No one in your neighborhood has grown their own kiwi salsa or mini pizza pockets since the Medieval Period of Suburban Living. But your family needs food. So what do you do? The grocery stores are out there…waiting for you. They know that sooner or later, you’re going to have to walk inside and engage them on their terms. But is that really the case? No, it isn’t! You can go in armed and ready, and get out again with your shopping goals and bank account intact. It takes serious planning, and if you have it, a crack team. Let’s talk grocery shopping, the hottest life skill you can acquire next to actually being able to feed yourself.
Here are some familiar scenarios:
- You run inside the store to get milk and bread. Ten minutes, right? Yet forty minutes later you stagger out to your car with fifty dollars of stuff, and some of it your spouse is allergic to! How did that happen?
- It’s 4 PM. Everyone’s getting hungry, or they will be soon. You haven’t really thought about what’s for dinner, so you start looking through the cupboards and fridge. Hmmm…if you just ran to the store for a few things, you could make a great chili dinner. What could go wrong?
- It’s Saturday morning, and time for your regularly scheduled shopping trip for the week’s food. You brace yourself inwardly and head into the skirmish. A few hours later you make it home and wonder if shopping has somehow induced anemia in you. You dreamily fantasize about online grocery shopping.
- You have a two- year- old in tow and you’re seven months pregnant. What you need to buy are crackers, soup, and diapers. You somehow end up with a plastic cereal bowl with an attached straw for sucking up the cereal-flavored milk, and a bag of expensive sugary snacks in a shiny cartoon-colored box as well. You know someone just played you, but who? Are you too tired to even care?
Know the issues you have to deal with:
- A superstore arranges the grocery aisles a quarter mile from their ‘convenient’ pharmacy. In order to purchase both food and OTC medicines, you have to get past the jewelry, holiday, and cute t-shirt sections.
- Aisles cluttered with standing mini displays seem to purposely hook on your coat sleeve as you walk past.
- Video commercials playing near end caps distract you from your prepared list. Music drifting overhead soothes you. That soporific sense of time slowing down comes over you again. It all adds up to slow you down. Spend more time in the aisles, spend more money in the store.
- Sensory overload wears many people down. This comes in the form of scents and distracting seasonal displays, among other things.
Where we shop has a huge impact on how we shop. Sometimes the choices between stores are limited by geography or financial reality. However, if you have a number of different stores within proximity of your neighborhood, this is already to your advantage because stores will compete for your food dollars with sales, decent bathrooms, or wider aisles.
When you shop affects you, from your emotions to your budget. Being over tired is never good for making multiple decisions while under sensory duress. Going into a store hungry is almost like begging them to take your money.
How you shop involves having set goals and a prepared list. You have the right to control your own choices, not be manipulated into something you never intended.
Do you work for coupons, or do coupons work for you? Choose only the ones you know you will use. Don’t panic when you see coupons in the aisles and a blinking light that alerts you to a sale you might be missing out on. Have a grocery list, and stick with it. Because while that unplanned item might actually be the one thing you need to round out the party next week, it may just be the same thing that goes on sale every month and you can get it next time. Is there a brand you absolutely can not live without? Then own it. Skip the rest.
Beware of sale signs that aren’t really sales. If the hot dogs have a sale sign on their shelf, lift it up and compare the price with the regular one hidden underneath. There may be no difference between buying one package for two dollars or BUY 2 pk/ $4 NOW. Except with knowledge, you regain control.
Skirmishes in the Aisles
It’s really too bad we have to take small children into grocery stores. They’re usually the first casualties. How does this happen? The shock of those colors, the cartoon characters on the boxes, and the product placement right at eye level (whether kids are walking or riding in the cart), all conspire to turn kids on their parents. Go prepared: carry a baggie of raisins and a water bottle. I don’t care if security starts following you because you have bulging pockets. Take care of your children. Don’t be the one whose kid implodes in the cereal aisle because their blood sugar is plummeting in direct relation to the sweet temptations they can smell. Keep the shopping as short as possible, prepare kids with some pleasant boot camp pre-shopping training, and celebrate together when you get out with your goals achieved.
True strategists will use the very weapons deployed against them. Teach your family and give them the same knowledge that has given you your self control back. Make it a competition to reach the fountain at the back of the store while putting only ten useful things in the cart. Send teen scouts into the next aisle for some items. They want to beat the system! Giving them this kind of insight into adult life skills (go ahead, call them hacks) will cause them to reconsider whatever fashionable disdain they may be wearing that day. Here’s some more good stuff:
- Use a coupon on an item when it is already on sale.
- Plan your meals.
- Stock up on enough meat when it is on sale so that you never have to pay full price again.
- Time your shopping.
- Avoid those middle aisles with high priced brand name items and their seasonal temptation counterparts!
- Eat before you go so you don’t shop hungry.
- Don’t buy that beautiful loaf of French Bread just because it looks abandoned with no price tag! They’re playing you!
- Wear ear plugs or crank up the music on your phone to set your own pace and reduce some of the sensory overload.
- Know your facts. For instance, did you know that grocery carts have grown in size over the decades? Grocery store designers discovered that all they had to do was enlarge the size of the cart and we would fill it. It’s like those monster caps on laundry detergents. Same principle.
You don’t have to use coupons. You don’t have to buy something because it looks good. You don’t have to slow down and try the free samples. You get to make your own decisions and control the time you have. Call it a game, call it economic warfare, but recognize you have opponents in the grocery store. Hint: it won’t be your family, they’re just being used against you. Make them your secret allies and breeze through with a focused plan. Forgive the weak moments. Sometimes you really are too tired to care if the price of one brand is fifty cents more than the other; that’s OK. Awareness brings the self control you didn’t know you’d been tricked out of. You can win this!