how to become a smarter shopper

4 ways to become a smarter shopper

August 25, 2023
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We all aspire to become smarter consumers, from finding bargains to shopping within—or even below—budget. And most of that begins by learning a few strategies and strengthening an underrated skill: mental math.

No shade to the calculator, but mental math can be even faster than pulling out your phone.

It also improves your number sense, which is the ability to understand the relationships between quantities. The greater your number sense, the faster you can determine discounts, sales tax, total cost, and more while you're out shopping.

But before you learn some quick and practical tips to improve your mental math skills and shop smarter, enjoy this quick video where we tested people on their ability to spot a bargain!

4 strategies for smarter shopping

Here are some practical strategies you can use right away to become a smarter shopper:

1. Make a list before shopping to avoid impulse purchases

One of the most effective ways to avoid impulse purchases is to make a list before heading out. It's easy to get sidetracked and buy things you don't really need when you're wandering aimlessly in the store. A list will keep you focused on what you actually need and help you resist temptation.

To create an effective shopping list, start by taking inventory of what you already have at home. This will help you avoid buying duplicates or unnecessary items. Next, think about what meals or projects you have planned for the week ahead and write down the ingredients or supplies that you'll need. Finally, include any other necessities that are running low, like toiletries or household essentials.

Stick to your list as closely as possible while shopping. If something catches your eye that isn't on your list, ask yourself if it's really necessary or if it can wait until next time. By sticking to your list and avoiding impulse purchases, you'll save money and become a smarter shopper overall.

2. Compare unit prices

Unit prices describe products by weight, volume, or quantity to make it easier to know how two differently-sized items compare to one another. For example, that larger bottle of shampoo may seem more expensive at first, but the per-ounce figure might reveal that it’s actually a better deal.

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money on per-unit costs. This is especially true for non-perishable items like toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies. Not only do you save money by buying in larger quantities, but you also reduce the number of trips you need to make to the store, saving time and gas money as well.

Of course, buying in bulk isn't always practical or cost-effective. If you don't have space to store large quantities of items or if you're not sure if you'll use them before they expire, it may be better to stick with smaller sizes.

However, it's always a good idea to compare the cost per unit before automatically reaching for the lowest-marked option.

3. Learn to calculate discounts in your head

Knowing how to quickly estimate the amount of a sale or promotion using mental math can help you save money and time. It can also help you avoid overspending, as you'll have a good idea of what the final cost will be before you reach the register.

You can calculate discounts in your head using this method:

From there, you should be able to use simple addition and subtraction to understand most discounts. For example:

  • 11% of $20.00 is $2.00 + $0.20 = $2.20
  • 9% of $20.00 is $2.00 - $0.20 = $1.80

Ready to test yourself?

4. Take some time before you buy

Ever wonder why you can’t resist a good sale?

You have feel-good hormones in your brain that light up when you see words like sale or deal, according to research. The feeling is so strong that it often overpowers other details, like whether a sale will actually save you money.

So the next time you encounter a "deal," take some time before you buy. If you can, leave the store and go for a quick walk to give the rational part of your brain time to calculate the necessity and actual savings.

Elevate your mental math using learning games for adults

Mental math can be intimidating, especially when you're deciding whether to make a purchase. But the Elevate app can help. It offers several fun and interactive math games that can help you improve practical math skills.

From Averages, to Discounting, to Estimation, and more, Elevate's math games center on skills that are actually helpful in your day-to-day life, including while you're shopping.

So if you're ready to put away the calculator, improve your mental math, and ultimately, become a smarter shopper, download Elevate on iOS and Android and give it a try.


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