It can get confusing trying to remember which store has the best prices on which items or when a sale is really a great deal. And taking a lot of time to run to multiple stores each week can be a huge hassle and even an unwanted expense now that gas prices are going up every five minutes.
However, unless you are extremely store loyal to the point that you never set foot in anything but your favorite grocery chain - which is possible, I’m sure - you’ve probably noticed that different stores have different everyday prices for different items and that it’s not necessarily one store that has the best deals on everything every time.
One solution to this problem is to create a simple price book that you can carry with you or reference when you’re making your shopping list. That way at the very minimum you can figure out which store will get your business for the week or which store is worth an out-of-the-way trip to stock up on certain items. Plus, you’ll know when a sale price is really a great deal or when it simply means that Publix has matched Kroger’s price on something (or vice versa).
Start with a Silly Notebook
First, go out and buy a small, pocket-or-purse-sized notebook for yourself. I find that the brighter the color, the sillier the cartoon character, the more outrageous the design, the more likely it is that I’ll pick it up and use it and not misplace it. Do what works for you - and remember that notebooks are often on sale around back-to-school time or right after holidays - at Target, I recently bought a little notebook with a cartoon bee on it that was marked down because it was considered to be “Easter” themed (but not really).
Make a Few Lists
Next, make a list of the basics that your family always has on hand or always buys in the store. If you want to get fancy, include a line for your favorite brand and another line for either a generic or a brand you don’t love as much but would be willing to buy. Limit yourself to ten or 15 items to start - you can expand it as you go if this method works for you.
Stash the Notebook for Your Next Shopping Trip
This next part will take a bit of time and effort. The next time you are at the grocery store, shop as usual, but bring your notebook and a pen too. Make a quick note of the everyday price for each item on your list. If the item is on sale, note the sale price as well and the date on which it was on sale. (The reason for the date information is that sales are cyclical - if you figure out the pattern of the sale for your favorite items, you can buy enough between sales to last you, or at least you can get an idea of how much to buy during the sale time).
If you’re not comfortable making the notes as you wander, you can simply take notes off of weekly sales flyers and from your receipt when you get home. You just have to remember not to crumple up your receipt in a pocket and run it through the washing machine. Not that I’ve ever done that.
It’s Easier to Carry a Notebook than to Carry All This In Your Head
There are plenty of websites that will match up sales and coupons and deals for you, but your price book can be your personalized way to keep track of what you always buy. For example, if you always buy Brand X bread, you’ll learn that it’s $4 at Kroger, $3.50 at Publix, and $3.75 at Whole Foods. You then may notice that it goes on sale every three months at Kroger for $3, so you might consider buying a few extra loaves at that time and freezing them. Or, if you’re a regular Publix shopper, you might choose to shop Kroger during the weeks that your bread is on sale.
Additionally, if a coupon comes out in the paper for your favorite brand, you may want to clip it and then file it for use during the sale to maximize your savings. Learn the sales cycle really well and you could or! And during your research you may find that Brand Y is actually less expensive and tastes better. You never know.
Take It One Step at a Time
It can get overwhelming to keep track of prices, brands, and sales in your head while you shop. It also can be tempting to just buy whatever you want when you see it and not worry about price. But if you take this first step, you can be a bit more conscious of where your money is going and possibly save a few bucks in the process. It's up to you how simple or complicated your price book will be.
And yes, if you're wondering, you can also make a price book in your i-whatever-berry-phone-tablet-thingie. I'm sure there's an app for that. While I love technology - love it! - I find that I'm personally more likely to look at a physical notebook than I am at my iPod Touch. But as always, do what works for you. And have fun!