Eat Well for Less: In-Store Deals and the Grocery Price Book

My series on eating well for less continues today. About a year ago, I read an article in MSN Health that said that the 5 for $5 deals you see at the grocery store won’t save you money. From their point of view, you’ll buy 30% more than you intended to. That may be true, but that means you’ll have them on hand for later when you do need to buy them. If you use a grocery price book, you can tell how often the item goes on sale and whether it will go lower than that X for $ deal.

How X for $ Deal Work
If you have room to store them, then buying when they offer bulk deals is a great way to save money. In most stores, the price at the register isn’t 10 for $10. Each item is individually discounted, so they’re really $1 each. The store hopes you’ll buy more because they want to move stock.

Smart shoppers, buy what they need now plus a couple extra. For example, if the store is selling 10 cans of refried beans for $10, and I need one can, I might buy three. I know I’ll use them and I like to have them on hand anyway. I could buy ten, but I don’t have room to store them. I still get the savings and now they’ll be on hand for a spur-of-the-moment meal. I’ve also found that items with super deals like this always tend to be on sale. If they’re not, wait a week.

How to Make a Grocery Price Book
I’ll admit that I’m not a big user of the price book. I have one, but I used it to compare the savings of Trader Joe’s over Ralph’s for a while, which is how I determined that TJ is nearly always cheaper.

There are several ways to make a price book:

1. Use a spiral notebook. Make a page for each item you often buy. Record the date, store, brand, price, size, and unit price each week for several weeks.

2. Use excel to list all the items alphabetically, including all of the above information. You can also do this in several worksheets in the same workbook. Just add the new items at the bottom of the list every week, then use the sort feature to alphabetize them.

3. Use a binder. It’s the same as the spiral notebook, but with tear out pages.

You can find a free, downloadable price book at No Credit Needed.

How to Use a Price Book
I started my price book by listing everything I bought on the last few receipts. That gave me the date, store, brand, and price. I then went online or to the pantry to find the sizes.

Over the next few weeks, I wrote the prices, brands, and sizes of several items on the back of my grocery list and then entered it into Excel when I got home. I stuck to items I frequently buy, not special items I buy a few times a year.

If you keep a price book, you can use it a few ways:

1. Use it to determine if the price advertised in your circular is the best ever price.

2. Determine the frequency of sales on the item.

3. Take it the store with you to see if unadvertised specials are the best deal they offer.

4. Determine if one store is cheaper than another.

As I said, I found that Trader Joe’s is nearly always the cheapest for the items I buy. I can’t track prices at the farmer’s market because they vary between sellers and from week to week, but even if something is cheaper in the Ralph’s circular than the typical farmer’s market price, I go with the market. It’s fresher and tastier there. It’s also rare for Ralph’s to be cheaper than my farmer’s market.

If you stop at major grocery stores, then a price book can help you score great deals. If you tend to shop farmer’s markets and alternative stores, it might help some but not as much.

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