HTT: How To Shopping List

Having spent most of my thirties as a very happy cog in the coporate American machine, if there is one thing I know a lot about; It's Lists.

Lists are the most essential first step in a little thing we like to call productivity.

One might begin with a basic 'To-Do' list for something as simple as daily chores. Then the list will progress to sub-tasks required in order to fullfill the original task. (ie: 'Fix Drawer' might include things like 'Find Screwdriver' and then result in a sub-orbital task such as 'Clean Garage')

In order to master the task of List creation, it is important to remain focused and fluid. Specificity is key here. You can't just put 'Write Novel' or 'Make Wife Happy', those things require too many variables. Instead you might create a list that starts 'Open Word Document. Type Chapter One at the top of the page.' or 'Pick up flowers.'

And be cautious. Lists can get addictive. You'll know you're hooked when you start adding things to your lists that you've already accomplished, just so you can have the instant gratification of crossing things off.

Now in my working life, which consists of many different roles, I make a lot of lists. As a blogger, I have a set of blogs that I want to write daily. As a writer, I have lists of certain chapters that need to be edited/rewritten. As a musician, I have several lists like Booking Inquiries, Marketing/Promotion, Reheasal, Website Maintenance (of which there are five seperate sites), Equipment Maintenance, and Financial Budgeting.

Being an artist is not for the weak kneed.

But my most important job, "House Daddy", requires at least a journeyman level of organizational competance.  There are chore lists (of course), errand lists (of course) and the main list which has a significant impact on Health, Wealth, and Harmony;

The Shopping List.

Now in my past life, the shopping list consisted of what I felt like having for dinner that night and picking up the things I didn't already have. My wife would do a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly shopping spree that would start with a list of two or three things in her head, balloon to about seventy-two items that she thought might be nice to have (depending upon how hungry she was shen she left) and result in her forgetting at least one of the three things whe went out to get in the first place.

We led a very inneficient life, but we both worked 40 hours a week, so we had more money than time, and as long as there was wine and a frozen pizza available, life was good.

Now, we simply don't have that luxury (and wouldn't trade back for it if we could), so it is of paramount importance that our shopping lists become so precise that not a single banana is allowed to go bad.

Sounds scary, but once you get the hang of a few simple principles and watch your food budget go from $200 a week to $60 and you realize you're eating better and feeling better than you ever have before, well, it becomes more addictive than crack.

For today's How To Tuesday, I'm gonna break down a few simple steps to get you going.

Step One: The Running List
Because we are a complicated Go-Go-Go society, we have a tendency not to plan for the things we need, but to plan for the time that we go shopping. Like . . . on Thursdays, I've got two hours between picking up my son from school and taking him to soccer practice. We will go shopping in those two hours. We'll get home, I'll make a list by looking into the fridge and the cupboards and we'll head to the store.  If he's good he'll get a donut.

The problem is that list will not include any of those things that run out at odd times. It won't include dish soap or sandwich bags or eggs. This inefficiency leads to two or three more trips during the week which is expensive (so many donuts) and the real cause of global warming.

However, if you keep a running list going. Then the likelyhood of tertiary Winco visits become fewer and far between.

But it's not that easy. You can't just write stuff down anywhere, so on to step two.  

Step Two: Consistency and Accessibility.
I hate Post-It notes. I mean they're a lovely invention and all, but they pile up, fall away, and promote this systematic clutter that I'm pretty sure is responsible for the mortgage crisis.

No, to keep a good running list, it needs to be in the same place, all the time, available to all, near the fridge, and with working pens within arms reach.

For example: My wife and I keep a little paper note pad, with a magnet on the back, stuck to the freezer door. The junk drawer (which holds all our pens) is located directly facing the fridge. One needs only to turn twice to write 'Garlic Salt'

Do not use a dry erase board. First, you can't rip off a sheet and take those with you to the supermarket (so you end up making a second list of your first list and end up depleting the rainforrests anyway) and second, those pens dry out fifteen minutes after you first start using them and you end up with a white board that still has a note to remind you to check the mail for a package you received years ago.

I've experimented with going digital. I can, for example, create a list on my phone that will automatically update on all of our gadgets, and alert me when I am five hundred feet from a grocery store, but the technology is still just a bit clunky when a paper and pen will do just fine.

Now comes the tricky part,

Step Three: Teaching Your Wife to List
My wife is very smart, very capable, and when it comes to paying bills or updating our Netflix queue, very organized. So for the life of me, I have never been able to figure out why she rejects lists in almost all forms.

I mean, she'll leave notes on my wallet of things whe wants me to do, so I know she knows how to write and the essential parts of micro-management, but despite the fact that her shopping MO has consisted of buying too much and forgetting what she came for, she just won't participate.

