Food Money Saving Tips

How to Avoid Supermarket Traps & Save Money in the Process

How to Avoid Supermarket Traps & Save Money in the Process
Written by Irina Vasilescu

According to the Department of Agriculture, a family of four spends anywhere from $600 to $1,000 on monthly grocery bills. This adds up to a significant portion of your salary, especially if you frequently give in to the kids’ requests of adding junk food, chips, microwavable pizza and carton juices or six pack sodas to your shopping cart.

Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving in to cravings when doing your grocery shopping, the costs do eventually add up. If you’re living on a tight budget, there are ways for you to cut back on your grocery bills.

For instance, you can make a list and stick to it so that you can resist the temptation to buy one item after another – and worse, end up not buying everything that you need for the house.

You should also go grocery shopping when you’re not hungry. Those hunger pangs will make you reach for the quick snacks, candies and pastries that you see on the grocery aisles, thereby increasing your total bill. It also pays to buy supplies in bulk so that you can save money on the per-unit price.

You should also learn which supermarket traps to avoid in order to save money. Did you know the end-caps or those eye-catching displays at the end of supermarket aisles are actually designed to woo you towards buying brand names?

Let’s say that you already have a couple of cans of mushroom soup in your cart. When you venture towards the end aisle, you will see attractively displayed cans of mushroom soup which is more expensive. 

Your tendency as a buyer is to exchange what you already have in your cart with what’s displayed on the end aisle even if they are more expensive. That’s just one of the many subtle tricks used by supermarket owners to make you spend more money.

Top Tips for Avoiding Supermarket Traps to Save Money

So what’s your goal when going grocery shopping? If you are buying mostly food and household maintenance supplies, your goal should be to purchase everything that you need for an entire week – if that is what you are shopping for.

As mentioned earlier, it does pay to have a list of the items that you need to buy and have a heavy meal prior to grocery shopping. When you stick to your list and when you’re full from the meal you’ve just eaten, you can resist the temptation to reach out for those ready-to-eat packages which will add up to your bill.

Next, here are the most common supermarket traps that you need to avoid so that you can save money while going grocery shopping:

Know which items to avoid at the store’s entrance

Do you have your list ready? Let’s start with the items that you can see at the store’s entrance. Once you step foot inside a supermarket or grocery store, the first thing that you will see is the ‘chill zone’. This is where awesome product displays are mounted and huge ‘Sale’ signs are usually posted.

If you’d like to check out a couple of DVDs on sale, don’t hesitate to do so. Take your time in browsing through the items because this will make you resist the temptation to impulse buy at the end of your shopping trip.

The entrance may also be designed with fresh flowers, aromatic coffee, baked goods wrapped in colorful packages, and other once-in-a-lifetime offers or specials. Actually, it’s entirely up to you to decide whether you should linger in this section or totally avoid it.

If you’re an impulse buyer, you may want to spend a few minutes browsing through the items on sale so that you can avoid the temptation to buy items you don’t need later on.

If you’re the type who cannot seem to resist a sale and you’re on a pretty tight budget, you can avoid this section like the plague and proceed to crossing out items from your list.

Browse through the items on the outer loop

Next, stick to the items at the outer loop. If you have a list, you can usually cross out several items because this is where all the necessities are displayed: milk, bread, veggies, meat and other food essentials.

Don’t think that you need to fill up that humongous cart!

Why do you think most superstores have humongous shopping carts which you can fit your child in? These are designed to make buyers think that they have to fill the cart up. When you have lots of empty space remaining on your shopping cart, you might think that you have not yet completed your list or that you do not yet have everything you need.

To get rid of that bugging need to fill up the entire shopping cart, head over to the staples section so that you can buy all the things that you need first. If you have some extra money left to buy impulse items, you should still be quite selective about it.

When buying in bulk, always compare the unit price

The unwritten rule for buyers is that the bigger the item, the more you will save. This is not always the case. There are 1-liter containers of lotion which may cost more than the ones in smaller containers, but for other staples, bigger is not always better. Always compare the unit price of a big and small container – then decide which one will give you the best value for your money.

Don’t purchase products on your eye level

Another trick that supermarkets use to lure you into buying more expensive products is displaying the branded ones on eye level. The shelves positioned directly with your line of sight are stocked with pricier brands. To make sure that you are not spending any more than you have to, check out the competing brands at the lower and upper shelves.

Avoid the attractive displays at the end of the supermarket aisles

Also called endcaps, the end of supermarket aisles are designed with eye-catching product displays. Again, their goal is to lure you with brand names instead of buying a cheaper item. The more time that you spend looking at a product, the more likely you are to buy it – so avoid this section of the supermarket as much as you can.

Buy your fruits and veggies at the end

When certain fruits are in season, they will be displayed in perfect pyramids or unique shapes at supermarket aisles. You may want to put off your fruits and veggies shopping in the end so that they will not be squished.

Also, you don’t have to buy any more than what your family actually needs for a week. It is very common for buyers to spend more than what they intended on fruits and veggies, especially ones which are put up on attractive displays.

Turn “Buyer, beware” into your personal shopping motto

Any special display, whether for seasonal promos or mountains of product cases magically appearing on the floor – the only purpose of these is to lure you into buying. Even if the item is indicated as being on sale, always check on the original price or the price of the competing brand. If you will only save less than a dollar for an item that you would not buy otherwise, are you really saving money?

When paying, always make sure that the cashier is doing it right

Once the cashier is already ringing up your purchases, pay close attention. The cashier is only human, and the scanner works on scanning hundreds or even thousands of items on a daily basis – an error can easily be committed.

