I try to be smart about spending. I try not to buy things my family doesn’t need, and I try not to pay too much for things that we do. I think I’ve gotten really good about spotting the best value among a store’s offerings…when I’m at the store. But across visits or between stores? I’m finding it hard.
I think I need a price book.
I was watching this documentary on Irish Pubs on Netflix the other day, and one of the publicans (such a great word, publican) was telling a story. He’d had to raise the price of his Guinness by 20 cents a pint, and his regulars were complaining. He told them he’d give free drinks for the night to anyone who could give him the price of a pan of sliced bread. No one could do it. When he teased his regulars, one of them responded, “well, I might buy a pan of sliced bread once a week but I buy 7 or 8 pints of Guinness a night!”
Like the Guinness drinker, there are a few things I buy so often I remember the price. Cheezits at 2 for $5 is a pretty good deal. $3 a box is not so great. At $2, I ought to buy extras.
I can remember this because we eat a lot of Cheezits. I can remember that I pretty much want to get toilet paper for less than 1.5 cents per unit. I can remember that I won’t pay more than $2.50 a pint for blueberries, and will definitely buy at $2 a pint or less. Three Buck Chuck? Great value.
And that’s about it. Butter? Hamburger? Cheese? Green Beans? I don’t remember how much I paid three days ago, much less between store visits.
On most other things, I look for what I think is a good deal, based on my gut feeling. Reading other blogs, I realized there is another method shopping savvy people use: they track the prices of the items they buy often so they know if they are actually getting a good deal or not.
This weekend I had a little shopping excursion that reminded me that I probably need to rely on something other than my gut feelings.
The Shopping Trip
I let myself run out of …ahem….feminine hygiene products.
Sorry, men. I know it’s not your favorite subject, and you may think this has nothing to do with you. But it does, so bear with me.
The point is that I all of a sudden I had an immediate and sudden need to go purchase one (and only one) item.
I know I have a weakness for impulse buys at the grocery store. While I’ve improved on my ability to run in the store and buy just one item, it’s not great. I stick to one item far better at convenience stores or drug stores, but those both tend to be expensive.
I thought I remembered reading that discount stores tend to have decent prices on personal care items. We have a K-Mart nearby. K-Mart for me is one of those stores that does not entice me to browse,. On the rare occasions I go, I get in, grab what i need, and get out.
I drove the few blocks to the store and wandered down into the personal care aisles. It didn’t take long to find what I needed….at $7.99 per 40 count box.
That didn’t seem like a good price.
Fortunately I kept looking and found cheaper generics, and was able to pay about $5.50 for two boxes of 20.
I realized I still wasn’t sure that I had found a good price.Maybe? Is buying this item at K-Mart a better deal than stopping by the grocery store? Is Walmart? When I go to BJs, am I getting a deal to buy in bulk? Is my usual store the cheapest, or is there another with better bargains?
I have no idea. I probably need a price book.
What’s A Price Book?
A price book is well, a book of prices. Or a spreadsheet of prices. Or an app of prices. Basically a price book is a list that tracks the prices of things over time and over different stores so that you can see if you are paying a fair price, a good price, or way too much.
Let’s take something I buy all of the time: Milk. We go through about 3 gallons a week. I really should know the price, but like the Guinness lover I haven’t paid much attention. I just buy whatever store brand is available.
I usually buy 2 gallons every time I go to the grocery store, and Jon generally will pick up an extra gallon during the week.
I knew that if I see a special at $2 a gallon, it’s a good deal. I went to Kroger last week specifically because that’s how they had priced their milk.
I know the milk at the convenience store in the corner is expensive, usually about $3.99 a gallon. If that’s all we need, though, we’ll still stop in for convenience despite the price. Sometimes we pay a convenience tax, and as long as we know it and choose it I think it’s okay.
If you had asked me the regular price of milk, I would have said “2-something.” I would have been right. I also would have said that milk regularly costs the least at Aldi or Food Lion, our regular grocery store.
I surveyed my last few grocery receipts, though, and the regular price at Kroger is actually 11 cents cheaper than what I paid at Food Lion two weeks ago.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for The Price is Right. If I keep up a price book for a while, I might get there.
My Initial Price
So, I tried to think about the best way to do a price book.
Some people keep track in a notebook. That’s probably not my best option. Not only would Little Bit take it over for one of her projects, as she seems to do with any unblemished paper in our house, but there’s also the question of my highly
awful illegible unique style of handwriting.
There are several phone apps for price books, and I thought about those too. I always carry my phone with me to the store. None of the apps I saw on Google Play seemed a grand slam pick, though, and the space on my phone is always at a premium.
I am making a spreadsheet. Spreadsheet is my default solution for tracking numbers anyway…expense tracking, personal balance sheets, Christmas budgets. Maybe someday I’ll set it up in Access, but for now, I’ll stick to a good old spreadsheet.
I entered a long list of things we buy on a regular basis. “Hamburger/Pound/80-20” is beside “Hamburger/Pound/85-15.” Then I categorized it as “Meat”. Then I put in columns for the grocery and discount stores I shop most often: Aldi, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Lowe’s Foods, Target and Walmart. I have a regular and sales column as well as a date column for each store.
I grabbed the last few grocery receipts (the ones that were sitting on my desk, anyway) and started entering numbers.
I have a ton of blank spaces. Once I have a
bit lot more data, though, I plan on adding in columns to help identify averages and low prices.
The Price Book Experiment
So ground rules for my price book experiment:
- The point of experiment is to see if tracking the prices of various things I buy will actually help me learn to recognize good bargains.
- The length of the experiment is at least 3 months, until the end of September. By then, I should know if this is helpful or not.
- I’m not going to spend a ton of time writing down prices at the grocery store. I’ll use the grocery flyers and my receipts to fill in data.
- I will not buy anything extra. i will not make extra trips.
- I’m open to altering the experiment by trying one of the apps within the time period. The point is to try to track and learn, not to create a spreadsheet.
- I’ll provide updates in the July, August and September State of the Blog roundups.
So there’s my little project. Time to find out whether a price book can help keep my grocery budget more on target, and whether I find it worth the time and effort it takes to track.
Next time I look for a deal, I want a little more to go on that just my gut feelings.
Have you used a price book or similar app/spreadsheet/system? What’s your favorite method of making sure you are paying good prices?