7 ways to outsmart the shopkeeper and stick to your budget

7 ways to outsmart the shopkeeper and stick to your budget


Have you ever found yourself humming along to the music in a store? Then you’re being persuaded to spend more time and money.

Brands and retail businesses spend a lot of time and resources looking at how people behave in stores and online, and it turns out that a lot of the purchasing choices we make are highly predictable. With simple changes to product placement, discounts, buying options and leveraging loyalty cards, you can be swayed to spend more than you originally planned. Since forearmed is forewarned, here are a few ideas on how to stick to your own financial plans – by making a few easy decisions in advance.

A quick disclaimer before we continue. Any financial 'mistakes' listed below are not unique to us, nor do they mean that we are not smart people. In fact, context and prompts lead to almost everyone making the same predictable choices.

When shopping in bricks and mortar store, speed your way through your grocery list, preferably while listening to fast music.

When shopping online, put some up-tempo music on in the background. It's no joke: studies confirm that the faster you shop, the less inclined you are to buy things you don't need.

Stores know this and use a variety of tools to slow you down. For example, they may limit the number of cashiers to create longer lines and make you wait longer next to the gum, gift cards and magazines. Some stores place actual speed bumps - changes in the height of the floor - to slow you down and make sure you'll look around and linger longer. And think about the IKEA maze – it purposely takes you forever to exit the store!

Grocery stores frequently shelve staples like milk and eggs in the back, so you must walk through the whole store to grab them, which takes time. Items frequently bought together are also placed far apart, so you must – again – walk through the entire store.

So the next time you're singing along to the generic, light music that your conscious brain barely registered, know that the store is purposely playing it to set a calm pace, and therefore persuade you to buy more.

Are you in the middle of a heat wave? Then expect the air-conditioning to be cranked up extra high. Retailers know that some people will visit the mall just to stay cool. Is it a rainy day instead? During bad weather people are less inclined to go out, and online stores adjust their headlines: if it's raining, you will receive offers for hats, coats and scarves on a silver platter. Is there a snowstorm on the way? The price of shovels, rock salt and hot drinks will go up.

A study done by two British academics on discount cards or coupons had some surprising results. They confirmed that people who couponed were less satisfied and didn't save money in the long run.

Couponing takes time and fuel if you're driving from one store to another and often you buy things you don't need just for the discount. In addition, the more people bought discounted items, overall prices shot up for everyone else.

Have you ever clicked on ‘No thanks, I don’t want great deals selected just for me’?"

Say I'm looking to purchase a bottle of wine for a dinner party. My neighborhood shop sells three different kinds: one for $8, one for $17, and one for $33. Most people choose the medium-priced option because they don't want to be cheap, but also don't want to pay top-dollar. In other words: comparison changes the value of things. Say that my neighborhood shop would then add another option for $65, I would be more inclined to purchase the $33 bottle of wine – since it becomes a 'medium' choice. The problem is that, once you bring the bottle to the dinner party, it won't matter what other bottles it was sitting next to on the store shelf.

This offering of one (far more expensive) choice, skews the buying process, making you spend more than you a had planned. It's difficult, but if you can treat each item individually, you would likely make the choice that fits your budget.

Research shows menus that include prices without dollar signs (Truffle Fries, 9) entice you to spend more than menus with prices that include dollar signs (Truffle Fries, $9) or even menus with the prices written out in words (Truffle Fries, Nine Dollars). You can either avoid the restaurants that leverage this tactic or say the prices in your head when you're choosing your lunch.

Have you ever clicked on 'No thanks, I don't want great deals selected just for me'? Online stores are especially good at getting you to click on something you had no intention of viewing, adding you to their mailer or gathering your data, all via visual interference. Pop-ups steer you towards a certain choice or misdirect you by making the 'No' choice much smaller, a different color or virtually invisible. Not to mention the text shames you into believing you're making the wrong choice! See this tactic for what it is and choose to steer clear of sites that leverage these kinds of negative tactics.

This one's especially true for women and girls. Gender-focused merchandise, such as razor blades, soaps, electronics and even sodas can become more or less expensive depending on which gender they're marketed to. This is what's known as the "pink tax" and literally means that a phone (or skates) costs more depending on the color. Automatically skip the gendered products to save: there are plenty of money-saving, gender-neutral alternatives no matter what you're looking to buy.

Elke Boogert

About Elke Boogert

As Senior Global Content Manager at Aegon, I am curious, analytical, action and relationship oriented, and I love exploring inventive, new ways to tell "old" stories.