When you’re trying to cut back on expenses and save more money, cutting food costs is the easiest and fastest way to see results. Food is typically our third largest expense and one that is largely under our control. Starting a grocery price book can help you save a ton of money on monthly grocery expenses.
When we became a one-income family, reducing food expenses was the first thing I did. One of the ways I did so was to start a grocery price book. Way back then (you, know in ancient times), I used a paper and pen and kept my price book in a binder. But with spreadsheets and apps, keeping a price book nowadays is much easier. (For those of you who may be old school like me, sign up for the printable version at the bottom of the post).
Having a price book will help you recognize rock bottom prices and allow you to stock up when those prices occur, potentially saving you hundreds, even thousands in food expenses each year.
This weekend, make it your goal to start a grocery price book!
What is a price book?
A price book is simply a list of commonly purchased items and their prices (per unit). Each store is listed with their lowest price to compare and find the lowest price on each item. The idea is to help you find the lowest price on regular items you purchase, which store to buy it at, and track sales cycles.
The essential function of the price book is to record the price per unit on each item. Just recording prices for items without consideration for unit cost is not effective since sizes of items can vary. Many grocery stores will actually list the price per unit on the shelf price in small print, but the math for figuring unit prices is quite simple and you can quickly and easily do it yourself (Price/Unit = Unit Cost).
For example, if I buy a 10 oz. bag of chips for $3.00, my unit cost is $0.30 per oz. (3.00/10 = .30).
Figuring these prices and recording them in a price book does not have to involve walking around a grocery store, doing the math, and recording the results (though that is definitely one way you can do it).
The easiest way to find prices is to use grocery flyers and/or receipts from past purchases and record prices from the comfort of your own home.
How to set up a price book
Track unit price by item and store, highlighting the lowest price and which store has the lowest price. The same stores tend to run the same sales cycles, so if one store has the lowest sale price, chances are they will run that sale again. It’s still important to keep track of the price/unit so you will know when you find an even lower price.
Starting a price book is not complex and doesn’t have to take much time, just make a goal to record a few items at a time. Remember, you want to focus your attention on your most frequently purchased items.
Once you use the price book for a while, chances are, you will have it mostly memorized and have yourself trained to recognize the lowest prices (though to be certain, the price book will keep you from guessing).
Here’s how I usually set mine up.
Price Book Spreadsheet
If you are using a spreadsheet, like I am here, it’s easy to just keep the lowest price on each item, rather than having an entire list of historical prices. In the example above, since Aldi has the lowest price on a gallon of milk, I would just take HyVee off the spreadsheet to make it easier to spot the lowest price.
Price Book Binder
If you are using a binder, it’s easiest to keep one item per page so you can quickly and easily see the lowest price on that item. You can either use notebook paper or printable sheets in your binder. (If you’d like my printable binder sheet as seen here, sign up at the bottom of the post.)
Price Book Apps
You probably always have your phone with you, so updating while you’re at the store may be easier with an app. Here are a few options to choose from:
Basket is a new, free app that does grocery price comparisons for you! You can create a shopping basket with needed items either at home or in the store to see which store has the best price in your area.
This app provides a color-coded shopping list and allows you to create a price book to track unit pricing at the stores you shop regularly. It also gives you the price you last paid for an item.
Grocery King allows you to create shopping lists and compare prices between retailers based on unit prices. The app allows you to take pictures of your receipts and track your purchase history.
Get the most out of your price book
While price books do require some upfront work and occasional updating, the initial effort pays off! When you buy your frequently purchased items at rock-bottom prices and stock up, you have the potential to save hundreds of dollars. Even if you save just $100 each month as a result of having a price book, your time will more than pay off.
The key to saving money with the price book is consistently update it, but also to consult it before shopping. You probably won’t always be able to purchase needed items at their lowest prices but, at the very least, you’ll know if you should pick up just enough to get by until the next sale or stock up.
Have you ever used a price book? How do you save on your grocery expenses?
16 thoughts on “Weekend Money Tip: How to Start a Grocery Price Book”
Thanks for sharing this! I’d never even heard of a price book before. I also am constantly downloading apps and had never even heard of those apps, so will definitely be checking them out.
