Monday, April 4, 2011

Smart pricing

When I went to the store this week, I found that flour had increased in price by almost $.08 a pound over 2 weeks ago, but it's still a good deal. Most of the beans and pasta are up by quite a bit, however. Now, you may question, how do I know this?

I keep a price book. It's an idea that my mother used somewhat, but I first read about a really organized version in the Tightwad Gazette in the 90s. I take my receipt each week and check the prices of things I buy frequently against what I already have listed in the book. If there's a significant change, I record it. This is particularly helpful in deciding which stores have the best prices on which things.

For instance, on March 18, I bought the exact same brand of flour at the same store for $1.29. Today, it was $1.68, a $.39 change, but on the 18th, the flour was on sale. When I make an entry, I record the item (flour, unbleached white), the store name, the brand, the date, the price, the size, and the price per unit (in this case, $.258 per pound on the 18th, and $.336 per pound today). This may sound like a lot, but it doesn't have to be. Most people have 3 or 4 real options for groceries, and you can create a 2 or 3 letter abreviation for each store. I label all generic-type brands as "store". The only two items that take any work, really, other than typing in from my receipt is item size and price per unit. If you really hate math, record the price per unit from the in-store labels.

Now,  I actually include additional information like servings per container and price per serving, but that is much more obsessive than most people want to get, and I'm mostly doing it to analyze which food choices are the best buys for price per serving and nutrition and to make calculating costs of meals for this blog as easy as possible. Done as simply as possible, this could be done in just a few minutes. Then, when you go to the store, take the list (organized in some way that makes it easy to locate items on the list) and compare. That's how I knew that one store in our area, quite high priced on most items, had dry powdered milk at the best price, and another store consistently has frozen ground turkey and bags of corn tortillas at a much lower price. And how I know that today, navy beans were $.29 a pound higher than they were 3 weeks ago.

If you hate computers, get a looseleaf notebook and create a page for each item you want to track, drawing columns with a ruler. If you prefer a computer but are easily intimidated, use a word processing program and tab to create columns*. If you like playing with computers, this is a snap to create in a spreadsheet, (then use filters to look at just the prices for a single item at a time). I love playing in Excel, so my version is more complicated than necessary, but this can be as simple or as complex as you want. But once you have this established, you can buy up items when they're on sale, confident that you're getting a good deal. Or avoid getting burned by sales that aren't.

And don't limit this to groceries. It works for almost anything you buy regularly, like toilet paper and paper towels. You'll probably be surprised at the best sources for some things once you have actual numbers on paper.

*(if that sounds Greek to you, look at the left side of the keyboard. There should be a big key called tab. In a WP program, hit that key a couple of times and watch the cursor jump across the page. This lets you line up things, like columned paper.) 

1 comment:

Ami said...

Wish I had a nickel for every time I'd seen an item 'on sale' at our store, and it was actually more expensive than it had been the week before!

But people were buying three (limit 3)... makes me more than a little suspicious about the whole operation.