But one day, I figured it out.

Pay attention now, because this gem of information can save lives:

The reason she refuses to List - is because - if she has a comprehensive list in her hands - then there are entire aisles of the supermarket that she has NO REASON TO GO DOWN.

A comprehensive list strips her of joy.

The joy of discovery.

The joy of inspiration.

The joy of scented candles and low-fat brownie mix.

Doesn't that sound terrible? I mean if someone asked me to write a song about a very specific thing in a very specific key, using very specific imagery, at a very specific tempo . . . well . . . I'd do it . . . but I'd hate it.

And the good news is, is that what's required at this level, is speed, efficiency, and cost maximization. The very things I absoluetly love. So by taking on this particular responsibility, I've made us both happy.

The other good news is that once you've been married for a while, the majority of your conversations will usually be about the daily minutae of your lives. She's rarely gonna talk about existential moments while watching plastic bags being tossed about by the wind, but she will absolutely say something when you're running low on butter.

Repeat after me: "Put it on the list."

Now because no one wants to  live in a loveless marriage, go ahead and add things like "Please" "Thank-you" and "Your hair looks really good today."

Step Four: Planning meals
Now I have to feed three people (including myself), on three different time schedules at least three times a day. That's 63 meals a week. Sounds crazy/difficult, but lets just assume that you've mastered at least a bit of your homemaker skills, have lots of different recipes using the same ingredients and pretty much have an idea of the usual dietary staples.

Go canned where you can, beans, tuna, shredded chicken. Go dry when available, lentils, rice, split peas. As for vegetables: Purple cabbage, kale, carrots, brocolli, and cauliflower last a really long time (not like spinach or zuchinni which never seem to make it a whole week, and fuck mushrooms all together). Fruit will kill you. So no more than two or three of any type and only one or two types per visit (unless you have a special occasion that requires something exotic (like water melon slices for soccer games)

If you've maitained the list all week, then you should have a good idea of the last minute add-ons to get you through till Monday. 

Step Five: The Budget
After you've got you list, take a few minutes and jot down how much each item usually costs and then add up the total. This should give you a general idea of how much you're planning to spend, if you are over budget and need to erase a few things (are you really gonna eat those peaches?) or, if you've had a good profitable show the night before with generous tips, maybe a few luxury items that you hadn't considered (NY strip steaks on Wednesday. Mmmmm).

The budget will guide you through a lot of the decision making processes along the way, so it's handy to have.

Step Six: Planning Your Route.
Now if you're a budget ninja like me, you have probably noticed that different things cost different amounts at different places. Also, there are certain items on your list that can only be found in one place. For instance, in order to maximize my monday list yesterday, required a visit to four different stores.

That sounds nuts, but hear me out. The probiotic smoothie for my little prince's GI tract is only available at Whole Foods, where a bundle of wilted Kale costs $4.50. Winco has fresh sprightly Kale for $1 along with 95.7% of all the other things on my list. Whole Foods is on my way home from Winco, so there's no gas lost. Costco is the only place that sells the tuna and salmon steaks and chicken breasts that I like, and it too is on my way home.

Don't skip on the things you like. You're a princess and you should treat yourself like one.

But you can aleviate a lot of pain and frustration simply by marking down all the places you need to go and creating a simple circuitous route.

And you may even get lucky. Yesterday I noticed that there was a Sprouts located between Winco and Costco and was able to find the smoothies I wanted, plus some of the vitamins at a much cheaper price, which saved me a trip to Whole Foods and the Vitamin Shoppe. And saved me about $26.


Step Seven: The Shop
With your list and budget in hand, go to town, and keep a running tab in your mind. When me an my dad used to go shopping we would make a game of guessing how much the total was going to cost so that we could know which stuff was going to grace our pasta salad. If we did good, then we could upgrade to the cheesy top shelf salad dressing and if we were really good, there might be artichoke hearts involved.

I freaking love artichoke hearts on my pasta salad.

And when my mother-in-law taught me how to make them from scratch . . . I wept . . . for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Once you've got a running tab, you can begin to challenge your budget a bit. Feel free to overindulge in the meat aisle if you found a sale on your favorite apples. And also double check the items thatyou expected to find at another store, you might be surprised when you do a little price comparison.

For instance, I came in $40 under budget on this last spree by making little adjustments as to where I got what, and saved myself twenty minutes by avoiding Whole Foods all together.

Last Step: Trust the List.
It's a good list. You've worked hard on it all week. Don't second guess it or you'll end up with too much milk or an extra bunch of bananas. Example: We - for some odd reason - kept double buying frozen peas - and ended up having to make all kinds of recipes that included peas. And now my son won't eat them anymore.

The List is The Thing.

Go forth and be merry.

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