Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: TODAY
By Tracy Saelinger

Unlike making a big purchase, it's easy to be a little more complacent with grocery shopping — after all, it's tiring to be on guard, comparison shopping week after week.

But food takes up an average of 12.5 percent of people's income, or $7,023, each year, according to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a big chunk of change!

The best way for shoppers to hold onto more of that money is to get acquainted with the subtle things that supermarkets do to get people to put more items in their carts.

Here are eight secrets grocery stores don't want people to know about the sneaky ways they get people to spend more money, plus expert advice on how to not fall for their tricks.

1. The higher-margin items are strategically placed on the right side.

Americans are conditioned to drive on the right side of the road and also tend to walk in on the right side of the store, clinging to the right-hand sides of the aisles, according to Sara Lundberg's "Budget Savvy Diva's Guide to Slashing Your Grocery Bill by 50% or More." So of course, that's where customers will find the higher-margin items that the store wants them to buy, she said.

Strategy: Shop from left to right to save. Going against the flow will lessen the enticement to buy.

supermarket cart
Supermarkets employ lots of clever tactics to get you to fill up that cart.Shutterstock

2. The music playing in the background was chosen to make customers spend more time in the store.

No, the people who pick out music to play over the loudspeakers in supermarkets don't just have terrible taste — that elevator music is intentionally slower than the human heartbeat, which gets people to slow down and spend more time in the store, Martin Lindstrom, author of "Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends," told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie.

Strategy: Listen to up-tempo music on headphones, and you'll spend 7 to 8 percent less, he said.

3. The display at the end of an aisle is meant to cause an impulse buy and may not actually be a deal.

Don't be fooled by the big, eye-catching displays of foods like chips and salsa before game day. Even though some sale items are placed at the "end caps" of aisles, plenty of times, they're often just snazzy arrays of regular-priced items, according to Kimberly Danger, author of "Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways to Shrink Your Grocery Bills and Eat Well for Less." She suggested heading to the center of the store to compare prices with other brands in the category.

Shopping around the store will keep shoppers from falling into this common trap. End-cap displays trigger rates of impulsive buying: 61 percent versus 58 percent for in-aisle displays, according to Steve and Annette Economides' "Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family."

Strategy: Check if items at the end-cap of aisles are actually on sale.

shopping basket in supermarket
The mark-up on pre-sliced produce is shocking!Shutterstock

4. Pre-sliced produce can cost the equivalent of $76 an hour.

Savvy shoppers know that buying pre-chopped fruits and veggies come at a price, but how much will that extra convenience cost, and when is it worth it? Go by the five-minute rule: If it takes five minutes or less to do the work, save the money, and skip the convenience option, suggested Stephanie Nelson in "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half."

An example she gave: It takes five minutes to wash a two-pound bunch of romaine. So if she buys the two-pound bunch of lettuce for $1.68 versus the 10-ounce, $2.50 bag, she saved $6.32 by washing it herself in five minutes — which works out to a "salary" of $76 an hour, or a 79 percent savings, she said.

Strategy: If it's easy and takes less than five minutes — think chopping onions — do the work. If not — think roasting and peeling beets — go convenience.

potatoes
Buying potatoes individually usually ends up costing more than buying them pre-bagged.Shutterstock

5. Heavy loose fruits and vegetables can be 50 percent more expensive than bulk bags.

When the sign says "79 cents a pound" for loose potatoes, it can be tempting to pick some of those up, instead of the 5-pound bag for $1.99. But do the math — potatoes are heavy! — and the pre-bagged option is often about 50 percent cheaper for weighty staples like apples, potatoes, carrots and onions, said the Economides family. For example, the potatoes in that 5-pound bag would work out to 38 cents a pound in this case.

And when buying pre-bagged fruits or veggies, weigh each bag to get the best deal, they note. After all, not every bag will weigh exactly 5 pounds — some may be a bit less, or hopefully, more.

Strategy: Skip buying individual potatoes, apples, carrot, onions and other heavy produce — choose pre-bagged fruits and veggies instead to save almost half.

Crystal Pepsi
Nostalgic packaging — we're looking at you, Crystal Pepsi — can make people forget about their wallets.Pepsi

6. Colorful and nostalgic packaging make consumers spend more.

Bright, colorful packages are attention-grabbing, but they also cost more to produce, Danger said. Look for labels that use only two or three colors, which will often cost the consumer less, she added.

The same also goes for those "throwback" labels, research reveals: Nostalgic packaging tends to make people feel warm and fuzzy, and place less value on money, according to a 2014 study by the Grenoble School of Management.

Strategy: Look for packaging and labels with the fewest number of colors.

7. Stir-fry and ground beef are marked up in a major way.

Convenience items lurk in the meat case as well. Instead of buying ground beef, for example, ask the butcher to grind up a bottom round roast — an inexpensive cut — for you, suggested Bruce Lubin and Jeanne Bossolina Lubin, in "Who Knew? Supermarket Savings Secrets." Or, skip the pre-cut stir-fry beef, they said, and ask the butcher to slice up some rump roast, or do it yourself at home.

Strategy: Put the butcher to work.

Croissant ("kwah-SAHN"; "KWAH-sawn"; "kruh-SAHNT")
Mmm...the smell of fresh croissants. Think twice before tossing them in your cart!cristi180884 / Shutterstock / cristi180884

8. Flowers and bakery items are the first thing in the store because they make customers buy more.

The next time you enter the grocery store, look out for the bread and flowers. They're almost always what shoppers will see first, because they're high-margin items that smell great, activate salivary glands, and put people in a good mood, according to Lundberg.

Strategy: Be on guard when walking in, don't make flowers or baked goods the first things that go in the shopping cart. Instead, swing by the flower and bakery departments on the way out, to see if still in the mood to spring for those hydrangeas and lemon tarts.

TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, TODAY does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.