5 Tips for Making an Organized Grocery List, from Really Busy People

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler/Maria Savenko)

The main lesson taught in Grocery Shopping 101 is to start with a list — otherwise, if you wander the store without a plan, you’ll get home to find you’re missing key ingredients or wind up with just freezer full of ice cream. And ideally that list is organized by row — or at least by sections — so you don’t have to zig and zag all around the store because you wrote down zucchini and then milk and then onions.

“Life is busy, though!” you might opine. How in the world are you supposed to find time to make a grocery list that’s any more organized than a bunch of chicken scratch on a Post-It? We asked these smart — and extremely busy —people to give us their tips.

1. Always start with the same basic list.

“When you have kids, you learn that they’d rather eat the same things over and over, so a lot of what I buy at the grocery store is the same week after week — we always need apples and cheese sticks,” says Jamie Jeffers, blogger at Medium Sized Family and mom to five kids. She typed up a standard grocery list that she prints off each week, adding anything seasonal or special that she might need to the end. You can also do this as a simple note in your phone, which brings us to the next tip.

2. Use your phone — without downloading any extra apps.

Apps are great and all, but sometimes the basics on a smartphone can be all you need. Brittany Arnold, a CEO and mom of three, simply texts herself when she notices something is running low at home and checks her text log when she gets to the store. She also uses the camera function on her phone: “We take pictures of recipes that we want to make, with the ingredient list right there,” she says. If you’re too busy to take a full inventory of the fridge, you could also snap a photo of its contents on your way out the door, and glance at it when you need to know what might be low when you get to the store.

3. Share your list.

If you aren’t the only member of the family who pops by the store, it can get confusing as to what you have and what you need. To avoid dupes or running out of a staple, consider a document share app. “My husband and I share a checklist that we update throughout the week in OneNote, although any document share app will do,” says Kerry Jo Richards, a marketing director in Columbia, Maryland. “That way, when one of us goes shopping unexpectedly, we can see what the other needs.”

4. Don’t just use any piece of paper.

More of a pen-and-paper type of list maker? Don’t just randomly write down ingredients as they pop into your head. Hollie Smith, a public relations professional in New York City, keeps a notepad on the fridge and each fresh page gets divided into sections based on her supermarket’s layout. Even if you’re not sure what order your store’s aisles are in, you can make general guesses: produce, dairy, frozen, meat, canned goods, etc.

5. Let the internet make your list for you.

TJ Kimsey, a marketing director in Wichita, Kansas, swears by online grocery shopping for many reasons. For one, it saves her time. It also helps when figuring what, exactly, she needs to buy: Lots of sites retain your list for super-fast reordering the next time. Peapod, for example, will even make a list of suggested on-sale items based on your previous purchases to save you a little money, too.

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How do you handle your grocery lists? Share your smart tips in the comments below.