The Power of the List

The latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) indicates the average household in America spends $6,759 annually on food. For a married couple with kids, food  represents about 13% of all household spending. Of this, about two thirds is spent at the grocery store. Your purchases have been sliced and diced by prominent researchers and marketers for decades, and the conclusion is that as much as 30% of your dollars could be going to things you didn’t plan on buying. If you could reduce your grocery bill by 30%, that would be a savings of  $1,200 per year, or enough to fund a year or more of college for one of your kids if saved every year until your kid reaches age 18. Another startling statistic is that American households throw out between 14% and 25% of the food they buy.

How can you save a year’s worth of college funding and reduce the amount of food you waste at the same time? Make a list before you go to the grocery store. I can hear you now. “But I do make a list!”. OK, the catch is you have to follow it. Here are a few tips to help make sure you have a good list that you can stick with.

Start with your calendar. “I thought we were making a grocery list”, you say. Yes we are. Your calendar shows you what you have on the docket for the coming week, and that will help you know how much time you have for making food. Days where there is soccer practice or a PTA meeting are days when you have less time to prepare meals, and your meal plans need to be simplified. Don’t forget your work schedule. Will someone in the house be traveling, working late or otherwise not at home for meals?

Next, come up with a menu for the week that fits with your calendar. Meals that need more preparation should be saved for days when you have less going on, and simple meals or meals you can prepare ahead are for your busy days. This will also reduce the trips through the fast food drive through. You have a plan for what your family is going to eat, and it fits with the time you have to make it.

Last, make your list. Using your menu, review what you have on hand already, and add missing ingredients to your list. Now you have a list that will ensure you have everything you need for the coming week. Because you created a menu, you won’t be as tempted by off list items. You know exactly what you need and there is no reason to buy something just in case. Because you reviewed your inventory, you won’t have to guess whether you already have something, saving you from double buying. Because your list is thorough, you won’t have to make extra trips to the store to pick up forgotten items where you might be tempted again to buy off list. Finally, because you have a known purpose for everything you buy, you will throw out less.

The grocery store is designed to get you to buy as much stuff as possible. The arrangement of the food and displays have been scientifically proven to increase your total spending at the store. You need a powerful weapon against these savvy marketers and temptation, and that weapon is the list! With a little planning you can put a big dent in your spending and substantially increase your saving.

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