Shopping can be such a drudgery but we all know we have to do it if we want to eat. Grocery stores are becoming bigger, choices are becoming harder to make. Just like anything else in life, how we shop is largely dependent on habits.
Companies exist for the sole purpose of understanding how people shop. Endcaps (displays at the end of aisles) were created as a place to store extra product. Now people see them as “Well this item must be a good deal” display. While sometimes that is true, not always. The very layout of the store is designed so that the basic products such as milk and eggs are placed so that consumers must walk by the “splurge” items that are so tempting. The deli is often placed by the door so that you can smell the food when you first walk in. That triggers the biological response of suddenly wanting something to eat and therefore buying items you had not planned on purchasing. Many stores sell their shelf space and that is why certain labels are at eye level. Guess what foods are put where you little one can see them? Clothing stores put clearance signs in their windows, and place the clearance section in the back.
I don’t begrudge stores that do this, they are in the business to make money. However it is my job to make my money stretch as far as possible and therefore, to establish habits for myself so that I fall to those marketing ploys as little as possible.
1. I always have my coupons with me. I have a small accordion file that holds coupons for restaurants and clothing stores and it stays in my van at all times. My large coupon binder sits at my desk but if I am even just going to purchase milk, I bring it with me. Stores have lots of items on sale that are not advertised in their circulars. If I have my binder I can take advantage of those sales all the time.
For example, on Mother’s Day Boo was going to cook the family dinner but she and her dad had forgotten to pick up french bread. I took in my binder and found a few deals I took advantage of and ended up buying over $52 worth of food and spent only $1.96, .78 cents of which was tax.
2. Lists are the only way I function. If I don’t write it down, I don’t do it. Fortunately for me, often just the act of writing it down makes me remember and I don’t need to have the list with me all the time. Somehow that never seems to work when I go to the grocery store. If it is not on my list, I get home and realize I forgot the 1 thing I really needed, like toilet paper.
I keep a small notebook in my purse for tiny shopping lists. For large ones I type it up on the computer. I have also put them into my phone because you know I am not leaving the house without my cell phone. Some stores allow you to make a list on their website and you can access it from your phone when shopping. Find a way that works for you, but make it a habit. Studies vary greatly in how long it takes to form a habit, but they all agree on 1 thing. The behavior must be consciously repeated for an extended period of time.
3. Do not go grocery shopping when hungry! If you need to keep a granola bar in your purse just so you have something to snack on, then do it. Studies show that when shoppers are hungry they buy far more snack and convenience foods than if they have just eaten. I also like to take my water bottle in the store with me if I know I am doing a long shopping trip. This started one summer when it was over 100 degrees and I knew my water would get hot if I left it in my van. Drinking it in the store naturally satisfied most cravings as I walked down the aisles.
4. Know when to shop at your favorite store. I am not going near Wal Mart after church on Sunday morning. Fridays before holidays are bad everywhere. When the stores are crowded and the checkout lines are long, people tend to forget their list as they just want to get out of there. This requires return visits later and you coming home with “Why did I grab that?” items.
5. Decide your route before you leave home. If you know you need to make six stops, the last one should be the grocery store if you have items that need to be kept cold. If you drop the kids off at soccer practice and pass by the store, go shopping then instead of in the morning. This means you are not waiting around doing nothing, or driving home just to turn back around. Planning your errands saves you time and gas.
This applies in the store as well. Writing lists according to their location in the store saves a lot of backtracking while shopping. So no more writing fresh broccoli in the middle of milk and sour cream.
6. Change your cooking and eating habits. Sometimes it is okay to try a different brand. I know we all have items we absolutely won’t budge on, but have an open mind and be willing to try something new and cheaper. Most companies love to send samples, it gains them a lot of customers and you don’t waste money on a product you don’t like.
Try to make more items from scratch using fewer processed items. Don’t do it all at once or you will give up. Change 1 night a week until that becomes habit and slowly increase how often you forego convenience foods. Not only is it cheaper, it is healthier.
I know we all have busy schedules, that is why I do advanced cooking when I can. There are sites that make a month’s worth of slow-cooker meals for the freezer. The point is, find recipes that work for you and use them.
Good habits last a lifetime. What habits have you found useful when shopping?