Price Book 101

by Amy Allen Clark


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Several months ago, I thought I knew it all on how to save money when grocery shopping. I have found, however, that there is always more to learn as months later I am beginning to address this topic again. I know I am not the only one who thinks that we are playing a game when we go to the grocery store. Educated consumers walk away with loads of goodies for minimal money and others of us fork over the big bucks for the same exact thing. What sets one shopper apart from another? How do you beat the grocery game? Is it really all about coupons and rebates?

Let's begin by discussing the fliers that you receive in your mailbox each week that outline the stores deals and steals for that week's particular campaign. These items are called the store's loss leaders. Loss leader simply means that the store is losing money by offering these items to you at a lower price in hopes that you are going to do the rest of your grocery shopping with them. Will you, an educated consumer, necessarily put all of your money down into one store? Absolutely not! An educated consumer walks away with the loss leaders and adds nothing more to her basket unless the prices are unbeatable elsewhere. How does this educated consumer know that these prices cannot be beaten? They know this because they keep a price book.

A price book will make you the smartest consumer in the store because you will actually know whether or not an item really is on sale or not. Begin by setting your price book up in a way that makes it easy for you to use. There are two common ways that price books are set up, either alphabetically or categorically. I find my price book is easier to use when it is set up by category because it is easier for me to locate milk under the category of dairy rather than the letter M.

Each page in your price book should contain the date, name of your grocery store (use a code that is easy for you to remember), the brand of the item, the size of the item, the price of the item, and then the unit price of the item. The unit price can be discovered by dividing size/price. The unit price can also usually be found on the actual grocery sticker below the item, which can save you some time in the math department.

Here is a sample of what a price book entry would look like for peanut butter:

Date 10/01
Store Name WM
Brand Store Brand
Size/Price 18 oz/.99
Unit Price .88 lb.

The first couple of months of filling your price book are very tedious, but after you have logged this information in for awhile, the best deals will emerge and you will also see a pattern in the store's timing of these sales. For example, you will know that John Doe's Supermarket runs their special on pasta at 25 cents a box every July and January.

Begin filling your price book by writing in all of the items that appear in your local fliers and the unit prices on them. After filling in these, you can then begin logging in all of the receipts that you have from your past visits to the grocery store. Doing this the first time was rather sickening when I wrote all of it in for our family because this is when I realized my steal of a deal was actually a dud. Don't kick yourself when discovering this; pat yourself on the back instead because you know you will be saving money from this moment on.

Write in your price book items that you purchase on a regular basis, such as bread, milk, eggs, cheese, etc. Your job this month will be to fill this price book with this information on your next grocery trip.

One good strategy that I found when reading The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn was to shop at different stores each week of the first month so that within a thirty-day cycle you can hit all of the stores and begin filling your price book with each of the store's information. By the end of the thirty days, you will have a clearer picture on the great sales each of the stores run.

As time goes on your entries will slow down and your price book will now be a great reference to you. The real question is what do you do with this information and how do you make it work to your advantage? I find that the best thing you can do is when you see a particular item on sale at a great price, then stock up! And up and up and up! The last thing you want to do is have to buy that item when you run out of it because chances are there will be no sale in site. Buy as much as your budget allows, but be smart about how much you buy and how much you can use between now and the next sale. The last thing you want to do is to stock up on bologna and then end up throwing half of it out because it has gone bad before you could eat it. I tend to stock up the most on items that I can freeze, staples, and pantry items.

I hope that this month you can make it your goal to discovering the best deals in your local market. There is definitely something empowering about having your own price book. More empowering though is knowing that your wallet is just a little bit fatter then it would have been had you not been armed with this information.


Amy Allen Clark is a stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old son. In addition to running Mom Advice and running after her son, she keeps busy by serving as co-leader of her local Mothers and More chapter and doing freelance writing. The author resides in Granger, Indiana and her hobbies include reading, writing, and cooking.

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