How to Avoid Sneaky Supermarket Tricks That Will Make You Spend More Money - Savvy

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They say cooking at home is more cost effective than going out to dinner at restaurants, but often I find that I end up spending just as much when shopping for the home as I would when going out. Temptations sit in every aisle of the supermarket just begging for you to blow your budget and take them home. A quick trip to the store for a carton of eggs or a jug of juice can quickly turn into a cartload of unnecessary goodies. As it turns out, there is actually a science behind the layout of supermarkets. The top supermarkets have studied their customers’ behaviors and shopping patterns to learn the best ways to tempt you into overspending. By learning all the sneaky little tricks deployed by the top retailers, we can also learn to avoid them and resist the urge to splurge. Here are 12 tips to help you stay on budget and while doing your weekly grocery shopping.


1. Go in prepared with a plan and a list

It’s never a good idea to do your shipping on a whim. Without a well thought out shopping list, it’s easy to fall prey to temptation. It’s also easy to end up doubling up on items you may already have if you don’t take proper inventory of what you have at home. A shopping list may be the oldest trick in the book, but it’s a classic for a reason. Arming yourself with a detailed list is your first line of defense against overspending. Once you’re in the store, do your best to go straight to the items on your list without stopping to browse other sections. 


2. Go for the smaller shopping cart or basket

Did you know the average shopping cart is now three times bigger than the shopping carts from the 70s? Research has proven that larger carts lead to larger purchases, and you can be sure that’s exactly what the supermarkets are betting on. It’s a natural human impulse to fill the space in those giant carts. And it makes sense, just think about the last time you went on vacation with a larger suitcase than necessary, somehow we always manage to fill them! This is why it’s always a good idea to use the smallest cart or basket possible when shopping. I always opt for the basket when I can, and if you’re only going in for one or two items, skip the basket altogether and carry things yourself. You’ll be much less inclined to impulse buy if there’s no room left in your cart or if you have to carry heavy items rather than push them.


3. Resist those free samples

The reasoning behind free samples in stores may seem straightforward enough – give customers a taste of something they might like and hopefully that will lead to them purchasing that item – but there is actually a dose of tricky psychology in all those little bite-size nibbles of cheese and little sips of wine. According to a marketing consultant who writes for Forbes, free food samples create a halo effect, boosting your mood and making you feel good about things.

Stores set up free sample booths throughout in the hopes that they will not only entice you to buy whatever you’re sampling, but that the little boost of positivity you get from the free snacks will manifest into your shopping experience, making you feel good about grabbing those few extra items you don’t really need.

Having a snack before heading out to the store can help you resist the urge to sample.


4. Don’t shop on an empty stomach

Speaking of snacking before heading to the store, it helps with more than just resisting free samples. We’ve all heard that shopping on an empty stomach is a bad idea. When you’re hungry you’re much more likely to reach for unnecessary and unhealthy items in the grocery store. But new research has also discovered that not only is it a bad idea to go to the supermarket when hungry, it’s actually a bad idea to do any shopping while hungry! Hunger can actually increase your urge to buy things on impulse, even non-food related items. So anytime you’re planning on shopping, make sure you’ve at least had a small snack first.


5. Don’t fall for the bright sticker trick

Our brains have been conditioned to associate neon colored price tags with sale items or savings. Very often, bright sales stickers do indicate clearance or sale items, but not always. Never assume you’re getting a good deal just based on sticker color alone. Be sure to read the tag carefully and check for the regular price tag to see if there’s really a difference. Sometimes stores will just use the brightly colored tags for regular prices to try to trick your brain into thinking it’s a deal!
Another trick you might encounter is a sale sign placed between two similar items, be sure to read all sale signs carefully. Perhaps the half gallons of milk are on sale, but the sign is placed right between the half gallons and full gallons. You may think you’re getting a great deal on a full gallon only to discover at the checkout counter or at home later when looking at the receipt that you’ve actually paid full price. 
So always double check and make sure you’re really getting the deal you think you’re getting before putting an item in your cart.


6. Check that those sale items are really a deal

Speaking of dubious sale tricks, bright colored stickers and sneakily placed sale signs aren’t the only tricks to be wary of. Many times, items that do appear to be marked way down may not be as good of a deal as you think they are. Even extra smart shoppers who know to shop the sales cycles or keep an eye on the store's circulars should be wary.

