The Grocery Game: Play or Get Played

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The supermarket is designed to get you to spend more than you need. Product location, packaging, quantities, and promotions are all part of the game. And if you aren’t aware that supermarket marketers are even playing a game, then you’re the easiest mark.

Lately, people are more likely to shop at grocery stores and cook at home to save money. But if you’re not paying attention, you won’t save nearly as much as you could. Depending on what you put into your shopping cart, a quick, healthy snack of, say, a salad and veggies, you could easily spend three, four, even five times more than is necessary.

Check out this AP story “How to beat grocery marketers” with tips such as:

More can be less: Marks’ team found that one in four times, a smaller version of a product was cheaper per ounce or pound or serving or other unit. Check the unit price instead of assuming that bigger means cheaper.

D.I.Y. carrot sticks: Cut-up fruits, vegetables and cheese cater to shoppers who want to pry open a plastic bag instead of hunching over a cutting board. Consumer Reports found that six ounces of shredded carrots cost five times as much as a handful of whole carrots.

Another good resource: the Baltimore Sun’s “7 supermarket traps.” Bags of salad offer convenience, but not value:

These bags can be a time-saver, but they can cost three times as much as an ordinary head of lettuce. And “salad kits” — including some greens, a small bag of dressing, and a small bag of croutons — are even more expensive.

Also, at the checkout area, candy and magazines aren’t the only impulse buys you should avoid. You might lean toward one of those protein or energy bars as a healthy alternative to the Snickers bar. But it’s a wash. Those energy bars are not only more expensive, they’re probably just as good for you (meaning bad for you) as the chocolate bar:

They’re often stacked at the checkout counter for impulse buyers who grab them for a quick health fix. But they are often high in sugar and fat and about as wholesome as a candy bar. They’re also two to three times more expensive.