How to create a price book to help you comparison shop

Sometimes a grocery store 'sale' isn't a bargain

Question for the expert

Dear New Frugal You,
How do you make a price book to compare food prices? Thank you -- Heather 

Answer for the expert

Dear Heather,
You've asked about one of the best secret tools for saving money. Not many know about it, but it can easily shave 10 percent or more off your food bill. It's easy to use and best of all, you don't need to change your diet or give anything up.

So how does this undercover frugal tool work? By providing you helpful price information when you grocery shop -- information the enemy doesn't want you to know. You'll be able to stock up when prices are low and only buy the absolute minimum when prices are high.

Check your favorite recipes. You'll probably find that there are 15 or less that you make regularly. And, within those recipes there are no more than 25 or 30 ingredients. These are the things that frequently appear on your grocery list.

Of those 30 items, about a dozen are likely to be expensive. They're different for every family. Those ingredients are the ones that quickly inflate your total in the checkout line, so you'll want to concentrate on those items.

For each one, you'll have a separate page in your price book. On that page, you'll make an entry every time you're in the store and that item's price is below average. The entry will contain the date, store, size, packaging and the price. Put the name of the item on the top of the page and make columns for the date, etc.

You'll want to use a small spiral or a loose-leaf notebook of a convenient size. Something that will easily fit into pocket or purse.

The price book won't be very useful at first, but then you'll discover something. While shopping, you'll spot a big "SALE" sign. Normally, you'd put two or three items into your cart, but for some reason, the price doesn't seem so good. That's when you spring into action. Pull the price book out and compare prices. There it is, in black and white: The price really isn't so good. You saw it at a lower price just two weeks ago. So instead, you buy just what you need until your next shopping trip.

Remember that the other side is tricky. Retailers love to make money on unsuspecting shoppers. Going undercover with your price book, you'll begin to notice patterns. Some items go on sale near holidays, seasonally or once a quarter. Armed with this information, you'll stock up when the prices are low.

One big benefit is that you don't need to change your eating habits. You'll still be buying the exact same items. You'll just be buying more of them we're there on sale -- really on sale.

See related: Author Lee Eisenberg explains why we shop

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Updated: 03-25-2019