3 Strategies to help you spend less at the supermarket

I intend our grandchildren to grow up connected to their food supply and liberated from the consumer economy. When they learn about the destructive mono-cultures and global-corporate supply chains that supplied the supermarkets we relied upon, they’ll wonder what we were thinking.

Not to mention what they might wonder when they hear about the toilet paper debacle.

Reducing our supermarket reliance means we can spend less, live better, and tread more lightly on the earth. But food sovereignty at local and community levels has taken such a massive beating that it will only be re-built by a million small initiatives and shifts in our thinking, values, and habits.

I’m working on a series of strategies you can use to set yourself up for success to reduce your reliance on the supermarket.  This post shares the first 3 strategies I’ve come up with.


Basic principles and broad strategies

We know that most of the stuff on supermarket shelves is not great for your health, and that it’s terrible for the health of ecosystems, farming communities, and local economies.

On top of that, we can see food prices rising as packets and bottles get smaller (or their contents do). And then there’s the skyrocketing cost of the fuel required for driving to the supermarket.

Quite aside from the questions of health and ethics, as food and fuel prices continue to rise it makes less and less sense to drive to the supermarket frequently.

But how will we find the time and develop the resources to become independent of the supermarket, to replace it with affordable, local, healthy, ethical ways of sourcing our needs? What would that even look like, and what are the steps to get there?

Without sitting down and discussing your personal circumstances, I cant suggest how you should embark on this journey or which ways to go. But there are some basic principles we can apply to the process of figuring this out. I’ve been thinking about them (a lot, for a long time) and I’ve come up with some broad strategies that might be helpful.

The first is to know where you’re at right now. That’s your starting point.


1. Know your starting point

Important: don’t try to change anything just yet. Before you can make a map, you have to get to know the terrain.

I suggest you get a dedicated note book for this purpose. In it, keep your shopping lists. Instead of a list on a loose piece of paper that you throw away after each shop (or no lists) you’ll gradually build up a record of what you buy. Date each list, and perhaps scribble at the bottom what you spent. Or staple the receipt to the page.

Keep the next page blank, for notes. As you’re writing your shopping list, and when you get home and you’re stapling your receipt in, scribble down a few notes about whatever comes to mind that might be relevant.

“If I’d written a list last time I wouldn’t have forgotten the rice/tissues/dish detergent, and we wouldn’t have had to go to the supermarket twice in one week…” Or whatever.

You could also turn to the last page/s of the note book and put down a few notes about how  you’d like your “I’m ditching the supermarket, one small step at a time,” journey to look, why its important to you, and/or where you’d like it to take you to.

Personally, being a bit of a nerd, I keep supermarket note book and a spreadsheet on the computer.

The spreadsheet has columns like “fruit and veg,” “cold section,” “packaged/processed,” “bathroom,” “laundry,” etc. I have one I created years ago with what things I regularly bought in each column before I started this journey nearly 15 years ago. And I have more recent versions that I fill in from time to time so I can see my progress.

It’s very encouraging, when I feel despondent about how much I still rely on the supermarket, to be able to look back occasionally and see how far we’ve come.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

~ Abraham Lincoln

2. Be kind to yourself and keep the steps small

It’s important to be kind to yourself in this process. Creating this kind of change and making it stick is not easy, and you need to be on your side.

Ditching the supermarket is a big undertaking.  We are going to set only one criteria for how to tackle it: KEEP IT SMALL. When we want to make changes that are actually going to stick, bigger and faster is definitely not better.

Child on path
Image by Theresa Schenk from Pixabay

As you build the habit of keeping your “supermarket notebook” up to date, you’ll already have achieved something that’s worth a small celebration: bringing more mindfulness and awareness to your shopping habits and needs. How will you celebrate this first, important step?

As you live your life, go shopping, and take notes, be on the look out for small improvements that suggest themselves to you as you scribble and scan your notes.

If you see two you could implement this week, I suggest you restrain yourself. Use just one of them, pat yourself on the back, and save the second one for next week.

You never know, you might even build up a backlog of delicious ideas you can look forward to trying out :)

As you make each small change, note them down on your “notes pages.”  Leave yourself a “breadcrumb trail” to come back to if (when) you temporarily fall of the wagon and revert back to where you started.


3. Get Clear on What You Really Need

The odds of going to a grocery store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are about 3 billion to one.

~ Irma Bombeck

Ask questions. Question everything. You never know what you might learn.

In this context—writing your shopping list and shopping at the supermarket—take the time to ask questions about the products you’re considering. I have two kinds of questions for you to ask:

  1. questions about whether you really need an item

  2. questions about who is influencing your thinking about this item

Let’s take a look at both of these types of questions as they relate to your supermarket shopping habits.

Questions about whether you really need something

  1. “Do I/we really need this?” 

  2. “What would happen in my life if I didn’t buy this?”

If the answer is “Yes, I really need this,” then go ahead. Put it on the list, put it in the trolley, and move on.
(As time goes by your concepts of what you really need might change, but there’s no hurry. Remember: be kind to yourself!)

But maybe the answer that comes up might be more like, “After a year of not buying this I would have saved a small fortune and kept a small mountain of trash out of landfill.”

If that kind of answer comes up, you know what to do. Strike it off the list, and leave it on the shelf.

Questions about who’s influencing your thinking

Items on supermarket shelves that our grandparents never heard of or imagined have become “necessities” today because of shared ideas that nobody is questioning.

Now I have a surprise for you (not). Most of those shared ideas, if not all of them, were planted in the public psyche over the last 100+ years by clever, manipulative marketing.

Who runs the marketing campaigns? Profit-focused corporations. Not health-focused. Not ethics-focused. Profit-focused.

Are you surprised? Me neither. Ask yourself, “Who says I need this thing in my life? My mother? People on my Facebook feed?  Someone who will profit from my purchase?”

We love our mothers. We love our friends and family on Facebook or where-ever we interact with them (hopefully that’s in person at least some of the time). But loving them doesn’t mean we have to shop like they do or live like they do.

And as for the profit-focused entities funding the advertising campaigns that generate that sense of inadequacy and lack and the need to keep up with the Jones’s… well, as far as I’m concerned, they can go jump in a lake.

Kates Food
Image provided by author

So those were the first three strategies I came up with when I asked myself, “how could we make it easier to begin (or continue) to de-throne the supermarket and its destructive supply chain and replace it with something healthier?”

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions, to help my thinking along!


Kate writes at about Ditching the Supermarket, changing how we think to change how we live, and practical skills for sustainable living.

Kate Martignier

Kate writes at – an exploration into thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life.


  1. I love this article and completely agree! I have been doing this lately and it is working. I have been spending less and really only buying in the outside aisles. I am working on growing my own and am slowly getting there. I am focusing on learning about my soil and using my scraps for nutrients. Slowly I am getting there. Start small and dream big!

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