If you’re anything like me, you’d find doing grocery shopping to be a big waste of time. Yeah, I know it’s pretty essential, but even so, I don’t have to like doing it. I find every time I go grocery shopping, I spend hours upon hours looking for things. I’d pace back and forth, going from aisle 4 to aisle 10, only to be back at aisle 4 half an hour later. It’s simply frustrating.

Last week, I thought there must be some way to optimise grocery shopping. For most people, grocery shopping is a weekly routine. If an average family spends 2-3 hours each week shopping, in a month that’s 8-12 hours. I can write two articles in that time! Or watch half a dozen episodes of StarGate. There must be a way to make things more efficient (and hopefully in the process, less tiresome).

So, let me introduce to you the “Grocery Shopping Helper“. I spent 30 mins last Saturday afternoon writing this simple one page application. It’s not fancy by any means. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles. But it does the job. My wife and I tried it out yesterday, and it saved about 40% of the time it usually takes us to get our weekly supplies.

Here’s the deal. The thing about doing grocery shopping is most people do not know where things are kept in the store. Yeah, there are those signs above very aisle, but they have two problems – either they’re not descriptive enough or you have to physically walk all the way there to read them. The other thing about doing grocery shopping for me at least, is returning home after my wife sends me on an errand only to find I had forgotten something. When you’re time starved like I am, driving all the way back to the mall isn’t exactly my idea of spending time wisely.

So how do we solve this? The simplest and most elegant solution I could think of was having a map of the store. Imagine having a map identifying where each item was. You’d only have to walk from one end to the other end of the store in one fell swoop and pick each item as you go pass!

This is exactly what the “Grocery Shopping Helper” is designed to do. Given a list of grocery items and their corresponding aisle at the supermarket, this simple tool will generate a formatted page of all the grocery items you’re ever interested in, either sorted alphabetically or by aisle.

Grocery Shopping Helper screenshot

See a sample output

Using it can’t be any simpler.

  1. Start by making a list of the items you are interested in. Not just the items for this week (like a conventional shopping list), but for ALL the items you are, might be or used to be interested in.
  2. Just for the very first time, go to the store and note down all the aisle numbers against every item you have on your list. Your supermarket customer service might already have a list defined, so ask them first.
  3. Come back to this site and enter each item into the text area below (separate the description from the aisle with a comma).
  4. Generate a report alphabetically by clicking the ‘Generate‘ button. Print it in landscape and stick it on your fridge for future reference. This is a convenient lookup index which you can use to find the aisle by the item description. You only need one of this.
  5. Click the browser’s back button. Select the “Sort by aisle” checkbox. Generate a report by aisle and print it in landscape. Unlike the previous report, you should print as many copies of this as possible. You will need one of this every time you go to the grocery store.
  6. At the start of each week, get a fresh aisle report and stick it on your fridge.
  7. Each time you run out of something, say milk, place a mark in your aisle report next to the item indicating the quantity you need. You can use the alphabetical report to look up the aisle number.
  8. Take each weekly aisle report when you go to the shops. Simply walk from one end to the other end of the store (ie from the first to the last aisle) and pick up the items with marks alongside as you go past them.

That’s it! Simple and elegant! Armed with your weekly aisle report, you never need to walk back and forth searching for items and you never go home forgetting anything. You can look at a sample report or go to the application and try it out for yourself. It’s completely FREE.

Grocery Shopping Helper – grocery shopping for smart people

Feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment if you find this lifehack useful. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement, I’d love to hear them and am willing to make changes to incorporate your needs if possible.

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32 Responses to “Grocery Shopping – for Smart People”

  1. Grocery Shopping for Smart People - lifehack.org says:

    [...] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers canshare and discover new web pages. [...]

  2. Drainedge Link Tank » Today’s Links says:

    [...] GTD, DIY & Productivity Grocery Shopping – for Smart People – Dave Cheong [...]

  3. David says:

    Hi Dave,

    You should check out splashshopper by Splash data (http://www.splashdata.com) – it is quite a comprehensive tool to help you plan your shopping trips complete with a palm client and desktop application.

  4. links for 2006-07-18 | Musings by Steve Miller says:

    [...] Grocery Shopping – for Smart People (tags: productivity shopping food lifehacks tools organization lifehacker) [...]

  5. Esther says:

    This is SMART! Great tool, thanks for making this available!

  6. Kate says:

    This is very cool. I live in North Carolina now, but when I lived in New England, I shopped at Hannaford’s and they did this for their customers. You could pick them up at the front of the store. Of course it wasn’t customized. It was just a list of every product by aisle.

  7. Peter Kua says:

    Hey, grocery shopping is meant to be fun! I’m always happy to wander up and down the aisle. Sometimes aimlessly. Sometimes looking very hard for the item. But you are right, Dave. Your solution does save time for those who are short of it. Great idea!

  8. Hui Zhou says:

    Don’t you guys wish the store has such a service that we can send them shopping list online and then pickit up at the front counter half an hour later?

  9. Dave Cheong says:

    Yeah, I wonder if there’s a potential market for a service where we all can upload grocery stores around our local areas and make the list available to anyone who’d like to download and use them…

  10. brosinski.com/stephan » Blog Archive » Grocery Shopping Strategies: The List says:

    [...] As a software developer I’m prone to optimizing and automating processes, especially ones I hate – and don’t we all hate grocery shopping? Dave Chong wrote a really nice article on this subject. He even put together a little application to help him. [...]

