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Tune into your gatherer instincts
"To inspire shoppers, grocers stage scenes to create a mood or a feeling," says Liz Crawford, author of . This could mean arranging seasonal or holiday displays, such as bushels of apples on hay bales, to remind you of a special ritual—inducing memories that can then compel you to pick up several jars of, say, caramel sauce to make candied apples. It's the same reason flowers, baked goods, and produce are intentionally placed near the store entrance—to turn on our noses. "As we smell, we salivate, which turns us into much less disciplined shoppers," says Paco Underhill, the author of . Once you're aware of the shift, he suggests nourishing your gatherer instincts, concentrating on sight to truly process your surroundings in the store. It'll help you stick to your healthy-food-buying guns.
Bring a list to prevent a "slack budget" gone bad
We tend to use mental accounting to keep track of money, inherently reserving about 25 percent of that unconscious budget for impulse buys, a portion called the "slack budget," says Crawford. And while these unplanned purchases may not do major harm to your wallet, they do tend to damage to your waist. Since most of these temptations come in the form of a deal on an unhealthy product that taps into a craving, Underhill recommends always shopping with a list. "Think of a huge power display of soda as the start of a proposition—it's asking us whether this item should be added to the list," he says. When you wrote down your must-buys at home, you included dark chocolate but not brownies, so use it as a reference for when you feel your willpower weakening around a seemingly appealing bargain.
Resist items by the register
When you're waiting in a seemingly endless line, you become a prime target for impulse buys, Crawford says. Items like candy, which you can munch on then and there, and magazines, which you can read while you have nothing else to do, are intentionally positioned by the register in order to increase your total purchase. "To discipline yourself, use a basket rather than a large shopping cart, or even carry everything in your arms to help guarantee that you're only picking up what you truly need," says Underhill. When a shopping cart is your only option—we recognize that it might be hard to balance, much less lift your entire family's week of groceries—only get in line to pay once you're satisfied that you have everything on your list. Consider the queue a time of shopping embargo.
Never shop when you're hungry or tired
Ultimately we're the only ones responsible for what we buy, and if you're weakened by hunger or exhaustion, you automatically become a much less disciplined shopper. Since stores work to manipulate our shopping defenses, it's important that you come prepared with your grocery A-game, which means not showing up when you've needed a snack for the past two hours. "Even a sample isn't a ploy to get you to purchase that specific product—it's an effort to turn on your senses and get you to buy generally," Underhill warns. So resist that freebie, and instead nosh on fruit or a handful of nuts on the way to the store so you arrive satisfied and alert.
Reward yourself elsewhere
Harsh reality check: We live in a self-rewarding culture, which can lead to foolish spending on food and beyond. "Women are typically responsible for their families, which means that they go to the store every week and push around the cart, even if they're not up to it," says Underhill. "It's a task you do for others, and after taking care of everyone else, it's easy to think you deserve a little something for yourself." You most certainly do—but perhaps not of the hot, salty pretzel variety, which tends to be more about the thrill of buying than about actually enjoying your purchase. If your grocery shopping routine always falls on a certain day, get in the habit of scheduling an activity that you enjoy afterward, like grabbing coffee with a girlfriend or walking your dog in the park, which can help motivate you to get the chore done as efficiently as possible.