You’re bound to have noticed that prices at the grocery store have skyrocketed lately. We’ve certainly felt the hit to our budget. Since groceries are often a large part of any household budget, anything we can do to save money at the grocery store can have a major impact on our bank account. Fortunately, a grocery price book is just the tool to help you get the most out of your grocery dollars.
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I cannot take credit for the idea of a price book. Ages ago, I read a book called The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn because my kids were small and our salaries were small as well (teachers don’t get paid a ton of money).
We needed to get the most out of every dollar we spent because things were tight.
I ended up reading all three of her books (which still sit on my shelves, by the way) but one of the biggest takeaways was her advice about how to save money on food. I’ve written before about how to save money at the grocery store because over time the lessons we learned have become automatic to us.
One of the best pieces of advice she taught was how important it is to know what the regular prices are on items you purchase regularly so that you know a good deal when you see it.
Because not every item that’s on sale at the grocery store is really a good price.
Let’s face it…grocery stores are businesses and their goal is to make money. Therefore they regularly use marketing methods to get consumers to spend as much money as possible.
And no, I’m not knocking grocery stores. Every business has to make a profit if it wants to keep its doors open.
But I do advocate being a smart shopper so that you’re getting the most for your money. And that means being hyper aware of what prices regularly are so that you make smart purchasing decisions.
Otherwise you’re wasting money.
What is a grocery price book?
A grocery price book is simply a recording of the most common prices of the items you buy most. It contains not only the price, but the brand name, the size, and the grocery store where you find this price.
And yes, if you shop at several stores you’ll want to record the prices as they are likely going to vary from one store to another (sometimes by a good bit).
Knowing what items to purchase at which stores is a great way to help stretch those grocery dollars.
How can a grocery price book help me save money?
Your grocery price book helps you save money because you know you’re always paying the lowest price you can for a particular item. It helps you spot bargains, and it helps you recognize when a “sale” item…isn’t.
It’s hard to recognize a good deal on something unless you know what that item is regularly priced at because grocery stores use subtle cues to increase the amount of money you spend while in their store.
For example, just because an item is on the end cap of the grocery aisle doesn’t mean that the price listed is lower than normal. In fact, sometimes items are placed on those big end cap displays simply because they’re holiday foods or because there is some promotion going on.
Placement of an item is not an indication that it’s a good deal!
You’ll also notice that around holiday time, certain food items are placed close together. During the fall it’s not uncommon to see canned pumpkin placed right next to evaporated milk. The store is putting items you’d use in a pumpkin pie recipe close together hoping that you’ll pick up both items if even one of them is on your shopping list.
While this is convenient, it’s not necessarily the best purchase if you’re trying to save money.
Instead, if you’ll move into the actual grocery aisle, you may see a brand of either item that is cheaper than the brands that are placed in the display.
It’s a subtle trick, but it works. Because unless we know what those items regularly sell for, we’ll grab what’s easy…and spend more money.
How do I create a grocery price book?
Creating a grocery price book does take a little bit of work on your part. It requires you to do some detective work and when you first start creating your price book your trips to the grocery store are going to take a bit longer.
However, there are two approaches you can take as you start your price book: create a complete price book filled with all the items you purchase (and do all the work at once), or start small by focusing on the items you purchase most frequently and adding to it over time.
My motto is to always make life easier so I’d probably take the second approach. There’s no reason to make things harder than they have to be.
Whichever approach you take, here are the steps you need to take.
What do do before you get to the store
First, sit down and make a list of the grocery items you purchase regularly. List out items such as:
- canned goods
- fresh produce
- dairy items
- frozen items
- paper goods
- cleaning supplies
- personal hygiene supplies
This will let you know where you want to focus your attention during your first trip to the store(s). After all, you don’t need to compare prices on everything…just the things you use most.
What you’ll need to take to the grocery store with you
Unless your memory is a whole lot better than mine, you’re not going to remember the prices on different items and brands. So go prepared to make notes.
There are two ways you can record the information: on paper or digitally (if you’re interested in creating a digital price book I’ve got a reference for you at the bottom of the page).
I suggest you take paper, pencil, a calculator. This allows you to write things down so that you can refer to them later.
OR you could simply snap photos of each item ((along the price) so that you don’t have to write it all down.
Start your grocery price book while at the store
- Once you’re in the store, record the price of every item you put in your cart. Yes, write it down or snap a photo that shows the price.
- Then look at the other brands of the same item you just picked up. If you’re normally loyal to a particular brand and automatically reach for it, take a look at the other brands to compare the price. Don’t forget to look at store brands and generics. Write these down too making note of the prices of each brand.
- You also want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples here. So don’t forget to note the sizes of items as you record the prices. We’ll talk more about unit pricing in another post but obviously two items that are the same price but different sizes actually cost different amounts. This is truly a case where size matters.
- As you’re shopping, make note of other items you regularly buy even if you’re not buying them on this trip. This is why you’ll need to allot extra time for this initial shopping trip. You don’t have to do this for every item you ever buy, but it’s good to go ahead and start collecting information on your regular purchases.
How to take the information and put it into a form you can actually use
Once you get home from the store, you’ve still got some work to do. You need to take the price information and put it into a form you can easily refer to – and modify – over time.
- Sit down with your notes and your grocery receipt and start organizing the information.
- If you’re using a notebook of some kind you’ll want to have a page for each item you’re listing. You can use a spiral notebook but I prefer one where I can rearrange pages as needed. I also highly encourage you to make most of your price notes in pencil! That just makes it easier when you notice a price increase.
- You’ll want to create a way to track the size of the item, the price for each brand, and the store where you find that price. You can see in the sample above that I’ve created a basic grid to log this information.
Does my grocery price book have to be on paper?
There are pros and cons to a paper book these days.
The pros include the fact that we tend to remember better things we’ve written down. It’s also simple, easy to modify (God bless erasers), and isn’t going to go disappear if there’s an electronic glitch.
On the other hand, a paper grocery price book is something else you have to remember to take to the store. And depending on the size, it can be just one more bulky item you have to take in (which is why I’d suggest using the smallest size you’re comfortable with). It can also be lost if you leave the grocery store and leave it in the cart.
Ultimately, the choice of paper or digital is yours and the one that works best is the one you’ll actually use consistently.
Isn’t a grocery price book a waste of time?
Only if you don’t like to save money.
The simple fact is that knowing your prices and getting the best deal possible at the grocery store is one of the major ways you can save money. You can’t do much about your rent or house payment – they’re not open to negotiation. But you can save some major money on food if you’re a careful shopper.