How to Write a Basic Shopping List

Every “save money at the grocery store” article tells you to use a shopping list. This advice is completely on point. You’ll save money, time, and you’ll actually get all of the things that you need. But many people still don’t use shopping lists. (I should know, I’m a Walmart cashier in real life.) And unless your parents were really good at making shopping lists you probably don’t know how to write one either. 

Eventually everyone comes to a point in their lives where they start writing really simple “do not forget to buy this” lists. These lists are haphazard, disorganized. Even so they’re a place to start. 

The only problem is these aren’t “shopping lists” they’re just “do not forget” lists. 

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Do Not Forget

Most people just grab whatever scrap of paper is lying around (for a surprising amount of people this is the back of an envelope) and start writing down what they need to buy. 

How to Write a Better Shopping List

The difference between a “shopping list” and “do not forget” list is a “do not forget” list allows you to buy other things that aren’t on the list. So while it’s a step in the right direction it still leads to impulse purchases and overspending. However you will likely walk out of the store with the stuff on the list.

How to Write a Better Shopping List

Grocery stores are designed to trick you into buying things you don’t need. This is why it’s extremely important to write a “shopping list” and only buy things that are on that list. You’ll want to write this list when you are at home when you have some time to think about it and you aren’t hungry. 

I strongly recommend using a real piece of paper. The act of physically writing down your list will help you even if you forget your list at home. There are a ton of shopping list apps out there but most of them are more complicated than they need to be. I find myself always coming back to good old pen and paper. (Whiteboards and chalkboards are cute on pinterest but not completely practical in real life.)

I have a magnetic notepad on my fridge but you could use a notebook on your counter if that works easier for you. Amazon has some really fun ones. I’m probably going to buy a Food & Shit one once my current pad runs out. Unless I get another one for Christmas. I’m forever getting weird stuff like this as gifts. 

Wants vs. Needs

On my notepad I have two columns,”Wants” and “Needs.” Whenever we run out of something I put it in the correct category. Dishsoap goes in needs, icecream goes in wants. My husband and I usually eat lunch separately so if he runs out of something he normally eats for lunch he has to make sure to write it on the list or I won’t buy it. 

I usually get Monday off from work so that’s when I try to do my shopping for the week in an attempt to get better at budgeting and meal planning. Starting with my Wants and Needs list makes it a lot easier to quickly see what else I need to add to my list for the week. Then I evaluate the needs and see if we actually need them or if the can wait a week in order to stay within budget. Or if there is extra money then I can buy something out of the wants category.

How to Write a Wants vs Needs Shopping List

Take the Next Step With a Categorized List

If you want to get fancy and reduce backtracking at the store rewrite your list in categories; produce, meats, pantry, dairy, bread, etc. There are also a ton of great printables available online. (If you have a great one please link it in the comments). Printables are a fantastic place to start. I’m personally not into using shopping list printables but I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. 8 Steps to Write an Epic Shopping List.

How to write a better shopping list that will save you time, money, and stress

So what are you going to do with all that extra time and money you have? Let me know in the comments. 

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