Avoiding These Grocery Store Money Traps Is Easy

Grocery stores from Walmart to Costco have mastered the art of discount advertising and psychological marketing, and while there are some good deals to be had, there are also many traps that customers fall into on a regular basis. While you may score some good deals on clearance items, there are plenty of deals and psychological tricks that cost you money when you shop.

Don’t Buy Odd-Even Priced Items

Grocery Store In Pennsylvania During COVID-19 pandemic
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Have you ever noticed that the product in your cart is priced weird compared to other items you’re buying? Typically these prices will be something like $8.59 or $7.73. This is a tactic employed by big box stores.

Odd-even pricing is the practice of setting prices that your brain immediately reads as lower than they actually are. For example, in our prices above, most people round down to $8 and $7. Psychology is weird.

Look At Higher And Lower Shelves While You Shop

Grocery Store In Pennsylvania During COVID-19 pandemic
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Items located at eye level often have the worst pricing. We are naturally trained to look at the first times we can see and often make impulse decisions based on those items.

How important is eye-level placement? Big-name brands will negotiate with big box stores to ensure their products are seen first. If you want the best deals, be sure to look at the top and bottom shelves and compare prices with the first products you spotted.

Watch Out For Giant-Sized Shopping Carts

Target Carts
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

No, it’s not just your imagination, shopping carts are actually getting bigger. In some cases stores have changed the shape of their carts to make this look less obvious, in other cases, they gradually made carts bigger over time.

Why bigger carts? Our brains have been trained to think a half-filled cart is going to be less expensive. By increasing the size of our shopping carts we immediately believe less money is being spent. This is why sticking to a list when entering the store is so important.

Avoid The Produce Section Until You’re Ready To Leave The Store

COVID-19 Grocery Shoppers
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The produce section is strategically located at the start of most supermarkets because it’s psychologically pleasing to purchase healthy food before filling your cart with less healthy items. Grocery stores know that you’ll buy higher-priced junk food more often if you have bananas, blueberries, and other healthy fruits and veggies in your cart at the start of your trip.

To avoid this trap, start at the back of the store and work your way toward the produce section. Buy all your fruits and veggies after the rest of your shopping is complete.

BOGO Deals Don’t Always Require To Items To Be Purchased

Buy one get one free retail display in Publix, grocery store.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Buy-one-get-one deals often tout the fact that purchasing two of an item will save you money. This makes sense on the surface but there’s a secret some stores won’t openly advertise to customers.

In some cases, big-box retailers will sell you one of the items at half the price. If this is the case, you don’t have to over-purchase just because of a sale. This is a move that will save you money if you truly don’t need two of the item being sold. Check with the store to find out its policies for BOGO sales.

Pre-Cut And Prepared Foods Are Convenient But Can Double The Cost

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Jeff Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeff Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Check out a bag of pre-cut baby carrots compared to the cost of fresh full-sized carrots and the cost can easily be doubled. This holds true for most pre-cut or pre-made items inside a grocery store.

While we can appreciate the convenience of these items, the savings by prepping your own food can save hundreds of dollars every year, more if you regularly use pre-prepared foods as part of your diet.

Premium Deli Meats And Cuts Are Often No Better Than Pre-Packaged Items

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Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When you step up to the deli section at many supermarkets, the deli meats, steaks, and fish are displayed in a way that makes them seem fresher than the products that have been pre-packaged.

In many cases, the deli and fish section products are higher priced than the items that are readily available for pickup. This is despite the fact that you are getting exactly the same product by grabbing it off the shelf.

Bounce-Back Promotions Shouldn’t Be Your End Goal

Shopper looks through winter garments during Black Friday at...
Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As the name suggests, a bounce-back promotion provides shoppers with a coupon for a return visit. This is a popular tactic among clothing retailers such as Kohl’s and JC Penney. The idea here is simple, you purchase an item and receive a coupon for a certain amount of cash back on your next visit.

There are numerous problems with these promotions. First, they often force you to shop a second time, even if you don’t need products. Second, they are limited to certain dates, often when fewer sales are underway.

Don’t Buy Products Located At The Checkout

Inside Aldi The German Discount Supermarket
Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Have you ever been standing in line at Meijer or Target and suddenly have the urge to buy batteries or a pack of gum? Those items are carefully curated because they tend to be impulse buys or purchases that we can actually use but don’t necessarily need right now.

Products placed as impulse buys are often higher priced because customers don’t think about the cost when buying them. They also tend to feature only a single brand’s product, taking away the opportunity for customers to engage in any type of price comparison as they would in a fully-stocked aisle.

Big Name Promotions Don’t Equal The Best Deals

Florida, Stuart, Publix grocery store Juice display
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

We get it… you want to own a piece of clothing from your favorite designer or purchase home goods from your favorite HGTV stars. These big-name promotions are set up by retailers to draw in fans but that doesn’t mean the products are worth the purchase.

