How to Trick Yourself Out of Food Impulse Purchases You’ll Regret

Recently someone asked me how I shop the grocery store.  Everybody loves to recite the “shop the periphery” rule to avoid the processed food that dominates the middle section of the supermarket.

That’s a decent start, but even in the health food stores I struggle with one issue: impulse purchases.

Sometimes I go with a list, sometimes I don’t.  Either way, I always end up with a few things that I don’t need.

Most often these purchases are some new organic snacky-snack that catches my eye or one of my trusty “offenders“, like a jar of peanut butter.  Whatever it is, it’s surely something that will knock me off my focus or make me throw it out halfway through eating it when I realize it was a dumb idea.

Recently, I discovered a way to reduce my chances of making the naughty impulse purchase:  shop in the opposite direction of how I eat.  In other words…

Save the Veggies for Last

When sit down to eat, my strategy is “go for the veggies first” — they crowd out the heavier, “fattening” stuff, leaving me with less room to crave it.

But when I shop Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s that way — veggies first — my strategy backfires.  Instead of “crowding out” the snacky foods, my inner voice tries to justify it:

Ooh look at all those leafy greens I have in my basket!  Surely I can afford to try these new organic cheddar cheesy-poofs…

So, to sidestep this justification by my inner jerk, I tried a new strategy:  start at the other end of the store, working my way back to the produce section.

This way, the impulse buys are more likely to be a couple of nectarines or a fennel bulb (yes, really) than a tub of coconut bon-bons.  I go home happy that I didn’t buy something that will make me feel like crap, Whole Foods still gets me to buy stuff I didn’t think I needed – everybody wins!

What kind of impulse purchases do you make? Smart ones or not-so-smart ones?  Do you have a mantra for shopping smart?  Let me know in the comments below!


  • Liz DiAlto says:

    Heather, this is so freaking smart! I will try it next time. My only other idea is to avoid the grocery store all together and get it delivered if that’s available in your area, the $5 delivery fee is worth the time, and you’ll waste more than $5 on crap you don’t need if it’s actually in front of you. If you’re just searching for exactly what’s on your list, or shopping from an already saved list-you don’t run into that problemo either!

  • Barbara says:

    I make sure not to try any of the freebies, where someone is standing there or cooking something and asking you to try it, I know if I try it I might feel like I should buy it, even if it tasted gross! So when I see one of those little tables I quickly take myself and my cart to new horizons, til I see another one.

  • Katie says:

    What a great idea! Since I started working in an organic grocery store, I’ve started making more impulse buys when I shop, and I’m trying to cut back. I’ll walk around while I’m at work, sometimes hungry, and see things that I had never noticed before. Frozen butternut squash ravioli, a new vegan pizza brand…when my shift is over I buy on impulse and make it for dinner instead of focusing more on greens and grains. In an effort to reel it in, I’m trying to focus on making my impulse buy a new vegetable to experiment with (the day-old veggie compost bins are my new fave!). So this is a great suggestion!

    • Heather says:

      Nice Katie – I like the vegetable experiment. What’s the best dish you’ve experimented with so far?

      • Katie says:

        Hmmm…last week I made an Indian type dish (inspired by your “what do I have in the kitchen?”) with chick peas, coconut milk, chard, curry powder and masala spices! It was really tasty, I have to say.

  • Betsy Mercede says:

    I agree with Liz – have groceries delivered!

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