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A Guide to Good Grocery Shopping Etiquette

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I do a lot of shopping and have come up with a set of grocery shopping guidelines that I follow to avoid unpleasant situations.

Shopping Manners: From Start to Finish

I have a confession to make. Standing in line is one of my least favorite things to do. I’d rather jump out of an airplane, fight a bull, or go to the dentist before taking on the feat that is waiting patiently in a string of people.

Why is it that the simplest, most ordinary, everyday tasks in life seem to require the most effort? Perhaps it’s due in part to my age or the fact that between work, family, and home, there’s just not enough time left in the day to stand in line for hours; lines waste time, and I don’t have much of it to spare. Just the thought of it brings on gray hairs, and then I have to stand in line to get a product to cover it up with. Here are some simple guidelines to follow the next time you're out shopping.

1. Be Organized and Prepare a Shopping List

We’re all guilty of random or compulsive shopping. Just the other day, while shopping at a local supermarket for milk and eggs, I kept compulsively grabbing other items off the shelves and convincing myself that I needed them. Soon, I realized that I had enough food to feed an army. I justified my actions even further by assuring myself that the items were on sale, absolutely necessary, and a great bargain. How many times have you caught yourself doing this, and how much money could you have saved by sticking to your list?

Once, while standing in an extremely long grocery store line, I methodically counted at least 20 people standing ahead of me. It reminded me of Hadrian’s Wall—the long, ever-winding structure that separates Scotland and England. I discretely counted how many people were in line, estimated the number of groceries they had, then decided that it wasn't worth the wait. I ever-so-carefully pushed my cart aside, glanced around to see if anyone was looking, and darted for the door.

2. Eat Before You Shop

Eat before you shop. In the long run, you'll save precious time and money because your eyes are bigger than your stomach. It's difficult to shop when you're hungry because everything looks good. A full stomach allows you to make better food choices, prevents overspending, and, most importantly, helps you get through the line faster.

3. Don't Sample Irresponsibly

Another poor shopping behavior I've noticed while shopping includes people sampling or taste-testing food while shopping. While it’s one thing to sample a grape or two while browsing the aisle, it’s quite another thing to wolf down a bag of chips or drink a soda before paying for it. I've even seen people take a swig or two from a bottle of whiskey or down a beer before paying.

4. Don’t Forget Your Money or Credit Card

Think before you shop. Have you ever found yourself in line behind someone who’s frantically going through their purse or pockets looking for loose change because they didn't have enough money to pay for their purchase— or, even worse—they tell the cashier to put their groceries aside because they forgot their wallet? How about the time you waited in line for what seemed to be an hour and finally reached the cashier, only to realize that you forgot your wallet or purse? How did you handle this situation, and how long did you hold up the line?

Another suggestion if you found yourself in this situation would be to offer that person your spare change. We've all been short on money at one time or another, so why not do a selfless act for a complete stranger and feel good about it at the same time? You’ll benefit by spending less time in line and feeling good about your random act of kindness.

5. Pick the Best Shopping Cart

Look for the best working shopping cart. By all means, avoid shopping carts with wobbly or squeaky wheels. Inspect it as if you were shopping for a used car. Closely examine the wheels and body before pushing. Make sure it pushes easily and that it doesn't make any annoying sounds. Your shopping experience will be more pleasant if you avoid carts that are dirty, difficult to push or have defective wheels.

6. Allow Time to Stand in Line

Our time is so precious and limited. I've seen advertisements on Craigslist for people willing to pay people money for someone to stand in line for them. Some of the most annoying and time-consuming lines include those at the Department of Motor Vehicles, doctor/dentist offices, movie theaters, and concerts.

One of the longest lines I've seen was at an unemployment office. Desperate times and long wait times bring out the worst in people. I admit that I once asked a friend with a handicap status to stand in line with me to renew my registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He helped me get through the line in less than 20 minutes. Although, while standing in the short line, I noticed people around me with real "special needs" and felt guilty.

I’m not advocating that you do these things to avoid waiting in line. I’m embarrassed by my line-avoidance actions. My friend assured me that I wasn't the first person that he had helped move through the line faster with a handicap status.

7. Avoid Excessive Talkers and Obnoxious People

Frustration goes hand-in-hand with standing in long lines. I've seen people who confabulate (talk excessively), sharing every detail of their personal lives with the cashier or other people while in line. This type of behavior forces everyone to stand in line even longer. I've seen this type of behavior on Facebook as well.

There are the obnoxious shoppers who anonymously leave the line to pick up something they forgot, return with more stuff, and expect their same place in line. Avoid lines with people who need price-check assistance, have damaged items, or want their purchases rung up separately. Most importantly, avoid lines with obnoxious or angry people in them. There is nothing worse than strangers taking out their anger on an innocent bystander or shopper.

8. Read Store Signs

Please read the signs to ensure that you get in the right line. The speedy checkout line is for shoppers who have fifteen items or less. Many of us have been in a situation where we are in a hurry and found ourselves in the speedy checkout line with too many groceries. Common courtesy in this event is to allow shoppers with the least amount of groceries to go first. Keep in mind that ten cans of Campbell's soup don't count as one item.

9. Don’t Shop at Rush Hour

We live in a fast-paced, whirlwind society where patience and courtesy are sorely lacking. The best time to observe this is to shop or drive during rush hour or after work. One rather hectic day, I noticed two women bump carts while trying to pass each other in the aisle. The simple accident escalated into a barroom brawl. Shopping carts aren't bumper carts or weapons, so let’s be courteous to others and just apologize when we are in the wrong.

One evening, when shopping with my daughter, I carelessly flung my car door open and accidentally hit the car next to me. After inspecting the car for damage and seeing none, I started walking towards the store. From nowhere, a woman started screaming at me. I responded with a polite apology. She proceeded to shout colorful profanities at me. I advised my daughter to go inside the store without me because I knew things might get ugly. The ordeal ended when she made threats of violence, and store security carefully escorted us to our cars. Fortunately, we got through it without any bruises, but what a nightmare that shopping experience turned into! The lesson I learned was that some grocery stores have security staff who can help shoppers in trouble.

10. Don’t Touch and Squeeze Items Excessively

There’s more to the "Don’t squeeze the Charmin" commercial than meets the eye. I find myself touching and squeezing groceries at every opportunity. I inspect the produce and fruit to make sure that it’s fresh, smells good, and is undamaged. On more than one occasion, I've squeezed the bread too hard while checking for softness. Excessive squeezing and touching can damage store goods and is poor shopping etiquette.

11. Control Your Children

Grocery stores are not daycares or playgrounds. Parents should properly supervise children in public places. Last week, I noticed two unattended children in shopping carts. One was an infant, probably less than one year old. Their mother was nowhere in sight—she was probably off squeezing the Charmin toilet paper. The baby tried to stand up and almost toppled out of the cart. Unattended children in carts are accidents waiting to happen.

12. Be Careful When Exiting the Store

Last but not least, stop, look, and listen when leaving the store. Look for traffic from all directions, keep an eye on shoppers in a rush, and don’t leave anything in your cart behind. Please put your grocery cart back in the cart rack. I've witnessed cars getting damaged by runaway shopping carts.

Also, keep an eye out for panhandlers and opportunists while putting your groceries away. Once while leaving Walmart a kind, a young man helped me put my groceries away. I assumed he was a Walmart employee but soon realized he was on a religious mission. Mind your manners when leaving the store too. Shoppers and pedestrians have the right of way in most cases in parking lots.