Don’t Be Fooled By These 5 Grocery Store Tricks That Make You Spend More

Get smart about these and you'll save some money at the checkout.

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Grocery stores can be like a minefield of mindless spending. How many times have you walked into the store to pick up “just one or two things” and wind up spending a lot more than you planned? Chalk it up to grocery store tricks.

These selling strategies employed by grocery stores are subtle, but we’re here to expose their secrets so you don’t end up wasting your money.

1. Watch the shopping cart size

From the moment you grab a cart, you may be setting yourself up to buy more than you planned. Grocery shopping cart sizes have grown over the years, with many of them having double baskets to give shoppers more room. Studies have shown that shoppers who had a cart double the normal size bought 40 percent more, according to Martin Lindstrom, a marketing consultant and author of “Brandwashed.”

So, just because the cart may seem empty, make sure you’re aware of how much you’re putting in there.

grocery cart photo
Getty Images | Rob Carr

2. The secret of sight and smell

Ever notice what’s usually near the front of most grocery stores? The deli and the bakery! You walk into the store with an empty cart and the smell of fresh rotisserie chicken or baked goods taps right into your mood, your tummy and your wallet! This is one of the most common grocery store tricks.

Even those of us looking for the healthier alternatives are not immune to our senses. A well-stocked produce section is also typically located near the front of the store. The bright colors and beautiful displays attracts our eye and lead us over to grab a few items to toss into the empty cart.

grocery store photo
Getty Images | Andrew Wong

3. Grocery store pricing tricks

How food is packaged and priced can also lead us to spend more than we anticipated. How? Those 99-cent deals may seem like a bargain, and that’s no accident. By simply marking an item at $2.99 instead of $3.00, our brains can convince us that we’re saving more than a penny, which can lead us to purchasing more than one of an item, even if we don’t need it.

4. Watch those packages

Packaging is a veritable minefield of tricks and traps. Here’s what you need to keep in mind so you’re not taken for a ride.

  • Pre-packaged items may offer convenience, but it comes at a price. This is particularly true when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Many stores have displays of produce already cut and bagged, which make them easy to grab and go. However, take the time to compare the bagged price to the unprepared, uncut item (such as apples or carrots). You’ll likely find that you’ll save a couple of dollars and all you need to do is a little slicing or chopping.
  • Sometimes pre-packaged items can save you money, though. If you want standard cheeses (cheddar, American, mozzarella), walk past the deli or speciality cheese case and go to the dairy section, where pre-packaged blocks of cheese are often less expensive than their counterparts in the deli case. At the deli you’ll likely be paying a lot more for a brand name or the fact that someone else is slicing the cheese in front of you.
  • Bulk items are often promoted as big money savers. But, be careful. Not all deals are equal and you should consider the expiration dates. If you have to buy more of an item than you’ll use right way, it can spoil. This means you’re buying more than you need and wasting the food—and your money—in the long run.

5. Location, location, location

Where items are placed in the grocery store can affect how much or what we buy too. Take these grocery store tricks as examples:

  • One of the best-known location tricks is putting the milk at the back of the store. By doing this, shoppers are forced to walk through the entire store to just get that one gallon they need. Hopefully, this means you’ll pick up a few extra things that catch your eye along the way.
  • Ever notice how the more expensive items on the shelves are at your eye level? This is not a coincidence. Your eyes naturally go to the shelves in the middle and this is where most stores will put the non-discounted items and best sellers, even if they are more expensive than others.
  • The same principle holds true in marketing for kids. Those sugary, expensive cereals and snacks are at their eye and hand level. It makes them easy to grab and throw in the cart.
  • Even at the end of your shopping trip, the checkout line is still there looking to squeeze a little extra out of your pocket. A cold bottle of water, a candy bar, a magazine—all of those impulse purchase items are right there waiting for you to say, “I want it!”
    grocery store photo
    Getty Images | Luis Ascui

The best way to avoid these tricks is to be aware of them before you head in to do your shopping. Also, go with a list of the things you need to buy (and stick to it). That way, you don’t waste your money buying things you don’t really want or need.

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