Instead I follow this careful planning process.
On Sunday afternoon I go through our local paper for coupons, cutting out the ones that I think I may possibly use. Even if it's something I might buy but don't normally buy, I keep it ... if I find the item on a really good sale I WILL buy it and make it work in a upcoming meal.
Next I look over the sales list on commissaries.com. Since we are military we shop at the commissary. Instead of having weekly ads, they run two-week sales and post all sales items, the price and percentage off on that Web site. Largely based on that list and any coupons I have that match up to make things even cheaper, I decide what we will eat the upcoming week. For example, this week Zatarains rice is on sale as is Hillshire smoked sausage. Since I had a coupon for both I found a recipe for jambalaya.
I don't plan lunches (Luke takes a sandwich to work and I eat some fruit, hummus and wheat thins and maybe cheese each day) or breakfast (I eat yogurt every day and Luke sometimes eats cereal which I stock up on when it's on sale) so I only have to worry about dinner.
If what Im cooking with isn't based on that list it is based off coupons or what is in my pantry or freezer. Another example: blocks of cheese were on sale a few weeks ago, plus I had some great coupons. I bought about 10 or 12 blocks and put them in the freezer so we are well set in that area. I also had a coupon for hormel pepperonis ... and thus we are eating homemade calzones! Delicious. Last week I had $32 in coupons. That's $32 more I would've spent whether that day or another day on this we need for our home and meals.
Now bring on the list. I could be far more organized about this step, putting things into narrow categories. Instead I break it down into "dry," "meat," "dairy," and "veggies." The problem with this method is that it lumps an incredibly large number of things in "dry" in no particular order so they are easy to overlook. But let's not dwell on that, OK?
My list consists of things we need for the week (including cleaning supplies and hygiene products) and things that are on a great sale but we will use in a future week. I've learned recently the dangers of stocking up TOO much, but there are some things I know we use regularly enough to buy multiples of when on discount. Examples: cereal, black beans and cheese.
In the store itself I start at the one end and go to the other, using a pen to cross things off my list (so I don't forget anything).
Towards the end, before I hit the checkout, I go through my coupons to make sure I have the ones I plan to use separated out and ready to give to the checker.
The art of the coupon is a story for another post, but let me just say here as far as in the store is concerned -- Know Thy Checker. I don't care if it's the next one available -- let someone else deal with the Crazy Mean Coupon Checkers. Pick one that looks nice, young and like they don't care and regardless always hand them the coupons first. This will save you the trouble of dealing with someone who insists on going back through your groceries to find the 6 yogurts required for the $1 off 6 coupon. It is absolutely beyond me why some of these checkers care SO MUCH about your coupons. The coupon means the manufacturer is giving money back to the store for giving me a discount ... meaning there's no skin off the store's nose for giving me money off. And I KNOW they saw a bunch of yogurts go by because they JUST SCANNED THEM ... what gives?!
But like I said -- a discussions for later. And believe me, I will discuss it. You can count on it.