A year ago, I wrote on my blog:
I had to swing over to Target today to fill First Son's school supply list, and besides glue, pencils, and crayons, I walked out of the store with a gift for my husband (that I'm holding on to until Christmas) and a silicone "brownie cup" pan that we're using to make popsicles. Because we were running late, we also had lunch at the little Target restaurant. Plus, any time I pass by the clothing department at Target, I feel like a total fashion dweeb and am reminded of how much I like Target clothing.
I'm sure it's happened to you too: you head into the store for one thing and come out with five or six. But don't feel bad - you're not completely lacking in self-control. Stores use all kinds of tricks to get you into the store, deviating from your list, and walking out with more than you had planned. Here are just a few examples:
- Strategic pricing. Stores use a pricing strategy based on what they call signposts and blinds. Signposts are items for which most people know the going rate, like a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. Blinds are items about which people are less informed on price. Stores heavily discount signposts to get people into the store with the hope that they'll toss some blinds into their cart during the same trip.
- Strategically arranged products. The candy and magazines next to the checkout lanes. The brand names at eye level and the cheaper generics on the bottom shelves. The "deal" displays at the ends of aisles. These are all strategies that stores use to get you to spend more than you had planned.
- Set the mood. Many stores try to make you feel comfortable with the idea that the better you feel, the longer you'll stay in the store, and the more money you'll spend. This is a trick employed by stores like Barnes and Noble (think cafe and big comfy couches) and Ikea (think children's playcenters and restaurant). Other stores, like Walmart, go for the opposite mood: by making the store feel stripped down, shoppers get the sense that the store is cutting costs to save you money.
There are always going to be times when we have to go to the store, and in those case there are strategies we can use to beat the supermarket at its own game:
- Go with a list and be strict about sticking to it. Get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.
- Leave your kids at home if you can, but if not, keep them entertained and distracted. The more frazzled you get, the more you'll end up spending.
- Be an informed shopper. Be aware of the going rate for items you typically buy so you can identify an actual deal when you see it. And for items you buy less frequently, shop around for prices.
- Don't go shopping when you're hungry, bored, or in a bad mood.
Even with these tips in your shopping arsenal, I think the best tip of all is simply to avoid temptation. Figure out which stores are your downfall and go there as little as possible. For example, my weaknesses are Target and craft stores. Knowing this, I try to keep my Target trips to once or twice a month, and I avoid craft stores when at all possible. (Truth be told, I could stand to work a little more on my craft store addiction.)