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Nutrition Articles  ›  Quick and Easy

7 Secrets to Outsmart Your Supermarket

Look Past the Super Marketing to Protect Your Wallet and Your Waistline

-- By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian
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Show Seasonal Spirit Who's Boss
Memorial Day (Super Bowl Sunday, Thanksgiving, or really, any other holiday) is right around the corner and you can bet your buttons the local grocer won’t let you forget it! Decorations, party favors and supplies are mixed in with fat- and sugar-laden desserts and snacks, all in one convenient center aisle display. Grocery stores play on your holiday spirit, enticing you to pick up extra goodies on a whim! These add-ons amp up your bill at the check out and can add loads of calories to your stash very quickly. Battle plan: Plan your celebration, complete with healthy snacks and recipes, and stick to it. Ditch the “we just might need” mentality. Simplicity is best (and healthiest) during these times of year!

Boycott the Bakery
The smell of fresh bread, cinnamon rolls and apple pie is wafting through the baked goods area as you’re picking up your whole-grain bread this week. Your senses are begging you to bring some home; it just smells too good! Many grocery stores strategically plan their baking times during the busiest hour of the day. It has been proved that shoppers pick up more items when the luscious smells are present in the store. Battle plan: You've heard this one before. Never shop on an empty stomach. Shopping after a meal can help stave off cravings and keep you focused on the task at hand. Think about the delicious meals you are shopping for and don't let distraction get the best of you. If you must, send in the troops to grab your items and avoid any too-tempting aisles altogether!

Bust by Bargains
You see the signs: 5 for $10! Buy two get one FREE! 2 for the price of 1! These "bargains" can seem like a great idea , but consider the product you’re saving on. If it’s on your list of super-healthy, nutritious foods, go for it! You’ve helped your health AND your pocketbook. However, consider the product—healthfulness should trump a bargain every time. Do you really need five rolls of cookie dough or a free box of pastries? It's not likely. Battle plan: If you’re only getting it because it’s on sale, you probably don’t need it. The same rule goes for non-food items like toiletries, cleaning products and household items. No excuses here.

Free Yourself from Free Samples
When you see little carts set up with mini toasters and microwaves handing out bits and pieces of goodies, you’ve entered the realm of free samples. This tactic is widely implemented by grocers to increase products sales because it works wonderfully. Free sample stations are great ways to demonstrate the versatility of certain products, but how often are the featured foods healthful or nutrient-dense? How often are they full of vitamins, minerals, lean protein, healthy fats and fiber? How often do they feature whole, unprocessed foods that are naturally good for you? The products grocers generally hand out to promote sales are convenience items, ones that shouldn’t be on your shopping list if you're trying to eat healthier. Battle plan: If the product is free of trans fats, made with whole grains or free of added sweeteners, enjoy a little nibble. Use your label-reading skills to determine if it’s a healthful item you can pick up during your next grocery trip. Look at the amount of protein, calories, fiber, added sugars, salt, and types of fats to assess how healthful the food might be.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • My mantras: "Buy what you USE, not what you need". and "A purchase made in anticipation of use is not an impulse purchase." PLUS all the good tips in the article and comments. - 11/21/2013 9:41:25 AM
  • I am always amazed at how Americans can't turn down anything free. Free samples are their weakness. When I'm in the grocery store and someone asks me if I want a free sample, saying "No thank you" makes their brain nearly explode from confusion.

    - 11/21/2013 9:33:00 AM
  • Great article! I use several of these tips, especially DO NOT SHOP WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH! For whatever reason, the few times I do so, I magically go about $20 over budget.

