekrazycouponlady.com. This site has some other options for you to consider: http://www.groceryshopforfree.com.
- Coupons only work if you remember to bring them with you. Digital has become the way to go for many people because they always have their smart phone with them. Many stores have switched to digital options so do your research for your favorite stores!
So whether you are a diligent coupon user or think they aren’t worth the effort, it never hurts to look online quickly for a coupon before you head to the store – especially if you are shopping for clothing, household goods, or other larger-ticket items. And if you don’t have time to look before you leave or make an unexpected stop, many places also take coupons from your phone so take a minute to browse before you hit the checkout!
Making a plan is, in my opinion, the key to being organized in life, and shopping is no exception. Knowing ahead of time where you need to shop and what you plan to purchase will help your shopping trip stay on budget, be quicker, and hopefully make sure you don’t get home without the one thing you really needed to get!
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