Don’t Stick to Your Shopping List! (If You Want to Save More Money on Groceries)

When you start grocery shopping with a list, and you stick to that list, you can save so much money. But sometimes sticking to your list will hurt your grocery budget rather than help it. You must be flexible most shopping trips or you could end up spending much, much more.

For years, I would take my shopping list with me and get only what was on that list. I wouldn’t deviate from it at all. My eyes were drawn only to what I needed and nothing more. Being this strict with my list actually ended up costing me more money than if I had allowed for a bit of flexibility. A lot of times I had written my list without considering what was on sale, and then when I got to the store, I would skip sale items that weren’t on my list. We didn’t need them.

If you want to save more money on groceries, consider being more flexible with your shopping list. Deviate a little from what you need to buy and you can save more in the long run.© littleny / Dollar Photo Club

Talk about a waste of money! There were probably a lot of sale items I could have stocked up on and used in the future. It would have been a more expensive shopping trip that day, but future shopping trips would have been less expensive. Overall, our grocery budget could have gone down if I had been more flexible with my shopping list.

What Makes a Sale Worth Buying?

If you are flexible with your shopping list, you can lower your overall grocery budget by a lot. But not all sales are created equal, friends. Sales are great, but you must be careful not to fall for every single sale that is happening. Let’s talk about what you need to look for when shopping sales and if they will actually help you save money or if they are wasting your money.

Here’s what you need to do before throwing sales items in your cart that aren’t on your list:

Check the Unit Price

Before you say, “Hey, this is a great price!” and then throw whatever it is in your cart, consider the unit price. Sometimes what is on sale is actually more expensive per unit than buying the same item in a bigger or smaller package. Make sure you compare all the sizes to find a unit price and then buy what is the cheapest. 

I’ll give you an example with cheese, because I tend to see this all the time. The smallest blocks, the 8 ouncers, are usually priced at $1.99 when they are on sale. Seems like a pretty good price, right? Well, just wait a second.

The 16 oz. blocks are priced at $3.99 during a sale. The unit price for the 8 oz. is $3.98 per pound (you take $1.99 x 2 since 8 oz. is half a pound and you want to know what one pound costs) and the unit price for the 16 oz. block is $3.99.

$3.98 vs. $3.99. Hm. You can save one penny by buying the smaller unit.

Ok, but did you look at the 32 oz. blocks? Those are priced at $5.99. Divide that by 2 for the price per pound and you get $3.00 per pound!

Now, what is cheapest among $3.98, $3.99, and $3.00? Obviously, you have to get the biggest block in this example if you want to save the most money.

Just be sure you are doing a little math if there are options for what you plan to buy on sale. It might make sense to whip out your calculator on your phone for this part since you might do it wrong in your head.

Only Buy What You Will Actually Use

Now that you have permission to be all flexible on your shopping trips, you should scope out as many sales as you can take advantage of. But don’t buy everything on sale. That would be a complete waste of your money. Only buy what you know you will use.

In the example above, if you know you won’t use 32 oz. of cheese, maybe you should go for the smallest block. But you could buy the big block and freeze what you don’t need so you can use it at a later date.

As another example, if salmon is on sale for $4.99 a pound (which would be an absolute miracle!), but you know you never eat salmon, don’t buy it. Simply go for the sales that make sense to you and your family’s diet.

The other day I was shopping and strawberries were on sale. Four 1-lb. packages were $5 (which is $1.25 per package). I didn’t take advantage of this pretty good sale. I only got one package because I knew that I didn’t have time to prepare the strawberries for the freezer or make strawberry sauce out of them. I thought ahead knowing full well that if I bought all 4 packages of strawberries, I would actually be wasting my money because they would go bad before I had time to put them away. If you know your limits, you will save more.

Make Sure You Are Actually Saving Money

Once you have those extra items in your cart be sure you are actually getting them for the right price by:

Checking the Price at the Register

Where I shop for groceries now, the price rings up correctly every time. When I used to shop at Walmart, though, I would always catch an error when the cashier was ringing up my items. The error was almost always some produce item. Tomatoes that were priced at $0.78/lb, for example, would ring up at $1.18/lb. That’s a huge difference, and if you’re trying to take advantage of the lower price, you aren’t saving any money at all if it rings up incorrectly.

Keep an eye on the screen as the cashier is ringing up your purchases. If you catch a price difference, point it out to the cashier. They should either change the price for you or go check to see if that is the price the item is supposed to be.

Checking Your Receipt Before You Leave the Store

If you are trying to keep your kids in line while you are checking out and can’t stare at the screen, you should at least go through your receipt before leaving the store. I’ve caught many errors this way, and since you are still in the store, you can quickly go to customer service to tell them that one of your items rang up wrong and you’d like them to pay for the difference.

Don’t be so strict with your shopping list that you pass up some great opportunities to save money on items you could use in the future. Be flexible and shop the sales that make sense. Don’t forget to check the unit price and only buy what you’ll actually use. To be sure you’re getting the correct price, check the price at checkout or on your receipt before you leave the store, and you will save money every time.

Do you stray from your shopping list?

Linked to: Frugal Friday

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I'm a mom of 3 on a journey to feed my family nourishing foods. Personally, I believe that you can feed your family healthy, delicious meals without spending a fortune or slaving away in the kitchen.


  1. You’re spot on. It really helps to be a bit more flexible when heading to the store. My husband (the engineer) is always the one who spots when a different package size has a better price per pound. I’m usually just rushing around like a mad woman throwing the largest size of everything into the cart!

    • My husband is not that strong in math, so I usually leave him home! Haha. It’s really tempting to buy the biggest box thinking that it is the cheapest, but sometimes it’s not, so it’s smart to take your husband with you to the store! Ha!

  2. All good points, Charlee. Flexibility with a list to guide is key. Some of my best finds are the hidden ones!

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