A typical grocery shopping trip takes about 40 minutes in the United States, though most of the grocery shopping is done by women (59 minutes/week), not men (29 minutes/week)1.
If you include travel time, which is about 15 minutes per trip, and the fact that on average people go grocery shopping 1.5 times per week, you’re looking at close to 6 hours of grocery shopping per month for women2!
That’s a lot of time, which is why I’ve been doing my grocery shopping only every two months for the past few years. I now spend about 60 minutes per month on grocery shopping—including travel time.
A student of mine recently asked me how I do it. So I thought I’d share my tips with you.
Buy from wholesalers
This is the number one way to save time on groceries. Wholesalers such as Costco save you time with:
- Cheaper prices. Wholesalers often have lower prices than regular grocery stores and even online stores such as Amazon. By saving money on grocery shopping, your financial needs decrease, and the time required to work to earn money also decreases. Whether we realize it or not, money is time3.
- Fewer choices. Wholesalers typically offer only one or two options per product. That may not sound like a good thing, but it reduces decision fatigue4,5 and the time spent deciding which product to buy. Indeed, the Economic Research Service of the USDA estimates that, compared to 2007, people spent 6% more time grocery shopping in 2017, likely because of “larger stores and longer aisles [as well as a] larger selection of products to choose from.”
- Bigger quantities. Wholesalers sell in larger quantities than regular grocery stores. This means that you can save time by buying in bulk and not having to go back to the store as often.
Preparing food and cleaning up takes on average 51 minutes per day. That’s almost 6 hours per week! If you enjoy cooking and don’t mind doing it every day, then by all means, go for it.
But if you would rather not spend that much time in the kitchen, then meal prepping is a great way to save time. By preparing meals ahead of time, you can reduce the daily cooking and cleanup time to 15 minutes or less.
The appeal of meal prepping is that you don’t have to spend time wondering what to make for dinner. You can just take a look in your refrigerator or freezer and choose something that you’ve already prepared.
And importantly, because we typically make better decisions ahead of time compared to when we’re in the heat of the moment6,7, preparing your meals ahead of time usually leads to healthier eating choices8.
You might also want to look into pressure cookers, such as the Instant Pot, which can help you prepare meals quickly and easily.
Remember, the secret of time management is making time to learn how to make time. Learning how to meal prep, figuring out what wholesalers are in your area, and getting familiar with their products takes time. But once you have the system down, it saves you a lot of time in the long run.
Make a grocery list
This one may seem like a no-brainer, yet only 52% of men and 69% of women report making a grocery list before going shopping.
By making a list, you can save time by not having to wander aimlessly around the store and make decisions on the fly. Research shows that people who make grocery lists prior to going to the store buy fewer items, spend less money, and make fewer unplanned and impulsive purchases9.
There is also some evidence that people who make paper grocery lists make fewer unplanned purchases10. That may be true, but I find paper lists less convenient and more time-consuming, especially if you plan on using them multiple times. Apps like OneNote allow you to easily create lists that you can access on your phone, tablet, or computer and reuse over time.
Another advantage of electronic grocery lists is that you can share them with others. If you’re going to be doing your shopping with someone else, you can create a shared list that both of you can access and update as needed.
Get frozen food and non-perishables
Frozen fruit and vegetables are a great way to add produce to your diet without having to spend time prepping and cleaning them. And because they’re typically cheaper than fresh produce, they can also save you money.
Dry goods such as oats, lentils, rice, pasta, and beans are also great staples to have on hand. They’re inexpensive, last a long time, and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Canned goods are another great option for quick and easy meals. Soups, stews, chili, and pasta sauce are just a few of the possibilities.
What’s truly great about frozen food and non-perishables is that they can be stored for long periods of time, so you can buy them in bulk and make fewer trips to the store. This is the number one thing that can save you time and money on grocery shopping.
Frequently Asked Questions
Shopping once every two months can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some frequently asked questions that might help you get started.
Q: Where do you store all of your food?
A: Cheap bookshelves from IKEA are perfect for storing non-perishables, and a chest freezer is great for frozen food.
Q: Aren’t frozen fruit and vegetables unhealthy?
A: There is a well-documented bias against frozen fruit and vegetables because people see them as less “natural”11. But frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh produce. In fact, research shows that in some cases frozen produce is even more nutritious than fresh produce because it’s picked at the peak of ripeness and then flash-frozen, which locks in nutrients12.
Q: What about the environment?
A: Buying in bulk and reducing the number of trips you make to the store can be better for the environment. It cuts down on packaging and reduces your carbon footprint because you’re using less gas. Frozen food and non-perishables also drastically reduce food waste because they have a longer shelf life.
