You know it when it happens yet you’re powerless to stop it: you walk into the grocery store for three things and walk out an hour later, $200 lighter and with a cart full of stuff you don’t really need.

It happens in grocery stores near you every day. You’ve just been Jedi-mind tricked into buying more by retail magicians.

Supermarkets are carefully thought out and engineered organisms whose sole purpose is to trick shoppers into spending and consuming more than they desire.

This is where the real life hunger games are played.

Beware of the following sorcery aimed to make you blow up your budget and eat more calories than you should and you just might navigate the aisles with confidence and come out the other side okay.

Enter The Land of Oz

What do you see when you walk in the front door? Beautifully colored fruits & vegetables,Munchkins-film sweet sugary bakery items and fragrant flowers. You can almost hear the munchkins singing. The bright colors and sweet scents lift your mood (making you more likely to spend) and give you a favorable opinion of the store. The sweet aromas serve a second purpose: to activate your salivary glands and trigger hunger sensations making impulse buys more likely to find their way into your giant cart.

Beware the Musak

Supermarkets strategically choose slow tempo music meant to keep you in a relaxed state of mind. It encourages you to slow down and consider pina coladas and walking in the rain while you linger in the store. Consider wearing headphones with some up tempo tunes to keep you on the move and out the door faster (with more money in your pocket).

Samples Samples Everywhere

Similar to the musak, the samples are meant to slow you down and trigger impulse buys (more saliva!). They also trigger a guilt response: trying something for free can make you feel obligated or committed to buying the product. Sometimes its best to just keep walking.

Bulk Buying POWER?

Yes, you may save a little money by buying items in bulk but now that you have all this stuff, what will you do with it when you get it all home? Consume it of course! Not only have you blown your financial budget, your calorie budget is now subject to compromise. When you see it, you eat it and since you’ve bought so much, you’ll be chomping your way through it for a while (more guilt in play here: you couldn’t possibly let it go to waste, could you?)

Wait. Where’s the Beef?

You’re not losing your mind. Those crackers were in a different place last time. Just when you thought you knew the layout of the maze, overnight it seemed to rearrange itself into a new configuration. Maze_simpleSuddenly you can’t find what you need – and that’s the idea. When you have to search for things you spend more time in the store and thus spend more time browsing (and buying!) its many temptations.

Sketchy Math

Just like the layout changes, the forms of measurement used to calculate weight to price ratios are not consistent either. Some are calculated in pounds, others in ounces. How are you supposed to determine the better value? You’re not. Bring a calculator and conversion chart if you want to foil the masters of this game.

Telescope car patentCarts the Size of Cars

It’s not your imagination, the carts got bigger. Research shows that when the size of the cart doubled, consumers bought 40% more stuff. The bigger the cart, the more likely you are to overspend and feel like an extra from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”. Skip the cart and consider grabbing a basket at the door if you really are there for only three items.

Five for $5

Five cans of soup for $5? What a bargain! Even if it only costs $1 to buy one, your brain has been tricked into thinking it should buy 5. It’s a little multiples game the stores play. Our minds think it’s a deal so we buy more. Even though you may not have to buy 10 cans of tuna to get the discount, you probably will anyway. Pretty sneaky sis.

Quick In & Out? Good Luck.

Just popping in to grab a gallon of milk? Don’t lose your way. You will find the essentials: milk, eggs, bread, etc. all the way at the end of the maze. Again, they want you to trek through the whole store passing “too good to pass up” deals on the way and filling up that giant cart.

Like any good retailer trying to stay in business, supermarkets use all the tricks in the book to get you to spend more money. It’s like the Hotel California: you are meant to breathe deep, listen to the music, wander aimlessly, and stay in this lovely place.

Self-control and awareness is the key to avoiding their best-laid traps and do more than just survive the hunger games. Go for the win: escape with money in your pocket and no more food than you can reasonably consume.

You’ve probably heard these techniques before as means to keep the odds in your favor, but they are worth repeating: before you go make a list, only buy what’s on it, and if you want to win the game, never, ever go to the store hungry.

Good luck!

Navigate carefully my friend . . .

27 Replies to “Survive the Real Hunger Games”

  1. So true. I find myself going into the store to grab milk and I come up with a shopping cart full of items. I also think it helps to have a list. This helps me get in and out quickly if I have more items to buy.

    Thanks for the reminder about headphones. I used this strategy when I was younger, but that was to get me through the store without being so bored! I can try this trick now in order to keep me focused throughout the store.

  2. awesome article as usual! I can say with pride that I normally stick to my list except for an occasional sweet bread purchase. But, if I am hungry going in, my eyes are wide open 🙂

  3. Wow, that is so true! Every time I go into the store to get just one or two things, I end up with a whole lot more! I find that if I make a list, I do much better than going in without one! I once also read to stick to the outside aisles to avoid processed foods, so I try to do that as well!

  4. I agree with Pam. I’m pretty good at sticking to my list. However, I am apt to stop and check out “sales”. Julie’s comment on sticking to the outside aisles is a good one. You do need to be a savy shopper to avoid the gimmicks the grocery stores use.

  5. I’ve always been a list person – at home, work and the grocery store! My goal is to get in and out in record time so I don’t wander down ANY aisles that items I don’t need – this seems to work for me. I rely on the calculator on my phone to double check prices too – sometimes the larger bag isn’t really the better buy!

    1. I’m with you, in and out as fast as I can, list is also another way to keep from buying things I don’t need, I also price check things as well.

  6. This is very true. I have tried using a list but to no avail. You see a presumed sale and the next thing you know, you are being sucked in. Earphones is a good idea. I try not to walk up and down the aisles because you then buy things you don’t need or need now. I work very hard to stay focused. I have cut down on going almost every day. Limiting myself to only 2 times per week has helped. I also try to never bring the kids!

  7. I try to shop the perimeter of the store-where the fresh goods are, I spend very little time going through the aisles, therefore staying away from the processed foods.

  8. I make a list before I go on what all I need. I try to follow that list and not buy any junk food. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits.

  9. I do pretty good getting just the items on my list, as long as I leave the kids at home. My husband on the other hand…. I sent him for milk, he came back with a car full of stuff. This is why I usually do the shopping. He did buy me some flowers though. :0)

  10. Yes the idea of specials like buy one get one free sounds good but you sometimes buy items either you don’t really need or would never buy otherwise.

    1. Yes Mark, and what is the point of spending money on something that will eventually end up in the trash? If you bought two to save a buck but threw one out, did you really save money? Most likely not.

  11. I already knew most of this, the only time I over buy in the grocery store is when I don’t plan out my meals and don’t have a list.

  12. When I’m hungry, I reach for the ice water. It must contract my stomach or something, but it gets me an extra hour before hunger strikes again

  13. I’m worried about the sodium content of soup. And I agree, the “musak” is very unlike anything else except for elevators.

  14. This is very true, when you enter the store all the deals are at the entrance and the fruit looks very nice and colorful and I usually spend more than I have too. When I go I will try to stay focus.

  15. This is very true. The store is strategically designed to entice shoppers to spend more money.
    Naturally when I’m shopping on an empty stomach I tend to spend more.

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