I mentioned in yesterday's post that you should have a price book. A price book is simply a book that lists the prices you find something.
This can be an awesome tool for saving money on all the things we buy, even if you don't use coupons. But if you don't know how to make one (or it seems overwhelming) then you probably won't do it. I didn't for a long time, even after I started using coupons regularly.
Most people list their prices in a notebook. Personally, I use an Excel file that I can access on my smart phone. Either way, it's basically the same system.
How To Start Your Price Book
There are three main ways people start their price books, you can pick either way, it won't effect the outcome.
A common method is to list 20 or 30 items you buy regularly and as they are in the store, they write down the price they find for those items. Check out several stores in your area (check one a week). This can quickly tell you the best place to buy your everyday items, especially if they aren't on sale.
You can also write down all the things you buy when you get home. This will work great for an ultimate price book, so you know when you see a sale in an ad if that's a good or bad price. It will cover things you may not normally buy but still need. Take flour, for example. Most families don't buy flour every month, or even every two months. So if you write it down when you buy it, you'll have a record when you see it on sale.
My personal suggestion is to combine the two methods. Make a list of 10 to 20 things you buy regularly and check them, plus write down everything you buy at home. You get the best of both worlds this way, although it does take more time!
What to List in Your Price Book
If you don't know what to write down, your price book won't do you much good. Here are some suggestions that I've found work well for me.
First list the item, along with a small description. I find the description, even it it's rather short, can help immensely when you are comparing items. Mine look like this: "Milk, Gallon", "Cheerios, 14 oz" or "Capri Sun, 8 pack". It doesn't matter how you list it as long as it make sense to you.
Listing a date can be helpful. Certain items, like baking supplies and condiments, go on rock bottom sales at different times of the year. If you need to buy flour in March and you see that nothing is close to the low price you paid, it was probably because you bought it last in December when it's at the rock bottom prices. Seeing the date, you can decide to pick up a bag of flour for $3.50 even though your price book says the best price is $0.50.
The Price. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but even this can be a little tricky! List both the lowest price you've ever paid AND the lowest non sale price. Let's say you need ketchup. Your price book shows that last summer you got ketchup for free (yes, it's possible!). But it's March and while a few people have ketchup for $1.49 & no coupon, you're not sure if that's a good price for ketchup or not. A quick look shows you that the lowest non sale price you've found ketchup is $2. Then while it may not be the best deal, it is worth picking up enough bottles of ketchup to last you until the summer when it will be free again.
The Store. This is only really necessary for the non-sale price. By listing the store, you can quickly tell where you should be buying something if you need it & it's not on sale. Milk is one of the best for this. I rarely see milk go on sale and when I do, it's even rarer for it to be lower than the generic brand at Stater Bros. Since I'm not particular about the name on the milk (it tastes the same to me), I know that I should get my milk at Stater Bros as much as possible.
No, I don't mean what's cool. Some people suggest writing down the price of something every week and watch for a trend. Yes, food items will have ups and downs throughout the cycle. It can be helpful, especially with your everyday items, so you know if you should buy one gallon of milk today to get you through until the price drops next week or three since the price won't be this low until next month. Personally, I don't do this. My reason is simple: TIME. I have an active 3 year old who goes to the store with me 95% of the time and a curious 5 year old who goes with me about 20% of the time. If I stop each week and check the prices for the same items over and over, it will take time and they will get bored. Next thing I know, Beautiful G is asking about what this can of beans says and Sunshine is trying to add things to my cart because I stopped to check the price of canned corn again this week. Instead, I keep a rock bottom price list and a non sale price list.
If you prefer to write it down every week and check the trends, then go for it. The easiest way to do this is to make a page for each item and write down the store name, the date and the price. Continue to do this every week for 8 to 12 weeks (great sales usually run about every 12 weeks). You should then see a trend in the prices.
Keep a price book, it will help you save a whole lot of money. It's not hard to start, just a notebook and pen. It is a little time intensive at first, but once you've got it up and running, it won't be hard to keep going. I know it can be tempting to ignore it, but even if it's just a small price list for the items you buy every week or month, it's worth it's weight in gold, or at least the cash you see sitting in your bank account!