How to write a grocery shopping list: does it matter? Yes.

Writing a grocery shopping list can do one of two things: get you efficiently around the supermarket, or waste expensive minutes – even hours –of your time. And if you’re running your own business as well as your family life, minutes can be precious – never mind hours.

So why is writing shopping list an art form, all of a sudden?

First of all, it’s worth examining how you compile your family grocery shopping list. Do you have a whiteboard in your kitchen where everyone can note down what you’ve just run out of or, if you’re lucky, what you’re just about to run out of?

Do you find mouldy cadavers in your refrigerator, the result of over-zealous shopping a week or two ago and which now are thumbing their noses at you shouting out your utter incompetence as a person / business executive / marathon runner / exhausted human being?

This is the time when creating a clever grocery shopping list should be part of your business plan

Much as people like me sneer at housewives who keep a carefully updated freezer diary – and fridge diary, if they’re lucky enough to have one of those socking great American fridges that I would give my eye teeth for – actually, they’ve got a point.

If you know what food you’ve got where you’re unlikely to duplicate purchases, unlike me who impulse-buys sausages and steaks and then, on return to home base, realises there are umpty-dump more of those in one of the freezers.

Whatever happened to good, old fashioned housekeeper/cooks?

Ah, to have been born in the Victorian/Edwardian eras in the UK when such domestic trivia would be handled by the staff and I could have got on with my life. Mind you in those days, by my age I would either be dead or the great-grandmother of several dozen children and hardly in the position to run a business, ride a horse, or blog on the internet.

However being the business-savvy people we are now, we can extrapolate the lessons learned in the past to assist up in streamlining our shopping lists.

What about online grocery shopping?

What about it? It’s great for toilet paper, cat food, canned produce, and other things that are not necessarily time-dependent. But for fresh stuff? Fish? Nice meat? Nice veggie stuff that won’t freeze? Nah…….I’m sorry. Much as I love the internet when I’m on the hunt for some yum-yum dins, only touchy-feely will do.

Know your local supermarket, and plan your list accordingly

Aha, we’re getting to the point at last. Do you use a local supermarket on a regular basis? If so, take note of where everything is.

Don’t be put off by the fact that they move stuff around occasionally. This is done primarily to induce shoppers to be surprised and go “hey, didn’t those had moved here! Let’s have some.” Grocery retail psychology at its worst, or at least at its most potentially expensive for you.

Most local supermarkets have a huge amount of money invested in refrigeration units and freezer cabinets and despite what the retail shrinks might tell them, baulk at the thought of shifting their expensive kit from one side of the store to another just to keep shoppers “interested.”

And such movement is highly debatable when you consider that local shoppers are far less impressed by retail psychology than they are by “never mind the crap, I just want to get my stuff and be out of here.”

And how to write that list?

Know your store

Know where everything is

Write out your list according to what holes you see in your fridge, freezer and pantry, then write that list out again according to the layout of your store.

Plan your shopping trip along the lines of the aisles in your store. This will help you get everything you need, and may stop you impulse-buying stuff you don’t need.

Simple, really.

Yet it took me 20 years to figure that one out and cut my time doing grocery shopping by at least 50 percent.

Trust me, it works … and if like me you’re running a business as well as a family, it saves time, money, stress and anxiety.

Now, let’s get to work on the rest of your writing:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English




  1. If you use online shopping services, it is easier to avoid waste. They ‘remember’ your former lists, likes and dislikes and suggest helpful offers. Wouldn’t go back to tramping the aisles. That’s what computers are for?

    Plus…you improve your carbon footprint because van delivery uses less carbon per item. You save time, trouble, wastage, frustration, things being out-of-stock.

    • At the risk of being lynched by my fellow ladies, I must agree with this approach and frequently order online from FreshDirect or just toodle down the street to my local Chinese Fruit & Veg market where they lot’s of fresh produce without the trauma of driving to a huge megastore and getting overwhelmed!

      • Good point there, Sally – too much choice can give you shopping indigestion and make it much harder to isolate what you really need, as opposed to what you actually should have. (But the latter is what gets that old adrenalin pumping, isn’t it? Hee hee…)

  2. Darling Jeremy,

    You’re absolutely right, of course.

    But you’re a man.

    So you don’t understand that some people (mainly women) HAVE to go shopping. After oxygen, water and basic nutrition, it’s one of life’s basic needs. The excitement of frustration, things being out of stock, etc. gets the adrenalin pumping around better than any gym workout. And the thrill of just a teensie bit of impulse buying can arouse women to such heights that they, well, let’s not go there right now.

    At least with a well-planned list you don’t have to tramp the aisles more than strictly necessary, so lengthening the life of your shoe leather and minimizing your carbon dioxide output without robbing you of that oh-so-essential, spontaneous titillation…

    Suze xxx

    PS … Good to see you here – wanna do me a guest post some time? 🙂

    • We like to look over our products before we purchase them. We like to inspect sell by dates, we like to make sure everything is just perfect for members of our families…

      • Absolutely, Sarah. So, Jeremy – how the hell can you do that if you just order stuff up online? Is Tesco’s idea of a ripe avocado the same as yours?

        NB: I just bought some avocados at Tesco’s – they were knocked right down in price because they were on their last day, yet I brought them home, left them 48 hours, and they were just perfectly ripe. Tesco’s idea of ripe avocados are so hard you could play major league baseball with them.

        Thank you, internet, for totally dehumanizing a lot, but I’m damned if you’re going to kick the sh*t out of shopping. (And avocados.)

