Grocery Shopping with a Spouse vs. Solo: A Scientific Test

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Alli Hoff Kosik)

When my now-husband and I moved into our first apartment together two years ago, grocery shopping (like pretty much everything else on our agenda outside the office) was a glorious activity to be shared. Our local Trader Joe’s — a beautiful converted bank in Brooklyn with ceilings far too high and light far too natural for even the hipster-est of markets — was a new frontier to explore together, a place where we would discover whether we preferred bagged salads to making our own, and if we were going to be the kind of people who had fancy cheese on hand “just in case” friends dropped by. After six years together, I still didn’t know what kind of trail mix my partner liked. Clearly, we had a lot of relationship work to do in Trader Joe’s.

Within a few months, though, it seemed that the magic of our weekly grocery outings had run its course. We’d learned that we are decidedly bagged salad people and that keeping a chunk of brie in our refrigerator was not sustainable long-term, and I’d realized that Matt was a lightly salted almonds guy (I still find it difficult to understand why he doesn’t like trail mix!). We had learned a decent amount at TJ’s, and, quite frankly, the weekend chaos of one of the very few supermarkets in our area was putting a serious strain on our nerves.

Grocery Shopping on my Own

I started making the trek to the grocery store solo — first, on weeknights after I got home from work, and later, when I adopted the schedule of a full-time writer, at 8 a.m. every Monday. While errands are hardly made more glamorous by a lack of company, I appreciated the fact that I could take care of our shopping during lower-traffic pockets of time. I missed my partner in crime, but I didn’t miss the overwhelming crowds and long lines that were inevitable on the weekends, when we were able to go together. Going alone was a more efficient option, which opened up time in our collective schedule for events far more fun than pushing a shopping cart through the produce aisle.

After a few months of grocery shopping by myself, I had the process down to a science. Instead of the production it once was, my weekly outing to Trader Joe’s has become fairly painless, a well-practiced dance from the bananas to the chicken breasts to the quinoa to the frozen fruit, with an occasional detour for guacamole and — if I’m feeling particularly wild — fancy cheese. Most Mondays, I can get to the store a few minutes before it opens, and be home and unpacked by 8:30, ready to start my workday.

My husband remembers our Saturdays at the supermarket together somewhat differently. Like a mother who’s blocked the pain of childbirth, he’s forgotten the occasions that we were told by an actual bouncer that we had to wait outside the store until other shoppers had cleared out, or the many times that my claustrophobic tendencies led me to admittedly ridiculous meltdowns in the narrow, crowded aisles. I am lucky to be married to a man who wants to do literally everything with me, and while I feel the same way about him 99.9 percent of the time, grocery shopping has to be an exception (unless he’s able to join me at 8 a.m. on a weekday). Trust me — it’s better for the health of the marriage.

Periodically, Matt suggests that we revisit our days of shopping together, and usually, I come up with a more interesting way for us to spend our Saturday and offer to take care of the groceries myself, instead. Recently, though, I decided we should turn it into a game. (In addition to being slightly codependent, we are extremely competitive at our house.) Is solo shopping really a more efficient way to go? And if going to the grocery store as a couple does take a bit longer or cost us a bit more — and requires us to battle the conditions of Trader Joe’s on a weekend — is it still fun enough, on balance, to cancel out my willingness to go it alone?

I planned two weekend grocery runs exactly one week apart to help me get to the bottom of it. The first week I would go alone, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to speed through the aisles or cut my usual spending in half in order to prove myself based on the results of our joint expedition (I told you, we’re extremely competitive). I also planned my solo run for the day after we returned from a week-long vacation, which I decided would make up for any advantage I’ve developed as the sole supermarket shopper in our household over the last year. Our cupboards were empty, and after a week of sun and cocktails, I wasn’t as sharp as usual. It was a fair fight.

From the moment I left our apartment until the moment I returned with food, the clock was running for exactly 31 minutes. For a Saturday afternoon, the store was shockingly empty, which I noted for my upcoming trip with Matt. My bill came to $101.59, including ingredients for all of our meals for the coming week, along with a post-vacation restock of kitchen staples. While I breezed through the store with little delay, I did find myself wishing for an extra set of hands as soon as I was out in the 80-degree heat, weighed down with oh-so-full reusable totes.

(Image credit: Alli Hoff Kosik)

Grocery Shopping with my Husband

One week later, Matt and I set out for the store at roughly the same time as my solo trip. I was nervous — not only because of my competitive streak, but because it felt like we were returning to the site of our first date and I wasn’t sure if I’d still like the food. Grocery shopping, once a quasi-romantic event for us, had become an exercise in efficiency and practicality, and contest aside, I hoped there would still be some magic in the air once we got to the market.

(Image credit: Alli Hoff Kosik)

Luckily (for me and for the purposes of this experiment), the crowds were equally light on this second Saturday. We dove into the store’s natural flow, talking through the schedule for the week and discussing dinner menus and snack requests (including lightly salted almonds). Matt — who is a full foot taller than I am — helped me reach my favorite green juice, and he also made a last-minute play for chocolate-covered pretzels that I’m still feeling really good about.

As I predicted, this second trip took more time and was more expensive than the first, and I swear on my favorite trail mix that I didn’t try to influence the results. Start to finish, it took us exactly 45 minutes to navigate the errand, including the coffee stop Matt requested on the way (I told him we were on the clock!). We also had a very kind cashier, and ended up chatting with him about Jell-O shots for upwards of five minutes during checkout. Not a bad topic, but certainly worth taking into consideration if we’re going for a fair comparison. In the end, our receipt totaled $129.82 — nearly $30 more than what I’d spent alone, but we’d purchased a six-pack of beer and the ingredients for a baking project we decided to tack onto the day’s agenda.

The Results: Grocery Shopping with a Spouse vs. Solo

I hate to be the lamest scientist ever, but if I had to make a conclusion based on the results of this experiment, I don’t think that I could. Based on the data alone (faster time, a lower cost), grocery shopping alone is the clear winner, but the romantic in me couldn’t help but love the way it felt to have my partner by my side for an activity that can feel like such a chore. To be fair, we lucked out with a minimally crowded shopping day, and given the potential for time wasted standing in line on a typical weekend, I’m still not sure that going to the supermarket needs to be on our shared agenda every Saturday.

All that said, though, and in all seriousness, I know how lucky I am to be with someone who’s willing — and eager — to turn something as mundane as a trip to Trader Joe’s into a moment for real togetherness. This friendly competition served as an excellent reminder of that, as well as the fact that my husband’s height makes him the perfect shopping companion.

Also, Matt encouraged me to buy some fancy cheese. And don’t we all deserve that kind of loving push every once in a while?

Do you prefer to shop alone or with your partner?