The Price Book and Beyond

by Louise Wulf

Got more time than money? Need to conserve your money more than your energy? Here's a way to make the most of your price book (see article) by taking major advantage of the weekly "loss leaders" supermarkets offer to attract you; prices so low, they know they may lose money. It's worth it to them to lure you into their aisles in hopes you'll spend some impulse money with them. But, you're going to fool them and not spend a cent extra. This strategy calls for an initial investment of time and effort, but after that, you can cruise on automatic, secure in the knowledge that you're getting the most possible for your money and what's more, have enough staples on hand to weather a real crisis. Here are the components of the plan:

  1. Inventory your assets. This is the killer for most of us, (oh, all right... all of us) but it really does pay off. In economic emergencies, this step is critical. If you keep your price book in a loose-leaf notebook, add sections there. Some people use two clipboards: one at the freezer, one in whatever serves as your pantry. List everything you have on hand: every can, package, box and item, making categories in whatever way makes sense to you. List the item, its size and the number on hand. Bribe yourself if necessary, but take this step if money is really tight or you *really* want to meet a financial goal.
  2. Make a meal plan for one week, using what's on hand. Think in terms of economical, nutritious and filling meals built around cereals, casseroles, soups and stews. List at least the main dish for each meal, keeping all the food groups in mind.
  3. If you need help: Look in the white pages for your local extension service, listed under your state university. (Meal planning and food conservation are specialties for them). Visit your local library. Do a Web search. Call the American Dietetic Association Consumer Nutrition Hotline at 1-800-366-1655 (M - F, 9 - 4 Central time) to question a registered dietitian.

  4. Start a shopping list, noting whatever ingredients you need to add to make complete meals. For, example, you have dried beans, some ground meat and spices. You could make a big pot of chili if you had some tomato sauce, so list that.
  5. Study the weekly grocery ads carefully. First, look for items already on your shopping list. Note the item, size, price and store, Change your meal plans to accommodate sales. Be flexible. Try new-to-you brands and products, if the price is right. Your price book will tell you if the sale price is really a bargain. I track the best sale prices, the store and the date, noting the current best available deal in red. Then I understand the sale cycles for that product and know when to buy and when to wait. A "stockpile" allows this. Soon, you won't have to buy at any price just because you've run out of an item.
  6. Now, notice the loss leaders. These are usually the big print, front page offers and can be a buy opportunity, depending on your needs, preferences, storage space and budget.

    Put as much of your budgeted food money into loss leaders as you can afford, after you buy the essentials on your list. Needless to say, you only buy what you know you'll use or you've just created a new money sink instead of saving. This strategy allows you to stretch your budget the farthest and to build up a stockpile of staples. A full pantry (even if your "pantry" is under the bed, in the garage or under the tablecloth covering an end table,) gives you some security; a base you can build on. The Dollar Stretcher offers lots of advice on storage- take advantage of it! Full cupboards help make you independent. If you work this system to the max, it's possible to go to a grocery store only when you CHOOSE to; saving money, time, effort and gas.

    A tip: put a can opener in your car, along with a plastic fork and spoon. Then you can run in, buy one can of a loss leader you're not sure you'll like, open and taste. Stock up on the spot, if it suits you. You may spend a few extra pennies and a little time, but it can keep you from owning a case of something your family hates and return trips to the store to stock up after a home trial. This is especially important if you don't usually shop in this store and/or have traveled farther than usual to get there.

  7. Maintain! As you use an item, mark your inventory accordingly. It's a pain, but very helpful, especially in tough times, when it permits you to serve nutritious meals while hoarding your precious cash. It makes you focus on what you already have and use it to best advantage. It stops waste, prevents needless expenditures and trips because you don't KNOW what you have and stretches your money. It's also planet friendly. Save your food plans. Recycle the meals into a new plan or just reuse them after you have a month's worth. Study the ads every week and use them to make your shopping list. Note the best deals in your price book. Keep investing as much of your budgeted food money into loss leaders as you can manage. As your stored reserves increase, your financial freedom increases, too. This is the aspect of this method that allows you to "coast". As more and more of your resources are plowed into inventory, you'll have more choices in life. You'll be getting the most for your money, too.

Though not about this plan, there are two books by Doris Janzen Longacre that will help adjust your attitudes, motivate you and give you specific information, advice, guidance and recipes: Living More With Less and More With Less Cookbook. You'll probably have to get them though interlibrary loan, because they disappear from library shelves. They both have much to say about living simply, saving money and making choices, with stories from people all of ages, living in many different circumstances. There are dozens of easy to adapt and adopt ideas to live in harmony with ourselves. our communities and our world.

Louise is a regular contributor to the Dollar Stretcher. If you have a question or comment please contact her at

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