Shrink holiday expenditures with consumer psychology
Anticipating holiday hordes? Stocking up for incoming house guests, making food gifts or just feeling celebratory? The holidays stimulate all manner of non-typical buying that can put the household budget in a spin for months.
Getting a handle on food dollars can be especially helpful this time of year. But does that mean stocking up at the warehouse membership club and buying those super-size packages to get the best unit price? Not necessarily, according to Brian Wansink, PhD.
Dr. Wansink’s Food & Brand Lab, a series of test kitchens and cooperating grocery stores, studies how consumers "choose and use" brands, particularly packaged goods. And while he may be sought after by large food corporations, Dr. Wansink is quick to point out that his research is just as helpful to the consumer. "Anything that can work for the manufacturer can also work for the consumer. I orient to the consumer," he says.
Dr. Wansink’s research on a wide variety of food and household products shows that we just tend to eat up the savings when items are in large packages–from 18 percent to 40 percent more! Study after study, the behavior holds true for everything from M&M’s to laundry detergent. We only seem to be dose conscious about medicine and bleach, items we know could cause harm in the wrong amount.
In one study, Dr. Wansink and crew passed out free popcorn to movie
-goers in medium and large buckets. The popcorn eaters did not realize each bucket had been weighed. Yet when the researchers collected the buckets after the show, those with the large buckets had eaten 40 percent more than those with the medium buckets.
Given the popcorn example, it is not too hard to see how subdividing food into smaller serving bowls would be useful to waist-watchers. The principle of measuring or re-portioning into smaller containers also saves money on food and household products all over the house, all year long. Super-size jugs and bottles are difficult to lift and pour just the right amount. Extra rarely gets poured back. Sometimes unused product goes bad before it is used, eliminating savings.
Here are some tips from Dr. Wansink's research to help keep the lid on holiday food costs:
Numbers on signs like "3 for $3" and "Limit 6" trigger extra purchases, often up to twice as much. Our minds "anchor" on the number, and we work from that amount, rather than our actual need. For example: If holiday candies are on the list, the "limit 6" sign might not make us buy six, but we may decide to get two or three packages instead of one. The remedy? Put quantities on the shopping list whenever possible to curb the impulse to buy more.
- Watch out for "anchoring" in the store.
Avoid stockpiling.Stockpiles get raided. Stocking large quantities of an item does not make sense, either economically or healthwise, if it triggers over-consumption. This tends to happen with readily accessible, snack-type foods.
Be aware of the power of suggestion. If salad dressing is suggested for other uses like marinades, we might just buy an extra bottle. Money tied up in products on the shelf is money unavailable for something else.
Labels do sell.Eye-catching packages and labels make us try new products. Is it really worth the purchase? Will it get used?
Waste not, want not.Twelve percent of our grocery purchases languish on our pantry shelves, usually because they were special-use, special-occasion items for occasions that never happened. Holidays are a good example of a time when we plan to try out a special recipe but never quite get it done. Buy more versatile ingredients when there is a choice, rotate goods on the shelf to avoid things lost in the corners, and buy "specific use" items as close to when they will be used as possible to minimize the chance that plans will change. Give unused items to the next food drive.
Get in and get out.Every extra minute in the store exposes us to more opportunities for impulse purchases.
Cynthia Fauser, MS, RD, LD