1. Go it alone.
Taking your kids (or spouse) with you when shopping can add as much as 40 percent to your bill, according to industry experts. It’s not just that they beg for their favorite snacks. Having company slows you down, and in the supermarket, time really is money.
2. Watch out for the "funnel."
When you first walk into the store, you may be funneled through a narrow corridor of seasonal merchandise the retailer wants to unload―say, lawn chairs in September or fruitcakes in January. You might also encounter a wide table placed smack in the middle of the aisle. Both of these ploys are designed to get you to stop and look at items you wouldn’t consider buying otherwise. Move past these obstacles and stick to your shopping list.
3. Steer clear of endcaps.
At the front and back of each aisle are "endcaps"―prime display space where manufacturers pay extra to have their products featured. Women are more likely to make an unplanned purchase from an endcap than men, says D'Anna Hawthorne, strategy director for Miller Zell, a retail consulting firm. Her theory: “Men tend to race through the aisles, but women like to linger in stores,” she says. That makes it more likely that they’ll see―and buy from―an endcap.
4. Guard against impulse buys in the middle aisles.
Staples such as produce, meat and dairy tend to be located in the "U" around the store, says Nora Dunn, co author of 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget. The middle aisles, meanwhile, are full of pricey packaged snack foods. Keep your guard up when walking down middle aisles and buy only what’s on your list.
5. Don’t touch the inviting piles of merchandise.
A pyramid of juicy peaches, a table stacked high with bags of crusty French bread: who can resist picking one up? That’s just what grocers hope you will do, since research shows that holding or touching an object increases the likelihood you’ll buy it. If you want to save money, keep your hands to yourself.
6. Be aware of products grouped together.
Supermarkets put related good next to each other to encourage impulse buys. For example, high-priced pesto might be next to the spaghetti. Deluxe cake pans might be next to the cake mix. Recognize this trick for what it is: an attempt to get you to spend more.
7. Don’t fall for "on sale" signage.
Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you can’t get it cheaper elsewhere. One survey shows that 70 percent of shoppers are influenced by a sale when they’re making a planned purchase.
8. Take care with "limited" quantities.
Stores will sometimes put limits on sale items to make the deal seem better than it is. "Limit: 4" may make you want to automatically reach for four, but if you only need two and end up overbuying, it’s not a bargain.
9. Watch for wording like "25 percent more for free."
Manufacturers use marketing lingo on the label to make you want to pick up the product. But before you throw it into your cart, look at the unit price, which should be displayed on the shelf. Is it truly the cheapest brand? Also, glance again at your shopping list. Unless the item is a household staple that keeps well, such as paper products, laundry detergent or pet food, don’t buy it if you don’t need it right now.
10. Start big with your purchases.
People calculate how much they’re spending in part by looking at the fullness of their carts. One trick: Begin by loading up with bigger items such as boxed cereals and large canned goods. With your cart appearing more full, you’re likely to spend less.
11. Watch your step!
When you go into the store, you might be inclined to turn right. Don’t. Studies reveal that shoppers who move counterclockwise spend an average of $2 more per trip than clockwise shoppers. Researchers don’t know why exactly, but it could be that because most people are righties, going counterclockwise puts all the cases on the perimeter of the store within easier reach. Going clockwise forces you to reach over your basket—which cuts down on impulse buys.
12. Do the math.
Calculating unit pricing is a must, even for products you buy regularly. Manufacturers have downsized their packages in the last couple of years—while charging the same or even raising the price—and you probably can’t tell the difference just by eyeballing the product. When the price per unit is not provided (only nine states require it), simply divide the cost of the item by the number of ounces, pounds, whatever it contains—to avoid paying more for less.
13. Skip the deli.
Stores often sell the same (or similar) items in more than one place, sometimes at different prices. American cheese at the deli counter can cost up to 30 percent more than in the dairy case. Why? The deli workers need to be paid!