How often has this scenario happened to you?

You make a quick trip to your favorite grocery store. You buy two items from your list: a head of lettuce and a can of diced tomatoes. The store was out of sour cream, so you decide to swing by another store on the way home, a store you don't normally shop at.

As you walk to the dairy section, you happen to walk past the canned tomatoes. It catches your eye because it's the same can you just bought. A closer look reveals an "everyday low price" that is 50 cents cheaper than the other store!

How much money could you have saved if you only knew that this store was cheaper on something you buy so often!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that it’s happened more times you can to admit.  The same goes for me too.

Fortunately, there’s a SUPER easy way to avoid this situation from happening again, and it’s called a price book. A Grocery Price Book is a relatively new addition to my domestic care binder. I'd known about them for years but felt that what I was buying at the store just couldn't get cheaper and the work involved in establishing a price book was more than I wanted to devote at the time. But now that our finances are just a bit tighter with the purchase of a new car I've found this resource to be quite valuable.

What is a grocery price book? It's a listing of your most commonly purchased items, the stores you frequent and the prices you paid for that item. Simply put, a price book is a little “book” that records the prices you pay for certain items.  It can be electronic (like an app), typed and printed (like a spreadsheet), handwritten in a few pieces of paper, jotted down in a spiral notebook or even recorded in a full-fledged binder with removable sheets of paper.

There are LOTS of ways to make the concept of a price book way more complicated than it needs to be, but I’m all about keeping it simple whenever possible.  With that said, here’s how you set up a basic grocery price book:

STEP 1: Choose a Tracking Method

Personally I use Evernote since when I'm at the store I have my tablet with me and use it for my grocery list, looking up items to see if the manufacturer lists them as Gluten-free and to monitor my digital coupons. But use a method you are most comfortable. Start with pen and paper. The whole purpose of the price book is to USE it so pick a method you will stick to. Here are 3 frugal ways you can put together a paper price book. Choose the method that works best for you.

  • a few sheets of notebook paper, folded into fourths and stapled into a book (be sure to cut any folded pages so that it folds properly)
  • a dedicated spiral notebook (small or large and CHEAP, from the dollar store or similar)
  • a handful of pages within a notebook used for similar purposes (like the notebook where you keep your meal plans, shopping lists, etc.)

STEP 2: Set-Up Your Pages

Depending on the side of the pages, you 'll want to designate one page (if the book is small) or half a page (if the book is big) to each item you want to track.

For each item, you need to record just five small pieces of information:  Date, Store, Brand, Total Price per Size and Price per Unit.

  • Date:  This is the date you bought the item.  Many items are seasonal or have a rotational sale period, but not everything does.  Knowing the date you bought something could help determine when the best deals might come along.
  • Store:  The store you bought the item.  Be specific and include the location if you shop at the same store in different areas.
  • Brand:  Tracking this will help you recognize what brands tend to be less expensive than others.
  • Total Price per Size:  This is the total of what you paid for the size of the item.  For example, $2.50/15oz of original baked beans.
  • Price per Unit:  This is the price per unit of the item, as in per ounce, per millilitre, per pound, per bar, etc.  For example, 17¢/oz of original baked beans, or $2.15 per KIND bar.

STEP 3: Track 10 Items

Go through your receipts or spend a bit of extra time at the store and choose 10 items you purchase the most often. Give each one a page (half-page) in your book.

At the top of each page (or half-page), identify the item you’re tracking.  Then, fill in the information in the columns using the receipts you have on hand.  For example, every week I buy the following items:

 

  1. Chicken breasts
  2. 1% Milk gallons
  3. Fruit and Grain bars
  4. Bagged lettuce
  5. Salsa
  6. Eggs
  7. Pepperoni
  8. Bread
  9. Shredded cheese
  10. Canned cat food

 

You might have to check the packages in the kitchen for some of it (like the total ounces of cheese, or total pounds in each package of chicken), but fill out as much as you can.  The more information, the better.

STEP 4: Repeat Step 3 (Next Week)

Make it a goal to add or update 10 items every week to your price book. Use your receipts or during your trips to update the items from last week or add new items if you find you have more regularly purchased items.

Should you read the circulars if you have no intention of buying?  Absolutely!  It’s a SUPER easy way to learn the price of items without ever stepping foot in the store.  Then when you ARE ready to buy, you know how much (or how little) it can be purchased for.

STEP 5: Shop According to the Price Book

Finally, it’s time to put your book into action.  Before buying something, or even adding it to your grocery list, consult your price book.

  • Has the price of canned garbanzo beans steadily gone up?  Maybe it’s time to look into dry beans instead.
  • Grass-fed ground beef on sale this week but your recipe calls for a more expensive ground turkey?  Make a swap in the meal plan (or just substitute!).
  • Are strawberries on sale?  Check your price book to see if the deal is really one worth spending your money on!

Price books don't have to be fancy, or complicated. Just like any other tool in your domestic arsenal it just has to work. Price books can be a tremendous help in seeing trends and the true cost of items.  The most important thing for you to do is to just get one and use it!

Would you like a free downloadable simple price book to get you started? kallista has put together a set in a few color themes for you to pick from!

Do you have a price book? Do you record any other information in it?