Knowing how to use a grocery price book can slash your grocery bills dramatically. Consider it your playbook for the game in which stores advertise prices that aren’t sales, and price fluctuations can make you think you’re getting a good deal when waiting just a bit longer would give you a great one.
WHY YOU NEED A GROCERY PRICE BOOK
Being a smart shopper, you already know to stack coupons on top of sale prices, but what if that sale price isn’t really a sale price? Grocery store prices have a cycle over which their prices fluctuate from high to low. For most items, the period is 12 weeks, although breakfast cereals are on a 6-week cycle. Here’s how that cycle affects your budget:
Example One: Imagine yourself heading to the grocery store for a box of saltines. They’re going for $2.05, and you’ve got a $0.50 coupon, so you buy them for $1.55 and feel like you got a good deal. The next week, you don’t notice that saltines are now going for $1.75, so if you’d waited to use your coupon, you’d have snagged them for $1.25.
How were you to know their price would drop like that?
Example Two: Or picture yourself stopping by Walmart and you see chicken leg quarters on sale for $1.80 per pound. You know you’ve got some in the freezer at home, but wouldn’t it be great to have friends over for a BBQ this weekend? So you grab 10 pounds, but when you get home, you see the other package — purchased at your usual grocery store last month — cost just $1.20 per pound.
You just blew $7 because you didn’t have a price book.
COUPONS ALONE DON’T SAVE MONEY
If you buy an item at the high point, you’re not saving money — even if you use a coupon. Let’s say you’re paying fifty cents extra for each item in your cart. How many are there? Fifteen? Twenty-five? Seventy? You can see how these things add up.
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IS IT WORTH THE TIME?
When I first started keeping a Grocery Price Book, family members rolled their eyes. I was pretty hard-core into couponing at the time, so my Grocery Price Book seemed like overkill. Then I started showing off my 3-foot-long grocery receipts where I managed to buy a weeks’ groceries for a family of four, plus two cats and a dog, for as little as $38. That’s when people realized that maybe I wasn’t crazy in a bad way.
Here’s the thing: if you know how to start a grocery price book and use it correctly, you can buy all the same groceries you’ve been buying but pay significantly less, particularly if you stack coupons on top of low pricing points.
So let’s say your average grocery bill is $125 and, using a Grocery Price Book and coupons, you manage to shave 25% off of that. You just saved $30 after spending, what, 30 minutes updating your price book?
Most people I know wouldn’t turn down a $60/hour wage. Would you?
How to Save Money with a Grocery Price Book
What is a Grocery Price Book?
Just like the name says, a Grocery Price Book is a log of item prices. This log is a bit more detailed, though, because it tracks the cost of items over a 12-week cycle, including sale prices.
How to log prices?
For some items, it makes sense to note prices based on the unit — how much a pound of ground beef costs, for instance. Other times, you’ll want to track the cost based on the size you usually buy — 10.5-ounce cans of soup, for example. Then if you see the 23-ounce family size on sale, you can do some quick mental math to know if it’s a good deal.
As far as the “book” part, choose the method that works best for you. Some people like to keep their price book on their phone, so it’s always with them. Apps like ValueTracker and GrocerEaze make that easy to do, and the latter lets you create menu plans and grocery lists, too.
Old school methods rely on a notebook or binder filled with plenty of blank pages. If you’re worried about forgetting your binder when you go to the store, the solution is simple: put it in your car after you’ve updated it each week.
Creating Your Grocery Price Book
Step One: Gather data. Whichever method you choose for your book, the first step to building your Grocery Price Book is the same: gather every receipt you can find in your wallet, purse, car or receipt organizer. Now, go through the mail, house, and recycling bin in search of sales flyers, or look up the websites for the stores where you most frequently shop.
Step 2: Create your book. If you’re going the digital route, this is as simple as opening the app and following the tutorial to get started. If you’re doing the old school method, you’ll want to divide your notebook or binder into categories for ease of reference. Common groups are:
- Baking Needs
- Spices, Seasonings, and Mixes
- Canned Goods
- Paper Goods
- Plastic Goods
- Frozen Goods
- Health & Beauty
Step 3: Set up price tracking With an app, this is a matter of going through product lists and entering prices from your receipt. As you go through receipts, compare their prices with the one you’ve entered into the app. If you find a lower price, update the app’s listing. That way you’ll have a record of the very lowest price-point.
If you’re using a notebook or binder, grab a stack of blank pages and the oldest receipt or flyer you can find. Create a separate page for each item your family ordinarily buys. On each page, note the generic description of the thing, the date, the brand you purchased, the size, and the price. Like so:
Step 4: Keep your data updated. For the app, this means continuing to compare prices from your receipts and sales fliers to ensure you’ve recorded the lowest possible amount. For paper Grocery Price Books, continue logging purchases in chronological order. Tracking will help you identify the 12- or 6-week cycle, so you know when to expect true discounts.
Step 5: Use your Grocery Price Book! When sales flyers come out, or when you’re shopping and see what looks like a good deal, look up items in your price book to see if it’s a good deal or just another part of the game grocery stores play. Plan your weekly menus around foods that are at the low point on their price cycle (or use things you’ve stocked up on at a discount), and you’ll start trimming your average meal cost dramatically.
Step 6: Reach Grocery Guru Status Being able to anticipate low-points in the pricing cycle is where the old school method surpasses the digital approach. If you’re a coupon clipper, this is when you want to stack your coupons and stock up by purchasing enough of the product to get you through 12 weeks to the next low point in the pricing cycle.
BE SMART WITH YOUR SAVINGS
Once you know how to use a grocery price book and you’ve started saving money, be smart with that extra cash. Use it to build your emergency savings faster. The work you put into making and using your grocery price book could very well be the reason you can make it through financial emergencies in the future.