The best path to take in the grocery store, according to experts

Flickr / Foad HersiThere is a way to navigate grocery stores without overspending and overbuying.
  • Grocery stores are designed to make people spend money.
  • Fresh foods like produce and dairy are located on the perimeter of the store. Non-essential items are in the center aisles.
  • Many people buy more than they actually need when grocery shopping.
  • Having a set plan for how you navigate the store can prevent overbuying.

One of the most relatable feelings is the world is staring into your fridge after a quick grocery store run and asking yourself,” Wait. How did I end up with all this stuff again?”You’re not alone. In 2012, the Mass Merchant Engagement Shopper Study showed more than 50% of all the items we buy in the grocery store are things we didn’t plan to purchase. And even though it’s now 2018, Sarah O’Brien of CNBC reported that our affinity for impulse buys hasn’t changed.It turns out supermarkets are masters of strategic merchandising. Everything from the music that’s playing on the radio, the aroma of fresh blueberry muffins in the bakery, and the colourful vegetable arrangements, play a role in influencing what we choose to buy when we go shopping. And at the center of all this sensory advertising is a carefully crafted floor plan designed to lead us into each of those spaces.

But in order to outsmart all this clever marketing, one has to rethink how they do grocery shopping entirely.

We reached out to Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition, and financial expert and author,Stefanie O’Connell, for insight on how to be a more focused and conscientious grocery shopper.

Before you go anywhere, make a list.

Planning your grocery route starts before you enter the store.Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, and owner of BZ Nutrition, said that shopping with a list is the key to an effective grocery trip. She told INSIDER, “First I think to myself ‘how many nights am I cooking?’ And how many nights am I going out? I also ask myself ‘how busy I am this week?’ because that will determine what meals I need to cook.” She noted that knowing exactly what to buy before entering the store allows the process to be completely stress-free. Of course, there are several ways to write a grocery list. Some people like to organise theirs by the food groups like dairy, produce, and bread. Other people like to buy a few bulk staples they can use to cook several dishes throughout the week.Zeitlin’s approach to grocery list making involves a combination of meal planning and checking inventory of what she already has on hand. The foundation of her lists is whole, fresh ingredients, but she doesn’t forbid herself from buying some convenience foods, because they can save time and make cooking certain dishes a lot easier. “I’m a busy person. We’re all busy people…Having that [convenient item] helps to save time.”

Once you’re at the grocery store, head for the fresh stuff first.

Justin Sullivan/GettyStart with produce — filling up your cart or basket with healthy things will leave less room for unhealthy snacks.

Zeitlin told Insider, “[When I’m at the store] I start with the perimeter. That’s where you’re gonna find all the fresh produce, the veggies, the fruits. It’s also where the cold refrigerated items will be too. If you’re getting any dairy, any meat, or any fish… All of those fresh items are all gonna be along the perimeter of the store.”By making a conscious choice to go after fresh foods first, you’ll fill more space in your cart with them. This leaves less room for things that aren’t as nutritious.

After picking up your produce, continue to walk along the outer edges of the store.

iStockThe store perimeter often has non-processed foods.

One benefit of shopping the store perimeter is that it keeps you from buying pre-packaged or processed foods that may not be the best bang for your buck. These items are almost always in the middle aisles and cash registers.

Stefanie O’Connell,personal finance expert and author of “The Broke and Beautiful Life: Small Town Budget, Big City Dreams”, said that maximizing value is her top priority when grocery shopping.

She told INSIDER, “While I might be able to grab instant meals and frozen pizzas for the lowest cost per meal, I prioritise the value of nutrition over price, so I generally only buy fresh produce and non-processed foods, typically found on the perimeter of the store.”

Next, work your way toward the aisles — but only the ones you need to go through.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesOnly go down the aisles that you need to.

Instead of weaving through every single aisle “just in case,” you should only go to areas where there’s an item on your list you actually need.Zeitlin told INSIDER this will keep you from aimlessly wandering throughout the store and picking up stuff you didn’t intend to buy. She said “After I’ve got [my produce, dairy, other essentials], I go down my list and see what boxed, canned, or bottled items I need … I do the inner aisles at the end.”This is because the inner aisles are usually stacked with the most non-essential items, like packaged chips, cookies, and other snacks.It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with your local market’s layout so you can better organise your shopping lists. If you learn exactly where everything is, you can avoid backtracking down the same aisles trying to find the same item for 20 minutes.This is important because studies show people are likely to spend more money on impulse purchases the longer they have been in the store. In the bigger, one-stop-shop kind of places that sell more than just food items, this is very likely to happen.

There’s no reason to avoid the treat aisle completely, but it might be a good idea to make it the last area you shop.

Wikimedia CommonsStop at the treat aisle last.

You might think it’s a good idea to swear off the sweets aisle completely when you’re grocery shopping, especially if you’re on a diet.

However, making certain areas off-limits can lead you to feel deprived.Zeitlin said that she doesn’t deliberately avoid any particular aisle when she’s at the grocery store. She told INSIDER, “If I’m making dessert that day and taking it to a friend’s house, or if I’m craving dark chocolate, I’m going to the candy aisle.”Of course, she includes these items as part of her grocery list. If you walk down the dessert aisle with nothing more than a craving, that’s when you run into trouble. Another strategy to use is to shop this area last.By the time you’ve gone through the produce, meats, dairy, and canned goods sections, your basket will have little room for junk food to sit.

Finally, once you’ve got everything on your list, don’t wander aimlessly.

Akhenaton Images/ShutterstockOnce you have everything on your list, make your way to the checkout.

Generally, if you stick with the list you came with, you’re gonna be in good shape. But the truth is even most focused shopper isn’t immune to the lure of the candy aisle.Zeitlin told INSIDER that she uses a classic grocery shopping technique to stop herself from grabbing those flashy impulse items at the last minute. She never shops on an empty stomach.She said, “Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry. You will end up wandering around aimlessly and picking up things you don’t really want to be eating.”

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