Warning: Shopping Without A List Is Hazardous To Your Budget


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My love of lists is almost legendary, my daily activities driven from them. I have different lists for different parts of my day:

  • Things needing to be done at work, written on my office white board
  • Personal life todo list written in a notebook on the kitchen counter
  • Blogging todo list written in a notebook on my computer desk

My lists help me not only remember things that need to be done, but also to prioritize them. My wife sometimes makes fun of me because of my lists, but she understands the importance I place on them. I commonly find things added to my list on the kitchen counter written in her handwriting. She knows that if it’s on the list, it will get done.

I also make a detailed list before I go grocery shopping. Another list that my wife gives me grief about at times. I tell her that it saves me time and money, but I think she had a hard time believing me, until yesterday.

Let me tell you a tale of two shopping trips.

Shopping Without A List:

I dropped Vonnie off at Sam’s Club. She had signed up for her turn at supplying treats for the employee break room at her job for the week and wanted to pick up some snacks. She had a plan loosely formulated in her head, but no hardened list.

Shopping With A List:

I went to the Walmart next door to do grocery shopping for our family for the upcoming week. I had a detailed list, and flew through the store picking up everything on that list. Once I had everything in the cart, I headed to the self-checkout aisle.

As my receipt was printing, I called Vonnie and let her know I was done. I met her in the parking lot, and we loaded our groceries into the van.

Shopping Without A List Results:

I had a cart heaping with groceries and household items for a bill that rang up to just over $130. I got exactly what was on the list, have a purpose for every item that I purchased, and actually came in under budget for groceries for the week.

Shopping With A List Results:

She handed me a receipt totaling just under $60 for six bulk snack items plus a shirt that had caught her eye. She didn’t have a solid plan as to what she was getting, and because of that she may have to go back again and get more things. She also ended up getting an item that was completely unrelated to why she went into the store to begin with.

My list gave me two major advantages:

  1. No Wasted Time Browsing: I knew exactly what I was going to get, and I’ve been in Walmart enough times to know exactly where the items are located. It was simply a matter of execution, and not allowing myself to get distracted by other things on display. My wife, on the other hand, was simply looking around for things that looked good. Her sensors were on high alert looking for anything that appealed to her, including a shirt which had nothing to do with her mission.
  2. Pre-determined Spending: Since I knew exactly what I was getting, I already knew how much I was going to spend. I was not surprised at how many items I got for the money I spent. My wife on the other hand, was surprised and disappointed that she spent $60 on only a handful of items.

โ€œI didn’t think I was in the store that long. How in the world did you get done grocery shopping so quickly?โ€ she asked me as we drive home.

The answer was simple. It’s the power of the list.

About Travis

36 Responses to “Warning: Shopping Without A List Is Hazardous To Your Budget”

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  1. Travis, a good one. I am a nerdy nerd and shop with a list, this is linked to what I intend to cook during the week and I always have a pocket calculator. Quite a sight in the supermarket but this technique works at two levels: I spend less and I don’t throw away anything.

    • Travis says:

      I’m the same way, Maria – I always have my calculator running in the grocery store. I’ve seen people spend hundreds of dollars at the grocery story, then come home and realize they don’t have the right ingredients to make any meals!!!!

  2. We always try and shop with a list, just for the reason you mention with a list you save time and money. I usually go around the room and ask if anyone needs anything as I make my list, if it’s in reason it get added. Remember you be back at the store in a few days anyway, don’t over-shop.

    • Travis says:

      I do the same thing, Brian….I ask each member of my family if they have any grocery shopping requests. Most of the time they are honored…sometimes not. Sometimes I make more trips to the grocery store in a week than I’d like to admit….in a perfect world I’d walk in there ONCE a week.

  3. I just had to laugh reading this Travis, because it sounds very similar to my wife and I. We went through it yesterday in fact when I had to run to the store to get a few things for family that’s coming to stay with us this week. She normally doesn’t make a list – though she handed me one as I left because she knows I like to use lists as well. That allowed me to get in and out and spend what I had intended.

    • Travis says:

      You got the “husband don’t forget anything and make me go back to the store myself” list, John. LOL…I’m very familiar with that list. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. I’m a list person myself, although I’ve done this a million times: make out a comprehensive list and then leave it on the kitchen table. grrr! ๐Ÿ™‚ I also do one in the morning so it sets the pace of what I want to accomplish that day.

    • Travis says:

      If I forget my list, it’s almost worth it to go back home to get it….I literally live 5 minutes away from the grocery store, so the time I’d save by NOT going back to get it, I’d waste trying to figure out what was on it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Den says:

    I’m such a list maker, that if I forget to put something on my “to-do” list before I do it, I still add it to the list and immediately cross it out – ha ha – something about that feeling of accomplishment when the list is all crossed out.

    I rarely go grocery shopping without my list – too many distractions at the store. I feel like if I’ve written it down on paper, I can then free up my mind for other things.

    • Travis says:

      LOL, I do the same thing, Den…..at the end of the day it’s all about how many things you’ve crossed off the list, right?? Thanks for reading!

  6. Shopping with a list really helps. I tend to buy a few things that aren’t on my life but having a list helps me remember what I *really need.* I hate having to go back out to get one, small ingredient. It wastes both time and money.