While you’re doing your shopping, you will most likely have an idea about the total amount of your purchases. If the resulting amount is too much than what you expected, check if there are any errors. An item may have been scanned twice, or a sticker price might be incorrect.

In a Consumer Reports survey, it shows that 6% of respondents were actually overcharged at the cash register, so it doesn’t hurt to check.

Other supermarket traps to avoid to help you save money

If all you need from the supermarket is a carton of milk and a box of eggs, simply run through the back of the store, get what you need and head out. By putting blinders on, you can resist the temptation to buy stuff that you do not actually need. Also, be wary of deals which are too good to be true.

Always check on the original price and if you’re only saving a few cents for an item that you don’t usually buy in the first place, the savings is not worth it at all. Watch out for items which are complementary – they are usually displayed right next to each other. If you only need coffee, don’t be distracted by the box of chocolate biscuits displayed right next to it.

By avoiding these supermarket traps, sticking to your list and practicing a bit of self-discipline when doing your shopping, you can cut back on your grocery bills.

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.

10 Comments

  • I feel like I just went through “Grocery Shopping 101.” I am definitely the person who gets easily suckered into a “sale” and if my husband isn’t shopping with me, I always go over my budget. Those shopping carts make me feel so accomplished when I fill them up with unnecessary items! Forget it if I shop on an empty stomach or am “hormonal”… I’m so ashamed to say that! These tips make so much sense!

    The fruits and veggies part really stuck out to me. We don’t eat nearly as much as we should in our home and when we do, it’s almost like I say to myself, “We are going to buy all the fruits and vegetables that we can because then we’ll actually eat them.” They can be really expensive and what’s worse is sometimes I buy things with the intention of incorporating them into our diet and forget that they’re there. You are so right – we do buy what we don’t need and it can cost us so much! On the bright side, this Summer, I was on a smoothie kick. We bought our fresh berries on sale and froze them in baggies with spinach to make our smoothies and got our nutrition that way and they lasted a long time. I have no idea on how to know what fruits and veggies are well priced during different seasons – any thoughts? What do you think about frozen fruits and veggies, are they nutritious enough that they could be worth the investment?

  • I was a cashier at a grocery store for 3 years and these are all valid tips. I would stress that customers need to PAY ATTENTION to their transaction. I don’t know how many times I would get to the end and the customer couldn’t believe that their bill was $XXX.XX. Usually they didn’t bother looking at the sales ad (and bought items for the previous weeks sales), or they didn’t follow the specifications for the sales.

    BOGO means two things. BOGO = Buy One Get One Free. If you only buy one of the items you will pay half-price. It doesn’t mean you get the item free if you only buy one. This was a valid question that I dealt with all the time.

    I would also stress that end-caps are NOT always a good deal. Sometimes the items will be on there to simply entice people, not because they are a sale item. Always figure out the unit price before you buy.

    • Ah, someone with real life experience of this stuff from the other end of the spectrum! 😀

      I read your post and will try to remember it all for the next time I grocery shop.
      Thank you for this insight, appreciated! 🙂

  • Great tips! My version of trying to save money is shopping with a strict list. Other than that, I also try inner store type items and impulse items at the entrance, as you advised. It’s so easy to over spend at the grocery store. Another tip I try is to not go when I’m hungry.

    • This is a realistic idea I try not to overspend on my budget, so using coupons is my favorite
      option on grocery shopping and choosing the items that can used to benefit my budget.That
      will help me save a lot of my money.

  • This is quite informative. There are many circumstances that push our hand to spend more money, especially the supermarkets too. Like you would look in the flyer or be in the store and swear they are offering a great bargain but once you check into it further, either they had a way better price for the items in the recent past or other stores have a better deal. But yeah, you just have to spend carefully and know what is needed more urgently and what could be purchased another time.

  • I’m usually pretty good at not getting sucked into the end cap displays and those kind of things because I am such a unit price checkers, but I definitely have some issues when it comes to resisting treats I don’t need because they look good. I really need to make better shopping plans so I don’t buy those things, especially ones I could make myself if I wanted it that badly.

  • The article is extremely helpful. Even though I’m aware of the trap, I often fall for the on sale gimmick. It’s hard to pass up sometimes, and I really need to work on it. Another noteworthy aspect in the article was when it stated that the more time you spend looking at a product the more likely you are to buy it. I notice when I’m tempted to buy something, and I cut time debating whether I should short then I don’t think about it later. The quicker I let go of it the better. I’ll admit, oftentimes I have placed a product in my cart only to return it back to its place on the shelf a few minutes later. Its a little embarrassing for me, but at least I save some money! Also, the tip on keeping note of the top and bottom shelves is very interesting. It makes sense too. On my next grocery shopping trip I am going to check its validity.

  • Great tips all around. Caveat Emptor really is a personal favorite motto of mine. I’m really cautious about what I buy to the point of patronizing only the stores that I trust and frequent. I usually start my shopping on the side aisles first then work my way inward. I also always dig around on the counters to look for better priced labels with later expiration dates.

  • These are great tips for saving money at the grocery store. One thing I have learned also, is to skip the special displays and end caps not only because they are usually the more expensive brand names, but that items in those locations are sometimes priced higher than the same exact product found in the usual spot in the store. I’ve tested this out, and found it to be true, using the in store scanners, and I consider this extremely deceptive.

    I have noticed what you mentioned about the unit prices. I buy a lot of dry cat food, because I feed strays, in addition to my own cats, and sometimes it’s cheaper to buy two 16 pound bags than one 30 pound bag, which is crazy, since it involves less work and less packaging for one container.

    One other thing I’ve recently found is that many convenience stores have the best prices on a few products such as milk and eggs, so if those are all you need, sometimes it’s best to pop into the gas station/convenience store, and save time as well as money.

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