The Frugal Olympics 1st Event: Creating a Grocery Price Book - Live Like a Mensch
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The Frugal Olympics 1st Event: Creating a Grocery Price Book

While I have established my credentials in other areas of frugal athleticism such as checkbook balancing, debt reduction, and both freestyle and synchronized penny pinching, I am still a relative newcomer to the sport of grocery price book making. (Which is not to be confused with bookmaking, which is of course illegal in the Frugal Olympics).

When faced with any new challenge, I prepare for the onslaught in a time-honored tradition honed by hours of practice: by losing myself on Pinterest.

(And it was on Pinterest that I was delighted to find that The Dollar Stretcher has already created a free Grocery Price Book Printable. While TDS's printable is great, I was afraid it would make the notebook I'll put it into a little too bulky, so I've decided to go with a different one I found here).

If you are like me and have never before created a price book, your needs are fairly simple:

1. A place to record prices of the items you buy the most often.

2. Shopping receipts and/or grocery circulars and/or the time to wander around your local groceries recording prices.

3. A calculator for determining unit prices OR the Excel Spreadsheet wizardry that does calculations for you.

(By the way, my lovely meal planning sheet was created by I Heart Organizing and can be found here)

Each time that I shop, I'll record the prices that I find for our favorite products, and if I stick the landing (that is, stick with it!), over time I'll start to know whether sale prices are really worth it, what the sales cycles are for my local stores, and whether bulk purchases are money-sinks in frugal clothing.

As you can see from my receipts, I generally do my shopping at Target. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. It's near LO's school. 2. I can get non-food items there.

But, for the next few months, I'm going to expand my horizons and start finding out just where I should be shopping for what. All thanks to my trusty grocery price book.

Readers, it's your turn to compete! Tell me in the comments about your price book successes--or why you've never gotten around to a price book either. One lucky Olympian who comments on any of the four frugal Olympics posts will be entered to win a signed and personalized copy of my new book, The Five Years Before You Retire.

You may enter up to four times (once per event), and I will pick a winner randomly on February 28 March 7. (Changed to reflect the fact that I am totally behind!)



tracyinmn said:

I always feel like it will be a LOT of work. I think it would be easier to just start with about twenty or thirty items.

February 13, 2014 11:19 PM

cellomommy2 said:

I just found mine from about 18 years ago.  It is very interesting to look at - soup was .39 a can on sale, Purina puppy chow 5.84 for 10 lbs, milk was $1.96 a gallon, coffee was 2.09.  Not sure I want to know how the prices will change in another 18 years.  I stopped because a store manager asked me to.  Nowadays, I walk through the store with a giant coupon binder, a shopping list and a calculator, and I am not the only one.  I have thought about making a price book just using my receipts and store fliers rather than walking the stores, though.  

February 14, 2014 2:00 PM

haverwench said:

For me, the most important thing about a price book is that it be small enough to fit in my purse--I mean, not just small enough to stuff in there before I go shopping, but small enough to live in there full-time, so that I'm never caught in a store without it. So I use a 6-ring memo book that measures a little less than 4 by 6 inches. Rather than mess around with printables, I just use the ruled pages that the book came with, one page per item. I record the name of the store, the brand name and/or type of item (such as "Empire" for apples or "organic" for peanut butter), the size of the package, the total price, and the unit price. Most stores where I shop have the unit price info right on the shelf, but if they don't, I can always whip out my handy pocket calculator and figure it out on the spot.

I sometimes use the book while I'm actually in the store, but more often I use it at home when planning a grocery trip (which can be quite a complex process when you have half-a-dozen stores in your regular grocery rotation). Basically, when I get each week's sale fliers, I scan them looking for good deals, and if I'm ever unsure whether I've found one, I can pull out my price book and see how the sale price compares to the price we usually pay. There are some items that we almost never buy if they're *not* on sale, like cheese, so after a while I added a line to the price book pages for these items showing their typical sale price. We use that as a benchmark, so if we see that OJ is $3 a bottle at our local store, we ignore it, knowing that it'll probably go on sale somewhere else for $2.50 before we run out. (For items like OJ, by the way, I can also use the price book to compare the per-quart price of frozen juice concentrate and fresh juice. To my surprise, in the past year or so, the fresh stuff has often been cheaper--perhaps because the concentrate almost never goes on sale.)

One nice thing about my system is that since it's a loose-leaf binder, it's easy to add more pages whenever I identify a new item that I want to track. The only real problem with it is that from time to time I have to cross out the price of an item and update it, and eventually the pages get so marked-up they're hard to read and I have to redo them. So I'm now at the point where I've used up all the pages that came with the notebook, and in order to expand it any further I'll have to buy more. But on the whole, the system is pretty inexpensive to use.

Of course, if I were an actual resident of the 21st century, I'd have a smartphone, and I could just keep all those records on it. (I'm sure there's an app for that.) But since my phone is an old-school feature phone that we only use for emergencies, paper is the way to go.

February 17, 2014 12:33 PM

Maggie Trudeau said:

I'm embarrassed to say that I JUST THIS YEAR started to keep a grocery price book.  I'm using a small financial record 3ring binder I found at a thrift store.  For me, it's a bit of a pain since I already read the labels and compare fruit and veg based on local-ness, organic-ness, freshness, etc so I don't like also pulling out the pricebook.  BUT I'm already learning the regular costs of what I buy each week.   Writing it down and comparing my receipt to the "best price" in the pricebook even after I get home has helped me be more aware that even buying the organic, local, fresh, yada-yada-yada  could be cheaper than what I've been spending.  

February 25, 2014 11:55 AM

frugal_fun said:

Just for fun, we have a totally different system. :) When we first moved to our new location, I shopped at many different stores.

We now shop at just 3: Costco, Food Lion, and Whole Foods. I prefer Costco for as much as they will sell me and we can use. The quality is almost always excellent and they sell on a set small margin. No loss leaders, but over the years I've found those to be of less than stellar quality especially when it comes to meats.

Whole Foods stocks reasonably priced produce that the freshest short of farmer's markets around here. I also get spices there but avoid everything else as the mark up is terrible.

Food Lion is a the "value" chain where I get everything else. I will also occasionally shop at Wal-Mart as well.

Admittedly, we don't get the absolute rock bottom prices with this strategy as compared to a price book. However, we do save time and gas by not going out of our way for items of unknown quality. I also know the store layouts (unless Costco gets frisky on me), so that saves time as well. For us, it's a way to balance time/hassle with price.

February 27, 2014 8:53 PM

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