How to Organize Your Shopping Lists

Man in health foods store aisle with list.
Keep a shopping list with you to avoid impulse buying.
©2010 Jupiterimages Corporation

Whether you love it, hate it or just tolerate it, grocery shopping is a part of almost everyone's routine. Shopping can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating -- many people have come home to realize they forgot the item they originally went to the store to purchase. This is why composing a shopping list can make your grocery shopping, or any household shopping, more manageable and less expensive.

Shopping with a list will help you keep an eye on exactly what you need and cut down on impulse buying. This will not only save money, but will also make sure your kitchen is stocked with all the necessary foods to get you through the week [source: Zen Habits]. Nothing is more frustrating than planning a special meal and realizing you forgot a crucial ingredient, but with a shopping list, you can avoid this.


If you organize your shopping list well, you can also reduce your time in the grocery store, which will allow you to spend more time doing the things you really want to do [source: Alan's Kitchen]. There's no one perfect way to organize a grocery list. You'll need to consider your shopping style and how detailed you want to be, and you may also need to have several lists if you do your shopping at two or more stores.

If you generally don't use a shopping list, or if you're looking to revamp the way you currently organize your list, there are many resources out there to help you, from general shopping lists to Web sites and software. To get started on your new shopping routine, read the next page for tips on how to organize your shopping list.


Methods for Organizing Your Shopping Lists

When you're making your shopping list, you may just write down whatever items pop into your head. While this is a good way to record many of the important items you need, it doesn't ensure that you'll think of everything, and it certainly isn't the best way to organize your list. Streamlining your list before you shop will make your trip quicker and easier.

You may want to have a list accessible all week so you can write down things as you run out of them -- this will help you when it's time to make your list because you won't forget an important item [source: The Frugal Shopper]. Making a meal plan for the week will also help you draft your list. Write down only the items you need to prepare those meals and you'll avoid purchasing any extraneous items.


Once you have a list with all the items you need, take a few minutes to organize it before you go -- it will save you time in the store. One of the most general ways to organize your list is by food group. At most stores, fresh produce will be in the same area, dairy products in another and so on. If you have everything you need in a certain food group listed together, you'll be less likely to miss something.

If you're especially budget conscious and certain items on your list aren't necessities, you can organize your list by starting with what you must buy down and ending with what you don't necessarily need. That way you can go as far down on your list as your budget will allow.

If you want to be even more organized and you generally go to the same grocery store, you can organize your list by store sections, or even more specifically, by aisle. For this you'll need to take a little extra time one week to prepare a master list that details what you can find in each aisle of the store. From then on, you'll be able to list your groceries in the order you make your way through the store [source: Alan's Kitchen].

Looking for something more high-tech? Check out the next page to learn about shopping list software.


Shopping List Organizing Software

With technology as accessible as it is today, you may have most of your life organized on your laptop or PDA. If this is the case, you may find a grocery list more useful if you can print it out from your computer or e-mail it to your PDA or cell phone. There are many different types of online programs and downloadable software available for you to try, and most are either free or relatively inexpensive.

Many nutrition Web sites will have a grocery list generator that you can use to make your list for the week. Not only can you use this to make a list for the upcoming week, but you can also save lists for your reference. If you have a couple of go-to meals, you can make a shopping list with those ingredients that you can pull up when in a pinch. Or if you have traditional holiday meals, you can save your lists and ensure that you don't make multiple trips to the grocery store during those hectic times [source: Meals Matter].


If you want something a bit more high tech, you can download software that stores recipes and helps you plan grocery lists. These programs can work as kitchen organizers as well, serving as cookbooks and meal planners. You can find some free downloads, but you may need to purchase the more extensive programs [source: Shop 'N Cook].

Using a Web site or a computer program can help you keep your grocery lists organized and easy to use. The more clear and concise your grocery list, the less time you'll spend in the store and the more time you can spend cooking and enjoying time with your family.

For more tips on how to streamline your grocery shopping and keep your grocery lists up to date, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Alan's Kitchen. "Grocery Shopping Tips, Step 8: Master Organized Grocery List." 2009. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • The Frugal Shopper. "Grocery Shopping Tips." 2008. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • Meals Matter. "Healthy Shopping List." 2010. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • My Grocery Checklist. 2001. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • Shop 'N Cook Pro. "Shop 'N Cook." 2010. (Accessed 1/11/10)
  • Zen Habits. "50 Tips for Grocery Shopping." 2007. (Accessed 1/11/10)