3 steps to hack your supermarket shop

Man in a supermarket

Shopping in a supermarket is one of those apparently simple things that can take the most energy and cause us the most stress. Life is full of big problems, and sometimes part of solving those is to make a bit more space for them by making the small problems easier.

Having to sometimes shop for multiple people has caused me to try to hack the process. I can’t say I love shopping, so there is an imperative for me to get the job done as efficiently and thoroughly as possible in one go.

That principle conveniently co-incides with the latest government advice too, so I thought I’d share of my tips for an efficient shop.

To be fair, my wife is the main shopper in the family, but she seems happy to adopt the approaches here. She drew the line at my attempts at ‘mind-mapping’ the whole experience, but I think I can see where she’s coming from on that!

I’m going to tell you my whole approach, which will probably generate a bit of laughter among the real experts in shopping, but there may be some insights along the way even for those people who have mastered it through a life-time of experience.

Have a meal plan

If you possibly can, decide some sort of meal plan in advance – especially if you are cooking recipes. If you know what you are going to eat, you also know what you are not going to eat. You won’t succumb so much to the supermarket selling techniques. Having a meal plan, even of just the main meals of the day, takes a lot of the pressure off when it comes to the actual shop.

Just because you have a meal plan doesn’t mean it has to all be cooking recipes every day and being superman or superwoman. It is fine if the meal plan includes frozen pizza, fish fingers and pasta with sauce. It just helps to know what you will have.

Build your list

If you are like my wife Liz, you will have a list on the go through the previous week. Put it somewhere prominent in the kitchen and have a pen attached to it so that you can just add in what you need as you go through your daily life. The aim is to take as much thought out of the actual shop as possible. As you wander around the supermarket you don’t really want to be visiting every aisle in the store. The bigger the store, the more products will be presented to tempt you and the more you will find yourself spending.

Make sure that your paper is big enough to take the whole list, and if it isn’t, continue on a new sheet. Do not try to squeeze more in the gaps on the list as if you do this you are more likely to miss those things when you shop.

Ultimately, the best shopping list techniques involve organising your list….


Here is where it gets a bit geeky, so bear with me.
The best list is divided into departments! Ideally have a preprinted sheet of paper with the main sections of the grocery store as headings and space to enter products. Your headings might include:

  • Dairy
  • Bakery
  • Frozen
  • Fruit & Veg
  • Tins, packets, jars
  • Drinks
  • Meat
  • Pets
  • Household

As you make your meal plan, add the ingredients from the plan to the appropriate sections. If you wan’t to get really technical, try colour coding each meal by using different pens! So if the first meal is a cottage pie, then your potatoes, mince and all the other ingredients might be written in green.

It sounds a bit geeky, but just suppose you actually do the cottage pie earlier than planned, and so no longer need the ingredients? You can search your list and just cross out anything green

I found online a great ready-made pad for this kind of shopping list. It is already divided into sections, with an area for your meal plan. You can put it on the fridge because it is magnetic, or just hang it on a hook. When you go shopping you just tear off the list section and leave the meal plan intact to refer to later!

Shop alone if you can, and if you can’t – delegate

Shopping alone is not only a requirement these days, it is also a luxury! If you are stuck in a household where everybody is constantly there, it can be bliss to walk around a supermarket for an hour on your own.

Also, the less people shopping, the less you will spend, and usually the less time it takes. No purchase requires a second opinion!

For those of us who don’t have the luxury of shopping alone, and particularly when the rules are relaxed, one great way to solve the multiple shopper problem, especially with children above a certain age, is to tear the list into pieces and give a piece to each of the other shoppers. This will keep them busy and out of your hair.
If they come back with the wrong item, send them packing until they get it right. It is good training!

If you haven’t tried these three simple changes to your shopping routine then why not have a go. And if you have some ideas of your own of how to make shopping a more pleasurable experience then do let me know!

Finally, don’t forget, as the shops open more widely, to shop local and go to specialist shops to support independent traders. These same techniques would help with that too.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.