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How I Spent My Saturday – I Created a Grocery Price Book

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Something you may have heard about is creating a grocery price book. Basically, you write down the groceries you buy often and then note the price you paid for them. It’s a great tool to get the most out of your grocery money (for more background on the idea, read this great post at Get Rich Slowly).

When it comes to groceries, I have been fortunate thanks to my past experience working at a grocery store. Hours of pricing and scanning things left me with a thorough mental price book. So I never created a physical copy. While we were at the grocery store today I realized that the years have taken their toll on grocery prices and my mental book was now greatly outdated. My buying price points were way out of whack. It was time to start a new grocery price book. This time, it won’t be in my head.

I fired up a spreadsheet and listed everything in our cupboards and fridge. There are columns for item and price, as well as quantity, total, ounces and price per ounce. To help aid our grocery shopping, our price book is going to double as a shopping list. Before we go shopping, I can print out the list and look around the house to see what we need. I can also choose to add quantities on the list right on the computer and get an idea of the cost of our trip since I included a total column as well. Here’s a pic:

I thought it would take days to complete, but it didn’t take that much time at all. We really don’t have too many different things that we buy now, since we have been making more and more from scratch. Because this price book is also serving as a grocery list, I included non food items as well on it.

The end result for a few hours of my time is something that will save us money. It will also save us time since I won’t have to write a new grocery list every time (or skip the grocery list all together and end up buying things we didn’t need yet). It will keep us focused on getting the best value on our groceries.

It will probably be a month or more before we’ll need to do some major grocery shopping again. I’ll report back on how well it worked and if it indeed helped us save money.


20 Comments

  • Reply Dawn |

    We have been working on one of these too. We have made weekly meal plans and grocery lists for a very long time and realized that we needed a price list with most of the same data as yours to figure out if buying items in bulk at club stores was a good deal for us or not. Because we use a meal plan we are also compiling the cost per recipe. This will help us balance our grocery budget too so that we don’t schedule several more costly meals during the same week. We also pay very close attention to the prices of groceries, it’s nice to realize when the sale flier is advertising something on sale for the normal price.

    I am starting to use more coupons. I have heard people talk about “coupon trains” where they receive an envelope of coupons in the mail. They are able to take what they can use and replace them with others to share. Then they send it on to the next person. Have you heard of this? I would love to get involved in one but am not sure how to find one and join.

  • Reply Sasha |

    Hi Tricia, I just found your site and am really enjoying it.

    Dawn, I started an informal “coupon train” with a few friends from work (I think there are 4 of us doing it now). We clip the coupons we need from our weekly circulars, write our initials on the front of every booklet, then pass them around among us. We have a good mix of kids/no kids, pets/no pets, and different brand preferences – so we often end up with multiple coupons for the stuff we use while being able to pass along those that would otherwise go into the recycling bin.

  • Reply Another Reader |

    The time you spent on this project would probably have been better spent on building up your business and increasing your income. It’s an important part of your plan to be frugal, but a 50 percent increase in your family income would accomplish a lot more.

    • Reply Lauren |

      This individual doesn’t understand the concept of a price book and what it can do for a family’s budget if he/she makes a comment like this. Sure, increasing the family income would help, however, that isn’t always an option for every family. So to make due with what one does have, keeping a price book is a good idea. Time spent making one is time well spent.

  • Reply Gary Hardin |

    What a great money-saving idea! I buy the groceries in our household, plan the menus, and do most of the cooking. I will develop a grocery price book of my own.

  • Reply Sandy |

    Hi Tricia,

    ‘Just a note to let you know that we didn’t receive a “pic” on this post after your statement, “Here’s a pic:”. Did you in fact send a picture of your chart? Would love to see it.

    Sandy

  • Reply Tricia |

    Sandy – thank you for the head’s up! There should be a pic right there. I can’t fix it now, but I’ll get it on there tonight. Thanks again!!

  • Reply Lauren |

    I think it’s a great idea, but how do you handle variations in size/brand? I usually buy generics of things but coupons are for brand names. Do you track prices of the generic apple juice and Mott’s and White House, etc?
    This has kept me from starting one. Any ideas?

  • Reply Tricia |

    Lauren – we go by a price per oz. basis. We mainly buy generics as well (less a few brand name items for health reasons). So if I am looking at a store ad and see a brand name item on sale and have a coupon, I’d pull out the calculator and figure out the sale price price per oz. If it beats my price sheet price per oz, we would buy the brand name item on sale.

  • Reply Thankful |

    I started a price book in August 2006, and it’s getting exponentially more useful as the years pass, but it can be pretty time consuming. We do per-unit pricing (ounces, pounds, eggs, whatever the item calls for). I have a separate sheet for each type of product, and the formula on each sheet accounts for coupon savings as well. I’m hoping to sit down and start doing some price analysis so I can figure out my buy-it-now price for common items. I have a general idea, but I’d like to have it down on paper. I sometimes worry that my now-giant excel file will crash πŸ™‚

  • Reply Craig |

    Does that ever discourage you from buying things you normally buy? For example if you need eggs, bread, etc, you are going to buy them regardless if the price goes up a few cents. When does this strategy come most in handy?

