If we’re all being honest with ourselves, a grocery budget often feels more like guidelines than strict rules. When the sliding doors open on that shiny world full of bright produce and guilty-pleasure junk food, our stomachs are more than happy to write checks our wallets can’t cash. All that adrenaline is great, until we leave an hour later with ten bags and no money left to pay the electric bill.
But rest assured, it’s not entirely your fault. Studies have shown that all of us overspend at grocery stores, particularly those most concerned about budgeting. In fact, grocery stores are specifically designed to mess with your head and empty your pockets. Supermarket chains have hired design firms, lighting specialists, and a whole slew of other experts to create an environment that lures you into as many impulse buys as possible.
In an effort to save you some money for Friday happy hour, we’ve come up with a list of ways to avoid the psychological tricks that grocery stores use to make you overspend. They are simple, straightforward, and won’t give you a headache. You also won’t leave the market with five boxes of Oreos. Thank us later.
Scroll down to see the best ways to evade the grocery store psych-out.
Wear headphones while shopping.
According to studies, many supermarkets play music with slow beats, subconsciously slowing you down so that you can buy about 29% more stuff. Instead, throw on your own headphones and try some hip hop or dance tunes to speed up your walk through the aisles. Bonus: You can sing out loud and scare other shoppers into getting out of your way. (Photo: Flickr/Sascha Kohlmann)
Grab a basket, not a cart.
See that giant empty void of a shopping cart? Grocery stores know that you will never need that much food. But if the space is there, your brain will want you to fill it. Instead, grab the smaller size and avoid picking up that third box of crackers. You also won’t want the heavy weight of a packed basket on your arm, and will be more likely to put items that you don’t absolutely need back on the shelf. (Photo: Flickr/Qmnonic)
Eat before shopping.
Yes, this is a tried-and-true saying, but for more reasons than you know. Almost every single part of the grocery store experience is designed to make you hungry—from the bakery at the entrance that sends that fresh bread aroma wafting throughout the store, to the piles of steak that look more red than they actually are under the carefully chosen supermarket light. If you go shopping post-hamburger, it’s all much less likely to seem appealing. (Photo: Flickr/Pswansen)
Turn a blind eye to the ends of aisles.
It’s funny how you came to the grocery store for carrots and now you’re debating a 5-for-$10 sale on Easy Mac. That’s because it’s been placed at the “end cap” of the aisle, for easier viewing. These deals are designed to make you buy stuff you weren’t planning on getting. Instead, focus on the list you prepared ahead of time. (Photo: Flickr/Walmart)
Stick to the left side of the aisle.
Grocery stores know that we’re programmed with a left to right mentality, whether we’re reading or driving. Studies have shown that customers skim the left side of the shelf before deciding on products at the center and right side. Stores place their most expensive items where they are most likely to be purchased. (Photo: Flickr/Shankbone)
Smell your produce.
The best way to buy the perfect bag of apples is not to seek out the shiniest, least bruised-looking fruit. Supermarkets mist their produce frequently throughout the day, giving it a Stepford-style veneer of perfection. The real proof of healthy, ripe produce is in the scent. Pineapples, berries, and other fruits will taste best when you can smell the aromas you associate with them. (Photo: Flickr/Spine)
Check the bottom shelf.
Stores are more likely to put brand-name products on the middle shelves, at eye level. Discount products and store brands are usually hidden away. Market research shows that budget-conscious shoppers are willing to hunt for the best deal, whether it comes in the form of low price or bulk sizes. (Photo: Flickr/Ginnerobot)
Evaluate your needs.
Supermarkets often have “Buy 7 Boxes of Pasta for $12″ deals that make you feel like the King of Extreme Couponing. But in reality, you only need one box. Before jumping into a sale, make sure you’ll use that much food. It sounds obvious, but grocery-store shopping involves a lot of rapid-fire decisions and motives can become muddy. (Photo: Flickr/AnthonyAlbright)
Use self checkout.
Many grocery stores are intentionally understaffed around the register area. Long lines create the opportunity for you to settle in for the wait, grab a few magazines to browse, and look at all the products conveniently placed around the register. By using self checkout, you are eliminating the opportunity to waste money on things you didn’t actually mean to buy. (Photo: Flickr/Youkai)