Simply put, your price book is a store-to-store comparison of the prices of items that you buy most frequently. It is one of the most powerful money saving tools for grocery and personal care items whether or not you use coupons. Making your price book definitely takes some legwork at first.
How does a price book save me money? Knowing the best local price on the products YOU use the most in your home allows you to make the best spending decisions. Groceries and personal care items are recurring expenses. Save a dime on 25 items every week, and you save $130 a year, save $1 on each of 25 items each week and you keep $1300/year. Remember, that is after tax dollars (see this post for more on that) AND that is probably a low average. Knowing where the best prices for your items can be found also helps you use your time and fuel budget better–you can stop running around chasing deals. It might help you improve your eating habits, too!
Knowing where to find the best price and what it is so that you can (a) purchase the item at the best price, (b) ask another store to match the price, if they will, (c) make informed decisions when you come across special deals, (d) decide if it is more economical to make or grow the item yourself–or not.
Why not just use a price book someone has posted on the internet? Simply put, because they are not YOU! A price book is powerful because it reflects your shopping needs/habits and your local economy. A shopping book with prices from a Los Angeles grocery store has little practical application in Des Moines, Iowa or anywhere else. I’ve even found slight price differences (10 cents) between the same items at the same chain less than 4 miles from each other!
For me, it is simplest to make up worksheets in a spreadsheet program like Excel. Because I am a paper-pencil crazy gal, I prefer to print out the spreadsheet and take the hard copy to the store to fill out. You could also take a tablet or phone to the store to make notes, or take pictures. (There is the slight chance that management might ask you to stop or to leave the store if you are walking through taking pictures.) You can also gather information from your receipts as long as you still have the containers to note the sizes.
Although my price book is rarely beautifully filled out for all 100+ items, I’ve learned a lot of interesting and helpful things from it–including seeing some huge price increases over just a couple of years. By the way, don’t even think of starting with 100 items! Fifteen to thirty is a very manageable start and will make an immediate difference in your grocery budget. Each month, add another 5-10 until you are comfortable with the number of prices you are tracking. Update about once a year.
What I learned from my price book: This week, there is a great sale on blueberries at Sprouts. Blueberries freeze beautiful with minimal prep work. Unfortunately, the nearest Sprouts is at least 30-40 minutes from my house. In trying to decide whether to make the drive, I checked the price of frozen blueberries at Walmart where they are $10.44 for 3 lb bags = $3.48/lb. So the $2/pint (12 oz) at Sprouts is a very good deal. Even better, Kroger has them on sale this week for $1.50/pint, so I could go to one of the Krogers near my house, save the drive, and save oodles of money over “regular price”. Since these are a high nutrition item, we want to stock up on them! 🙂
Last year, I debated which warehouse club to join. I enjoy Costco, but it’s about a 25 minute drive in a heavy traffic area. BJ’s is only about 8 minutes away. Since BJ’s offered a LivingSocial deal making membership effectively $10/year and my Costco membership was due for renewal ($55 minimum), I updated my price book, comparing BJ’s to Costco. To my surprise, although Costco beat BJ’s 2 out of 3 times, the savings difference was generally only two or three pennies—not enough to cover the extra gas each way or make up the difference in membership cost.
The price book helped me decide that jumping on the “make your own laundry detergent” bandwagon didn’t make sense for my family.
I was also pretty surprised to find that SOS or Brillo-style scrub pads were significantly less at the Dollar Tree than even at Walmart.
Just a note: About Dollar Stores, cleaning products often list water first or at least higher on the ingredient list than products sold at Walmart and grocery stores which skews the actual price comparison.
OK!! Ready to make your price book? Here are the steps:
The simplest way is to keep a spreadsheet. Make columns (across the top) for
Item Best Price At
A quick explanation of each:
Category—give each category a letter to make it easier to group like items at the store on your spreadsheet. It also makes it easier to sort the data. (So, I use “F” for frozen foods, “P” for produce, “D” for dairy/refrigerated, etc.)
Best Price and At – We’ll come back to these at the end.
Date – the date that you checked the price.
Store Brand – I just make a super narrow column and put an x in it if it is a store brand. If you don’t already use generics or store brands, give them a try. They can be as good or better than name brands. I also make a note in the price book if I prefer the store brand or dislike it enough not to use it (Aldi potato chips fall in the latter category for me. We usually only have chips for the 3 times a year and for teen parties, but still!)
Item, Size and Price are pretty self-explanatory! For Unit Price, you can usually get it from the price tag. If not, it is explained in “e” below.
Start with 15-20 items that you use regularly—items that make it into your cart or home at least monthly. Some possibilities include lettuce, bananas, potatoes, milk (or alternate), eggs, butter, cheese, cereal, flour, sugar, baking powder, toilet paper, shampoo, OTC medications, snack items, laundry detergent, dish washing detergent, etc.
