Only Buy What You Can Carry

Only Buy What You Can Carry


Often when grocery shopping we only focus on prices, discounts, sales and coupons. The best deal often means buying in bulk or multiples of an item (buy one get one free). However, shopping in this way is only possible if you have 1) a lot of storage space and 2) an easy way to get all this home.

If you own a car, purchasing large amounts of groceries at one time is not a problem. You can bring them all out to your car in a cart then make multiple trips from the car to your house once home.

Next time you are grocery shopping, imagine you have to walk home from the store; at least a 10 minute walk. How would you shop differently?

Quantity Over Price

Since I no longer own a car, I have found myself buying a lot less groceries! Quantity/size has been my priority over price. I know that the bulk peanut butter is cheaper but I cannot carry that in addition to a 5lb bag of flour. While I would like to purchase the cans of tomatoes that are on sale, I do not need them and they will only make my bags heavier to carry.

Purchasing Necessities

I now focus on the necessities and items I will need soon instead of stocking up on items simply because they are on sale. While the actual price may not be cheaper, in the long run, buying less will always result in saving money.


Would you have to make adjustments to your grocery shopping style if you were restricted to only what you could carry?


39 Replies to “Only Buy What You Can Carry”

  1. I use a folding cart. I’m lucky enough to have a large apartment, so storage isn’t an issue. The cart is so useful for hauling kitty litter, large amounts of groceries, etc. It isn’t as good as a car would be, but it is a step up from just carrying everything.

    1. We do have a folding cart but I’d still need to carry the bags up three flights of stairs regardless. I will keep that in mind though!

  2. When I was car-less and was on a normal schedule, not a crazy busy or real slow time (it varied when I was in school and still does depending on work) but normally I would go once a week or so, fill up my little rolling cart and that was good for two weeks (sans produce, milk and bread)

    If I was going to be super busy or knew I wouldn’t have time to go grocery shopping for a few weeks, I would load up on stuff and splurge for a cab home. Having the stuff in the house and not having to buy stuff from the convenience store or take out places, quickly made up for the cab ride home.

    In terms of the crazy like 10 for 10 sale stuff. If it was THAT good. I would actually take a specific 2nd trip to the store if it was that good and the weather/time permitted.

    1. Thanks for reminding me about the cab option! Being new to all this public transportation sometimes I forget my options!

  3. I’m also a walker! I also keep myself on budget by only carrying what fits in my arms – or, if I have longer list, in a grocery basket. As soon as I get a cart, the amount gets quite out of control. But it’s impossible to impulse-buy anything when you’re out of hands to carry it in!

    I recommend also the bus, for those days when I need to buy a bag of flour or some kitty litter.

  4. That’s a wonderful idea! I really wouldn’t want to have to actually put this into practice, since I cook a lot from scratch and thus buy a lot of hefty ingredients, but I’m definitely guilty of buying stuff because it’s “on sale.”

    1. I do all my cooking from scratch too and find I just have to do more planning. Either only buying the heavy items one at a time or planning an alternate way of getting home. However, it really does save me from making all those spontaneous purchases!

  5. I made the mistake not thinking about my subway walk home. After the Union Square Greenmarket, I was like “Hey, Whole Foods!” where I proceeded to buy way too many heavy canned goods. Commence subway ride…then a 3 avenue+4 block walk with heavy bags home! I guess my arm muscles got an extra workout and I learned my lesson. ;) Love the other comment suggestions.

  6. When I didnt have a car and had to walk/bike/skateboard to the store, I didnt buy much either, and I typically was able to only capitalize on sale items a few times. Before I moved, I got rid of most of my food, so I also had to build up staples, like flour and sugar.
    What I did was try and get one staple every time I went to the store. It took a while to build up, but eventually I got enough stuff.

  7. I miss when I lived three blocks from the store in Brooklyn. I would shop a few times a week, but only pick up what I absolutely needed. I kept very little on hand unless it was like frozen veggies and actually made food more often than I would eat out. Unlike today when I don’t live in walking distance, have to take the car to go just about anywhere, and now have a bit more stockpiled, but tend to just grab something quick. I always took my reusable grocery bag with me, filled it up as I went through the store, and that way I knew what I could carry and what I couldn’t back to the apartment. It’s a good thing so keep doing it!

    1. Sometimes I put my an item or two in my reusable grocery bag to make sure it will fit but always feel weird doing it as though someone will think I am shoplifting. I assume that was never a problem?

  8. In college I used my backpack for heavier items. It was around 3/4 of a mile walk to the grocery store and having the heavier pantry items in my backpack sucked a lot less than carrying them in a bag. I regularly set off the store alarm with my backpack though. I never stole, but if I had my backpack with me the alarm would sound when I left the store. The cashier invariably waved me through and I never had my bag checked.

  9. If I had to walk to the grocery store and carry the food home, the first change in my life would be kicking my teenagers out of the house. Without the quantities they eat, I could easily walk the mile or so with a week’s groceries. IOW, your suggestions may be well and good in your early-in-life situation, but totally ridiculous in my middle-age world.

    1. This blog is for people without children, however, there are families living in urban areas without cars that survive purchasing groceries for teenagers.

  10. I used to do this, when I was in college long ago. I would carry only what fit in a brown paper bag. One day it broke in the parking lot and a lady took pity on me and gave me a ride home.

    I hated it and I’m glad now that I have a car.

  11. I began this back in february when I moved to a small iowa town without a car. I now go to the local Fareway about twice a week, get maybe four bags at a time. I have a Casey’s gas station/convenience store behind my apartment, so I actually buy milk there. It’s $3.99/gal instead of $3.30/gal at Fareway, but that’s 9 pounds I don’t have to haul 3/4 mile to the grocery store.

