Does Your Total At The Cash Register Surprise You?

Do you ever play the Cash Register Surprise game?  It’s where you see if the total of your shopping trip surprises you or not.

I don’t make it to the grocery store or to Costco that often.  My wife has taken on most of these trips.  On the occasions I do go, we make a game to see who can guess closest to the total.

Most of the time, I’m pretty close, within 5-10%.  And, yes, I usually come closer than my wife.  So how does this work?

Keep A Running Total

For me, there’s no magic or trick.  I simply keep a running total in my head as we shop.  I’ll usually round up or down to get to a near dollar amount, because I can keep that math in my head, but if you start throwing in all the cents involved, I’ll quickly lose track and the whole estimation gets shot.

So, if we get ten items, priced: $3.59, $4.79, $1.00, $4.29, $5.89, $11.40, $4.99, $3.29, $7.09, and $4.25, I’ll keep a running total of $4, $9, $10, $14, $20, $31, $36, $39, $46, and finally $50.

When we get to the register I’ll have my total in my head, and will make some quick adjustments.  For example, are the items taxable.  If so, with Michigan sales tax at 6%, I’d add an extra $3 ‘for the governor’.

In my example, say it’s at the grocery store and all of the items are for food, which is not taxable.  My estimation was $50 and the actual total would be $50.58.

That’s just 1% off the total!mb-201102register

Now, I’m usually not that close, because there are times when you’re talking and you might miss an item or realize that you didn’t catch the price so you try to make it up, but all it requires is that you pay attention and remember your math.

If you have a shopping list, you can even jot down a total every now and then, that way if you do lose track, you at least have a reference point.

Avoiding Sticker Shock

The whole point is that it doesn’t have to be an exact science, but it should get you close.   The last thing you want is to get to the register and get surprised at how much you spent.  And, it’s always higher than you would have guessed, never lower!

The worst case scenario that you want to also avoid is making sure that you don’t come up short!  I’ve never had it happen or witnessed it, but have heard stories where people get to the register and can’t pay their full amount because they can only pay in cash, and their total is more than they have.

Keeping track of your spending as you walk through the store could help avoid this awful situation as well.

Start Off Slow

If you start this practice, start slow and don’t be alarmed if you end up forgetting all about it halfway through the trip or if your estimates are way off.  After a few trips, you’ll start to do this automatically and you’ll get the knack of keeping track.  Eventually, you can even make a little game of it with yourself to see how close you can get.

Readers, do you ever get sticker shock when you’re at the register or do you have a way to keep a tally of your purchases so that you know what you are spending when you’re buying a lot of items?

8 thoughts on “Does Your Total At The Cash Register Surprise You?”

  1. I always expect this and it is not at all surprising because I always get higher amount when doing my grocery even though I have a grocery list, Moneybeagle. You are definitely right.

  2. Oh, yes! I do this all the time!

    Back in the bad old days, I’d actually write the price next to each item as I put it in the cart, so I could tally it up before I hit the register and know if I needed to put something back. Now, by necessity, it’s more an approximation – but I’m still usually pretty close.

  3. Neither my math nor my memory have ever been strong enough to hold a running balance in my head long enough to make it to the cash register. 🙂 But for some reason I generally have a fair idea of what a given trip will cost.

    Different stores typically run up different average bills. That’s how I figure it, I guess:

    Costco: $200. If you get outta there for under $200, angels sing and corporate moguls weep.
    Safeway: $40 to $60.
    Whole Foods: $60, give or take a few bucks.
    Walgreens: $15 to $20
    Trader Joe’s: about $30 to $40

    Interestingly, since I’ve stopped shopping at Costco for all but a few things unavailable elsewhere, my week-to-week routine shopping bills have dropped markedly.

  4. I whip out the calculator on my phone and keep track of my total as I’m grocery shopping. I’d estimate as you mention, but my brain would get distracted and I’d forget what my running total was at some point.

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