    • Travis says:

      Exactly, Holly…many a time have I had to stop by Walmart at 4:30am on my way to the gym because I forgot dishwashing tabs, or toilet paper, or something we HAD to have. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I am most definitely a list person. Otherwise I can’t keep track of what needs to be done. Plus I find great satisfaction in crossing things off my to-do list as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ It is amazing how not having a list can lead to spending more, which I have been guilty of doing as well. I think it’s the browsing aspect that gets us because like you said, when you have list you are less distracted and get in and out faster.

    • Travis says:

      Have you ever looked around and done any people watching at the grocery store? You can usually tell which people have a list, and which are just going up and down the isle looking for things to catch their eye. Speed of the cart, the focus in their eye……..I can’t even fathom shopping that way!

  8. This was a pretty dangerous post! I’d be in trouble with my husband if I posted something like this!

    that being year, I do much better at the store when I bring a list.

    • Travis says:

      LOL…I can see what you mean, Emily. My wife is well aware of my love of lists, and how I feel about shopping without one. I wouldn’t go as far as to say my wife endorses this post, but she wouldn’t be surprised by it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Kim says:

    I am like Tonya and almost always leave my list in the car. I seem to always buy the same things though. Produce (whatever is on sale), milk, cheese, yogurt, tortillas or bread, maybe meat once a month, oatmeal or cereal, kid snacks for the week (again, whatever is on sale) and that’s my weekly shop. Maybe once a month I’ll make a true list when we need to stock up on things like condiments, I guess I do usually have a list. It’s just in my head. If I avoid most of the middle of the store, I do OK .

    • Travis says:

      There is a part of my list that is the same from week to week…. but if I didn’t mix it up a little bit from week to week I think my family would get bored of the same old meals. Thanks for sharing, Kim!

  10. Lists rule my life. Grocery list every week. Daily to-do list at work. Blog to-do list by the computer. Life to-do lists in a notebook I take everywhere. Something about crossing items off that list just feels really good–especially if I use a thick black marker!

  11. I recently started using todoist (an app) to consolidate all my lists. I’m loving it! It’s always the little, “I’m just going to pick up a snack” shopping trips that turn into a big bill.

    • Travis says:

      That’s great, Stefanie….I’m not sure if I would want to consolidate my lists….I like to keep my life segments separate. Yep, guilty…..type A. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I think the saying is “great minds think alike”? I also have a number of lists that I use each day for various tasks (work, life, blog, etc.). Shopping with a grocery list has really helped my wife and me to spend less money when we go grocery shopping. I try to avoid going to stores and just looking around. Whenever that happens – particularly at Target – I spend money I did not plan on spending.

    • Travis says:

      Do you use a list even when shopping at 10pm on a Saturday night??? LOL, just giving you a hard time….I thought your status update a few weeks back was hilarious. It’s true though – Target can be a wallet sucker without a list!

  13. Your story proves the advantages of lists – no question. I’m going to guess that Vonnie sometimes doesn’t wrtie lists because she finds them a bit life-sucking. Is that right? There’s a powerful message out there to the effect that spontaneity is superior to planning, but it twists the truth since the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m also going to guess that Vonnie will make a list next time : )

  14. I love lists as well (I have a bunch of my own), and I never go shopping without one. I always helped my mom make a shopping list when I was a kid, and it’s ingrained in me. That said, I still sadly have a tendency to browse around anyway! It’s so silly as I usually don’t get anything extra, and luckily my fiance is not a fan, so he always hurries me up when we’re in the store. =)

    • Travis says:

      My wife is the opposite, Erin….even if we have a list, she loves to browse. I love her to death, but she just loves to walk around the grocery store and let the creative juices flow, and dinner options for the week to just come to her. I just cannot operate that way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Yes to lists! I’m a huge list maker (I actually have two sitting right next to me on the kitchen table as I type… ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Keeps me organized, prioritized, and on track. I absolutely cannot grocery shop without a list. Mr. FW made fun of me for this until the day we did go to the store without a list (because we only needed three things) and, yep, we forgot to get one of those things. So, he’s fully on board with lists now!

  16. I think the list is the best way to go. I use lists at my office and at home. I especially use them when it comes to blogging along with my calendar. If you go into a store without a list you are asking for trouble. We are visual people and without a list you lose all restraint and just wander aimlessly throughout the store grasping at anything that catches your eye.

    You have proven the importance of a list in this article. Not only were you able to maneuver your way through a store that is typically always crowded, but you also came out with a basket full of items that you were already aware that you needed. You had no surprises when it came to the price and you will not have to go back to pick up things you may have forgotten.

    Awesome article and thanks for sharing.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks, Nathaniel, I like your comment regarding being visual – which is so true. It’s comforting to look at my list and know that if I get the things on the list, I will be able to feed my family for the week. That’s a pretty good accomplishment! ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I love lists. I don’t know how people function without them. I have 5 or 6 at a time, which seems disorderly, but I have them categorized, and then what’s on each list is categorized. I even keep a folder of lists. Wow, it really sounds crazy once I see it typed out like this! ๐Ÿ˜›

  18. That is GENIUS talk! I know I do have a list of the lists I have of sentimental things stored in boxes. Hmmm … I think you’re on to something here! Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

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