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Looking to save money at the supermarket? It's hard to do in this age of shifting prices and computer-generated "sales".
How do you know whether an advertised special is a bargain--or a bust? Is the warehouse mega-pack a better buy? How about those "buy one, get one free" offers--are they worth the extra price?
Supermarket pricing can be confusing. Fight back with a powerful weapon from the frugal arsenal: the price book.
A price book is a power tool for tracking prices, products and sales, so you'll always know when a bargain is truly a bargain.
A price book records price variations over time--and between different merchants. For each grocery item you buy, a price book shows you a target price and sets out sales cycles for products you buy regularly.
By knowing that your target price for salad dressing is $1.19, and that the sales cycle is 8 weeks long, you'll be prepared to stock up when prices are low--and rely on the pantry until the next sale, two months later.
How do you make a price book? First, understand that form is unimportant. Low-tech tightwads use a three-ring binder or spiral notebook to track price book information. Planner aficionados devote a tabbed section to price book pages, while smartphone power users grab dedicated price book apps to track their purchases.
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.
Here's a sample product page:
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.
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.
You've found a small notebook or printed our price book template and tucked several copies in a three-ring binder. 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.
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.
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!