Saving Money in the Grocery Store — One Weird, Workable Idea

Years ago, with four children in tow, I spent one day a week doing the grocery shopping.

Dream Big -- that's what kids do every time we take them shopping. Dream Big! poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

Dream Big — that’s what kids do every time we take them shopping. Dream Big! poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

The night before I scoured the ads, marking this place for brown sugar and butter, that one for grapes and toilet paper, still another for vanilla extract. By the end of the day, we had hit pretty much every grocery store in the mid-sized town where we lived; the car was packed; the kids were tired; and nobody felt particularly good because lunch consisted of stuff off the cheap menu at the local Fast Fried Food Emporium.

Did I save money?

Well, I felt like I did, but I always knew that there was a lot more in the trunk than what was on my list (did I mention the four kids accompanying me?), and every time I entered another store, I left with more than what I intended to buy, often, significantly more.

And then one day, epiphany hit. We were in Store H, and the last item on the grocery list was at Store I, which had laundry detergent on sale (I make my own now, but that’s for another article). The Toddler was . . . acting like a toddler; the two oldest were skillfully manipulating my tired and distracted state; the four-year-old needed to use the bathroom, RIGHT NOW — oh wait, he didn’t need to use it anymore — and I thought, forget it. I’ll pick up the laundry detergent here, even though it’s $1 more.

I would so much rather be home than in a grocery store. Sophie and Rose, an affordable print available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

I would so much rather be home than in a grocery store. Sophie and Rose, an affordable print available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

And I did. We stuffed everyone and the groceries back in the car, drove home, and called it a day, that is, after we unloaded everyone, carted in all the groceries, picked up the ones that fell out of the bags onto the cement driveway (pickles, in a glass jar, I believe), changed the four-year-old — you know how this goes.

That night, when everyone was in bed but me and the Norwegian Artist, I thought about the laundry detergent. Yup, I paid $1 more for it, but I also didn’t buy anything else at Store I. And then I realized, whenever I walk into a store, even if I am only there to buy one thing, I never leave without dropping at least $25.

Okay, so that sounds really simple and obvious, but when it comes to saving money, it’s actually fairly profound. Maybe you have a willpower of steel, which is why your jeans are never too tight, but I don’t, and when I walk into a store — and nowadays I don’t have those four noisy, chaotic, demanding, messy, lovable companions pointing out all of the colorful items that were arranged expressly to attract their notice — it’s hard not to say, “Hmm, that’s a good deal; I’ll pick up two,” or “I forgot about peanut butter. Oh, and chocolate chips. And I really haven’t treated myself to a magazine for a long time.”

While it’s true that we do forget things on our list, most of the time we can function without them until next week — assuredly this is true about the chocolate chips, and the magazine’s generally free at the library. If I don’t see it, I don’t buy it; and if I don’t walk into the store in the first place, I don’t see it.

So here’s the weird idea that actually works: limit the number of stores you walk into each week. The dollar you would have saved by driving 6 miles to the next store (oops, there goes the dollar you saved) is rapidly consumed by the extra items you purchase, and if you don’t see them, you don’t buy them.

Use your money -- and your time -- for the things that actually matter, including art. Take Time for Tea poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

Use your money — and your time — for the things that actually matter, including art. Take Time for Tea poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art

The money you save on understandable impulse buying can then be put aside for a more thoughtful, concerted purchase, one that will provide you with more pleasure, longer, than a jar of peanut butter.

This article originally appeared in

We sell fine art, which many people think is beyond their budget reach. It’s not. Our originals are reasonably priced for originals; signed, limited edition prints are an affordable alternative; and posters — which you can get with our without the saying — are more affordable yet. Dream about what you want, contact us with your questions, save up, and buy the piece that you want and enjoy it!

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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6 Responses to Saving Money in the Grocery Store — One Weird, Workable Idea

  1. John Quinlan says:

    One day my wife gave me a list to go shopping. My 10 year old grand daughter went with me. Going through the store I found a favorite of mine that I did not have for a while, Nutter Butters. I
    put a box in the basket. Amee quickly notified me. “Papa, they are not on the list”. THE LIST to her was like ‘law’. She saved me from my folly.

    • That’s very funny — our kids sure catch us out, don’t they? It shows how well you and your wife did, and are doing, in teaching.

      Can you still get Nutter Butters by donating blood? Or maybe you can sneak to the store by yourself someday and consume the entire package in the car on the way home.

      • John Quinlan says:

        Just finished Jane Austen Driving School. I enjoyed both of your books. Can’t eat Nutter Butters any more as I developed Diabetes in my old age. (That little grandaughter is now 40)

        • I’m so glad that you like the books — please pass me on to your friends and family. I’m a hardworking, determined self-published author who depends upon my good readers to get my name out there. If you’re into writing but have memories of red-splattered English essays, please consider my new book, Grammar Despair, which is both in paperback and on Kindle.

          40! Wow — it’s enough for me to handle right now that my children are becoming adults. I hope that you and your granddaughter have many good memories — and new memory makers — together, far exceeding the joy that any Nutter Butter could give.

  2. cabinart says:

    Bravo, Carolyn! Another thing that helped save money was that I stopped reading ads altogether. Completely stopped. If I don’t see a thing on sale, I don’t add it to my list. Instead, the things on my list are the items I truly need. Of course, if something has a red label on it in the store, I just might succumb. . .

    • Excellent, excellent idea. I found even greater freedom when I stopped reading newspapers all together — I found so much “non-news” — one of my favorite was about what impact “might” happen if celebrities Tweeted certain things — if they did, that is. I also found that many of the articles contained subtle, and not so subtle, pressure for me to believe a certain way, by the fraudulent use of numbers to “prove” this or that, or the omission of certain facts or words to give an impression.

      I am grateful that the Internet allows us choices in our news acquisition. Given that the written newspapers are pretty much wrapped under one or two major media conglomerates, (I don’t even mention “network” news — that’s been out of my life for all of my life) it’s important to find a source for actual, unbiased information — and that takes a lot of searching and analysis.

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