In many cases, these brand-name goods are of no better quality than other products on the shelf but with a higher price point. When shopping at Walmart we bought a Buzzfeed can opener from their Tasty brand and it was completely dull within six months.

Check The Prices On Gift Sets

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Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Northwestern Mutual
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Northwestern Mutual

This is both a warning and a suggestion. During the holidays, many gift sets offer an excellent value. We’ve seen adult beverages with glasses included sell below the cost of bottles, but that’s often the exception and not the rule.

In many cases, a beautifully packaged gift set will cost shoppers more than purchasing each of the products on their own. Be sure to individually price items in gift packages before making a buy.

Seasonal Items At The Front Of Stores Are A Bad Deal

A Home Depot Store Ahead Of Black Friday
Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This tip almost always holds true. Walk into a big-box retailer a few months before Christmas, Easter, and other holidays, and you’ll see the front of the store filled with festive items.

Full-priced seasonal items are impulse buys and are usually heavily discounted right before the holiday actually arrives. You can also stock up on many items for next year by waiting for post-holiday sales to start on those products. Remember, stores place impulse buys in the open so you’ll make impulse purchases.

Sale Items Are Often Cheaper At Different Stores

Florida, Orlando International Premium Outlets, Saks Off 5th, discount department store big sale on merchandise
Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s important to remember that sales items are not always cheaper at the store where you’re shopping, it just means that store is selling the product at a discount from the previous set price point.

We love the app Popcart which allows for quick price comparisons in real-time. If the item is available at a cheaper price from another retailer, including online stores, the app will tell you to skip the sale and allow you to order from a cheaper-priced retailer.

Bulk Isn’t Always Better When It Comes To Pricing

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Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Bulk items are often seen as the de facto way to save money. In reality, just because something comes in a bigger package doesn’t mean it’s a better deal. Before you immediately purchase the bigger box of chicken nuggets or pizza rolls, check the per-unit pricing.

If the big box costs $0.79 per ounce but the smaller box is just $0.75 per ounce, going with the smaller box will save you money.

Supermarkets Change Up Their Layout To Make You Shop For Longer Periods Of Time

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

How many times have you gotten so comfortable with the layout at your favorite store that you go on autopilot when grabbing only the items you need? Grocery stores need customers to overshop and that means constant layout changes.

As a quick tip for consumers, you can often use the apps at big-box retailers to find where items are located when a major layout change occurs. We love pre-planning for our shopping trips in general and this is especially true after a major renovation overhaul.

Taking Advantage Of Every Club Member Offer

Stop & Shop Grocery Store for Koninklijke Ahold NV Earnings
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We love using our store member discounts when shopping for items we were already buying, however, many of those offers are not great values. First, stores use their free membership offers to target you with items you might enjoy but don’t necessarily need.

Second, just because an item on the shelf says it’s cheaper with your free member’s card, it doesn’t mean that item is cheaper than similar products sitting on the same shelf as the club-priced item. Check other similar products for their per-unit pricing before making an impulsive decision.

Non-Sale Items Are Mixed In With Sales Items In Weekly Circulars

Bulk Grocery Buying
Ken Lyons/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Ken Lyons/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If you’re still receiving circulars in the mail, it’s important to remember that not every item is a great deal. Stores have made it a habit of mixing full-priced items in along with sales items.

Our brains have been trained to believe that items seen in circulars are the best deals a store is offering. Like many of the tips we’ve offered, it’s important that you compare prices against other similar items rather than simply taking circular prices at face value.

Sale Items Are Often Quickly Depleted

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

How many times have you walked into a store for a sale item, noticed it was out of stock, and decided to buy a more costly item? Or maybe you just wasted money on gas because you left the store empty-handed.

If the item you want isn’t in stock, try asking for a rain check at the customer service counter. If you really want the aforementioned item, look at similar products and see if they offer a similar deal. Remember, circular items are not always the best-priced option.

Avoid Free Samples If You Aren’t Ready To Buy

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Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Research has shown that buyers who taste free samples are more likely to purchase that item after receiving a free sample. Apparently, we don’t expect anything for nothing.

At the same time, while there may be a sale on that particular brand, it’s not always the best deal. Even if you think the product is delicious, check out similarly priced items and think for a second if it’s something you really want to buy. We suggest walking away and giving your brain a few minutes to calm down. If you still want it, buy all means, purchase the product you just sampled.

Don’t Buy Produce That Is Being Misted Unless You’ll Use It Right Away

Inside a Publix Grocery Store As Company Sales Increase
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This is a dirty visual trick used by supermarkets to sell produce. Misting makes many fruits and vegetables look fresh and therefore more appealing. In reality, all of that added water can actually cause produce to rot faster than non-misted products.

If you absolutely must have a product that has been misted, experts suggest immediately drying off your fruits and vegetables when you get them home. If you don’t dry them off, you’re throwing away money if the product isn’t used right away since it will likely go bad before you use it all up.