Whether you’re an avid coupon-er or a novice chef, the grocery store can be an intimidating place. How many times have you spent forever in a store, only to get home and realize that you don’t actually have anything to cook for dinner that night? Instead of getting frustrated and vowing to only eat take-out from now, just follow a few simple guidelines to make your grocery trips easy, productive, and stress-free.

1. Write a list, and stick to it!

The best way to make sure you get what you actually want and need is to write a list ahead of time. Part of this involves keeping track of basics you’ve run out of. Running low on kosher salt? Write it on a list you keep on your fridge, and add it the list you take to the store with you. The same rule applies for other pantry basics, and will help ensure you don’t start a recipe that you can’t finish because of missing ingredients. The second part is to draft a meal plan. Pick out a few recipes you want to make, and add those ingredients to the list. Be sure to also write out the amounts you need – there’s nothing worse than realizing you only have half the amount of a necessary ingredient. When you get to the grocery store, do your best to stick to the list you have written out. You’ll avoid impulse buys, and get home with exactly what you need.

2. Don’t Go Hungry – But Don’t Go Stuffed Either!

It’s common knowledge that you should avoid the grocery store when you’re feeling hunger pangs. When hungry, you’re more susceptible to impulse buys, sales, and snack foods. But you also shouldn’t go after a heavy meal. Lethargy and fullness could result in you buying fewer food items than you actually need, and only stocking up on paper goods and cleaning supplies. Another way to avoid this? Stick to rule 1 above!

3. Go A Few Times A Week

This sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me. If you only go once a week, but stock up on a cart-full of fresh food, you’ll almost certainly have to throw some out before the week is over. There are few things more frustrating than grabbing your ingredients for a meal only to realize that half of them have gone bad. So instead of doing one big shopping trip, plan to go at least twice. Your food will stay fresh, you’ll save money, and check out will go even faster! Worried about the shelf life of the food you’ve purchased? Still Tasty is a shelf-life guide for thousands of food items, so go take a look, and plan accordingly!

4. Keep Your Coupons Organized

One of the main stigmas attached to couponing is the length of time it takes to get through the grocery store check out. But the line doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence! Before you go to the store, match your coupons to the list you’ve already written out. That way you won’t be sorting through ALL your coupons to find the one you can use. When you get to the checkout, tell the clerk right away that you intend to use several coupons, and ask their preference – should you hand them over as they scan, or wait until the end? There is absolutely nothing wrong with coupons, but reducing the stress associated with them is good for you, good for the clerk, and considerate of other shoppers.

So there you have it: a few easy ways to make your grocery trips less stressful and more productive. Happy shopping!

Image Credit: Linsensuppe