I’m not the best at shopping for deals when it comes to groceries, and it’s definitely something I need to work on. A lot of times, I just buy whatever I feel like making without even comparison shopping or buying on sale, and I know that’s an expensive way to shop. Maybe a price book will help!
You’re so welcome! A price book is really handy for learning prices when you’re getting started. They are a little upfront work, but pay off exponentially. I’m at the point now that I have prices of most of the things I purchased memorized so I typically know if I’m buying at the lowest price. Good luck to you! Try it out and let me know what works best!
This is a great concept; especially with the price per unit calculations. I’ve fallen into a habit of only going to 2 different stores for food, and I’ll definitely start trying to keep track especially when both stores have slightly different pack sizes. I know I’ve gotten mixed up a couple times when one store had a slightly smaller box on sale, but the price per unit will still higher than the sale going on at other store.
Thanks, ST! I’m glad you found this useful! I’ve noticed the smaller sizes are often marketed as a “sale” but, when you do the unit cost, sometimes the larger size ends up being cheaper (though not always the case).
Amanda, this is a cool idea, I never heard of a price book before. It makes a ton of sense. Now, since my wife does the bulk of our shopping, the trick for me is, how to offer unsolicited “advice” on how she can save money shopping! Hmmm……
I’m going to check out the “budget” app you mentioned. If it’s user friendly, maybe I’ll try suggesting it.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Jon! I’ve not used the apps on a regular basis because I’m kind of old-school and plan my shopping before I leave the house. But I do think using an app is a good idea for those who are just starting out with price comparisons. Good luck to you!
I know I’ve noticed a lot more when I check my receipts and prices than I did before. For instance, our base grocery store has moved from $2.69 on milk gallons to $2.79 and now $2.89, in the space of about 6 weeks, with sales of $1.99 a gallon between price increases. I try to list both regular and sale prices if I can.
That’s a good idea, Emily. Because you can’t always buy milk on sale! We have one store that is always cheaper on milk and the expiration dates are usually at least 2 weeks out, so I do buy multiples there.
Pretty neat idea Amanda. I have never heard nor even thought about this idea. I have a general idea of which stores around us have cheaper prices as well as great customer incentives. Not sure if you know about iBotta but they offer cash back rewards on a lot of grocery items and using this app has allowed me to become more price conscious as I look through my bill closely and can easily tell if I overpaid for an item.
Thanks, Stefan! I’ve heard of iBotta, but never used it – definitely something I will look into. It’s great that it’s worked really well for you. Thanks for the suggestion!
I have one! I am a lover of pen and paper, so mine is in a little notebook, but I think that I probably need to find a digital option for it to continue to be useful. It was incredible how I truly did not have a clue about the prices of most things. I always remember my aunt being able to spew out the price per pound of every fruit and vegetable. So impressive. I am not there, but I do now have a general sense of the cost of things I buy most often and where they are cheapest. I can’t bear to think about how much money I have wasted.
Yes! I’m a total pen and paper person too. Pen and paper lists, checkbook register, and more! Little by little I am using more technology, but I do find I remember things better when I actually write them down. Glad you already have a system down, Linda, and it’s great that it’s working for you. Soon, you’ll be like your aunt and be able to have it all committed to memory 🙂
Really cool idea! We have a spreadsheet for tracking coupons (shared on our site) and it can really help make sure you are getting the lowest prices possible. I have never thought to actually track the price of groceries, but it makes a lot of sense! I once got 32 ounce PowerAids for $0.17 a piece. Now whenever I see them I think they are expensive regardless of how much of a sale it is.
Thanks, DC! It works wonders for the grocery budget, but can be used for more than just groceries (my husband is pretty good at tracking prices at Menards). $0.17 for PowerAid is a great deal and I know that feeling of thinking they are too expensive after you get such a low price – because you know you have gotten them so much cheaper.
This is a wonderful article that tells about how to use a price book and have your expenses mentioned in it. It can be extremely helpful to list down all your expenditures. All the important aspects of using the price book are mentioned in a simple manner. So, have a look at this.
Thank you Raj!
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