Better Budgeting: Grocery Price Comparison Book

Grocery Price Comparison Book

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

For several years, I had wanted to make a price-comparison book, but I never got around to it. Not until our family moved overseas for nine months as furlough replacement missionaries in the Philippines did I finally make a price comparison book in an effort to lower our food costs. While food costs and the price of living are lower in this Asian country, I found myself spending more on groceries due to no sales ads, coupons, rebates, and loss leader items. (Previously, I had saved hundreds each month by combining sales, coupons, and rebates.)

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Although we did have financial contributions from friends, we were attempting to support ourselves through my husband’s business. We still had bills (albeit, much lower) in the States, plus living expenses in the Philippines. The combination of more expenses and less time for my husband to devote to his business (since he was doing missionary work at the Bible College in Manila) led to fewer funds for the monthly budget. We had always lived by a budget, but now I either had to lower our groceries expenses or take extra funds from another category.

The first month was difficult as I had to adjust to a new culture, new foods, new currency, new language, and new stores. Initially, I had to spend more to get try to fill my kitchen and pantry with food so I could make fewer trips to the store.

Not knowing the culture, I was inexperienced with what were good prices. At first, I could only compare prices to what I typically paid in the States which was difficult since the prices were in pesos rather than dollars. After only a couple visits to the grocery stores, I began to notice a discrepancy in prices, especially from the small grocery store nearby to the grocery stores in the large malls and the markets and street vendors. Sometimes prices could be twice as much or higher.

I began comparing receipts and writing down prices for certain items from each store. I saved all receipts, and some items had price tags on them. After I got used to the metric system, I actually found it easier to compare prices. In the US, price comparisons aren’t always consistent within a category (sometimes ounces and sometimes pounds).

Soon, I knew which store had the best prices. However, I did notice that each store had at least something that might be lower priced than the other stores. Overall, the small convenience stores were highest priced and the markets and street vendors had the lowest prices. By writing down prices, I knew where to get the best deals on which items.

To make your price book, you will need either a spiral or three-ring notebook. You can also use a computer, but you will want something you can easily take to the store with you. A spiral notebook can work, but a loose leaf notebook allows you to easily add or move pages. You can also use the computer and make your own spreadsheet. Just print out the pages, punch holes in them, and put in a three-ring notebook. Dividers are also great to help you locate categories quickly.

You will want a page for each grocery category. Either list categories alphabetically (probably easiest if you’re shopping multiple stores) or arrange sheets according to store arrangement. You can make your own categories according to what you like to buy, which can include produce, dairy, frozen, meat, paper products, cleaners, toiletries, pasta and rice, canned goods, etc.

On each page, include the stores at which you frequently shop across the top. Along the side, list any items you will buy in each category. (For example, in the dairy category, you may want to include milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, cheese slices, shredded cheese, chunk cheese, string cheese, ricotta cheese, butter, margarine, sour cream, yogurt, etc.).  Include the store brand and name brand if you buy both. Make a grid by drawing vertical lines between each store and horizontal lines between each item.

After you have your sheets, then begin to list prices in the grid. If you take the list with you, be prepared to spend extra time in the store. You don’t have to fill in the complete chart all at once. Instead, list the items for which you’re shopping. During each trip, fill in more prices until your list is complete. Use a calculator to record unit prices. (Sometimes unit prices are listed on the shelf tag.) In my book, I list the regular price, because the stores in the Philippines do not typically have sales. Some shoppers like to put the lowest sale price they’ve seen in the store, and this would be great if you are trying to get the lowest price. You will know then if the advertised special really is a special.

Refer to your price book every time you shop. I like to list my items in pen and then fill in the price with pencil, since prices fluctuate often depending on whether items or in season, if crops have been damaged in typhoons, or if it’s December. (Unlike the States which have specials during the holidays, all prices increase during Christmas and New Years.) Whenever you notice a different price, record that in the appropriate spot.

The easiest way to grocery shop is to buy everything at one store without using coupons or taking time to note prices. The best way to save money is to have a price-comparison book and a well-stocked pantry. Every time you shop, check prices. (Eventually, you will know good prices for items you buy regularly, and you will know which store has the best prices, although stores can change their prices.) Only buy items if they are on sale and the best price. If you can’t shop more than one store, then get what items are best-priced in that store. The next time, buy the items from another store. As long as you don’t need something, you can wait to get the best price.

Putting together a price comparison book does take time, but the money saved each month makes the effort worthwhile. Once you have prices recorded, you will be a smarter shopper knowing where to get the best deals; and if you happen to stop by a different store, just compare the prices to what you have in your book. You may be surprised at which stores have the best prices on various items. In the long run, the price comparison book will save you money and even time because you will know whether you’re getting a good buy or not by glancing at your book.

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Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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