10 Ways to Organize and Speed Up Your Supermarket Trip

Don’t spend any more time at the grocery store than you have to.
By: Beth Chaikin

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Timesaving Tips

How much milk is at home? Where are those darn chips that are on sale? What checkout line is going to be the fastest? The supermarket can be a giant time suck — if you’re not smart about it. Luckily, these folks are basically geniuses when it comes to the grocery store. Steal their brilliant tips and shave off dozens of precious minutes from your trips.

 

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Be Prepared to Grocery Shop at Any Moment

You might have a designated day — and even time — that you prefer to get your shopping done, but what happens if you find yourself near a store or in need of one or two items on an off day? Caroline Turben, mom of two and Extravagant Gardens blogger, always has her shopping list on her. "I use the notes section on my iPhone and I just keep a running list," she says. "As I deplete things, and as I know what meals I'm going to make, I add to it." This ensures she can make any spur-of-the-moment stop at a store a productive one.

 

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Take Pictures of What You Already Have

There are few bigger wastes of time than standing in the dairy aisle trying to remember if you have enough milk. If you don't have time to make a list before you hit the store, take advantage of your phone's camera instead. "Take a photo of the fridge shelves before you head out," suggests organizing expert Jamie Novak. While you’re at it, snap pics of your pantry too. This way, you can check your phone to jog your memory of what’s at home.

 

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Speed-Read Your Store’s Circular

"The quickest way to check out a circular is to focus on the front and back of the ad," says Jordan Page, the blogger behind Fun Cheap or Free. "That's where the best deals are. The inside is typically just fluff." Page says she usually finds deals on meat, canned food and fresh produce. She'll buy extra and freeze (or shelve) whatever her family won't be able to eat right away.

 

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Be Flexible

Just like you, sometimes grocery stores run out of ingredients. "Some people will take the time to go to another market," says Samantha Elkrief, a health and wellness coach. If the item you need is a central ingredient to a recipe, going elsewhere might be worth it, but Elkrief says flexibility is key. "If I need cashew butter but can't find it, I'll use almond butter or peanut butter. If I need Swiss chard but the store is out or it doesn't look fresh, I'll use kale. If I need pears, I know I can often use apples."

 

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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Employees for Help

Spend a minute or two (tops!) looking for an item. Then, don't balk at flagging down the nearest clerk. "I have no problem asking employees for help," says Jane Maynard of This Week for Dinner. "It's so much faster to ask versus wandering around the store aimlessly!"

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Shop at Smaller Stores

"We've gotten used to going to larger stores, but we just don't need 28 different choices of peanut butter!" says Darla DeMorrow, a certified professional organizer. "People are tired when they get home, and adding more decisions to their day can lead to analysis paralysis, which is when it takes longer to come to a decision." Don't bombard yourself with options. And smaller doesn't have to mean pricier. DeMorrow's go-to small stores? Trader Joe's and Aldi.

 

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Pick the Shorter Line with the Bigger Hauls

You’re finally ready to check out, but which line should you get on? The one with a couple of people each buying a handful of items or the line with one person ahead of you with an overflowing cart? It should be the latter — the math proves it. According to Dan Meyers, Ph.D. (he studies math education and loves problems like this one), every person in front of you adds 48 seconds just by having to check out, whereas additional items only add 2.8 seconds. "Therefore, you’d rather add 17 more items to the line than one extra person!" he writes.

 

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Avoid Self-Checkout

When you have more than a couple of items, self-checkout always ends up being a bad idea — especially if you have produce. "The cashiers have common codes for produce memorized," Novak points out. "You have to waste time looking them up. Not to mention, machine malfunctions and waiting for an employee to help wastes time."

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Bag Your Own Groceries

It sounds nice, in theory, to let someone else do the work while you zone out or check your phone. But Future You will thank you when you get home if you bag your own groceries. "I always put the frozen items together, the cold items together, bread and chips together, the produce together, heavier items together, and I try to keep the very fragile items (like tomatoes) in a bag with just a few items," Maynard says. Then, when she gets home, she can unpack like items at once. If there is a bagger at work in your line, sneakily trick him into bagging how you would, by placing items on the belt in your desired groups.

 

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Order the Nonperishables Online

If you're not ready to order all your groceries online (though maybe you should be), dip a toe into the digital pool with nonperishable items. Paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies can all easily be ordered online from a variety of retailers. Many stores make it easy to set up automatic reordering for items you know you regularly use up, and innovations like Amazon's Dash buttons let you reorder the second you're out of something. Not that high-tech yet? Nancy Haworth, of On Task Organizing, suggests trying the curbside pickup option with your grocery store. "Many of my clients use it for toiletries, breakfast foods, canned goods, bottled water and more," she says.

 

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