    End caps and the check-outs are a killer for me usually, but I've gotten better. Last week, I was able to say NO to both pumpkin-spice cookies and hot-chocolate cake mix. I felt like a total boss walking out of the store with my budget intact. - 11/21/2013 8:59:14 AM
  • I agree with AZURE-SKY. I go early in the morning and I go in the week. I don't like shopping on the week - 7/3/2013 8:30:27 AM
  • yep if you are really needing to or good about saving money that helps. keeps me from over spending on extra stuff i dont want/need like 90% of the time. i learn more and more as i gain experiences what store has better prices for which items i need. im glad im not extremely poor but i definitely dont need to waste money on extraneous items not on my list. also ive noticed with fresh stuff or certain veggies they are cheapest in their non packaged form. i love getting my carrots/kale/garl
    ic etc usually all under a dollar depending on how much i want :) - 6/5/2013 2:47:21 AM
  • CANUCKSFAN2
    One way to avoid the samples is to not go on the busy shopping days (Saturday or Sunday) or if you can't avoid those days, go early in the day and you won't find them. - 6/4/2013 11:56:59 AM
  • one way i plan ahead, is getting all the fliers, sales papers and checking who has the best bargain on certain items, making a list and going on a full tummy....i do not buy party favors, etc, the dolled up paper plates and napkins, a trip to the dollar tree, everything for a dollar if i am in need of anything like that.
    stock up on fruits and veggies at the road side market or farmers markets, that way you arent tempted by the bakery and bread items that are placed along the aisles as you make your way to the produce section in most groceries.. i fell for tricks like these, but, i ended up with stuff i would never use and threw away, my family was the worst to cook enough cookout food for 35 people, when there was only 8 maybe 12 ppl there to eat.
    go in with list in hand, full tummy, and wear your blinders, dont look to the left or the right, focus straight ahead - 6/3/2013 5:04:58 PM
  • Im not sure where Esperi is shopping, but I see this in every supermarket I go to in Spain (Ive lived here for 13 years now). Anyhow, you cant blame supermarkets for their marketing tactics. They are, after all, running a business and there to make as much profit as possible. I think theyre actually very clever. We just need to shop smart and stay focussed! - 6/2/2013 4:58:33 AM
  • TIMETOCHANGE66
    I circle the outside aisles of the grocery store and only go down aisles if there is something there on my list. I also don't go to fancy grocery stores...they design the store to make food more appetizing...I stick to the basic store and I spend less. I budget for $50 a week per person and we always have lots to eat. I keep a grocery jar too where money is put in on a bi-weekly basis and if you take money out you put back the change with the receipt. It works ! Shop alone...sometimes I take my husband but things have a way of jumping into the cart behind my back...that is sometimes the price to pay for him bagging my groceries for me. - 3/19/2013 10:50:09 AM
  • My favorite strategy for shopping without spending or eating too much is to carry a basket vs use a cart. It's an incredible work out too! It really shows you the consequences of your own actions. I still impulse buy, but I have to put SOME thought into it, because if it weighs the basket down too much or fills it too much, I can't carry the basket anymore and have to lose some items. - 12/5/2012 1:40:21 PM
  • I must say that here in Spain this does not exist. In Sweden the last meters to the cashier always was filled with snacks and sweets but here those things stay in there aisle and you have to go there to get them.
    There is only one small shelf in front of the checkout for an offer which is very often fabric softener, bread or potato...
    LOVE SPAIN!!! - 5/11/2012 3:53:56 AM
  • One more thing - I KNOW when they are going to have free samples of things I DO eat - and I manage to make a whole FREE MEAL out of that. Even if it means being there when the sample clerks are taking breaks, changing shifts, etc, so someone who doesn't know me will give me more. Flatter them, compliment the food: do whatever it takes to get your nutrients FREE. - 5/7/2012 12:29:05 PM
  • I NEVER, EVER buy impulse items because I can't even afford what I NEED. I DO buy what I need ONLY when it is on sale (if it isn't, that isn't when I needed it!!!!!) I use coupins, online sale e-mails, "match" deals from other stores. AND I watch EVERY SINGLE THING they ring up!!!! I mark the item's price with a pen as I pick it up, carry my list, complete with prices, and make them show me that they actually gave me the sale price if they ring up too fast. If there is a REALLY GOOD sale (like on egg whites, which I use every day), I buy all that are left on the shelf, then I go to customer service and get a raincheck for MORE - so I can get the sale price when the sale is over. I look for distressed (broken) packages, dated items near the end of their shelf life, and anything I WANT that is seriously marked down. I get "tempted" by ABSOLUTELY NOTHING because it costs MONEY. A really good shopping trip is one in which my receipt shows that I saved OVER 60 or 65% - which means I paid about $40 and got $100 worth of food. I shop as RARELY as possible, because I don't have the money. My best shopping trip was one on which I paid $18 for $87 worth of food! I shop at night, when it is less crowded, ALWAYS on the last day of the sale week - so they're low on sale items and I can get rainchecks that extend my sale dates for 90 days. ALso, at night, they're going to throw away those broken packages, and clear off the items that reached the end of their shelf life. I've talked the manager down to 10-15% of the original price on those! And, again, ONLY what I wanted ANYWAY. - 5/7/2012 12:21:09 PM
  • MDURANT8
    Loved this article! I've been aware of these tactics for a long time now and I'm getting better and better at avoiding them! My biggest weakness is the magazines in front. I usually end up with at least one every time I go shopping and I usually don't enjoy them, either. I'm going to consciously avoid them from now on. It's nice to know that this is a common weakness and not just me. LOL - 4/1/2012 5:24:27 PM
  • I already do most of what is commented on here. What helps me the most is to go to the store by myself... my husband costs me more if he goes with... I take my time, use my list and coupons. I also get extra steps on my pedometer, too! I make grocery shopping a game... one that I WILL win! - 3/31/2012 3:56:09 PM