  11. Daren Thomas says:

    What really saves time here is not the aisle numbers, but the fact that you know exactly what you want when you enter the shop and when you are finnished: Since I allways shop at the same store, I allready know where the products I need are – but if I don’t have a shopping list on me, then I tend to spend a lot of time looking blank and wandering around not sure what to buy.

    BTW: This also saves a lot of money, since you only buy stuff you really need! Also, you don’t end up with your fridge full of food you’ll never eat…

  12. Jeferson says:

    Nice tool!



  13. MD Blog » Blog Archive » Grocery Shopping Helper says:

    [...] Check it out [...]

  14. Michele says:

    My comment on this is that i have lived near 3 grocery stores for the last 6 years at least in Australia and know where everything is in at least one of the shops. I shop more often then once a week cause our freezer isnt that big so i am in and out with a handheld basket and green recycled grocery bags in no time…you also cant spend a lot of money when you carry your groceries cause it gets damn heavy…
    just my 2 cents

  15. Franka says:

    Hi Dave,

    My spouse and I have a good experience in using Shoppius for this. I can’t remember where it is in Internet. Ask Google for the site, I suppose it is shoppius.com. It’s a nice tool with synchronization ability. As for aisles sometimes I use them in a plan name ;-)


  16. Mike says:

    I really like what you have done here with the shopping list generator! In your example, you have it marked up with quantities and additions, would it be possible to generate it and have each row be split into 3 visible columns – A small square box on the left of each item to write in quantities, a longer middle box for the item name and another small square box on the right for the aisle.

    This way after it is printed there would be a space by each item to write in quantities as well as some empty rows at the end that can be filled in to add items by hand. Just a thought…

    Keep up the great work!

  17. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Michele,

    Thanks for dropping by. There’s no reason why you can’t go to the stores more than once a week. Just mark down what you need to get for which trip and the Grocery Shopping Helper can equally apply. All the tool does is help you locate what you need and make the shopping experience smoother and less frustrating.

    Good luck.


  18. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Franka,

    Thanks for the pointer to Shoppius. When I get a chance, I’ll take a look at it.



  19. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Mike,

    I suppose I can space things out better. At the moment, I thought it was best to have only one sheet of paper with me when I’m at the shops. I don’t really want to be fluffing around with pieces of paper. This is why I try to pack things in.

    So far, I haven’t found myself running out of room. If you do, let me know what kind of stuff you’re writing down for you to be running out of room.

  20. Carl says:

    I’m trying to access your grocery shopping helper. The page seems to load, but it seems blank. I’ve tried three different browsers. Please help! :-)

  21. Dave Cheong says:

    Hi Carl,

    Sorry for the inconvenience. My hosting provider upgraded some software and services on my server and some configuration files were lost. I have now fixed up all the configuration issues.

    You should be able to use the again.


  22. Aryeh says:

    The link to the application seems to be broken, I just get a post about 10 R’s to Apply if you Want to Succeed.

  23. Dave Cheong says:

    Restarted the server again and it should now be running. Not sure why the server is crashing, but I’ll keep an eye out in case it happens again and hopefully can determine the cause.

    Thanks for letting me know.


  24. lilnaniam says:

    Hello Dave,
    I was wondering is this in Java or C++. I am currently a new student to Java and we have this same program as a project. Ours is reading input in from a specified file from the user, I havn’t got mine totally working yet as I am confused on where to actually read the file in. I am using 4 classes.

  25. Peter says:

    Hi Dave,

    Nice article and a good work on your program. You may be intereseted in trying GrocerySurf by Eksendia. The URL is:
    It has a shopping list generator and auto-reminder for items you are low on, recipe to shopping list automatic transfer and it is available on mobile phone. Has multiple store support, you can print it by aisle with automatic aisle detection when known.

  26. Honza says:

    Great idea, great tool.

    I recently went to a supermarket in a town I haven’t lived in for a couple of years, and I swear, by the time I came out (with only about 15 items) I was thoroughly cheesed, it had taken me about 1.5 hours to find everything (and I still didn’t have everything on my list) instead of what should have taken 30 minutes max.

    Of course, in the two years since I had been there, they had completely re-arranged the whole store… I wonder how often stores usually do this, and why. ALL supermarkets should put a downloadable product map on their websites.

  27. Rajeev says:

    I have developed a free online shopping list manager , Caartz http://www.caartz.com

    Its similar to your idea of generating shopping lists, but you can also save them for further use. There are other features to check out as well.


  28. Dog Forum says:

    I really liked your blog! Definely I Stumble UP the blog post ! Great Blog indeed ;)

  29. Bobbi says:

    All I can Say is Thankyou Mr. Cheong. I’ve been looking and searching the world over for this and you have it. Thanx for sharing. I for one very much appreciate it.

  30. Dave Cheong says:

    Thanks guys for leaving comments. I can’t believe this little tool I spent a few spare hours working on has turned out to be so popular. Every time the server is down, someone always email me saying it’s down.

    Great to see I’ve been of service.

    Best wishes,

  31. Andrew says:

    Do not believe in this.

    Supermarkets change items within all aisles every so often so this list you set out to make becomes v.redundant within a few weeks.

  32. Jason Lee says:

    I believe preparing a list before your Grocery Shopping is the best way of buying items that are essentials.

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