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How to Move Past Marketing & Advertising at the Grocery Store

Guest post from Audrey of Mom Drop Box

When I go grocery shopping, I often feel bombarded – and at times overwhelmed – by advertising and marketing.  How do you sort out whether an item is really a good purchase, or just marketed as such?

Here are five easy steps to make sure that what you’re putting in your grocery cart is a good buy for your family:

1. Focus on needs.

Think about nutrition. What foods will help your family to be healthy? Focus on that, and (mostly) leave out the processed stuff.

2. Know the price per pound.

This is one technique has totally changed my shopping mindset. With package sizes all over the place, it is useful to think in terms of price per one pound (16 ounces).  This allows an easy comparison of costs between different types of food. Many healthy foods, including in-season vegetables and grains, often cost around $1 a pound.

3. Compare apples to apples.

Often, I’ll have a certain ingredient for a recipe on my list that I need to purchase that week, or I’ll just have a craving for something, like olives. It’s easy to compare the cost of different brands, even if they don’t have the same package size: just look at the cost per ounce, pound, or per unit shown on the price tag. Checking this out will ensure that you are truly getting the best price.

4. Don’t be distracted.

Try to go to the grocery store when you’re not hungry, with kids, or tired. Non–peak hours provide the most pleasant environment for taking your time and not feeling rushed.

5. Only buy what you’ll use.

If you’re not sure if you’ll be able to use what you’re buying, why not leave it for someone else, even if it’s a great deal? It can be a blessing for the next person who comes along.

How do you get past advertising & marketing to make sure you’re getting the best deal at the grocery store?

Audrey loves thinking about how to make motherhood easier, relationships better, and money more effective; so she blogs about those things at Mom Drop Box.  She works part-time as an urban planner, but her most important job is being mom to her two young kids.

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  1. Meredith says

    Not all can do this, but talk to someone you know who has worked in a grocery store or retail merchandising. Trust me, there are schemes drawn up every week based on what they are trying to get you to buy. I worked at Best Buy during college and I know when to just walk by and not even look anymore.

  2. says

    Love it! I just blogged about this very topic!

    Did you know that even the placement of diapers is carefully monitored at Walmart? Watching the price per pound is vital.

    A couple other things I do:

    Have a target price for items. Knowing what I want to spend beforehand helps me avoid “fake” sales.

    Shop with a list. (I generally just put down a generic “vegetables” and purchase what is the best deal per pound)

    Shop LESS! Heading into the store as infrequently as possible (unless you play the drugstore game) helps save so many impulse purchases.

  3. Melanie says

    I particularly like your last suggestion. I use coupons and shop for good deals so that I can remain a stay at home, homeschooling mom of my 4 kiddos. It is truly a necessary that I stay within our grocery budget each month. I get frustrated by some couponers who buy stuff just because it’s a good deal, not because their family necessarily needs or will use the item, when there are moms like me who coupon out of necessity.

  4. Sporksoma says

    The problem with relying on the pricetag to tell you price per pound/ounce is that they are NOT always accurate. Carry a calculator with you, or do the math in your head, to figure out what the actual price per unit is. Relying on the store to give you price per unit prices that are accurate means you could be off by a lot.

    • says

      This is so true! Often our local stores don’t update those tags when the item is on sale – but I’ve even seen the everyday price calculated wrong before. I use the calculator on my cell phone and have it ready as I walk down the aisles.

      These are all of the reasons I shop with a list. We buy only what we need, only what we’ll use, and it’s easier to stay focused so I have more time to calculate the cost of each item.

    • says

      I echo this suggestion. My mom used to always have a calculator in her purse and used it for keeping track of totals, figuring out the true price per ounce, etc. I use my phone now. I’m surprised by how often the price per ounce is incorrect, especially for sale items!

  5. Christy says

    Shop without kids–LOL. That is rarely an option for me! I think I actually spend less when the kids are with me (which is 90% of the time). I stick to my list because I am in a hurry to grab everything and go as quickly as possible before someone has a meltdown. Of course, I don’t have a ton of time to comparison shop but I can quickly glance at a price per ounce on a label (hopefully it’s accurate because I definitely don’t have time to calculate each one).

