Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

So you’re going shopping.  You’ve worked out a food budget, made a meal plan and wrote up a shopping list.  You confidently go through the store, pick out the items you need and proceed to the checkout.

As the cashier rings up your order, you become increasingly horrified as you watch the total go up and up…and up.  Sure, you picked up an extra thing or two.  Those cookies were on sale (a bargain, really).  The canned anchovies were a threefer…so you got 3.  Ok, six.  Because you’re sure you can come up with a great way to use them.  They don’t go bad, right?  And that cake on the clearance rack was too good of a deal to pass up.  Someone will eat it.

You leave the store wondering what went wrong.  Where did you lose control?  How could this possibly have happened?

Don’t beat yourself up.  It’s not your fault.  You’ve just been marketeered. 

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

Supermarket Tricks of the Trade

It’s a fact.  Supermarkets literally pay people to figure out how to get you to buy things you don’t need and never intended to purchase using money that should have gone towards the light bill.  Just like any other business, they are out to make as much profit as they possibly can.

Sound devious?  Sure, but here’s the problem.  You still have to shop there.  You’re gonna need to eat. The only way to avoid the pitfalls is to learn how to spot these supermarket tricks of the trade so you can steer clear.

The More You Know

The More You Know

Celebrity endorsements. Food manufacturers will often court celebrities to endorse a certain product with the hope that, if you like that person, you’ll buy the product  Sometimes the celebrity simply endorses it, or sometimes it’s a line of products with their name on it  The one thing you need to remember is this:  Most endorsements are simply a way for celebrities to make a quick buck.  It doesn’t mean that they use those products and it’s more likely that they don’t.

Background music.  Music affects what or how much consumers buy.  Slower and nostalgic music is relaxing and tends to make people linger longer in the grocery store.  And the longer you linger, the more you buy.

Clearance Tags. The definition of clearance sale is, “A sale of goods at reduced prices to get rid of superfluous stock or because the shop is closing down” so check the actual discount before you fill up your basket.  You may be surprised to find the “clearance price” is often a very small percentage off the regular price.

10 for $10.  As luck would have it, these are usually shelf-stable products with a long life like canned tomatoes or tuna so why not save some $$$ and get 10, right?  But how much are you really saving? Often not much.  Sometimes nothing at all.  Take a minute and see how much they cost at full price.

Samples.  That tiny sample is not going to fill you up…instead, it’s going to trigger your hunger response and actually make you buy more.  It’s the store’s way of making sure you go shopping while you’re hungry.

The Smell of Bread Baking.  For the same reasons as above.

All Staples to the Back, Please.  Notice that the last time you dashed into the store for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, you felt like you’d run a marathon by the time you got to the register?  Staples are routinely scattered about in the far corners of your favorite market.  That’s so you can walk by and be tempted by all those things you don’t need to get to the few things you do.

And those lines!! When was the last time you left a store because the line was too long?  Probably never.  Stores walk a fine line between losing a customer and having you wait long enough to be tempted by all the impulse items they have laid out for you.  Magazines, gum, candy bars, tables full of cookies and cakes.  The longer you have to look at it, the more likely you are to buy it.

Limit 3 Per Customer.  This has taken on more meaning during the Pandemic but it’s a tool that’s been used for a long time.  When you’re limited, it automatically makes you want more.  And if it does sell out?  You’re more likely to come back later to get the item you missed.  Oh, and you’re also likely to buy more groceries on that trip too.

BOGO.  If this was on your list, by all means, take advantage.  But “Buy One, Get One” is intended to be a hook to get you to purchase something you hadn’t intended to buy and probably don’t need.

Buy One, Get One Half Off.  BOGOs less popular cousin is still a downfall for many.  Again, if you were going to buy two anyway, go for it but if not, steer clear.  Keep in mind that it’s only a 25% discount.  If that item was $4 then the second is $2, which means that you only saved $2.  This also means you just spent $2 (or $6) more than you intended to.

Shopping carts at the Entrance.  And those carts get larger all the time so it‘s easy to throw that extra thing in.  And then another.  Before you know it you have to leave because you can’t fit anything else in there without crushing your eggs.  Next time you only need a thing or two, just grab a basket.  Better yet, leave the basket and then you’ll be limited by how much you can carry in your hands.

There’s a Reason That Stores Keep Getting Bigger.  Yes, they can carry more items but it’s also because people don’t like to be crowded.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We’re more relaxed and will stay longer if we feel that we are being given enough personal space.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Whatever time of year that is for you, it’s a period when people are in a good mood, often have time off and are looking forward to spending time with family and friends. Your favorite supermarket is here to help you celebrate with seasonally themed foods, decorations and music in an effort to encourage you to overspend.

Eat Well and Spend Less

Eat Well and Spend Less

These are just a few of the supermarket tricks of the trade that entice you to spend more than you wanted to.  I hope it helps the next time you have to shop. Remember,  the more you know, the easier it is to eat well and spend less.  And if you do have buyer regret once you get home?  Just return the items for a credit or refund.   After all, the store is the one who fooled you into buying it in the first place.

What about you?  Has this opened your eyes to any strategies that have caused you to buy something you hadn’t intended to buy?  Let me know in the comments below!

All my best,


Shopping for one person – 12 of Your Questions Answered

Shopping for one person. It should be easy, right? Then why is it so hard? Let’s get to the bottom of it with answers to 12 grocery shopping questions!

