A Time Management Expert on How to Be a Better Grocery Shopper at Costco

published Nov 2, 2018
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Even time management experts can get overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is a visit to Costco.

Virginia Maddan is the mastermind behind Comfortable Structure, where she coaches people on how to use time management tools to reclaim their time. As a busy working mom, she applies her strategies to Costco runs to make them quicker and way more effective.

“Even though I’m super organized and great with time, I have a love/hate relationship with shopping because I can be a very aspirational shopper,” says Madden. “So I actually have had to develop strategies for myself, otherwise I could go into Costco and spend tons and tons of time and money on stuff I actually don’t use.”

I chatted with Virginia about the power of throwing out strict plans, easy home organization tips (jackpot), and the importance of tracking aspirational items before you fill up your cart.

What are some of the strategies that have helped you make grocery shopping less overwhelming?

You need to have a plan before you go grocery shopping. It doesn’t need to be super strict — you don’t need an itemized grocery list that says exactly how many ounces of something you need to buy. But you know know your cooking style and a rough idea of what you’d like to make before you go in. I like to cook from scratch, so when I go in I typically am shopping for ingredients instead of prepared foods. I also have a young son, so I’m also looking for quick, ready-to-go snacks. That background information shapes my shopping plan.

Wait, do you not shop with a grocery list?

I always have an ongoing list. Whenever I think of something or whenever I use something up, I write that down.

I also track aspirational items on my grocery list. If I see something that I think I might want to use but I don’t currently use it, I don’t buy it but I think about how I might use it for the next shopping trip that I do. I add the aspirational thing that I might want to see in the future on my grocery list and see if it comes up a few times.

Do you have a criteria that helps you differentiate between a wise splurge or an impulse buy?

Ask yourself, Is this close to what I would usually eat? If you only eat red meat once a month and you see something that looks really tempting like lamb, it’s probably not a smart purchase. But if you eat red meat all the time and you see something with lamb, sure!

It’s really easy to end up at Costco for hours. Do you use any time-saving techniques?

The first time I recommitted to shopping at Costco regularly, I walked every single aisle. Having a general knowledge of where the departments are saves time. They don’t change the locations of their staples, so if you can remember where things are generally, that helps.

When I make my grocery list, I make it by department. So once I’m in the store, I can just go to the sections and know what I need, and I don’t have to go back and forth to different aisles. If I can’t find something, I ask an employee. I don’t waste a minute looking for something by myself.

Do you recommend having a set time or day when you always go grocery shopping?

If that works for your schedule, that’s great, but that tends to be more stressful for people than not. Instead, think about how often you want to grocery shop, then review your week or month and look at what you have on your calendar and plan around there. You’ll start to see patterns and rhythms in your schedule and you’ll be more likely to find a spot that works really well and doesn’t stress you out.

What’s your number-one time-management technique for grocery shopping that you would recommend to readers?

Get organized at home. It doesn’t need to be a giant project! Decide where you want to put your groceries, and make sure everything is easy to find. It will take you less time to unload your groceries if you know where everything is going.

Also, prep some of the ingredients as you put your groceries away. I block time when I get home right after a run to chop up watermelon and put it in a container in the fridge, or wash and separate the heads of lettuce. This also helps save space in your fridge if the ingredients you’re prepping have bulky packaging.

What are your top tips for feeling less overwhelmed about a Costco visit?

When you’re shopping, don’t try to multitask or give in to distractions. It’s going to take you longer and you’re going to be more frustrated overall if you’re wandering around chatting on the phone, not paying attention. If you go in with loose list and loose ideas and you’re focused, you’ll be able to accomplish what you set out to do in a shorter amount of time and more accurately.