A price book, which tracks the lowest prices on the products you buy most often, is the best tool for saving money on groceries and household items. With it, you’ll always know when a sale is really a good deal, when produce is in season, and when to stock up on the essentials. Here’s how to make and keep this time-tested savings tool yourself—and save as much as $ 1,000 a year.
Why You Should Use a Price Book
Sales on groceries and household items, as you might already know, are cyclical. There are best times of the year to buy groceries (and many other items), but these sales often vary by location. Similarly, while some items are always good to stock up on, you’ll save even more when you know whether to jump on a sale or wait until the price drops even lower. (Never fall for a “fake” sale again!) That’s where the price book comes in—it’s a personalized, local guide to the very best deals.
Let’s say you usually buy four cans of a certain type of soup every month, usually for $ 3.29 a can. Every few weeks, however, the price drops to $ 2.50 a can. In this example, you’ll save $ 3.16 each month by waiting for the lowest price. It might not sound like much, but that’s nearly $ 40 in savings a year, and if you multiply that with dozens of similar items, you can see how the savings add up.
It takes a little effort setting one up and maintaining a price book, but it could make you a more savvy shopper. So here are instructions and a few tips for making your own price book.
Track the Per Unit Pricing
The most important part of using a price book is to track the per unit pricing on each item—the price per pound, gallon, item, etc. (Most items at the grocery store show that price on the label, but you can calculate it yourself by dividing the total price of the item by the unit—e.g., $ 1.99/16 ounces is 12.4 cents per ounce.) That way, even if products come in varying sizes and quantities, you’ll be able to rationally compare, say, the cost of the 32 ounce bottle on sale versus a competitor’s 64 ounce one.
Choose Your Format: Paper or Digital
Both paper and digital price books have advantages. A paper notebook is quicker to jot down prices and refer to when you shop, but grocery apps make quick work of calculating prices (plus, they serve as grocery lists). Either way, you might want to start by tracking just 10 to 20 items you buy most often, to make it easier at the start, but that’s up to you. You also don’t have to track prices as you shop—you can do it from your receipts and even grocery sale flyers.
How to Make a Price Book Notebook
On each page of a notebook, list an item that you buy frequently (e.g., coffee) and the unit for comparison (e.g., pound). Then, when you shop, list the date, store, product brand, price—and per unit price. After several weeks or months, you should have a lot of data and can use a pencil to circle the current lowest price for reference when you shop. The photo above is an example from GoodLifeGazette, which offers a very detailed guide to Pricebooking 101.
Instead of tracking every store or time you shop, you could also simply cross out or erase the price on an item in your notebook and replace it with a new price whenever you find it lower.
Digital Price Book Tools
Spreadsheets: Trent over at The Simple Dollar details how he created a price book in Google Docs. Since it’s accessible from his phone, he says it’s easy to update. His version lists items in the first column—pound of bananas, loaf of bread, gallon of milk—and store names in the other columns, plus a total line at the bottom that adds up the prices for each store. This seems most useful for identifying which store has the best prices for particular items.
If you don’t shop at many different stores, a better solution may be to set up your spreadsheet with columns like the example above. Then you could sort by products. A nice thing about this system is it calculates the unit price for you. You could add a category (dairy, meat, etc.) column or maybe use a different sheet for each category.
Mobile apps: Mobile apps may be the best option, since you’re always going to have your phone with you, and apps contain smart features like highlighting the lowest prices. On iOS, ValueTracker ($ 0.99), shown above, tracks prices over time and tells you the best price point for your various items. You can also use it as a shopping list. On Android, the best app I’ve found is Sharky Shopping (free). It doesn’t have any killer features, like barcode scanning, but is a basic price tracker that lets you input prices by date, store, brand, and size, and it calculates unit prices. For more app suggestions, check out this discussion on TheKitchn.
Some people share their price books online, so you could use those as a jumping-off point. Unfortunately, you’ll need to find one specifically in your area, otherwise the prices won’t necessarily match up. Try running a search on “grocery price book [your city]” to see if any are publically available.
Here are a few I found online and some additional resources:
- Costco Price List (Marysville, Washington area)
- Grocery Price List: Aldi, Target, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walmart (South Florida)
- CouponMom’s Online price history for major chains across the US (registration required. CouponMom happens to be the best, non-crazy way to shop with coupons, I think, but the sales are based on info from Atlanta, GA.)
- Grocery Savings Tips—not a price list but links to online circulars for 315 grocery store chains, so you can start setting up a price list based on the flyers from the comfort of your home
- MySupermarket similarly compares online prices for household goods and groceries at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Costco, Drugstore.com, and more