How to Shop for Goal-Oriented Groceries

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Want to make fewer impulsive purchases at the supermarket? The secret is in the shopping list.

Recently, I filmed my first “Ask A Money Expert” video for MSN Money. I’d done several videos for MSN in the past, but this is a different format: Readers post questions on Facebook, to be answered by people like Jim Jubak, Liz Pulliam Weston – or me.

A reader asked for help with grocery shopping. She wants to cut down on food costs, but her resolve fades once she’s in the supermarket. In my response, I mentioned a few old chestnuts, such as “never shop when you’re hungry” and “plan meals based on the best deals of the week.”

Then I suggested a different way to write the list: Begin with a goal.

Holding ourselves accountable

Before you write “milk,” “bread,” or “ground beef,” write something else that you really want, such as:

  • Debt-free in 2012
  • Pay cash for our next car
  • Down payment for a home

Halfway down the list, repeat the goal. When you’ve reached the end of the list, write the goal one more time.

Write the goal in capital letters with a black Sharpie so that it can’t be ignored, or easily crossed out.

Do this with every shopping list, every week. Seeing the goal spelled out should help hold you accountable as to where your money goes.

Our choices have consequences

While I think you should allow for a payday treat, it’s easy to get carried away on everyday shopping trips – especially when you smell the chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the in-store bakery oven.

Having your goal right in front of you may help you put things in perspective: Overspending on nonessentials is not getting me any closer to my dream.

Some weeks this might not help. Some weeks we really do want the Doritos, or to buy a rotisserie chicken and a sack o’ salad because we’re too tired to cook.

But we have to remember that choices have consequences. The more work that’s done for us, the less value we get.

Money spent on Double Stuf Oreos is money that can’t snowflake a debt. Frozen mac ’n cheese is much costlier than making our own. Those prefab bottles of “all natural” iced tea work out to as much as $13 a gallon.

Yes, some days we’re just going to say “the heck with it” and buy the cut-up pineapple or the pre-marinated steaks. But if we do that consistently, we forfeit the right to complain about how much longer our months are than our money.

We can’t pretend that our choices have nothing to do with the bottom line. We can’t eat our cake and have it too. Or, for that matter, our Double Stuf Oreos.

More stories from Donna Freedman:

Stacy Johnson

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