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How To Grocery Shop Like An Adult

Save money, be healthy

The time has come to accept the inevitable: You’re growing up. Embrace it! Becoming an adult can be daunting, but not when you have guides as easy (and, let’s face it, as cool) as the ones in our Adultify series. Now, you won’t ever have to utter that cringe-worthy term “adulting” when you accomplish something, like doing your laundry—you know, basic, responsible grown-up activities—because you’ll know these truths to be self-evident.

Grocery shopping can tend to be a daunting task. Expensive and time consuming are just a couple ways to describe this necessary (albeit bothersome) chore. 

For me, grocery shopping has always a mixed bag of experiences. There are times I go to the store with the intention of buying enough food to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week, yet leave nothing but a large tub of Nutella and rice crackers, which, for obvious reasons, don’t even go together. There are also times I’ve bought more produce than one human can physically eat over a weeklong period, meaning half of it inevitably goes bad.

Basically, I’ve had it. At age 26, I consider myself to be an adult. I've got a real job, I pay for my own apartment, and I like to think I’ve come quite a long way since my partying- and 4am-dollar-slice-filled college years. With that being said, shouldn’t my refrigerator and pantry reflect my newfound maturity?

It was clear I needed guidance, but I feel like I can’t be the only one. With the help of Rachel Paul, founder of The College Nutritionist, I put together a list of surefire tips and hacks to adultify your grocery shopping routine so you, too, can learn how to conquer the grocery store like the grown-up you are.

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Keep track of your food intake

As you sit down to make your grocery list for your next food shopping extravaganza, chances are you aren’t taking into consideration all the times you get lazy and order takeout for your binge-watching sessions, or how many days a week you “forget” your leftovers in your fridge, thus justifying that $15 veggie burger for lunch. We tend to blindly food shop without any idea of how much we realistically consume, which can lead to overspending at the store and buying food that will end up going to waste.

“Give yourself a few weeks—or even months—as a trial period to see what you realistically eat, and eat out, in a week,” says Paul. “The only way to truly know how you’re doing is to keep track—whether it’s on your phone, on the computer, etc.” This way, you’ll have a better idea of just how much you need to purchase per shopping trip. You may even discover that you’re spending too much money eating out and feel motivated to cook more—which almost always tends to be the healthier, cheaper option.

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Buy fewer groceries than you think you need

Just like how having “eyes bigger than our stomachs” can apply when we over-order at dinner, it can also describe our bad grocery shopping habits.

When you begin your journey to becoming a more grown-up grocery shopper, the key is to start small, buying less than you think you should. “We often get very excited and motivated when we’re at the grocery store,” says Paul. “This is, of course, great for preparing and cooking your own meals, but it often can leave us spending too much money, feeling overwhelmed, and even over-eating because we feel guilty for letting food go to waste.” 

Just because you think you need two different kinds of pita chips and three different flavors of hummus for the week, you probably can't eat all of that before it goes bad. 

So please, buy less. Your wallet, stomach, and anxiety will thank you.

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Give yourself a strict food budget

The best way to guarantee you won’t overspend at the grocery store is to give yourself a food budget. Paul suggests putting aside a certain amount of cash every week and only using that for all of your food expenses, whether for groceries or going out to eat, or both.

If you end up spending the allotted money before the week is over, you’ll need to modify either your budget or your eating habits for the following week (no, letting yourself starve is not an option). Regardless, you’ll have to analyze your previous spending habits, which should make whatever you need to change pretty obvious.

Once you figure out a budget that works for you through trial and error, it’ll be much easier to stay in line and prevent overspending.

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Master the layout of your grocery store

Paul suggests getting to know the layout of your grocery store and organizing your grocery list based on where the foods are located. “If the dressings and produce are first, those should be the first items on your shopping list, and so on.” This way, you’ll have a set itinerary for your grocery shopping adventure. You’ll spend less time wandering around aimlessly looking for hot sauce and will avoid drooling over the Ben & Jerry’s-filled freezer aisle. It’s a win-win.    

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Buy foods in their whole forms

Long gone are the days of eating sugar-ridden gummy worms and energy drinks to pull an all-nighter studying. Part of being a grown-up is learning to take proper care of your body—thus, treating yourself to a healthy, nourishing diet.

As a grown-up, you should spend more time picking out produce and less time picking out soda. “Stick with real ingredients when you can,” says Paul. “Foods that are closest to their whole forms are best. Look for fruit and dried fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables.”

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Opt for snacks that are pre-portioned

Of course, just because we’re trying to be more adult-like, that doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun. Snacks are fine in moderation—with moderation being key. We know it can hard to not binge-eat a family-sized bag of tortilla chips and salsa in one sitting, so Paul recommends buying snacks that come pre-portioned, or immediately bagging single servings of snacks when you get home from the store.

With a little portion control, you’ll be able to snack sans guilt. Who doesn't love that?