Debtors diet, week 2: Curb your enthusiasm at grocery store

The thrill of the hunt is compelling, especially when your grocer's ads tout "BIG SAVINGS" on favorite holiday meal fixins.

But even if you're just shopping for your weekly groceries this weekend instead of the trimmings and trappings for turkey day, it's still tough to say no to a good sale. And with most of us on strict, self-imposed budgets because of the current recession, shopping on the weekend becomes an even bigger temptation, a time to say, "But I've been so good all week, I deserve a little splurge!"

Tossing sale items in your cart can blow your budget if you're not careful. "I find it hard to resist great sales, so I'll buy far more than we need or than I can fit in my freezer," says frequent sale-shopper, Barbara Nelson.

Researchers say Nelson's predisposition to sale shopping is one that's shared by many. It's also the result of some very specific bells and whistles going off in your head that can lead to you blowing your debt diet.

That's why this week's installment of the Debt Diet will focus on what happens in your head when you're at the grocery store -- and what you can do to bust your brain's reactions.

Shop early

A study led by Kathleen D. Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School, found that shopping or being approached to spend money (like when a clerk offers you a free sample of food the store is promoting that weekend) when your mental energy resources are low will lead you to spend more than if you were well rested or less stressed.

Shopping early in the day or when you're well rested, Vohs says, sends you to the sales when your willpower is at its strongest. If you absolutely have to shop after a long day, Vohs suggests making a list.

"Even if you're running to the store for just one gallon of milk and nothing else, make a list." And keep that list in your hand. "Seeing that list reinforces your budget and cuts down the chance you'll make impulse purchases," she says.

Pump up the volume

Researchers from National Central University in Taiwan found slow tempo music (something you might slow-dance to) hinders your decision-making ability, especially when it comes to making tough decisions like how much should you allot for groceries. Could explain why stores rarely play polkas or rap!

On the flip-side, the study also found fast tempo music improves your decision-making ability. So even though calm music may soothe the savage beast, queuing up some good old-fashioned rock and roll or even hip hop on your MP3 can help you make sound financial decisions or stick to your budget in the grocery store.

Worried you'll look silly shopping with ear buds tucked in your ears? Play fast music while writing your shopping list and in the car on the way to the store. The effect can last for up to an hour after hearing the song.

Make a "useless list"

Jonathan Citrin, CEO of Michigan-based investment planning firm CitrinGroup says "useless stuff" lists – instead of lists of things you want to buy -- can keep your cart on course.

"Write a list of all the useless items that are stored away in the back of the refrigerator or freezer on stashed in the back of your cabinets that have never been eaten or used," says Citrin.

Shopping with that reminder in your hand or purse can keep you from giving into impulse purchases -- even if they're on sale.

Get uncomfortable

It's natural to want to slap on a pair of comfy shoes before taking off for the grocery store. But Citrin suggests doing the exact opposite:

"Wear the most uncomfortable shoes you own every time you go shopping. That way you will want to get in and get out as quickly as possible," he says.

If you do momentarily fall off the Debt Diet wagon and tote home more groceries than you'd planned, experts say don't feel guilty. Just circle the grocery cart around, and get right back on the Debt Diet.

For daily tips to keep your will power high, follow the Debt Diet on Twitter @WalletPopper and @DebtDiet. And check back next Wednesday for a special pre-Black Friday addition of the Debt Diet.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer specializing in consumer issues.
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