    • Chelsea says

      That’s funny that you say that, Christy. I actually just made an Aldi’s run a couple weeks ago, and I took my one year daughter. She fell asleep on the way there, and I felt bad waking her up, so I carried her in one arm, and steered my cart/picked up items with the other. Let me tell you… I made it through there as fast as possible because I felt like my arm was going to fall off! I didn’t even bother glancing at items not on my list. That was the quickest and cheapest Aldi’s trip I’ve ever done. :)

    • Meredith says

      I don’t spend as much either with my daughter. I may splurge on her something but a lot of the time, we are talking and I can actually talk myself out of things better. The other day I had an item on the list and I said, do you want this with dinner. She said no and she was right, I didn’t even need it. I also spend less with my husband, he figures out the unit cost while I deal with coupons, list, and child. If you can actually get a team together, it can be beneficial.

      • Wendy says

        Wow you actually have a husband that will go grocery shopping with you? I couldn’t make mine go with me. If he did he sure wouldn’t be looking for the best deals, just what looked good to eat 😉

        • Meredith says

          Well, I didn’t add in my previous post that he is a financial analyst. So, while he’d rather stay home and watch sports, it’s kind of his thing to calculate numbers. Not to mention, he works at Lance (crackers, cookies, chips) so the junk food side is taken care of through extreme discounts through work. :)

      • anon says

        I spend WAY more if my husband is with me. He throws junk food and other things we don’t even need into the cart and we end up spending—I am not kidding—probably double what we would otherwise.

  6. Katie L says

    I consider it a win if I can avoid aisles all together. I always bring a list, and I try to avoid aisles or dart into the end of an aisle to just get what I need rather than wandering all the way down the aisle.

    I find I’m more tempted to spend more when I spend more time looking. So I try to minimize my time in the store passing items that I didn’t come in intending to buy. I skip the dog food aisle, bottled water aisle, personal care aisle (I can often skip this one), plastic containers aisle, paper products aisle… it saves me time AND money.

  7. Deborah Jennings says

    One thing that I have found is . . . no matter how good the sale, if we don’t or won’t use it, I don’t buy it! I do like to buy what we use on sale though. And I do shop the sales and make our menus with what is on sale.

  8. Molly says

    Oh, my, yes! I find shopping at the regular grocery store to be completely overwhelming, even when I’m just going in for one specific thing!
    For me, the best trick has been to put down very specific details. For instance, I won’t put “cereal” on the list, I’ll put “red can of oatmeal x 2”, or I’ll put a specific brand down. If I have to go to the regular grocery store, I also stock up, mostly to save time so I don’t have to wander through a week layer looking for the same thing that has now been moved around the store.
    Shopping at Aldi is just so much simpler and less overwhelming, so I try to do 90% of the shopping there if I can.

  9. Andrea Q says

    I must be fairly oblivious to marketing at the grocery store, maybe because we’re quite selective about what we buy. I think it helps to shop at the basic grocery store, too, instead of the large chains that always try to trick people with marketing gimmicks.

  10. Jennifer says

    Look up and down, not straight ahead. Brands pay BIG BUCKS to be located at eye-level on the store shelves, as well as the end-cap displays. I used to work in Advertising (I managed Nabisco brands in Beijing) and one of our jobs was to visit various stores and map out what brands were located where, and then come up with promotions and strategies to get our brands in the best location.

    The “little guys” can’t afford those spots, so they are located towards the top of the shelving or the bottom shelves. So when you’re looking for various products, don’t forget to look up and down and compare those “apples for apples”!

    (Side Note: I left advertising after 5 years, believing it to be the work of the devil, seriously, and went to work for World Vision in corporate fundraising – amazing work).

    • anon says

      I noticed with the Buy One, Get Ones, and you have to pay full price for that first one, often it is more expensive than buying a store brand or waiting for a sale. My store does the B1G1 on Dorito’s a lot—but I am not paying over $4 a bag, even if one is free

      • says

        My store just had that deal. So what would you say an “on-sale” price for Doritos would be? I highly doubt you could get one bag for $2. So with just a little planning and wise eating…I can get 2 bags for $4, and I will save one of them for later.

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