Thursday, August 11, 2011

Take the Price Book Challenge

 This post has been submitted to the "Frugal Friday" blog link up at Life as Mom.

I used to think that knowing the best price for a given item took a lot of experience, a lot of intuition and some luck. How was I supposed to compete with seasoned grocery shoppers who have been shopping for years? How was I supposed to know what the "regular" price and what a "good" price for any given item was? How does anyone remember all that information?

Stores capitalize on this by placing signs that say "everyday low prices" and "buy more and save" all over the place. Those prices are at best mediocre and at worst way more than you should be paying. Knowing how low the sale price on an item can go is the only way to truly know you are getting a good deal. Figuring out how often those sale prices come around is the best way to regulate a stockpile. But how can anyone, without fifty years of grocery shopping and intuition building, possibly know these things? The answer is the Price Book.

The Price Book is a simple concept. It is a tool for tracking prices, products and sales. It was first introduced to the general public by Amy Dacyczyn. For this reason I am putting up a link to her book on frugality, which I have not yet read, but am planning to peruse soon. In your price book you record and track the price of everyday items that you use in your house. Over time this allows you to compare the price of items at different vendors and during different sales. It lets you set a target price for an item by clearly showing what the best price for that item has been in the past. It also allows you to track the frequency of sales by seeing how often that cheap price comes around. This is invaluable when it comes to regulating a stockpile.

How do you create your price book? There is not set way to create a price book and you need to select a method that works best for you. Techie frugalistas might like to keep a price book using excel, or google documents. Low tech savers often use a spiral notebook or loose leaf. You can print my price book template FOUND HERE and get started immediately.

I prefer the looseleaf version becuse I like to enter prices as I shop. I can carry it with me to the store. I do not own a smartphone and find using spreadsheets in the middle of the supermarket a little difficult.

Whatever form you choose, make sure you include the date you purchased a particular item, the store at which you purchased it, the size, price and unit price of the item. To get a unit price you have two options. If you are entering info at the store, you can just look at the shelf tag. Often these labels have a unit price on them. If you are home simply divide the item price by the item size.

Fish around for receipts you have saved and enter in the prices of various items. As you shop, enter more data. Develop some abreviations to help your aching writing hand, and if necessary keep a small clip on calculator with your price book to make calculations easier. The more time you have your price book, the more data it will acumulate and the more valuable it will be for you.

Now What? As you accumulate data your price book becomes more and more useful. By scrolling down any given page you can see what the lowest unit price paid for that item was, what retailers had this price and how often the item was available at this price. This tells you what your ideal price for that item should be. It also lets you know about how many weeks or months will pass befor this price comes up again, allowing you to purchase accordingly.

Be prepared for some surprises. Devoted Costco and bulk shoppers have been surprised to find that on some items they are paying way more than they would if they shopped local sales. While staunch dollar store shoppers find that on some items the drugstore or Costco consistently come out cheaper per unit.  You will also be able to spot when a "sale" is not such a "sale" after all.

I have decided to begin my price book this very day! I invite you all to join me on this challenge, and learn what the best sales are in your neighbourhood. Start your price book and be dilligent about it for at least three months. I will post weekly updates on my findings. Price books are about giving consumers information and the power to shop wisely. I am excited to see what I will learn.


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