You’ve probably heard the standard money-saving advice: If you want to save money, eat out at restaurants less and cook at home more. But it’s almost as easy to blow your budget at the grocery store as it is when dining out. Stores use some crazy shopping tricks to make you buy more.
You know the drill. You stop in for a gallon of milk and leave with a bottle of wine, a bag of chips, and those delicious-looking chocolate cupcakes from the bakery. Grocery stores invest a lot of money into studying their customers and figuring out ways to get them to spend more.
If you want to reduce your grocery budget, meal planning and shopping with a list are important, but it’s also important to recognize the methods your grocer is using. Many of these tricks are used by your favorite department store as well.
Here are 10 tips for resisting their shopping tricks and spending less at the store so you have more for retirement.
1. Use a smaller shopping cart or even a basket
The size of the shopping cart has grown tremendously since it’s humble beginnings. What started out as a simple basket on wheels has grown tremendously, especially in the last 40 years. Today, the average grocery shopping cart is three times as large as it was in 1975!
That change isn’t all about convenience for the shopper. Marketing research uncovered that when you double the size of a shopping cart, people buy 40 percent more.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, grab a smaller basket. The smaller the basket, the less you can put in it, the less tempted you’ll be to make impulse purchases.
2. Wear headphones
Do you remember what song was playing the last time you were at the grocery store? Probably not, but you can bet your grocer knows what they’re playing and why. A 1982 study looked at the tempo of music played at a grocery store and discovered that fast-paced music caused shoppers to walk more quickly through the store, but slow-tempo music made shoppers slow down, giving them more time to take in the range of items on sale and make impulsive purchases.
Another study looked at the differences when stores play well-known tracks compared to unfamiliar music. Researchers found that people listening to recognizable music spent nearly 8% less time shopping than people who heard unfamiliar music. The type of music matters as well. When classical tunes are played, people spend more on wine and tend to purchase more expensive brands than when top-40 chart music is played.
Bring your headphones to the store and play your favorite pop songs. You just might make it out of the store in record time with a lower bill to boot.
3. Bright stickers don’t always signal a bargain
Shoppers love a bargain and they’ll often look for brightly colored stickers indicating an item is on sale. But be careful – a bright color doesn’t always mean a better deal.
Grocers know that putting a big neon sign next to something will light up people’s brains, even if they’re not getting a great deal.
Making matters worse, many grocers will put out a sign indicating a sale item, but place it next to a different size item that’s not on sale. For instance, if 8 oz. blocks of cheese are on sale, the sign may be placed between the 8 oz. and 16 oz. blocks. Many shoppers will see the sign and grab the 16 oz. block, assuming it’s on sale, only to pay full price at the register.
To avoid getting duped by dubious sales, look at the regular price when you’re shopping, not just the brightly colored sales sticker. Make sure the “deal” is really a good deal, and make sure the product you put in your cart is really the one you think you’re buying.
4. Avoid “free” samples
As you wander through the grocery store, you may be offered samples of wine, cheese, frozen appetizers and hot pizza. The store would love it if you buy the product you taste, but that’s not all they’re after. Writing for Forbes, marketing consultant Roger Dooley says food samples “create a halo effect that makes you feel good about, well, everything!”
He describes research that found when people leaving a supermarket were asked how they felt about their home television set, shoppers who’d received a free food sample felt better about their TV than people who didn’t get a sample. Stores set up free sample kiosks around the store, hoping the burst of positivity you get from the free food will carry over to the other products in the store.
To avoid falling into the free sample trap, eat a snack about an hour before you go. You’ll be better prepared to resist temptation.
5. If you’re feeling nostalgic, be wary
Poet Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or what you did, they will remember how you made them feel.” That’s a sentiment grocery stores bank on every day. Emotional messages are more effective and more memorable than rational messages.
Product packaging has picked up on this trend, using classic prints, patterns, fonts and color schemes to give products a retro look or evoke memories of beloved friends, family members and pets. It’s no accident. Research shows that nostalgia makes people value money less and feel willing to pay more for purchases.
Become aware of this emotion while shopping. Is that brand of butter actually a good deal, or does the packaging just remind you of pancake breakfasts at grandma’s house when you were a kid?
6. Know when a deal is really a deal
Smart shoppers plan their shopping trips around what’s on sale, but that information isn’t always in your store’s circular. Some stores mark an item up before marking it down or advertise items in the weekly circular that aren’t really good deals. It’s easy for shoppers to fall into this trap because it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the prices on the hundreds of items you buy on a regular basis.
Since you probably buy the same handful of items week after week, grab your receipt and start compiling a price list for the products you buy on a regular basis. You can do this on a spreadsheet or with a small notebook. When you see your favorite items on sale, you can consult your price list to determine whether the advertised price is really a good deal. If it is, you can stock up knowing you’re getting the rock bottom price.
7. Go in Prepared and with a Purpose
If you know what you need you are less likely to fall prey to an impulse purchase.
8. Use Cash
Research has found that people are more willing to spend a bit more on a credit card than with cash. Cash also has the extra benefit of being finite. You can carry $50 into the store and know that you only have $50 to spend.
Furthermore, if your bills are crisp and new, you are probably less likely to spend them vs. old crumpled money.
9. Comparison Shop and Use Coupons
Technology really can be your friend. Here are a few online resources you can use to make sure you are getting the best price:
Search for Specific Discounts: If you are planning on buying something at a specific retailer, do a quick internet search for coupon or discount codes for that store. For example, if you are going to buy something at Kmart, search for “Discount codes for Kmart” or “coupons for Kmart.” You will likely find an array of offers that will immediately save you money!
Comparison Shop: Pricegrabber.com is a site that enables you to compare prices for specific items across a variety of retailers.
10. Try the Walk Away
If you are tempted to put something in your cart that you don’t REALLY need, make a mental note of it. When it comes time to go through the check out, ask yourself if you still want the item, if yes then go get it.
If not…. then you’ve just saved yourself a few dollars. Now remember to use that saved money wisely!
Grocery stores aren’t nefarious masterminds out to steal your money. They’re just businesses who want to give customers an excellent overall experience and keep them coming back for more. As long as you’re not blowing your budget on impulse buys at the supermarket, enjoy the free samples, mood music and rewards the stores offer to make you a loyal customer.
But recognize the tactics they use to spend money you weren’t planning on parting with. That’s just being a smart shopper.
Retirement Plan Budgeting:
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