If there are specific items or brands that you need to purchase because of allergies, or other health concerns, or even just that that is the only kind that you family will eat, list them by specific brand. For example, at my house, one kid can only use a specific Neutrogena shampoo, and we buy sliced almonds as a splurge for Dad.
Here are some sample pages to better illustrate this. “B” is my code for the baking category. Typically, I track prices across 3-4 stores–but am only showing two below.
|PRICE BOOK||update 2/2015|
|date||SB||size||price||unit pr||Date||SB||size||price||unit pr|
|b||almonds, sliced||3/10||32 oz||$ 12.99||6.5||3/11||2 lb||11.99||6|
|b||apple pie filling|
|b||canola oil||3/10||6 qt||$ 7.59|
|b||canola oil, 48oz||3/10||$1.92|
|b||choc chips||3/10||72 oz||7.35/9.55||3/11||72 oz||9.49||2.11|
|b||EVOO||3/10||x||6 ltr||$ 26.89||4.48/ltr|
|b||honey||3/10||3-24 oz||$ 13.79||.192/oz||3/11||48 oz||7.99||0.17|
|b||Nut, Almond||3/10||48 oz||$ 16.89||0.35||3/11||48 oz||16.99||0.35|
|b||Nut, peanut||3/10||40 oz||$ 6.79||.18/oz||3/11||56 oz||8.29||0.15|
|b||Nut, pecan||3/10||32 oz||$ 12.59||.39/oz||3/11||32 oz|
|b||Nut, Walnut||3/10||48 oz||$ 18.99||.4/oz||3/11||48 oz||18.99||0.40|
|b||onion, minced||3/10||11.7 oz||$ 3.59||.31/oz|
|b||sugar, brown||3/10||7 lb||$ 4.69||0.67||3/11||4#||2.99||0.75|
|b||sugar, pwdr||3/10||7 lb||$ 4.29||0.61||3/11||4#||2.99||0.75|
|b||sugar, white||3/10||25 lb||$ 9.99||0.4||3/11||10#||4.69||0.47|
|b||vinegar, white||3/10||1.32 gal||$ 3.29|
|e||zyrtec||3/10||365 ct||14.99/11.99||.04 or .03||3/11||x||365||17.49||0.05|
|f||broccoli||3/10||4 lb||$ 6.49||1.62/lb||3/11||4 lb||6.49||1.62|
|f||chicken breast||3/10||10 #||$ 23.99||2.4||3/11||10 lb||20.99||2.1|
|f||mixed berries||3/10||3 lb||$ 10.89||3.63/lb||3/11||3 lb||9.99||3.33|
In Excel, go to “Page Layout” and click “Gridlines” and “Print” to print your Price Book worksheets and carry them in a notebook, on a clipboard, or folded up in your purse to gather info at stores on the best prices.
Those best prices are your “price point” or the price to beat—if you find the item on sale for less than that, stock up!
Once you collect prices, the way to figure out the unit price is to divide the price by the size. If you want Excel to do the math for you, enter “+”, the price, “/”, the size. For example: a 3 lb bag of walnuts costs $12.49, so “+12.49/3” = $4.16 per lb. Or, better yet, “+12.49/48” = .26/oz. Round the decimal to two places or things just get to cumbersome and somewhat silly. You can have Excel automatically round to two decimal places for you.
Unit Price = Price Divided By Size
As you work on the spreadsheet, highlight the best price. (I can’t figure out how to make this work to illustrate it online, but in my spreadsheet, I just make the whole box yellow. Here, for illustration, the text is red.)
|dishwasher det||3/10||155 oz||9.39||3/11|
|dishwasher det pods||3/10||x||110 ct||9.99||0.09||3/11||88 ct||9.99||0.11|
|dryer sheets||3/10||500 ct||8.99||.02/sheet||3/11||250 ct||7.49||0.03|
|laundry det||3/10||x||200 load||15.89||.08/load||3/11||220 load||19.99||0.09|
Finally, once you know the best price on an item, copy it into the Best Price and At columns. That way, you know where to find the best price and what it is so that you can (a) purchase the item at the best price, (b) ask another store to match the price, if they will, (c) make informed decisions when you come across special deals, (d) decide if it is more economical to make or grow the item yourself.
|r||cheese, block cheddar||3.15/lb||C|
|r||cheese, block colby||2.25/lb||C|
|r||cheese, shredded, mex||.16/oz||B|
|l||zip bags, freeze (gal)||.07/bag||C|
Copy and paste the best price and location for each item, as you find them. That way, you can print out just that portion of the spreadsheet or upload it to a mobile device to help you make smart shopping decisions.
This is a great project to work on with older children to teach them to be wise consumers. It can also be a fun project for frugal-minded friends to divide-and-conquer together.