Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Saving money on groceries (know what you pay)

So when you're out at the grocery store, or browsing store ads, how do you know when you are seeing a great deal, or if you should pass it up?  Do you just assume that if the item is on "sale" that it is a good deal?  Or do you try to go off memory and try to recall what you paid for that item last week?  Or do you just assume that since you're at the "discount" store you can buy freely, knowing that you're getting good deals all-around?  Or perhaps you don't really pay attention to the price, because if the item is on your list, you're getting it. 

I have taken each of these approaches in the past.

Recently I was reading Mary Ostyn's book, Family Feasts for $75 a Week.

In the book I immediately came across a tool for saving money that I wanted to use.  Mary calls it a "price book".  She suggests keeping a notebook with a separate grocery item on each page.  Start with your most-often purchased items, and start tracking where you bought it, how much you paid, and when.  Simple enough.

Now something you don't know about me is that I am a spreadsheet junkie.  I have spreadsheets for everything.  Holiday meals.  Christmas shopping lists.  Birthday party details.  Vacation options.  I love me some Excel spreadsheets.  So it's no surprise that instead of a price book, I made a price spreadsheet

(Click on image to view full-size.)
This might look overwhelming at first, but it's not.  At the top I have my column headers, like Item, Store, Price, etc.  Then each row represents one purchase of one item.  What I love about the spreadsheet is that I can play with the list.  Sort by item, or by store, or by date purchased.  I can do a quick "Ctrl-F" to find a specific item.  And I can easily insert new items. 

I'm telling you, this is key.  It takes a little work to get the list to a point where it really starts saving you some money.  But start small.  Even just paying attention to one item can help you know when to stock up.

Let's take bread for an example. 

(Click on image to view full-size.)
Our family enjoys the San Juan bread, which I think is by Franz.  It has a picture of an Orca whale on it, so we just call it "Free Willy Bread".  I used to just buy the bread whenever I needed it, without paying attention to the price.  But look.  Once I started paying attention, I learned that the price of the bread varies greatly from month to month.  You can see that in January I paid $2.48 for one loaf.  And in February it was down to $1.78.  But in March it went up to $3.74, but then later that month went back down to $1.88. 

My family goes through probably 6 loaves of bread a month.  If I had bought all the loaves at the high point, I would have spent $22.44 on bread for one month.  But by paying attention to the price, and comparing it to my price list, I now know when to stock up and when to pass it up.  Now when I see the bread come back down to the $1.78 price, I can buy all six loaves for $10.68.  I just saved $11.76 for the month by buying smart on ONE item. 

See where I'm going with this?  The more you pay attention to what you pay for things, the more power you have for getting good deals.  I have learned a lot of things that have surprised me.  For example, at Costco it is NOT cheaper to buy a brick of cheese instead of the already-shredded cheese.  Also the price of eggs at Costco is far cheaper than even the sale-prices eggs at other stores. 

I feel like this list has armed me against misleading "sales" and has given me the power to shop smart.  And yes, sometimes it means passing up on an item or going to a different store to get it.  Or, if it's a necessity that is priced too high, it means buying just enough to get by, and then stocking up next time the price is better.  It also means being flexible, and instead of serving apples to my kids every day, switching to oranges for a while.  But now I have the power to make these decisions.  And by making these decisions I am saving my family a lot of money.

Did I leave any unanswered questions on this price list method?  I hope you are inspired to give this a try, and not confused or overwhelmed.  It really is simple!


Emily B. said...

LOL! that is organized! I also have a "never pay more than" list. I put the items we usually buy on a spreadsheet (everything from milk to tampons) and I enter the price I paid recently.

Then, if I see it cheaper somewhere, I replace the price with the new one. It keeps my spread sheet all on one page and I keep the list in my check book so I can quickly pull it out and know if I see a "stock up" price or not while I'm out. :)

Like a dollar for spaghetti sauce is great but I know I can get it for $.40 if I have a 30 cent coupon that doubles. So I just buy what I need for a $1 and then STOCK UP when I get my hands on a coupon that doubles.

Todd said...

I can see you at the store with four kids and your laptop out on the cart blocking the isle. :)

Shana said...

Thanks, Todd. I guess I should have mentioned that I "shrink to fit" and then print my list and take my paper with me to the store. However, if there was a way to attach my laptop to the cart, I'd be all over that!

Owlhaven said...

Shana, I lovelovelove your spreadsheet! Totally want it. You're brilliant!

A couple things I've found. Pasta in bulk food at Winco is often in the range of 80 cents/lb. And there is a nice whole grain bread at Winco that is usually $1.48/loaf or so...it is usually in the center of the bread aisle facing the checkstands and is a wide loaf that comes in honey wheat, 5 seed, and some others..

You rock, girl!

spoonerbyrd said...


jmae3 said...

Great post mama! xo

jmae3 said...

Oh and this book is written by my friends sister! So I passed along your post for her to give to her sister-who doesn't love to see their publicity! ;)