Why make a grocery price book?

A price book is the most powerful tool for saving money at the grocery store, bar none. It can save you hundreds of dollars a year, whether you’re a beans-and-rice tightwad or a frugal gourmand who savours organic shade-grown locally roasted coffee every morning.

In this six-part series, I’ll walk you through the fundamentals of pricebooking, from collecting your first set of prices to overcoming early hurdles.

What is a grocery pricebook and why should I have one?

A price book is a record of the price of food at different stores.

The purpose of keeping one is to buy each food at the store that offers the lowest price, to reduce your grocery bill.

The concept was first described by frugal zealot Amy Dacyzyn in her newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette.

“The keeping of a price book revolutionized our shopping strategy more any anything else we did,” Dacyczyn wrote. “For the first time we had a feeling of control over our food budget.”

If blackbelt tightwad Amy Dacyczyn benefited from a price book, surely you will, too.

Traditionally, price books were kept in small loose leaf binders, but today there are iPhone apps, spreadsheets and computer programs that can help you create a price book, too.
 Since reading Dacyczyn’s book, I have maintained a loose leaf version like hers.

“Each page contains prices for one item, and the pages are in alphabetical order for quick reference,” she wrote. “I include my code for the store name, the brand, the size of an item, the price and the unit price.”

I also include the date, so I can see whether prices are going up or down, or if there is a sale cycle I can take advantage of.

How does it work? For example, I love Kashi granola bars. At my local discount Superstore, they charge $2.97 for a box of five, or 60 cents per bar. At the swanky Planet Organic, the regular price is $4.49, or 90 cents per bar. Sure, 30 cents isn’t a lot of money. But let’s say I put a Kashi granola bar in my lunch bag to take to work every day. That’s about 250 granola bars a year. If I buy them at the Superstore, I save $75 every year.

That’s the power of a pricebook.

Here are four great reasons to start your own price book today:

1. You can start saving money immediately. The grocery bill is the area of the budget over which you have the most direct control; it yields instantly to any effort to reign in spending, and can reward those efforts with quick returns. Other frugal choices, like going car-free and downsizing your home, can take months and even years to implement. You can make a price book right now.

2. A price book takes all the guesswork out of grocery shopping. It cuts through the confusion caused by different-sized packages, bulk bins, family packs, six for $2.99 “deals” and discount stands. For the first time you will be able to make rational decisions about where to buy your food based on the bottom line. You will be able to confidently stock up when you hit upon a real sale, knowing you are paying the lowest possible price. What a relief.

3. A good price book is like kryptonite to food marketers. It completely immunizes you against the powerful persuasive tactics they use to get you to buy more food at higher prices. 
Never again will you fall for a fake sale just because the grocer stuck a big glitzy sign on the bin that said MANAGERS SPECIAL! Take $1 off Kashi Granola Bars, now just $3.49!  You’ll know better. (That sign was actually up at the Planet Organic yesterday. Seriously.)

4. Freedom. Frugal eating doesn’t have to mean rice-and-beans, beans-and-rice. A price book gives you the freedom to keep buying your fair trade, organic, shade-grown, locally roasted coffee (as I do). But instead of paying $15.99 a pound at the Swanky Urban Grocery Shoppe every week, stock up when it goes on sale at the Discount-O-Rama for $11.99.  If you drink a pound a week, you will save $208 this year. Sweet.

Keep reading Part 2: How to make a grocery price book

Or return to the series homepage: Pricebooking 101

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