Your Wallet and Waistline vs. Grocery Stores and Marketers

How to come out of a grocery store with exactly what's on your shopping list, and not a candy bar more.

Be not intimidated. There is a way to do this without buying everything. (Photo by Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Thinkstock.)

We’ve all been there — standing in line at the grocery store, surveying our goods and wondering how we ended up with a basket full of food that doesn’t come close to constituting a meal. If you’re nodding to yourself as you read this, you are not alone! Nine out of 10 shoppers buy items that are off the list, according to a recent study.

Even the most well-intentioned shopper can fall victim to impulse purchases and who can blame them? Product placement, coupons, sales, and promotions are big business with a common goal: your money. Let’s take the typical supermarket, for example: walk the chip aisle and you’re sure to find salsa conveniently located by the tortilla chips. Colorful kids’ cereals are usually on the lower shelf — eye-level for children and often across from rows of candy. There are some good pairings though, like the bananas also in the cereal aisle. No matter the combination, all is done in an effort to drive sales. But not to worry, entering the grocery well-armed will help you prepare and resist even the most well-designed temptations.

  1. Shop on a full stomach. I know from personal experience that grocery shopping while hungry means spending twice as much as necessary. When you’re starving, entering a supermarket full of temptations (hello bakery!) and aisles of ready-to-eat packaged foods is nothing short of walking through a calorie minefield. Fuel up before shopping and avoid impulse purchases based solely on hunger.
  2. Search for coupons AFTER you make your list. Coupons have a way of making you think you need the food or item when it would otherwise never make it on your list. For example, is the two-for-one soft drinks really a necessity? Make your list first, and then peruse the coupon catalogs for deals matching what’s on the list — not the other way around.
  3. Shop alone (if possible). Growing up, I never understood why my mother used to love to go to the grocery store alone, until I finally realized how much more she spent when I was with her! I would ask for a lot of kid-friendly, but unhealthy food. Kids add more to the basket and more to the bill. If you can shop alone, take advantage. If not, have a plan for your response when the brightly colored box of sugar-sweetened cereal mysteriously makes its way into your cart.
  4. Shop the perimeter. Some of the best advice for navigating the grocery store is to avoid the aisles. The perimeter is where you find whole foods like fruit, veggies, dairy, and lean meats. After that, find the select few aisles with staples like grains or frozen fruits and vegetables, but avoid the rest.
  5. Only looking for a few staples? Grocery stores are designed with the staple items in the back of the store requiring you to walk past all the foods you don’t need. While you can’t change where the milk and bread are shelved, you can have a plan of attack. Walk the perimeter to the items or choose an aisle without food temptations such as the kitchen supply aisle instead of the cookie aisle.
  6. Look high and low. Sometimes it’s the foods on the high and low shelves that are the cheapest and the best for you. So keep your eyes open!
  7. Grab a magazine to read in the checkout, not a candy bar. Thumbing through a magazine while waiting in line will keep your mind off the candy so you can safely travel through the checkout without an impulse buy. Not interested in gossip magazines? Bring a book and if you still find yourself tempted by candy bars and sweet treats, try munching on a healthy snack or chewing gum as you pass the time.