Excel Grocery ListSeveral years ago, I designed a spreadsheet for grocery shopping in Microsoft Excel. The idea was that we would no longer forget certain things when we go shopping. With (now) six children, the human brain can only hold so much information. We’ve tried shopping in larger amounts and cooking in advance (known as freezer cooking), but for day-to-day life, when things get kind of hectic and we lose our ability to plan, we had to have a more consistent approach to fall back on.

Those who know me know I’m a lover of Microsoft Excel. In all honesty, I know Microsoft essentially stole the idea from my earlier favorites, VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3. In fact, I once got a six-month contract job working for Military Sealift Command doing nothing but project coordination and management with Lotus. To date, it was probably one of my more favorite jobs. Not only did I get to use my favorite program (at the time Excel was just starting to make some noise), but I got to hang around this cool project manager named Chris who hated all the politics and bureaucracy of government. He and Lito (the Finance Officer) and me - in a trailer not fifty feet from the dock. We’d go out and watch the seagulls and talk about all the idiotic guffaws that happened the prior day, and then go back in our little trailer and watch the sneaky contractors try and conjure up more ways to extract money from the government with ridiculous change order requests.

With my solid tracking on Excel, Lito’s financial savvy (he was like 50+ years old at the time), and Chris’ arrogant “get things done” methodology, they never really stood a chance. I think the entire job (of retrofitting a civilian ship with some kind of top-secret submarine hunting sonar) ended up with less than 30 change orders - most of them under a few thousand dollars. They had clearly bid the job expecting to get hundreds and hundreds of change orders. Chris blindsided them. It was great fun.

Anyway, I cut my teeth on such software, and never was a fan of Microsoft Excel. But Lotus, as everyone knows, rested on their laurels, and the rest, as they say, is history. So, Excel is my baby now and I’ve even bothered to take a few certification exams on it. Why? I have no idea. I pretty much have no use for anything else in Office anymore. In fact, whenever I upgrade to Vista, I might just buy Excel 2007 only. I use Thunderbird for email - goodbye to Outlook. I use Firefox for web browsing - goodbye to Internet Explorer.

I have never used my copy of Publisher and if I could give it away separately for a good cause, I would. I now own Adobe InDesign, so if I was going to publish a newsletter or something cool in print, that is what I would use anyway, which I probably still wouldn’t. I’ll let my wife handle that and I’ll stay glued to the web.

Back to the grocery list. My first attempt from years ago had too much information on it. I had pricing information between stores. I had various case sizes of products. Too much. Simple is the new Complexity, I like to say.

There are three keys to a good list. First, it must be comprehensive. A list that only has the top items, or most frequent items, is of limited use. I can remember milk, bread, and peanut butter without a list. I likely will forget, however, to even think about cornstarch - until it’s too late. Second, a list must be in order. My list is organized (roughly) by the order in which I shop. Health and beauty aids which are right by the front entrance, and makes a loop around the store, ending with dairy and meat (cold items last). Produce is dead last because it sits restfully on the top of the cart and doesn’t get crushed. Last, a list has to be repeatable. Everyone hates making a list on paper each time, organizing it, wondering if they forgot something. With a computerized list, that never happens. Even if I forget something, I can add it to my spreadsheet and it will never be forgotten again. I put a “date completed” field at the bottom, so just in case I neglect to throw away the list (not likely with me), I won’t stumble upon it by accident a few weeks later and grab it as I run out the door only to realize halfway through the shopping list that it is an old list.

So, I simplified my list this time and created a simple schedule. Each Saturday night by 10pm, the completed list is due to me for a Monday evening shopping trip. I normally go to Walmart, and I’ve discovered that Monday evenings at Walmart are fairly pleasant after the weekend madness. If my wife can’t do the list by then, I’ll do my own. I just go down the list and write a number next to each item. The list is comprised of 228 items that now fit on to a standard sheet of paper in three columns. It used to be front and back landscape style which drove me nuts. Now, it is portrait-style on only one side. The list has to be completed by Saturday night so that we aren’t rushing up against a deadline on Sunday night - I hate that. So, we complete it with the mindset that we must buy at least enough to last until the following Monday.

Once I finished the list and the process, it occurred to me how rarely we get organized completely. Often, we’ll make a list to refer to, as I did originally several years back. Or quite often, we’ll hash together a process. But it is only the connectivity of these two things that create an efficient, pain-free method that stays in motion long after its implementation.

Want to get started on your own Grocery List? Download my spreadsheet for free here.

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