The Grocery Gauntlet

Going grocery shopping seems innocent enough, right? Even when you live on a tight budget, you have to go to the grocery store. But getting out of there with no more in your cart than you had on your list is the modern day equivalent of running the gauntlet! There are so many marketing gimmicks and merchandising traps, and the worst of all, the clearance basket! I’ve put together some tips for getting to the end of this gauntlet with your budget intact:


1. When you’re grocery shopping, do you ever feel the urge to grab every edible item in sight and tear into it right then and there, even at peril of being prosecuted for shoplifting? Well, there’s a simple explanation for this: it’s called hunger and it is your worst enemy when you’re grocery shopping. Don’t wait to go shopping until you’re out of food and forced to shop hungry. Eat a meal before you shop or you may end up with a selection of items you didn’t really want. You’ll get home and eat one and then look at the rest and wonder, “What was I thinking?”

2. Make a list and stick to it. This requires a lot of self-control. Make a list at home, where there are no enticements and evaluate your real needs. Once you get to the store you will see promotions, clever displays and packaging, bundles, etc. All of these are designed to make you want. But don’t succumb to temptation. However, do the math and if the item offered in promotion was on your list anyway and it is something you regularly use, then maybe it will save you money. For instance, if your brand of toilet paper is offering a sale on the 24-pack, buy it – even if you do feel like some kind of freak for leaving the store with enough toilet paper to wipe the butts of a battalion! You will eventually use all that toilet paper. But never go over budget for something you weren’t intending to buy. 

3. My next advice is going to sound very mom-like: Use a calculator! It’ll guarantee you’re spending exactly what you intended in the first place. Adding in your head can be tricky because after a while you can get distracted or under price something. And if you feel like a complete dork carrying around a calculator, pull out your cell phone. It’ll look like you’re texting. Maybe you wouldn’t but…don’t forget to add sales tax when you calculate how much the contents of your cart is going to cost. 

4. While you’re shopping, if you see something that immediately gives you a warm fuzzy, then maybe you can work it in by revisiting some of the other things in your cart. I don’t mean put back the milk and bread; nutrition should come first no matter how much you love that lip gloss. Instead, what you need to do is decide whether that gloss is more important than purchasing some brand name products you usually use. You can save a bunch by switching to store brands and use those savings for that berrylicious lip gloss. Also take into consideration that some brands are made by the same manufacturers, such as Lancôme, L’Oreal and Maybelline, and have pretty much the same ingredients. So next time you get a warm fuzzy feeling for the $18 Strawberry Sorbet lip gloss from Lancôme, I dare you to consider the $5.99 Pink Sorbet from Maybelline instead. I bet it tastes and looks identical.


This is just a primer on getting through the grocery gauntlet. Continue on your own to develop more strategies, and challenge yourself to stick to them. If you find yourself being beaten every time, regardless of what you try, here’s a sure-fire solution. Before you shop, get in cash the amount you have budgeted to spend then leave your wallet at home, except for an ID. You can’t possibly overspend when you have nothing but the cash you budgeted. 

Happy Shopping!

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