A person standing in front of a store

Six Ways to Get Out of a Supermarket Without Overspending

This is not the first time in this column that we’ve visited the subject of how to get out of the supermarket with at least some money left in your bank account. Still, who doesn’t need an occasional reminder—a mental tune-up—to remain vigilant and razor-sharp when it comes to making our food dollars stretch until they scream.

A person standing in front of a store

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you can simply dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of Rule #1: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Sure, playing Brain Age on your kid’s Game Boy has revitalized your dead brain cells, rendering you the mental acuity of a youngster—but don’t push it. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

Don’t take your plastic or checkbook. Cash—currency, clams, folding money, smackers, greenbacks—this is how you should be paying for your supermarket purchases. What? Not convenient, you say? Well, of course not, silly. That’s the point. Convenience is the reason you’ve been dropping the equivalent of a mortgage payment for food every month. Making the process a bit less convenient is an easy to way to slow that mindless drain on your income. 

Don’t grab a shopping cart. Most of them have wobbly wheels anyway, so just walk on by when all you need are those few items. Surely you can carry the “few things” you need. Or get one of the hand-held baskets. The point here is that you won’t be buying more than you can carry.

Don’t dawdle. This is not the place you want to hang out just to soak in all the great sights and smells from the bakery, deli and rotisserie chickens. If you weren’t hungry when you arrived, you will be soon. Get what you need and get out of there. For every ten minutes you delay, plan on spending about another $30.

Don’t deprive yourself. Work some “flex spend” into your budget. We all want to try new things, and in the candy land of choice known as the grocery store, this can lead to expensive last-minute choices. In my experience, the best way to combat this is not to fight it. Deciding to allow yourself a little flexibility–say, a five dollar allowance or a single impulse item each week. That’s the way to avoid the feeling that you’re drowning in deprivation. You’ll be less likely to go overboard.

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  1. Shey says:

    I’ve read that carrying a handheld or just using your arms is worse. You have this tendency to hug the items close to you, therefore you get things that make you happy, i.e. comfort food. Personally, I think it’s true–always happens to me. So, I get the big cart and put my few lonely items in there.

  2. lisette says:

    I try to stay out of grocery stores. We have a coop with good prices on bulk beans, grains, flour, peanut butter, spices, oil. We either grow or barter with local farmers for veggies, fruit, eggs, goat cheese. There are a very few things i buy in a regular grocery store. But if i know i have bulk oatmeal at home. There is no reason even to enter the cereal aisle . The snacks and sweets aisles are just plain off limits .we do not buy beverages, water, tea, coffee are sufficient. Needless to say packaged and frozen foods are also aisles we just do not even go into. If you do not see the expensive junk food you cannot be tempted by it .

  3. Mitch says:

    When I pray before going into the store (any store) for God’s wisdom and help not to overspend, He does. God loves to be a part of our daily decisions – but we need to ask Him.

  4. Tammy Wimpee says:

    Each week I allow 30 dollars/person per week for our family, which I get in cash. When the money is gone, I stop spending. Before going into a store I check how much money I have, then mentally keep tract of how much I spend. I always check the clearance rack for bargains. I try to use coupons as much as possible. For beginners, I recommend checking out www.freestufffinders.com, they have a great database for coupons. I’ve learned how to work the bargains for each store. I’m not brand loyal, when possible I buy store labels. Check store circulars for deals. I limit process foods to one meal a week and mostly cook by scratch. I use a list that I keep on my phone and add items as needed.

  5. Beth says:

    Back when the children were smaller and shopped with me, we had a hard and fast rule: one “want to” per child. It amazed me how seriously they took this, trading items sometimes before they got out of the store. It also amazed me how inventive they got, negotiating deals with each other to maximize what they could get. Of course, if the item was too unhealthy or breakable, I still held the right of refusal. Thinking about those times, maybe I should hold myself and my husband to these rules!

  6. tinydogpries says:

    While I agree with a number of the suggestions in the article and even more of the additional ideas listed here in the comments I do have to wonder whether the people that actually need these reminders to not overspend realize how terribly fortunate they are to have enough money TO spend too much. I can’t remember EVER (and I’m close to 60) having so much money that I didn’t have to account for every dollar I spent on groceries. I don’t even budget in a grocery amount, because it all depends on how much is left (if any) after the more major bills get paid. Some weeks I might have as much as $50 to spend on food, other weeks, more like $10 or $20. Occasionally it’s just a matter of making do with what is already in the house. It has become a way of life and has it’s good points, such as when I was told it was good that the recession was over I could honestly ask “What recession?” My life never changed.

  7. April says:

    I shop at a store with very limited choices–especially of process foods. I eat healthier and cut my food spending by at least a third and sometimes half. The store carries great produce, dairy and meat and what little they do have of processed and snack foods tends to be expensive so I’m simply not tempted the way I am in regular grocery stores to buy all the goodies that are on “sale” that week.

  8. Laurie says:

    I use the calculator on my phone and add up my purchases as I am going through the store. It prevents the shock at the end and also keeps me on track with what I want to spend. I also joined a coupon club at work which has been wonderful! We circulate a coupon holder – take what we want – and put in the coupons we don’t use for someone else to take. And our summer garden gave us time outside and great veggies to enjoy through the winter without having to buy them at the store.

  9. Richard says:

    I take my reusable bags in and fill them as I shop using my shopping list. When the items I need fill the bags, I stop shopping and head to the checkout. The only time I use a cart is when I need to buy pet food or other heavy items. Works every time.

    • DianaB says:

      How do you manage to not use a cart if you are filling shopping bags as you go? You have to have somewhere to put the filled bags unless it is only one. I have thought about filling the bag trick myself but figured I would be accused of shoplifting.

      Do you unpack the bags when you get to the register and then they are repacked after items are rung up?

      • marysews says:

        If the store personnel accuse you of shoplifting before you get to the area between the registers and the doors, you can gently help them to learn differently (most should know by now). If you really don’t want to use a cart, limit your purchases to what fits into how many bags you can carry (4-6 if you’re strong). When you get to the register, give your extra bags to the clerk and overturn the filled bags gently on the “table” (except the eggs and other delicate items).

  10. LindaBabe says:

    I shop the locally owned IGA (Independent Grocers of America) instead of the two giant supermarkets in town or worse – Walmart (which I refuse to shop on moral grounds). The IGA has great fresh produce, and all my other weekly needs, but NOT in a huge variety of brand/size choices. They run good weekly specials on a regular basis, so when things are on sale, I stock up until the next sale. We mostly “eat around the edges” – cereal, bread, pickles and cleaning supplies are pretty much the only reasons I go in the middle of the store. Other than that, it’s veggies, fruit, meat, and dairy. I always have a list, and my own fabric bags. Once a month, I go to the big markets, again with a list, for the things my IGA doesn’t carry – like my favorite brand of coffee. I also have a farm share for fresh veggies and eggs.

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