I’m not going to lie. Out of all of the tips in this series on saving money on food, to me, this one is the most difficult. It is the most time consuming and detailed. It is the one that I do not do perfectly in the least. It’s an exercise though, that you don’t have to keep up forever, once you see patterns and get familiar with your local stores. What I’m talking about is the act of creating a price book.
It’s actually more of a binder if you will. You could also make a spreadsheet on your computer, use a cheap spiral notebook, or even store the info on your smart phone. I’m not so high tech, so paper and pencil works for me. With prices increasing all the time, a digital option may be better for you though.
How to create a price book
1. Write down a list of all of the common items you buy.
I recommend starting small with around 10-15 items. Any more may overwhelm you at first. Your list will be unique to you depending on your typical purchases and what your family likes. This is another good reason to save your receipts so you can identify your common purchases. My list looks like this (Yes I know I have more than 10-15):
- various fruits and veggies (a lot comes from my garden though)
- bacon (when I run out of my share from my half hog)
- organic sugar
- maple syrup
- canned tuna
- canned salmon
- tomato products
- olive oil
- dried herbs and spices
- chicken (beef and pork I buy in bulk once a year from a farm)
- frozen fish
- frozen peas and corn
- organic ketchup
- peanut butter
2. Make a price page for every item.
This is where it can get a bit tedious, but stick with me. It may seem like overkill, but each one of your items will have a separate page for you to collect data. You can make your own on Excel or Word, but also don’t be afraid to just grab a $.10 spiral notebook and start writing by hand.
You will need to track item, store, brand, total price and size, unit price. Find the unit price. To calculate the unit price, divide the total price ($1.50), by the number of ounces (16 oz). In this example the unit price would be $.09/ounce.
If you are still doing the first step of saving your receipts, you can get a head start on your data entry by looking at your receipts and adding the prices on your pages. You may want to track a couple of stores also to see where the best prices are. I only pick a couple of stores, just for time’s sake. I don’t have time to drive around to five stores, but if you do, go for it! For example, I go to Aldi to get a lot of my produce, and then I head to my local grocery store around the corner from my house to get the rest. While you are at the different stores, take note of how much the prices are. With almost everyone having a camera in their pocket or purse now with the invention of smart phones, you don’t even necessarily have to write them down. Just take a quick picture and fill in your data when you get home. You can also get your children to help you. I find it easier to do it by myself, but if they have to be there, involve them. It’s a great way to keep them busy and also teach them about basic math and money saving skills.
It is not necessary to do this every time you go to the store, but once a week is helpful to be able to see patterns. Do not get overwhelmed with this step and think you have to be perfect with it to make it worthwhile. Start small by tracking a small list. If you miss a week, don’t stress. Just enter the price at that same week, next month.
4. Begin looking for patterns and shop accordingly.
Take note of which stores have better prices. Take note of sales cycles. Take note and identify the lowest price that you find and circle it. That is your rock bottom price. When you shop , you can now know if something is a good deal or not. Something I like to do is to buy extra when an item reaches a rock bottom price. If pasta is on sale for $.50/box, I might buy four boxes for the month, which would save me several dollars. If you don’t have the money to stockpile, at least be aware of when certain items go on sale and buy those items at those times. For example, at Aldi, when avocados are $.29-.39, I am going to buy them then and I know I will be making Mexican that week.