A Price Book is one of the most invaluable tools for saving money on food, whether or not you coupon. The time and energy needed to put one together, however, keeps many people from using this great resource. I have spent a few months putting mine together, using it in different ways, and then coming up with a plan for people to get the maximum savings benefit for the minimum time expended.
Here’s how to build a streamlined Price Book using just 5 minutes per week!
First, What is a Price Book?
Ideally, a Price Book is a recording of all the items you buy at all the stores you frequent. The goal is that by recording the price for each item, over a course of several weeks you will be able to tell when the items are on sale at their lowest price point. Grocery stores have a cyclical (and seasonal) sales cycle. By capturing this information, you can figure out which day and store has the best deal on each item.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. I won’t kid you on that. I spent hours with a notebook in hand, perusing my local stores and making long lists of prices. Then I would come home and transfer the data to a big spreadsheet so I could see the price per unit at different stores side by side. It was a lot of work.
When I was done, I found myself paralyzed many times at the store. How could I buy something at store X when I knew it wasn’t the best price? I felt like a fool if I paid too much. At the same time, I was second-guessing myself until I felt uncomfortable shopping, or taking 2 or 3 times as long to get it done.
At first, I made a weekly meal plan and shopping list, splitting it up by store to get the items at the best prices for the week. That didn’t help if it wasn’t the best week for purchasing a key ingredient and I had it on my list. There was also the option of planning my meals around the sales, but then the stores are dictating what we are eating.
Next, I switched to a Monthly Meal Plan, which I find allows me to be more flexible. I can get enough of an ingredient to last for the month’s meals when it is on sale, and shift meals around the schedule if I don’t have something on hand. I also freeze extra portions or prepped ingredients, so I can use these rather than having to go to the store and buy the ingredients at higher prices.
Keep from Going Crazy
My goal is to both save money and live a more fulfilling life.
When I was building and using my Price Book, I felt so enlightened at first. I saw through all the “sale” and “best value” tags and was able to tell whether or not the item was really a good buy.
Then I started going nuts, freezing up in the store feeling like I couldn’t get something we needed because I might be paying too much. I felt sick to my stomach if I bought groceries and then saw that items had been on sale for less somewhere else. Instead of feeling empowered, I felt like a failure each time I paid a few cents too much for a can of beans. (Yes, I know, they are cheaper bought bulk in bags of dried beans.)
Then there is the issue of variation — so many different kinds and sizes of items, and the low sale price might be that low for a seasonal sale or a special markdown, rather than the regular cyclical sale. I was on the way to the padded room when I decided to take a deep breath and regroup.
The 5 Minute Plan
I still think having a very detailed and thorough price book, personalized to the specific items and locations you use, is the best solution. However, the average working parent does not have time for all of that. Shopping is more of a get-in-and-get-out experience, with kids in tow or at home waiting for dinner. They try to get what look like less expensive options, sale items, and may even compare unit prices. Taking the time to plan a week’s meals, make a shopping list and follow it is enough of a burden for most. But a Price Book?
Here’s my idea for how to get the most bang for your buck, using a mini 5 Minute Price Book: Instead of trying to squeeze every cent out of your groceries, aim for a couple big savings opportunities each week. While there are endless items in a grocery store, each family has certain items they usually buy. They could run through the grocery store and immediately pick them out in minutes. They are also items, name brand or generic, that the family feels loyal to. They are used to them and unlikely to switch, regardless of discount. Choose several of these items — such as detergent, a meat product, and ice cream.
Save your receipts each time you go to the store. Each week take 5 minutes to write down these key items from your list — regular and any sale price. You will start seeing a trend that your store has sales on these items on a regular basis. They often have different types of sales on the same item different weeks. For instance, one week ice cream is $3.69, the next week 2 for $5, the next 3 for $10. Once you see the pattern, you will want to stock up on enough of it at the 2 for $5 price to last until the next cycle. I often see bread and meat we like as a Buy One Get One (B1G1) deal, which can be a great way to stock up.
Instead of being overwhelmed, be selective! Just focus on a few items per week, jotting down the price you paid and the regular price from your receipt. As you progress, you will be able to get these key items on sale each time. That will shave dollars off your bill. You can add more items later on, or even compare them to the prices at another store. You may even find you are remembering them without using your mini price book and instantly see through the ‘best value tag’ whether the item is really at its best price.
It’s a balancing act. You won’t always get the best deals, and you could save much more if you put in much more effort. However, by concentrating on a few key items at a time, you should soon start lowering your shopping bill significantly without even clipping a coupon. You will also keep from pulling out your hair.