        So there…


  3. The one thing I miss living in France is the ease of internet shopping. Internet shopping for the basics, the market for the rest (when it comes to food)

    • Aha, I get your message – internet shopping for the boring basics like bog paper, kitchen rolls, bleach, detergents, laundry soap etc. Absolutely right.

      But as for the more refined, interesting and tasty goods?

      You live in France where the food is soooooooooooo good? I envy you and would sign up for F2F shopping any day if I could dip in and taste the local cheese, or sample a tiny piece of locally made “tarte au fraises….” And your local markets are just out of this world….


  4. Ann Godridge says

    Excellent advice Suze.

    Now I used to get nearly all my food delivered by a wonderful organic box delivery service – fresh meat and vegetables. But the company has now grown, and the quality and the way the stuff is packed is just not what it used to be.

    But we do now have a local greengrocer, and a small local supermarket. I use them now, and just do an occasional online shop for cat food and tins and so on.

    Mostly though, I save time shopping by sending Ryan 😉

    • Those organic boxes can be lovely, can’t they – the only problem I have with them is that you don’t normally have any choice as to what you get.

      And here’s another point to take up with Jeremy about reducing carbon footprints: what about “shopping local?” That not only reduces carbon footprints but also supports local economies and where possible, local produce and farming.

      Encouraging online grocery shopping (which is driven by the huge supermarket chains) exerts even more pressure on local food producers and sellers, not only in terms of footfall but also in price cutting.

      • Ann Godridge says

        Our was pretty good, as you did get a reasonable range of choice. But teh drop in quality was a shame…

        As for the order of shopping, Ryan deeply objects to the layout of the supermarket with the fruit and veg first – so he prefers to shop backwards, and not squash his lettuces… And woe betide the check out person who doesn’t show the same respect for his shopping. Really, it’s much easier to leave him to it 😉

        Oh, and we’ve recently discovered a local farm shop – it’s on the way to one of the paces we walk, and is excellent value too.

        • I’m delighted to see that a farm shop does offer good value – so many of them don’t! They cash in on people’s expectations that they’re buying wholesome, locally grown produce when in fact the import a lot of stuff from abroad just like the supermarkets do.

          I’m going back “home” to Canada in a week’s time and can’t wait to indulge myself on the wonderful fruits and veggies grown in around south-eastern Ontario – incredible. Special favourites are bell peppers in all different colours and corn-on-the-cob that actually tastes of something, unlike the pap we get here in the UK. Also wild blueberries (to die for) and a whole host of other soft fruits….yum.

  5. There’s a tension here between making shopping more efficient and the ‘female’ need to shop spontaneously (and inefficiently)! What is exciting and unpredictable about supermarket fare (apart from my online Ocado account!)?

    Let’s not even address the myth about inter-gender differences when there are almost as many differences between women as there are between women and men. It’s like saying all black men are good sprinters! How can you generalise about women?

    I like shopping much more than my wife does (she also eschews cosmetics and fashion so am I lucky!) but, like Sally and Nikki, in food markets and specialist shops not bland supermarkets (although I do like French hypermarkets!!).

    Supermarkets are for the staples and predictable, branded goods: real, organic food I get from our allotment and exchanges with neighbouring allotment holders — which are overflowing with fresh produce at the moment — and the excellent local farmers’ markets. We have two local delis, Polish and British, packed with cheeses and breads the supermarket chains can only dream about. Plus I bake my own sourdough.

    I enjoy maintaining an Ocado supermarket order and do return below par stuff to the driver. Ocado offers the Waitrose range plus other sources. It often suggests things to me that I would never have otherwise thought of.

    You can keep your supermarket visits with parking, jostling, queuing and returning trolleys…in all, at least an hour-and-a-half’s worth. I do my online order, often in 20 minutes, and then use the time saved to relax with a glass of wine and the cat.

  6. I loathe all forms of shopping with a vengeance!

    When the children were small they always came along on the weekly supermarket shop, and I did the big list written according to the order of the aisles in the shop, and it worked very well. I had to shop in person because one of my daughters has severe allergies meaning that every food label had to be read before purchase.

    But this process used to drive me nuts:
    Put shopping in trolley
    Take shopping out of trolley, put in on conveyor belt
    Put shopping in carrier bags and back in trolley
    Take shopping out of trolley and put in car boot
    Take shopping out of car boot, carry into house
    Take shopping out of carrier bags and put into cupboards

    I’ve now got internet shopping down to a fine art and rarely actually go shopping. I spend 20 minutes putting my order through online and the next morning they deliver it to my kitchen. I also get an organic fruit and veg box delivered every week, which is always stuffed with really fresh produce, and any shopping list I have is recorded on my online supermarket account 🙂

    • I have to agree that all that lifting and carrying of the major supermarket shop is exhausting, especially if you have young children in tow. But think of all the exercise you get lifting those weights! 😉

  7. Here’s a wild idea…..cut the ridiculous unnecessary workrates that enable workaholics to randomly waste time and money in supermarkets. Use the spare time to wander thoughtfully round local markets. Grow your own even if it’s a window box. Buy for two or three meals at a time from simple, local fresh ingredients instead of all that fraught freezer stuffing. I am serious, the figure estimated for food wasted now in the UK has risen to 60%. No wonder it seems so expensive if we’re chucking half of it out.

  8. I’ve started shopping on a daily basis now, and although you don’t benefit from bargains through bulk buying it does at least cut down on waste. The trouble with supermarket shopping (for food) once a week – whether in person or online – is that you need to be able to predict your needs over the following 7 days pretty accurately if you don’t want to find yourself with excessive leftovers or food that hangs around until after its “best by” date.

    In any case with two dogs and three cats I don’t seem to have much waste anyway …