How to play the ‘supermarket game’

Like to save money at the supermarket? Here are some common ‘tricks of the trade’, and the strategies to keep control of your spending.

When money is tight or you’re saving for your family’s future, every dollar counts and that includes grocery spending. But as we know all too well, supermarkets have a way of easing you into staying longer and buying more (it’s their ‘job’, after all).

By having a plan and learning a bit of supermarket psychology, saving money may get a lot easier over time. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Learn the ‘tricks of the trade’

According to Consumer NZ, supermarkets employ a vast array of techniques, some obvious and some more subtle. These usually include:

  • Placing frequently bought items like bread and milk at the back (so shoppers must walk through the store to get them).
  • Using promotional flags on products that have been at the same price for a while.
  • Promoting multi-buy discounts that encourage you to buy more than you intended.
  • Positioning budget products on the lower shelves, and more premium items at eye level (where they’re ready to grab and go).

With all this said, experts say there are ways to counter each of their ‘tricks’ and leave the supermarket with exactly what you need.

Make a list (and stick to it)

A great way to avoid impulse buying is to come prepared. Set a budget, plan out what you’ll be eating for the week ahead, and make a shopping list. Sticking to it will help you stay on course.

Eat before shopping

If possible, avoid going grocery-shopping when you’re hungry. A 2011 study (reported by Psychology Today) found that when people are hungry, tired or stressed, they are willing to pay more for food than anything else. If you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you may end up with a few unplanned extras in the trolley.

Know the supermarket layout

In his book Why we buy: The Science of Shopping, consumer expert Paco Underhill estimates that “two-thirds of what we buy in the supermarket we had no intention of buying.” And that’s why knowing your grocery store’s layout is key to saving time and avoiding the numerous ‘booby traps’ that are hidden everywhere.

Keep an eye on prices and sizes

If you have time, keep an eye on ‘special price’ trends. You may realise that the discount isn’t as large as you expected. Plus, use unit pricing to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth if you’re buying bigger packs.

Avoid supermarket veggies

You may save time by purchasing everything from the same store, but vegetables can be quite expensive at the supermarket. Green grocers usually have more affordable and fresher produce on their shelves.

Stock up and freeze

Seasonal food is often cheaper, and you can bulk buy, freeze and eat it later. During summer, for example, markets have a surplus of vegetables to sell for less; by stocking up and freezing, you can make those goodies last for months.

Use a calculator

You shouldn’t be afraid of putting something back at the checkout, if the final amount is over budget. But if you want to play safer, why not use your smartphone calculator while you shop? Keeping a running total may also encourage you to spend a few more seconds thinking about each item, before putting it in the trolley.

Shop online

According to Bodo Lang, head of marketing at the University of Auckland’s Business School, online shopping isn’t entirely free from eye-catching distractions. However, the temptation shouldn’t be as strong. Plus, by getting a real-time tally of your spending, you can easily remove items on-the-go to meet your budget. Even factoring in delivery costs or click’n’collect, this option may still save you money.

Disclaimer: Please note that the content provided in this article is intended as an overview and as general information only. While care is taken to ensure accuracy and reliability, the information provided is subject to continuous change and may not reflect current development or address your situation. Before making any decisions based on the information provided in this article, please use your discretion and seek independent guidance.

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