  • Reply Dawn |

    Craig,

    As far as the essentials like milk in particular I watch Walgreens, the grocery store ads and a local gas station for who has it on sale at any given time. Usually places here advertise their sale on milk on the marquee outside the store and most of the time at least one place has 2 for $5. We use a lot of milk πŸ™‚

    I use my price list database mostly when checking the sale ads for stores I don’t do my regular shopping at. This helps me figure out if/when a trip there is worth it to stock up. Also when shopping large warehouse type places like Sam’s Club or Costco I can quickly see if something is a better deal there since my list breaks items down by cost per unit.

    As for other essentials we buy things we need now if its not on sale and try to stock up if we see a good deal.

  • Reply Craig |

    @Dawn Sounds like you do a lot of research into food shopping, which can only benefit you and save money. How many stores would you say you typically shop at per week? My mom always cut coupons and compared stores for different items. To be honest, I can’t find myself doing that, takes too much effort and time spent, I do all my shopping in one store. I do try to save though. I use the stores bonus card to save on deals. Try to buy store brand item opposed to brand name, and stock up on items that have a sale knowing I will use it in the future. That’s great to hear you can go to so many outlets to help save.

  • Reply fern |

    The problem with grocery price books, as you noted, is that they quickly become out of date, and with food prices rising as much as they are, i feel you’d have to update all the prices at least monthly.

    Another problem is that if you shop at multiple stores to take advantage of sales, your price book needs to cover prices at all of them.

    My price book has columns for 5 stores i frequent, but i have neither the time nor think it worthwhile from a gas used point of view to go to more than one a week. So i look at the weekly sale circulars for several of the stores online, and end up going to whichever one store has the most sales of items i normally buy.

  • Reply Michelle H. |

    I have used a grocery book for about 3 years now. I can definitely tell it has saved us a lot of money! I also like to figure in how much I saved vs. how much time I spent. For instance if I go to two stores instead of just one but saved $15.00 and it only took me an extra 30 minutes – I figure I’ve earned an hourly wage of $30.00/hr. plus no taxes taken out! ha! (See
    The Tightwad Gazette for the whole concept)

  • Reply Tricia |

    Ok, I think the pic should show now *fingers crossed*

    fern – it’s a little easier for us to do ours because we don’t have many stores to choose from (gosh…I wish we had an Aldi!). One store has the lowest price on everything so the price book is based on their prices. We shop at another store at least weekly for meat since we haven’t gotten sick from their meat. If we had more stores to choose from, it would be a lot different.

  • Reply a |

    I just started making one of these. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because groceries are my second largest expense after rent. Maybe because it’s still the middle of winter here and I’m getting mind bogglingly bored.

    I have no idea if this thing is going to save me money or not. Let alone how much I’ll wind up saving. I’m hoping to use a moderate approach to shopping. I don’t want to go crazy running all over town just to save $2.38 a week. I’m sticking to my two main shopping venues. I also don’t want to jump on the cheapest brand out there either, because often times with food you get what you pay for. Nowhere is this more apparent than when buying spices. Honestly, I’d be happy with shaving just 5% off of my grocery bill.

    I’ve got about 3 weeks worth of data in my book now. Here’s what I can say about the experience so far. It’s forcing me to pay attention to prices. Usually if the cheaper store was out of something I would just buy it at the more expensive store. Now I ask myself if I can make that purchase a week later (when its hopefully back in stock) or if I should buy it at the more expensive store.

    I’m hoping that with a few more weeks of data I’ll be able to figure out the sales cycles and maybe figure out some way to leverage them to my advantage. I also mark when I purchase an item, so that I get data on the frequency which I buy items. Not sure how useful this will be, but it’s at least interesting to know. I’m also working on calculating the cost of my main recipes.

    Like I said before, I have no idea if this is going to save me money. But I do know that if I don’t actually compile some information there is no chance that I’ll save money. And to anyone who thinks this thing takes too long, it really doesn’t. I thought it would be a time consuming beast, but it’s not turning out to be much of a burden at all.

  • Reply katie |

    i am interested in starting a grocery price book, however i am mainly interested in comparing prices on the things that our family uses the most frequently.

    would the majority of you say that you do your shopping based on price per ounce?

    i’m looking for some tips to really get started. also, what does it mean when you say you recognize cycles? do you mean that you start to notice noodles go on sale every other week? or is this some other kind of cycle?

  • Reply Tricia |

    Katie – many grocery stores have tags that include price per ounce or price per pound. It can vary by product. Since most of the products we buy had a price per ounce on the tags, we went with that for our price book.

    I believe the cycles are exactly what you thought. The stores by me often run sales at predicable times. If you keep track of the sales, you can start figuring them out and planning your shopping accordingly.

    Hope that helps!

  • Reply Rebecca |

    I, too, am a firm believer in price books, but I had never thought to use one as my grocery list also, so that is a great tip.

    When I first started creating my price book, I simply used the receipts from my grocery trips. That was an easy way to gradually build my price book without too much time and trouble, and it was obviously being built with products I actually buy.

    Even if you don’t want to shop at multiple stores, price books can help you know when something truly is a good deal and whether or not to stock up on it. They can also help you know whether the warehouse store prices are good or not. I think a lot of people get into trouble at warehouse stores because they assume the prices are good, and often times they are not.

So, what do you think ?