First things first, you have to decide that you no longer want groceries to be such a huge hustle in your life, and you simply want to acquire the goods and get back home so you can unwind. If this is your goal, then you should:
- Always make a shopping list and bring it to the store
Most people think that the purpose of making a shopping list is to remind people what to buy, but its main purpose is actually to remind people what not to buy. Personally, I don’t decide in the spur of the moment to write down the things I need, because I will definitely omit an item or two. Instead, every time I notice that I am missing something, I write it down on a piece of paper I keep on my desk. If I go to the bathroom to wash my hands and notice that I will soon run out if soap, I make a note. If I open my fridge to make a sandwich and notice that I will soon run out of salami, I also note that. This way, the list gets populated in a matter of weeks (at least in my household), so I am ready to go shopping. Since it is created the way it is, the list does not have items I don’t normally use; for instance, it might contain hot-dogs, mustard, and ketchup, but it won’t contain mayonnaise because I don’t put mayonnaise on hot-dogs. Since these three toppings are usually shelved one next to the other, I might be tempted to buy a pack of mayonnaise, although I do not normally use it. This is a tradesmen’s trick to get you to buy more, and this is why the snacks are almost always neatly positioned across from or next to the beer section. In addition, if you bring a shopping list, you won’t wander around the store since you know, or at least have a vague idea (if you don’t, ask the shop assistant), where certain products are positioned, so you can save the time you would have lost trying to locate them.
- Be careful when it comes to discounts
Discounts are a great way for merchants to attract customers. They function in two ways: firstly, they lure you into the store, so the chances of buying stuff you don’t need significantly increase. If you keep to the guidelines from the first part of the article, you’ll successfully fight the urge to over-shop. Secondly, once you’re in the supermarket, you realize that the sales are not as encompassing as they have been advertized. Probably only a few products are on sale, and those sales are not a bargain in the true sense of the word. Namely, merchants decrease prices of goods which are high in comparison to what other merchants are offering. Let’s say a special kind of chocolate costs on average $1.50. In the store where we shop, due to various economic factors, the price is $2. People will therefore not buy this particular brand, and thus sales of it will go down. The merchandisers will notice this, and they will include the confectionary item in the next big sale. Signs will be posted to lure the shoppers: “25% off, just this week, hurry to buy chocolate X.“ The price as discounted will be $1.50, which is merely the regular price in other stores, so there is no discount after all. Since these examples are numerous, you as the shopper have to be careful when it comes to the big numbers promoted at sales.
Another reason an item is on sale could be the expiration date. If it is really close, merchants are obligated to put a notice on the shelf, but many merchants directly and indirectly break this rule, and try to relieve themselves of the surplus they have by putting the item on sale. This is why your first, almost mechanical reaction when you pick an item off the shelf should be to check its expiration date. This way, you save yourself both time and gas when you come home and just before you refrigerate a carton of milk, you realize that it went off a week ago, and you have to go back to the store to return it.
- Look at the price per unit of measure, not per individual item
Even before you pick an item off a shelf, you have to decide to buy it, and the price is certainly an important factor in the decision making process. To disillusion you from the start, the price on the shelf is not the price the item sells by. Its real price is written in tiny print, usually at the bottom of the price tag. That is the price per unit, displayed in kilos or ounces, while the regular price is for that single item, which usually weighs less. If we go back to our imaginary chocolate, the price of $1.5 is for 100 grams, while the price for one kilogram is ten times that: $150. To confuse you, the salesmen will neatly place next to this one a chocolate of a different brand which is on sale, and which costs $1, although its weight is somewhat smaller, let’s say 80 grams (Weight is also how producers save material, always check that it suits your needs, weights of 95 grams are not hard to find). However, if you take a look at the small print on the price tag, you will see that the price for one kilogram is higher, which renders this chocolate more expensive than the one that costs $1.5. When determining which brand to buy, always look at the price per unit of measure, since that is the product’s real, comparable price.
- Choose the quickest line at the cash register
Finally, once you have filled your shopping cart to the brim, it’s time to go to the cash register. Nowadays, many supermarkets have automated self-service cash registers, and these are quicker if you’re an experienced shopper and know how to use them effectively. If you are more old-fashioned, you have to queue up to get to the human cashier. Since there are several lines, you are faced with the choice of which one to stand in. Usually, we make this decision based on the length of the line, or the numbers of items each shopper has in his or her cart. Such a method is logical, but in most cases it is the wrong way to go, literally. Cashiers repeat the same menial process for each customer, and scanning the bar code takes only a fraction of a second, so it makes little difference if a shopper has five or fifteen items in his or her basket. Furthermore, if he or she buys twenty, for example, cans of sardines, the cashier will scan only one, thus speeding up the process. Evaluating the length of the line is a tad better option, since it relies on assessing the people, rather than the products. This brings us to the best possible strategy: your decision should be based on the number of people in the line, and a swift evaluation of their profile, and by “profile” we mean a rough estimate of how long they will interact with the cashier. Families with children will most probably waste time calming down their youngsters, and if a person has a cheque in hand, then you know he or she will require extra time to fill it out. Of course, such a strategy is not bulletproof, since you cannot predict when someone’s credit card will bounce, or if the till will run out of paper.
These are the basic pieces of advice one shopper can give to another, and adhering to them will result in less stress while performing this modern chore. The hardest thing of all is the willpower to go through all the steps listed, but their successful completion will result in additional time and money you’ll have to spend on the things that truly make you happy.