Is your food budget getting tighter? One quote that I use over and over in budgeting programs is, "if you are not trying to save money you are wasting money."
So, one way you can stop wasting time and money - and eat healthier - is by using a shopping list.
Have you ever run into the store to buy milk and bread and ended up spending $25 on "stuff"? A list will help you avoid this mistake.
The first step in developing a grocery list is meal planning. Next, check what you have in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. One major way to save money is to eat what you already have at home. Check grocery sales ads in the newspaper, mail or online. Clip coupons that will really save you money (take them with you, too).
Now start your list.
Organizational experts recommend making some type of list with similar items placed together. Grouping foods by category on your grocery list helps you remember items and avoid a return trip to the store. Also, by grouping foods together, you're less likely to double back in the store for a food missed when in a particular section.
To save time, you might develop a form you can photocopy or print from your computer for weekly use. Keep your list in a central location where your family can add to it as needed. We keep ours on the refrigerator.
Consider listing foods by categories based on the Food Guide Pyramid Food Groups (for more info go to www.MyPyramid.gov). This helps assure that your meals include a mix of healthy foods. Also, you might include the food pyramid category of "Fats, Oils and Sweets" as a place to list candy, soft drinks, jelly, etc. This provides a visual check for using this Food Guide Pyramid grouping in moderation.
Some people like to arrange the categories in their list around the order in which foods are found in the store. Their master list may include such headings as "canned goods," "frozen foods," "fresh produce" and so on.
Add some type of catch-all grouping for condiments, staples and other food items that don't fit anywhere else. And don't forget categories for nonfood items such as health and beauty aids and household supplies. Grouping these together has an added benefit of helping you see how much of your "grocery" bill is going for items other than food. In reality, it may be toilet paper or toothpaste rather than tomatoes or tuna that add the most to your "food" costs.
If there are foods and other items that you must have every week, give yourself a reminder by making them a permanent part of your master list. For example, if you always like to have some carrots in the house, write carrots under your vegetable category heading. Then, if you need carrots that week, circle that item.
List brand names, can sizes, etc., as needed, especially if others are shopping for you.
To assure you get enough food for your meals, write how many items you need from that group. For example, if you need meat for the week, write "four meats" - but remember to always check your freezer first.
Sometimes, you may wait until you're at the store before deciding what specific foods to buy within a category. For example, you may wish to view the types of fresh fruits or check out meat specials before deciding on your purchase.
Be flexible with your shopping list. If you find a reduced item that is a good buy, purchase it. But even inexpensive extras can add up.; take a calculator with you when shopping.
Remember that time spent developing a list is usually less than time spent returning to the store for a forgotten item. Having a list may also improve your meals in variety, taste, nutrition and cost.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.