Make A Price Book: Save Money At The Supermarket
Posted February 7th, 2008 by Cynthia Townley Ewer
Frugality: a noble value. Trouble is, if you've got a disorganized nature, the frugal life can seem daunting. How do tightwad friends remember all those prices, bargains, shopping bonanzas? Is the warehouse mega-pack a true bargain? When is a sale a sale?
Fight back with a powerful weapon from the frugal arsenal: the price book. First publicized by Amy Dacyczyn, author of the Tightwad Gazette book series, a price book is a tool for tracking prices, products and sales. It's a simple tool to save time, money and supermarket stress.
Form Follows Function
What do you use to create a price book? Form is unimportant. Low-tech tightwads use a small binder or spiral notebook to track price book information. Planner aficionados devote a tabbed section to price book pages.
The hi-tech housewife enters price book data in a computer spreadsheet (and the alpha geek downloads spreadsheet data to a palmtop computer for quick in-store consultation).
Paging Best Buys!
Whatever the form, the heart of the price book is the product page. Each page tracks price information for a single staple product. Down the page, you'll list the date, store, brand, size and price, and unit price for that product. Over time, you'll be able to identify the best regular price, recognize special sales, and track sale cycles for that product.
Our shopper can buy 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce for a regular supermarket price of 32 cents. Her warehouse store sells bulk cans of tomato sauce for a sharply lower unit price. However, the best buy occurs when the supermarket puts 8-ounce cans on sale at 10 for $1.
Armed with the price book analysis, our shopper has learned to stock up on 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce during supermarket sales. By continuing to track the price of tomato sauce, she can learn the sale cycle: how often to expect those 10/$1 deals to occur. In her area, that's about every 6 weeks--so she'll purchase enough on sale to cover her family's needs until the next sale.
Setting Up and Using Your Price Book:
You're sold on the concept of a price book. You know it will save money, trim time and lighten shopping stress.
Now for the fun! Follow these tips to set up and use your new price book.
Digging For Data
You've found a small notebook or printed free price book forms. Next step: gather and record your data.
Itemized grocery store receipts are a price book's best friend. On them, you'll find identified and itemized lists of products you buy and use. Jumpstart your price book by recording data from every receipt you can find.
For brevity, develop a list of store codes. Use a short abbreviation for each supermarket, discount store and warehouse store you patronize.
Keep a calculator handy for unit price calculations! To find any item's unit price, divide the cost of the item by the number of units. For an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce sold for $.32, enter .32, then divide by 8 to find the unit price of $.04.
If you're making price book entries at the supermarket, you can often find the unit price calculated on the shelf tag. Spreadsheet users can short-cut the calculation process by breaking out the price and size on the spreadsheet.
On The Firing Line
You've scrounged for receipts, entered your data, and now it's time to shop. Like good wine, a price book's value increases with age. At first, you'll be filling in initial entries for many, many product pages--but as time passes, the price book's growth will give you a clear view of the sales cycle.
Build your baby price book each time you shop. See a great special at Supermarket A, but you don't need the product that week? Record it in your price book. You'll know to return next sale cycle, ready to buy.
With a mature price book, item entries slow. Once you've sampled prices at several supermarkets, the discount store and warehouse store, only enter a new price if it is lower than your existing entries.
As your price book matures, be prepared for surprises! Often, the dedicated warehouse store bulk-buyer will discover that she's been paying premium prices for bulk goods. No single traditional supermarket has the "lowest prices" in every area, no matter what their advertising jingles say. Approach the price book exercise with an open mind; you'll find surprising bargains--and high price shocks--in the most amazing places.
Be aware: some price book shoppers have reported episodes of being confronted by supermarket personnel when they make price book entries at the store. A clear and polite explanation ("This is my personal price record; I'm tight-wadding these days. You've got a great deal on white potatoes this week!") should reassure store managers that you're not a snooper-shopper from a competing store. Don't stand for harassment! Any further confrontation should be reported to the chain's higher-ups for action.
Ready, Set, Save!
Over time, you'll build an impressive data bank of local supermarket pricing information. You'll know that name-brand Mexican food products will be offered at the year's lowest prices just before Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May. You'll know when to stock up on steaks, or sodas, or diet foods. You'll understand that canned tuna will be offered at 3/$1 every six weeks--and you'll purchase six weeks' worth of tuna during that buying opportunity.
You'll also know, at a glance, when to buy in bulk from the warehouse store and when to look for a better deal at the supermarket. Not all bulk purchases represent true bargains. Armed with a price book, you'll know to a fraction of a penny when to load up on the big bag of flour, and when to pass it up in favor of the supermarket's loss leader of the week.
Most of all, a price book will reveal your target price: a realistic, rock-bottom price goal for each item listed in your book. Whether it's cereal for $1.99 per box or detergent at 9 cents per use, you'll have the information you need to know when a bargain is truly a bargain.
Price books. They give you a leg up on the chaotic, ever-changing supermarket price game. Save time, save money and get organized at the supermarket with a price book!