Beat these supermarket tricks to cut grocery costs

Janice Holland's picture

Supermarkets are strategically designed to entice shoppers to spend more than originally planned, thereby adversely affecting family budgets. Learn their tricks to remain on target on your future grocery outings.

When entering any supermarket, shoppers are met with either the fragrance of flowers, fresh produce or baked goods. Phil Lempert, editor of says, “The colors and scents put us in a better mood.”

Unless your trip is specifically for flowers or fresh baked goods, remind yourself that the store wants you to feel good so you will buy more. Emotions are fleeting – don’t fall for this trick.

Have you noticed how shopping carts have been supersized, including some flatbed styles? Instead of automatically grabbing the large cart, pick up either a hand basket or mini-cart if you are there for only a few things. Otherwise, items you do not plan to buy will somehow find a spot in all that extra space.

As a rule, the essentials (canned and boxed goods) are in the center of the store. Head there first. Not only is it an unexciting section, it will also help fill your basket with the items you came for.

Supermarkets put those other essentials (milk, butter, eggs) at the back of the store, after you have passed many tempting treats. Russ Winer, a professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business suggests that shoppers allow themselves a little slack by allowing themselves a few impulse buys. Phil Lempert adds a caveat to that idea: add three lines to the end of your grocery list for spur-of-the-moment buys. Be sure to add each item as you place it in your cart so you stay within your three allowances.

The highly sugared, most expensive cereal is shelved at your child’s eye level, not yours. Take time to look at the top shelves and lean down to find the no-name or sugar-free cereals. Not only are these choices just as good, they are less expensive.

Have you noticed an increase in sampling stations at your favorite market? Winer notes, “Manufacturers spend lots of money on that. They think if they can get you to taste it you will buy it.” They are right.

Whenever possible, shop on a full stomach. Also, unless you have extraordinary willpower, do not partake of any of the samples. You will be less likely to buy something you normally wouldn’t if you just go past those sample stations.

Many times items at the end of the aisles are the sale items for the week. Shoppers get so accustomed to that they begin to assume that is always true. Not all aisle-enders are bargains. Take the time to look for a sale sign. If there is none, the price is likely the same as any other day.

Beware that “fresh fish, fruits and vegetables”, no matter how alluring the arrangements are, have been frozen prior to arriving in the produce department. Fish are cleaned and frozen on board ship before being shipped to retailers. Fruit and vegetables have to be frozen to be shipped, also. What you are seeing is product that has been thawed.

Buy bags of frozen fillet of tilapia, salmon or flounder in the frozen-food aisles and thaw them yourself. Not only will you save about 40% on the cost, the quality will be better because the fish will only be thawed once. Note that when produce is out-of-season, frozen tends to be less expensive than imported (fresh).

Now that you are ready to check out, remind yourself you can only pick up any of those enticing items there (magazine, candy, soda) if it is on your original list or if you have not filled in the three blanks noted above.

Last, beware of the coupon trap. Just because you have a coupon for something does not mean you have to buy it. While coupons can significantly reduce grocery costs, if used wisely, don’t allow them to entice you to buy products in larger sizes than you need or items you would not ordinarily purchase.

Map out your next supermarket trip and enjoy your savings.