7 Supermarket Hacks for Students

In General

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Eating healthily on a budget at university: the struggle is real. Did you know that on average you’ll spend around a fifth of your entire budget on food every year? Here are a few tips to keep your shopping expenses down without resorting to a diet of noodles and rainwater.

1. Don’t Shop Hungry

Let’s get the most obvious tip out of the way first because it’s probably the most common mistake made: don’t shop hungry. Doing your groceries on an empty stomach can tack up to 17% onto your final bill, and a lot of that will be junk you don’t want or need.

2. Tragedy of the Commons

Done right, splitting the bill on a group shop with your housemates is often cheaper because you can take advantage of bulk purchases. However, avoid the pitfall of buying extra or splashing for a luxury product just because you know the cost is being divided equally: when everyone in the group does this, you all end up spending more than if you had shopped alone. The best way around this is to agree on a fixed list of items beforehand, speaking of which…

3. Make a List

Planning ahead is important when you’re trying to keep an eye on your diet and avoid overspending; take 10 minutes before you go out to plan your meals for the coming week and make a list of ingredients. You will save time you would have otherwise spent wandering aimlessly through the supermarket trying to string ingredients together, meaning you’re less likely to opt for a simpler but unhealthy ready meal. Making a list ahead of time benefits your health because it puts an extra barrier between you and impulse purchases by encouraging you to think rationally about your meal choices.

4. Overcome the Power of Brands

If you serve two glasses of the same wine, one poured from a bottle with a nice label and the other from a plastic jug, the average connoisseur will claim they tasted different. Perception is reality and your expectations based on the packaging and branding of a food product can literally affect the way it tastes to you. Thankfully, this only really applies for as long as you keep reinforcing it by continuing to buy the pricier product. Remember: branded products are often flashy packaging disguising small portions – do you really want to pay extra just for a fancier box with brighter colours?

5. Pay with Cash because it Hurts

Debit/credit cards and more recently contactless payment have made settling the bill significantly easier, but this convenience comes at a cost. Exchanging a physical object like notes or coins for your shopping triggers a small pain response in your brain; you experience a sense of loss and this goes a long way towards ensuring you don’t overspend in the long run. Paying with a card doesn’t trigger this response, tricking your brain into feeling like it just got something for nothing, so your best bet for staying in control is to use cash wherever you can. Also, you’ll spend less when you know the limit is how much you have in your pocket rather than how much is in your bank account.

6. Supermarket Mind Games

Supermarket profit margins are extremely narrow; they’ll employ any number of tactics to push up that final number at the till. Your best defence is to be attentive and stick to your plan from beginning to end. Here are some tricks you may or may not have noticed before:

  • This one’s a classic: piling dozens of unhealthy treats around the till to tempt you. Grab a piece of fruit on your way to pay if you’re worried temptation will strike.
  • The smell of fresh bread is blasted at entrances to make you feel hungry, even when none has actually been baked that day, so that you’ll fill your trolley with extra snacks.
  • If you’ve ever shopped at Sainsbury’s in Portswood, ask yourself how many times you’ve walked in and immediately turned right, then walked the full length of the seasonal aisle before continuing on your way. Supermarkets are arranged to force you into taking a large clockwise or anticlockwise route around the entire building, regardless of what you came in to buy, meaning you stop in more aisles to drop more in your trolley.
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