“Hunters” check items off a shopping list, trying to make it in and out of the grocery store as fast as they can. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune - Bob Pennell illustration

Shopping 101 Dos and Dont's

When it comes to shopping, Larry Sullivan is a "hunter."

"My goal is to get through the store as fast as I can with my list ... and not have my wife be mad at me," says the 60-year-old Applegate resident.

Most Americans, particularly amateur cooks, share Sullivan's strategy — or at least the parts involving speed and a list — according to Adam Roberts, author of "The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, And Table-Hop Like A Pro (Almost)."

While hunters track down the items they need, prolific cooks, so Roberts' theory goes, are more likely to be gatherers, shopping for what looks good, what's in season or what seems interesting. For Kathy Wixon of Ashland, "gathering" her groceries has become a way of life.

"I really like to cook seasonally," says the 53-year-old. "When the (farmers) market's happening, I do all my produce shopping there."

Regardless of which strategy is more appealing, experts say shoppers looking to get the most benefit from each trip to the grocery store should pick one and stick to it.

"Start with a plan," says Susan Mitchell, a nutritional consultant for SuperTarget stores, "preferably a running grocery list that you add to at home every time you run out of something." That can keep you moving swiftly through the store and cut down on impulse buying.

Here are some other time- and money-saving tips for your next shopping trip.

Keep a well-stocked pantry

Sometimes the best tricks start at home. Grocery shopping can feel less overwhelming if you keep staples like pasta, rice, eggs, cheese, olive oil, butter and spices on hand.

Ashland Food Co-op's culinary educator Mary Shaw teaches a class around the concept every other month for Co-op members. Her list of "pantry basics" includes — among others — nuts, beans, oils, vinegars, broth, salt, sweeteners, specific meats and produce items and whole grains, tortillas and bread.

Stocking an efficient pantry also can help you save money. If you know what's there before leaving the house, you'll be more likely to eat what's in your cupboard, says Liz Crawford, a consumer strategist at consumer research firm Iconoculture Inc.

Use a menu plan

Spend a few minutes before shopping to plan out the meals for the coming week. And this doesn't just mean dinner; figure out lunches and breakfasts, too. Then assemble your shopping list based on those.

This saves time and money because you only buy what you need. And if you have a plan for using the foods you buy, they are less likely to sit uneaten in the back of the refrigerator.

Menu plans suggested in Shaw's class also include 20-minute recipes, a draw for participants like 37-year-old Gaia Carney of Ashland.

"I need help," Carney says. "There's a lot of nights where I'm like 'What's for dinner,' and it usually involves a trip to the store.

"It's always like I'm shopping for dinner every day."

Know your store's layout

Once you know what you need, the next thing that will improve your efficiency is knowing your grocer's layout. This helps you navigate the store and keeps you from crushing your bread and chips with bulkier items such as bottled water and laundry detergent, says Bill Chidley, vice president of strategy and research at Design Forum, a retail design firm in Dayton, Ohio.

And try to shop for perishables — frozen foods, meat, dairy and even produce — last, says Matt Moore, produce manager at Sherm's Thunderbird in Medford.

Beyond keeping food fresher, Moore's is a useful strategy when shoppers know that a store's perimeter, by design, is set up to slow you down.

"That's where the shopper is encouraged to browse," Crawford says.

Items like pricey cheeses or imported olives are displayed on little islands along the perimeter. Avoid these areas, and you'll save money. Shopping the perimeter, however, has its own health benefit, Shaw says. Whole foods like produce, meats, dairy and bulk items are stocked here while processed and packaged foods that typically ransom economy for convenience fill in a store's middle, she says.

"The real meal solution is buying in bulk," Shaw says.

Try to avoid the crowds

"Avoid shopping on Saturday or Sunday or even Friday night," when stores are at their busiest, says Herb Sorensen, president of Sorensen Associates, an Oregon-based marketing research firm that studies the way people shop.

Sorensen suggests shopping early on Friday afternoons. By then much of the stocking for the weekend is done, which means you get fresh food without the crowds.

Another idea is to ask a cashier when the slow times are so you can adjust your shopping schedule, Mitchell says.

Find out about delivery days

Ask your store managers when fresh produce comes in, when breads are baked and when seafood is delivered, Mitchell says. And it likely varies by supermarket and location.

The fresher your produce or baked goods, the longer they will last after you bring them home.

Use coupons wisely

Use coupons for products that you would normally buy, but skip any others, no matter how good a deal. If you wouldn't have bought it without a coupon, you're not really saving money.

"In my supermarket-shopper traffic research, people with coupons bought more items than people without them," says Kenneth Herbst, an assistant professor of marketing in the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Though they saved money on the specific items for which they had coupons, their bill in the end was higher."

Ditch the plastic

Experts say that if money is tight, pay with cash, an approach Carney has developed into an art.

"I'm kind of a price-is-right gal," she says.

Unlike debit or credit cards, the tactile and immediate nature of cash tends to keep spending in check, experts say.

With $51 in her pocket, Carney can keep a running tally in her head of what's in her cart. Remembering what she paid last week boosts her accuracy. Rather than returning an item to the shelf, Carney passes it up in the first place.

"I never, ever go over," she says.

Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon contributed to this story. Reach her at 776-4487 or

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