Shopping for one person
Shopping for one person

Shopping for one person may seem easy in theory. After all, it’s just you, right? And you know what you like, right? Right?

Then why does it seem so hard once you get behind the wheel of that shopping cart?

You know like chicken but the choices seem overwhelming. Whole chicken? Half? Wing, thigh, breast, ground, bone in, bone out? With rice or potatoes, stuffed, in a salad, on a sandwich? Hot? Cold? Gravy? No? Do you even have the stuff at home to make any of these dishes?

Relax for a few minutes while I do my best to get 12 most common of
your questions answered.

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?
How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

What is a basic grocery list?

This is what I would consider to be a basic list of thing you will want in your kitchen:

  • Meat, poultry, seafood and tofu
  • Grains such as pasta, oatmeal, flour
  • Cooking oils and butter
  • Dairy such as milk, yogurt and cheese or nut based alternatives
  • Garlic
  • Fresh and/or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned tomatoes and/or sauce (no preservatives added)
  • Dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken or vegetable stock/cubes (no preservatives added)
  • Honey
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Sugar

Exactly what you decide to get is up to you but use this as a general guideline. Buy only those things you like to eat and know how to use/prepare (unless you’re trying a new recipe, which I encourage wholeheartedly).

Condiments and spices can be expensive to buy all at once so I suggest that you buy them as you go along. In other words, only buy the condiments and spices you will need for this weeks (or months) meal plan. Eventually, you will find that you have a supply of everything you need!

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?
How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Will I Know What To Buy?

Make a list. The easiest way to make sure you have a complete list when you hit the market is to make a meal plan for the period for which you’re shopping and list everything you’ll need for that plan (that you don’t already have).

Keep it running. Keep the list on your fridge (or your phone) and immediately add to it when you notice you’re low on something.

Check your budget. If it looks like you’re shopping is going to cost more than you had allotted, go back through your list to decide what you can put off until the next trip.

Organize your shopping list. Set up your list in the order you’ll be walking the store. Clump all your produce together, for example, and your meats. When you get to the aisle section of the store, try to group things together that would be in the same section such as condiments, spices, baking supplies, etc.

For more information on this subject, check out my article, “Shopping For One Person”.

How Often Should I Grocery Shop?

This is a completely personal choice and varies wildly. Much of it depends on a person’s access to a grocery store and how much he/she enjoys or can afford to shop. I have a friend who shops for her food daily (“How would I know what I want to eat tomorrow?”), while another views her bi-weekly curbside pickup as a blessing (because she never has to step foot in a grocery store ever again). Some will shop monthly due to fixed income schedules. The average person goes to the grocery store 1-2 times per week, which is how my schedule looks, but this decision is totally up to you.

When Is The Best Time To Go Food Shopping?

Early mornings before 9:00 am or evenings after 7:00 pm are typically the times that stores are the least crowded. The busiest time of day 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm due to school release and people getting out of work

How do I grocery shop on a budget?

How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?
How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?

 How much does food cost per month for one person?

The USDA publishes a monthly food plan which indicates that it costs between $165 and $345 a month to purchase a healthy variety of food for one person.

How much does the average person spend on groceries?

The amount varies wildly depending on gender, income, expenses, household size and the ratio of home cooking to pre-made, take out and restaurant dining. It’s important to have a food budget that coincides with your income and expenses.

How Do I Budget For Groceries?

In general, most people spend an average of 6% of their income on groceries and another 5% on pre-made, takeout or dining out. You can use this as a general guideline to see where you stack up against “the norm” but the amount you budget should reflect your eating habits as well as your ability to cover your other expenses.

If you’re concerned that you spend too much on groceries, try keeping your receipts for a month or two to track what you purchase, where and when. Are you spending too much money on items that could be scaled back? Are you making poor choices on certain days or times (for example after a long day at work?) Are you paying extra by buying single items at the convenience store each morning when those might be less expensive if bought ahead at the supermarket in larger packages?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?
What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

Food pantries are a fabulous resource, whether you use them on a regular basis or just for those “lean times” caused by things like unexpected car repairs or reduced work hours. In many instances, it’s not necessary to prove income or need. Click here to find a list of food pantries in your area.

How Do I Eat Healthy On A Tight Budget?

Please read my article “How To Eat Well On A Budget” for some thoughts on how to get by when times are tough!

What are the cheapest meals to make at home?

Here is a list of the foods that will give you the most bang for your buck. Tasty, nutritious and inexpensive, these foods can be your safety net on those weeks when you check just isn’t stretching as far as you’d like it to!

  • Eggs
  • Rice
  • Dried or canned beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Fresh Carrots
  • Fresh Onions
  • Bananas
  • Chicken or pork (look for sale prices!)
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

What often happens when I’m in a spot is that I will find myself with a few random food items but I’ll have no way to tie them together into a meal. When that happens, I’ll do a recipe search on my computer. Seriously, just type in “tuna, rice, tomato” and see what comes up. I guarantee you have more options than you think you do!

Another thing to remember is that, once you get your supply built up, spices and condiments go a long way in jazzing up a couple of simple items. I have a number of recipes on this site that consist of just a few key ingredients paired with spices or condiments! Pork pie filling, Korean beef marinade and General Tso’s chicken are just a few examples.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

I hope these tips will help you put your next shopping trip in perspective. Now go forth and get some groceries! And please comment below if you have any tips you’d like to share.

All my best





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