    1. Interesting how price can be less important when taking other factors into consideration. If I only need one item (butter to make cookies, etc) I will walk 3 mins to the local market even though it is more expensive than the larger grocery store 15 mins away. My time is definitely worth something.

  12. I love this article. We have a big box grocery thats about 2 miles away and a whole foods thats 3/4 of a mile away. I walk to the whole foods with a backpack, fill up what I know I can carry and walk back.

    The same can not be said for the big box. When I go there I drive, everything appears less expensive, and I also buy more junk food.

    Not only does it save me a little bit of money, its making large gains for my health when I walk to the whole foods.

    1. I love that “everything appears less expensive.” It definitely seems that way when purchase quantity doesn’t matter as much!

  13. I think this would only work for singles or couples without children. If I had to do this with 2 toddlers I’d be in the store every day, sometimes twice a day. Also, if you have small children, how are you supposed to keep them close and safe if you are carrying all of your groceries instead?
    IMO it might work if you don’t have children, but definitely would not work if you do. Even the people I know who don’t have vehicles but do have children take a cab home from the store and use a cart in the store, otherwise it just doesn’t work logistically for them.

  14. I know quite a few people who live in the city and have a small family (2 kids) and mainly shop without a car. They will on occasion venture (with the car) to get larger bulkier items, but mainly they do it via bus and walking.

    When you get used to shopping that way, its easy. :/

  15. This is exactly what I do. I buy only what I can carry with both hands, what fits in the store basket (but in one hand), or what fits in the reusable shopping bag.

    This results in, at the minimum of going outside more often to shop, but only buying what I’m going to use in the next 3 days. It’s usually juice and vegetables that get consumed and replaced in that timeframe while the frozen foods are bought maybe once a month and last that entire time.

  16. My mother had to do this when see was with the Peace Corps in Namibia. Her village had fresh meat (goat) and local vegetables, but for anything else, she had to hitchhike to the next town, 25 miles away. Then she had to carry her purchases until she could catch a ride back. She managed to lose about 50 pounds, and has kept it off ever since.

    Now me, I have five teenagers to feed, so I buy vanloads of food every trip, and it ALL gets eaten.

  17. Another way to easily save money on groceries is to know which store has what you need at the lowest prices. offers free tools that help you make your grocery list and compare prices at the stores in your area. It’s simple and free! (We’re on Facebook and Twitter, too!) Check us out.

  18. We do it this way: we decide in advance what we will eat for dinner, etc and then buy only those ingredients. We cook everything from scratch. No convenience or processed foods. No snacks.

    Going from store to store to get the best prices is a fools errand. You nearly always end up spending more money on gas than what you save on sale prices. Just by what you need and forget the sale prices. Sales are always made up for by increasing the price for a few weeks around the sale. So over time, you end up paying the same amount for necessities.

  19. @ Tara – couples with children shop all the time without a car. My parents did it when my brother and I were small. We had one of those red flyer wagons and my brother would stay home with Dad and Mom and I went to the store. I’d ride to the store in the wagon, Mom would lock the wagon to the bike rack and we would get our stuff. The groceries would go in the wagon on the way home.

  20. This is an excellent urban post! The only thing I would add is that when I lived in Seattle, we had AmazonFresh, here in Chicago, we have Peapod. While there are a ton of physical/financial health perks to carrying the vast majority of your groceries home, these services are worth it to me for buying a bunch of bulky, heavy items once a quarter or so.

    1. That is the most difficult part of living next to a city but not actually in it; Fresh Direct does not provide service out here. Living in the city, I will most likely use the grocery delivery service, really for little reason other than I dislike going to the store. But for now, those services aren’t an option.

  21. I find it strange that you are so adament about your blog not being for folks with children…if you have good ideas for being frugal why wouldn’t you want to share them with everyone? I’m 46 and I have a 16 year old child, but that doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for new ideas on how to save money.

    I have been known to make choices based on carrying them home from the grocery store. I weighed a gallon of milk after carrying it home from a store less than a mile away. I was shocked at how heavy it was.

    1. Good point, I have found this blog today and was interested but the blogger seems quite defensive about who the blog is aimed at.

      Perhaps people with children are a little older and wiser and can offer some good advice based on their experience?

      Just a thought

      1. It came out sounding like it was about kids vs no kids but it more so was about urban living vs. suburban/rural living.

  22. I totally understand where you are coming from! I just moved to Boston a week ago, sans car. I was initially puzzled about how grocery shopping would work but I have found that I am actually saving money by buying only what I can carry. I plan my weekly recipes on Saturday then stock up for the week at the local Farmer’s Market on Sunday.

  23. That’s pretty sad. What a legacy to leave. Used to be (in my grandparents generation) you didn’t have any debt period, except for maybe a mortgage. They didn’t have car loans or anything like that. They saved up and they bought in cash. When the retired, and even after they died, they didn’t have a lot, but one thing they didn’t have is debt. What an awful mess to leave behind by those who are actually accumulating debt not caring what happens after they leave this world.

  24. great ideas and advice on time vs money savings… we tend to forget when your busy your time is an valid thing to Save. you Are being Frugal if you save time on regualr things ifits relitive to how you live and work.
    I did wonder if perhaps when you get more established you could get together with some friends and rent/use a car to buy once everyso often those heavy things? but plan it as first an outing some place nice.. then do a shop on the way back? as for storage.. which seems to be a big issue in the city, what about making some table or bench into a pantry? use the space underneath to stack cans/food in tubs?
    you can also grow your own vegis in pots for on the spot convienece (but this may be hard to get the soil etc).
    thank you for a great place to hash out spacesaving & living ideas.

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