It’s a common practice to mark items up right before a sale, making shoppers think they are getting a great deal when in reality they’re paying the same price the item was before the markup.

This can be a tricky one to avoid since it’s not always easy to keep track of the prices on dozens of different items. We recommend hanging on to past receipts and trying to keep an eye out on the prices for the items you buy the most frequently, making a mental note of any changes you may see. If you notice prices go up, keep an eye out for those same items going on “sale” shortly after. 
Once you have a solid idea of the regular prices, you’ll know when a real opportunity to save comes up and be able to stock up accordingly!


7. Check out the competitions and hunt for coupons

Another way to keep tabs on what prices should be is to comparison shop at other similar stores in your area. Knowing what other stores charge for similar items will give you a good idea of what things should cost normally, making it easier to spot a great deal.

You can also use modern technology to your advantage by hunting for coupons online. The internet is a great resource for saving with dozens of coupon finding sites and apps available. is my personal favorite place to find reliable coupons. Just head over to the site and search for a particular store or brand and see what pops up. You can find a full list of brands and stores they’ve partnered with here, and that list is growing every day.


8. Shop online

If you don’t trust yourself to avoid temptation, try shopping online! Many stores have online shopping options now, with many grocers even offering free delivery! Many services even allow you to subscribe to receive certain items automatically once or twice a month, usually with big savings attached. This can be a great way to stock up on your household staples and avoid the call of junk food and impulse purchases at the store.


9. Bring some tunes with you when you shop

Did you know that science and market research even extend to the music stores decide to play? What may seem like harmless background noise adding a little ambiance to your shopping experience is actually another trick stores are using to make you spend more.

It has been found that different types of music have different effects on shopping patterns. Music with a slower tempo has been found to slow shoppers down, causing them to take more time walking through the aisles. The more time you spend in the store, the more likely you are to be tempted to buy items you really don’t need. 
The type of music also impacts spending. Unfamiliar music has been shown to make shoppers spend up to 8% more than when pop music is playing and classical music makes buyers more likely to spend on more expensive brands or higher ticket items.

So, how do you avoid the subliminal messages hidden in a store’s soundtrack? Bring some headphones and listen to your favorite upbeat or faster tempo tunes. You just may find your shopping experience to become not only more efficient but also cheaper and more enjoyable.


10. Don’t let your nostalgia drive your shopping cart

Nostalgia is a strong emotion with the keen ability to throw your sensible shopping habits out the window. Advertising agencies and brand packaging designers are well aware of this. Classic prints, patterns, and fonts are being increasingly used to give products a “retro” look, hoping to latch on to some of your fond memories of yesteryear. Packaging depicting scenes that remind you of beloved memories with family, friends, and pets are also common. Attaching these emotions to products make us more inclined to spend more as we attach some of the same value we place in our memories to the product itself, making the higher price sticker seem worth it. If you’re the type who’s prone to nostalgia, try to check it at the door before doing your shopping.


11. Use the walk-away method

When tempted to buy something that isn’t on your shopping list, make a mental note of it rather than placing it in your cart. Finish the shopping on your list, and if you’re still thinking about that item when the rest of your shopping is done then you can allow yourself to go back for it. Oftentimes, you’ll forget about it entirely by the time your shopping is done if it’s not something you actually need.


12. Pay in cash

It has been proven that shoppers are more likely to spend more when paying with a credit or debit card versus cash. Go in with a set budget in cash and you’re much more likely to stick with it. Furthermore, research has shown that you are more likely to be frugal with crisp new bills than old crumpled money. Our brains trick us into thinking that brand new bills are somehow more valuable than older beat-up ones.



Now that you know many of the tricks used by stores, you’re armed and ready to tackle your weekly shopping with a purpose and a plan. With how often we shop for groceries, shaving a bit off the bill each week can add up quickly. Perhaps you can set that money aside for that vacation you’ve been dreaming about, or that kitchen remodel that’s been in the back of your mind for a while. And be sure to check out our other savings guides to help you get more bang for your buck outside of the supermarket!