A grocery list is a lot like laundry... it can be never-ending.

And no matter how good you get at it, you have to do it again and again — and sometimes your household staples become more expensive and harder to find in stock over time.

The good news is, there are tips to help you better manage your perpetual grocery list and keep your budget under control.

The Grocery Landscape Can Be Complicated

In April 2023, The Wall Street Journal[1] reported that record-high inflation, which powerfully affects everyone in the supply chain, will likely continue. Even if grocery shoppers don’t feel sympathetic about how inflation places pressure on grocery stores, they’ll likely feel the squeeze of those costs being passed onto them.[2]

According to Statista,[3] today’s grocery shoppers are comprised of six generations of people — and about $848.4 billion in grocery store sales. The Statista data speak to how each generation has different life experiences and behaviors that might be reflected in their eating preferences and thus grocery shopping habits.

That's a lot of cash spent on food, and studies show that women tend to shoulder most of the grocery shopping in homes with children and in those without, according to Pew Research.[4] Also, Statista[5] reports that different generations may have distinct attitudes about who should pay the grocery bill in multi-person households. This means shoppers are juggling interacting social and market forces, all while trying to manage their personal finances.

Tackle Grocery Shopping With These 3 Tips

The good news is there are 3 tips to help you better manage your perpetual grocery list and keep your budget under control:

1. Make a List, and Shop on a Full Stomach

The human brain loves ordered tasks. Why? Scientific research reveals that people often remember the things they need to do much better than the things they’ve already done. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect.[6] A grocery list activates our minds to focus on the things we need to buy, which is why it’s so effective. Plus, crossing things off a list is really satisfying. A few more points to consider:

  • If paper is not your thing, try using a notes app on your phone.
  • If you share a fridge or shopping duties with a roommate, partner, or family members, open the responsibilities of list writing to them, too.
  • Make a household rule that the last person to finish a grocery item must add it to the list so that it's ongoing. 
  • An ongoing list can capture individual eating preferences too, so whoever does the shopping for the week doesn't have to do any guesswork.

When people write a grocery list before they shop, they usually choose necessities. Shopping on an empty stomach, however, can sabotage even the best-written list. Hungry shoppers tend to reach for items not on the list, which can disrupt their budgets.

2. Plan How Much You Can Spend, and Stick to Your Budget

You’ve made a list, which is a great start, but have you planned your monthly grocery spending? Healthy food is considered a necessary part of the daily human experience, so it makes up an important part of a person’s budget. Snack foods or restaurant eating are usually wants, rather than needs. Household size and age of household members are also factors that can affect your budget.

With prices rising because of inflation, it can help not only to have a budget but also to have a sense of your necessities and items you can go without. According to a U.S. News Report,[7] some foods are more affected than others. Supply and demand naturally play a part, but things like disasters take a toll, too. For example, a bout of avian flu drove egg prices sky-high in 2022 because fewer chickens survived to lay eggs.    

Planning on a dollar amount you’re comfortable spending can make it easier to cut out items you can live without. And if you’re under the amount, you may feel justified in purchasing a treat.

3. Include Grocery Services Costs in Your Budget   

Grocery shoppers enjoy many choices, from how to access groceries (online, curbside pickup, in person, etc.) to a variety of shopping options (organic foods, buying in bulk, imported foods, etc.). When it comes to accessing groceries, shoppers can save time by opting for grocery pickup, grocery delivery, or online shopping. All three options can make life easier for people with mobility concerns or transportation constraints too.

Grocery services often include delivery fees, surcharges, and tips that aren’t part of an in-person experience, so shoppers will want to research and be aware of these fees up-front, so they can work these expenses into their budget.

But if you live a hectic lifestyle, the cost of saving time by opting for grocery pickup or delivery can pay off, as well. 

Using these three tips, you’ll be able to maneuver through the store more easily, remember everything on your list, and fully stock your fridge without going over budget.