The Price Book – Pay what you want for groceries!

My price book showing page for brown rice

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If you have been reading my posts (and hopefully saving a lot of money!) you may be wondering, What is this “Price Book” I keep hearing about?!

The Price Book is a record system that allows me to pay what I want for my groceries, at the lowest prices! It is the foundation of The Penny Pantry System, and serves as a guidebook in how I shop.

The goal of the Penny Pantry System is to pay the lowest prices for plant-based groceries. People often comparison shop for large purchases, but not for groceries, as the prices seem non-negotiable. Yet, all those single purchases add up to a lot of money. I often hear people lamenting that ” the price of groceries are so expensive these days”. There is a better way! You can comparison shop for groceries!

By shopping at several stores with the aid of the Price Book, you will pay the lowest prices for your groceries. Stores have sales to entice you to come in to shop, in the hopes you will do all your shopping with them. Even though I shop at several stores, I actually spend less time shopping than when I shopped at 1-2 stores 20 years ago. My shopping trips are well planned ahead of time at home, and very focused once I get to the stores.

Save the most by buying enough when prices are at their lowest, and buy enough until the next sale rolls around. By keeping a Price Book, you’ll be able to do this and will get a feel for frequencies of sales.

How do you know if something is a good price? You may have a vague sense that “something seems like a good price”. Yet, without facts on prices, you really don’t know. The stores love this, BTW! They can then control how you spend your money. With a Price Book, you control the prices.

By knowing your prices, you can decide what you are willing to pay for something. When you start recording and paying attention to grocery prices, a big shift will happen. You will be aware if something is worth buying, if it is something to stock up on, and the satisfaction of knowing how much you are saving. Warning: Prepare to be shocked at hugely different prices for the same items!

There are different types of prices: Items that I buy during my Monthly Shopping Trips don’t tend to change very much. Then, there are the Weekly Sales. These are items that I buy only when they go on sale for the lowest price, as verified by my Price Book. You will start noticing how often the “Sale” items come up at the lowest prices. A good rule of thumb is to buy 6 weeks worth, as sales cycle about every 6-8 weeks. Sometimes, you will find a “One Time Only” Sale, and you can stock up as much as you think you can use before the item expires.

I started my first Price Book in 1999, when I was recovering from knee surgery. I had some time on my hands! I started with recording prices from receipts from recent shopping trips. I first learned about a Price Book in “The Tightwad Gazzette”. I highly recommend her 3 books if you are serious about saving money.

She wrote three books based on her monthly newsletters, and this is a compilation of all three books.

I later visited my local stores, and recorded and compared prices (obsessively!) Today, unlike then, many of the stores list all their items and prices online! You can easily get started in an afternoon by recording from these web sites.

The more you record in your price book, the more you will save! And, just by comparing 2 items you buy, you will have already gained control over how much you spend.

My 1st Price Book was a smaller old school notebook, on paper and written by hand. I now have a larger “Price Binder” (also written by hand). I keep saying I will switch it all over to a spreadsheet, but it really serves my purposes just fine. I don’t even have to look at it very often, as after shopping this way for so long I have committed most of it to memory.

If I notice prices changing, I will update my entry in my book. I can also do this with receipts from shopping trips. I refer to the Price Book once a month when I am making my Monthly List. I have mostly memorized which items I buy at particular stores. When I first started out, I needed to check my Price Book more often. It was the process of getting it set up that really gave me a feel for prices. It took some time, and was well worth that investment of time.

Something else shifted with my 1st Price Book, too: When I saw how little “ingredients” cost, I opted for making more from scratch. Instead of spending $2 on a sale bag of French Fries for example, I opted for a $.99 bag of potatoes to make my own. I could make the equivalent of a $2 bag of fries for only $.20! My 90% reduction in my grocery expenses was two-fold: paying the lowest prices by using the Price Book, and changing some of the things I bought. Yet, I was still largely eating the same!

What to include in your Price Book:

Here is my “Brown Rice” page:

price book showing brown rice page

You’ll notice it includes:

Food Item (in this case brown rice)

Stores in my area (yours may be different)

Date (helpful in noting any price changes later)

Price of item per pound (This will allow you to compare prices between stores). One tricky thing stores do is include different units on their shelf tags, making it difficult to compare prices. They will include ounce for one item, and pound for the item next to it. They may even present it in such a way to make you think one of the items is a better price (the one they want you to buy!) To calculate price per pound: Divide price by unit. (pound or oz.) Multiply by 16 if unit was in oz.

How much will you save? Notice that the highest price for rice is at my local Safeway, and the lowest is at Cash and Carry (now Smart Food Service). By shopping at the lowest price, I save 76% on rice vs. buying at my local Safeway! This comparison is not unusual, as you will soon discover by starting a Price Book!

There is a lot you can do with your data after your record your prices. If you have a lot of data, you may want to have a single sheet with the “Best” prices on it and carry that with you when shopping. After a while, it will become easier to shop like this, to know when something is at its lowest price, and when to stock up on sales.

Although it may seem like a lot of work initially to set up your Price Book, you will not regret it! This is what set me on the path to a 90% grocery savings!

Here are TEN Things I Do to Save Money on Groceries:


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The Penny Pantry

The Penny Pantry