How to save money with a price book

By noting the prices of generic goods as you shop around at different stores, you can easily determine the place that offers the best prices for your personal shopping needs.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
A customer peruses peppers in the produce section at a Costco in Everett, Mass., in this September 2010 file photo. Price books can help save you money, Hamm writes.

When my wife and I first moved to our current home, we took a look at all of the grocery stores available to us within reasonable driving range and made a list of them. It turned out that there were quite a few of them – three Hy-Vees, two Fareways, a Super Target, two Wal-Mart Supercenters, a Sam’s Club, a Dahl’s… that’s a lot of grocery options, and I’m not even counting the food co-ops.

The prices at all of these stores aren’t equal, of course. Some of the stores will have higher prices than others. Some stores have a better selection than others.

Like anyone with a busy life, I don’t want to shop at a lot of different stores. I want to shop at the store that has the lowest prices on the items I buy most of the time. In other words, where can I get the staples at the best price? 

That’s where a price book comes in. 

For the first several weeks, Sarah and I shopped at different stores. On those trips, we took along our normal shopping list along with a “generic” shopping list.

The “generic” shopping list is just a list of 25 to 30 items that we buy regularly. Milk. Eggs. Bread. Shampoo. Orange juice. Bananas. Spinach. You know, the things that show up awfully regularly on our grocery lists.

As we shopped, we would look for the items on our “generic” shopping list and write down the price for that item. (We wouldn’t add it to our cart unless it was on our real shopping list, of course.)

After several weeks of this, we had several copies of our “generic” grocery list, one each from several different stores, and each listing the distinct prices found at that store. This constitutes our price book, and it helps us figure out where to shop.

So, how do we use it? The first thing we did was mark which store had the lowest non-sale prices on each item we buy. For us, Fareway was the winner here in terms of the most items, but there were individual items that were cheaper elsewhere.

Thus, most of the time, we’ll do our grocery shopping at Fareway. Because of this comparison, we know that our grocery receipt will likely be lower there than anywhere else.

Sometimes, though, we have a grocery list with only a few staples on it. In that case, I’ll check the price book and if there’s a significant savings to be had elsewhere, I’ll shop elsewhere.

Most of the time, though, we shop at Fareway for most things, visit Hy-Vee for a few esoteric items, and supplement that with the food co-op if we need other hard-to-find items. It’s all about the bottom line, and our pricebook spells it out for us.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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