As part of a massive household cost-saving drive, my husband and I have recently started shopping at an inexpensive supermarket. Until now, we’ve shopped where it’s convenient and pleasant – which means at one of two fairly costly stores on the main road nearest to our house.

After a bit of research and budgeting, we worked out that our tastes for convenience and luxury were costing us a lot of money (like, a lot), so we started planning for a weekly shop to the large supermarket in a mall a kilometre further down the road instead.

It was a hard thing to do. As a lover of food and an entertainer of friends, I felt that my shopping experience defined me. I was a grocery retail addict, feeling complete as I moved among the beautifully presented food, taking whatever I wanted and building luscious fantasies around how it would be served and eaten with happy friends.

But, the change had to be made, and the process has reduced our food bill radically, but not only because things are a fair bit cheaper in the low-cost supermarket. It’s also because, in addition to saving a rand here and there on staples like milk and bread, our whole shopping experience has shifted so that we simply don’t buy the same kind of stuff anymore.

The supermarket is large and unfriendly. Standard products are placed on functional shelving to make them accessible – not to fill the customer with an urgent need to buy them immediately. You need eggs, you’ll go and get eggs. You won’t get suckered in by a display of delicious English muffins that will complete your breakfast plate in an orgy of Pinterest perfection, positioned cleverly nearby.

The overall brand experience in the supermarket hasn’t been created to make the products more appealing. Of course, each item has been packaged by its creator to make it as compelling as possible, but the brand promise is lost among the noise of other competing products so you can simply choose the one you want – and that’s the one that’s cheapest, if you’re on a cost saving mission.

There are also fewer imported products nestled among the local produce. So you are less likely to go, “Ooooooh, asparagus!” and snatch it off the shelf without noticing that it’s been flown in for your eating pleasure from Peru and costs R285 for seven spears.

Of course, there are some items that I still prefer to purchase from the high-end stores – and that’s fine. Their yoghurts and tinned tomatoes are incomparable. And I’ll also still pop in when I find myself out of milk or butter after work and can’t face the mall parking lot and supermarket check-out queues. But I have to keep my eyes on the prize – because all the lovely little items on the shelves beckon to me with their brand promise of luxury.

“Georgi!” they call, in fluent marketingese. “Our glorious deliciousness defines you. Imagine how it would look on your serving platter, alongside some asparagus spears and buffalo mozzarella! You know you want us…”

For instance, last week, when I dashed in to grab a loaf of bread from the high-end store, I noticed a “NEW!!!” product on the shelves. It was a little nest of noodles, individually wrapped, with appealing oriental designs on the packaging. Asian noodles are a staple in my household, so my hand automatically reached out to grab the prettily presented product. Fortunately, I’ve been working on amplifying the cost-saving voice in my head and it thundered “Put that down!!!!” at me. It was even louder than the noodles!

Those individually wrapped noodles would have cost me three times what the same item, bought in packs of ten, would cost at the supermarket down the road.

It’s very easy to get caught up in marketing – and the nicer the store, the more money it has to spend on selling its products to you and making you feel special for buying them. Letting go of the idea that “it’s nicer to shop there,” has been one of the best things I could have done for my budget. And as soon as I started prioritising cost-saving over my shopping experience, all the promotional tricks and ridiculous expenses became immediately apparent to me, and were much easier to ignore.

I can still hear those little asparagus spears and nests of noodles calling to me, even from the safety of my car as I drive past, but I am resolute that I will not be spending any more money on funding a high-end supermarket’s next campaign to get me to spend more money. Instead, you’ll find me comparing prices of tinned goods and dairy products at my local supermarket – my trolley lighter, my wallet heavier and my conscience clearer.

 

Photo: Greg, a shop via Flickr. CC by 2.0