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Doing Groceries like a Pro

The title of this article might be a bit off. How is me telling you how to do groceries, which you obviously know how to do, even remotely scientific, helpful or at least, entertaining?! Well, I’ve come to realise through studying Behavioural Economics, and through reading books such as de Supermarkt leugen (the supermarket lie), that even our own grocery store is using behavioural methods against us. And I am not having it!

How do they trick us? They trick us before we even set foot in the store! Candy at the till when we are waiting. The beautiful smell of fresh baked bread as soon as you walk in, plus a display of the best, most colourful and appetizing fruits and vegetables. The cleaning isle always smells clean. The things you most often need placed at the end of the shop, so you have to go through the whole store, filled with temptations, to even get to where you need to buy. Oh yes ladies and gents, the grocery store is doing the most when it comes to trickery. But in this article, I will outline how to walk in and out of that store, without having lost your dignity, and perhaps also not having lost all your money.

1. Never go without a list There needs to be a reason you are going to the store. Check your fridge, your freezer, your cupboards. What do you truly need? Despite the general advise that you should try to throw as little as possible away and get creative, I will allow you to go to the store. If you must. So, bearing in mind that we will end up at the store regardless, what do we need? Make a list, write everything down nicely, or put in your phone, and let’s go!

2. Make allowances (and stick with them!) Before you even think about entering the store, let’s have a little chat about expenditures before we even leave the house. How much are we spending here, today? Are we buying for a whole week? How much are we willing to spend on groceries per week? What is the budget? Depending on your income, there are limits for how much groceries can be. So now, when looking back at the list, do we still feel that we need to buy everything on there? If so, cool. If not, scratch some things off, to stay in budget. I don’t want you to go hungry, but I also don’t want you to be both hungry and broke at the end of the month. We are making an allowance financially, we are not making allowances for unnecessary purchases…

3. Never shop hungry Talking about hungry, have you eaten yet? Don’t walk into a store filled with food on an empty stomach. Bad idea. In this visceral state, or “hot” state according to Loewenstein, everything is more appealing. And because your hunger is distracting your brain, you have less willpower left to resist. You are 200% more likely to buy things you definitely do not need (I made that number up, but you get the idea). Don’t do this to your wallet. This is also not recommended if you’re on a diet. Eat before you shop.

4. Know the lay-out Ok, we have got our budget, our (edited) list and we’ve had our meal. Time to actually go to this damn store. Now, enter the store. Look around you. Get ready. This is like Mission Impossible: Get in. Get out. Don’t go cruising through every isle, it’s not necessary (unless you need something from each and every isle). Shop with direction. What is where? Only go where you need to go. Be systematic. If possible, just run to the back of store, where the most frequently purchased items lie, and then just to the till. That way you have less distractions, and we have just minimized temptation.

5. Get low Talking about temptations, let’s talk about hip-hop. I’m not Flo-Rida, but I will tell you to get low, low, low, low, low etc. I’m not Snoop Dogg either, but please do drop it like it’s hot. Why? Because on the floor is where the deals are. At least, on the lower shelves. If you are going into a grocery store because you need butter, you know you will find yourself faced with stacks and stacks of different brands of butter. Choice overload guaranteed. What most people don’t know that there is a way of organizing these shelves that is designed to improve sales for specific products. Everything at eye-level is what the store would prefer for you to buy. The store might make the highest profit margin on these products, or has a very profitable deal with this brand (read: brand owner) to display the product exactly at this shelf-height. The lower you go; the cheaper products tend to become. Now we have moved from fancy brands to store-value-brands such as Tesco’s own. Lots cheaper, and very often, the exact same product. So, if you don’t have any strong (and justified…) brand preference, don’t buy brands. Dive down and buy from the lower shelves.

With kids, watch this one. Things that are especially attractive to youngsters are placed at their eye-level. Keep that in mind when you take them into the store. Maybe give them a piggyback ride if you can manage that for the whole shopping trip!

6. Check the list Running through the store, systematically targeting isles, we are doing great! Let’s check the list again: have things still ended up in our basket that we didn’t initially put on the list? Put them back. Have we managed to collect everything that was actually on the list? No, keep going. Yes? To the till we go. It is time to pay.

7. Distract yourself at the till No disrespect to grocery store staff (worked there myself), but you know there is always a queue. When you finally have the time to do groceries, so do most others. You are standing around, waiting around, bit bored maybe? And then you see it. It is beautiful. At the counter, winking at you, is a chocolate Kinder egg. You haven’t had those since childhood. How great! Your hand reaches.

No! There is a reason those things have been positioned there. They are there to distract you. To make you spend that extra 50 pence. Because it is only 50 pence and you might as well. But you might as well NOT purchase this Kinder egg, or this Mentos chewing gum, or those Tic-tacs. Do like all the other people do, just get on your phone. Don’t even look at the display. Maybe even be social, talk to other people around you who are also waiting and trying to resist temptation. You can be in it together!

8. Paying hurts The moment has arrived. It is your turn. You have packed your groceries (in re-usable bags you brought yourself, I hope?). Now it is time to pay. One solid tip to make sure you don’t buy what you don’t need? Pay cash. Honestly. Cash is the most painful method of payment. We don’t like parting with cash, and as such tend to be less impulsive when buying things, and spend less. Also, if you are aware of how much your average grocery shop tends to cost, you can estimate how much money you’ll need in advance, and only take that amount of money with you in cash. You can’t spend what you don’t have!

With these 8 tips you should be able to go through the supermarket maze without too much of a headache, or an overdraft. Let me know if this helps at all. Or if you can think of many better tips for doing groceries!


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Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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