The Science of Spending Less at the Grocery Store

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eHow Money Blog

It’s no secret that grocery shopping when you’re hungry can blow your budget. “There are numerous unsuspecting prompts and cues hidden around the grocery store that can lead to buying foods that contradict with both your monetary and caloric budget,” says Brian Wansink, a noted Cornell University researcher.

But a grumbling stomach is far from the most dangerous pitfall to your diet, according to a host of new research. To sidestep unsuspecting calorie traps and blunders that can lead to overspending, rely on these science-backed tricks.

Look away
Wansink’s research says we’re 16 percent more likely to trust a food product if the packaging features a character that looks you in the eye. His team speculates that when characters (like the Trix rabbit or Cap’n Crunch) make eye contact, we make a connection and feel more positive about the item than others without a friendly face.

The fix: If you happen to lock eyes with a food’s spokesperson -– or rabbit –- flip the package around. Looking at the ingredients and nutritional information or even the back of the box will help you snap out of the character’s suggestive stare so you can make an educated decision about buying the item.

Don’t be blue
New research from the University of Missouri indicates that the color of a food’s logo has a lot to do with how you feel about the product. Blue logos were found to elicit feelings of confidence and reliability in a product, while pink leaves us with feelings of youth and imagination. So if a product says it’s “low-fat” and has a lot of blue on the packaging, you might not look further or read the label to determine what that claim really means. The grocery store will never be a black-and-white world, but that doesn’t mean the packaging color has to bust your gut.

The fix: Use color to your advantage by jotting down your grocery list on a green piece of paper, or change the background on your phone or tablet’s notepad to green to keep track of items you need. Separate research from İstanbul Kültür University found the color green is the most calming and generates confidence, so looking at that color can help keep you grounded and give you the courage to stick to your budget despite all of the colors on pricey food packages.

Pay yourself to eat healthy
Research has found that we’re more likely to stick to healthy shopping habits when a little moola is on the line. Scientists say you’re more likely to put more veggies and low-fat foods in your cart when you think not doing so will result in financial loss.

The fix: Put this financial incentive to work for you by writing a shopping list, and suppress the urge to give in to impulse purchases by establishing a system where you have to toss a dollar in a jar for every item you bring home that wasn’t on your list. After a month, see just how many impulse purchases you’ve made by adding up the penalty cash. To feel the full ramifications of shopping off-list, don’t tap into this cash stash to pay for dinner out, go to the movies or buy a new pair of jeans. Instead, use it to pay a bill or reduce your monthly debt.

Rest up
Sleep deprivation can have you buying 9 percent more calories and 18 percent more total food than if you shopped following a good night’s sleep, according to recent research from Uppsala University in Sweden. The thinking is that sleep deprivation’s impact on hunger and decision making creates the perfect storm because you’re unable to practice self-control and ignore impulsive urges.

The fix: Getting a good night’s sleep is the obvious answer, but that’s not always possible. The next best thing to quality time with your pillow is peppermint. Not only can it trigger a chemical reaction in your brain that will kill hunger cravings, it helps pep you up, according to Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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