If You Wonder "What am I Forgetting on My Grocery List," Here's Help

According to science, one simple trick can help jog your memory.

It's happened to the best of us. You plan out what you'll make for the week and write a detailed grocery list with everything you need. Then, after you get to the store, you open your bag and realize your carefully-written list is still lying on your kitchen counter. Unless you want to head back to retrieve it and then make another trip to the store, your only option at that point is to wing it.

Woman grocery shopping with full basket
Photo courtesy of Getty Images / Steve Debenport.

Luckily, there's a strategy you can follow when you realize you've left that all-important list (whether handwritten or on your phone) behind. A study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds wandering the aisles can help you avoid wondering "What am I forgetting on my grocery list?", especially if you're buying items that are unusual.

The researchers tested this in a few different ways. In one experiment, they gave participants a list of 10 to 20 produce items to buy. Half of the participants were given lists of everyday things like bananas and broccoli, while the other half were given a list of less common items, like coconuts and figs.

Then, they were asked to find the products in an online grocery store. Participants were broken into three groups: One group could only find the products by browsing the online store; one group could only use the search bar; the last group was told to find the products however they wanted. Overall, participants did better at remembering to buy everyday things.

The researchers found that fewer participants could remember the less-common items when they were only allowed to use the search function. On the other hand, people were more likely to remember they were supposed to buy unusual things, like coconuts, when they could browse the online store.

They also surveyed consumers about their shopping habits and what best helped them jog their memory in an actual grocery store. The researchers found that when participants were shopping for items they didn't usually buy, they were more likely to remember what they needed by walking the aisles in the store. However, participants responded that they were likelier to remember everyday items without wandering the store.

If you buy a bag of apples every time you go to the grocery store, you probably won't need a list to help you remember to grab them. But if you have a few items on your forgotten list that you don't frequently buy, a bit of wandering can help jog your memory. As you wander the aisles, you'll probably see the item you need or something similar which will remind you of the unusual item you need. So if, for example, you need Parmesan, stepping into the cheese department can help you remember it.

So while we all like to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible, taking your time could be worth it if you forget your list. A little bit of extra browsing could remind you of what you need to buy that isn't usually on your list (no promises that you won't end up with a few other foods you're craving, though).

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