My friend Becca asked me to write about what a good price is on various produce items. I will do that very soon, I promise! But first I wanted to tell you how you can gather that same information yourself: By keeping a price book.
What’s a Price Book?
A price book is a place where you track the regular, non-sale price of the grocery items that you most frequently purchase. Do you always buy corn flakes? Write down the regular price of corn flakes at your two or three top stores (i.e. the stores that you frequent most… frequently).
You don’t have to write down every item you have ever purchased in your entire life. Exercise some discretion, but be as thorough as you can reasonably be. Plan to initially spend at least two to three weeks gathering this data. That way you can jot down the information when you’re at the store anyway, rather than making a special trip.
How should I organize my price book?
I think the easiest format is three or four simple columns – item name, store name and cost. You might want to add a 4th column for size, so you can quickly calculate the per-unit price. You may also want to jot down info on both the generic/store brand and the name brand of choice. For example, let’s say you are writing down sugar. I might write down the Great Value (aka Walmart) brand price, as well as the C&H brand. That way I have a point of comparison.
You can scribble this information down on a piece of paper or in a notebook and leave it there. Or you can get really fancy and transfer the data to an Excel chart when you get home. Heck, I’m sure someone’s invented an iPhone app you could probably look into.
I’ve got all my prices. Now what?
First of all, you now know which is the best store to buy your grocery staples at, assuming no sales or coupons. But more importantly, you have a point of reference to determine whether a sale is really a good deal or not. Have you ever wondered if the sale price at your fancy supermarket is in fact a better deal than the regular price at, say, Walmart or Target. Now you don’t have to wonder. You just check your price book and know for sure.
Your price book can also come in handy for comparing the price at your supermarket to the price when ordering in bulk at a place like kosher.com or even amazon.com. We also participate in a kosher co-op, and before I order a case of something, it’s good to know if it’s the best price on that item!
By tracking the price on your most commonly bought items over several months or longer, you can also get to know when products are most likely to reach their rock-bottom price. There is a 12-week cycle for most products at the grocery store, and a number of products have rock-bottom seasonal sales beyond this cycle. For example, baking supplies usually go on sale in December, while school supplies are less expensive in July and August.
Once you’ve identified these trends via your price book, you can start stocking up sufficient quantities to last until the next drop in price. In theory, you should never have to pay full price for your grocery staples again — especially if you stockpile coupons to use during these low price periods.
For more info on price books, I love this post from Get Rich Slowly because he includes tons of links to other sites.
So, even though I’ve just told you all about the benefits of keeping a price book, I need to confess that I basically just do this in my head. Unfortunately, my capacity for remembering my children’s names, let alone the price of cottage cheese at three different stores, isn’t what it used to be. Therefore, in order to be of better service to you, my dear readers, and to myself, I am going to stop relying on my burned out memory and start writing this stuff down! Will you join me?