The Best Time of Day to Shop for Groceries

published Aug 1, 2014
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(Image credit: Michaela Cisney)

In a former, less experienced life, I would head to the grocery store at any time, day or night. An hour later, I’d drive home exhausted and hungry with five items that weren’t even on my list (I’m looking at you, potato chips in the jumbo bag). I’ve since learned more than a few tips for smart grocery shopping, and one of my top methods has everything to do with the time of day that I set out for the store.

Here are my best tips, which you should totally steal.

1. Shop whenever you’re not tired.

If you can swing it, morning is one of the best times to hit the grocery store. Aisles are empty, the day is young, your energy levels are high — all good things for getting in there, checking items off your list, and getting out. Any time in the morning — early, mid, late — works well.

If you’re a night owl, late-night shopping can have the same perks! Just be aware that even if you feel awake, your body and brain might be tiring, and when that happens, they tend to crave fatty, sugary foods. Beware the junk food!

2. Shop whenever you aren’t hungry.

Grocery shopping when you’re hungry is like walking through the mall in the middle of winter while wearing a T-shirt: You’ll walk away with an armful of brand-new sweaters, simply because you were cold and your brain said I totally need that. When you’re hungry and trying to shop smart, you’ll often end up buying carb-heavy or sugar-laden foods that weren’t on your list. Your brain runs on carbs, and survival instincts mean you’ll often go for those foods first, sending you home with extra bags of breads, cookies, and crackers. Eat a meal before you go or, at the very least, have a snack or drink some water.

3. Don’t shop right after work.

If you work a 9-to-5 and you head to the store on your way home, you’re likely to be both tired and hungry, with the same consequences mentioned above. Additionally, everyone else in town just clocked out too, so grocery stores are likely to be packed and you’re likely to forget items that you need or buy items that you don’t need simply because you’re hurried and frenzied.

4. Shop when you have a list.

Haven’t had time to make a list this week? Do not head to the store, planning on winging things. Your time would be better spent sitting down with a pad of paper and a pen (or your phone) than if you just go and start wondering the aisles. It helps if you keep a running list, so you don’t have to start from scratch. If you forgot your list at home and want to swing by the store on your way home anyway, do not — go home and get that list.

5. Shop when you actually have time.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s actually not. I am guilty of trying to squeeze in a quick trip to the store. I’ve tried to get to the store, grab what I need, and get it unpacked in a 20-minute window. And guess what? I always forget something or grab the wrong thing. This does not save time if you have to go back again later. Plan to shop when you actually have time to shop — not when you know you’re going to be rushing to get to your next appointment.

So when’s the best time to go?

The best time of day to shop lands at a time when grocery stores aren’t crowded and you’re neither tired nor hungry. Keeping your schedule in mind, map out a few times that you can head to the store each week. Keep a running grocery list and stick to it, no matter when you shop.

Generally, one of the best times of day to shop for groceries is mid- to late-morning, as you’re most likely to be well-fed, awake, and clear-minded. If you head to work early each day, weekend mornings are still a good time to shop, but head there early before the midday crowds hit.

When do you grocery shop? Does time of day make a difference to how much money you spend?