Q: What if I don’t have a car?
A: If you don’t have a car, you can still do your shopping in bulk. Many wholesalers such as Costco now offer online ordering, although it might cost you a bit more. That being said, keep in mind that paying more to free up your time is often worth it14. Choosing time over money can lead to greater happiness, social connection, and life satisfaction15,16. Alternatively, you can rent a car or use subscribe to a carsharing service (and it would still cost you less than going to a local grocery store, typically).
Q: Isn’t all this food stockpiling an aberration of modern society?
A: Evidence suggests humans have been stockpiling food for millennia17. It’s only in recent history that we’ve had the luxury of not having to stock food for the entire season. For most of human history, people had to be much more strategic about their food storage because they didn’t have the same access to resources that we have today. In a historical sense, it’s not stockpiling food that is quite abnormal.
Q: Won’t buying in bulk cost more money?
A: Not necessarily. Some people end up overspending when they shop in bulk, but that’s usually because they’re buying products they don’t need or won’t use. That’s why a grocery list is so important. Another reason why people feel buying in bulk costs more is because they only pay attention to the total price of the items, without taking into account the fact that they’re going to use them over a longer period of time.
Q: What if I don’t have a lot of space?
A: If you live in a small space, there are many storage hacks you can use to free up some room. You can also buy a small freezer if you don’t have one already. The cost of a small freezer is often far offset by the money and time you’ll save by buying food in bulk.
There are many benefits to doing your grocery shopping only every two months. You’ll save money, time, and energy. And you’ll be doing your part to help the environment. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next big trip to the grocery store!
Research cited (click to expand)
- 1.Petrosky-Nadeau N, Wasmer E, Zeng S. Shopping time. Economics Letters. Published online June 2016:52-60. doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2016.02.003
- 2.Hamrick KS, Hopkins D. The time cost of access to food – Distance to the grocery store as measured in minutes. eIJTUR. Published online November 30, 2012:28-58. doi:10.13085/eijtur.9.1.28-58
- 3.Whillans AV. Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life. Harvard Business Review Press; 2020.
- 4.Pignatiello GA, Martin RJ, Hickman RL Jr. Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis. J Health Psychol. Published online March 23, 2018:123-135. doi:10.1177/1359105318763510
- 5.Olsen SB, Meyerhoff J, Mørkbak MR, Bonnichsen O. The influence of time of day on decision fatigue in online food choice experiments. BFJ. Published online March 6, 2017:497-510. doi:10.1108/bfj-05-2016-0227
- 6.Trope Y, Liberman N. Temporal construal. Psychological Review. Published online 2003:403-421. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.110.3.403
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- 8.Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. Published online February 2, 2017. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7
- 9.Inman JJ, Winer RS, Ferraro R. The Interplay among Category Characteristics, Customer Characteristics, and Customer Activities on in-Store Decision Making. Journal of Marketing. Published online September 2009:19-29. doi:10.1509/jmkg.73.5.19
- 10.Huang Y, Yang Z. Write or Type? How a Paper versus a Digital Shopping List Influences the Way Consumers Plan and Shop. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. Published online July 2018:396-409. doi:10.1086/698877
- 11.Connell PM, Finkelstein SR, Scott ML, Vallen B. Negative associations of frozen compared with fresh vegetables. Appetite. Published online August 2018:296-302. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.05.134
- 12.Li L, Pegg RB, Eitenmiller RR, Chun JY, Kerrihard AL. Selected nutrient analyses of fresh, fresh-stored, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. Published online June 2017:8-17. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2017.02.002
- 13.Martindale W, Schiebel W. The impact of food preservation on food waste. BFJ. Published online December 4, 2017:2510-2518. doi:10.1108/bfj-02-2017-0114
- 14.Whillans AV, Dunn EW, Smeets P, Bekkers R, Norton MI. Buying time promotes happiness. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online July 24, 2017:8523-8527. doi:10.1073/pnas.1706541114
- 15.Hershfield HE, Mogilner C, Barnea U. People Who Choose Time Over Money Are Happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Published online June 23, 2016:697-706. doi:10.1177/1948550616649239
- 16.Whillans AV, Weidman AC, Dunn EW. Valuing Time Over Money Is Associated With Greater Happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Published online January 7, 2016:213-222. doi:10.1177/1948550615623842
- 17.Kuijt I, Finlayson B. Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online July 7, 2009:10966-10970. doi:10.1073/pnas.0812764106
- 18.Shove E, Southerton D. Defrosting the Freezer: From Novelty to Convenience. Journal of Material Culture. Published online November 2000:301-319. doi:10.1177/135918350000500303