When you’re trying to cut back on expenses and save more money, cutting food costs is the easiest and fastest way to see results. Food is typically our third largest expense and one that is largely under our control. Starting a grocery price book can help you save a ton of money on monthly grocery expenses.
When we became a one-income family, reducing food expenses was the first thing I did. One of the ways I did so was to start a grocery price book. Way back then (you, know in ancient times), I used a paper and pen and kept my price book in a binder. But with spreadsheets and apps, keeping a price book nowadays is much easier. (For those of you who may be old school like me, sign up for the printable version at the bottom of the post).
Having a price book will help you recognize rock bottom prices and allow you to stock up when those prices occur, potentially saving you hundreds, even thousands in food expenses each year.
This weekend, make it your goal to start a grocery price book!
What is a price book?
A price book is simply a list of commonly purchased items and their prices (per unit). Each store is listed with their lowest price to compare and find the lowest price on each item. The idea is to help you find the lowest price on regular items you purchase, which store to buy it at, and track sales cycles.
The essential function of the price book is to record the price per unit on each item. Just recording prices for items without consideration for unit cost is not effective since sizes of items can vary. Many grocery stores will actually list the price per unit on the shelf price in small print, but the math for figuring unit prices is quite simple and you can quickly and easily do it yourself (Price/Unit = Unit Cost).
For example, if I buy a 10 oz. bag of chips for $3.00, my unit cost is $0.30 per oz. (3.00/10 = .30).
Figuring these prices and recording them in a price book does not have to involve walking around a grocery store, doing the math, and recording the results (though that is definitely one way you can do it).
The easiest way to find prices is to use grocery flyers and/or receipts from past purchases and record prices from the comfort of your own home.
How to set up a price book
Track unit price by item and store, highlighting the lowest price and which store has the lowest price. The same stores tend to run the same sales cycles, so if one store has the lowest sale price, chances are they will run that sale again. It’s still important to keep track of the price/unit so you will know when you find an even lower price.
Starting a price book is not complex and doesn’t have to take much time, just make a goal to record a few items at a time. Remember, you want to focus your attention on your most frequently purchased items.
Once you use the price book for a while, chances are, you will have it mostly memorized and have yourself trained to recognize the lowest prices (though to be certain, the price book will keep you from guessing).
Here’s how I usually set mine up.
Price Book Spreadsheet
If you are using a spreadsheet, like I am here, it’s easy to just keep the lowest price on each item, rather than having an entire list of historical prices. In the example above, since Aldi has the lowest price on a gallon of milk, I would just take HyVee off the spreadsheet to make it easier to spot the lowest price.
Price Book Binder
If you are using a binder, it’s easiest to keep one item per page so you can quickly and easily see the lowest price on that item. You can either use notebook paper or printable sheets in your binder. (If you’d like my printable binder sheet as seen here, sign up at the bottom of the post.)
Price Book Apps
You probably always have your phone with you, so updating while you’re at the store may be easier with an app. Here are a few options to choose from:
Basket is a new, free app that does grocery price comparisons for you! You can create a shopping basket with needed items either at home or in the store to see which store has the best price in your area.
This app provides a color-coded shopping list and allows you to create a price book to track unit pricing at the stores you shop regularly. It also gives you the price you last paid for an item.
Grocery King allows you to create shopping lists and compare prices between retailers based on unit prices. The app allows you to take pictures of your receipts and track your purchase history.
Get the most out of your price book
While price books do require some upfront work and occasional updating, the initial effort pays off! When you buy your frequently purchased items at rock-bottom prices and stock up, you have the potential to save hundreds of dollars. Even if you save just $100 each month as a result of having a price book, your time will more than pay off.
The key to saving money with the price book is consistently update it, but also to consult it before shopping. You probably won’t always be able to purchase needed items at their lowest prices but, at the very least, you’ll know if you should pick up just enough to get by until the next sale or stock up.
Have you ever used a price book? How do you save on your grocery expenses?