Shopping lists make comeback as economy slows

WASHINGTON Thu Apr 17, 2008 2:59pm EDT

Shopper Laura Miller holds her list as she shops at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Clarita, California April 1, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Shopper Laura Miller holds her list as she shops at a Wal-Mart store in Santa Clarita, California April 1, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - Shopping lists are making a comeback.

A growing number of American women are returning to the lists to help them stick to family budgets, relying on a money-saving tactic once used broadly during the Great Depression, according to retail analyst Britt Beemer.

The popularity of shopping lists comes as government data released this week showed that American consumers are paying 4.5 percent more for food than they paid a year ago. And they are being hit twice, also paying record gasoline prices for their drives to the grocery store.

Beemer said in the eight years he has queried thousands of Americans about using shopping lists in a bimonthly survey, typically about one-third said they wrote out what they intended to buy.

Last October, though, the proportion began rising and now stands at 59 percent, Beemer said.

"They're literally saying: 'I can't afford more than this. I'm buying essentials. I'm not going to go overboard,'" Beemer told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Florida office.

Beemer's research focuses more on women because they tend to make their families' shopping decisions, but he said many men are also making lists, albeit shorter ones.

Nicole, who lives in Washington, said she started making grocery lists in September.

"I've recently started to do it and it's mostly to keep myself from going beserk," she said while standing in the meat section of a Safeway with a white sheaf of paper that had lines drawn through items she had already found.

Her boyfriend's mother had watched her in a store and, deciding "there was no rhyme or reason" to how she shopped, showed her how to draft lists. Nicole uses specials and sales advertised in the newspaper along with what is running low in the refrigerator to plan what she purchases.

Before, Nicole was more inclined to make impulse buys. Now, she said, "I stick to the list."

A shopper with a list will rarely buy more than two extra items, said Beemer, who is chairman of America's Research Group. Someone without a list will likely go to the checkout counter with many more items than she intended to purchase. And the current dominance of brand names on people's lists shows that shoppers are paying more attention to advertised discounts, he said.

There was an increase in shopping lists in the months following September 11, 2001, as survey respondents sought to cut their shopping time and increase their time at home, Beemer said. Typically, though, he said, list carriers had been single mothers, keeping watch on their cash and time, and women over 70 worried about forgetting items.

Now, the intent across the board is strictly to save money, mirroring the results of a Gallup poll Beemer found from the 1930's, during the country's legendary economic depression.

"We're not very far today from the mentality people had in the Great Depression," he said.

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